The Union Jack waves its greeting as you amble through London's avenues and lush green spaces, tracing centuries of heritage and historical landmarks from the now silent Big Ben to Buckingham Palace. Marvel at castles, cathedrals and palaces, see the picturesque Cotswolds and indulge in a traditional English cream tea. This is the London we know and love, but it is also home to a hive of fascinating secrets. Trafalgar slips under the skins and uncover some of the best kept secrets London has.
1. Hidden cities
Millions of people tread the concrete pavements of London every day. Little do they know that buried beneath the surface is one of the richest archaeological sites in the world?
London was first settled by the Romans in 43 AD. Since then, it’s been built on by the Saxons, the Normans, and later the Tudors and Stuarts. What remains of their townships is still buried beneath the city today.
2. The not-so-great fire of London
In the centre of the City of London stands a monument that commemorates the Great Fire of 1666. It serves as a memorial to the many homes that were lost and the 6 people who lost their lives as a result of this tragedy. Ironically, perhaps, a total of 7 people lost their lives falling from the top of the monument, making it more deadly than the fire itself.
3. The day that time began
Did you know that time as we know it was invented by astrologers in London? Before 1884, every township in England had its own, independent measure of time. With the invention of Greenwich Mean Time the country now had a standard system for time keeping that would soon become a world standard. In fact, Mean Time means precisely that – it’s the average time that the sun crosses the Greenwich Meridian throughout the year.
4. Paddington Facade
Take a walk down Leinster Gardens near Paddington and you’re unlikely to notice anything strange. The lovely townhouses look just like the rest of the city. If you were to knock on the door to number 23, however, you’d be waiting on the doorstep a while. Numbers 23 and 24 are actually fake houses built to hide exhaust ports from the London Underground.
5. Death at the tower
The last execution to be carried out at the Tower of London was not as long ago as you think. In 1941 a German spy named Josef Jakobs was caught and executed by firing squad at the tower.
6. Mystic rivers
Even deeper than the archaeological treasures of the Norman period lies another secret. London is built above an entire system of subterranean rivers that make up the tributaries of the Thames. There are over 20 rivers in this hidden network, most of which are completely underground. You can, however, see a few of the rivers as they make their way to the surface in Tottenham Cemetery, Romford, and Brentford.
7. Stop the traffic
Many important inventions were conceived in London, but few have been as crucial to the evolution of the modern city as the humble traffic light. Street traffic lights were invented by a railway signalling engineer, and the first light was erected outside the Palace of Westminster in 1868. Unfortunately, it exploded after only a month of use.
If you’d want to know more of London’s secrets in 2018 then book a London Explorer with Trafalgar and our expert Travel Director will reveal all. Priced on the Preview special deal from R29 970 per person sharing this guided insider’s view of London includes inclusive of seven nights’ hotel accommodation at the centrally located Cumberland Hotel with breakfast daily, one cream tea and three dinners.
Sightseeing includes London’s Borough Market, Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace and a choice of museums. A three-day London Oyster card pass is also included for free time self-exploration plus a scenic cruise on the Thames from the London Eye to Greenwich (so that you can see the Meridian for yourself).