Never underestimate the power of London to surprise—whether you’re a first time visitor or someone lucky enough to be enjoying England’s capital yet again.
One of the most accessible European cities for Texans, with its frequent direct flights—many on budget airlines—and (almost!) no language barrier, the tourist attractions in London are wonderful and also very familiar: from Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guards to the Tower; from Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column to the London Eye and Big Ben.
Yet, on a recent return trip, we found these five surprises—some off the beaten track, some hiding in plain sight.
Pro Tips: Several of these gems were found as we sat on the C10 bus from Victoria headed east to Deptford, on a trip down memory lane. London buses and the overground + DLR provide a great way to see unexpected sites. Use tfl.gov.uk and the TFL app for easy journey planning. Bus stops are identified by letters, and most bus stops have area maps showing you where to find nearby stops.
Travel above ground whenever you’ve got time. An Oyster travel card makes it easy to hop on and off London buses etc. at a whim. We’ve spotted much over the years from the front seat on the top deck of a red bus. (The best seat in town!)
Yes, a real farm. In the heart of London. All around here you’ll find great views of the river, new retail, small museums and an interesting mix of housing—from modest single family homes, low-rise apartment blocks and ritzy condos in converted waterfront warehouses. (The Doubletree Hotel, Rotherhithe is in the heart of the neighborhood, and you can read more about the history of the area at the Docklands museum.)
If urban farms is your thing, look for Hackney City Farm, near Victoria Park on the north side of the river, which is in striking distance of Regents Canal and the London Stadium.
One of two dedicated foot tunnels under the Thames, the Greenwich foot tunnel took us in ten minutes from the bustling heart of Greenwich by the old tea clipper, the Cutty Sark, to the north bank of the Thames, where you can continue by foot or bike along the Thames Path. In Greenwich we lunched at the charming French bistro aptly-named Fromage + Champagne, which is minutes from Greenwich dock (do make time for a Thames cruise, which arrive/depart from here throughout the day headed up and downstream), the Naval College and Greenwich Observatory and Meridian. Along the block from the bistro, I dropped in on the oddly named London Shabby Chic. Not one for souvenir stores, I found a tasteful selection among its crowded shelves.
We followed part of this 180-mile route from the north entrance of the Greenwich foot tunnel across the Isle of Dogs to the London Museum of Docklands. Keep an eye out for the path’s distinctive blue signage along both the north and south shores of the river.
Canary Wharf is known for its massive modern highrises — yet, nestled among them sits one of the original docklands warehouses, now home to the London Museum of Docklands. They have walking tours, kids activities, and it’s close to Tube and DLR. Free, but we strongly recommend making the £5 donation. This is a spot we’ll visit again.
The ugly side of colonialism, the slave trade and plantation life is vividly documented at the Museum of London Docklands. Further upstream along the Thames, you’ll find an example of the philanthropy of one of the wealthiest British sugar barons, Henry Tate—whose fortune endowed the Tate art galleries. Their contrasting collections—-traditional at the older Tate Britain and contemporary at the South Bank’s Tate Modern—means visiting both makes for an intriguing day. And, thanks to the Tate Boat, the trip between the two is easy and fun. We reached Tate Britain by the C10 bus from Victoria Station, but it’s also an interesting 15-20 minute walk from Victoria through Pimlico if you prefer. And, at the other end of your boat trip, there’s much to explore around Tate Modern, including Shakespeare’s Globe theater, Southwark Cathedral, Borough Market (go hungry!) and the Golden Hinde; or you can head across the Jubilee footbridge past St. Paul’s to the Museum of London, the sister to the Museum of London Docklands.
Julie Tereshchuk is the Editor-in-Chief of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. Raised in England, she makes frequent trips to London from her home in Austin, Texas.