Picture London, and what comes to mind? Maybe it’s the famous sites like Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s, and Tower Bridge all perched on the banks of the mighty river Thames. Maybe it’s the quaint old boozers, the bright red telephone and pillar boxes, the higgledy-piggledy streets with charming names like Pudding Lane, Threadneedle Street or Portobello Road. Or maybe you hear the music of London calling; a city that has the most iconic zebra crossing in the world, Soho in the rain, Waterloo sunsets, and a hundred other famous songs that leap out as you walk the streets.
What’s wonderful about London is it is all these things combined. But it’s also so much more. Amidst the signature experiences there’s another side to London, in fact, there are many other sides to London. Because modern London is a melting pot of music and multiculturalism where over 300 languages are spoken. In London, you can get a Flat White in an Australian coffee shop, dine in an Ethiopian restaurant, and buy trendy Danish designer clobber, all within the same afternoon. On the streets of Shoreditch, you’ll find graffiti art as famous as the portraits hanging in the National Gallery. In Borough Market, you can eat food from as many global cuisines as there are Underground lines. Because this city that offers a wealth of experiences there’s always something new to explore.
The best introduction to London is probably a stroll along the South Bank. Start at Tower Bridge and wander towards Westminster. This way you can feel the cultural pulse of the city, from Shakespeare’s Globe to the Tate Modern and National Theatre, soaking up the views across the Thames, the city’s lifeblood, along the way. It’s a great sample of what London has to offer from food markets to grand gothic architecture, and even the skate park in the South Bank Centre.
In this article, Far Out will give you the low-down on a visit to London town. The Neighbourhood guides are a handy way of getting to grips with this sprawling beast of a city. Since the 1600s London busted out beyond its original Roman Walls swallowing up more and more neighbourhoods along the way. To this day different areas can have very different vibes, from the swagger of the West End, and the grandeur of well-heeled Knightsbridge to the laid-back hipster hotspots around Hackney and Dalston.
Shoreditch is the creative hub of London’s East End. Old Georgian terraces and warehouses have been transformed into bustling boutiques, pop up markets, cute cafes and more. You can get tours of street art to understand what’s inspired the amazing graffiti art. Or you could go to Dennis Sever’s house – a museum that takes you back in time room by room in a ghostly and atmospheric way. Shoreditch was also the infamous haunt of Jack the Ripper. But these days the 10 Bells Pub next to the Hawksmoor Church is the perfect place to sink a pint after rummaging through the treasures in Spitalfields market.
Nearby Brick Lane, famous for its curries and salt-beef bagels, will help keep you fueled during your adventures. Rifle through the records at Rough Trade or even catch a live gig there. Hit up The Whitechapel Gallery for a free art fix. If it’s shopping you’re after there’s no shortage of shops, from Box Park to Blitz London, one of the biggest vintage clothing stores in the city.
Soho has something of a chequered past. Known as the place of peep shows and sex in its heyday in the 60s, it also brought with it musicians and artists who then inevitably made the place cool. Whilst you can still see flashes of it’s past down certain alleys, these days you’re more likely to find sleek restaurants and Swedish clothing brands.
Some Soho institutions still remain, Bar Italia is open 24/7, St. Mauritz club has swinging soul night that’s been going on 30 years, and you can still get a neon taste of its seedy past at La Bodega, which looks like a Soho sex shop, but is really an underground Mexican restaurant. Ole!
Hop on the Victoria line south to Brixton. Out the station you’ll be greeted with throngs of people, the smell of popcorn, sweet incense, and often someone playing a calypso steel drum. Continue the Caribbean feel at Brixton Village with lunch and a heady rum punch at Fish, Wings and Tings. The market in Brixton Village is a real hidden gem in London. There’s independent shops, vintage stories, vinteurs, restaurants and cafes all thronged under one old arcade building. At night try the nearby Blues Kitchen for cocktails and live music or cosy up at The Ritzy Cinema, one of South London’s oldest picture houses that still exudes glamour. If it’s a nice day, go for a walk in Brockwell Park to escape the city rush. You can find some amazing views of the London skyline.
Perhaps one of the most ‘Instagrammable’ spots in London, Notting Hill with its pretty pastel houses, antique stores, and world-renowned Portobello road market is a place with timeless charm.
Make a beeline for the old curiosities to be found in the flea markets on the Goldhawk road, then grab some food on the go from any of the street food stalls that line Portobello Road. Duck into the old, romantic Electric Cinema for a film and a glass of wine. In the evening it has to be the local’s favourite haunt – the Notting Hill Art Club for dancing the night away.
Peckham in South London has been touted as “The New Shoreditch” and it’s not hard to see why. A steady stream of artists to the area via the local art college has brought cafes, delis and art studios. The addition of the London Overground has also really opened the area up to people exploring down from other parts of East London. There’s a great mix to the area too, Hipster cafes sit alongside with Afro-Carribean hair salons, high street chains alongside artisanal grocers. Find the cheapest cinema experience in London at the Peckham Plex with tickets from £3.99.
In summer, one of the best views in the city can be found at the top of Frank’s Campari Bar, an old car park that’s been converted into a rooftop bar. Or go low-key at Bar Story underneath the railway arches.
Don’t miss out on…
The Tate Modern
This powerhouse of modern art was once a power station on the banks of the river Thames. Inside this brick cathedral, you’ll find works by artists such as Picasso, Rothko, Dalí, Pollock, Warhol and more. What’s more, most of it is free to explore. Take in the latest exhibition in the Turbine Hall, then head up to the cafe for sweeping views over the River and across to St Paul’s.
Village isn’t probably the first thing you think of on a visit to London, but it can be nice to know you can escape the feel of a big city whilst still being within a city. Hampstead Heath is one of the best places for that. In a big park, with a high hill in the north-west of London, you can sit and gaze down on the city below. With ponds you can swim in summer, woodland glades and grass knolls this is a beautiful spot to stretch your legs. Hampstead village is stunning to walk around, with its millionaire houses and leafy streets. The Holly Bush or Spaniards Inn are gorgeous old pubs to stop off in for a pint after your walk.
Getting there and when…
London has one of the finest transport networks in the world. Whether you’re coming to or leaving the city you’ll be able to get there by air, rail or coach. London is served by five main airports, including Heathrow and Gatwick and eight main rail stations, including Victoria, Kings Cross and Waterloo. Once you’re into the city the London Underground is your Oyster to exploring across the capital. Get an Oyster card, it will be worth it.
Climbing aboard the buses around town and sitting right at the front also makes for a fun way to sight-see as well as getting from a-b. London can be visited at any time of year as it has a Western European climate, so it gets cold and rainy in the winter, and warm and sunny in the summer (hopefully). British people love to talk about the weather so if you’re unsure just ask. Spring and autumn make ideal times to visit as are just outside the busy Christmas and Summer Holiday periods.