I am writing this article with sore feet and a banging headache after a night out in London, and so I thought it would be an appropriate time to blog about London and why so many millions of tourists flock to the capital every year.
I see London as marmite: you either love it or hate it. Some people cannot stand the glum and gloomy faces of the commuters, the invasion of personal boundaries during rush hour or the fat and unsanitary pigeons. Others love the history behind the buildings, the diverse neighbourhoods within London and the picturesque settings. I think so many visitors go to London every year because like a moth to a flame, they are drawn in. They gravitate towards the glitz and the glamour of London, where many celebrities live and where many movies, films and songs draw inspiration from.
Because London is such a vast city (it will take you more than an hour to get from the end of one tube line to reach the other), many that live here stick within their districts. By doing this, they can be familiar with where the best places to go out are within their area, however they do not explore any more. With every visit to London, I try to go to an area where I didn’t go to last time, and to go somewhere new to unearth more of the city’s secrets. It is a hard and expensive task to do so, (you can see why I prefer Manchester) but when my train pulls into Waterloo station, I get a rush I can’t explain. Maybe it is because my Mum is a Londoner. Born and bred in Colliers Wood, her family are south Londoners through and through. Spending her childhood in Colliers Wood and Peckham meant that my nan used to say phrases such as, “Golden Bennet” and “Stone me” with a strong south London accent much to my own amusement.
Within this post I want to show you various areas of London to go to and take you to my favourite haunts, I always think that people’s advice where to go to is much better than any guide book so I hope you enjoy the places as much as I do.
Arriving at Waterloo/Embankment, make sure you take a walk along the river Thames. Here you have a fantastic view of the Big Ben and the Eye, and also where the Christmas markets are, as well as Tate Modern, and a skate park with impressive graffiti and the BFI building which you must check out. Just outside the BFI building is a book sale that has been there for years (I see it every time I visit here) so feel free to browse for a bargain. Nearby is Gordon’s wine bar which is one of London’s oldest bars and is quite difficult to find but worthwhile if you do, it is underground and has an extensive range of wine and cheese’s.
On the North line, and my favourite area of London, is Camden and Chalk Farm. Camden has a colourful mix of people that just do their own thing and don’t hold back or judge, which is unusual for London. Here you can watch music artists at The Roundhouse, which is a perfect venue for acoustics. Come here in summer for free tickets to ITunes festival and grab a cocktail on the beach they have on the roof and you will immediately forget you are in the capital (weather permitting of course). Just by Roundhouse is Belgo’s, a great place for an array of European ales and lagers as well as Joe’s, a venue that plays a variety of music till late. Keep walking and you will pass Camden locks with its massive indoor and outdoor market, here you can grab a hot meal from the food vendors (although I wouldn’t recommend it), browse through ancient records and vintage clothes, smoke shisha and drink at a rooftop bar. I would advise you to head to Cyberdog, a very interesting futuristic clothes shop, and have a Cuba Libre in the Cuban bar in the middle of the market. Just by the entrance of the market, tucked away is the best burger joint I’ve been to in London called “Honest Burgers”. It is hard to find the restaurant and it is tiny, so be patient for a seat and you will be rewarded by meaty goodness. From here, heading to Camden Town station, you will pass the nicest Wetherpoons in the UK (just by the river) and endless shops that sell exactly the same style of bric brac. When you reach Camden Town make sure you check out “The World’s End” pub and Koko, both heritages to the Camden drinking culture.
Moving on to East London, we have an area that borders on to Dalston, Bethnal Green and Hackney named Shoreditch. The east end history that shapes this area is magnificent however; the area has been invaded by hipsters. To those who are unaware of what or who a hipster is, (you must be living far away from a western society) it is someone who deliberately chooses clothes to indicate an edginess that they think others will appreciate and make themselves “cool”. Gone is originality and individuality, as well as buying clothes because you like them, here a new trend has been created where all hipsters; either purposefully or not, dress, act and talk the same. This has created the area to be full of wannabes and try hards unfortunately. Although strange and interesting things to do in Shoreditch: cereal café or hot tub cinema anyone? One cannot explore this area without interacting with “hipsters”. If you would like to see a mix of culture with real areas of London, head out of Shoreditch to its surrounding neighbourhoods of Dalston, Bethnal Green and Hackney, or head south to Peckham or Brixton where live music venues and food markets have not been consumed by this pop culture of “hipsterism”. However, if you are happy to embrace this style, then grow a beard or buy some Elton John looking sunglasses and get off at Liverpool Street, where you can wander around and explore Brick Lane– curry and vintage shops in one, food stalls and bars that are so trendy, they would question Elvis on his outfit. Favourite haunts are: Book Club, the club XOYO, Village Underground and the cocktail bar: Night jar.
Focusing on more of the central area of London is Oxford Street which shapes the hub of Soho, Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Gardens. Oxford Street is the most famous street in London for its reputation of shopping adorned with high street brands you will recognise. This street is always busy and a trial and tribulation to walk along, so when journeying through here, make sure you keep your temper and if needs be- have a pint to calm you down at the Argyll Arms which is right by Oxford Street Tube Station. Heading east bound you walk past Carnaby Street (Beyond Retro – my favourite vintage shop of all time, and Lola’s Cupcakes are a must visit if you walk down here) through to the famous areas of Soho and China Town. Soho is known for its cheerful atmosphere due to the amount of gay bars and colourful attitude to life, and China Town is worldly renowned for their cuisine. In this area you will find a number of karaoke bars eager to hear you sing, although my favourite haunts in Soho are: the club Moonlighting or Punk, the bar Milk and Honey and the restaurant Rum Kitchen. In China Town, head away from the hustle and bustle of the restaurants on the main street which are expensive and produce low quality food, my recommendation is Café TPT, although do not be offended by their attitude whilst serving you. And for drinking, I adore the bar Opium which is a hidden find.
South of China Town and Soho is Leicester Square, which is slap bang in the middle of the west end. Either side of this classic landmark is Trafalgar square, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden. Go here to see a west end play and make sure you try for a bargain by grabbing a last minute ticket. Or, if wanting to see a different type of well-known sight head out at dark to Cirque de Soir or Café De Paris, both are world class clubs. From here you can walk to the hot spot tourist destination: Covent Garden. Here is fantastic to see street performers do what they do best, entertain. Come here for a shop or dine at Busaba EatThai, or drink at my favourite cocktail bar: Covent Garden Cocktail club, (which if you sign up as a member beforehand you can come and make use of their fantastic happy hour), as well as Dirty Martini and dance at Be At One.
Whilst on the other side of Oxford Circus is Marylebone and Bond Street. Here is a different type of shopping experience; where Gucci and Louis Vuitton replace Topshop and Primark. Clientèle are driven by chauffeurs or park their expensive cars with reckless abandon. There is less of a crowd here as more that venture here are visitors, who ogle at the price tag with hushed breath. Have a wander around here and think rich. From here, it is just steps to Marble Arch where Hyde Park is situated and is fantastic for a picnic, a horse ride, or even a roller skate and can be enjoyed whatever the weather. At the entrance there is a speaker’s platform, where I have heard many rant on a number of topics. If walking past and conscientiously disagreeing with a subject share your view with the speaker, the platform emphasises the power of freedom of speech. This area of London also promptly starts off Edgware Road, which is a long stretch of road which merges North and South West London because of its Middle Eastern culture. Although visiting a number of times, I have yet to find the perfect shawarma that replicates those I have had in Bahrain, but if you find one that is excellent- please let me know!
West London is an area I haven’t been to in a while and I miss it. Unfortunately I have not explored it as much as I would like too, but I will give advice to the best of my knowledge. I love Notting Hill, and so do many film directors so it seems, as many choose to use this location to set their film. The area is filled with quirky back streets, colourful houses and cute back gardens that you can easily get lost in. Many tourists flock here for the well-known Portobello Market where you can pick up a range of items such as army badges, book stamps and vintage clothes. Others come here for the notorious festival: Notting Hill Carnival, which has grown bigger and better over the years since 1966. Now known as Europe’s biggest street festival, Notting Hill Carnival supports the West Indian community with 20 miles of Caribbean food, music and joy that creates this carnival to be a positive place to come and party. My favourite places at Notting Hill are: Tequila Tex- Mex which is great for Burritos, Tanqueria- a tapas bar, and bars which are Portobello Star and Trailer Happiness and the club: Notting Hill Art’s Club. West London has a very limited night life so if you find somewhere you are comfortable with: stick to it. Also in West London is Shepard’s Bush, where a multiplex of shoppers delight titled Westfield’s, is a dream for those who like to spend. Shepard’s bush is also widely recognized for a number of music venues such as Shepard’s bush Empire, so if you get the chance, see an artist here.
Near to Marble Arch is Mayfair and Knightsbridge, where famous hotels such as The Dorchester welcome the rich and famous for a luxurious stay. Here you can also visit the Harrods store, the most famous store in London known because of its vast size, sheer range of luxury clothing and food, and the immense number of visitors whom shop here. Another must see is Harvey Nichols with a similar attitude to shopping and where you can have a brief snack in the café within the department store. In this area, the Royal Albert Hall and the Victoria and Albert museum are easily accessible, however if you are similar to those that live or dine here, you will be far too busy perusing for your riding/skiing/shooting gear in the shops to be educated on history.
This similar atmosphere and culture dominates areas of South London such as; Earls Court, South Kensington, Sloane Square and Wimbledon. Here you will see yummy mummy’s drive their humongous four by fours around small streets of London and attempt to park it, as well as posh kids donned with Barba jackets, a macchiato and hunter wellies splurge their credit cards on new necessary items to combine with their lifestyle. Although seemingly lacking in the real grit of London, this area of South London is a necessary component to what makes up the entirety of London, without the “Sloanies” who would shop in Mayfair?
This brief and limited post tries to illuminate the highlights to you on where to go in London, however because its size and popularity (8 and a half million) it is hard to do so with such a large area. Sights that are a must see and I have not included are; the London Bridge,learn about history at the London Dungeons, get goose bumps at the Tower Of London, watch a performance at Wembley or the 02, visit Kew Gardens, feed dear at Richmond, light a candle at St Pauls Cathedral, have your mind blown at the Natural History Museum, learn at the Science Museum, recite Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre, rave at Fabric or Ministry of Sound, drink a tipple at the top of The Shard and try make a guard chuckle at the Buckingham Palace. Have fun!