The best unusual things to do in London
The appeal of a sleepover in (well, next to) the lion enclosure is obvious: it'll be like living in the real life 'Jungle Book'. Hire a lodge, enjoy private guided tours around and get exclusive access to animal enclosures after hours. A two-course dinner and breakfast are included, so you won't have to worry about your rumbling stomach waking up the neighbours.
If you head from east to west on the Thames, things start getting quite interesting. Along the Putney to Hampton Court stretch and beyond, little islands start popping up. One of the larger ones, Eel Pie Island, became famous in the 1960s for blues gigs and later for its recording studio. Now, this privately owned island is home to a nature reserve and artists’ studios. You can grab a rare chance to see it for yourself on one of the few open days they hold there each year. A curious, little-known river haven.
Welcome to full-throttle ’80s front room fetishism, with cocktail menus hidden inside Charles and Diana memorabilia books, mocktails served in leopard-print mugs, soap stars in photo frames and cat-covered cushions galore. Little Nan's Bar - which has now branched out to open venues in Fitzrovia and Stockwell, as well as ludicrous party pads to hire like Flat Butcher - was set up in honour of owner Tristan's late grandmother, who made it to 104. Expect leopard print, china and Pat references aplenty.
Down a perfectly normal-looking street in East Dulwich you'll find a perfectly not-normal-looking abode. Taking the concept of one man's trash being another man's treasure, artist Stephen Wright is in the process of covering every available surface of this home in his kitschy mosaics. Everything here comes together in a magical hideaway that's only open to the public a few days a year.
Wobbly rubber things are great, but wouldn’t a hand-painted ceramic dildo look good on your dresser? This dildo decorating class allows you to get cocky with your art skills and decorate your own erotic pottery, which will be fired and sent to your home within two weeks. Workshops last around four hours and cost from £120 per person, including a glass of prosecco, tea and treats.
This London 2012 Olympic Games venue is open to the public for adrenalin-fuelled white-water rafting, canoeing and kayaking sessions – riding the rapids that challenged the world's best makes for an action-packed experience. On the centre's raft adventure, you'll be high-siding, spinning and nose dunking on the Olympic Standard Competition course before you know it.
God's Own Junkyard showcases neon artist Chris Bracey's personal collection of work in a salvage yard in Walthamstow. It contains everything from his signage for Soho sex clubs in the '60s to his work for the movie industry, including pieces that were used in 'Captain America', 'Eyes Wide Shut', 'Byzantium' and more. Once you're done being dazzled, you can grab drinks and snacks at the yard's Rolling Scones Cafe (lolz).
Take a guided walk at low tide around Deptford Creek, one of the last natural creeks to survive in the UK. The pretty area is a haven for freshwater and saltwater plants and animals including birds, butterflies and a huge range of wild flowers. Walks last two hours, cost around £12, and booking is essential.
This zoological museum is the only one of its kind in London. Display cases are stuffed to the gunnels with animal skeletons, taxidermy specimens and creatures preserved in fluid, like a true Victorian wunderkammer. From a jar of tiny moles to a huge elephant skull, there is plenty here to draw gasps of amazement. Don't turn up too early, though; the museum opens its doors from 1pm-5pm, Monday through Saturday.
This quirky museum of old playthings is housed in a pair of wonderfully creaky, unrestored Georgian townhouses. A £7 ticket allows you to shimmy your way through six tiny rooms packed with board games, marbles, money-boxes, puppets, wax dolls, toy theatres, dolls houses and wonderful, intricately detailed model shops, as well as the world’s oldest surviving teddy and a 4,000 year-old mouse made from Nile clay. By turns beguiling and creepy, it’s fascinating for adults who want a hit of nostalgia.
The ten rooms of this ornate Huguenot house have been decked out to recreate snapshots of life in Spitalfields between 1724 and 1914. A tour through the ‘still-life drama’, as American creator Dennis Severs put it, takes you through the cellar, kitchen, dining room, smoking room and upstairs to the bedrooms. Tours take place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, as well as Monday and Sunday afternoons, but visit their website to check the last admission times. A typical visit lasts around 45 minutes, so it's a quirky alternative to a post-work drink.
When he wasn’t designing notable buildings (among them the original Bank of England), Sir John Soane (1753-1837) obsessively collected art, furniture and architectural ornamentation. In the nineteenth century, he turned his house into a museum to which, he said, ‘amateurs and students’ should have access. That'll be us then. The result is this amazing place in central London, open Wednesday through Sunday, which is completely free to visit. Just remember to book ahead - you can't rock up unannounced.
Kayak down the Thames in a bovine boat as part of this watery sightseeing tour. A two-or-three-person vessel decorated with a black and white cow print will be your mode of transport. There are several waterway routes you can pick from, including Hackney Wick or around Limehouse Basin, and some come with meal stops for hungry canoers.
This Mare Street curiosity shop is both on the art circuit and determinedly off any beaten track. Peek through the windows and you’ll see a world in which velvet-cloaked Victorians, or perhaps The Mighty Boosh, might reside. Entering the shop, which is also the spiritual home of the esoterically minded Last Tuesday Society, reveals a plethora of shells, skulls, taxidermy specimens and assorted oddities.
A flying trapeze school that sets up camp on the north-west side of Regent’s Park for the summer with expert acrobats teaching all sorts of fancy tricks on the highly strung bars. Even beginners aim to be ‘caught’ by the hands of a (trustworthy) instructor by the end of a two-hour session.
A unique dining experience that aims to encourage participants to re-evaluate their approach to eating. At Dans le Noir? you eat in complete darkness, so it’s the taste, smell and texture of the food on which you focus. Before being led into the pitch-black basement by the restaurant’s blind waiters, you select one of four colour-coded mystery menus. The best part? If you spill anything down your top, no one's going to notice.
Your hair's gently flying behind your ears, your thighs are burning and your backdrop is a mountain range, but this ain't no Alpine adventure. Chel-Ski is a dry slope that offers skiing and snowboarding training just a ten-minute walk from Fulham Broadway station on a giant astroturf treadmill.
An entire museum dedicated to the coquettish cooling method? We are a fan. This beautiful building is the world's first museum dedicated to the history of handheld fans and the craft of fan-making. Housed in a pair of restored Georgian townhouses, it holds more than 3,000 specimens from all over the world, some dating back to the eleventh century. Entry costs just £5, and you can complete the visit with an afternoon tea in the orangery at the fan-tastic price of £9 per person.
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