Weird me out in London
October 28, 2009 8:37 PM   Subscribe

Fun/weird London activities. Sock 'em to me.

I'm going to be in London for three days at the end of November/beginning of December before an academic conference. I lived in London for a year during high school 20 (ulp!) years ago, and have been back a couple of times since, but my last visit was in 2001. I'm looking for quirky, off-the-beaten-path places to go and things to do. Something like Philadelphia's Mutter Museum, or Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum, or NYC's Peanut Butter and Co.. Shops, restaurants, museums, activities, all appreciated.
posted by MsMolly to Travel & Transportation around London, England (23 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Soane House is the best little museum in the world.

For outdoors, if it's not too cold, you can walk the paths on the edge of Regents Canal... I once walked the canal from Camden locks to little Venice and then down to Paddington Basin - it's a really different view of the city...
posted by gyusan at 9:17 PM on October 28, 2009

This old operating theatre was intriguing!
posted by titanium_geek at 10:02 PM on October 28, 2009

See a pantomime.
posted by lukemeister at 10:11 PM on October 28, 2009

For a wonderful bar/performancce space, go to Shunt Vaults and hang out, watch whatever performances are going on, and generally enjoy the atmosphere. If you like atmospheric bars in crypt-like spaces, then Gordons Wine Bar is also a must.
posted by greycap at 12:01 AM on October 29, 2009

If you're into cycling, and in London on the last Friday of the month, maybe try Critical Mass?

It normally covers a lot of Central London, but it's a pretty offbeat thing to do. And occasionally it segues into something else at the end. (Only problem -- the atmosphere might be quite subdued if it's raining.)
posted by laumry at 12:36 AM on October 29, 2009

Best answer: The Wellcome Collection is fun, especially Henry Wellcome's collection (upstairs) which contains random artefacts that he collected relating to medicine and the body, e.g. sex toys, mummys, artificial limbs, umbilical cord storage containers... see here for a selection.
posted by beniamino at 1:16 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've always wanted to go for a sitting at the Spiritualist Association.

Going to see Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon is free and involves some minor sleuthing.
posted by stuck on an island at 1:28 AM on October 29, 2009

Alas the Shunt Vaults are closing for good on 14 November.
posted by patricio at 2:07 AM on October 29, 2009

Best answer: Strongly seconding upstairs at the Wellcome collection.

Right across the park from John Soanes is the Hunterian museum which is the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. A wierd stuff in jars type of museums.

The Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL is small and eclectic as well. Really worth the visit if you're in the area.

For unique shops, check out the School of Life.

Everything I've mentioned above is roughly in the same area.
posted by vacapinta at 2:39 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the Museum of Childhood is great and overlooked. It houses some wonderful old toys.

Not too far from there are the Vyner street galleries. Its basically a desolate looking street but it actually houses something like 15 art galleries very discreetly marked. You have to buzz the door at each one and they let you in. Fun on a weekday or saturday morning when you almost have the street to yourself. Not so fun on First Thursdays.
posted by vacapinta at 2:50 AM on October 29, 2009

A lot of the museums in London are free or inexpensive.

We thoroughly geeked out at the Museum of Science and Industry, which is quite near the Victoria and Albert. The British Museum is amazing... And there's a nice comic book store across the street from it!

For weird, we did a walking Jack the Ripper tour. Our guide was a Beefeater from the Tower, who had an interesting theory and phenomenal knowledge of the area.

There are DUK tours also. A DUK-W is an amphibious military craft. We took one on a tour around London, which included a nice dunk into the Thames! Lots of fun!

The Sherlock Holmes Pub is interesting, as is the Ben Crouch Pub.

We also took a day trip to Salisbury and Avebury and Stonehenge and all. Fun..

There are lots of markets and such that are fun to wander around.

The Wellcome Collection IS awesome, we saw some of it at the Science Museum. Not as gory as the Mutter Museum, but still really neat!

Take the "Hop on, hop off" bus, and when you get to an interesting area, get off and walk around! You never know what you'll find! You might look for Lee Ho Fuk's in Soho, in the rain, if you're a Warren Zevon fan! You can also have a pina colada at Trader Vic's!

There's a toy museum somewhere in the city, and a few interesting little shops around.

We went to the new Old Globe Theater which is across the Thames to the south.

Then there's the War Museum, they were doing a thing on hiding in the Underground during bombings, interesting..

There's the Museum of Torture, that would be fun right now!

The Tower of London is always fascinating, and Greenwich has a few neat things. Further out to Dover there is a museum of a WWII place inside a cave...

We never got to the National Gallery or the Tate. But we still saw a lot in a few weeks! We'd go back in a heartbeat!
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 4:40 AM on October 29, 2009

It may be a bit mainstream for you, but have you gone on a Jack the Ripper walk yet?
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:44 AM on October 29, 2009

With all due respect to Jinx of the 2nd Law, few of the things you mention are off-the-beaten-path which is what I thought the OP was looking for.

Also, I want to clarify that the Wellcome Collection that beniamino mentioned and I seconded is the one on Euston road, not the one thats part of the Science Museum. The former is off-the-beaten-path, the latter definitely not.

Regarding Tower of London, you might try to get tickets to the ceremony of the keys.
posted by vacapinta at 4:59 AM on October 29, 2009

Also, Ham House, a 17th century Haunted House might fit the bill.
posted by vacapinta at 5:36 AM on October 29, 2009

Seconding the Hunterian Museum.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:40 AM on October 29, 2009

Best answer: There's the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Kensington.

Some interesting things on the Not For Tourists website
posted by patricio at 6:21 AM on October 29, 2009

I just found out about this one the other day from a friend of mine who lives in London and next time I'm there I will be lining up for it.

It's a walking tour of London's Gangland given by 'Mad' Frankie Fraser an ex-member of the Richardson gang who were the Kray twins rivals in the '60's. He did 10 years for his less savory activities, so this guy speaks from real experience: The tour takes between 3-4 hours depending on how many questions are asked. 'Mad' Frankie Fraser takes you on the tour providing a running commentary throughout in regards to; court cases, crime, prison, Broadmoor, violence, the justice system, other gangsters and much more.

Priceless. Gangland Tours
posted by 543DoublePlay at 7:16 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Black Friar Pub
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:37 AM on October 29, 2009

Best answer: Seriously off the beaten path in London means Highgate cemetery. Take the London Underground to Archway or Highgate, then you'll have a short walk up Highgate Hill and through Waterlow Park the cemetery's entrance.

You'll want what's called the West cemetery; Victorian of full of jaw dropping monuments, there's really no other place like it in London.

Personal sidenote: I took the now Mrs Mutant there for our first date and she still married me!
posted by Mutant at 8:40 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So many fantastic suggestions guys! These are just the kind of thing I was looking for.
posted by MsMolly at 9:55 AM on October 29, 2009

If you tend toward the morbid AND moving, check out Postman's Park , a Victorian-era park decorated with tiles that commemorate the lives of ordinary people.
posted by vickyverky at 11:11 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I never got to go but the Dennis Severs House in Spitalfields' sounded really interesting. As described to me and on their website it sounds like a combo multimedia art project/house museum/historic home. The hours are really limited though. Another place that I never actually made it to, but might fit in with your weird London theme is the Freud Museum.

I also loved the tour of the old Highgate cemetery (although it's been 20 years since my last visit there, but then again, can't imagine it's changed much) and Soane's museum both of which have already been mentioned. I've only passed by but the Museum of Torture looked incredibly cheesy. However, I took one of the Beefeater tours of the Tower of London and that was well worth it (to me), but it is expensive to get in (once you've got your ticket though the tours are free; it's just a matter of getting there early enough to actually get on one). The Monument to the Great Fire of London is pretty cool as well (and afterward you can walk to some of the nearby churches that Wren and Hawksmoor designed after the fire. St. Mary-Le-Bow has a great cafe in it's crypt, cleverly named The Cafe Below.

Oh man, now I wish that I was going to London! Have a great trip!
posted by kaybdc at 1:46 PM on October 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks guys! I made it to the Museum of Brands, the Wellcome Collection, Highgate Cemetary, the Soane Museum, and the Hunterian, so I marked those as best. They were all fantastic. For future readers of this thread I would also recommend the walking tour of the Inns of Court and going to watch a session of the House of Commons from the Visitors' Gallery. The House of Commons was probably the best thing I did on the trip and really appealed to my nerdy side. Wellcome's personal collection was the best for "weird", although I also loved that the Hunterian had half of Charles Babbage's brain. Highgate Cemetary is where I wish I had given myself more time to explore, although I did get to say goodbye to Douglas Adams at his gravesite. A++ would travel with Metafilter again.
posted by MsMolly at 10:02 AM on December 6, 2009 [6 favorites]

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