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Barbican Conservatory

Sights for sore eyes: alternative places to visit in London

Overdosed on London tourist attractions? We’ve picked some great but quieter alternatives to those hectic haunts

Sarah Cohen
Written by
Time Out London editors
Sarah Cohen

London has a dazzling array of museums, monuments and other institutions. The British Museum, Shakespeare’s Globe and even Oxford Street are world-class destinations. But if you feel like you’ve been there, done that when it comes to London’s biggest (and busiest) popular attractions, let us suggest a selection of alternatives for you to explore. We’ve paired the giants with lesser-known but just as fascinating counterparts for you to discover, from a cute cinema to a secret garden via a bunch of niche museums. Here’s our guide to London’s quiet but brilliant cultural spots away from the crowds.

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in London.

Ten alternative London tourist attractions

  • Attractions
  • Poplar

Go to Trinity Buoy Wharf

Hidden in the industrial wilds of the Leamouth Peninsula, this secluded waterside arts hub is well worth a trip. Visit Andrew Baldwin’s sculpture park, go see (and hear) ‘Longplayer’, a piece of music playing for a thousand years in a lighthouse, pop into The Faraday Effect, a tiny museum documenting the life of Michael Faraday, and stop by Fat Boy’s Diner for a milkshake overlooking the water. 

Open daily. Free entry.

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Nunhead

Go to Nunhead Cemetery

It looks like it was plucked from the imagination of HP Lovecraft, but somehow this overgrown Victorian cemetery remains one of the most romantic spots in the city. Its statues of angels stand wrapped in ivy, the nineteenth-century headstones sit lopsided in the earth and its elaborate monuments are smothered in a gothic green moss. Climb to the top of the hill and you can get a cracking view of St Paul’s Cathedral. 

Open daily. Free entry.

  • Cinemas
  • Homerton

Go to The Castle Cinema

Sitting above the poshest Spar supermarket in the world on Chatsworth Road is a small, independent movie house that was built in 1913. The Castle Cinema reopened a few years ago after a successful crowdfunding campaign and, with a great membership deal, it’s now one of the prettiest, cheapest and least crowded places to watch the latest releases, old favourites and arty flicks. 

Open daily. Prices vary.

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • King’s Cross

Go to the British Library’s Treasures Gallery

Despite its small size, the Sir John Ritblat Treasures aka the British Library’s Treasures Gallery is basically London’s best museum. The collection is a relentless parade of ‘OMG!’ written artefacts: from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, Lennon’s lyrics to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and Handel’s handwritten copy of his ‘Messiah’ to the actual Lindisfarne Gospels and the Magna Carta (with tons more in between). It’s the holy grail for history buffs. 

Open daily. Free.

Been to the Sky Garden?
  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Barbican

Go to the Barbican Conservatory

You wouldn’t think the brutalist arts centre had a green heart, but the Barbican Conservatory truly is a secret London gem (if any still exist). Head up to the third floor and you’ll find the glasshouse filled with more than 2,000 species of plants and loads of exotic fish. The catch is: it’s not open all the time, so make sure you check before you plan a visit.

Opening dates vary. Free, but ticketed.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Holborn

Go to Sir John Soane’s Museum

When he wasn’t designing buildings, neoclassical architect Sir John obsessively collected art, furniture and architectural ornamentation. You can see them all – including an alabaster sarcophagus carved for the pharaoh Seti I (1291-1278 BC) – in his beautiful, eccentric house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. 

Open Wed-Sun. Free, but ticketed.

  • Shopping
  • St James’s

Go to Jermyn Street

Escape the frenzy of Piccadilly Circus by ducking into calm and leafy Jermyn Street. Known for its classy gentlemen’s outfitters, you’ll find old-school shirt, shoes and shaving paraphernalia purveyors, plus the excellent cheesemonger Paxton & Whitfield. And when you’re all suited and booted, pop down Duke Street St James’s into Mason’s Yard for an art hit at White Cube gallery.

Been to Oxford Street?
  • Museums
  • History
  • Ladbroke Grove

Go to the Museum of Brands

Tucked just off Portobello Road, this treasure trove of more than 12,000 objects documents how we’ve shopped over the years. You’ll find wrappers, posters, toys, boxes and general collectibles arranged in date order – a nostalgic tribute to the many, many things we buy. 

Open daily. £9, £5-£7 concs.

  • Theatre
  • Performing arts space
  • Wapping

Go to Wilton’s Music Hall

The oldest surviving music hall in the world, Wilton’s is worth a visit just to check out the beautiful Grade II-listed building. The Victorian theatre still has its original cast-iron pillars, curved balcony and crumbling walls, making it one of the most atmospheric places in London to see a performance. And if you don’t like the look of what’s on, the bar is a great spot for a cosy drink too. 

Open daily. Prices vary.

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Euston

Go to the Wellcome Collection

Banish those thoughts of boring science lessons: the Wellcome Collection manages to make all the sciences excite, showing their art, beauty and relevance to everyday life. The permanent collection takes you through Henry Wellcome’s hoard of amazing objects and the history of science and medicine in the last century. Equally great are the temporary exhibitions, which tackle universal topics like sex, death and sleep – and it’s all free.

Open Tue-Sun. Free.

Need to brush up on the classics?

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