London, the Big Smoke, capital city – whatever you choose to call it. With so many streets, cafes, shops and restaurants offering the possibility of a new and unique adventure every time you visit, there’s no wonder it’s got so many of us locked under its spell.
As someone who grew up in the wilds of Lincolnshire, a place with one bus an hour was considered well-connected. Meeting someone completely new was a rare occurrence, as you could be confident in their inevitable link to your neighbour’s cousin’s ex-school teacher’s dog.
Perhaps this explains my unending enthusiasm for the totally contrasting 24-hour London. It amazes me how every underground train, every black cab, can contain so many people with different lives at once unavoidably intertwined yet completely separate.
Although I’ve now said goodbye to the sticks and moved to a place with a more reliable transport network, my love for the UK’s number one city shows no signs of burning out anytime soon.
London is ace. It’s as simple as that. The excitement begins on arriving at St Pancras station, end of line for trains from the East Midlands. It would be easy to spend a good half day there alone, head swivelling Exorcist-style magnetised by the amazing retail opportunities before you’ve barely stepped off the platform.
If you succeed in making it through the St Pancras festival of spending delights without too much plastic card abuse, a whole world of fun and opportunity awaits.
Be a tourist and do the all the classic big hits – London Eye, Tower of London or Buckingham Palace. Stay with a friend and let them show you their London, or just pick a corner and make it your own for however long you’ve got to stick around.
London Bridge/Bankside, an alcohol-influenced detour to Goodge Street and some evening entertainment in Camden, are a few pretty good bets when it comes to places to knock about:
The Citizen M hotel in Bankside. If you Googled ‘cool place to stay’ this may well pop up at the top of your search results. The words “Another world is possible” are spray painted onto the exterior of the building, step inside the doors and you might just start to believe it.
One of only two of its kind in the UK, Citizen M is a whole new concept in hotels aimed at “those who travel the world with big hearts and wide eyes”.
Perhaps the wide eyes requirement is so you can fully admire a giant Mario Testino photograph of Robbie Williams, face part-obscured by a pair of Union Jack pants, artfully placed in the lift waiting area.
Robbie plus underwear is just one element of the hotel’s charm. There’s a library of inspirational books to browse, free wi-fi, and super-modern Samsung Galaxy tablet operated rooms. A few simple swipes of the ‘MoodPad’ allows you to the open or close the window blinds, choose the temperature and lighting and even pick an atmosphere! Party for me please!
The Refinery. Just over the road from Citizen M, this buzzing restaurant bar is a great choice day or night. Food is served in tin cans, buckets and other random vessels in keeping with the industrial-chic themed interior. Don’t miss their fish finger sandwiches – so tasty Captain Birdseye should be shuddering in his haddock-scented boots.
Borough Market. Give your senses a treat at the heart of the UK’s culinary history. Wander about slurping hot chocolate with chilli or freshly squeezed fruit juice, and see how far you can walk with a carton of delicious street food without throwing it down your front. Village folk can also feel at home with soil-covered produce sourced from the potato fields of Lincolnshire.
Be a tourist at:
The Clink prison museum. If you’re feeling the need to expand your library of gruesome facts why not learn all about crime and punishment 1144-1780s style on the site of the South Bank’s notorious jail.
Take a tour of Britain’s oldest slammer and next time you’re having a bad day you might spare a thought for the sorry existence of a medieval prisoner. Fancy sitting in a stinking hole waist-deep in raw sewage being circled by rats doing rodent paddle? Thought not. Or how about having your tongue clamped with an iron torture contraption for gossiping too much. I’d give that a miss too.
The Shard. At £25 per person to ascend Western Europe’s tallest building it’s a bit steep (sorry). But think of it this way – from 800 feet above the capital you can tick off the whole tourist wishlist in one outstanding 360 degree, 40 mile view. Play spot the attraction bingo as you take in London’s iconic skyline. Is that Wembley? Is that the Gherkin? Yes it is! You really can see it all.
Drink and be entertained at:
The London Cocktail Club, Goodge Street. Just in case the name has you flummoxed this place does cocktails, and does them well. A lesson in shaking up the top shelf spirits, smashing up raspberries and pouring from multiple bottles at this cosy underground bar will teach you anything you ever wanted to know about booze. Sadly the more than generous measures mean you’re unlikely to retain a single fact. How many different types of tequila did you say there were barman?!
The Jazz Cafe, Camden. A short hop along the Northern line brings you to another place with a baffling name – The Jazz Cafe. What kind of music can I listen to there I hear you cry? This time it’s a valid question because here your ears will be treated to so much more than just jazz. Despite having its origins in said genre this amazing venue is now home to soul, dance, funk and hip-hop and attracts big names old and new.
Recent performers to have taken to the stage/decks include Arrested Development, Grandmaster Flash and a whole host of other musical legends. With an 80s vs 90s retro party every Saturday night as an added bonus, what’s not to like?
What are your favourite London things?
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