Mind-blowing discoveries hide in plain sight; gobsmacking facts mask themselves with the ordinary. You’ve heard of these places, you just never realised they hid cool secrets…
1. Sherlock lives next door to a real cafe
Okay, so they don’t actually film at 221B Baker Street – that’s a Sherlock Holmes museum. But part of the Sherlock set is real, namely Speedy’s Cafe, that Holmes and Watson live next door to. Possibly the only cafe in London to sell t-shirts as well as coffee.
2. There’s a 200-year-old street in Kentish Town
Built in 1780, Little Green Street is one of few Georgian streets left in London. It’s stayed as it is for over 200 years, looking more like a country lane than a place to live in the capital. It was the inspiration behind The Kinks’ hit, ‘Dead End Street’, and featured in the video for the song, as seen above.
3. You can buy a flat in Arsenal’s old ground
Thanks to its art-deco East Stand, Arsenal’s beloved old fortress is a listed building. So in 2006 when the Gunners left the 93-year-old stadium for pastures new, Highbury was turned into a bucolic block of flats. It’ll set you back a bit to buy a flat there, but that’s what you pay to have the best kept gardens in North London.
4. There’s a Japanese garden in the middle of Holland Park
Holland Park’s breathtakingly beautiful as it is, but the park also boasts the Kyoto Gardens, nestled away in a corner like a DVD easter egg. It’s a technicolor paradise, complete with a waterfall, koi carp, and peacocks a-plenty.
5. East London boasts cockney cash machines
It’s amazing really: only 1% of cash machines in Wales are used with the Welsh language language setting. Compare that to the 15-20% of Londoners choosing “Cockney” as a language choice at ATMs. And the best thing about it (apart from being asked for your Huckleberry Finn)? They dispense ponies. Not actual ponies. But £25.
6. There’s a Tube map for the stations not in use
You’ve probably heard Sherlock banging on about the ghost stations of London; the ones that never opened and the ones that are no longer in use. Well, there are more than the two or three you probably expected. There’s a full map of them that would rival many cities’ active stations.
7. Cabman’s shelters are the best place for a cup of tea
Ever see those big teal-green huts, lurking around London? Specifically on Russell Square? If you ever really fancy a proper cup of tea and a bacon sandwich – Pret’s great, but not everyone can afford avocado in their lunch every day – you can still visit these study old huts. Warning: the above gif is not an accurate representation of a vendors brewing up.
8. Hackney is the home of cinema
You thought that was Hollywood? Think again. Umit & Son don’t stock blu-ray, but they do have the classics of cinema on old film reels. Just like Blockbuster though, you can rent them out, but don’t expect to just slide them through the letterbox when you’re done with them.
9. You can tell how old a tube carriage is by the year written on the step
It takes a special kind of someone to date a tube carriage, but now you can too! Upon stepping aboard the train, just look at the metal step, and it should have a year that the carriage was first used. Either that, or chop the train in half and count the rings.
10. You can have dinner at Tower Bridge
Obvious to a lot of people, but there are also those of us that have never considered the one of the most blatant probabilities of London’s brilliant skyline: yes, that’s a walkway at the top. Not used so much for travelling these days, it’s a venue of elegant dining. A bit like that spaghetti advert with the couple eating dinner on the bridge.
11. The Post Office used to have a railway
It was never really going to rival email, but the Post Office used to have a railway, nicknamed Mail Rail. It was used to move mail from office to office, between Whitechapel and Paddington. Insert any jokes here about how slow the combination of the British railway and the Royal Mail must be.
12. The Vietnam scenes of Full Metal Jacket weren’t filmed all that far away…
Who says you need to go to Vietnam to get the full experience? Not Stanley Kubrick. The infamously meticulous movie-maker brought a touch of the war to London to film the latter scenes of Full Metal Jacket, filming them at Beckton Gas Works. Obviously, right?
13. Camden’s home to Coldplay’s secret studio
Camden’s been home to the likes of Russell Brand and Pete Doherty in the past, but perhaps less rock and roll than that, the lovely Chris Martin bought a bakery there. Rather than producing pastries though, the Coldplay boys did it up and recorded 2008 record, ‘Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends’ there; more recently, they worked there on recent LP ‘Ghost Stories’. Fans have desperately tried to locate it, as have those who want to chuck eggs at the band (probably).
14. There’s a secret bar at the BFI
No, you heard that correctly. Yes, there’s a secret door, via the bookshelf, like some Bond fantasy that you’ve wanted to insert into your dream home, but only ever managed to create on the Sims. And the best thing of all? It looks like a distinguished gentleman’s club.
15. Hyde Park is home to a pet cemetery
The most heartbreaking thing in the whole of London, a shaded little rim of Hyde Park contains hundreds of animal graves. It’s fenced off these days, but you can still make out the inscriptions, the best of which is probably from a lady who labelled her faithful dog, “Loyaler than any of my husbands”. Did you need any more proof that we’re a nation of animal lovers?
16. The inspiration behind Platform 9 ¾ isn’t actually King’s Cross
“What do you mean it’s not?” Dumbledore’s Army are no doubt screaming. It says “King’s Cross” in the books, it’s filmed at King’s Cross, but JK Rowling was thinking of Euston when she wrote the iconic scenes of Harry taking the train to Hogwarts. Next time you catch a train from there, picture an alternative universe of Harry Potter being filmed there.
17. Berwick Street is a pilgrimage for any diehard Oasis fan
They fought Essex boys Blur in the Battle of Britpop, representing Manchester, the land of the Smiths, Joy Division, and Maine Road. But their most famous album cover was photographed in London. Home of raspberry in your lager. It’s a musical oxymoron, if ever there was one.
18. …And a piece of Blur lives on Primrose Hill
…and while we’re on the subject of Britpop kingpins, there’s something to see if you were more Blur than Oasis. Well, there was something to see; one music lover graffitied “And the view’s so nice” on Primrose Hill, in reference to the line in ‘For Tomorrow’ about the park. It was removed in 2012 though to clean up London for the Olympics. Spoilsports (no pun intended).
19. The underground has an ingenious “Power off” switch
Picture the scene: you’re hurtling through the arteries of the capital, your journey soundtracked by a commuter’s bleeding headphones, as you gaze blankly at the black walls of the tunnel outside. Ever see two cables running side by side? If a driver connects those copper wires, the power for the line shuts down. It’s an amazing way to stop accidents, as it stops any train on the line.
20. Notting Hill is home to one of the quirkiest museums in the world
It’s a feat that mega-hoarder the Little Mermaid would be proud of: the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising contains 10,000 items of consumer goods, ranging from biscuit tins to coke cans, all collected over a 120-year history. Just don’t put your shopping down. You’ll never find it again.
21. Hoxton and Falkirk Streets are actually hangouts for top rockstars
What’s so special about an otherwise dull intersection in North London? Well, ‘Bittersweet Symphony’. When Richard Ashcroft marched triumphantly through London, ignorant to the everyday noise of the city, he created an icon of a generation; more recently, Alex Turner stumbled pissedy down the same stretch of pavement (‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’). It’s a landmark for indie kids to visit, and it’s certainly a hallowed location for indie bands to film videos.
22. St. James’s Park is a pelican paradise
If you’ve been to Regent’s Park to feed the ducks, to Trafalgar Square and seen the pigeons, and you want to take your bird watching to another level completely, why not spend an hour or two watching the pelicans in St. James’s Park? They live in harmony with the more common geese and gulls, as the park even has a duck island… bird is definitely the word.
23. There’s a nature reserve behind St. Pancras Station
If the pelicans a stone’s throw from the palace are too well-known for you, check this out: two acres of wild, green shangri-la, perched next to Regent’s Canal. London’s famed for its beautiful lush spots tucked between the hustle and bustle, but this is one of the most tranquil places for miles around, and it’s still a mystery to some Londoners. That’s the beauty of this city, right?