London vs New York: Which is the More Iconic City?
If you had to choose between London vs New York, which iconic city would win? In case you need help deciding, I've rounded up everything you need to know!
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On my last visit to London, I spent hours just wandering around, seeing what I could find off the beaten path.
My favorite discovery of that trip was easily St. John’s Bakery in Neal’s Yard.
After sampling their delicious pasties, I wound up stopping by twice a day for almost a week (for breakfast and a pre-theater
It wasn’t long before I felt like a local because the shopkeeper quickly recognized me (and my obsession with their custard cream donuts).
The motto of the story is this: always take at least a bit of time out of your trip to explore places that aren’t on every tourists’ itinerary.
The next time you’re in the city, check out these London hidden gems!
You’ll find this colorful sidestreet, and courtyard tucked inside a corner of Covent Garden.
Neal’s Yard is one of my favorite hidden gems in London—mainly because it’s where I get my daily tea and pastry at St. John’s Bakery. Their chocolate custard cream donut is out of this world!
You’ll also want to hit up Neal’s Yard Remedies. They sell only organic beauty and skincare products. Both Jennifer Aniston and Kate Moss swear by their products!
This funky art store is a fabulous place to hang out and take cool IG photos thanks to the massive amount of neon signs.
If neon signs aren’t your thing, don’t worry, they also have disco balls, religious statues, and vintage signs.
The best part is that it’s totally free to hit up God’s Own Junkyard. Plus, if you want an epic souvenir, most of the signs are for sale.
They also have a cool cafe called The Rolling Scones, so you can enjoy a
Fun Fact: The owner got his start making neon signs for strip clubs and brothels. Hollywood took notice and soon he was making them for Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, and Stanley Kubrick.
Did you know London has a baroque masterpiece that’s known as “England’s Sistine Chapel”?
Just head to The Painted Hall at Old Royal Navy College to see the spectacular paintings that cover the ceiling and walls.
Sir James Thornhill drew around 200 figures that tell the story of Britain’s political, cultural, and naval journeys. His work was so well received that it even earned him a Knighthood!
It’s free to visit, so you have no excuse not to swing by and check it out.
You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into Diagon Alley when you hit Leadenhall Market.
In fact, it was the setting for both the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley when they shot the Harry Potter films.
Dating back to the 14th century, Leadenhall Market is one of the oldest marketplaces in London.
You’ll want to do some shopping at the boutiques then head to historic Lamb Tavern to unwind. The tavern has been in the market since 1790 and is the perfect spot to grab a pint.
I know some of you are probably thinking, “seriously, how exciting can a museum about mail be?”
I agree with you; the mail isn’t the most thrilling topic, but the underground Mail Rail at this museum is pretty cool.
Turns out there’s a whole hidden world under London that includes Churchill’s bunker, the 2,000-year-old remains of a Roman amphitheater, and 6.5 miles of railways that would shuttle parcels and letters between sorting stations.
Your entry ticket will get you access to the Postal Museum, an exhibit on the Mail Rail, and even a quick ride down the tracks on a train car.
The ride feels claustrophobic, so fair warning if small spaces freak you out, you’ll want to skip this one.
If you’re into checking out cemeteries, then Highgate Cemetery should be on your to-do list.
You should take a stroll down the west part of the cemetery, which hosts the famous Egyptian Avenue. It also boasts the Circle of Lebanon and catacombs.
Fun Fact: Legend has it that the Highgate Vampire haunts the cemetery. Supposedly the vampire is a medieval nobleman whose coffin they brought over from Romania to England in the late 18th century. It’s said they buried him on the grounds that became Highgate Cemetery. Apparently he woke up after Satanists performed a ritual over his grave and continues to haunt people today.
You’ll find Neal’s Yard, with all its little boutiques and shops. Plus Seven Dials Market, which is the West End’s only covered food market.
Fun Fact: Charles Dickens wrote of Seven Dials, saying “The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…”
While you’re in Covent Garden keep an eye out for the seven hidden noses.
The first nose appeared in 1997, with about 30 more appearing around London that year.
There was a great mystery around who was gluing noses all over the city until The Evening Standard revealed it was a project by artist Rick Buckley. He supposedly just wanted to see how many noses he could get away with installing around London.
Over the years, the city has removed most of them, but there are still seven hidden around SoHo.
Get in a solid arm workout while you do your sightseeing with a bit of kayaking.
London Kayak Company offers a variety of trips on the Thames, so you’ll see the city from a unique point of view—just bundle up if it’s chilly out!
My favorite tour is their evening paddle from Battersea to Greenwich. You’ll see the entire skyline lit up, including iconic landmarks like St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, and Parliament.
Looking for a unique and timeless souvenir to bring home?
Head to Holburn to shop at The London Silver Vaults. You’ll find beautiful silver jewelry and cutlery available for purchase.
I love browsing all the antiques and modern jewelry at the roughly forty independent shops within the Vaults.
Okay, so you won’t be climbing actual tulip stairs.
What you’ll actually encounter is one of the most beautiful and ornate staircases in Britain. It’s also one of the first geometric, centrally unsupported set of steps.
Just head to the 17th century Queen’s House in Greenwich (a few miles down the river from London proper).
The former royal residence is now a museum that has lush green gardens, stunning architecture, and striking artwork on display.
Fun Fact: The staircase got its name because of wrought iron flowers that look a bit like tulips and are part of the railing.
This adventure has been at the top of my London bucket list for a while now.
Up at The O2 arena lets people climb up the side of the O2 arena and onto the rooftop.
The tours go up at all times of day, but I think going at sunset or at night would be especially epic.
Fair warning, I hear the climb is pretty tough. It’s also pretty high up, so maybe skip this one if you fear heights.
Head to Little Venice in north London for beautiful canals and waterways that will transport you to Italy.
I found this area by accident on my last trip to London as I was walking home from Regent’s Park. It’s the perfect area to enjoy a summer stroll or boat ride.
If you’re looking for flowers to brighten up your
Every Sunday, the street fills with flower vendors offering some of the most beautiful blooms around.
The market runs from 8 am until 2 pm and is popular with flower buyers and photographers. You’ll likely spot a few Instagrammers walking around trying to get the perfect shot.
For a unique pub experience with a view, you’ll want to hit up The Dickens Inn.
The pub is in an 18th-century warehouse along the Thames near Tower Bridge, making it a cool experience.
The inn has three stories complete with balconies on each level, giving you the perfect location to enjoy a pint or two while you take in the view.
Fair warning, it’s a tad touristy these days and the food could be better, but it’s totally worth it for a quick drink and a look around.
Fun Fact: The Dickens Inn was Cedric Charles Dickens, the Great Grandson of novelist Charles Dickens.
Pop Brixton is the perfect place to chill, eat, drink, and hear live music.
The venue has a bit of a funky vibe since it’s made from old shipping containers with a community garden built into the center.
There are tons of food stalls to choose from offering a wide variety of cuisines that’s sure to make everyone in your group happy.
It’s also fairly close to the O2 arena, making it a prime spot to grab a bite before a concert, as well as an ideal spot to spend a sunny day or warm evening eating and drinking with friends.
For a chill day on the outskirts of the city, you’ll want to check out Thames Barrier Park.
The gardens in this park are seriously beautiful, especially the hedges that create a bit of a small maze to wander through.
You’ll also find brilliant spots to picnic and lots of benches to sit and read.
Wander around Covent Garden and you’ll notice at least one set of ears hidden around the neighborhood.
Artist Tim Fishlock hid casts of his own ears on Floral Street, near Leicester Square.
There are also rumors that a few more ears exist around the neighborhood, so keep an eye out.
Standing on the north-side of Holborn Viaduct, you’ll discover the Holy Sepulchre Church.
Wander inside the church and you’ll find one of the unique bells around—St. Sepulchre’s Execution Bell.
The bell would ring twelve times outside a prisoner’s cell at midnight on the eve of the prisoner’s execution.
The custom began in the 17th century and would continue for 200 years.
If you face the bell and turn to your left, you can see the same white marble archway that the bellman would walk under to enter the Newgate Prison.
Fun Fact: Shakespeare references the Bell in Macbeth, as does John Webster in The Duchess of Malfi.
Brick Lane is a street in London’s East End that’s well known for its Bangladeshi community, trendy bars, and warehouse art scene.
I could easily spend an entire day exploring this area.
Besides sampling all the delicious foods, you’ll absolutely want to hit up the notorious Ten Bells Pub.
It’s well-known amongst Jack the Ripper fans since it’s the pub his last victim, Mary Kelly was last seen, right before he murdered her. The next morning, they found her mutilated body across the street from the pub.
If you’re looking for a quiet rooftop cafe, make your way to the Queen Elizabeth Rooftop Garden. You’ll find this hidden gem above the Southbank Centre along the Thames.
Here you’ll find a secret garden that offers beautiful views of the city and a quiet place to relax with a book or picnic.
My favorite part about this spot is that it’s mainly a local hangout. You’ll encounter far fewer tourists than some of the other rooftops in the area.
Also known as the Knolly’s Rent Ceremony, this yearly event follows a centuries-old tradition of paying Covent Garden Trust’s annual “peppercorn rent”.
Shockingly there is no peppercorn in the exchange, instead, this summer ceremony involves Trustees parading around Covent Garden’s Piazza accompanied by the Town Crier and musicians while stopping at five points in the square to pass out a red apple and posies to each representative of the freehold.
Once all five reps have their “rent”, the ceremony ends with the Town Crier exclaiming that rent is covered for the year.
Anyone else wish all it took to pay a year’s rent was a few apples and posies?
Anyone else immediately think of The Da Vinci Code the second they hear “Freemasons”?
Well, this group of Freemasons is way less secretive than the ones in that novel. They actually offer free tours of their Grand Temple and ceremonial areas for visitors. You can also check out their Museum of Freemasonry.
This Art Deco building is the third incarnation of the lodge to stand on this spot. The first lodge was built on the plot in 1775.
This is easily one of the most unique tours you’ll encounter while in London. Just plan ahead as tours are only offered sporadically.
In Southeast London, you’ll find a series of intersecting man-made tunnels covering 22 miles of underground terrain.
They carved the Chislehurst Caves out over hundreds of years as people dug for chalk that was used in lime burning and brick making.
This labyrinth has a wide history of use by the Romans, Druids, and Saxons. They even used it as the largest deep air-raid shelter outside of London. Basically operating as an underground town, it protected over 15,000 people every evening during the Blitz.
These days the caves operate as a popular tourist attraction and educational center.
For a uniquely British experience, head to a Cockney Cash Machine.
Basically, there are a few ATMs around the city that will let you choose Cockney as your language of choice.
If you pick the “Cockney” option, the machine will ask you to present your bladder of lard (card), and your Huckleberry Finn (pin).
After that, you’ll want to select the sausage and mash option to retrieve some cash from your account.
The last step is choosing how much to take out, which is a bit of a game. For example, they refer to £10 as a speckled hen.
Once you choose, the machine will contact the cab rank (bank) and release your money.
Local’s Tip: Not all machines have this option, but for sure thing, head to the ATM at Spitalfields: 73 Commercial Street, E1 6BD.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is the UK’s oldest factory. Its claim to fame is forging both the Liberty Bell and the bell that rings atop Big Ben.
They began making bells in the 1570s and continued the tradition for 450 years!
Today, the foundry has been in the news because new owners want to convert this legendary factory into a boutique hotel. There’s a large group of protesters who are pushing for this building to be preserved in its current state while producing bells once again (they ceased in 2017).
This is one spot you should attempt to see sooner rather than later, just in case it ends up a casualty of the booming real estate market.
If you’ve seen the latest installment of Bridget Jones’s Diary, you’ll have seen Hampstead Heath. It’s the hill she’s sitting on overlooking the London skyline as she tells her dad she’s pregnant.
Hampstead Heath is truly one of London’s most beautiful outdoor areas.
You can spend the day escaping from the chaos of the city while enjoying the park’s local wildlife, swimming ponds, and athletic track.
Plus, the hill provides a great Instagram opportunity for the social media-minded.
Just north of Regent’s Park, you’ll find Primrose Hill, a neighborhood filled with pastel Victorian homes.
Besides the Instagram-ready paste houses, you’ll also find chic eateries, tearooms, boutiques, and pubs.
This is the perfect non-touristy neighborhood to pretend to be a local for the day in.
It reminds me a lot of a more posh Notting Hill. Kate Moss, Ewan McGregor, and Jude Law all call this area home.
Any Harry Potter fans here?
If your answer was yes, then you need to visit the House of MinaLima.
This colorful design studio is run by the design duo who created all the graphic props for the Harry Potter movies and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Inside the gallery, you’ll find their entire library of graphic works, plus a store to purchase some incredibly unique gifts.
Besides Harry Potter, the shop also has an array of Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland items.
Fancy strolling in an oasis amongst over 50,000 living plants?
Then head to UNESCO World Heritage Site Kew Gardens.
This place is both magical and relaxing, making it an ideal calming afternoon activity.
Besides the typical plants, flowers, and trees, you’ll also see lots of different birds and art sculptures scattered around the gardens.
Local’s Tip: I really like bringing a picnic to enjoy on the lawn, since it takes about 4-5 hours to see the entire place. They also offer a cafe and shops in case you forget to pack a lunch.
The social media set will go crazy over Saint Aymes’ gorgeous aesthetics. They modeled the cafe around the concept of “Magic You Can Touch” which seriously makes for some truly stunning IG photos.
My favorite part about this immersive cafe is that it’s family-run by two sisters.
They sell flowers, cocktails, cupcakes, pastries, and cakes. All of which are seriously stunning and mostly pink!
Fair warning, there are tons of flowers here, so take your allergy medicine before hitting up this hotspot.
I know you’re likely thinking, what the hell is a “physic garden”?
Truthfully, I wasn’t so positive about what it was until I did a bit of research.
The Chelsea Physic Garden is essentially an Apothecaries garden where medicinal plants grow.
They established it in 1673. It’s London’s oldest botanical garden housing over 5,000 medicinal plants.
Unless you’re a horticulture fan, you’ll likely want to book a free tour in the reception area in order to really appreciate all these unique plants. Tours typically run about every 45-minutes.
If you’re wanting to check out the entire garden, plan for at least a 4-hour visit.
On the northeast corner of Trafalgar Square, you’ll find a beautiful church dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to tell you to go to mass, but I’m going to suggest you check out some of the church’s events.
They hold a bunch of free music events throughout the year, plus some art exhibitions.
You can take in the stunning architecture while enjoying a bit of culture. Or if you’re lucky, catch a candlelit concert in the catacombs.
If you’re really into churches, or simply an architecture fanatic, I highly recommend you book a tour of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
Fun Fact: There’s been a church on these grounds since at least Medieval times.
Chances are you’ve seen this famous pub while scrolling through IG.
It’s a favorite of tourists and locals alike because of the massive amount of flowers covering the exterior of the pub. In the winter you’ll find it covered in white lights.
They shell out over £25,000 a year just for all their decorations!
Not to be outdone, they covered the interior in Churchill memorabilia.
And because nothing about this pub is traditional, it serves up Thai food and curries along with its selection of beer.
Fun Fact: Winston Churchill likely never set foot here, but his grandparents supposedly spent large parts of the 1800s drinking at the pub. Rumor has it they updated the name to The Churchill Arms in honor of Winston after he won the war.
If you find yourself in London during the Fall, you need to make the small journey out to Richmond Park’s Isabella Plantation. Just take the train out to Norbiton station, then it’s about a thirty-minute walk through the park to reach this little slice of heaven.
The plantation has a total secret garden vibe in the center of the park. Here you’ll find magical fields, and tons of pink azaleas if you time your visit just right.
There’s also plenty of wildlife to spot, including deer, ducks, and bunnies.
I recommend bringing a book and picnic and spending the entire afternoon relaxing and exploring this idyllic woodland.
Want to visit the city’s highest public garden?
Just book a free visit to Sky Garden well before when you’re planning to visit as tickets go fast.
Once you have your ticket in hand, you’ll find yourself 38 stories above pedestrians with a 360-degree view of the city’s iconic skyline.
Besides getting lost in the magic of this incredible view, you’ll also marvel at the lush greenery, gorgeous flowers, and open-air terrace.
Bonus points if you score a ticket for sunset, it’s easily one of the most romantic spots in all of London.
Local’s Tip: If you’re like me and leave planning until the last minute, you can try snagging a reservation at the restaurant in the Sky Garden to gain access.
The Royal Exchange is basically London’s version of Wall Street. Or at least it was until the late 1930s.
Even though it’s no longer the center of trading, its stunning architecture remains.
These days it’s home to Fortnum & Mason (a chic British department store), multiple offices, and plenty of luxury shops.
Hanging out here is one of my favorite rainy day activities since there’s so much to see and plenty of spots to grab a bite to eat. My favorite stop is Fortnum Champagne Bar for a rest and a bit of bubbly and oysters.
Okay, so obviously you can’t just stroll up to the M16 Building in London and demand to become the next James Bond.
But wouldn’t it be cool if you could?
Unfortunately, it’s off-limits to visitors, so you’ll have to settle for a glimpse of the exterior of the famous building.
If you’re dying to get a cool picture pretending to be 007, fair warning law enforcement has questioned some tourists because they felt the photography was suspicious. That said, there are no signs prohibiting photos, so take those IG shots at your own risk.
To glimpse it, just head to The Vauxhall Bridge.
I bet you’re noticing that London has a ton of beautiful little parks to check out.
You’ll certainly want to add Kyoto Garden to that list.
Found in Holland Park, the garden is a gift from the city of Kyoto to Great Britain meant to commemorate their long friendship.
You’ll find a traditional Japanese garden complete with tiered waterfalls, serene ponds, stone lanterns, and even a cheeky peacock or two wandering the grounds.
Just take the tube to the Holland Park stop and walk toward the center of the grounds to find Kyoto Garden.
Saint Dunstan in the East is easily one of my favorite spots in all of London.
It’s this really gorgeous abandoned church that will make you feel you’ve ended up in a fairy tale.
In fact, I think they have even used it as a set for the film Ever After. I can’t find solid proof, but I swear it looks exactly like the abandoned spot in the woods that they meet at.
It’s all in ruins because it was massively damaged during The Blitz and now houses a beautiful garden.
Bring a book or a picnic to make the most out of your time. Or plan a little photoshoot—trust me, you’ll see at least a few influencers trying to get that perfect shot.
If you’re looking for unique souvenirs to bring back from London, you’ll want to hit up Hoxton Monster Supplies.
Here you’ll find delicacies you’d only expect on Halloween, like Seasonal Bogies ( lemon bonbons) and Thickest Human Snot (tart-sweet lemon cheese).
Even if you don’t need any gifts, this place is an entertaining spot to do some window shopping.
Are you wondering “who is Sir John Soane?”
I didn’t know who he was, but after a bit of research, this is what you need to know.
He’s a British architect who was a big deal during Britain’s Regency period. Besides designing some stunning buildings, he was also an avid collector of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and models.
He was so into architecture that he repurposed his home into a museum for students of architecture.
Today anyone can visit to see the vast collection of objects ranging from models of contemporary buildings to Roman and Egyptian artifacts.
Fair warning, Sir John Soane’s Museum isn’t the most organized, but it’s still worth spending a few hours wandering around this unusual museum.
Local’s Tip: A lot of museums in London have free entry, including this one!
I can’t wait to get back to the city to see old friends and to explore some more of these unique hidden gems in London.
My bucket list of activities in the city has certainly grown after researching for this post.
I hope this list inspires you to seek some of these off-the-beaten-path locations on your next trip!
While you’re in London, check out some of these popular tours!
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