London is a maze of old, wriggling streets and crooked corners; it is a sprawling city filled with long histories and grand buildings.
This is what attracts the hordes of tourists that stream in every year. They snap pictures of Buckingham Palace, wander along the river Thames, throng the British Museum and the National Gallery, check off their Top Ten Attractions lists.
But what about the hidden places of London?
These are to be found in narrow alleyways and down cellar steps into low lit bars virtually impossible to discover if you are a first time visitor. The city is a grand old dame and she does not give up her secrets easily.
Start in the 18th and 19th century
When London's imperial power was at its peak. Immerse yourself in the Dennis Severs House on 18 Folgate Street, near Liverpool Street Station. The house is a still life drama and a journey into another time. There are ten rooms, each furnished in distinct period styles, and arranged just as if the original occupant had left the room a mere minute before you entered. It gives the visitor a sense of walking into a scene from a painting. The attention to detail stirs the senses and inspires the imagination. As you climb up the stairs, the moods, sounds and sights shift, reflecting the changes in London during the early 1900s.
Emerge blinking in the 21st century and catch the underground
Or as Londoners call it, The Tube to Tayyabs, 83 Fieldgate Street, located between Aldgate East and Whitechapel stations. Having a curry is a quintessential experience in London, almost as culturally English as fish and chips. Tayyabs is known for its tandoori grilled lamb chops, and the number of local East Enders in the queue attest to its popularity. The restaurant is canteen-style, so there is no requirement for Sunday best. The prices are extremely reasonable and there is a BYO policy with no corkage. If you go without any reservations, be prepared to wait for a table; however service is usually fast and there is a quick turnaround.
In the mad whirl that is Covent Garden
Wander away from the tourist strip to find what must be the tiniest bar in the world - Zero Aldwych, so named because it is so small it doesn't even merit a street number. First, look for One Aldwych Hotel. Opposite the hotel is the entrance to the bar, which literally goes through the pavement. Once a men's toilet (whatever will they think of next!), now a jazz bar, this place is a real hidden gem. There are a handful of tables, squeezed companionably close, or you can try your luck leaning up against the bar. The toilets are unisex and the (only) server wears black wings. There are live jazz sets from 9:30pm to 11:00 pm Mondays to Sundays. Bookings are essential given the limited space available.
The high street of Kensington
Is filled with neon signs and shop windows. However just around the corner, inside an ordinary looking building, on a rooftop with views across the West end of London, are three garden oases. Each is themed Spanish, Tudor and English Woodland and local birds and even some flamingos call it home. A Grade II listed Heritage Site, the Kensington Roof Gardens, 99 Kensington High Street, is a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Stretching over 1.5 acres, the gardens are open to the public unless a private function is being hosted.
A feature of London's cityscape that does not usually come to mind is
The canals. Regents Canal cuts from the north of central London down to the East, where it joins the Thames. On summer days, the footpaths along the canals are busy with walkers, families, and cyclists. You might even see a houseboat drifting peacefully by, or perhaps witness the use of a lock, a mechanism that allows the boats to move from different levels of water along the canals. In the north, by Islington and Angel, there are numerous canal-side pubs that offer refreshments with a view. Another alternative is to hop on a waterbus, which will go past Little Venice and along the banks of Regents Park. Alight at Camden Lock, a buzzing, colourful neighbourhood, where a market is held on the weekends. The wares on offer are vintage clothing, jewellery and second hand books. Up and coming designers also showcase their new collections here, offering a sneak peek into the trends of young London.
The best secrets of London, however
Are those that each visitor discovers for his or herself. Turn into an inviting alleyway, around an enticing corner, to see tiny squares fronted by shops open ahead of you. Climb up a hill in a windy park, to be greeted by a surprising view. Stop by an old pub and touch the silky wooden wainscoting. There is always something new, something old, to find in London. In a city that is full of hidden gems, there is secret spot to suit everyone.