6 unexpected delights in London

Step away from the big attractions, and discover the weird and wonderful side of London. While reality isn’t quite as spectacular as it appears in new Disney release Mary Poppins Returns, there’s still plenty of unexpected excitement to be had in the capital. Take a look at our list and explore a whole world of art, creativity and relaxation that you probably never knew existed!

1. Eel Pie Island


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Nestled along the banks of the Thames between Twickenham and Richmond lies Eel Pie Island, a leafy artists’ enclave with a serious musical history. Once the site of legendary gigs by The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Black Sabbath, to name but a few, the island was also home to one of the UK’s largest hippie communities. Although times have changed, the island retains its artistic, free-spirited vibe and is perfect for those looking for an alternative place to explore.

This friendly community of craftsmen, artisans and inventors officially open their doors to visitors every June and December, but wander across the bridge that separates it from the mainland on any day and you’ll discover a weird and wonderful world of fantasy. Here, tiny studios are guarded by mannequins, old toys and hanging jewel-coloured lamps. Steps and walls are adorned with vibrant hand-painted murals and tiles, and eerie white skeletons peek out from behind lush emerald foliage. You can discover more of the island’s history at Eel Pie Island Museum, grab a bite to eat and a pint at the local pub, or practice your photography skills and chat to the locals as you explore.


2. Leake Street Arches


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Made up of a series of eight railway arches beneath the hustle and bustle of Waterloo Station, Leake Street Arches is an interesting addition to any visitor’s trip to the capital. Described as a “celebration of urban art, dining and entertainment”, it’s home to an eclectic mix of bars and eateries including Draughts (London’s first board game café) and the Rat Bar, a themed pop-up bar and live music venue featuring street art by the Wu-Tang Clan’s official artist.

Discover the renowned graffiti tunnel, where local artists show off their skills with an ever-changing array of fantastical designs, and explore the Vaults Theatre, which hosts a year-round series of theatre and club events in the grotto-like halls below the station. With the House of Vans music and arts venue just up the street, Leake Street is a hidden world of fantasy, culture and fun.


3. Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium


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Mary Poppins has a knack with the animals, and there are many ways you can get close to the city’s wildlife. One of the most unusual is Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, the UK’s first cat café. Situated a short walk from vibrant Shoreditch, this cosy two-storey cafe opened its doors in 2014 and gives city dwellers and visitors alike the chance to get close to 17 friendly felines. Enjoy playtime with the residents as you sip a perfect cuppa or English-themed cocktail, or upgrade your experience and enjoy a delicious seasonal afternoon tea as you relax with your new furry friends.


4. St James's Park


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You might not be able to feed the birds outside St Paul’s Cathedral anymore, but take a visit to St James’s Park and you’ll find yourself surrounded by unexpected feathered friends. From our native Mallards to exotic Black Swans, the park is a menagerie of local and rare breeds as well as our friendly city squirrels. Keep your eyes peeled for Great Spotted Woodpeckers and sleepy Tawny Owls and admire the resident pelicans as you explore one of our finest Royal Parks.


5. Sea Life London


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Discover life below the waves at Sea Life London Aquarium. Divided into diverse underwater zones, you can explore the ocean tunnel; enjoy a shark walk; discover the secrets of the Seahorse Kingdom; and meet the common octopus of the UK and the Atlantic Coast. There’s even a chance to snorkel with the sharks or go behind the scenes on a private tour with Sea Life experts.


6. Mary Poppins City Tour


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Follow in the Banks family’s footsteps and enjoy the lesser-known delights of London on two Mary Poppins themed city tours. In addition to Brit Movies Mary Poppins Walking Tour, Virgin Experience Days offer a Mary Poppins Walking Tour for two. Visit well-known spots such as St Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank of England; discover the meaning behind supercalifragilisticexpialidocious; and hear the secrets behind the filming of Mary Poppins Returns on this two-hour foray across the capital.

City of London
27 Mar 2020(last updated)