Unusual things to do in London first week of January?
December 27, 2014 3:10 AM   Subscribe

The lovely boyfriend and I will be in London, UK from 2-9 January for a little R&R. We've both spent a considerable amount of time there over the past few years and so have seen most of the major sites. This time, we're hoping to discover a few things that are a little off the beaten track.

Can you point us to some casual-yet-fabulous dining, little-known plays, funky wine bars, cool neighborhood shops, street festivals, etc.? We have a decent budget and are prepared to spend what is necessary, but cheap or free activities would also be most welcome.

We're in our forties and will be staying near Covent Garden, but are happy to travel around the city.
posted by rpfields to Travel & Transportation around London, England (14 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
The Knight of the Burning Pestle is at the Globe. Yeah, the Globe itself isn't off the beaten track, but it's a rare revival (with an excellent cast) of a very fun play that is all about Londoners and their taste in entertainment.
posted by holgate at 3:25 AM on December 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you like gin, we did a gin tour here. Excellent gin, nice bar.
posted by kjs4 at 5:13 AM on December 27, 2014

I just saw the Imitation Game, and I really want to take a tour of Bletchely Park.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:10 AM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Soane Museum is very odd in a compulsive hoarder of architectural details sort of way. There is also the Huntarian museum across the street and has a fantastic 'glass room' of jarred specimens that could haunt you for a while.
posted by srboisvert at 6:35 AM on December 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am really into Bone Daddies ramen bar in Soho - the tonkotsu ramen is amazing and I like the dive-bar atmosphere. I also love MEATliquor for, well, meat and liquor (and a dive-bar atmosphere). The main one is off Oxford Street. They have a branch in Covent Garden too (MeatMarket) - not as good for atmosphere but I haven't been to that one for a couple of years so YMMV. You will have to queue outside for both of these but it is worth it. They will cost you about £50-£60 for a meal for two with drinks.

Monty's Deli near Tower Bridge is worth a visit if you like Jewish deli food. Open weekends only. It's in the Maltby Street market which is nice for a wander through, lots of artisan food and drink bits and one of the Lassco branches which is fun if you like architectural salvage/junk shops.

Lots of good little food places and independent art/junk shops in Brixton market and Brixton Village.

On preview - definitely the Hunterian museum!
posted by corvine at 6:43 AM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favourite small theatre is the Arcola in Dalston, east London. Great productions and a real labour of love for the local community; it has an excellent café-bar as well. Right next door is Café OTO, which is one of the leading avant-garde music venues in the city. You could go to both after paying a trip to the independent shops on nearby Stoke Newington Church Street, pausing for a pint of Guinness at the Auld Shileagh - the only Irish bar worth a damn in London.

(Definitely do the Hunterian, if only so you can see great-great-great-etc-uncle bebrogued's pickled parts, which I once found on display as part of an exhibition while there on a date.)
posted by bebrogued at 7:16 AM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's an excellent Vietnamese place on Gray's Inn Road. Just around the corner, on John Street, you'll find a lovely pub called The Lady Ottoline and further down the road (on Doughty St) is the Charles Dickens museum. It's a funny niche museum, and I couldn't spend a full day there, but Dickens museum + Vietnamese lunch + drinks at The Lady Ottoline would be my idea of a good day out.
posted by Aravis76 at 7:18 AM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Linley Sambourne House in Kensington is a well preserved Victorian house with most of its original furnishings (he was a cartoonist for Punch).
posted by Bee'sWing at 8:32 AM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ever been for proper pie and mash? A trip to somewhere like Manzies on Peckham High Road feels like a trip back in time and It's certainly a good opportunity to see London as people really live in it.
posted by Middlemarch at 10:35 AM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

These aren't exactly off the beaten track, but they are interesting things that probably weren't happening last time you were in town:

- The British Library's current exhibition, Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, features 'two hundred rare objects trace 250 years of the Gothic tradition'. It finishes on 20th January and tickets are £11.

- The British Museum's exhibition Witches and Wicked Bodies 'examines the portrayal of witches and witchcraft in art from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. It will feature prints and drawings by artists including Dürer, Goya, Delacroix, Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, alongside classical Greek vessels and Renaissance maiolica'. It finishes on the 11th of January and entry is free.

- And the Museum of London's exhibition Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die runs until April and costs £11.45.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 12:47 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dennis Severs's house - really magic and you might just catch the last days of their Silent Nights which are truly beautiful. Columbia road flower market, Spitalfields and Brick Lane on Sunday , Broadway or Borough market on Saturday.
posted by tardigrade at 1:11 PM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I always recommend Highgate Cemetery. It's an impressive Victorian place of burial with some astounding architecture - and a long list of famous people buried there. Admission is by guided tours only, and they can get booked up quickly, so make sure to check the website for the tour times. Maybe visit Highgate village afterwards (pub visit?), it is very pretty.


For a lovely restaurant experience I recommend Rules in Covent Garden. It's very English and the food is great.

I have recently been to 34 near Grosvenor Sq in Mayfair and the food is very tasty, and the restaurant very atmospheric with great service.

If you like steak, this French place is fab. All they serve is a green salad – steak and frites (with a secret sauce...). There is no menu: that's all they serve and people love it! You can sometimes find people queuing outside (you can't book tables), but I think it's worth the wait.

For a nice breakfast/brunch try The Delauney, also near Covent Garden.

For a good Indian restaurant near you, I have tried and enjoyed Moti Mahal.
posted by jp021272 at 2:17 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I will try as many of these as I can.
posted by rpfields at 7:36 AM on January 2, 2015

Response by poster: Just following up to thank everyone again and provide some comments just in case anyone else finds this thread useful in the future. We really enjoyed the Soane Museum (he was a hoarder, but of the best kind). The museum also runs a cafe in the park across the street and it is a lovely spot to get a quiet coffee. Moti Mahal was fantastic and we also discovered another little Italian wine bar called Liveli's that was relatively inexpensive, delicious, and peaceful. The British Museum witches exhibit was great and we also had a good time at the Portrait Museum, where there was a new section featuring 1960s portraits and photography. Denis Severs's house was also spectacular. We also really enjoyed the play Charles III, which was entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.
posted by rpfields at 5:28 AM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

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