Large Living and Small Queues – An Alternative London Guide

This post was written by Robin Adams on behalf of the National Trust. Some good ideas for tourists and Londoners alike.

We all know London’s well established favourite tourist spots. The London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, British Museum, Tower Bridge, Tate Gallery… the list goes on. These are the attractions which consistently make London the most popular tourist destination in the world.

But popularity comes at a cost and that cost is queues. If you’ve only got 48 hours to spend in London you don’t want to waste your time standing about waiting to get into attractions. With that in mind we’ve picked out five alternative ideas for your trip to London – places where you can enjoy great sights without having to spend ages waiting to get in.

1. Discover Some Hidden Gems

The mark of London’s incredible history can be seen most clearly in the city’s architecture. Across the capital is a patchwork of fascinating buildings reflecting hundreds of years of styles and cultural trends.

The most popular of these are well known to everyone but there are loads of more unusual and less famous locations all catering to visitors who enjoy stepping back in time to see how life was in times gone by.

The National Trust runs properties across the city and you’ll find that a treasure trove of their finest buildings is in your local area when you spend some time in London. Explore the 17th grandeur of Ham House and Garden in Richmond then fast forward to the domestic modernism of the late 1930s at 2 Willow Road, Hampstead – taking a tour of these buildings is a dizzying tour throughout London’s style history.

2. A Grisly Glimpse Into The Past

If admiring the dwellings of the past is a little passive for your tastes, and you fancy something a more macabre taste of history, head to Southwark and make for The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret. Situated in St Thomas Church and once part of old St Thomas Hospital this museum dedicated to the sometimes messy business of historical surgery is the oldest operating theatre in Europe.

Apothecary's Remedies

You’ll find exhibitions detailing the grisly history of surgery in the UK, from the medieval times right up until the 20th century. Looking through the instruments used throughout these times you may think you’re in a torture chamber rather than a place of healing.

The museum holds events every weekend which bring the shrieks of the past to life during staged operations… they are recommended for ages 12 and upwards although adults of a sensitive disposition might also prefer to remain out of earshot of the screams.

3. Blur The Lines Between Life And Art

Now to another of the slightly more unusual attractions the city boasts – this one is especially for art lovers. London has a wealth of cracking locations at which you can see art from across the world and across the ages.

They are all worth a look but if you are interested in stepping into a work of art, where your imagination is the canvas, then make the trip to Spitalfields where you will find the Dennis Severs’ House.


Severs was a Californian artist who felt drawn to London by something he called the “English light”. When in the capital he took over the then dilapidated property in the east of the city slowly transforming it into the haunting work of art that it is now. Severs renovated the 17th century property, restoring its ten rooms to reflect different historical periods of its history.

But this is no dusty museum – the rooms are arranged in interesting ways, as if they have just been deserted. They represent the conclusion to a mysterious story that is designed to play on the imagination of visitors.

4. Offbeat Cinema In The City

Fans of the silver screen will be well aware of the big cinemas out in the west end. They appear often enough in the showbiz media, playing host to glitzy premieres around the year. However, if you want to enjoy an altogether different, and arguably far more welcoming, atmosphere during your trip to London then forget about these massive slick multi-million pound operations.

Our Hobby Is Depeche Mode

The unusually named Prince Charles Cinema is one of the quirkiest, and cheapest in the city. You’ll find brand new blockbusters playing on screens alongside classic greats and quirky cult favourites. Where else will you find a programme that boasts a swear-along Team America: World Police playing within days of the 80s action classic Tango and Cash!?

5. Blue Skies And Green Fingers

Our final recommendation is for the summer months when the streets get hot and you might want to escape to some green spaces to enjoy a bit of gardening. That’s what people have been doing at the Chelsea Physic Garden since it was founded by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries back in 1673.

Cafe at Chelsea Physic Garden

Kew may be the capital’s show-stopping location for horticulture fanatics but this spot has a fantastic pedigree and is well worth a visit. The accent now, as it was when it was founded, is on cultivating plants which can be used to eat or for medicine but that certainly doesn’t detract from the look of the place.

As the sun catches the soft purple blooms in the lavender field, health giving properties will be the last thing on your mind.

How will you make the most out of your time in London?

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