Rocketing into the black void of space, losing yourself in the wilderness of a bioluminescent jungle and exploring a ramshackle shop packed with magical oddities might only seem possible in the realm of cinema, but London can surprise you. The city is full of fascinating sci-fi-suitable architecture, hidden havens and intergalactic experiences that will make you forget you’re in the capital and wonder whether you’ve been whisked away to a new world. We’ve rounded up some of London’s best otherworldly places and experiences that look like they could have been plucked from the pages of fiction.
1. Explore the wilderness of Barbican Conservatory
Blame the blend of untamed plant life and industrial materials, where vines spill from the metal railings of balconies and leafy tendrils climb up concrete walls like they’re reclaiming the planet bit by bit – but Barbican Conservatory is quite Last Of Us-esque. But while (alas) you won’t find any stony-faced Pedro Pascals lurking among the palm trees, banana plants and leafy shrubbery, a stroll over wooden bridges will take you past the rippling waters of ponds inhabited by koi, ghost and grass carp from Japan, as well as other cold-water fish such as roach and tench. Plus, in another smaller pool, you’ll be able to spot the red-streaked heads of terrapins; the little nippers were relocated to the Conservatory after terrorising the wildlife of Hampstead Heath.
There are few things more otherworldly than colour-changing cocktails sipped under luminescent jellyfish-like tendrils in a psychedelic setting bathed in purple light. That’s the kind of thing you can expect at Avora: New World Cocktail Experience found at the Rosewood Building in Hackney. The mesmerising adventure invites you on a mission into an Avatar-reminiscent world, where you’ll wander through a mystical woodland filled with exotic fauna and flora, sip on three different cocktails created from secret elixirs, and confront a moral dilemma: support a billionaire’s nefarious plan or rebel and join the resistance? We’ll see what you decide when night falls and the bioluminescent ecosystem blooms into vibrant, colourful life.
3. Head into an underground labyrinth at Waterloo Vaults
Descend into the depths below Waterloo Station and you’ll discover the Waterloo Vaults, a graffiti-covered labyrinth of tunnels which is home to immersive theatre productions, alternative art and all things weird and wonderful. The subterranean haven feels like tumbling down the rabbit hole into a warped wonderland, where you can forget reality for a while as you stroll along oddity-filled tunnels and settle in to watch fabulously eccentric and off-the-wall shows.
In previous years it has hosted productions such as ‘The Witches Of Oz’, a glittering, gravity-defying battle between good and wicked, and coming up this year will be ‘Stranger Sings’ a parody musical of, you guessed it, Stranger Things. For pre or post-show tipples, you can swing by the Vaulty Towers pub, fittingly decked out in bizarre stage props and often hosting a dog or two, this watering hole is the perfect prelude to your journey underground.
4. Go stargazing at the Royal Observatory
This one speaks for itself. A gateway into the far-flung reaches of Space, the Royal Observatory will take you out of this world with their mesmerising planetarium shows and astronomy demonstrations and you won’t even need to step foot outside of London. For those who daydream of living on the moon, there’s a special immersive experience called Moonbase, which explores the idea of growing food and extracting water while facing the alien conditions of reduced gravity and toxic lunar dust. When you emerge from the Royal Observatory after having your head in the, well, stars, you’ll be brought back to earth with a wander through the emerald expanse of Greenwich Park.
5. Journey up to the Crossrail Place Roof Garden
A leafy oasis in the heart of London’s financial district is a recipe for sci-fi goodness. Crossrail Place Roof garden in Canary Wharf is the perfect place to escape for a peaceful lunch break among lush greenery. The garden has been divided into hemispheres, with east on one side and west on the other, and winding paths will take you past everything from Australasian ferns to Japanese maples. All of which is cocooned by giant geometric windows and surrounded by gleaming glass skyscrapers, making the whole setting feel like a rare pocket of plant life that has been preserved in a future overrun by technology. But then again, maybe I’ve just been watching too many dystopian flicks.
Hello there. Fancy taking a trip into a galaxy far, far away? Well, this intergalactic fan exhibition, now open at Old Brompton Road in South Kensington, is just the ticket. Star Wars fans will be entirely in their element exploring replicas, posters, costumes, figurines and more at The Fans Strike Back Exhibition.
It is made by the fans for the fans, so passion and a love for the beloved franchise is evident in every display. You’ll not only be able to step through the screen with the VR experience but there’s a chance to show off your skills with a lightsaber with green screen photo ops. Let’s just say if you’re a fan, this is the exhibition you’re looking for.
7. Dare to discover the weird and wonderful things inside Victor Wynd’s Museum Of Curiosities
Peculiarities, oddities and concoctions are the name of the game at Victor Wynd’s Museum Of Curiosities in East London, also home to the absinthe parlour known as Last Tuesday Society Bar. Inside, an old-world setting is punctuated by a menagerie of taxidermied creatures – so those prone to shuddering under the gaze of sightless eyes might want to steer clear – a hefty collection of mystical remains (think unicorn skulls and mermaid skeletons) and even a cabinet of monsters which includes mummified fairies and an eight-legged lamb.
The museum blurs the line between reality and fantasy, but while some could easily while away the hours exploring the often shudder-inducing phenomena others will likely feel more comfortable sticking to the bar. There, you can pick your poison from absinthe cocktails, absinthe liqueurs and absinthe highballs. Basically, those with a penchant for absinthe will be in their happy place.
8. Enter the fascinating Otherworld
You can find a portal into another dimension at Otherworld. With branches in Hackney and Victoria, the VR experience uses Immersion Pod Technology to bring the game to life, with wind, heat and rumble effect ensuring not just your mind but your body also will be transported into the virtual world. Once you slip on the headset you’ll find yourself on an island retreat which is split into four seasons and includes 16 experiences. One moment you could be battling zombies on the copper sands of Arizona, the next you could be hurling snowballs at your friends in a chilly winter setting.
9. Explore the wonders of the galaxy at the Science Museum
The Science Museum specialises in things well and truly out of this world. Their tours, galleries and experiences can take you everywhere from the deep unknown depths of the ocean to way up among the stars and planets. One thing that is sure to whisk you away into the bottomless depths of humanity’s creativity is their exhibition ‘Science Fiction: Voyage To The Edge Of Imagination’ which takes you on an unmissable sci-fi adventure. You’ll travel through the cosmos, boarding a spaceship, exploring planets and communicating with artificial intelligence. At the end, you’ll be amazed at the fact you never even left London.
10. Indulge your inner Potterhead at Leadenhall Market
One world we’re yet to delve into on this list is the magical Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you fancy a lunchtime stroll in a spellbinding location then Leadenhall Market ticks the boxes. Used as the filming location for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the centuries-old market has a fantastical, old-worldly charm with its intriguing features – from stone dragons perched on giant pillars to the ornate gold detailing and Victorian lettering. You can easily channel your inner Potter ducking into the Leaky Cauldron (an opticians in real life) or simply enjoy a spot of window shopping before grabbing a bite to eat at French bistro Luc’s Brasserie or, for fans of pub grub, The Lamb Tavern.
11. Venture further afield to the glittering Crystal Grotto
Ok, this one’s not quite in central London but the fascinating crystalline cave in Painshill Park can be found within the boundaries of the M25, more specifically in Surrey, which kind of counts? Besides, it’s the perfect excuse to escape the crowds for a bit, wander around the winding trails of the sprawling park and take a gander at this man-made crystalline gem.
At first glance, the honeycomb-esque walls look eerily like stacks of skulls – almost as if you’ve stumbled upon the den of a well-fed dragon – but thankfully there’s no fire-breathing creatures dwelling here, just bubbling water, craggy rock and (albeit, lethal-looking) stalactites. If you’re a fan of fantasy films and fairytale kingdoms, this is sure to float your boat.
12. Pay a visit to the glorious havens of Kew Gardens
There are not many places where you can explore a variety of different ecosystems, basically travelling around the natural world, in the space of one afternoon, but Kew Gardens is pretty special that way. The UNESCO world heritage site is a transporting experience for many, with its botanical collections and abundance of plants creating a wondrous warren of natural environments.
In the Princess of Wales Conservatory alone you will find yourself breathing in the fragrances of giant water lily flowers, meeting prickly customers in the dry tropics section and emerging into a steamy space punctured by colourful orchids and bright bromeliads. If you like a bit of drama, we would recommend swinging by the hypnotic Hive, a 17-metre tall piece of art found among the swaying flora of a wildflower meadow. It looks almost alien in its mesmerising intricacy and is a touching visual tribute to Britain’s honeybees.
13. Expect stylish surprises at the unassuming Crossness Pumping Station
Who knew a city sewage system could be so otherworldly? Anyone who’s set eyes on Crossness Pumping Station, that’s who. Also known as the Cathedral of Sewage, the unexpectedly striking station is found in Abbey Wood and dates back to the 1800s when Joseph Bazalgette hatched a plan to help de-stink the city.
You can visit the Grade I Listed building and explore the intricate interiors to this day – with its bold colours, swirling wrought-iron detailing and gleaming red pillars it almost makes you feel as if you have stumbled into Willy Wonka’s wondrous chocolate factory, only given its purpose I would advise you don’t make the same mistake as Augustus Gloop and stay clear of any brown-looking rivers.
14. Frolic through purple fields at Mayfield Lavender Farm
Charge up your phones or dig out your favourite camera – they are going to get an epic workout at this stunning location. Located in Banstead, a town in Surrey on the outskirts of London, Mayfield Lavender Farm invites you to wander through purple fields and breathe in the rich fragrances of lavender.
The vibrant blanket of flora is almost unearthly in its colourful, sweeping beauty and will give the illusion you have landed on another planet. Plus, to bring you back down to earth, here’s a classic red London phone box in the middle for some irresistibly Instagrammable shots. The farm is now open for the summer and is also home to a bee safari, tractor rides, and on select days, open-air performances, so you can truly make a wondrous day of it.
15. Sip among the stars at the Sky Garden
Travel up to the heavens to drink and dine among the clouds at London’s Sky Garden. In a setting seemingly stolen from the future, the glass-encased haven in the sky boasts unbeatable views across the city. Take in the glittering lights of the capital over delicious cocktails as live music provides an atmospheric soundtrack to a cinematic evening. It won’t just be the far-flung views you can soak up, it’s called Sky Garden for a reason as you’ll be surrounded by an abundance of leafy plants that gives the illusion you have entered a jungle in the sky.
16. Soak up the natural beauty of St. Dunstan In The East
There’s something magically dystopian about the way nature reclaims the remains of abandoned buildings and St. Dunstan in the East is a perfect example of that. Found in the City of London, a weekend stroll, free of suited-and-booted business people, will take you to the ruins of this centuries-old church which was damaged by the Great Fire of London and then destroyed further by a German bomb in 1941. Now a public park, cascades of ivy burst from gothic windows and climb up the walls, while a canopy of thick tangled tree branches provides shade for a spot of reading in the summer months.
17. Bathe in red wine at Aire Ancient Baths
Any Game of Thrones fans out there? This will be right up your street. A luxurious London bathhouse, Aire Ancient Baths has a fantastical air to its dimly lit, 18th-century interiors that look strikingly similar to the ancient fortresses seen on screen in George R. R. Martin’s famous book-turned-show.
For a full immersion in the (often blood-splattered) world, you might want to try the Wine Ritual, where you’ll be submerged in a tub of red wine. The crimson waters may look morbid at first glance but once you sink into them and enjoy a cranial massage any worries will soon melt away – just be warned it is £450 so maybe save it for an extra special occasion. You can find this deluxe spa a stone’s throw from Embankment or Charing Cross Station.
18. Discover a luminescent paradise at God’s Own Junkyard
When you imagine a neon-drenched wonderland your first thoughts may instantly go to the vibrant lights of Tokyo or Las Vegas, but there’s actually our very own psychedelic playground right here in London. God’s Own Junkyard illuminates the interiors of an unassuming warehouse in Walthamstow, a colourful treasure trove of old film props, retro signs, circus lighting, salvaged signs and neon art. Plus, once you’ve finished exploring the kaleidoscopic inside, you can give your eyes a rest and swing by the impeccably named Rolling Scones cafe for a drink and bite to eat.
19. Get your hands on some unearthly curiosities at Hoxton Street Monster Supplies
Forget counting down the days to Christmas, Halloween is when the marvellously monstrous magic happens. If you’re a lover of the spooky season then you might want to pay a visit to Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, who specialise in ‘bespoke and everyday items for the Living, Dead and Un-Dead’. It’s a shop that wouldn’t look out of place on Diagon Alley, selling everything from witch’s brew tea and edible eyeballs to salt made from tears of boredom and a bone grinder (aka black marble pestle and mortar). Bookworms can pick up all the gothic classics here or, if you’re planning a trip abroad, the ‘awfully bad guide to monster travel’ may come in handy. It goes without saying, but any Van Helsing descendants should probably steer clear.
20. Plot your next out-of-this-world adventure in the cosy Scarfe’s
This iconic central London cocktail bar exudes warmth, and not just because of the roaring fires and plush velvet seating. In fact, with its old-worldly vibe – think shelves stacked with antique books, fringed lamps, and mahogany furnishings – it reminds you of a gentleman’s club from the 1800s where moustachioed men would grumble over glasses of brandy. Thankfully, we can all enjoy the delights of Scarfe’s and have tasty cocktails (and a grumble if you want) among the eclectic artwork of Gerald Scarfe himself, whose cartoons appeared in the New Yorker and Sunday Times. The welcoming watering hole is an ideal place to take a leaf out of gent-turned-explorer Phileas Fogg’s book and have a daydream about future exploration.