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Exploring London: Unforgettable Experiences Beyond Tourist Hotspots

An empty bar in low lights, with brick arches illuminated by red a blue lights.
The bar at the Crypt beneath St. Martin in the Fields on Trafalgar Square.

London's world class museums, theaters, historical sites, and other entertainment options abound, and it's impossible to see it all in one trip. What you choose will depend on your available time and unique interests. However, with a little bit of advance planning, you can find ways to include unforgettable experiences in London beyond the typical tourist hotspots. Or, find ways to take your tourist destination to the next level.


I recently spent a week in London with my husband, sister and sister-in-law.

Among our checklist of typical London sights was seeing a show (since London tickets, though not cheap, are significantly less expensive that Broadway in the US) and hearing the Evensong service at Westminster Abbey (with the full choir). Anything else musical would be icing on the cake.



London Shows: Opting for Agatha


We went back and forth on which musical to see, which was a little bit of a challenge because our group of four had different tastes in addition to having already seen many musicials. While perusing the official London theater website that has advance purchase as well as day-of discounted tickets, I noticed an Agatha Christie play was ongoing--Witness for the Prosecution.


When I clicked through to see the venue, I was stunned to see how unique this performance space was. Surely, this was a theater experience I wasn't going to get elsewhere.

I was stunned to see how unique this performance space was. Surely, this was a theater experience I wasn't going to get elsewhere.

The London County Hall is an enormous building situated between the London Eye and Westminster Bridge, on the south bank of the Thames.



Repurposed from being a seat of London government, it houses several hotels and attractions. But the theater is the former council chamber, an octagonal room with balconies for the press and onlookers. As the Guardian noted, this play--based on a criminal trial--fits perfectly in a debating chamber.


A 360-degree view of the theater is here. I sat in Row E, seat 150, which gave a great view of all the action, some of which occurs in the aisles (while we were not permitted to take photos during the performance, you can see my view in the photos of the theater taken before the perfomance began and during bows, above).


West End Musicals--Cabaret In A Crypt


Yes, you read that correctly, in a crypt. Like many people who travel to London, we wanted to see a musical. Having opted for the Agatha Christie drama, we looked at other options and found St. Martin-in-the-Fields and its Crypt Lates. Probably most well-known for jazz concerts, it also has other genres, including the West End Cabaret that is scheduled to run through November 2024. If you are reading this after that and I've been a sloth and not updated this page, click here to see what St. Martin-in-the-Fields has going on musically in both the church and in the crypt space.



All four of the performers exhuded talent and charisma, often engaging with the audience. The sight of the older gentleman in front of us will forever be emblazoned in my mind, as he was encouraged to "channel his inner Latina" during a number from On Your Feet, ending up shimmying with the performer. We were often encouraged to sing along, which we did exuberantly (which had nothing to do with our wine consumption, really).


a table full of food, including an long oval wooden plate with cheese, grapes, apricots, and various meats. OlivA
The charcuterie and wine available for purchase

It may look like (and is) an ancient space, but the facilities are convenient and modern, there is an elevator from the sidewalk down to crypt level, and the food was basic (charcuterie and pizza) but great and drinks plentiful. Some might have issues with walking over tombstones on the way to the loo, but I'm fairly sure the deceased don't mind that the space is being used well and they are being remembered as people stop to look down and read inscriptions.

Some might have issues with walking over tombstones on the way to the loo, but I'm fairly sure the deceased don't mind that the space is being used well and they are being remembered as people stop to look down and read inscriptions.

Evensong--Up Close At Westminster Abbey


A statue surrounded by ornate marble, with a view of the cathedral ceiling.
A view up from the Nave of Westminster Abbey

You might be saying, "What a minute, she said this blog post was about things BEYOND the typical hot spot." True, everyone seems to visit the iconic Westminster Abbey. Where else can you see the tombs of 18 monarchs such as like Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth 1, and a bunch of various Edwards not to mention notables like explorer David Livingstone, composer George Frederic Handel, writer Charles Dickens, and scientists Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton.


But one of the reasons we travel is to experience the traditions of others around the world, (as noted in this post on Easter in Florence) and our decision to stay for an Evensong service where the entire, famous Westminster Abbey Choir was singing did not disappoint. While it is free to attend services at the Abbey (at which time the rest of the Abbey is closed) visiting the Abbey during the day requires a paid ticket. As of this writing, a ticket is £29 or a little over $36 depending on the exchange rate. We booked tickets for the Abbey for 2 PM. As we first got there, we decided to eat at their cafe, which fortunately had a table for the four in our party (in retrospect, we should have booked earlier tickets and gotten a reservation at the cafe, enabling us to linger or even sit for an afternoon tea). The food was delicious and service great. You can book online or see their hours here.


But here is the important part--If you are still inside the Abbey when it closes to prepare for Evensong (generally at 4:30 PM for 5:00 PM service), they will allow you to remain inside, seated in the science portion of the Nave. Then, prior to letting others in for service, you will be guided in and seated in the Quire section. It was quite the surprise to be seated next to and across from such a fabulously talented group of singers.

If you are still inside the Abbey when it closes to prepare for Evensong (generally at 4:30 PM for 5:00 PM service), they will allow you to remain inside, seated in the science portion of the Nave. Then, prior to letting others in for service, you will be guided in and seated in the Quire section.

No photos are allowed during service, but you can see from the photos taken just prior to service where we were seated. Other attendees to the service had to sit outside of the choir area, around the corner without a direct view.


Prior to visiting, it is best to check the Evensong schedule online, not only for the time of service but for when the full choir is singing. I don't know if there is ever a special event where there are so many vergers there that there won't be room for you in the Quire, but if you have any questions, I found the staff of Westminster Abbey to be quick and helpful answering inquiries by email.


These three London activities are sure to take you beyond the typical tourist hotspot and create remarkable, enduring, and unforgettable memories.


If you want to read more about experiences beyond the typical, check out:




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