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Explore the city,

July 15 2023

Stinky London

A 2014 US study found the human nose can detect a trillion scents. But London has smells with stories and places where their historic aroma is a reason to visit. So, whether you want to test your super-smeller abilities or treat London like a fine wine, with a deep inhale and eyes closed, try these sights. Put your nose where it belongs with our guide to the stinkiest places to visit in the capital.


Billingsgate Market

Now a fish market, London’s one-time riverside market dates back to the 13th century, when it sold corn, coal, iron and pottery. It became a fish market in the 16th century, and today, 25,000 tonnes of fish and fish products pass through Billingsgate Fish Market every year.


George Orwell worked at the market in the 1930s, as did the notorious Kray twins in the 1950s. Fishmongers here have a famously coarse banter, first chronicled in 1577, and it’s a unique language you’ll hear across the fish market.


Billingsgate Fish Market’s opening times for the public are from 4am Tuesday to Saturday (although not to children under 12). For your visit, be prepared for fishy smells and slippery floors – so avoid heels! Head to Piggy’s Cafe for a seafood breakfast where you also see a fantastic picture display of market life.


London Zoo

Although children can’t go to the fish market, they’re very welcome to stay at London Zoo in Regent’s Park for a day of its myriad amazing animals and plenty of pungent whiffs. Did you know, there’s a lioness at the zoo who loves the smell of peppermint? Zookeepers also use perfumes and aftershaves to replicate scent trails, so animals can use their natural hunting behaviours.


For us humans, with London Zoo tickets, you can expect plenty of animal smells as you go from Sumatran tigers to walking through Monkey Valley and visiting Penguin Beach at feeding time. There are also plenty of cafés selling delicious food and baked treats to tempt your nose and taste buds.


Crossness Pumping Station

It may not sound exciting, but the 1865 Crossness Pumping Station is beautiful inside and a true hidden gem. Known as the Cathedral of Sewerage, this Victorian pumping station is a carefully preserved masterpiece of 19th-century engineering. Designed to upgrade London’s sewerage system, it initially tackled the Great Stink of London in 1858. An unusually warm summer that year meant even MPs in Westminster weren’t immune to the foul aroma, and the stench finally prompted them to find a solution.


Crossness has been lovingly restored by dedicated volunteers, who will proudly show it off on a guided tour, or you can explore for yourself on an open day. Plus, it was decommissioned in the 1950s, so you don’t need to hold your nose when you visit!


Museum of London Docklands

A visit to Canary Wharf Museum is full of historic scents you can explore to learn about life in London’s working docklands. In the old days, you could walk down London’s docks and know where you were based on the smells coming from the warehouses. In the London docks museum, exhibitions encourage you to lift boxes to sniff pleasant spices and not so pleasant aromas of tanneries. There are also atmospheric aromas in the Victorian era SailorTown exhibition. The Museum of London Docklands is a great family museum trip for curious noses young and old.


For the smell of fresh linen and waking up to the aroma of coffee then stay at one of our Thistle hotels in the capital: Thistle Bloomsbury Park, Thistle Hyde Park Lancaster Gate or Thistle Trafalgar Square.