Supreme surprises: London’s unexpected pleasures


London may well be known as a thrusting, bustling modern metropolis that’s also full of the pomp and pageantry of Royal history, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also offer up many a curiosity and quirky surprise. So, if you’ve visited the UK capital before and have already done many of the obvious sites (or even if you haven’t), you might be interested in the following examples of its hidden delights just ready and waiting to be discovered by eager visitors in the mood for something a little different…

Japanese Roof Garden

(10 Thornhaugh Street WC1H 0XG)

Yes, it offers Oriental solitude in the heart of the West End, but that aside, what really recommends this little space atop the roof of the School of Oriental and African Studies building? Well, unlike fauna and flora-reliant parks that tend to look far from their best in the dark winter months, this getaway from all the London hustle-bustle is perfect the whole year round. Patio- and gravel-based it may be, but with its intriguing combination of big sunken boulders and stones and the occasional biwa (lute) player, it’s something of a heavenly haven – whatever the time of year.

Leighton House Museum

(12 Holland Park Road W14 8LZ)

More old-school Istanbul than hoity-toity Holland Park, this one-time home to Pre-Raphaelite artist Frederic Leighton is a real ‘east meets west’ destination located in leafy West London. Boasting a magnificent domed roof and a cornucopia of dynamically colourful tilework and mosaics in its fittingly monikered Arab Hall, it’s a fascinating, all too rarely talked about museum, many of whose rooms are brimming with the Victorian painter’s terrific works; most finished, some not. More a bazaar than a bizarre London venue then – and just a short hop from the Park Grand hotel Paddington.

Little Venice

Little Venice

(Located between Blomfield Road, Warwick Avenue and Warwick Crescent W9 2PB)

Fair dos, some of London’s canals aren’t exactly picturesque, but should you be smart enough to stay at somewhere like, say, the Park Grand central hotel London, then you’ll find that, practically on your doorstep, is the delightful narrowboat haunt that’s Little Venice. A collection of pubs, bars, bistros and boutiques set around a canal basin in the city’s Paddington district, it’s the ideal spot to enjoy a sunny afternoon of tranquillity, a tipple or two, people-watching and, yes, even outdoor table tennis. And during the spring and summer you’ll find a puppet theatre barge moored nearby. What more could you want, honestly?

Brixton Windmill

(Windmill Gardens, Blenheim Gardens SW2 5EU)

South London may be something of ‘another world’ for Londoners who spend the majority of their time north of the river, but few would expect to discover something as unusual as this little slice of the Netherlands just past Brockwell Park. Yet, this delightfully Dutch example of old-fashioned, wind-driven engineering is exactly that. Ashby’s Mill (or ‘Brixton Mill’) has stood on this site since before Queen Victoria was born and, although its days of supplying flour to the top West End hotels as it once did are now long gone, its windmill proudly remains – moreover, tours of the place are held regularly and there’s even talk of getting its production going again. Flour power!