Dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park.
Stuart Bak

Quirky things to do in London

Scratch the surface and you’ll find there are dozens of unusual and quirky things to do in London. We’ve got a whole bunch of out-there ideas to help you sidestep the tourist traps and experience London at its wackiest, from strolling underneath the Thames, to sleepovers with dinosaurs, a Moomin mecca and dining in the dark.

London’s quirkiest museums

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Sure, you’ve heard of the Natural History Museum. But did you know you could stay over in its cavernous Hintze Hall? We can’t promise you sweet dreams as you doze off in the shadow of a suspended blue whale skeleton, but you’re certainly guaranteed a unique and unforgettable experience. There’s a sleepover for kids, with a dino t-shirt workshop and a chance to search the museum for prehistoric beasts by flashlight, and a separate one for adults that includes a pub quiz, an all-night monster movie marathon and more.

London’s smaller, quirkier museums are often its most interesting. Surrounded by beautiful ornamental gardens and woodland, the Horniman in south London specializes in anthropology and natural history with a collection of over 350,000 objects. Don’t miss the eye-popping permanent exhibition of taxidermy animals. It’s here you’ll meet the famously overstuffed walrus that is the museum’s emblem. He’s been around as long as the museum itself – since 1901.

Take a ride on Mail Rail at the Postal Museum in Farringdon. This quirky little place is great for kids, with an interactive exhibition and fun playroom. But the undisputed highlight here is a ride into the original underground tunnels on the same miniature train used to transport mail 100 years ago.

Head to lively Fitzrovia for the atmospheric Pollock Toy Museum. This nostalgic wonderland of colorful toys and trinkets boasts over 4,000 antique toys, with everything from Victorian porcelain dolls to dinky Matchbox cars and wooden rocking horses.

To step into Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields is to enter a bygone era. But nothing here is quite as it seems. Severs lived in this Georgian townhouse from 1979 until his death in 1999, during which time he painstakingly transformed the interior to represent the imagined 18th-century lives of a fictional Huguenot family. It is, in effect, a highly authentic theatre set, alive with grand period décor and furnishings, and particularly evocative in December when rooms are decked out with festive candles, trees and decorations.

Fun (and free!) outdoor attractions

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Postman’s Park is an oasis of calm amid the bustling streets of the City. At its heart is a late-Victorian era monument to everyday heroes who died saving the lives of others. Set against a red-brick wall, beautiful ceramic tiles of the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice commemorate the lives lost, vividly (sometimes even graphically) detailing their courageous deaths. It’s a lovely spot for quiet reflection.

Venture south to Crystal Palace Park, a Victorian pleasure garden that retains many of its original features. Dinosaur sculptures that date back to the 1850s bask in and around the lake. Though not considered entirely anatomically accurate by modern standards, what they lack in realism they more than make up for in charm. Look out for the megalosaurus and iguanadons in particular. The park also contains six huge sphinxes that flank the staircases along the Italian terraces, as well as a fun maze and a number of interesting statues, many of which are headless (some are even said to be cursed)!

There are many attractions to tempt visitors to Greenwich, not least the Cutty Sark and Maritime Museum, but no trip to the home of time would be complete without a stroll through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. A feat of turn-of-the-century engineering, the tunnel spans the Thames at a depth of 15 metres, emerging on the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, from where you’ll be rewarded with splendid views back across the river to the Royal Observatory.

Footsore visitors may prefer to have a go at one of London’s latest crazes: pedal buses. These people-powered vehicles seat up to around 12 and allow you to tour the sights while seated around a table. Many operate a bring-your-own-bottle policy, while others factor in stops at some of London’s finest alehouses.

Unusual emporiums

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Looking for a quirky souvenir of your trip to London? Then look no further than Bloomsbury’s James Smith & Sons, the candy store of the umbrella world, where well-to-do gentlemen (and ladies) have been furnishing themselves with high-quality handmade umbrellas, parasols, walking sticks and more for over 150 years

Just over the road, and a stone’s throw from the British Museum, Treadwell's is a quirky esoteric bookstore specializing in witchcraft, tarot, spiritualism and the occult. Wander downstairs to see the amazing fireplace that once belonged to occultist and celebrated tarot illustrator Pamela Colman Smith, and now forms something of a shrine to her memory.

Lighten the mood with a pilgrimage to The Moomin Shop in Covent Garden Market. Wall-to-wall Moomin memorabilia is what it’s all about here, with author Tove Jansson’s lovable trolls available to buy in almost every format you can think of: Moomin books, Moomin mugs, Moomin socks, Moomin purses, Moomin cuddly toys and, yes, even Moomin tea.

Quirky eats and entertainment

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Once you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time for dinner – with a difference. Farringdon’s Dans le Noir is a sensory dining experience like no other, where visually impaired waiters serve up surprise courses in pitch darkness. Simply choose the red (meat), blue (fish) or green (you guessed it: vegetarian) menu and let the waiters – and your taste buds – do the rest. You might be surprised by how tricky it is to identify food you can’t see. Those who suffer from nyctophobia need not apply.

London’s knack for reinventing its public spaces also now extends to public conveniences. Officially, the initials of the WC bar in Clapham stand for the wine and charcuterie served inside, but this hip hangout was, in fact, also a lavatory in a former life. Don’t let that put you off though: this century-old subterranean space is beautifully restored and very atmospheric, with exposed brick, reclaimed pipework and still-gleaming original tiles. Grab a booth and dive into delicious sharing boards, tasty tapas and ace cocktails that include, naturally, a WC Fields Martini. The sister bar over in Bloomsbury is an equally charming place to spend your pennies.

Some of London’s quirkiest music venues also happen to be some of its finest. A pilgrimage to Islington’s Union Chapel is always rewarding. This working 19th-century gothic church hosts regular live acts and other entertainment such as comedy and film screenings. It’s tough to beat communing with your favourite band in this most sacred of spaces.

A café by day, the subterranean church crypt at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, just off Trafalgar Square, transforms into a late-night jazz venue in the evenings. Meanwhile, over at the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, the grand entrance shaft for a long-defunct pedestrian tunnel beneath the Thames has been reborn as a unique space for the performing arts. Its high walls, blackened by soot from steam trains, provides a suitably atmospheric backdrop for dramatic operas.

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