If you’ve a nose for the unusual, of all the world’s major cities, London’s undoubtedly the one to pay a visit. Not least because, well, among all its marvellous and random quirks, under the arch of its one-time wartime military HQ, Admiralty Arch (which leads off Trafalgar Square into the Mall), you’ll discover an actual life-size nose sculpted into the wall. What’s it doing there? Believe it or not, it was recently added to the building as part of a protest against the perceived over-snooping of CCTV cameras in the city.
Indeed, the Admiralty Arch nose is just one of London’s many weird and wonderful things to find, see and do. So if on your next – or even your first – trip to the capital you fancy taking the road less travelled, here are some truly top ideas…
When they go low, you go high?
So, in taking the road less travelled, how about taking the high road? We’re not talking the obvious panorama-affording likes of the London Eye or The Shard here; more the scene you can see by climbing to the summit of the Monument in The City. Built as a memorial to the lives lost in the legendary Great Fire of 1666, the structure opened in the 1670s – would you believe it – and remains somewhere not just of historical import but also one that offers fantastic views of the whole city.
Alternatively, how about climbing 100 metres only to descend it again at speed via a giant slide? Well, you can do just that inside the ArcelorMittal Orbit. Fair dos, you’re probably unlikely to recognise the name, but you may well recognise its appearance – it’s architect Anish Kapoor’s bright red, twirling modern art installation that stands tall in Stratford’s Olympic Park, memorable from the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
A bite to eat and a drop to drink
You may be aware of the plethora of red double-decker bus tours of Central London you can take nowadays. To be fair, many of them are tourist clichés, but those also offering that oh-so traditional English dining treat, an afternoon tea (a cup of tea along with delicious jam-filled scones, sandwiches and cakes), certainly aren’t.
Or maybe you fancy a more traditional spot of lunch at a restaurant? What would be unusual about that, you may ask. Well, what if the restaurant you choose is actually located in a hotel you’re not staying at? A bit odd, many might think, but should you decide to visit one of the fine restaurants near Paddington Station to be found in a hotel, such as at the Park Grand Paddington Court with its impressive seasonal menu and, indeed, grand, stylish interior décor, you’re bound to conclude you made the right choice.
Of course, London’s famous for all its Royal Parks, but there are also other natural spaces far less well known and – unfairly – rarely celebrated. One is the near 350-year-old Chelsea Physic Garden, a source of a staggering 5,000 different edible and medicinal plants. You’ll find it in the Chelsea area of town, almost hidden away on the north bank of the Thames.
Meanwhile, if you like the idea of getting even closer to nature – that is, literally getting into it – then why not take the plunge in one of the recreational ponds of North London’s glorious Hampstead Heath? Popular with all manner of locals for decades, these man-made but natural swimming ponds may be unheated but can be blissful oases should you be up for a dip on a warmer spring or summer’s day.
Maybe more than anything else, though, London’s eclecticism is best represented through its museums – and, specifically, of course, the eccentrically-focused among them. Like the idea of looking through a collection of 3,500 fans from throughout world history? Greenwich’s Fan Museum’s the place for you. Intrigued to discover toys, puppets and miniature theatres from here, there and everywhere? Head to Pollock’s Toy Museum near Covent Garden.
Alternatively, are cartoons, comic books and political satire more your thing? The Cartoon Museum’ll be right up your street. Or maybe you’ve always been intrigued by what surgery was like in the Victorian era or schooling for children in the 19th Century? Well, if so, you’ll be perfectly served by the Old Operating Theatre Museum and the Ragged School Museum, respectively. London truly does have it all!