People typically have a good idea of what to expect when it comes to the highlights of London travel. A tour through Westminster Abbey, some sightseeing at the Houses of Parliament, crossing the Tower Bridge and riding the Eye makes for a good start. Some will also fit in a pub crawl, a football match, and a few stops at prominent museums and theatre venues. The charms of London are known and renowned far and wide, and they practically outline a travel experience all on their own.
At the same time however, there are plenty of attractions in London that might surprise visitors, simply because they don’t get as much publicity. Call them obscure, off-the-beaten-path, or whatever else seems appropriate; they add quite a bit of depth to a city that’s already teeming with charm (even if it can be a bit rough around the edges in ways).
Thinking of London this way, some locals or frequent travellers could list dozens, or perhaps hundreds of options. For now though, five should suffice as an introduction to some of the city’s best surprises.
1. White Water Rapids
Given that the Thames is fairly tame as it passes through London, many wouldn’t expect the city to have any significant rapids. However, people may be forgetting that when the Olympics were held in London in 2012, there was a need for a venue for slalom competitions, and thus Lee Valley White Water Centre was born. Unlike some Olympic facilities around the world though, this one wasn’t stripped away or built over after the games. Instead it’s still active, and offers everything from a challenging slalom course to paddling out on a lake.
2. Gin Joints
Of course there are gin joints in London, you might say, particularly given that the term is sometimes used as a synonym for a bar of any kind. The point though is that there are actual gin bars, which make for a nice change of pace from the beer-centric pubs that are so famous all around the city. Places like The Gin Palace and The London Gin Club can make for great stops on an afternoon or evening out, and you can also arrange samples directly with the folks behind Butler’s Gin while in town.
3. Temple Of Mithras
It’s kind of incredible that with so much of London’s history on full display (and through it much of Europe’s history), the Temple of Mithras is relatively obscure, internationally. It’s basically the haunting but awe-inspiring ruin of a Roman temple, discovered over 50 years ago under the streets of London and now on display for visitors. It’s a fairly quick stop, but a nice, lesser-known sightseeing opportunity, and to give you some idea of its significance, Time Magazine named it one of its greatest places of 2018.
Casinos in a major European city shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise, but the UK has ramped up its online gaming presence so much that it’s understandable if they are. The UK’s internet casino content now reaches much of the world and covers a vast swath of sites and games. This hasn’t stopped some big companies from operating actual casino venues in the city though, and places like the Hippodrome and the Empire Casino remain quite popular for gaming as well as other forms of entertainment.
5. Vietnamese Food
London has a reputation for international cuisine at this point, though it tends to revolve around food from two countries – India and France – in particular. The city has its nice Italian restaurants as well, and is even known for some good Mexican fare. The Vietnamese food scene in London, however, deserves more attention than it gets. Song Que Café, CoBa, and Viet Grill are just a few of several establishments that have really helped this particular type of cuisine to thrive in the city in recent years.