The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge… they’re all magnificent London sites, for sure; but the UK capital also contains some unique buildings and spaces they are as exotic as they are beautiful…
The ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East
(Dunstan’s Hill EC3R 5DD)
This is a special, poignant place. That’s because this old Saxon church (yes, it was built more than a millennium ago) is the broken-down shell it is not because of centuries of wear and tear, but because the ‘Blitz’ that rained-down on London during World War Two – which, of course, was little more than 70 years ago – destroyed it in one foul swoop. To wit, in 1967, instead of demolishing the thing, the City of London Corporation decided to build a public garden – a spot for peaceful contemplation – around the ruins; so, with trees, ivy and climbing flowers growing all over of them, they might become testament to the devastation that total war once wrought on London, mighty city though it is.
(Holland Park W11 4UA)
Beauty, so they say, is in the eye of the beholder, but few could surely disagree that, even located as it is in the already exquisite Central-meets-West London district of Holland Park, this Japanese garden is gloriously beautiful; brimming, as it is, with gurgling waterfalls and bubbling ponds (full of darting orange koi carp). And the best thing about it? It looks most radiant in the spring and autumn months (a rarity for a British outdoor attraction; in that it’s not at its best in summer!). Definitely worth popping along to then should you be making use of your Premier Club Rewards by staying at the relatively nearby Park Grand London Paddington hotel.
Leighton House Museum
(12 Holland Park Road W14 8LZ)
Truthfully, you can travel around London, but you’ll be hard pressed to find somewhere with more eye-catching, nay awe-inspiring interiors than this showpiece house, whose room décor dates from the Victorian age – when many moneyed gentlemen became fascinated by all things exotic. Designed by architect George Aitcheson, every inch of every room is decorated in as ostentatious and lively a style as possible – and yet the overall effect is far from naff; it’s truly beguiling. Highlights include a stunning staircase and a sumptuous ‘Arab Hall’ that showcases the original owner Frederic Leighton’s vast collection of 16th-Century Middle Eastern tiles. And, as if it weren’t enough of a treasure trove, functioning as a museum, the house also features terrific artworks; paintings and sketches among them.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
(105-119 Brentfield Road NW10 8LD)
Although undoubtedly beautiful just to look at, the visual splendour of this magnificent Hindu temple, tucked away in a North London borough, is arguably enhanced when you consider the extraordinary effort that went into its construction. Not only is it built from Italian Carrara marble and Bulgarian limestone, but the giant stone blocks that went into making it, after being hewn from rock, were shipped all the way to India to be hand-carved before being shipped all the way to the UK and the temple site – where, by all accounts, they were assembled rather like an enormous jigsaw! As to the place’s role as a temple, it’s not just a place of religious worship, it also functions as a learning resource and a community centre; you can take a tour of the building – why not? After all, it includes a vegetarian lunch and you’ll be picked up from and dropped off afterwards in Central London!