Weird Things to Do in London
If you seek out the strange and unusual things when you travel, then a trip to London won’t be complete without these 15 weird things to do in London.
With nearly two millennia of history, you’re bound to find some haunted destinations, quirky spots, and some unusual and unique attractions beyond the typical guidebook.
House of MinaLima
Contributed by Laura of What’s Hot?
Climb over the O2 Arena
Visit a 300-Year-Old Tea Shop
Eel Pie Island
Contributed by Katja of Globetotting
London is full of famous sights and must-see attractions but some of the best places to visit are those that fly under most visitor’s radars. One such place is Eel Pie Island, a large mudflat that sits in the middle of the River Thames.
Located between Richmond and Twickenham, this island is the largest in the London section of the river and has a brilliantly quirky history. Legend has it that this is where Henry VIII used to meet his many mistresses. Day trippers began visiting the island in the 17th century, drawn in part by the eel pies that were served by the inn on the island and in 1830, the Eel Pie Island Hotel opened.
During the 1920s, the hotel started hosting ballroom dances. These gave way to jazz sessions and later blues concerts with visiting US musicians such as Howlin’ Wolf playing. In 1963 The Rolling Stones played a weekly gig here and the hotel then welcomed everyone from The Who to Genesis onto the stage. The hotel closed in 1967 and sadly burned down several years later.
Today, Eel Pie Island is home to 26 sculptors, potters and painters. It’s closed to the public except for two weekends every year when the artists open their doors to visitors. During these weekends you can walk across the bridge onto the island and wander around the studios and boatyards.
The Hardy Tree
When the Midland Railway line was built in the 1860s, much of the graveyard surrounding the church had to be dug up to make room for the tracks. The most important mausoleums are still standing, but the gravestones of many commoners are now piled up around a large ash tree known as the Hardy Tree, whose roots have since grown in amongst the gravestones.
So why is it called the Hardy Tree? Because Thomas Hardy, the famous English poet and novelist, was given the unenviable task of dismantling the tombs and ensuring that the human remains were properly exhumed. At the time, he was studying architecture and was apprenticed under an architect named Arthur Blomfield, who had been commissioned to supervise the construction of the railway line through the churchyard.
Wild parakeets in Kensington GardensContributed by Demi of Around the World With Her
It is hard to imagine in the UK’s busiest city that you can find exotic birdlife. London is known for being busy and metropolitan. However, in the parks across the capital, you may see wild green Parakeets. These birds look out of place, and more suited to a tropical country. You may just get lucky on any walk around London, but there is one place where you will always find Parakeets – Kensington Gardens! They really like a particular corner of the park, near the Peter Pan statue, and can be found here everyday.
I don’t condone feeding them, but people always do. So even without food, you will certainly see the Parakeets in this area. You can always hold you empty hand out, and as they are so used to being fed, they tend to just hop into you hand anyway. The birds are extremely inquisitive. They are also very gentle, so you need not worry about them hurting you.
No one is quite sure how the Parakeets came to live in London. There is an estimated 8000 breeding pairs in the capital. Theories on their existence in the capital range from being accidentally released from a pet shop during a fire, to Jimi Hendrix setting a pair free in Carnaby Street. We will probably never know for sure how they got to London.
The Old Operating Theatre
Contributed by Angela of Where Angie Wanders
In an unassuming building standing in the shadow of the Shard at London Bridge in the City of London, you will find a curious place called the Old Operating Theatre, rediscovered in the 1950’s having stood forgotten for decades.
On entering this seemingly normal brick building you are asked to make your way to the attic by way of a winding wooden stairway and it is there that you will find all manner of gruesome, but once operational, paraphernalia.
This timbered herb garret was once used by apothecaries for the concoction of herbal medications and tinctures to cure ailments such as madness, venereal diseases and symptoms of childbirth. Now the remnants of a time in history where anaesthesia had not been invented stare you in the face as scary looking surgical implements including amputation saws and organ removal clamps vie for your attention.
Continue through the attic and you will be led to the actual operating theatre. Its wooden operating table holding on to stories of horror where patients from the connecting St Thomas’s hospital would be brought. All around the table are viewing stands were doctors and spectators could watch the gory procedures taking place all without the use of an anesthetic.
It is said that the screams could be heard for miles around and if a patient survived they would be transported through the attic eaves back to the ward, who knows what happened to them if they weren’t so lucky. All I know is that there were plenty of specimen jars in the herb garret crammed with intestines and other body parts – so come to your own conclusion.
The Benjamin Franklin House
Contributed by Ella from ManyMoreMaps
Did you know that Benjamin Franklin, a US Founding Father, spent 16 years of his life in London? Neither did anybody else! His residence, 36 Craven Street, London, is the only remaining Franklin residence in the world. The Benjamin Franklin House, probably the weirdest museum in London aims to bring Franklin’s time in London to life inside those very walls.
The House is tucked away just behind Charing Cross station, and, although slightly tricky to find at first, is very easy to get to on public transport or on foot.
Rather than exhibit artifacts like a traditional museum, the Benjamin Franklin House offers “historical experiences” to its guests. For £8, a 45-minute historical experience is yours.
The experience starts in the basement of the house, where, in 1998, over 1,200 human bones were found, with unclear origins. The museum doesn’t really delve into this, leaving it up to your imagination to try to work out what on earth happened down there. Once you’re thoroughly spooked, a costumed actress will appear out of the darkness, pretending to be the daughter of Franklin’s landlady. As she guides you through the house, the actress interacts with sound and visual projections. These are supposed to tell the story of Franklin’s time in London, and his relationship with the building. Watching the actress interact with thin air is downright bizarre, but for added awkwardness, head there in winter. You’ll probably be the only visitor on the tour!
Check out Franklin’s only surviving residence is definitely one of the best weird things to do in London but it’s the weird “ historical experience” that will leave you laughing in bewilderment for hours after it has ended.
Contributed by Maria & Katerina of It’s All Trip To Me
The Leake Street Tunnel
Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker
Contributed by Steve of The Trip Goes On
Deep beneath the Essex countryside and only a few miles from the capital lies the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker. It’s not a very well-kept secret it has to be said, as there are even signposts helping visitors find the place. Given that the site was home to the UK government’s emergency response center in the event of a nuclear strike, those signs did not exist during the cold war and certainly not in Russian!
Kelvedon Hatch is a sleepy village in the Essex countryside on the outskirts of London, making it the perfect location for the government to escape to in times of emergency. The site contains a subterranean collection of communication rooms, barracks, sickbay, and canteen which could house hundreds of people for months a time. There was even a BBC radio desk down there to broadcast important information on any ongoing/incoming nuclear attack.
Thankfully the cold war is a distant memory and the bunker at Kelvedon Hatch now serves as an excellent museum. The aforementioned rooms, comprised over three floors below ground, house collections of old computer and radio equipment, propaganda posters, and various artifacts of the time. A visit to the secret nuclear bunker gives a fascinating insight into what life would have been like for those living and working under such terrible conditions.
Kelvedon Hatch is easily reachable from London by underground (take the Central Line to Epping) or by train to Brentwood and then a short taxi ride.
Victorian Pet Cemetery- Hyde Park, London
Contributed by Steph & Lewis of Book It Let’s Go
The Pet Cemetery in Hyde Park is one weird attraction. It is an insight into the past and is a must-see on any visit to London. Most people who have pets commemorate them in some way when they die. In Victorian London however, Mr. Winbridge the gatekeeper of Hyde Park took the tradition to a whole new level. The Victoria Gate Lodge, former home of the gatekeeper is also home to the Pet Cemetery for London’s wealthiest families.
The pet cemetery started in 1881 with the passing of a Maltese Terrier named Cherry. Cherry was owned by the Barned Family who were friends of the gatekeeper and would regularly walk Cherry in the park. The idea gained traction when the Duke of Cambridge’s Yorkshire Terrier Prince departed his life and the small garden in Hyde Park became the place for pet burials.
Cherry and Prince were joined by around 300 other beloved companions in the 22 years the cemetery was in operation. Mostly cats and dogs were buried here but the cemetery also holds some exotic birds and a few pet monkeys. The tiny headstones dotted in neat rows hold sentiments for much-loved pets such as ‘Dear Little Smut’ and ‘Dearly Loved Trap’ with most pets declared ‘a faithful friend’. A few, however, are less sentimental and some are downright disturbing with Fritz and Balu who were ‘poisoned by a Swiss’ and poor Scamp who was ‘run over’.
The Hyde Park Pet Cemetery is not open to the public, but special hour-long tours can be arranged for £60 for up to 6 people by contacting The Royal Parks. Alternatively, you can walk along the Bayswater Road and sneak a look through the railings into the cemetery and catch a glimpse of this small slice of Victorian history.
God’s Own Junkyard
Contributed by Lori of Southerner Says
If you are looking for weird quirky things to do in London, look no further than the Abbey Road zebra crossing made famous by The Beatles in 1969. The iconic photo of John, Paul, George, and Ringo crossing the street, appeared on the cover of their final album together, aptly entitled Abbey Road. Of course, it was a hit and so was the photograph. In fact, it’s probably one of the most famous photos of the foursome. Hundreds of thousands of people have made the journey just to see the crossing and pay homage to the fab four by taking their own photo.
The zebra crossing is outside the studio where The Beatles spent most of their time and recorded the majority of their music. At the time of the recording of the album, the studio was called EMI studios. However, after the success of the LP and the notoriety of the photo, the name was changed to Abbey Road. While you can’t tour the inside of the studio, there is a graffiti wall where the public is invited to leave messages and there’s a small souvenir shop on the premises.
Abbey Road also has a webcam. The footage is saved for twenty-four hours so you’ll have time to check out the website to see how you looked striding across the road.
Located in the borough of Camden in Westminster, northwest of London, Abbey Road can be reached via London’s tube by taking Jubilee Line to St. John’s Wood Station. Keep in mind it is a real street with cars, so it may take a little patience to get your photo.
Broad Street Pump
Contributed by Sydney of A World in Reach
One of the best weird things to do in London is to pay a visit to the Broad Street Pump, the source of London’s 1854 cholera outbreak.
The 1854 cholera outbreak occurred in London’s Soho district, an area lacking a sewage system. During the outbreak, many physicians in London believed that cholera was caused by particles in the air, known as “miasma.” John Snow, a British anesthesiologist, did not believe that this could be the cause of the outbreak; rather, he thought that it was spread via germ cells in contaminated water.
To test his theory, Snow began interviewing Soho residents and mapping all of the cases in Soho. The map showed that nearly all of the cases lived near the Broad Street Water Pump, and thus obtained their drinking water from that pump. Based on his evidence, Snow convinced the London city council to remove the pump handle from the Broad Street Pump; as a result, there was a significant decrease in the number of cholera cases. Because of his investigation, John Snow is now viewed as a hero in the field of public health.
Today, the site of the Broad Street Pump draws epidemiologists and fans of weird attractions to Soho. To find the pump, head to Broadwick Street (renamed in 1936) in Soho. The original pump was removed, but a replica now stands in its place. There is also a red curbstone that marks the site of the original pump. Right beside the pump is the John Snow Pub, which is filled with information about Snow and his work. If you have a drink here, you’re officially a member of the John Snow Society!