London’s underground world of adventure
Neon golfing, graffiti murals and circus workshops are just some of the capital’s subterranean delights
Some locations may be shut due to local Covid restrictions. Please check individual websites
Tee off on a hi-tech golf course
There are no rolling green fields in sight at Puttshack’s golf course, but there are forests of neon lights and electronic bleeps in place of birdsong. This underground playground in Bank is the creation of twin brothers and entrepreneurs Steve and Dave Jolliffe, who are determined to put a fun, young and addictive spin on their favourite sport. An electronic scoring system makes it easy for anyone to master, while a substantial cocktail list means the venue doubles as a perfect after-dark drinking hole.
Decode wartime history in Churchill’s bunker
As the Blitz ravaged London’s streets, Britain’s leaders took refuge – and plotted their next moves – in underground chambers in Whitehall. Relive those fraught times at Churchill War Rooms, which offers a thrilling insight into buried World War II history. Navigate winding corridors, visit the bedroom where the prime minister retreated for afternoon naps, or see where his cabinet pored over maps of Europe. The rooms have been left just as they were when victory was declared in 1945, right down to three sugar cubes a cabinet member stashed in his desk drawer.
Strike lucky at an underground bowling alley
Holborn’s All Star Lanes is a deliciously kitsch slice of Americana, tucked away underneath the decorous and very English streets of Bloomsbury Square. This retro-style bowling alley boasts hand-painted pin-up girls on the walls, cosy leather booths, and even a mounted moose head that looks on benevolently as you perfect your spin. Reward your teammates with burgers, cocktails, or the venue’s signature mac ’n’ cheese, or nurse a hangover with buttermilk pancakes in the dimly lit comfort of its speakeasy-style brunch.
Raise a glass to London’s greatest subterranean achievement, the Underground
Tube-themed bar Cahoots is housed in a lovingly restored disused station by Carnaby Street, which you enter via old-school wooden escalators before sipping your drinks either on the tiled platform or inside a carriage. Cahoots has gone in hard on the 1940s theming, serving up wartime memorabilia and drinks such as the Blitz Spritz or the Rosie’s Riveter. But luckily there’s no rationing in place at its lavish Squiffy Picnics each Saturday, which serve up sandwiches and cream scones galore.
Find London’s Roman heritage beneath its streets
Members of the Roman cult of Mithras used to seek out secret, windowless underground spaces as meeting places: find traces of their wild rituals at the London Mithraeum, a small museum and art gallery nestled in the foundations of a sleek glass office block near Bank. Or head to the basement of Guildhall Art Gallery for London’s only Roman amphitheatre: it was torn apart and repurposed after the Romans left the capital, but digital projections will help fill any gaps in your imagination.
Giddy up for shopping in Camden
Rumours and stories swirl around the Camden Catacombs, a network of 19th-century underground passages hidden under Camden Market. The truth is less morbid than the name suggests: they were used as access tunnels and stables for the horses and pit ponies that used to work the railways. Today, Horse Tunnel Market is the only section of the Catacombs that’s open to the public. Life-size prancing horse sculptures guard the entrance to stalls selling tut, treasure and everything in between.
Run away with the circus at Brunel Museum
Descend Brunel Museum’s cantilevered staircase and you’ll find yourself in a vast, cavernous, brick-walled underground chamber. This was once the entry shaft into Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, a project so ambitious that the famous engineer nearly drowned while building it. On its opening in 1843 in Rotherhithe, it was the world’s most popular tourist attraction, luring visitors underground with fairs and public banquets. Now, it hosts circus workshops that make full use of its formidable 50ft depth.
Have a first-class postal adventure
The star attraction of the Postal Museum near King’s Cross is the chance to ride the Mail Rail, a hidden underground railway that once ran 22 hours a day, transporting love letters and gas bills deep beneath London’s streets. It was designed to carry letters, not people, but kids will delight in this train’s pint-sized proportions. There are also exhibits that explore the Royal Mail’s surprisingly fascinating history, from 16th-century post boys transporting letters by horseback, right up to Star Wars stamps.
Venture down a graffiti-lined tunnel to discover an underground arts space
Deep under Waterloo Station is Leake Street, a tunnel that’s thick with the rich chemical fug of spray paint. Founded by Banksy, it’s one of London’s largest legal graffiti spaces, and neon tags leap out at you in its atmospheric gloom. Halfway along its length, a deceptively small sign marks the entrance to The Vaults, a vast underground arts venue that’s full of bars, theatre spaces and gig venues, with a flair for all things immersive and experimental.
Dive into a hidden aquatic wonderland
Many visitors explore South London’s Horniman Museum without ever realising there’s an aquarium tucked away in its basement, and it’s understandable – it’s easy to get distracted by its arcane musical instruments, folk artefacts from around the world and the famously overstuffed walrus who’s become a local celebrity. But venture downstairs and you’ll be rewarded with a hidden gem of an aquarium, which takes inspiration from Victorian naturalists to display fish in habitats so beautiful you’d happily take up residence there, too.
Where to stay
The perfect pads to relax in after a day of digging deep
The Kensington Hotel
Sequestered between the manicured streets of one of southwest London’s most affluent boroughs, The Kensington is a configuration of Victorian townhouses-turned-hotel, boasting the best aspects of both. Headlining the luxury residence are the recently refurbished suites, designed by London studio Timothy Matter. There’s a heady mix of sophistication blended with oriental flavours in the sumptuous furnishings, from intricately animated Thibaut wallpaper to striking statement lighting. The suites are generously sized (particularly for such a populous part of town), and feel even airier thanks to expansive windows overlooking Queen’s Gate, which runs directly up to Hyde Park via some of the city’s most iconic museums. Service here is tip top, with thoughtful touches in abundance – think a Thermos of hot water alongside tea leaves in your room on arrival and staff with a sixth sense for guests’ optimum dining temperature.
High Life Says: Book a Suite Celebrations package to secure complimentary Champagne, breakfast and a late check-out on top of one of the best rooms in the house.
St Pancras Renaissance
Whether you know it for its cameo in the Spice Girls’ Wannabe video, its distinctly Hogwarts vibes, or the five star central London property that it is, the St Pancras Renaissance has been spoiling guests for ten years, and it’s time to celebrate. For its big one-oh, the hotel is laying on a panoply of treats including a generous ‘10 Until 10’ package, allowing guests to check in at 10am and check out at 10pm the following day. Free cocktails are thrown in to sweeten the deal – choose from a comprehensive menu, including new additions Zig-A-Zig-Ah (celebrating 25 years of Wannabe) or the Gin and Dubonnet ‘By Royal Appointment’, inspired by the Queen’s taste in tipples. With all that extra time for luxuriating, undo some of the past year’s stresses with an hour-long Ko Bi Do Fountain of Youth Facial, which aims to knock – you guessed it – ten years off your skin. The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel’s 10 Until 10 stay package is available until 31 August 2021.
High Life says: The windows aren't as soundproof as some of its modern counterparts, so if you're a light sleeper, request a room away from Euston Road.
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