Opinion

What Is The Worst Smell In London?

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 11 months ago
What Is The Worst Smell In London?

London stinks. Some of it does, anyway. We've been chatting in the office about what the city's worst smells are, and drawn up this list. Can't see your least favourite smell on here? Tell us in the comments.

Crossness Pumping Station: heaven for the eyes, hell for the nose.

Toilet smells

It's a sensory trade-off when you visit Crossness Pumping Station. On the one hand, there's the wrought-iron eye candy of Bazalgette's poo palace. On the other, there's the feculent nose-nightmare of the nearby sewage treatment works. Fortunately, the smell largely lingers outside the building.

How, meanwhile, anyone can use the retracting urinals by the Oscar Wilde statue in Charing Cross without gagging, is beyond us. The ground floor gents in the Royal Festival Hall aren't exactly a breath of fresh air, either.

Ironically, the Fleet sewer, we're reliably informed, whiffs of stale laundry. We expected worse.

Now what is that smell? We can't quite put our finger on... oh yes. It's that. Photo: Odddutch.

Transport (and more toilet smells)

You'd have thought the older the transport, the worse it'd reek. Not necessarily so. We reckon the 'new' Routemasters are being retro-fitted with windows not just because the air conditioning is woeful, but also because it emits a scent not dissimilar to warm wee.  

On that note, Southern trains can also be described as reliable in one sense: guaranteed to reek of urine and body odour. Mmm.

As for the worst smelling tube line: surely the Jubilee — with its faint musk of something like scorched fabric — wins?

Rotting food

London's produce markets create some of the city's best smells, but they can also decompose into some of the worst. In particular, our noses have had run-ins with the fish stalls in Ridley Road Market at the end of the day. As for the rotting fruit-and-veg reek of Dansey Place in Chinatown (pictured) — don't even think about using this foetid back passage as a shortcut.

The honking flower of Kew

Not something you'll smell in London every day: the Amorphophallus titanum (it means 'giant misshapen phallus') smells of "German cheese, rotting fish, sweaty socks, Chloraseptic and human faeces", and during its brief flowering period, earns the nickname 'The Big Stink'.

Up for debate

Bad smells are, to some extent, subjective. Here are some love-or-hate whiffs of London.  

In theory, it should be a pleasant nosegay against London's polluted high streets. But for some of us, the pungent soap 'n' flowers scent of Lush brings literal tears to our eyes.

Talking of sweet stuff: is the fake chocolate aroma squirted around the entrance to M&Ms World in Leicester Square heavenly — or does it denote the gateway to hell?

The Rotherhithe Tunnel — which we've walked through — is another moot point: the fumes certainly aren't good for cyclists and pedestrians, but then the smell of petrol can be rather pleasing to the nose.

The smell of a cigar: it's a love-hate thing. Photo: Georgie Lord.

With around 90 trendy breweries belching out fumes, London's air pollution is probably now about 2% chinook hops. For some, this scent, often wafting from beneath railways arches, is a pleasant reminder of the weekend to some. It tends to be the non-beer drinkers who turn up their noses.

St James's Street and its surrounding thoroughfares are often choked with another smell of vice, that of cigars. While some will choose to flee to Green Park, others might follow the trail of smoke all the way back to the members' club.

So then — which part of London smells worst to you? Let us know in the comments. If we get enough interest, we might even make a map.

Last Updated 24 October 2016

parkylondon

Walking past any branch of LUSH makes me gag.

Zazz999

Quite agree, Parky. I also hate the smell of those sugar-coated nuts that are sold on the Millennium Bridge.

Matt

Any branch of Subway. Sandwich that smells like a wet dog anyone?

Aidan Stevens

The steps linking the north side of Waterloo Bridge to Embankment.

David Lewis

The compost plant at Brockley Hill Elstree, maybe not everyones idea of London, but very smelly!

lisasimpson2010

That one bit of the Southwest Trains track by Vauxhall that smells exactly like toast is probably the weirdest. It's not a bad smell though.