Recommendations for quirky things and cheap hotels in London
April 3, 2019 1:48 PM   Subscribe

We're going to London for the first time in October (just us two, no kids) and I'm looking for a cheap hotel that's close to transit, preferably a tube station. Also, aside from stuff like the Tower of London, do you have any recommendations for quirky or occult/esoteric themed stuff that might be a little less touristy, like odd museums or bookstores?

Cheap hotels that I've read about on seem to have very conflicting info- a couple people complained about bedbugs here and there, and that's a definite deal-breaker. I'd like private bathrooms but pretty much every thing else is negotiable. The hotel (or any other low-cost options, barring hostels) can be pretty low-end as long as it's not a bed-bug infested dump. Since we're going in the off-season I figure it might not be to get impossible $100 a night but if it's a total fleabag then we'll go higher.

Regards occulty-stuff, I've seen a couple sites that have cool events (London Month of the Dead) but the schedules aren't posted and we'd like to buy tickets ASAP; so barring that, we'd like to find stuff that we know will be open.

We'll be going the week before Halloween so we'd like to go a bit gothic and I'm sure there's all kinds of cool stuff that's off the beaten path. Any suggestions welcome- galleries, boutiques etc. We also plan on visiting a cemetary so recommendations on those are good too.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis to Travel & Transportation around London, England (32 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
A day trip to Bath! It's an easy train ride from Paddington station and it's easily my favorite London experience (that's not actually in London).
posted by rada at 2:05 PM on April 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

While some may consider a tour to be classically touristy, even as someone who had studied British history, I was very impressed the "London Walks" walking tour I took several years ago - and they have a couple of ghostly or grimly deadly tours.
posted by jb at 2:05 PM on April 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

For museums, the British Museum is, of course, one of the best in the world; I especially like the Victoria & Albert museum, as it focuses on manufactures more than fine art.

But my favourite London museum is the smaller and less-well known Museum of London.
posted by jb at 2:08 PM on April 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

There are some semi-B&Bs in Russell Square that are okay budget options, though definitely on the more spartan side. I stayed in the Jesmond Hotel as a broke grad student several times. Quite basic, but clean enough, and I didn't notice any vermin. Two tube stops within a modest walk. Note that not all rooms there have en-suite; make sure to choose that option.
posted by praemunire at 2:12 PM on April 3, 2019

The Atlantis Bookshop! London's oldest independent occult bookshop (nearly 100 years) and a key nexus in the modern history of magic.
posted by heatherlogan at 2:12 PM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh, for diffuse aesthetic creepiness, the Sir John Soanes Museum should work.
posted by praemunire at 2:13 PM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

We stayed here for 4 nights last summer and enjoyed our stay - it is a few steps form the Limehouse DLR station. Bonus: Breakfast included.
posted by busybee at 2:29 PM on April 3, 2019

There's a Premier Inn in Red Lion Street which is five minutes walk from Holborn Tube Station (so a direct, although lenghty, tube journey from Heathrow).

It's round the corner from the best fish and chip shop in London (The Fryer's Delight), ten minutes' walk from the British Museum, and close enough to walk into the West End for theatres, shopping, etc., but in a very quiet street in a safe neighbourhood. I recommended it to another MeFite about 18 months ago and she said it was absolutely fine.
posted by essexjan at 2:38 PM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've put my mother and two aunts in the Jesmond Hotel. No room to swing a cat but you're central! Also check out Point A hotels.
posted by teststrip at 2:40 PM on April 3, 2019

Houses of Parliament visit/ guided tour was very interesting. Depending on the day visiting the galleries during a session might be good as well since Brexit debating and voting should still be in full swing then.
posted by zeikka at 2:44 PM on April 3, 2019

The Dennis Severs House is a quirky tour, where you have to be quiet, and walk through several rooms, each with its own time period and story, and, as I recall, sound effects, like horses hooves clip-clopping, etc.

Also love the Linley Sambourne House, home of the man who drew the Punch cartoons.

You'll also see a link to Leighton House Museum on the above site, it's worth a visit if only to see the gazing pool room.

I toured Highgate Cemetery (West Cemetery), it was pretty cool, very Victorian.

If you like Egyptian stuff, the British Museum has a huge collection, and you won't regret it.

We stayed in the Bayswater/Padding area, I'm guessing about 1/4 mile from Hyde Park (it was a lot of walking to get to Hyde Park). The original hotel we'd booked wasn't great, the bathroom was grungy, so we walked around until we found one that was clean and cheap. We had to walk up 3 flights. It was called the Sass, but I can't find it now, it may have changed hands. There seem to be many hotels in your price range in that area.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:47 PM on April 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

A link to Sir John Soane's Museum so it doesn't get overlooked. It's the house of an 18-19 C architect full of his collections (including a sarcophagus) - he wrangled an Act of Parliament to make his house and stuff, as-is, a museum. It's also free and close to the British Museum, so how can you *not* go?
posted by momus_window at 2:54 PM on April 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am a huge fan of The Ampersand in the Kensington neighborhood. the rooms are small, but wonderful. the staff is fantastic, and great tea. right near tube stops. might be more than you are willing to spend, but I'd argue it is worth it.
posted by evilmonk at 2:57 PM on April 3, 2019

I’ve had great luck with the z hotel in London, I’ve stayed at the one in soho twice for around £100/night. They have hotels in other spots in a London as well. The rooms are comically small but clean and comfortable and the location is amazing, right in the middle of everything and between the Leicester and Tottenham tube stops. And they have a great free wine and cheese hour for guests.
posted by pazazygeek at 3:08 PM on April 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

There's a newish Moxy hotel near Stratford tube. It's a modern chain so will be bedbug free, rooms aren't huge but it's clean and modern and Stratford has central line tube to the city centre, DLR into Docklands and overground across north London. Looks like it's a bit above your budget for October - £100 a night - but in case you decide to price up a bit.

Highgate is the classic cemetery to visit, but I used to live right opposite Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington and loved wandering around it, it's awesomely gothic - overgrown and atmospheric - and free to enter (unlike Highgate). (Nice wee article on some of the highlights of Abney Park to pique your curiosity).
posted by penguin pie at 3:20 PM on April 3, 2019

The Old Operating Theatre Museum in Southwark near London Bridge stations should provide a shudder. Caveat that it's by no means barrier-free - 52 steps up a narrow spiral staircase. Ir's the best surviving 19th c.operating theatre, with displays of horrendous instruments, talks and events, I bet incl. Hallowe'en-themed
posted by runincircles at 3:28 PM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh and if you go there you might as well pop into the 'haunted' galleried 17th century coaching inn round the corner
posted by runincircles at 3:33 PM on April 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

When Mrs. and I visit anywhere, we always make time for flea markets. Deptford Market and, of course, Portobello Road on Saturday’s are worth the visit. You can always meet interesting people.
posted by sudogeek at 3:36 PM on April 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Take a look at what's on at the Wellcome Collection as you get closer to your travel date. You'll just miss the "Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic" exhibition, but there's likely to be something else interesting in October
posted by timelord at 7:37 PM on April 3, 2019

Seconding the Old Operating Theatre! Pollock's Toy Museum is also plenty creepy with lots of unnerving Victorian dolls etc.
posted by RubyScarlet at 11:04 PM on April 3, 2019

Response by poster: thanks guys! So much info for me to explore.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 12:11 AM on April 4, 2019

The Premier Inn Wembley will be plenty cheap if booked this far in advance - right next to a fast train with no stops 10 minutes to Marylebone station.
posted by el_presidente at 12:26 AM on April 4, 2019

Various friends have stayed at the Alhambra Hotel near Kings Cross and been very happy with it - for one, it's now her default London hotel. The first friend who stayed there told me how it was almost freakishly well-maintained and clean, and the rooms with shared bathrooms are about £100 a night.

The Horniman Museum at Forest Hill has quirks aplents in its collection, and lovely gardens with great views of London.
posted by kelper at 1:20 AM on April 4, 2019

Perhaps give a thought to staying in a Hostel? They’re significantly cheaper than a hotel and all over London.

A classic idea for gothic London would be to do one of the many Jack the Ripper tours in East London.

Otherwise another idea would be to take the trip to Thamesmead for a bit of Clockwork Orange location spotting.
posted by Middlemarch at 2:43 AM on April 4, 2019

I will nth Dennis Severs House, Highgate Cemetary, and Sir John Soane's Museum. I also second jb in saying that London Walks' Jack The Ripper Walk sounds like it should be touristy but is fascinating and factual.

I'll add that London is full of churches and many of them have cemeteries outside and/or monuments to the dead inside. Wherever you are, I encourage you to keep an eye out for old churches and wander in. I especially like St Magnus the Martyr because Old London Bridge used to be right next to it, and the church still has some bridge fragments on display, as well as a tiny bit of timber that was once a Roman wharf. Given your interests, I'd also recommend St Sepulchre Without Newgate, because it has a handbell that used to be rung outside the cells of the condemned on the night before their execution.

Speaking of Rome, there are two fascinating Roman ruins hidden beneath the city but open to visitors. There's a Roman amphitheatre beneath the Guildhall, and a Mithraeum in the Bloomberg building. They're both worth a visit, but for you, I particularly recommend the Mithraeum. It's the ancient site of a Roman cult, and the architects of the building have done a great job in making the ruins feel eerie and mysterious without being cheesy.

Finally... If you go to the British Museum, cross the street to Jarndyce Bookstore. If you don't go in and browse, then at the very least, admire their window display of bizarre books.
posted by yankeefog at 3:35 AM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

not goth and maybe not even quirky, but made my husband the happiest of all things we saw in London, "Bond in Motion" at the London Film Museum. It's cars from James Bond movies, and even I, who care about Bond movies very little, enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

This next thing I miiiight be wrong about, because I can't find any corroboration on the internet, but I know what I saw, and I've seen it twice and it's CREEPY.

At the back of St. Paul's cathedral is a chapel area honoring America, I think because of American help in World War II. There is a stained glass window incorporating American images like George Washington and the American flag, but also a confederate flag. Which creeps the hell out of me. Also I would love to have some corroboration so do let me know if you see it.
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 3:55 AM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

When I went in 2015, I stayed at the Ridgemount Hotel (Gower Street, close to a couple of Tube stops and UCL, plus a few blocks from the British Museum. Cheap, clean, but the rooms are tiny. (Their breakfast was not fancy, but filling.)

If you want esoteric stores, it's also close to Treadwell's, one of the big London esoteric stores. They do a really nice run of tours and special lectures on related topics.

Highlights of the trip for me included the behind the scenes tour of the spirit collection (aka things in bottles) at the Natural History Museum, the Wellcome Museum, and a special London Walks tour on legends of London. (The one of theirs I did at the Tower of London was also very good.)
posted by jenettsilver at 4:39 AM on April 4, 2019

Watkins Books is the biggest Occult bookshop I know of and one I visit regularly. It's very close to Leicester Square station.

You could also get a piercing around the corner from Extreme Needle Tattoo if that's your thing.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 7:41 AM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Not fancy, but Premier Inn and Travelodge are two chains that have hotels around London.

Absolutely go to Brompton and Highgate Cemeteries. Both Abney Park and Nunhead have interesting ruined chapels. Kensal Rise Cemetery is also one of the Magnificent Seven, but I find it makes me very uneasy because it is *SO* overgrown and neglected. I prefer Brompton to Highgate - fewer famous interments, but the architecture is stunning. You may be able to tour the crypt there.

There's a Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury which is quite unusual.

The Wellcome Collection is a museum that often has features on medical curiosities. And there's always the Monster Supplies store.
posted by mippy at 10:25 AM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Transport Museum by Covent Garden is fun!
posted by like_neon at 11:07 AM on April 4, 2019

we'd like to go a bit gothic

If you are that way inclined and your trip includes a Saturday night, Slimelight [Facebook/Wikipedia] is functionally the London goth club. It's a celebrated institution, at this point.
posted by automatronic at 5:52 PM on April 4, 2019

I used to live in London and I travel there a lot with my job. Go for a chain - travelodge is cheap, there are three near kings cross station waking distance to train, tube, museums. You don't have to include the breakfast - there are cafes nearby and you will have a kettle in your room to make tea or coffee. Book directly through their website.

Independent hotel rooms tend to be tiny and hot unless you spend £300+. Seriously, go with a chain - travelodge or premier inn and stay centrally. I nth museum of London and going out east on the DLR but if it's your first time, stay central. Have fun!
posted by sedimentary_deer at 11:25 PM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

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