So you’re on a trip to London and you’ve seen all the obvious places. Big Ben? Tick. Buckingham Palace? Tick. Tower of London? Tick. Now you want somewhere that’s different, not full of crowds of people doing the same thing you are. Somewhere your friends have never heard of. Welcome to my odd places to visit.
Top of the list is Freemason’s Hall, towering over Covent Garden like spook central in Ghostbusters. Did you realise that inside it’s an Art Deco masterpiece? Thought not. The building was originally intended as a peace memorial to Masons who died on active service in World War I. It’s full of bronze and gold and glittering mosaics.
How to: It’s free to visit but you have to join a tour. On weekdays there are free tours on the hour. On Saturdays you need to book in advance and pay £1.
Next comes the Society of Antiquaries. It’s in Burlington House, just across from the much more famous Royal Academy. Antiquaries collect old stuff, and they’re not too much fussed about what it is. Along the way they’ve picked up a lot of William Morris and a famous portrait of Richard III. And you can see the oldest phone box in London under the Burlington House entrance arch.
How to: Tours of the building cost £10 and have to be booked in advance.
Next comes a very unusual work of art – a mystical fountain by Tadao Ando. What’s special about it? Well, most of the time it bubbles peacefully to itself, but every fifteen minutes or so it releases clouds of mist that drift eerily over the surface and vanish again. Magical.
How to: the fountain is in Carlos Place in Mayfair, right outside the Connaught Hotel.
My next suggestion is one for all you literary types. A visit to the actual Riceyman Steps, where Arnold Bennett’s novel of that name is set. It’s in Clerkenwell, and you get to see some wonderful early nineteenth century architecture on the Lloyd Baker Estate. Plus a reminder of Nell Gwynne’s connection with the area.
How to: Gwynne Place, the original of Riceyman Steps, is a short walk from King’s Cross station. Once you get there, follow my online guided tour.
Next up, Kensington Roof Gardens, which were opened in 1938 on the roof of what was then Derry and Toms department store. The building now belongs to Virgin Media. The gardens have more than five hundred species of plants and shrubs divided into three areas – the Spanish garden, the Tudor garden and the English woodland garden.
How to: the gardens are free to visit but it’s best to phone first to check they’re open – they often close for private functions.