London is regarded by many as the capital of the world. Whilst this may be up for debate, what is certain is that the British capital is a treasure trove of famous tourist spots and quirky lesser known attractions. So when you’ve seen Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the London Eye and Big Ben, consider adding these to your list of things to do.
Ride the Other London Underground
London is famous for its underground metropolitan train network, affectionately known as “The Tube”. It’s legendary red and blue logo is recognised across the world, and is regularly featured on tourist souvenirs sold on almost every street in the city. Whilst the London Underground may be one of the most well known mass transit systems in the world, a second, little known underground train system also exists under the British capital’s streets.
“Mail Rail” is a driverless rail network that was constructed by the Post Office to enable letters and parcels to be transferred between the different Royal Mail sorting offices without needing to be taken on to the streets. The purpose of the network was to provide a more efficient and reliable way of transporting post as the streets of London had become congested, which was leading to unacceptable delays. The system began transporting London’s post in 1927, and continued operating until 2003. It was shut down due to it costing between three and five times more to transport mail via Mail Rail as via the road network.
In 2017, Mail Rail was re-opened as part of the British Postal Museum. Visitors can now descend underground to travel on a small stretch of the network, using the original Mail Rail trains.
The O2 Arena
Built as part of the United Kingdom’s celebration of the new millennium, the O2 Arena was originally known as the Millenium Dome. It featured many exhibits inside, and was surrounded by several large torches which featured in a country wide celebration that involved lighting fires. The O2 Arena now hosts regular music, comedy, and sporting events. Examples include hosting Ariana Grande concerts, Jack Whitehall’s standup tour, and the NBA London game. In 2019 this was a match between the New York Knicks and championship contender, Washington Wizards. The O2 Arena is open every day, and has a large shopping mall, a large array of restaurants, and an excursion that allows you to walk on its roof.
Climb the “Monument”
There are many monuments around London, but there is also “The Monument”. Located within the City of London (one of the oldest and most central parts of the capital), The Monument was constructed to mark the site where the Great Fire of London started in September of 1666. For just £5, visitors can climb the 311 steps to reach the top of the 62 m (202 ft) column, providing spectacular panoramic views at the top.
Although being significantly cheaper, the views are comparable to those at the top of many of the modern skyscrapers, constructed on both banks of the river, with many of the capital’s landmarks visible, including the O2 Arena, Tower of London, and Tower Bridge. Visitors to The Monument should be aware that the spiral staircase up to the top is narrow and pedestrian traffic flows in both directions. You should take your time and be careful and courteous as you pass. The climb is tiring but the view from the top makes it worthwhile.
Located on the south bank of the river in Greenwich, Cutty Sark is the only remaining “tea clipper”. Constructed in 1869 at a cost of £16,150, it was a sailing ship designed to carry cargo across the oceans to the United Kingdom. The ship is now a tourist attraction, opening a window into a time gone by to visitors who are interested in maritime history. The ship was destroyed in a fire in 2007, and painstakingly rebuilt, only to be damaged a second time in 2012. The ship is once again fully open to the public.
Visitors can reach the ship via the nearby Greenwich foot tunnel, another fascinating underground structure, originally opened in 1902, and designed to provide a way for pedestrians to travel from either side of the river. For those preferring a modern way to get there, Cutty Sark has its own station on the DLR.