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London's Hidden Gems

In a city like London, which would keep any tourist busy for a lifetime with its high-profile, must-see sites, there is nothing more exciting than turning a corner and accidentally discovering a charming little alley that no guidebook would point you to. Granted, this is not how I found out about any of these places (I owe that knowledge to deliberate online research rather than a rare stroke of explorer's luck) but I get the same sort of thrill whenever I visit them. From secret treasures cheek by jowl with major tourist hubs to lesser-known cultural venues, here's a couple of unique off the radar spots in London.

Neal's Yard

The area around Covent Garden Market is by far one of my favourite places in the city, but I thought Neal's Yard deserved an honourable mention. A tiny courtyard tucked away just off Monmouth Street, it's vibrant and colourful, the perfect spot for a coffee break if you happen to be around and in need of a caffeine fix.

Closest Tube station: Covent Garden

Two Temple Place

Two Temple Place is a prime example of how you can walk past something on a daily basis without ever realizing it's there if you don't know what to keep an eye out for: I used to get off at Temple station on a regular basis when I first moved to London, and yet it took me months to discover this place even existed - which, of course, is part of the thrill. Admittedly, Two Temple Place remains closed to the general public for the greater part of the year and only throws its doors open for the annual exhibition (January-April), which I honestly can't recommend enough. The shows are some of the best I've seen; and even if they don't seem like your cup of tea, it's still worth going to have a peek into the mansion, commissioned in the late 1800s by the dazzlingly rich William Waldorf Astor. No words can do justice to the magnificent neo-Gothic interiors of the building, so I'll just ask you to trust me when I say that it's jawdroppingly stunning. Oh, and the best part? Admission is absolutely free, so really there's no excuse not to go. (Although you're more than likely to spend whatever money you save on the ticket in the exhibition shop, which puts all other museum shops to shame. If you're the type of person who likes to get a really early head start on their Christmas shopping, this is the place to go).

Closest Tube station: Temple

St Dunstan-in-the-East

This urban garden in the ruins of a bombed-out Christopher Wren church is featured on every other "Secret London" list - and rightly so, because St Dunstan is one of the most unique places in the city. For all its tranquil beauty, there is something eerie about it; but if you're not daunted by the shadow of history, it's a lovely spot to take your book to on a sunny day.

Closest Tube station: Monument/Tower Hill

The Hampstead Pergola

I can't ever seem to find the Pergola without getting hopelessly lost in the process, but the frustration of running around the woods in aimless circles melts away as soon as I reach the destination. It's the kind of place you'd bring a long-time crush to on a first date: quiet, secluded, a picture-perfect background for romantic exaltations - plus, it makes for a wicked Instagram post. While you're there, have a wander around the Heath and Hampstead Village, home to charming little cafes, luxurious boutiques and some of the best charity shops in London.

Closest Tube station: Hampstead/Hampstead Heath (Overground)

Eltham Palace

This one is a bit of a trek but if you have a day to spare and some cash to splash (an adult ticket is 15 pounds), Eltham makes for an exceptionally great weekend outing for anyone with an interest in any of the following: architecture, interior design, Art Deco, history or Florence + The Machine (Eltham is where the music video to Shake It Out is set). Originally a medieval palace whose notable lodgers include Henry VIII, it fell into a state of disrepair in the 17th century and was largely neglected until the 1930s, when Stephen and Virginia Courtauld had it redesigned according to the fashion of the day. The Art Deco interiors are incredible, but Eltham has more than just aesthetic appeal: although you're walking around with an audio guide in your hand, it's easy to forget you're a modern-day visitor rather than a guest who dropped by to pay the Courtaulds a social call.

Closest train station: Eltham, approximately half an hour on the train from Cannon Street