Sunday 10 May 2020

London, World City

The London Transport Museum,
Covent Garden

Less-known places to see in the UK's capital city

Having been forced by the Covid-19 pandemic to stay at home for several weeks I have emotionally missed travelling in general, and in particular have had to cancel three trips to London. Two of them were family visits, on which we usually fit in visit to a museum or other attraction while we're there, and one was a rather special visit to the Savoy on a carving course, but I still have the gift voucher for that and hope to do it another day, when we can travel again. It is hard to take in that I cannot just walk out of my home, buy a ticket at the station and go wherever I like - and while I may be able to get away with that I would find when I arrive that nothing is open anyway. All the events are cancelled, the museums, galleries, preserved houses etc closed, no bars, cafés or restaurants.

So I have no further trips on which to write reports, but it seemed to me that I have been to London so much recently that I ought to write this summary of some of the less well-known places I have visited and which some readers may find interesting. I want to say first, though, that many of the best-known attractions are famous for a reason: they are very interesting and worth seeing. Others I am not so fond of and while I have revisited as an adult a lot of what I first saw as a child, I have not bothered with, for example, Madam Tussaud's Waxworks. The Tower of London, however, was well worth a proper grown-up visit: it may be the world's most-visited castle but so it should be!

National Trust

The National Trust has a number of sites in London and last summer we set out to visit all of them. We did not quite make it, so there is a reserve list for this summer, if we are able to get there, or later.

2 Willow Road, the home Erno Goldfinger designed
for himself. Visiting by pre-booked tour only

One year ago I reported on a visit to several sites during a short break in London, including three National Trust properties: Thomas Carlyle's House, Erno Goldfinger's House and Fenton House. None of these is likely to be at the top of anyone's To Do In London list but all shed light on the history of England, the history that shapes the England, and especially the London, we know now. I had never thought about Carlyle before I visited his house and although (as a one-time town planner) I did know something about Goldfinger, the visit to his place was a huge eye-opener: ask about his oddly low-profile furniture!
Osterley Park

On another short break last summer we visited two more National Trust properties at Ham House and Osterley Park, rather better known, perhaps, but still not on many people's list of must-do things in London; both rather more the typical National Trust big house and with worthwhile gardens.

To find out more about why the places are interesting and how and when to visit them, please follow my links above to their web pages, and to read about my own visits, follow the links to my blog posts at the start of each of the above paragraphs.

English Heritage

Apsley House (and a tree!)
seen from the top of the Wellington Arch
English Heritage, at one time the Government's own conservation body, has a lot of property in London: some of it is well-known and some isn't. The better-known places include Wellington's Apsley House, and the associated Wellington Arch opposite, which I visited in 2015. These are by Hyde Park Corner, so handy for Buckingham Palace, Knightsbridge and Victoria station as well as Hyde Park, and there is much to learn about the Napoleonic and early Victorian era there. On the same break we also saw Chiswick House with its superb park setting.

Last year's visiting list mentioned above also included a some of the lesser-known English Heritage properties, and we went to see Kenwood in the summer, a much an art gallery as a house, with a wonderful walk over Hampstead Heath to get there. A trip to Marble Hill House will have to wait as there was work being done there which precluded a visit, but we have it in our sights!

Other Museums

London has many famous world-class museums which are on many visitors' lists. For visitors from outside London, though, even the major Museum of London may be unknown, along with its counterpart the Museum of London Docklands. The Museum of London sits on the Roman city wall and explores the history of the city (and quite a lot of British culture besides) and is free to enter (the restaurant is pretty good, too). A trivial fact is that it is the southern end of the A1 Great North Road, for those who like that sort of thing! I have been there several times, for example to an exhibition of the 1666 Great Fire. I went to the docklands museum when they had a display of what the tunnelling for the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) had unearthed. There is a great play area for young children at the Museum of London Docklands, which must be booked in advance if you want to use it, and a good café.

The Jewish Museum, Camden
There are many small and lesser-known ones that are worth visiting if you are interested in what they are showing - and sometimes we can be surprised about what we can learn about society, history and geography from a museum whose main topic may not be high on our own list of interests.

I found myself with some time to spare in the Kings Cross area once and visited the London Canal Museum which was brilliant and taught me more about the ice industry than it did about canals (because when you've explored Birmingham you know more about canals than London can ever tell you!).
The Canal Museum, Kings Cross

Thoroughly recommended, hard to find, but easy with a map. Not far away to the north of the area is the Jewish Museum in Camden, also recommended, which we visited after the Tower of London (not that it was an afterthought: we keep a mental list of places we want to see and fir them into spaces in our schedule).

Theatres, Shops and Things

London is by far the UK's biggest city as well as its capital and for a long time was the biggest city in the world and capital of an empire so although its history may not be as long as Rome's or Jerusalem's it is both highly significant and, by its sheer size and number of people, contains a lot of things. You would think it already had enough theatres, but there on the south bank right opposite the Tower of London is a brand new theatre, The Bridge, which is such an amazing place it is worth visiting no matter what play you see performed! We saw Julius Caesar there, absolutely brilliant. Don't just look to the West End "theatre land" if you're looking for great drama.

Everyone thinks they have to shop in Oxford Street, and if you want to meet a lot of other tourists (and pickpockets) and buy things you can get in any other city along with tacky souvenirs of London, then by all means have a look. It does have some really good department stores, but then so do Birmingham and Manchester and the Westfield Centres in east and west London. Leading into Oxford Street from the north side is Marylebone High Street, almost devoid of visitors but full of interesting shops of all sorts, including the fashions you may have been seeking among the heaving crowds on Oxford Street. Go on, be different, explore: I discovered Marylebone High Street while wandering around one day last May.

If you want to explore all that I have seen and done in London in recent years, just type "London" into the search box at the top of this web page and you'll see lots of pages - sometimes I am just passing through on my way to France, Germany or Switzerland, but I often stay for a few hours while passing through. There's usually something!

What do you like to do in London? Let me know in the Comments box below!

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