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London - Off-the-Path Gems

Old Feb 27th, 2012, 12:49 PM
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London - Off-the-Path Gems

I've been going to London about annually since Queen Victoria was on the throne, or just about! And though first or even 2nd or 3rd time visitors understandably want to dwell on the myriad of fantastic famous sights largely in central London, or Tourist London as I have seen it described, over the years I have found a plethora of awesome sights/sites outside of Central London. And this is my trip report, over many years, of some of these that I have enjoyed the most.

And if you have things to add that are not on all tourists' radar please chime in!


East London is far different from central or western London in many ways - the traditional haunt of the iconic Cockneys I think the area generally has a blue collar hue and feel through and thru. Not much posh here though places like Bethnal Green have become rather well-jheeled in places.

My favorite place in East London I have visited so far is Green Road and the Queen's Market area of it. Taking the Tube you get off at Upton Park Tube stop and right outside the exits unfolds a scene that seemed to me right out of India or Bangladesh - stores catering entirely to South Asians - sari shops and colorful food shops with mounds of brightly hued spices for example and a smorgasbord of take-out South Asian foods like pakorahs, samosas (sp? and lots of mouth-watering sweets, all lovingly displayed in picture windows. These are all spread out along Green Street to the left as you exit the station (north probably) - to the right is Queen's Market, a rather downscale clothing market in a tacky-looking market hall.

And also to the right when exiting, along with the market hall, you walk in a short way back into merry ole England - pubs, greasy cafes - betting parlours, etc and also the home field of the West Ham Football club.

I purposefully came on a football Saturday to witness the pre-game activities - the crowds swarming off the Tube and packing the various pubs, singing club songs, etc. All in all it was very orderly - much more so than I expected - with dads and kids in tow, kind of a family atmosphere along with the loud pubs full of fans.

Anyway for a day out for something difference check out Green Street and its environs!
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Old Feb 29th, 2012, 11:42 AM
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Another East End gem IMO is the Columbia Road Flower Market, held at least on Sundays, when I went and perhaps other days. But here you have not only the usual street market but also boutiques and small eateries lining the street that though becoming more upscale and 'trendy' make a delightful blend of additions to the pulchritudinous market, known for its Cockney vendors who constantly bark out things like "a dozen rosies for a fiver," etc.

So for a dose of local color from Cockney type barkers to lots of color from the zillions of flowers on sale head out to the near East End and the Columbia Road Flower Market.

I combined it with a look at the more famous for foreign tourists Petticoat Lane market area - somewhat in the same direct from central London.
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Old Feb 29th, 2012, 11:51 AM
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Good stuff, keep it coming.
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Old Feb 29th, 2012, 02:59 PM
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Good information, PalenQ, thanks.

I thought I would link lovs2travel's report here, since she and her husband caught a lot of off the beaten path sites on their recent trip:

Lee Ann
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Old Mar 1st, 2012, 04:53 AM
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Lee Ann - thank you very much for the link!
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Old Mar 1st, 2012, 07:57 AM
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Can I add one: Whitecross Street Food Market open Mon - Fri

It is by the Barbican and has lots of great ethnic choices, as well as a pig roast on some days that is very popular. Lots of pubs nearby allow you to bring food in and enjoy a pint while you eat!
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Old Mar 1st, 2012, 08:40 AM
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jamikins - thanks for that - I have not been to that market and markets are always on my radar - the pictures show a thriving street market.
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Old Mar 1st, 2012, 11:58 AM
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You are most welcome - we walk over there from my office about once a week! It's best to get there around noon because it is busy with lots of business folks grabbing lunch!
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Old Mar 1st, 2012, 10:28 PM
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Does St Bartholomew the Great count as being off the beaten path?

I don't think I've ever read much about it in trip reports, and when we were there we had the place to ourselves. It was gorgeous and we stayed almost an hour and you could have heard a pin drop the entire time. And then we drank wine in the cafe they have set up in the cloister.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2012, 01:08 AM
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Also Broadway Market on Saturdays for great food and retro clothing, a mile or so up the road from Columbia Road market (which is only open Sunday mornings).

A good Sunday morning adventure: take the tube to Liverpool Street, wander through Spitalfields market (a modern redevelopment), carry on up Brick Lane which has a food and vintage clothing market on Sundays, then walk up to Columbia Road to catch the flower market at around noon, followed by a Sunday Roast upstairs in the restaurant of the Royal Oak pub (book in advance for about 2pm).
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Old Mar 2nd, 2012, 04:19 AM
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Some places I visited on my last trip:
- The Museum of the Order of St John. A guided tour will give you access to areas generally not open to the public
- Dulwich Picture Gallery...and their restaurant does a fabulous breakfast
- Wellcome Collection. In addition to interesting exhibits they have a great book/gift store and a nice cafe.
- Tour of the Albert Memorial. OK, it's not off the beaten path but you can't access the interior without doing the guided tour. It's fascinating and you get to walk in through the gates and up the steps to see the reliefs up close.
- 18 Stafford Terrace - the home of Linley Sambourne who was a Punch cartoonist. Nearby is the very beautiful Leighton House Museum, which is probably more well known than 18 Stafford Terrace
- There is a very interesting cartoon museum not far from the British Museum. If you are into cartoons, it's well worth a visit
- There's the scale model of central London at the New London Architecture Centre.
- The Auction houses (Sotheby's, Christie's, Bonham's) all exhibit items before auctions. And if you are there on auction day, attend to watch people spend their money
- Postman's Park is a quite and tranquil corner of the city. It also has the wonderful Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice
- Geffyre Museum. It's got a great display of period rooms, wonderful grounds and a nice restaurant. It's walkable from the Columbia Rd flower market but take note the museum opens at 12 on Sundays.

There are plenty of hidden gems in London with my list being just a small drop in the ocean.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2012, 05:13 AM
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-- Tedworth Square in Chelsea. A pretty garden square, Mark Twain lived at #23 and it was here that he made the famous remark about reports of his death being grossly exaggerated.

During Twain's stay, it was a modest neighbourhood. Now it's one of the more expensive postcodes in London. A British television star who lived a few doors away recently sold his house there for 10 million pounds. Anyway, the square and the surrounding streets are pleasant to poke around, with some posh shops and low-key but attractive pubs nearby. You can stroll the square and neighbourhood on Google Streetview.

re Sothebys auction house (just off Bond Street), it has a great cafe/restaurant and is a good place for lunch.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2012, 05:25 AM
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St. Dunstan-in-the-East is a Wren church damaged in WWII and left as a "ruin," but it has now become a lovely garden oasis. is one website with some info.

We visited it on a drippy early Saturday morning in August 2010 and it was so peaceful and lovely. We then walked across the London Bridge headed to Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral--two places not off the beaten path but worth a visit, too.

Random side-note--The very first episode of MI5/Spooks I ever watched was Season 7, Episode 1, which was filmed in part at St. Dunstan's; between loving to recognize places in London I've been and the introduction of Richard Armitage to the cast, I was hooked!
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Old Mar 2nd, 2012, 05:33 AM
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texasbookworm, St Dunstans is on my list for my next visit just because of the Spooks connection - lol.

I was feeling sad after having watched the final series, so I've been watching back episodes to hunt for places to visit in London.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2012, 06:18 AM
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Here is another - if you are around St Paul's go to Viaduct Tavern outside of lunch service hours and they will show you the basement cells. They are from Newgate Prison and are still visible today! They wont take you down until I think after 3pm due to a busy lunch service.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2012, 08:06 AM
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Lots of new places on my London wish list! Thanks all for posting!
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Old Mar 3rd, 2012, 05:16 AM
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Lower Marsh street food. Hidden just behind Waterloo station is a small street called Lower Marsh with great street food, there are quite a lot of stalls selling fabulous home cooked food from many countries from Wednesday-Friday lunchtimes [I am not sure abut weekends as I go from my nearby office]. At the opposite end of Westminster bridge from house of Parliament, near Florence Nightingale museum [small but interesting museum on the site of St Thomas hospital] and a short stroll from the Imperial War Museum and Old Vic theatre.
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Old Mar 3rd, 2012, 12:42 PM
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What a lovely trip report, hope there is more to come.
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Old Mar 3rd, 2012, 12:51 PM
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Not sure if John Soanne's House qualifies as a main attraction or off-path, but on our first visit to the UK we thoroughly enjoyed his collection. The paintings alone were super.
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Old Mar 5th, 2012, 10:30 AM
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Certainly one of the least known and less visited by foreign tourists of all London palaces, Alexandra Palace regally caps a hill in northeastern London - right on a main rail line going north - which is why I always saw it in the distance and always wanted to visit it.

So finally I took the time to take the train to the Alexandxra Palace station and walked up to the behemoth 7-acre palace - a palace in name only and not really a palace but a large convention center and concert venue, etc., said by Wikipedia to have been built as northern London's counterpart to the similar, yet far bigger I believe, Crystal Palace in southeast London, which also crows a hill and could be seen for miles around before a fire burnt it all down in a conflagration around 1936 that indeed could be seen at night for miles around. And BBC installed transmitters at each palace, since they were on the highest ground around - even calculating the speed of light I think could be been helped by shooting light between the two palace BBC towers (not positive of this but read it somewhere!).

Anyway Alexandra Palace, built by the same firm that constructed the Royal Albert hall, is monumental and imposing on its hill and is surrounded by 196 acres of parks with several attractions of a recreational purpose in it.

Actually once there I found there was little for the average tourist to do but there is a sweet view from the hill the palace is on. It is not clear from the official web site if today you can view the interior outside of special events.

Interestingly in 2012 Olympics the palace will serve as team HQs of the Dutch Olympic team!

If not coming by train the Wood Gree Tube station is but 1.2 miles away.
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