Looking for something slightly different to explore in London? How about a Hindu temple, a shimmering Arab Hall, a Huguenot house or the eclectic personal museum of the architect who designed the Bank of England? Take a chance to visit all the inspiring buildings that are among London’s best-kept secrets while a resident at any of the serviced apartments in London.
Tucked away amid the long streets of housing in Neasden, north London is a building that would not be out of place in a much hotter Indian climate. Popularly known as the “Neasden Temple’, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a massive Hindu Temple – the first such temple anywhere in Europe. Built strictly according to ancient Vedic texts, it contains no structural steel at all; leaving visitors amazed at the sheer size and number of pinnacles and domes, each surmounted by a flag. It’s intensely colourful with masses of intricate marble and wood carvings. Visitors are welcome to explore the building and its “understanding Hinduism’ exhibition, and depending on timing you may even experience a traditional Hindu prayer ceremony.
Heading down to Holland Park, another very different type of building awaits. Although impressive on the outside, it is nothing to what can be found inside. Leighton House is decorated using an incredibly opulent Eastern style including an Arab Hall complete with absolutely stunning blue and white mosaics with a great golden dome. This was the home of Lord Leighton, a Victorian artist who turned it into a private palace of art. Even Queen Victoria was entertained here. Many of Leighton’s own drawings and paintings can be seen adorning the walls of this amazing house, along with numerous special exhibitions.
Walking through Lincoln’s Inn Fields it is easy to be distracted by the sight of lawyers in their gowns and the pretty gardens in the center of the square, but making a stop at Sir John Soane's museum is definitely worthwhile. This was the home of the innovative architect who designed the Bank of England. His home became almost a laboratory where he experimented with ideas. It is a maze of rooms, and following a floor plan is not easy. Half the fun of visiting this fascinating place is simply meandering and seeing what appears next. Every room is full of all kinds of memorabilia, items collected by Sir John Soane's over the course of his long life from Gothic fragments to classical statues, paintings, and masks. You can choose to stay any of the serviced apartments at Covent Garden as you can expect to find the unusual – a statue of Apollo is lit up in gold from the stained glass dome above it, a Roman styled crypt contains a massive Egyptian sarcophagus, while mirrors make rooms seem larger than they are in reality.
A short trip on the underground brings you to Dennis Severs House in the East End. You do need to book to visit, but it is well worth it. Dennis Severs took this old house back to the times of the Spitalfields weavers who once lived here during the eighteenth century. Stairs creak, a canary chirps, lights flicker as you follow in the footsteps of the Huguenot weavers through several generations, from their arrival to prosperity and finally the demise of the silk weaving industry.
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