Here is a classic traveller’s dilemma; you want to travel to and experience one of the world’s greatest cities, but you want to see the ‘real’ London/Paris/Istanbul – not the one served up to you by the guide books and the tourist maps.
But when you have limited time, this can be tricky. If you’re anything like me, you can end up spending days on the tourist trail getting slightly frustrated as you just know there are cooler and more interesting places to be spending your valuable time. But without the benefit of a local to show you round, you just don’t know where to look.
So, as I’ve had a few friends travel to London recently asking for tips on what to do and where to go, I thought it was worth putting this wisdom down on paper (or, ahum, wordpress). If you were to ask me to show you around London – this is where I would take you:
Sunday Markets In North East London
If you live anywhere with an ‘N’ or and ‘E’ post code, one of your standard Sunday activities will be meandering (or more likely, pushing through the crowds) along the hipster market trial running from the gorgeous Columbia Rd Flower Market, through Brick Lane‘s vintage clothes stores, grabbing some food from one of the international street stalls around the UpMarket and Truman Brewery, and then finishing up with a more ‘civilised’ meander through the newly refurbished Spitalfields market.
This is one of those experiences which, in my opinion, sums up everything that is awesome about London town – people from all over the world coming together in mild chaos, enjoying great food, quirky fashion, unique architecture and a music festival vibe (helped along by the multitude of buskers playing everything from skiffle music to fleetwood mac). If you decide to head this way, these are just a few things you might want to check out:
- queuing up for cheap as chips salmon and cream cheese bagels from Brick Lane Bagel Bake (nice blog piece on it here)
- a dance and a pint on the outdoor terrace at Vibe bar
- calamari from Lee’s on Columbia rd
- perusing new music in Rough Trade East
And not too far away…
A night out in Shoreditch or Dalston
It’s fair to say that Shoreditch and Dalston come in for A LOT of criticism (Vice magazine, somewhat hypocritically, captures it perfectly here). On the one hand Italian Vogue is calling it “the coolest place in London”. On the other hand, well, just watch this video:
However, whatever you think about the strange eco-system that is Shoreditch/Dalston, it is, I think, worth a visit. If only to check out the outfits.
It is also an area on contrasts. You could, for instance, have a very classy (and expensive) night drinking cocktails at Collooh Callay, opt for a fun-filled fine old time at one of the quirkier events at The Book Club (life drawing or electro swing anyone?), or jump headfirst into Dalston’s slightly edgier scene at The Nest or Passing Clouds.
Now, it’s worth saying that some people definitely find this part of town a bit intimidating / pretentious. This is completely understandable (and not too far off the mark). However, I would encourage you to instead see it as a place where anything goes; where you can dance until dawn with a red stripe in hand or have peppermint tea and cake on sumptuous sofas at 3am (read this excellent write up on the Bridge coffee house if this appeals. I’ll see you there).
It’s also a place where new bars/cafes/clubs are popping up all the time. With this in mind I must mention my friends at Ridley Road Market Bar, which is down to become the new tip-top place in this part of the world, partly because it’s brilliant, and partly because of Luca’s amazing meatballs. Not a euphemism.
And finally, live music the London way
While most out of towners will have heard of the O2 or Wembley, London has a crazily long list of music venues worthy of a visit. For me, there is no better live music venue than the Roundhouse in Camden. A former steam engine repair shed, the building itself is pretty epic, built in the round (hence the name) with high vaulted ceilings and feeling that wherever you’re standing or sitting, you’re close to the action. If you can’t get into a gig here, they host all sorts of other events from film nights to poetry slams. You won’t be dissappointed.
However, if you’re looking for somewhere where you’ll be guaranteed entry for around a tenner, you could do a lot worse that The Lexington. Not only do they serve the world’s greatest rum, but their bands are always good quality in that ‘not really famous but we have a big muso following’ kind of way, and the bar/pub downstairs has an excellent table football table. Have had some very good nights here.
I could go on an on, but I’m already breaking the bloggers’ cardinal word limit rule. Hopefully that will give you a few sure fire ways to experience a Londoner’s perspective on this amazing city, and if you want any more tips, feel free to post below…