Visited last time in January 2016. And seriously? Who is interested in another article about London?
It might not sound very original if I write that I love London. I have been there many times and would like to show you a couple of places which are quite common but I think you should visit. Everybody knows the notorious sights from school English lessons and there is a whole bunch of hipsters blogging about the trendiest cafés and shops. Yet, I decided to give it a try and hope someone will find my article useful.
Getting to London is easy, every second person I know has been there. Anyway, this town is too big for anyone to be able to tell he knows it perfectly and has seen it all. Apart from Buckingham palace and Primark. No Czech tourist expedition misses the second mentioned institution.
My friend Terka and her friends have been living in North London for years, which is the reason why I spend most of my visits there. They have lived on many different places during the past years, starting with squats to current nice rental houses on a good address. No idea what defines a good address in this area but locals are quite articulate about that. I simply like the 100% feeling of being in London and the good old Britain at the same time. Churches surrounded by hedge and ivy, terraced houses, small shops, Asian restaurants, hundreds of different nationalities, illegal raves, all those subcultures, tiny backyard gardens, parks and doubledeckers which are able to go through unprobable turnings and narrow streets. If you travel from one London´s end to another or third, you will notice it is not that beautiful everywhere. North rules!
Oyster card is the card to have. You can easily recharge it at every tube station. Me and my friends have been sharing some for years. Whenever some of us needs it he just asks the others. Before you go to London try asking around, someone might have it, it pays. It also pays to travel by bus not by underground. Unfortunately only considering money. Going by bus is a sort of sightseeing activity for people who are not in a hurry. You can get on, sit down on some of the front seats on the upper deck and watch the people change with every stop. From orthodox Jewish families over covered Muslim women a kilometer further to white British businessman a couple of stops later. I really love it but it will probably take you about two hours to get ot the centre this way.
Shopping in London. What an unusual activity… People come here to hunt for designer bargains, others are happy leaving Primark with two shopping bags full of clothes worth 20 pounds. My friends who live here, claim they find the best clothes in Prague, because they just can´t choose from the stuff here anymore.
A proper Londoner goes shopping for clothes on Thursdays (opening hours are longer too) to be ready for the weekend. I have given up on many shops here, quality has fallen. There are just two places I go to – T.K. MAXX and charity shops. The first one is a huge outlet store chain. Psychically and physically very demanding (I can make it only in the lingerie department). The second option are basically good purpose second hands where you can sometimes find real treasures. They also sell books at prices as low as one pound.
When it comes to grocery shopping, I prefer „sale corners“ in supermarkets. Price of goods nearing its expiry date sinks during the day, reaching its low in the evening. Then you can find great value food on „sale“ shelves of Marks and Spencers or Waitrose. I remember making a tasty lunch salad for two with great tiger prawns for about two pounds once. If you don´t want to spend much money on food, don´t worry, London can be cheap. The ones who are lazy or don´t have kitchen available, can always find a solution at their nearest takeaway kebab restaurant.
Markets and marketplaces
First, let´s avoid the notorious Camden which hasn´t changed much since my first visit in 1999. If you still have to catch at least a glimpse of it, do it but then when you see a little bridge at the end of the main market part, turn to the canal. From there you can start your trip to Little Venice which is basically an area full of houseboats and picturesque views.
The coolest market is the Old Spittlafields Market with its food trucks, stands with food from all over the world (a mouthwatering memory), designer clothes and bags, different knick-knack and everything else. However it is also quite touristic. If you want to feel like a local, head for Alexandra Park where farmer´s markets are held every weekend. There, you will immediately forget about all the bad things you have ever heard of British food and cooking. Cheese, sausage, great bread, pies, cakes, vegetables, ciders…prices are OK as well.
Parks and cemeteries
Markets are not the main reason why people come to Alexandra Park. It is a nice place to go for a walk and also known for being a great viewpoint. The view I prefer is from the park near Highgate cemetery. This is an area where you can spend maybe half a day. Enjoy a commented excursion of the probably most beautiful Victorian cemetery in the world with lot of interesting stories. The atmosphere is unique and you can find a lot of famous people buried here. The site has two parts, the more interesting one is only accessible with a guide. British cemeteries are my favourite ones because of their peaceful beauty and style, if you don´t make it to Highgate, try visiting any other old cemetary.
At least a bit of the centre
There are two activities you should try in the centre, which might not be in guidebooks. Mudlarking aka searching for treasures hidden in the mud is the first of them. Thames is near the sea which means the tide is pretty strong with its highs and lows. And it is accessible from several points you will find along it. When it is low, you can walk on its bottom and look for old Roman artifacts or Victorian sherds. We found a lot of modern things like credit cards and glasses. You might be luckier. There are always enough nice stones and stuff. One this was a source of livelihood for a certain social class.
As you are already in the centre, go to Tate Modern. Everyone knows it but not everyone knows there is a café on the top floor. Without paying any entrance fee, you can take the elevator there and enjoy beautiful view of London over a nice cup of coffee. Advanced ones will get a Tate membership card and get the most exclusive view with a glass of wine in their hands. Being a little hungry and craving for more good coffee, it is not far to Borough market. You will get here delicious cheese, sausage and fresh oysters. This is no insider tip as the market lays on your way on along the river.
One last bizarre tip
„Don´t cook, eat out“ says a sticker on many windows of London restaurants encouraging people not to bother themselves with cooking. Locals probably like this idea judging from number of restaurants, pubs and takeaways. This time no insider tips for best places to eat out. This on is the most ordinary and average you can imagine – Wetherspoon. They have branches all over the country and are a cheap option for those who want to try something really English. The people you meet here are white Brits who are neither successful nor young and beautiful. Have a drink, feel the atmosphere, you might even try eating something. Don´t expect miracles. It is just something really authentic.
Well, having seen at least this will probably lead you to the conclusion that being able to get to know the whole town will cost you weeks of holidays and flight tickets. Enjoy!