London is full of surprises, but nothing will shock you quite as much as the fact that these places are actually within the boundaries of the M25.
Our city isn’t all concrete and chaos. Believe it or not, we also have castles, caves and calm. Here are ten places that, rather astonishingly, are actually in London:
1. Kyoto Garden, Kensington
The beautiful Kyoto Garden is an oasis of calm in the heart of Kensington’s Holland Park. Originally built to celebrate the 1992 Japan Festival in London, this garden is a thing of pure beauty. Who needs a plane ticket to Japan when this is so damn convincing? You’ll get so lost in the pretty trees and Japanese features that you’ll forget you’re just a stone’s throw away from High Street Kensington. More info here.
2. BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden
Sure, most people wouldn’t put Neasden on their London bucket list — but that’s where they’d be wrong. This north-west neighbourhood is actually home to one of the most breathtaking buildings in the city. Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a beautiful, traditional Hindu temple carved entirely out of stone. For a time, when it was first completed in the mid-90s, it was the largest Hindu temple outside of India. Read all about it here.
3. Eel Pie Island, Twickenham
Eel Pie Island is a private island accessible only via footbridge, and it has many stories to tell. It was once a hub for jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll and many famous artists played within the ballroom at the legendary Eel Pie Island Hotel, including Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton and The Who. In 1963, there was a period where you could come and see The Rolling Stones play at the Eel Pie Island Hotel every week. Read all about it here.
4. Painshill Park, Cobham
Painshill Park is a gorgeous, landscaped garden that dates back to the 1730s. It was in fact the life’s work of Charles Hamilton; a well-to-do member of the Irish aristocracy. Inspired by his travels around Europe, Hamilton filled his garden with eccentric follies, Renaissance architecture and a beautiful grotto that you’d never guess was so close to the city. The grounds are well worth a visit, but note that the Crystal Grotto is only open at weekends. More info here.
5. Highgate Cemetery, Highgate
Highgate Cemetery is the resting place of 170,000 people, and that number is continuously growing. But the graveyard, somewhat surprisingly, is full of some impressive sights! In the West Cemetery, Victorian fascination with the Egyptians resulted in the stunning Egyptian Avenue, as well as numerous impressive tombs. Meanwhile, the equally impressive Lebanon Circle has appeared in many a ‘gram over the years. Less beautiful, but a lot more spooky, are the subterranean Terrace Catacombs; enter if you dare. More info here.
6. St Dunstan-in-the-East, the City of London
First built nearly a thousand years ago, St-Dunstan-in-the-East is now a lovely, secret garden situated amongst the ruins of the former Church of St Dunstan. The church is a Grade I listed building that was severely damaged in the Blitz of 1941 but, instead of being rebuilt, the remains are now open to the public. More info here.
7. Hampstead Heath Pergola & Hill Gardens, Hampstead
Hampstead Pergola is the outcome of a very rich man’s dream to host extravagant summer parties. That man is Lord Leverhulme, who made his fortune selling soap. However, after his death, the Pergola suffered. And, when the City of London took it under their wing in 1989, the place was nearly falling apart. They’re still in the process of resurrecting it, but it remains a beautiful spot for a wander. More info here.
8. Strawberry Hill House & Garden, Twickenham
I told you we had castles! (Don’t be fooled by ‘House’). This majestic building dates back to 1747 when Horace Walpole decided to purchase the empty Thames-side land and build his very own fairytale castle. As you would if you could, Walpole created a Gothic masterpiece, complete with battlements, towers and all. More info here.
9. Leighton House Museum, Kensington
Deep in the heart of Kensington, you’ll find the incredible Leighton House Museum. From the outside, you would never suspect that it’s actually a magnificent palace filled with breathtaking art. Lo and behold, the museum is crammed with brilliant paintings, sculptures and beautifully tiled rooms. More info here.
10. Crossness Pumping Station, Abbey Wood
Okay, I’m going to be honest here: this is a Victorian sewage system. But it’s not all sh*t. Known as the ‘Cathedral of Sewage’, Crossness Pumping Station first opened after The Great Stink of 1858, and it’s really rather beautiful. More info here.
Also published on Medium.