London is a beautiful, vibrant city, and one that people travel from all over the world to visit. With two thousand years of history, some extraordinary architecture, vivacious atmosphere and plenty of nightlife, there’s a huge amount to enjoy in England’s capital. However, occasionally the hustle-bustle of London can get a little overwhelming, which is why this guide will help you find the hidden moments of calm within the city.
In 2016, London was the world’s second most visited city (and it often hits the top spot!) with 19.88 million overnight visitors, while its permanent population stands at a hefty 10,434,000 million.
London’s key tourist sites are well worth a visit, but if you want the chance to unwind on your London city break, these lesser known attractions may be just the thing for you.
When you want to socialise, but don’t fancy hitting the pub or a noisy bar, then events staged by the London meditation centre Beeja meditation may be just the thing for you. Including guided meditations, live music and sometimes lots of delicious food, their events such as Shavasana Disco and the Gathering are the perfect antidote to London’s hyperactivity.
They often visit the studios where seminal albums were recorded, or book artists to play live, believing that people get much more out of the music if they take part in a group meditation beforehand. Rather than drinking until dawn and fighting the crowds in clubs, you can chat, reflect and generally relax, so you leave feeling calm and rejuvenated.
London is a remarkably green city, considering it’s so modern and busy, and you can get close to nature without having to head out into the countryside. Hampstead Heath is a beautiful location that features some lovely historic houses, and is comprised of 792 acres of formal grounds, heathland, woodland and farms. However, the wildest and quietest place is the Hampstead Heath Extension, an area which was once farmland – filled with open spaces, ancient trees, ponds and tranquility.
Another urban oasis is the London Wetlands Centre. This nature reserve is a haven for wildlife, protecting various species which would otherwise be unable to live within the city. Made from a redundant reservoir, here you can spot kingfishers, walk amongst lakes and gardens, and keep the kids entertained – there’s an indoor play area, adventure playground and even a Pond Zone to get messy in.
Take a Library Tour
While there’s no need to walk around every one of them (unless you want to, of course!) there’s many beautiful libraries in London. Architecturally impressive, full of books to browse and, by their nature, extremely quiet, they can be the perfect place for a breather. The National Art Library in the Victoria and Albert museum is a particular highlight. It’s free to join (you just need proof of address and ID) and filled to the brim with fascinating books on various artistic disciplines.
Other libraries worth visiting include the Lindley Library, which is set in the Royal Horticultural Society headquarters and full of flowers, The London Library (where you can buy a day pass) and the West Greenwich Library.
Visit a castle
Severndroog Castle is something of a rarity in London – an interesting and impressive historic building that isn’t hugely well-known. It’s an eighteenth century castle built on one of the highest points in London, Shooter’s Hill in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Surrounded by woods, it’s viewing platform offers one of the best views of the city that you can find, and one which may have been lost to the public forever, hadn’t the castle been saved by private developers by a community group.
Explore London’s gardens
The Garden Museum in central London is dedicated to all things horticultural, and celebrates the tradition of British gardening through small art exhibitions, a collection of artefacts, events and its own green space. Placed within an abandoned church that has historical roots dating back to the Norman Conquest, the museum retains the peaceful air of a spiritual space, with its stained glass windows and beautiful stone arches still in place.
The Geffrye, which is a museum of the home, is similar in its quiet and pleasant focus on domesticity. The space is used to explore British homes from the 1600s to the present day, and features a garden reading room, restored almshouse chapel and a collection of 20th century paintings to mull over. The highlight here, however, is its beautiful and hidden herb garden. Here you can sit in arbors covered by climbing plants, and find out about the 170 varieties of herbs and their traditional uses.
While London is a bustling and exhilarating city, there are still quiet corners where you can catch your breath and unwind. It’s simply a case of looking beyond the usual tourist locations, and heading a little off the beaten track.