Visiting London means so many things for me. It means visiting friends. It means eating out in markets. It’s wandering around the residential areas past houses where plaques tell me ‘so and so who wrote such and such lived here’. Visiting London means getting hopelessly lost on the tube because I’m too stubborn to acknowledge I don’t have the tube map committed to memory and yes, sometimes it even means venturing to Oxford street for shopping.
Holidays to London as a first timer can be exhausting and overwhelming with travel guides telling you that you must see and do everything. Most London itineraries involve running around between Westminster, a guided tour of Buckingham Palace, one revolution of the London Eye and then on to the tower of London before collapsing in bed and starting all over again.
The truth is, when you’ve lived in London a while, you develop your own slower pace for exploring the city. So here’s my guide on how to take this city slowly, like a Londoner, because after all, what’s the point of visiting if there’s no time for a cup of tea?
Take advantage of London’s many independent coffee shops
Don’t let the city force you into the chains, there are plenty of independent coffee shops to be found. They can be harder to find than you’d think with the main streets being dominated by Pret, Costa and Starbucks but finding an independent is usually a matter of going into the nearest backstreet. Everyone who lives in London has a favourite area. Mine is Covent Garden. I’d recommend visiting TY Seven Dials there. It’s one of my favourite cafes to watch the world go by, with an amazing selection of pastries, cakes, savoury food and smoothies. Also right in the centre of Covent Garden is Neal’s Yard courtyard. This little square with its colourful buildings is a sanctuary of calm in the middle of central London with Insta-worthy cafes serving healthy food.
Head further out in the city
It can be tempting to stay in a radius encompassing Covent Garden to Westminster but the best of London is further out. I took the bus on a scenic tour past The Monument and the heart of The City to Shoreditch. All the tourists flock to Camden but Shoreditch is its lesser known twin and it’s just as trendy. We grabbed lunch at Boxpark, a pop-up mall made of shipping containers with food stalls in the middle and independent shops at the bottom. We ate at The Athenian, a low-key greek restaurant where I got a halloumi box for £6, which was amazing.
Take advantage of Shoreditch’s vintage shops, cute cafes and its vibrant street art. Also make sure to visit Dark Sugars cocoa house where handmade chocolates in every flavour, size and shape are mounted up all over the shop for you to help yourself. I couldn’t resist.
Visit the smaller galleries
Travel guides will tell you head to the big names like The Tate but London has so many secret galleries that have so much more to offer. My favourite and one particularly popular with London students is Newport Street gallery in Vauxhall. Entrance to this gallery is free and exhibitions are always obscure, unusual and intriguing. This time I visited the gallery was showcasing artist, Dan Colen’s new collection: Sweet Liberty. The gallery and staff are unpretentious and the art is what you make of it.
Five Local hacks
- Citymapper- If you’ve ever wondered why no one in London seems to be looking at the tube maps it’s because of this app. City mapper is free to download and will tell you how to get to your destination via bus, tube, taxi, walking, including how long it will take and how much it will cost.
- Zone 2 for drinking – While it sounds cool to go for a drink in the heart of Westminster, the best bars are further out of the centre in Zone 2. Try Brixton and Elephant and Castle to start.
- Avoid the Oxford street rush hour – When you need to go shopping, Oxford Street has it all. Just avoid the station between 5-7pm or face long queues to even get into Oxford Circus tube station.
- Don’t pay for a tour bus- Don’t waste your money on a hop on hop off tour bus, London’s bus routes are extensive and have routes across the city, costing just £1.50 for a single.
- Check out Timeout– There’s always something new going on in London be it a festival, a new exhibition or a new restaurant opening. The best way to find out what’s going on is by checking out Timeout’s website or Social Media pages for information.