London’s famous landmarks are instantly recognizable, but the city is also home to some wildly unique, hidden gems. Here are four quirky places to visit in London that are well off the beaten path.
Housed underground in a restored Victorian lavatory, the Attendant is known more for its excellent coffee and lunch menu than for its public facilities—but don’t worry, there’s a working toilet intact for customers. Visitors can sip flat whites while seated at the long bar where parts of the original urinals still stand. The café’s reputation for good food and coffee has seen it open a second location in Shoreditch, though this branch lacks the novelty factor of being a former washroom.
Nestled within the brutalist structure of the Barbican Centre is the Barbican Conservatory, the second largest conservatory in London. Open to the public on Sunday afternoons, the conservatory boasts more than 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees, as well as tropical fish—the very definition of an “urban jungle.” Visitors can take a self-guided tour or enjoy an afternoon tea (book ahead on the website).
Stepping into the late Chris Bracey’s collection of neon signs in Walthamstow, East London, is a dazzling experience and certainly one for the photo album. The warehouse unit is open to the public and stores a dizzying array of neon signs made during Bracey’s career, including sets for movies such as Eyes Wide Shut and The Dark Knight. In the back, the cheekily named “Rolling Scones” café serves light bites and afternoon tea. If you’re looking for a unique souvenir to take home, made-to-order signs and vintage artifacts are available for purchase.
Just a stone’s throw away from the Old Street roundabout is Banya No.1, a Russian banya (steam sauna) and spa offering a variety of treatments including the traditional parenie thermal massage, which is said to stimulate blood circulation and remove toxins from the body. Felt hats are worn in the sauna to protect the head from the heat and steam. After emerging from the sauna, visitors are guided to the plunge pool to cool off. The “rest area” encourages full relaxation, with a menu featuring Russian snacks, which are best washed down with a cold beer and crayfish or vodka.