Among the chain cafes and bus fumes between Holborn and Blackfriars, there lies nine quiet, cultured corners that are perfect for a break from city life. Take advantage of the history surrounding you with my favourite peaceful places to enjoy in Holborn, Temple and Fleet Street.
1. Twinings Tea Museum
This 300-year-old tea house opposite the law courts was originally Twining’s first store and is now a combination of small-but-perfectly-formed museum (about Twining’s history) and beautiful tea shop, selling rows and rows of all types of tea and offering tastings too. Your author recommends the orange and cinnamon redbush blend.
Opening hours: Monday – Friday 9.30am – 7.30pm; Saturday 10am – 5pm; Sunday 10.30am – 4.30pm
Admission charge: Free, if you can resist buying something
More information: Visit the Twining’s website
2. Conway Hall
Home of some of the most interesting – and regular – lectures in London. Their London Thinks events cover everything from Scientology to the ethics of Doctor Who, and your author even saw Prof. Brian Cox discussing physics in these very walls.
Opening hours: Varies, but evening events usually start around 7pm
Admission charge: Prices for events vary
More information: conwayhall.org.uk
3. Dr Johnson’s House
There shouldn’t be a Londoner alive who doesn’t feel a twinge of pride when they hear the phrase “Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
And we’ve got Samuel Johnson to thank for that, as well as the dictionary and a revival of interest in Shakespeare during the 18th century. Visit his former home at 17 Gough Square and learn more about this famous Londoner’s influence.
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday 11am – 5pm
Admission charge: Adult £4.50 (different for children, concessions and students)
4. Fleet Street Press
The place that inspired this very blog and one of the nicest tea/coffee shops in the chain-heavy Strand/Fleet Street area. Steer clear of it during lunchtime when the suits from the law courts descend, but go nuts off-peak when there’s a perfect spot in the window for people-watching, free wifi and yummy cakes on offer.
5. Sir John Soane’s Museum
The museum is the former home of the architect of the same name and now houses his impressive collection of antiquities and works of art. The house was also designed by the man himself and he arranged the collection so that his ‘students and amateurs’ could get to the exhibits easily to inspect them. As Soane wished, his arrangement has been preserved just as it was when he died.
I hesitated over adding the SIr John Soane’s Museum, simply because it’s so popular. Whenever I’ve tried to go there’s been a massive queue outside, and the candlelight evenings have to be limited to the first 200 people in the queue. But it’s been on my list for ages, and it’s popular for a reason. So it’s going in.
If you can’t get in, give number 6 a go instead – it’s just the other side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields…
More information: soane.org
6. Hunterian Museum
One of the oddest museums in London, the Hunterian is based at the Royal College of Surgeons and contains a vast collection of human and animal specimens, many of them in various states of gestation or dissection. See the skeleton of the 7ft 7ins ‘Irish Giant’, human brains and a plaster cast of Isaac Newton’s death mask.
Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Admission charge: Free, but donations appreciated
7. The Museum of Freemasonry
This imposing building just round the corner from Holborn station was built between 1927 and 1932 as a memorial to the Freemasons who died in WWI. Now it’s a library and museum with pottery and porcelain, glassware, silver, furniture and clocks, jewels and regalia on show, including those belonging to famous and Royal Freemasons like Winston Churchill and Edward VII.
Opening hours: Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Admission charge: Free
More information: freemasonry.london.museum/museum
8. The Cartoon Museum
Charting the evolution of British cartoon and comic art from the 18th century to the present day. Previous exhibitions have included collections on Private Eye, Viz Comic, and The Beano, and a current exhibition covers cartoons relating to Alice in Wonderland.
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday: 10.30am – 5.30pm (inc. Bank Holidays); Sunday 12pm – 5.30pm
Admission charge: £7 (less for concessions and students)
More information: cartoonmuseum.org
9. St Dunstan in the West
The original St Dunstan in the West church (built between 988 and 1070 AD) was big enough to get to Fleet Street. It narrowly escaped being destroyed during the Great Fire before old age finally meant it had to be rebuilt in 1831, and then repaired again after being partially damaged during World War II. Nowadays it sits just off Fleet Street next to the Royal Courts of Justice and is open for quiet contemplation during the week. Is there anywhere quieter to go on your lunch break? I don’t think so.
Opening hours: Monday – Friday 9.30am – 5pm
Admission charge: Free, but donations appreciated
More information: stdunstaninthewest.org