Off-limits London: Five hidden places we never get to see

There are loads of great places in London that most people will never get the chance to look around. So come with us: we’ve got a triple-A pass
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London's full of clandestine places that most of us will never be able to see: behind-the-scenes, closed off portions of important institutions, or derelict venues that have been sealed up for decades. Our capital is rich with these mysterious pockets of space – a room containing everything that has ever been left on public transport, a spookily neglected Victorian theatre, a workshop used to refurbish giant spiders. Intrigued? We thought so. In the spirit of revealing some of the city's more special sights, we bring you a selection of some of our favourite off-limit parts of London. Consider this your Access All Areas pass to the city.

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Five hidden places we never get to see in London

London Zoo kitchen

The animal kitchen at London Zoo

ZSL London Zoo 

Here’s a sight you won’t
 normally see on a trip to London Zoo: the animals’ very own kitchen. It’s lined with chalkboards containing individual ‘recipes’ for each animal (FYI if you ever have a squirrel monkey over for lunch you’re gonna want to know how to delicately combine steamed aubergine with wet cat food). There are dozens of boxes of blueberry and apple tea, because – brilliantly – gorillas love a relaxing herbal beverage. There are huge tubs of star anise and ginger (the latter is like catnip for tigers). Also, so much fresh fruit and veg is delivered from Covent Garden Market every day that it takes a solid three to four hours’ worth of chopping to get it all prepped. Makes your office fruit delivery look a bit small fry, frankly.
Beefeaters’ pub Tower of London
Image: Andy Parsons

The secret Beefeaters’ pub

Tower of London

It’s thirsty work, all that guarding the Crown Jewels and stopping the ravens legging it from the Tower of London, which is why the Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters to you and me) have their very own onsite pub that’s only open to them and their guests. Its prices are cheaper than Wetherspoon’s and it features beers on tap not available anywhere else in the world: Beefeater Bitter and Yeoman 1485 Craft Lager (made specifically for them by Marston’s brewery). The Yeomen Warders’ Club (to give it its proper name) is also packed full of history (this is the Tower of London after all): think swords on the walls, a grandfather clock from 1679 and a glass cabinet containing an engraved pewter goblet for each Beefeater to drink port from at official toasts. And if all that wasn’t exciting enough, it’s proved a bit of a hit with celebs, who fall over themselves to wangle an invite: recent weeks have seen the likes of Tom Cruise, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart drinking there. 

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TFL’s lost  property office
© Rob Greig

TfL’s lost property office

Baker Street

Underneath the pavements of NW1 lurks a labyrinthine network of rooms that are stuffed from floor to ceiling with an unbelievable quantity of mind-boggling artefacts that Londoners have left on public transport. Think forests of umbrellas, towers of iPads and so many mobile phones that each morning there’s a dawn chorus of bleeping alarms. There are also some more ‘unusual’ items – urns of people’s ashes, gas masks, Viking swords, a stuffed gorilla wearing a Hawaiian shirt sitting in a wheelchair: seriously weird stuff. Between 2015 and 2016 alone, the office received 310,000 objects, so the sheer volume of stuff is breathtaking. But if you were thinking of leaving your brolly on the bus in an attempt to gain access, don’t bother. Sadly, the closest you’ll get is the reception area upstairs.
Alexandra Palace

A lost Victorian theatre

Alexandra Palace

Deep within Ally Pally lies this cavernous, 130-year-old theatre. It’s been hidden away from the public for 80 years since falling into disuse and remains pretty much frozen in time, with much of the original decor and ancient stage machinery sitting there untouched since the day it was closed. There are plans to bring it back into use as a 1,300 capacity venue so that the public can one day access it again, but that depends upon them being able to crowdfund £1m by the summer. Until then, enjoy the pictures and donate at support.alexandrapalace.com.

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Harry Potter World
Image: Andy Parsons

The Harry Potter spider workshop

Warner Bros. Studio Tour

The room you are looking at did not exist eight months ago. Since June, this pre-fab has served as a giant-spider-filled workshop for special effects artist Nick Dudman and his team to touch-up creatures for the new Forbidden Forest exhibition opening at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. It’s a huge room filled with the smell of wood, canisters of expanding foam and signs saying ‘Please be careful of our webs’. The main task that’s done amidst the boxes of hippogriff feathers, pine shelving and rubber goblin heads? Threading the hair back on to the six spiders that has been shed in the 15 years since they appeared in ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’. Even if a whole team works for a full day, they’ll only get about a foot’s worth of spider done. Talk about a bad hair day…

More weird and wonderful London locations

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