The shorter days and frosty mornings that accompany us through a London winter are no reason to avoid exploring your city — but it’s useful to know where you can defrost.
Here are five quieter places that are open later during the week…
Is your favourite on the list? If not, let me know and I will pay a visit!
1. Visit the Treasures Gallery at the British Library
The quietest time to visit the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery — possibly the most impressive collection of books and manuscripts on show in the UK — is undoubtedly during a weekday evening.
Highlights for me include one of Henry VIII’s letters to Anne Boleyn, Jane Austen’s notebook, and Isaac Newton’s letter to Samuel Pepys.
I’ll leave it to a visitor on Tripadvisor to sum up why this place is so incredible: “Where else can you see the original Magna Carta and the original handwritten lyrics to Ticket to Ride across the room from each other?”
Get a move on when you finish work and get to John Sandoe Books for a while before it closes at 6.30pm.
The shelves of this traditional bookshop (housed in an 18th-century building) are filled with every book imaginable and the staff are very knowledgeable and friendly — it’s a local bookshop in central London.
I dare you not to leave with at least one book…
Late opening times: Monday to Saturday until 6.30pm
Discover a little-known underground museum in Tower Hill
Where? All Hallows by the Tower crypt museum
You wouldn’t expect there to be anything little-known anywhere near the Tower of London, especially something that is so integrated with the Tower’s history, but All Hallows by the Tower is just that.
Head down to the crypt of this small church — which is also the oldest church in the City of London — and you’ll find a free museum with a collection of Roman and Saxon artefacts (including a Roman floor). The crypt itself also dates from the Saxon period.
Opening times: Monday to Friday, 8am-5pm (until 6pm April-October); Saturday to Sunday, 10am-5pm
There’s nothing quite like relaxing in a quiet coffee shop with a book, the papers or your trusty laptop, is there?
To me this is one of life’s great pleasures, but it can be hard to find a decent (let alone quiet) coffee shop or cafè in London in which do this.
So I’ve selflessly been spending the last few weeks drinking copious amounts of tea to unearth some of the best hidden gems in or around central London. Purely for research purposes, you understand…
Is your favourite hidden gem on the list? I’d love to know what you think. Let me know in the comments or drop me a message…
The Foundling Museum Cafè, Bloomsbury
This inspiring cafè on the side of the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury is pretty under-the-radar.
But you can’t help but be creative in this peaceful space, surrounded by a specially-commissioned mural by poet Lemn Sissay MBE, which ties the cafè with its museum’s theme of orphans and childhood nicely.
For decent food, beautiful gardens and a park next door, plus a mug of tea for £1, head to Park Life Cafè next to Chumleigh Gardens in Burgess Park, Southwark.
It’s clear that the locals love this place and you can see why. It’s easy to feel at home here and the staff are really friendly.
Before or after your cuppa, head through the gate to the right of the cafè to see the beautiful Chumleigh Gardens (including the multicultural garden — a secret garden within the secret garden…) or head left for a stroll through Burgess Park.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday 10am-5pm
Nearest Tube: Elephant and Castle
Address: Burgess Park, 3 Chumleigh St, London SE5 0RJ
Can you believe that you can sit under this and have coffee?
Not only is Host Cafè set in the stunning St Mary Aldermary church, it also opens at 7.15am and has free wifi. Their teas and coffees are from independent producers, their pastries are brought in on a bicycle.
For lunch, there are organic soups or homemade pates on offer, or you can bring a packed lunch with you. Can this place get any more charming? I don’t think so.
Opening times: Monday to Friday: 7.15am-4.45 pm (until 4.30pm on Monday and Friday)
The coffee house of the Charterhouse in Clerkenwell is one of the lightest, brightest and spacious that I’ve been into. The food is delicious and there’s free wifi on offer, as well as lots of natural daylight.
Tate Britain’s cafè is as cool and slick as you’d expect for London’s most famous art gallery.
They roast their own coffee beans on site and they focus on regional produce for their drinks: the soda is from Hackney, the cola is from Northumberland and the apple juice is pressed on a Gloucestershire farm.
Take a few moments to look around you at the second church café on our list — an 18th-century brick-vaulted ceiling awaits above your head and tombstones line the floor beneath your feet.
Back on the tables, you’ll have a choice of home-made hot meals as well as teas, coffees and cakes at great value for café that’s smack-bang in tourist central. Go early in the day to beat the lunch and dinner rush, and bear in mind they have live music on Wednesday nights.
I found this place by accident on a walking tour of Vauxhall, and instantly fell in love.
Not only is it on the side of the independent Beaconsfield art gallery, it also serves great coffee and ethically sourced and seasonal vegetarian comfort food in a retro and spacious location (with free wifi).
If you fancy a wander around the building, there is progressive art available to view for free and magazines/newspapers if you forget your book.
A little bit farther out than most of the other cafès on this list, the tea room at William Morris’ childhood home is bathed in daylight and has lovely gardens attached to it if you fancy eating in the fresh air.
They serve lovely afternoon teas, fresh food from local producers and some of the biggest scones I’ve ever seen.
Once you’ve finished eating your way through that, make sure you check out the gallery itself, which is free and gives a fantastic insight into his life and work.
Opening times: Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-4.30pm
Nearest Tube: Walthamstow Central
Address: Lloyd Park, Forest Road, Walthamstow, London, E17 4PP
Step off Fleet Street into Inner Temple and the sounds of the city instantly melt away. Beyond you lies Temple Church — a 12th-century masterpiece that’s about as far removed from London’s “beaten track” as you can get.
The church and its adjoining graveyard are protected by the Goldsmith buildings, meaning that it was almost silent when I visited on a busy Wednesday lunchtime.
The entrance to the church is on the other side of the graveyard, which means you get a secluded view of the church and its 12th-century round to yourself.
Speaking of Goldsmith… Oliver Goldsmith himself is buried in the graveyard, and his gravestone bears a quote from his friend Samuel Johnson, who lived just up the road in Gough Square: “…who left scarcely any style of writing untouched, and touched nothing that he did not adorn.”
To add to the charm of the place, there are vegetables growing in a patch in the middle of the graveyard…
The church itself is about as far from a tourist trap as you can get — you could hear a pin drop inside, and the light streaming in through the huge windows makes it seem like the church is glowing.
Behind you is the church round, which was built by the Knights Templar to recreate the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem — the holiest place in the world.
The current Magna Carta exhibition in the round is very fitting, since this building served as King John’s headquarters from 1214-1215, and it was here that the barons first confronted him about a charter.
Two of the men who mediated when John eventually signed Magna Carta — including William the Marshal, Earl of Pembroke who was an adviser to King John and regent to Henry III — were also buried here.
Climb to the upper level to get a good view of their effigies, as well as a birds-eye view of the round.
When you’ve soaked it all in, make sure you turn left as you leave the church and cross the square, to stop for a few minutes to admire the vista.
When I pushed open the heavy door of the oldest Catholic church in England, I really didn’t know what to expect.
The door to the 13th-century church is hemmed in by office buildings either side, on a gated road behind Hatton Garden in Holborn. This already means it’s pretty quiet, but inside the church I literally could have heard a pin drop, plus I was the only one in there.
If you’re ever in the Holborn area, visit this hidden gem for break from everything.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 8am-5pm; Sunday: 8am-12.30pm
Forget the British Museum — the best place to see the product of Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology is the Petrie Museum at University College London.
This small museum is hidden away in the museum buildings and you can see 8,000 objects completely free — not that many other people know about it. Alongside the Grant Museum of Zoology, it’s one of Bloomsbury’s most peaceful hidden gems.
One of the benefits of working within central London is the number of quiet urban spaces that can add colour, tranquillity and community to your lunch break.
And if you live or work anywhere near King’s Cross, Euston or Bloomsbury, then you’re in luck — The Calthorpe Project is one of the best urban spaces in the centre of the capital.
The Calthorpe Project was set-up to improve the physical and emotional well-being of those who live, work or study in Camden and surrounding areas.
When the land went up for sale in 1980, Camden council busily prepared it for 70,000 square feet of office space. That was until local people caught wind of the plans and then campaigned successfully for the space to be turned into a community garden.
As well as training and offering volunteering opportunities to people with learning disabilities and mental health issues, the project also supports sustainable food growing.
A big part of this eco-friendly effort is the vegetarian cafe, which serves organic veg right from the garden and they even use the remains to fuel the cookers and indoor heaters.
The Calthorpe Project: the essentials
Opening times: Monday to Friday, 10am-6pm; Saturday and Sunday, 12pm-6pm
For those of us who crave a moment’s peace and a coffee in the morning — or at any time of a weekday — I think I might have found the perfect place…
I found Host Café and St Mary Aldermary church a couple of weeks ago. I was unable to get out and explore at the weekend, so I got on a train into London at 6.45am to go and explore on a Monday morning instead.
Here’s how I got on…
The café is situated at one end of the church, which is not only a great use of the space but also gives you a great view of the magnificent church ceiling from your breakfast table.
Sitting in this wonderful space for an hour before work gave me the energy and motivation I needed to start another week.
There are also two huge stained glass windows at either end of the church, and a little part of history to see in every corner — from memorial plaques to parts of the church itself.
St Mary Aldermary church is just across the road from Mansion House station and the café opens at 7.15am, which made it a perfect stop for breakfast before work on an otherwise hectic morning.
If you want another excuse to visit, they hold lunchtime or evening meditation sessions three times a week.
Host Café and St Mary Aldermary church: the essentials
Address: Watling Street, London EC4M 9BW
Opening times: 7.30am-4.45pm Monday-Friday (until 4.30pm on Mondays and Fridays)