The capital’s world-famous museums, attractions and exhibitions are always worth a visit, but what happens when you fancy something a bit different? Well, in a city as big, sprawling and packed with history as London, there’s always a weird ‘n’ wonderful way to entertain yourself.
Here, we’ve collected some of the freakiest and most fantastic things to do in the capital next time you have a few hours to kill. Just open your mind and warn your friends in advance that your Instagram might be about to get kinda strange... Or maybe don’t warn them, and wait for their hilarious bemused comments to roll in.
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The best unusual things to do in London
Yes, you can sleep next to real-life lions in London. The appeal of staying the night in (well, right next to) the zoo’s Land of the Lions enclosure is obvious: you’ll feel a bit like you live in ‘The Jungle Book’, surrounded by creature companions. Hire a lodge and enjoy private guided tours around different 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.
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. The result is this perfectly amazing place in central London, open Wednesday through Sunday and completely free to visit.
Open on the first Friday of each month or by appointment, this small gallery displays photographs, props and costumes used by some of Britain's most famous clowns. Clowns have an unofficial rule that no two performers are allowed to have the same make-up. In order to ensure that clowns weren’t duplicating each other’s look, a practice of painting each unique design onto an egg began. The museum has a collection of more than 200 of these eggs.
A beautiful time capsule attraction where visitors are immersed in a unique form of theatre. The ten rooms of this original 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, and a typical visit lasts around 45 minutes, so it's a quirky alternative to a post-work drink.
Eel Pie Island
Privately-owned and accessible only by footbridge, Eel Pie is the largest ait - or island - nestled in London's stretch of the Thames. Its genteel nineteenth-century hotel became an unlikely music mecca in the 1960s when bands including The Rolling Stones and The Who rocked the ballroom. Sadly, the hotel burned down in 1971, by which time Eel Pie Island housed the UK's largest hippie commune. These days, the island is home to a friendly artist community of glassblowers, mosaic makers, sculptors, photographers and potters who open their studios to the public twice a year. The island's freakiest days may be behind it, but something special definitely still lingers in the Eel Pie air.
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 own 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 creek is a haven for freshwater and saltwater plants and animals including birds, butterflies and some 120 species of wild flowers. Walks last around two hours, cost £8-£12, and booking is essential.
This zoological museum, the only one of its kind in London, seems like it has been here for a century or more. Such is the transporting effect of seeing avenues of display cases 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.
Kayak down the Thames in a bovine boat as part of this watery sightseeing tour. A two-or-three-man 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.
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Don’t get us wrong, we’re huge fans the big London museums, the major art galleries and London’s best restaurants. But sometimes what you need is a bit of tranquility – a few hours somewhere where you’re guaranteed not to be asked for directions to Piccadilly Circus or whacked with a selfie stick.