7 quiet things to do near Farringdon station, London

There are a few areas in London that take on a different personality during the weekend… St Paul’s is one; The City is another. But Farringdon and Clerkenwell are by far my favourites.

I held my wedding reception across the road from Farringdon station…

Farringdon Lane, London
Picture credit: Story and Colour photography

…and I always bring friends here when I really want to show London off.

It just so happens that there are tons of quiet activities to do that are within a short walk of Farringdon station, too.

Here are a few of my favourites. Is yours on the list? Let me know by leaving a comment, or drop me a message

Explore Dr Johnson’s old workplace at Saint John’s Gate

Museum of the Order of St John and St John's Gate, Clerkenwell, London
Image: Paul Hudson / Flickr

Discover the ancient religious military order that now supports St John’s Ambulance at the Museum of the Order of St John in (fittingly) St John’s Lane.

The collection on show is impressive and includes rare armour, a bronze cannon given by Henry VIII and ancient coins.

The museum is also housed in St John’s Gate, where Dr Johnson once worked and Charles Dickens socialised with fellow writers and artists.

Join a tour and they’ll even show you the 12th-century crypt and priory church.

Walk from Farringdon station: 4 minutes

Address: 26 St John’s Lane, London EC1M 4DA

More information: Visit The Museum of the Order of St John website here.

Step into a time capsule at St Bartholomew the Great

st bartholomew the great church, London
Picture credits: KotomiCreations on Flickr

If you like beautiful old monuments, tall ceilings and dark corners, then you’ll find lots to love at St Bartholomew the Great, which has atmosphere and charm by the bucketload.

Founded in 1123 as an Augustinian monastery, the building has survived almost a millennia of fires, wars and religious upheaval.

Stepping among the tombs and graves dotted around the building, you can almost feel the presence of the thousands of people who have passed through the doors.

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The church also currently holds a different type of work of art: Damien Hirst’s Exquisite Pain is currently on long-term loan and gilded in gold.

Forget the Tate Modern — this is my kind of art exhibition.

Walk from Farringdon station: 5 minutes (or 6 minutes from St Paul’s)

Address: Cloth Fair, London EC1A 7JQ

More information: Read my review here or visit their website.

Relax at Thackeray’s cafe

Thackerays Cafe, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

This new cafe next to The Charterhouse is a lovely example of a museum cafe and the perfect place to take the weight off if you’re exploring the area.

It was also pretty peaceful when I visited on a Saturday recently, so you could spend a happy few hours here if you want a place to write, read or study.

Walk from Farringdon station: 6 minutes (or 3 minutes from Barbican)

Address: 14 Charterhouse Square, London EC1M

More information: visit the Charterhouse website here.

Discover 900 years of history at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum

St Bartholomew's Hospital Museum, London
Image: A Peace of London

This little-known museum in the West Smithfield entrance of St Bart’s Hospital tells the story of the building, its patients and its staff.

Among the collection are a teaching head that was used as a football, a copy of Henry VIII’s refounding document for the hospital and a painted staircase by William Hogarth, which depicts real-life patients.

Henry VIII Gate at St Bartholomew's Hospital Museum
Image: A Peace of London

The museum is only open Tuesdays to Fridays, but if you’re visiting on the weekend then you can still check out the only public statue of Henry VIII in London, which stands above the entrance to the hospital on West Smithfield.

Walk from Farringdon station: 6 minutes (or 7 minutes from St Paul’s)

Address: 19 Giltspur St, London EC1A 9DD

More information: read my review here or visit their website.

Get a glimpse of Tudor London at The Charterhouse

Exterior of The Charterhouse, Smithfield, London
Image: A Peace of London

The Charterhouse in Clerkenwell has been super-popular since it opened in February 2017.

And it’s no wonder, since it has a history to rival the Tower of London…

The site started life as a burial ground for victims of the plague before the Charterhouse was built in 1371 as a Carthusian monastery.

In 1535 — a year before Anne Boleyn was beheaded at the Tower — 18 of the Charterhouse monks were either executed or left to rot in prison for refusing to accept Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church.

Exterior of The Charterhouse, Smithfield, London
Image: A Peace of London

The monastery was suppressed and passed to the King, before being turned into a Tudor mansion.

Later, the Charterhouse welcomed Henry VIII’s daughter Elizabeth I — who stayed here before proceeding to the Tower of London for her coronation — and James I who conducted business here before his own coronation.

Nowadays, the site is an almshouse which still houses 80 brothers and has been opened to the public.

Tours are available daily (book in advance as they’re very popular) and the free museum is open every day except for Monday.

Walk from Farringdon station: 6 minutes (or 3 minutes from Barbican)

Address: Charterhouse Square, London EC1M 6AN

More information: read my review here or visit their website.

Take a breath at St. James Church Garden

St James's Church Garden, Clerkenwell, London
Image: Story and Colour Photography

Hide away from it all in this little church garden off Clerkenwell Green.This is where we came to take a breath after our wedding (that’s a blurry me in the white dress above) and if we can disappear from view for half an hour on that day, then anyone can do it.

This is where we came to take a breath after our wedding (that’s a blurry me in the white dress above) and if we can disappear from view for half an hour on that day, then anyone can do it.

St James is lovely inside and out, so have a look around the church if you can. Otherwise, the garden looks just as lovely covered in autumn leaves as it does in the bright sunshine.

Otherwise, the garden looks just as lovely covered in autumn leaves as it does in the bright sunshine.

Walk from Farringdon station: 8 minutes

Address: Clerkenwell Close, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 0EA

More information: visit the St James’s Church website.

Dive into the London Metropolitan Archives

London Metropolitan Archives, City of London
Picture credit: Matt Brown on Flickr

London Metropolitan Archives holds City of London records (plus other territories such as Epping Forest) going back centuries, so this is a must-see for anyone remotely interested in London’s history.

There’s always an exhibition on, or to see inside the archives you’ll need to sign-up for a history card and have some clue of what you’re looking for.

The Archives are open Monday-Friday plus selected Saturdays: visit the website here to check times before you visit.

Walk from Farringdon station: 10 minutes

Address: 40 Northampton Rd, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 0HB

More information: visit the City of London website.

Find these places on the map:

And a bit farther away…

Byng Place, Bloomsbury, London
Image: Duncan Harris on Flickr

Around 15 minutes’ walk from Clerkenwell are Fleet Street, Holborn and Temple, which are full of quiet places to take a break — much of these are quieter during the weekend, too. Find out more about my favourite places in this area on my post or follow Matt Brown’s quiet walk through Holborn and Bloomsbury here.

Speaking of Bloomsbury… this laid-back area is one my favourite in London. I wrote a post about my 14 favourite quiet places in Bloomsbury and Russell Square here.

The best things to do in Shoreditch and Spitalfields (without the crowds)

From medieval crypts and a dissenters’ burial ground to tiny bookshops and pretty Georgian streets, Shoreditch and Spitalfields in east London have so many peaceful corners and activities to offer if you scratch beneath the over-hyped hipster surface.

Here are my 11 favourite things to do in Shoreditch and Spitalfields… great when you need to escape the crowds of tourist attractions such as Boxpark or Hoxton.

Is your favourite place on the list? Let me know in the comments or send me a message!

See medieval London below ground at Spitalfields Charnel House

Spitalfields Charnel House, London
Image: A Peace of London

At almost 700 years old, Charnel House in Bishop’s Square is Spitalfield’s oldest building.

Back in the 14th century, it would have been crammed with skull and leg bones — these were the most important parts of the body to save so that the dead could walk and talk on Judgement Day.

After the priory of St Mary Spital was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539, the space was used as part of a house and then as a storeroom for rubble from the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The message in the above picture reads:

“The crypt of the chapel of St Mary Magdalene and St Edmund the Bishop built in about 1320 and sited in the priory of Hospital of St Mary Spital. This crypt was used as a charnel house, a store for human bones disturbed during the digging of graves within the cemetery.

“In the chapel above, services were held to dedicate the bones beneath.

“After St Mary Spital was closed 1539, most of the bones were removed, and the crypt became a house until it was demolished in about 1700.

“The crypt then lay forgotten beneath the gardens of terraced houses and then Steward Street until it was found in archaeological excavations in 1999.”

And the best part?

The Charnel House is now protected by glass walls that allow you to view the ruins anytime of day.

There’s even a glass roof so you can peer down under your feet…

Address: Bishops Square, London E1 6FQ

More information: Read the history of the Charnel House on the Spitalfields Life blog here.

Have a nose in This Shop Rocks, Brick Lane

This Shop Rocks, Brick Lane, London
Image: A Peace of London

The sounds of bustling Brick Lane melt away when you head downstairs in this little secondhand shop.

Upstairs is filled with antiques and furniture, while the basement is reserved for books and other things you never knew you needed.

You could hear a pin drop down here, so put an hour aside, take some cash and prepare for peaceful vintage heaven.

Address: 131 Brick Lane, London E1 6SE

More information: Visit their Yelp listing here

Take a wander in pretty Georgian streets

Vintage car in Elder Street, Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London

If you want proof of how much east London has changed in the last 300 or so years, then you only need to go as far as Elder Street, Folgate Street and Blossom Street.

The streets of Spitalfields were some of the poorest in Victorian London and the houses were worth almost nothing just a few decades ago.

Cat in Shoreditch
Image: A Peace of London

Nowadays, you can expect to pay well over £1.5 million for the privilege of living in on Elder Street — and to be overlooked by some of the most affluent businesses in the country in their glass towers.

The thought that these streets were full of starving children a little over 100 years ago is sobering as you wander past the beautiful brick and quintessential Victorian doorways.

Spital Yard, Shoreditch, London
Image: A Peace of London
Georgian houses in Elder Street, Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London
Georgian buildings in Shoreditch, London
Image: A Peace of London
Street art in Princelet Street, Shoreditch, London
Image: A Peace of London

See ‘the bells of Shoreditch’ at St Leonard’s Church

Shoreditch Church - St Leonard's - London
Picture credit: Helen.2006 / Flickr

“When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch”

This church made famous by a slightly twitsted nursery rhyme (Oranges and Lemons, if you’re trying to place it) is also known as the actors’ church — some of the biggest names in Elizabethan theatre are buried in the medieval church underneath Shoreditch’s crypt.

The big names include:

  • James Burbage, who built the first English theatre
  • His son Cuthbert Burbage, who built the Globe Theatre
  • Another son Richard Burbage, who was the first to play Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard III and Romeo.

The church you see today was built after the medieval one collapsed in the 18th century; the replacement was designed and built by George Dance the Elder, who also designed Mansion House.

Excitingly, the original medieval crypt might be opened up in the future but for now, you can decompress here between midday and 2pm during the week.

Address: Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JN

More information: Visit the Shoreditch Church website

Visit the dissenters’ graveyard at Bunhill Fields

Bunhill Fields, Shoreditch, London
Picture credit: John W. Schulze / Flickr

Its name might suggest a vast green open space, but visit Bunhill Fields and you’ll instead get a burial ground full of radicals and nonconformists.

The most well-known among them are:

  • William Blake, who is actually buried in an unmarked grave about 20 metres away from his plain headstone
  • John Bunyan, best known as the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress
  • Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe.

The name “Bunhill” comes from the 1500s when the land was used as a dumping ground for animal bones — and the site lived up to its name when 1,000 cartloads of human bones were moved here from St Paul’s Charnel House.

Blake, Bunyan and Defoe are joined by about 120,000 others buried here — 75 of whom are buried in listed tombs.

The close proximity of each of the 2,333 stones gives you a real sense of how graveyards looked before the Victorian cemeteries opened in outer London to ease the pressure.

Address: 38 City Road, London EC1Y 2BG

More information: Visit the City of London website

Enthusiastic William Blake fans could follow a visit to his grave with a trip to the William Blake Mosaics of Lambeth.

Feel all warm inside (and not just from the coffee) at Café from Crisis

Cafe from Crisis, London
Image: A Peace of London

Head out of Spitalfields on Commercial Street and you’ll find a trendy café with a big heart.

Café from Crisis is based at the Crisis charity’s HQ and offers training and employment to homeless people and ex-offenders. So far they have helped over 400 people into sustainable work by training them for jobs in the catering industry.

As if that wasn’t good enough…

They also offer coffee from roasters in Essex and Peckham, healthy food that’s cooked onsite, smoothies and vegan treats. Even forgetting the fact that by eating or drinking here you’re helping to support people who need a break, this place is definitely worth a visit.

Even forgetting the fact that, by eating or drinking here, you’re helping to support people who need a break, this place is definitely worth a visit.

Address: 66 Commercial Street, London E1 6LT

More information: Visit the Crisis website

Snatch a few moments of peace at Elder Gardens

Elder Gardens in Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London

Hidden away between Folgate Street and Carluccio’s are Elder Gardens — a set of two little patches of nature that belie their uber-hip city location.

There are strict rules about what you can do here and the gardens are surrounded by flats so you’re pretty much protected from noise from all angles.

You’d also be forgiven if you didn’t know they were there, which means that you’ll only be joined by a select group of fellow peace lovers on your “escape” from the city.

Address: Lamb Street, London E1 6UJ

Switch off at Hanbury Hall

Hanbury Hall cafe, Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London

This peaceful coffee shop next to Spitalfields Market does have some slightly strange opening times…

But when it does open, the team serve lovely cakes, healthy lunches and a wide range of tea and coffee.

Stay downstairs for group visits but head upstairs if you really want to shut yourself away — the upstairs level is super-quiet with clean lines and high ceilings, owing to the building’s history as a Huguenot chapel.

Address: 22 Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR

More information: Visit the Hanbury Hall website

Dennis Severs’ House in Folgate Street

Dennis Severs House, London
Image: A Peace of London

Rather than acting as a traditional historic house, Dennis Severs House (otherwise known as 18 Folgate Street) takes the form of a ‘still-life drama’.

Explore this little house and you’ll get a sense of what life would have been like for the Huguenot immigrants who would have made it their home in 1724.

As you pass through the door of 18 Folgate Street, you’re supposed to feel like you’ve stepped into a painting — complete with smells and sounds of Huguenot life.

So leave your phones at home for this one — to preserve an accurate experience, cameras are not allowed and tours are conducted in silence.

Address: 18 Folgate Street, London E1 6BX

More information: Visit the Dennis Severs’ House website

Spitalfields City Farm

Spitalfields City Farm, London
Picture credit: David Hill / Flickr

There’s nothing better than a city farm when you’re slightly tired of London.

Spitalfields happens to be one of the best — not least because it hosts the Oxford/Cambridge Goat Race, which is one of the quirkiest events in London’s calendar (and in east London, that’s saying something).

The farm was opened in 1978 after local residents lost their allotments to development (nothing changes) and campaigned for a spot of wasteland to be put to good use.

It wasn’t long before animals started appearing on the new allotments, and Spitalfields City Farm was born…

The strong links to the community have remained, and the local community has been able to protect Spitalfields City Farm from the development that has taken over so much of east London for almost 30 years.

There are loads of ways to get involved in that community spirit, including a campaign to fund a new roof to keep the animals warm and dry.

Address: Buxton Street, London E1 5AR

More information: Visit the Spitalfields City Farm website

Also in east London…

More quiet London area guides…

 

A quiet wandering in Waterloo, Lambeth and Vauxhall

A few Saturdays ago, I joined forces with Saira from Living London (if you haven’t read her blog yet, you really should) and a few other London bloggers to explore the quieter side of some of south London’s busiest areas: Waterloo, Lambeth and Vauxhall.

Along the way, we discovered a poet’s paradise underneath abandoned railway arches, a city farm full of strange birds and Banksy’s “secret” tunnel. Here are my highlights — check Saira’s wanderings page for upcoming tours of her other London secrets…

The Graffiti Tunnel, Leake Street

Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel, Waterloo, London
Image: A Peace of London

Created by Banksy during the Cans Festival in 2008, The Graffiti Tunnel is a spectacle for anyone with even the remotest interest in street art. It’s completely legal and anyone can paint here — it’s so popular that you can come here a few days apart and see very different artwork in the same spot.

Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel, Waterloo, London
Image: A Peace of London

It’s definitely not crowded and worth a visit if you want something off the beaten track in this tourist-heavy area — but if you’re hoping for a serene paradise, maybe skip this one…

Nearest Tube: Waterloo

More information: Visit the Legal Walls website or read The Hostel Girl’s review.

Old Paradise Yard

Old Paradise Yard, London
Image: A Peace of London

This tiny garden, art gallery and event space sits just behind St Thomas’ Hospital and the banks of the River Thames. You’d have to know it was here to find it, which made it a great pit-stop for our walk.

Old Paradise Yard, London
Image: A Peace of London

Old Paradise Yard was once a school for the children of Lower Marsh traders before it became a Tibetan Buddhist centre. The old school rooms have been turned into studios and they also host a cafe and evening events, but it was so peaceful here during the day on the Saturday we visited.

Nearest Tube: Lambeth North

More information: Visit the Old Paradise Yard website

Vauxhall City Farm

Vauxhall City Farm, London
Image: A Peace of London

I can never resist a city farm. They’re just such a different experience to anything else you can visit in London — also there are usually alpacas…

Vauxhall City Farm, London
Image: A Peace of London

Like many of the city farms in London, Vauxhall City Farm is free. It’s right next to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and so quiet.

Nearest Tube: Vauxhall

More information: Visit the Vauxhall City Farm website

Blake’s Lambeth

William Blake Southbank Mosaics, Waterloo, London
Image: A Peace of London

“Mosaic is a metaphor for London: all the peoples, tribes, creeds, colours, clans, cultures, faiths and freedoms coming together to make a brilliant whole.”

Another tunnel (or, more accurately, another four tunnels), this time demonstrating Londoners’ ability to make something beautiful out of the dingiest of places. The 70 stunning mosaics within the railway arches of Lambeth were created by 300 volunteers over a period of seven years and you could spend a whole afternoon reflecting on them.

William Blake Southbank Mosaics, Waterloo, London
Image: A Peace of London

The connection with William Blake is a local one — the poet lived round the corner for 10 years from 1790 to 1800. In 1809, he wrote that he wanted his art enlarged and displayed in a public space — two centuries later, Southbank Mosaics have made his wish a reality.

Nearest Tube: Lambeth North

More information: Visit the Southbank Mosaics website

The Ragged Canteen at Beaconsfield Gallery

Beaconsfield Gallery, Vauxhall, London
Image: A Peace of London

Our last stop on our wandering was a bit of a surprise for everyone — we definitely saved the best ’til last. Owing to the popularity of our planned final pit-stop, the Tea House Theatre, we were forced to look elsewhere for a well-deserved rest. But, as is often the way, in our search for somewhere else we found a wonderful hidden gem to add to our repertoires.

The Ragged Canteen is set in the old Lambeth Ragged School building, serving delicious vegetarian food (with vegan/gluten-free options), Monmouth coffee and fairtrade tea. They have free wifi so it’s perfect for getting work done, but it was also the ideal spot for five bloggers who just wanted to swap stories.

Nearest Tube: Vauxhall / Lambeth North

More information: Visit the Ragged Canteen website

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Matt Brown’s quiet walk through Holborn and Bloomsbury

Matt Brown, London author and editor-at-large of Londonist.com, walks us through his suggestions for finding peace and quiet in the usually hectic areas of Holborn and Bloomsbury.

Begin in Leather Lane near Chancery Lane tube.

Brookes Market

Leather Lane gets very busy at lunch time. Its many food shops pull in crowds from a wide area, and it might well be the least peaceful place in Holborn. Take in the clatter and the chatter while you can, for we’re heading into more harmonious spaces.

Grab a burrito or salad box, and duck into Brookes Market. It’s just metres from the bustle of Leather Lane, but a world away in atmosphere. No longer a market, the small square offers a half dozen benches beneath a grove of plane trees. Few know about it, and you can often eat in relative seclusion.

Leave the market through the alleyway in the north-west corner, itself a quiet cutting that bypasses the noise of Holborn. Cross Gray’s Inn Road at the Zebra crossing and head into Gray’s Inn through the arch.

Gray’s Inn

Grays Inn Fields, Holborn, London
Picture credit: oh_simone / Flickr

The Inns of Court — historic campuses for the legal professions — are happy hunting grounds for those seeking a quiet spot. Gray’s Inn is no exception.

I like to head to the largest of its spaces, a lawned avenue, which is open to the public over lunch time. The benches along the walkway soon fill up, so head to the seating that’s set back on the lawns or, better yet, the hidden-away plant beds in the north-east corner.

Leave Gray’s Inn by one of the southern exits onto High Holborn. Cross over and head a little way down Chancery Lane to find the Silver Vaults on the left.

London Silver Vaults

London Silver Vaults, Holborn, London
Picture credit: Matt Brown / Flickr

One of London’s true hidden gems — almost literally — can be found in a glittering labyrinth beneath Chancery Lane. The Silver Vaults are freely accessed from Southampton Buildings. This argent marketplace contains dozens of small shops, all peddling items made from silver. You don’t need a big budget to shop here — commemorative spoons can be picked up for as little as £20. The subterranean location makes for a surreal, and peaceful, browsing experience.

Head back up to the street and cut down one of the alleyways into Lincoln’s Inn. Pass through the Inn — another serene place — and out into Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The Hunterian Museum is to the south.

Hunterian Museum

Sign of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, Holborn, London
Image: A Peace of London

Guides to ‘hidden London’ always tell you to go to the Sir John Soane’s Museum, as though it’s still a big secret. Leave it to the tourists and instead head across the square to the much quieter Hunterian Museum (read a review here), which lurks within the Royal College of Surgeons building. This free medical museum contains a peerless collection of anatomical curiosities, including the skeleton of a giant and the supposed finger of a yeti.

Recross the square and take the oddly named Great Turnstile onto Holborn. Cross and head down Red Lion Street.

The Dolphin

The Dolphin Tavern, Holborn, London
Picture credit: Ewan Munro / Flickr

Time for a drink. The Holborn area has no shortage of superb pubs, but most of them get pretty busy. The Dolphin, by contrast, always has an air of calm, as though time has stopped somewhere in the mid-20th century and is in no hurry to get going again. The impression is reinforced by the ancient clock, whose hands never waver from 10.40. It hasn’t been repaired since a Zeppelin bomb smashed into the pub during the First World War.

Cross Theobalds Road, follow Lambs Conduit Street, then head west on Great Ormond Street to Queen Square.

St George the Martyr

St George the Martyr church, Bloomsbury, London
Picture credit: Matt Brown / Flickr

Now here’s a rare discovery: a quiet and charming cafe so near to the British Museum. This Georgian church goes beyond matters spiritual with a fully stocked cafe. Most of the seating area is within the nave itself. Rarely busy, this must count as one of the city’s most relaxing cafes.

Head out to Southampton Row, then Russell Square, and reach the British Museum via the quieter back entrance on Montague Place.

British Museum’s Japan Gallery

British Museum Japan Gallery (1)
Picture credit: Paul Hudson / Flickr

The British Museum is one of the busiest buildings in the known universe, so it might seem an odd addition to this list of tranquil spots. But not all rooms here are awash with visitors. In particular, the Japanese galleries on the uppermost floor are surprisingly peaceful and contemplative. If you visit during off-peak hours, you might even find you have them to yourself. Look out for the exquisite netsuke, small carved toggles for holding together capes.

Leave by the Montague Place exit, and head north along Russell Square to reach the Brunei Gallery.

SOAS Garden

Japanese Roof Garden at SOAS Brunei Gallery, London
Image: A Peace of London

Keep the eastern theme going by visiting the secret roof garden on top of The Brunei Gallery — part of the School of Oriental and Asian Studies. I say ‘secret’, but it’s been here for 15 years now, and is reasonably well known among those who appreciate such things.

The Japanese-inspired garden is light on plants and heavy on decorative stones and water features. You won’t find a quieter spot in central London. The garden can be freely visited during the Brunei Gallery’s normal opening hours.

Return to Russell Square, head along the northern edge, then continue along Bernard Street. Turn left up Brunswick Square, then right along Handel Street.

St George’s Garden

St George's Gardens, Bloomsbury, London
Image: Alanah McKillen / Flickr

A garden of a very different persuasion now awaits you. St George’s comprises two former burial grounds, which once served St George’s Bloomsbury and St George the Martyr, where we stopped for coffee earlier. In a curious feature, a line of broken gravestones marks the division between the interment plots of these two parishes.

You won’t find anyone famous buried here — the closest thing is Oliver Cromwell’s granddaughter. You will find plenty of squirrels and birds to befriend.

Leave the garden by the northern exit.

Regent Square Garden and Lumen church

Lumen Church
Picture credit: Matt Brown / Flickr

We finish in what, for my money, is one of the more peculiar squares of London. Look around and you soon spot unusual features: a fading ghost sign, a sculpture of tiny birds hiding up a plane tree and the lone bollard, serving no purpose in the centre of the lawn. Regent Square has a macabre history, including two gruesome murders and heavy bombing in the Second World War. Today, it’s a calm place — a backwater of Bloomsbury that few trouble to visit.

Finish your walk in the adjacent Lumen church, which boasts a modern cafe with a distinctive architectural feature that recreates a shaft of light in concrete. You won’t have seen anything quite like it.

Matt Brown is editor-at-large of Londonist.com, and author of London Night and Day (2015) and Everything You Know About London is Wrong.

More quiet London area guides

 

9 quiet places near Soho and Oxford Street (yes, it’s possible…)

Found yourself near Oxford Street or Soho and need some quiet, quick-sharp? A Peace of London to the rescue… I’ve rounded-up some of the best and most tranquil places to visit in one of the busiest areas of the capital. Aren’t I good to you?

Is your favourite place on the list? Let me know in the comments at the bottom of the page, or drop me a line!

Grab a coffee (and a book) at Stanford’s

Stanford's Coffee House, Leicester Square, London
Image: A Peace of London

Stanford’s Book Shop and Coffee House is one of my favourite places in London. It’s a central London institution: the book shop has been here in Long Acre for over 100 years and even featured in the Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles: Dr John Watson is sent ‘down to Stanford’s’ to buy a map of Dartmoor.

These days, they have an extraordinary number of travel books (including a great selection of London guide books for visitors and locals alike) and a wonderful bookish atmosphere to surpass any of the big chain shops, but the real jewel in their crown is their coffee shop. Their Venetian rose tea is heavenly, the service is great, and I could happily eat 10 slices of their pumpkin bread in one sitting.

If you’re looking for a place to work on your laptop, they have decent free wifi in their coffee shop too (as do these other great places to write). I always find this a really productive place to work for a few hours.

Nearest Tube: Leicester Square / Covent Garden

Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 9am-8pm; Sunday, 11.30am-6pm

More information: Stanford’s website

Escape from it all at the Brunei Gallery’s roof garden

Japanese Roof Garden at SOAS Brunei Gallery, London
Image: A Peace of London

Just a 10-minute walk from Tottenham Court Road is the Japanese Roof Garden at the SOAS Brunei Gallery. Once inside the gallery, the sounds from the students and Russell Square outside disappear and the roof garden one of the area’s best-kept secrets. Its design is dedicated to forgiveness; it’s the perfect place to let the stress of the outside world disappear.

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday: 10:30am-5pm (late night Thursday until 8pm)

More information: SOAS University of London website

Experience London’s trendy art scene at the Riflemaker gallery

The Rifemaker Gallery, Soho, London
Picture credit: Steve and Sara Emry / Flickr

Whether you’re into art or history, this gallery set in an old riflemaker’s shop is for you. The shop was built in 1712 and is now the oldest public building in the West End, housing work by upcoming artists and celebrating the historical artists who have inspired them. Go for the craft or go for the history: Riflemaker is a unique part of Soho that shouldn’t be missed.

Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus / Oxford Circus

Opening times: Monday to Friday, 11am-7pm; Saturday 12pm-6pm

More information: Riflemaker Gallery website

Browse in silence at Any Amount of Books

Any Amount of Books, Charing Cross Road, London
Image: A Peace of London

This very peaceful little bookshop holds a special place in many Londoners’ hearts thanks to its classic second-hand bookshop appeal and shelves-upon-shelves of poetry, literature, history, and antiques. The tranquillity of the upstairs is surpassed by the perfect silence of the downstairs, where boxes of fresh stock fill the space and books fill every nook and crevice.

And all within a stone’s throw of Leicester Square…

Opening times: 10:30am-9:30pm daily

Nearest Tube: Leicester Square

More information: Any Amount of Books website

Visit the home of two musical legends at Handel & Hendrix

Handel & Hendrix, Soho, London
Image: Michael Bowles / Handel & Hendrix in London

The former home of two musical greats, George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix, these two Georgian terraces are now part of the same museum dedicated to music. Handel lived here for 36 years (he died in the bedroom upstairs), and Hendrix called it ‘my first real home of my own.’

Nearest Tube: Bond Street

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 11am-6pm; Sunday, 12pm-6pm

Admission is normally £10 but you can get in free with a London Pass.

More information: Handel & Hendrix website

Soak up literary history at The London Library

The London Library, St James's Square, London
Image: Pete D on Flickr

You’ll be in good company at this 175-year-old private library in central London: a list of esteemed previous members reads like a who’s who of literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf, and Agatha Christie have all come to The London Library to work, read, and write.

Nowadays, the collection spans over a million books dating from the 16th century onwards. You’ll need membership to visit, which starts at £15 for the day.

Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus

Opening times: Monday to Wednesday, 9.30am-8pm; Thursday to Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm

More information: The London Library website

Pay a visit to the home of science at The Royal Institution

The Faraday Museum, London
Image: A Peace of London

Peek into the basement lab where we learned why the sky is blue at The Royal Institution in Albemarle Street, just outside Soho. The lab itself is now the Faraday Museum; it’s named after Michael Faraday, the man who created the perfect place for experiments using light and electricity out of the dark little basement that no one used.

Here, Faraday and his colleagues conducted experiments that changed the way we saw the world. It was at the Royal Institution that we learned that electricity is a force and heat is a form of motion.

Address: 21 Albemarle St, London W1S 4BS

Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus

Opening times: Monday to Friday 9am-6pm

More information: Read my review here or visit The Royal Institution website

Eat heaven on a plate at Yumchaa

SOHO CORNER EXTERIOR-2
Picture credit: Yumchaa

Yumchaa means ‘drink tea’ in Cantonese, or ‘tasty tea’ in English slang. And the tea house of the same name in Berwick Street doesn’t disappoint: enter the shop to be greeted by tea flavours galore, from burnt toffee caramel black tea, through lemon sherbet rooibos (my favourite), to mint white teas, and chilli hot chocolate thrown in, too.

This is a popular place, but it’s buried far enough into Soho to be largely inhabited by in-the-know Londoners. You can usually find a quiet spot downstairs, especially during the week.

And CAKE. Oh, the cake. Taste their millionaire’s shortbread and taste heaven on a plate… how can you refuse?

Opening times: Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm; Saturday, 10:30am to 8pm; Sunday, 11am – 8pm

Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus of Tottenham Court Road

More information: Visit the Yumchaa website

Returning soon… The Phoenix Garden

Phoenix Garden, London
Image: Kacper Gunia / Flickr

This secret garden near the tourist-central areas of Oxford Street, Leicester Square, and Tottenham Court Road is a welcome retreat from the concrete and the crowds. The garden is currently closed for building works, but they promise to reopen in summer 2016 and the updates from the Facebook page look promising. Keep checking the website for updates.

Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road

More information: Phoenix Garden website

More quiet London area guides

 

The hidden mews of Belgravia and Knightsbridge

London has many secrets — from the corners of Regent’s Park that need to be seen to be believed, to the nature reserve within a stone’s throw of King’s Cross. All you need to find them is a sense of adventure…

So last weekend I took a group from the Explore Quiet Places in London Meetup group on a tour of the secrets behind Belgravia and Knightsbridge, with help from independent tour guide Yannick Pucci. Believe it or not, there are streets in these busy tourist areas that enjoy almost perfect silence and a sleepy village atmosphere, just five minutes from the crowds that keep many Londoners away.

Here are my favourite parts of our walk — this was an adapted version of Yannick’s Macarons and Mews tour, so I won’t give too much away. But if these pictures leave you aching to find out more, why not book one of Yannick’s upcoming walks? Details are at the bottom of the page…

We found perfect peace and quiet (and a dream home) just metres from Hyde Park.

Mews in Knightbridge
Image: A Peace of London

We found Ennismore Gardens, location for Ava Gardner’s ‘little London retreat,’ where she lived for 22 years.

Ennismore Gardens, London
Image: A Peace of London

Followed shortly by the beautiful Ennismore Gardens themselves…

Ennismore Gardens, Knightsbridge, London
Image: A Peace of London

…which also offer a different view of the V&A.

Victoria and Albert Museum seen from Ennismore Gardens, London
Image: A Peace of London

We discovered the secret behind this map in the entrance to a car park in Knightsbridge (clue: can you spot the river running from Hampstead?)

Knightsbridge map, London
Image: A Peace of London

And found Yannick’s favourite quiet spot within metres of the V&A and the Science Museum.

South Kensington, London
Image: A Peace of London

Finally, we found out the fascinating history behind the Lanesborough Hotel.

Lanesborough Hotel, Hyde Park, London
Image: A Peace of London

About Yannick Pucci — tour guide extraordinaire!

Our guide for the afternoon was Yannick Pucci, who is an independent tour guide, Londonist contributor, and British Museum guide. Yannick’s knowledge of the history, culture, and backstreets of London is evident in his guiding style and his passion for showing people a different side of the city is inspiring. He comes highly recommended from many London bloggers, including yours truly!

Yannick runs regular art deco and food tasting tours — our walk through Belgravia and Knightsbridge was an adjusted version of his Macarons and Mews tours especially for our Meetup group. Find out more at LondonUnravelled.com.

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9 quiet places to visit in Holborn, Temple and Fleet Street

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

Twinings Tea Museum, 216 Strand, London

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

Conway Hall lecture

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

The garret of Dr Johnson's House, London

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)

More information: read my review here or visit drjohnsonshouse.org

4. Fleet Street Press

Sun-dried veg, houmous and rocket roll from 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.

More information: read my review here or find them on Facebook

5. Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane Museum interior
Picture credit: stu smith on Flickr / Creative Commons

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

Sign of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, Holborn, London

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

More information: read my review here or visit the Hunterian website

7. The Museum of Freemasonry

library and museum of freemasonry, London
Picture credit: Cristian Bortes on Flickr / Creative Commons

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

St Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street, London
Picture credit: Matt Brown on Flickr / Creative Commons

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