[As written for Travel Eye, hosted on The Huffington Post UK, June 2012]
Having always lived in south London, I feel like I know this city better than I know myself sometimes (although of course, this is not the case as it’s constantly changing). I grew up taking tube into town to visit the big Top Shop on Oxford Street and have spent many a night at gigs in tiny pubs and at Wembley stadium. My friends and I have sat around having coffee in local cafes, parks and bars, enjoyed the odd festival in a field and danced the night away in clubs. We’ve ridden countless London buses, waited on Tube platforms and visited Madame Tussauds. The list of things to do in this wonderful city is endless…
But the best thing about London isn’t all the big stuff.
Yes, it’s absolutely amazing to stand on Tower Bridge watching those big blue iron pillars loom above you – and yes, the view from the London Eye is magnificent with a thick blue sky background. It’s true that you’ll never forget the beauty of seeing a lit-up Albert Bridge reflected in the Thames at night and that jumping on an old Routemaster is both exhilarating and special at the same time. But it’s what happens behind the scenes that makes London truly special – and although I could go on forever about those quirky little spots that have melted many-a-heart, I’ve managed to pick out just 10 of my favourite places to wholeheartedly recommend for any trip to the capital.
Of course, London will be busier than ever this summer – the whole world and his dog already have their eye on our spectacular city after the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and now the London 2012 Olympics are coming, we’re in the spotlight even more. But whether you’re in town for an event or just a summer weekend away – these are a few places you just shouldn’t miss…
Drink, Shop, Do, Kings Cross
What do you get when you cross a café/bar with a design shop full of vintage home ware? Drink, Shop, Do – that’s what. This unique little place is found just a few minutes’ walk from Kings Cross station and can give you everything from gorgeous 1950s furniture to buy and take home; finger sandwiches; cocktails and they even allow you to make things. Out of clay!
Their unique menus are rather special too – if you don’t fancy hitting the cocktails, you can ask for a milkshake or afternoon tea instead. There are even party food platters available. Oh and did i mention you can make things? What more could you want?
The best of the pop up bars in my opinion! You’ll find Frank’s on the top floor of a random car park in Peckham – about a three minute walk from Peckham Rye Station. The views are phenomenal; you can spot the London Eye, the Gherkin and the Shard from the comfort of your bench, while sipping a Gin Collins and chomping on some grilled squid with chilli and garlic. Sounds delicious, right? Well it is, and with its summer opening approaching on 30 June, you won’t want to miss summer nights up on this roof.
Leighton House, Holland Park
Love architecture? Then make sure to check out this stunning 19th Century house by Holland Park in Kensington. The house belonged to Lord Frederic Leighton – a Victorian artist who made his own home into a private artistic palace. The big highlight is the stunning Middle Eastern setting of the 1877 Arab Hall, which sits at the centre of the house and shows off Leighton’s collection hundreds of sixteenth and seventeenth century tiles from Damascus.
Work from other artists also line the walls, but make sure not to miss Leighton’s painting studio on the first floor, where he composed most of his work. This room in itself is a wonder to take in.
The Palm Tree, Victoria Park
Fancy yourself a real bit of cockney life? Then head to The Palm Tree, a canalside pub which is just a few streets away from all the bustle of Mile End. Step inside and it feels like you’ve gone back 25 years – with old Chas & Dave style bands playing in the bar area and pictures of Brit’ entertainers lining the walls (Jim Bowen – legend), you won’t be forgetting you’re in proper East London. And then there’s the beer garden – also known as Victoria Park. Perfect for summer drinking.
The Sandwich Barge, Mile End
Nothing beats a good sandwich – and let’s face it, there are some seriously dire ones out there. So thank goodness for this little gem (currently situated just by The Palm Tree (see above) in Victoria Park). The Sandwich Barge is exactly what it says on the tin – a barge – that moves around depending on what the River Lea is playing at. But find it and you’ll be rewarded with luscious sandwiches containing the likes of blue cheese with celery and walnut spread, rare roast beef with horseradish, parma ham with pear and blue cheese and prawn, avocado and lemon juice. And as if that’s not enough, they do a mean sweet menu (carrot, walnut, parsnip and lemon cake, anyone?) and a selection of herbal teas, hot chocolate, fair trade coffee and cold remedies. In fact, they also do organic baby food!
Dennis Severs’ House, Tower Hamlets
From the outside, it looks like a typical Georgian house. When you step inside, you’ll find yourself wandering around in the 18th Century. Dennis Severs moved into 18 Folgate Street in 1979 and while living there, decided to write a story about a family of Huguenot silk-weavers. Severs has passed on now, but his well-scripted story remains at his own residence. The house has been turned into a (as Severs called it himself) “still-life drama” – and you can take a fascinating tour through this fictional family home.
And it’s not just any tour… the detail is particularly mind-blowing; there’s a half-eaten meal at the table, candles light up the rooms and there are even beds that haven’t been made – but it’s the assault on your senses which is really remarkable. You’ll hear distant sounds, take in smells and really feel you’ve stepped into 18th Century England.
Passing Clouds, Dalston
Found down the back streets of Dalston, Passing Clouds is quite the special little bar. Despite its trendy location, you won’t find this place pretentious – instead you have a choice of how you’d like to spend your evening – be it, sitting back with a drink while watching South American music come alive, listen to speakers deliver empowered talks on global issues or even take a yoga class. In fact, it’s this chilled out festival feel that makes Passing Clouds so special and their inspirational holistic mantra is exactly what you need after a busy week of work. The team often host film screenings and special themed nights too. Perfect!
Lahore Karahi, Tooting Broadway
Found slap bang in the middle of Tooting (half an hour south of the West End on the Northern Line), this curry house boasts not only some brilliant chefs – but also a great atmosphere to enjoy (what feels like) a gorgeous home-cooked meal. It’s a casual setting with café-style tables – and they operate a ‘bring your own alcohol’ policy. I’ve heard many bang on about how great the Chilli Chicken is and my personal favourite is the Kerala Gosht which is lamb served with bitter gourd. The veggie dishes with okra and chick peas with make you melt. But make sure you get the starting plate of onion bhaji to get your mouth-watering – this is definitely their speciality!
Upsy Daisy Bakery, Hammersmith
Located a short walk from Hammersmith station, Upsy Daisy is the cutest little bakery-café, with friendly staff and delicious treats. Open every day from 7.30am, they not only provide work-goers with their morning coffees; but also provide mums, friends and other Hammersmith locals with the perfect spot to enjoy some gorgeous grilled cheese sandwiches or fabulous French toast with blueberries and maple syrup. Their hot chocolates are divine too!
The Holly Bush, Hampstead Heath
Looking for somewhere to enjoy a good Sunday roast? Then The Holly Bush is your place. This real ale supplying venue is located just few minutes away from Hampstead Heath and has a great community feel to it. In fact, it’s where the Save Hampstead Heath society uses as its headquarters. Inside, the old wooden décor makes you feel like you’re in an old country pub – and for just a few hours, you can forget just how close you are to the Big Smoke. Their roasts are particularly divine too – and the whole family is welcome!
PICTURE CREDIT: Karen Edwards