Most tourists visiting London for the first time will head for the more well-known attractions: Madame Tussaud’s, the Planetarium, the Natural History Museum, the V&A, the British Museum, various art galleries, amongst a whole host of other well-publicised and popular venues.
There are, however, tucked away between the leviathan veins of Regent Street and Oxford Street and amongst the less beaten tracks, many hidden gems just waiting for you to discover and appreciate all they have to offer...
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The Wallace Collection
The Wallace Collection is to be found nestled just off Manchester Square and a few minutes’ walk from accessible tube stations on Oxford Street, Marylebone Village or Baker Street.
It is open daily from 10.00 – 17.00 hours, except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Admission is free.
Once inside the building, you will be enchanted by the exquisite collection of 18th and 19th century art works once belonging to Richard Wallace, the son of the fourth Marquess of Hertford.
One of the most well-known paintings you can find displayed here is that of the Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals; it's not known who this enigmatic gentleman was but his face is destined to be recognisable to all as he smiles out from the canvas. Also amongst the vast array of art treasures within these walls you will discover numerous paintings by such famous names as Rembrandt, Velázquez, Rubens and Canaletto, displayed in all their glory for your delight.
After viewing the themed exhibits on each of the floors you might well be looking forward to taking some kind of refreshment or dining al fresco in the Wallace Collection’s superb glass-roofed courtyard and sculpture garden.
A word of advice here - it might be wise to pre-book your table to avoid disappointment, as this pretty little conservatory is a popular meeting place for Londoners and visitors alike.
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You simply cannot find yourself in Knightsbridge without popping into its local department store – not just any old department store but the renowned and distinguished Harrods.
Opened in 1834 by Charles Henry Harrod, this impressive and iconic green-canopied building you certainly cannot fail to recognise, taking up, as it does, the whole of a block. You can while away a chunk of your time visiting each and every one of its seven floors offering both luxury and everyday items. If you are lucky enough you might even catch the sales.
The motto of Harrods is Omnia Omnibus Unique, All Things for All People – and you are surely going to find something that delights you in this store. As you proceed, you might even come across an art installation here, an Egyptian mummy there, an Italian tenor round one corner, a flamenco dancer round another and refreshments at each turn. And who knows what you might bring home in your green and gold Harrods bag? Happy shopping!
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Keeping to the department store premise, another one on your must-visit list has to be the enchanting Liberty’s department store. Stepping into this quaint place, set back off Regent Street, you feel as though you have time-travelled into some sort of pseudo-Tudor period, with its black beams and wonky floors, interestingly juxtaposed with modernistic furnishings, knick-knacks, luxury goods, women’s and children’s wear, household goods, furniture, beauty items - the list of items for sale in this wonderful building goes on and on.
Definitely one to tick off your ‘Visiting London’ list.
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For something completely different, why not take a trip to Little Venice, an area of beautiful canals and waterways to be found about ten minutes’ walk north of Paddington Station.
Take a walk along Regent’s Canal and view the pretty scenery of the canal banks, the elegant houses of Maida Vale and finally end up in Camden. Or, if you are feeling a little less energetic, why not take a 45-minute boat ride, past London Zoo and on down to Camden Lock Market?
Little Venice is also home to many cosy waterside cafes, pubs and restaurants, so how about a making a well-deserved pit-stop in one of these lovely venues. Sit cradling a drink and nibble on crisps whilst admiring the pretty barges that pass by and engaging in a relaxing spot of people-watching? You might even be lucky enough to catch a puppet theatre or a fringe comedy, you never know. This area is known for its theatrical entertainment.
Snuggling within the motherly arms of Covent Garden, in the district of the Seven Dials, lies Neal’s Yard, a colourful little courtyard many people have no idea exists. It is a treasure of a place that you come across accidentally and realise you want to linger there awhile.
Accessed through Neal’s Yard Lane, a narrow curving and high-walled passageway off Monmouth Street, Neal’s Yard suddenly opens out in front of you, its painted murals vibrant in the sunshine. Within, waiting for you to find them, are Neal’s Yard Remedies Store, Neal’s Yard Dairy and the Wild Food Cafe, as well as other cafes and retail areas.
Back in the seventies this area would have been used for refuse collection, more than likely infested with rats and as such did not appear on any map. It was scheduled for being demolished when a certain Nicholas Saunders discovered it and decided to use the location as the base for his new whole foods business.
Interestingly, Neal’s Yard was formerly called King’s Head Court but Saunders renamed it after Thomas Neale, the wealthy businessman who created the Seven Dials, the district Neal’s Yard is now located in. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Now it is finally on the map, you can be one of the lucky few who manage to stumble across, if not wholly accidentally, this lovely little piece of history.
The London Tour Bus
Of course, a great way to get a general feel for the city is to take an organised open-top bus ride, which will give you an overview of the sights you might wish to revisit later.
It takes about an hour and a quarter to complete its circuit, so what better way to begin, or end, your sight-seeing tour of the fascinating capital of England? Enjoy your trip.