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London’s Best Off-The-Beaten-Track Historic Buildings


Most visitors to London are at least partly drawn to the city by its wealth of historic sights. Few cities can boast as many world-famous historic attractions as Britain’s sprawling capital - there’s the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace and… some more famous palaces… All of which are well worth a place on any sightseeing itinerary. But, venture beyond its greatest hits and you’ll find that historic London abounds with relatively obscure architectural delights that might bring you closer to a meaningful appreciation of the city’s rich history.

Eltham Palace

Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich, London, SE9 5QE

London isn’t short of grand palaces and, on the face of it, Eltham Palace is another impressive but unremarkable example – a vast medieval mansion that was a favoured royal residence in the Tudor Age before falling into disrepair.
But a closer inspection reveals something far more unique. Eltham Palace was acquired by eccentric millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in the 1930s and treated to a stunning, but highly controversial, Art Deco makeover. The result is a shockingly modern interior that buzzes with Gatsby-era glam and disarmingly contemporary Art Deco aesthetics.

St Dunstan In the East

St Dunstan's Hill, London EC3R 5DD

Tucked away in the heart of the City, St Dunstan’s was an ill-fated church, devastated first by the Great Fire of London (after which Sir Christopher Wren contributed a new tower) then in 1941, a German bomb. The second annihilation was comprehensive enough that the church was abandoned. But the ruins took on a life of their own and the City of London granted the site public garden status in 1967. Today, St Dunstan in the East is one of London’s best kept secrets and a rare oasis of tranquillity amid the hustle and bustle of the City.

Leadenhall Market

Gracechurch St, London EC3V 1LT

Leadenhall Market isn’t really a ‘hidden’ attraction – it’s stuffed with high end shops and invariably thronging with city workers. It’s even featured in one of the Harry Potter films. But it’s fair to say that this spectacular marketplace is a too out of the way to make it on to most tick-box tourist itineraries. Leadenhall’s gloriously ornate Victorian walls and ceilings are well worth an ogle and the atmosphere beneath its lofty arched celling still feels special.

Wilton’s Music Hall

1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London E1 8JB

Almost certainly London’s best-preserved music hall, Wilton’s (which enjoyed its heyday in the late 19th Century) was sensitively renovated a few years ago and now lives again as a vibrant theatre and music venue offering a programme that frequently pays tribute to its music hall heritage. Wilton’s location in a part of the old East End that still feels distinctly Dickensian adds to its evocative charm and its atmospheric interior shuns slick modernisation in favour of a deliberately dilapidated look and feel that only adds to the magic.

Strawberry Hill House

268 Waldegrave Rd, Twickenham TW1 4ST

Built in the mid-18th century by Horace Walpole, son of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, this fantastical assemblage of towers, battlements and flamboyant decorative features, perched atop a hill in leafy Twickenham, looks like something dreamt up by Disney animators.
It’s actually the first and foremost example of ‘Strawberry Hill Gothic’, a short-lived architectural style that prefigured the 19th Century Gothic Revival. As such, Strawberry Hill House is a genuine one-off that still feels like an extravagantly whimsical fantasy two and a half centuries after its creation.