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Seven alternative wonders of London

Forget the London Eye and skip Buck House, these seven landmarks are hiding in plain sight

Written by
Time Out London editors

Who hasn’t marveled at the interweaving roads of the M25? The unspoken beauty of Westfield? Okay, maybe it's just us. But next time you're stuck in traffic or battling a wall of shoppers, take a look around. London is full of hidden wonders in unexpected places. Spruce up your sightseeing list and celebrate a different side to the city with our seven alternative wonders of London. 

RECOMMENDED: Delve deeper with the seven wonders inside London's museums 

The Thames Barrier
Sam Neequaye (Getty Images)

1. The Thames Barrier

The Thames Barrier should be seen as the Sydney Opera House of London, its gleaming piscine sections catching the sun as it rises to the east of the city. Two things have prevented it achieving proper iconic status: 1) it’s in Woolwich. No disrespect to SE18, but it’s a bit out on a limb; and 2) it has a grim purpose, protecting the capital from tidal surges and rising sea levels. When it was opened in 1982, it was expected to only be used a couple of times a year. In fact, on average it’s closed six or seven times annually, although in 2014-15 it had to be closed 50 times. Ulp! Thanks, Thames Barrier! Chris Waywell
Centre Point

2. Centre Point

On first seeing Centre Point towering over Oxford Street, you might think: What the hell is that doing there? Rising to 33 storeys, far above the neighbouring buildings of Holborn, this brutalist skyscraper looks like it got lost on its way to the Barbican. Over its 50-year history it’s had its haters, and not just those offended by its incongruous appearance. After its completion it stood empty for years while London faced high levels of homelessness, leading to protestors occupying it in 1974. Despite this, there’s something alluring about this concrete giant. Stand beneath it and it’s hard not to feel that this is a genuine London marvel. Gail Tolley
Westfield Stratford

3. Westfield Stratford

I have a theory I tell anyone who’ll listen: I genuinely believe Westfield Stratford is the most diverse place you’ll ever visit. It’s located in Newham – one of the most racially mixed boroughs in one of the most racially mixed cities in the world. It caters to all ages, it costs precisely no money to access – how rarely can you say that about anywhere in London any more? – and it exists in a gleeful future where outdated notions of the British class system have gone flying out of the automatic sliding doors. Call me a mallrat, but to hate on Westfield Stratford is to be the worst kind of Londoner: a snobby Londoner. Snobs be damned. Oliver Keens
Regent's Canal gas holders
Jacopo Prisco

4. Regent's Canal gas holders

As more and more of London is lost to the bland uniformity of uninspiring, unaffordable apartments, these two old friends towering over the Regent’s Canal are reassuring presences. They represent an integral part of Bethnal Green’s identity (and a crucially recognisable signpost after a boozy night out). Once used to store the gas which lit and heated people’s homes, the smaller, more ornate of the pair was completed in 1866, the simpler, larger one in 1889. I hope these links to London’s industrial past – defunct but still beautifully defiant – stand for years to come. Kyra Hanson
The M25
Andrew Holt (Getty Images)

5. The M25

It’s high time we started calling the M25 by its more powerful name ‘The London Orbital Motorway’. First planned in 1937 and completed in 1986, it both connects London to, and divides it from, not-London. It’s our last wall of defence between us and – dare I say it – the countryside. In fact, for many visitors, their first experience of our city is calling a Londoner to say: ‘Won’t be long, just a few miles away’ before sitting on the M25 for hours. If our capital were a majestic castle, then this ring of tarmac would be our 117-mile-long moat. Kate Lloyd
Heathrow Airport

6. Heathrow Airport

Is it any surprise that London is the UK’s most open-minded and cosmopolitan city when Heathrow’s sited here? Every year it sees 75 million people (75 million!) visit our city or broaden their minds with a trip to another. It’s also brilliantly bonkers. The ‘Star Wars’-esque electric passenger shuttles make journeying to Terminal 5 feel like you’re hopping into a gigantic Stormtrooper’s face. There are craft workshops for kids entitled ‘Luggage tag fun’. It has its own Mr Man (‘Mr Adventure’), FFS. It’s weird, wonderful and all about the free movement of people: it’s London embodied. Alexi Duggins
Crystal Palace Transmitting Station

7. Crystal Palace Transmitting Station

At 200m, the Crystal Palace TV mast was London’s tallest structure until Canary Wharf was finished  in the early ’90s. Built to broadcast BBC TV signals in 1956, it bestrides Norwood like a Cold War colossus, while the park beneath it also has a strange, neglected, Soviet vibe to it. Visible across the capital, the mast has beamed some of British TV’s proudest moments into the homes of Londoners, including the 1966 World Cup Final, Charles and Di’s wedding and countless murders, car crashes, divorces, custody battles, arson attacks and other Cockney atrocities on ‘EastEnders’. It’s the Eiffel Tower of south London, only you can’t go up it, it has no views of Paris and no one ever takes a selfie with it. Chris Waywell

Hunt down more landmarks in London

  • Attractions

With so many attractions to tick off, your city sightseeing checklist could get very long indeed. So where do you start? Whether you live and work in the capital or you're just visiting for the day, let us be your guide with our round-up of the London attractions that simply cannot be missed.

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