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More than Big Ben and the Eye

Claudia Civinini investigates parts of London that visiting EL students rarely discover

Greenwich

DRAWING THE LINE
The view from the Greenwich Meridian line leads to the star of the Unesco-listed Maritime Greenwich – the Old Royal Naval College, boasting the ‘Sistine Chapel of the UK’ (Copyright Claudia Civinini)

Is there such a thing as a ‘secret London’? And if so, would it be of any interest to language students who are already rushing to tick world-famous attractions off their list?

 

London is the most visited city in Europe, and according to the 2015 Master Card Global Destination Index it is also the most visited in the world. It is no surprise then that London is also by far the most popular destination for language students in the UK, generating over three times the value of the second ‘ELT county’ in the UK: Dorset. London is where students find museums and historical landmarks, but also world-famous festivals and clubs, where they can experience British and many other cultures, where a fascinating history is the ever-present background to a fast-paced and modern city.

We at the Gazette think the beauty of London lies in the fact that there is so much more here than Big Ben and the London Eye. For this reason, we decided to put together some overlooked gems and unmissable attractions that might be unknown to some tourists who come to London for the first time. The list is in no way comprehensive, and no list will ever be – no matter how long you live in London, there will always be something ready to surprise you just around the corner.

London, not unlike Rome, has its own hills – more than seven – all spread around the city centre, over which they have superb views. Just north of famous Camden Town there are two prosperous and quaint London villages that surely deserve a visit. Hampstead and Highgate boast historic centres scattered with the remains of legendary personalities – poet Keats’s house in Hampstead, and philosopher Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate Cemetery, for example. Hampstead Heath is a glimpse of wild countryside in Tube zone two. If you feel brave, move on to the border with zone three and visit Alexandra Palace, an 1875 palace reminiscent of world fairs and old-time BBC shows on a hill overlooking north London.

On another hill offering breath-taking views of London but from the south, armies of tourists with selfie sticks line up to get a photo with the most famous line in the world, the Greenwich Meridian – apparently traced in the wrong spot. Once you have done that make sure you have enough time for the star of Unesco-listed Maritime Greenwich: the Old Royal Naval College, which features majestic architecture and the Painted Hall, a baroque masterpiece widely regarded as the Sistine Chapel of the UK. Then, move south to Blackheath – another one of those charming old London villages embraced by what is more a forest than a park.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the largest public square in central London, but since it is accessible only via minor roads and is enclosed by magnificent buildings, it is also very quiet. It is well known to the students and lawyers (the London School of Economics and Royal Courts of Justice are just around the corner) who crowd the fields with picnic gear at lunchtime – and dinner in summer. For museum addicts, Sir John Soane’s museum and the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons will satisfy even the most alternative taste.

In south-west London close to the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, the riverside London village of Chiswick harbours historic pubs, breweries and villas. One of these is the magnificent Chiswick House, a Palladian villa set in scenic gardens that hosted legendary parties of the British aristocracy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Close to it is Strand on the Green, a picturesque stretch of historic houses and pubs on the banks of the Thames – great for rowing. Moving south of the River Thames, there is the well-known district of Wimbledon. Not a giant tennis court, but another quiet, quaint and cute London village with a warm atmosphere and its own Village Stables.

Wimbledon

Peculiar traffic light in Wimbledon (copyright Andrea Perez)