London is home to seemingly endless famous historic and cultural attractions (not to mention incredible food, shopping and accents). But as with every diverse metropolis, there’s more to the city than TripAdvisor’s top ten.
In fact, one of my favorite parts about exploring a destination is finding off-the-beaten-path and unexpected delights. So when I recently visited London for the third time, I asked a local friend to take me to a few unique spots that I might not have encountered otherwise.
Tucked away in the bustling financial district, this shady spot was one of my favorite off-the-beaten-path finds in London. That’s because it’s home to a unique and touching testament to the heroes of London’s past: G.F. Watt’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. It’s a wall of ceramic tablets dedicated to residents who have sacrificed their lives to save others.
Many of the plaques were created in the 1900s, the heyday of yellow journalism. This is consistent with the somewhat sensationalist way the short stories are told. Some honorees perished in fires, others drowned, and others were hit by trains or runaway horses — but all of them perished in the process of saving someone else. Overall, I was struck by the concise and vivid tales of bravery that make up this sad yet inspiring tribute to human selflessness.
Gordon’s Wine Cellar
Established in 1890, this cozy hideaway near Charing Cross station purports itself to be London’s oldest wine bar. Walking through the nondescript entrance into the old-fashioned main bar, I enjoyed looking at all the historic newspaper clippings and memorabilia covering the walls.
But the real treat was the cellar downstairs. This literal “wine cave” features a rocky, vaulted ceiling along with old wooden tables and chairs. As I drank a glass of rosé in the flickering candlelight, I felt as if I could be a character from a Dickens novel.
This attraction is part-garden, part-restaurant, part-observation deck — and an all-around amazing place. The garden is located on the top floor of the controversial building known as the Walkie-Talkie. While it’s relatively well-known by residents, it’s a bit removed from the traditionally touristy parts of the city, and it’s definitely worth exploring.
After ascending 155 meters to the summit, I wandered outside onto the observation deck to take in the city views. Then I took a stroll through the terraced gardens. As the sun began to set, the sky filled with vibrant colors behind the city skyline. I watched the magic happen while drinking the featured cocktail of the day — a tasty rum punch that could have doubled as a work of art.
Entry to the Sky Garden is free, but you must book online in advance, and tickets are limited. Get there a little early to queue through security checks on the ground floor before you go up to the garden via elevator.
Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates
En route to St. Paul’s Cathedral, I happened across this tiny chocolate shop by the Royal Exchange. It was a chilly day, and their sign advertising hot chocolate beckoned me (and my sweet tooth). I stepped inside the cozy nook and took in all the truffles and treats lining the walls before refocusing my eyes on the prize.
After I ordered a hot chocolate, the associate ladled thick chocolate into a cup from a simmering saucepan. I chose to customize the concoction with cinnamon (but you can choose from an assortment of spices). Taking a sip, I was surprised by the richness of the chocolate, with almost a hot-fudge-like texture. This small cup of happiness offered the perfect amount of beverage to warm me up for a day of winter sightseeing.
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