It is no secret that we like to go off-the-beaten-path and discover hidden gems. So far, we’ve raved about Offbeat Spain, reaped gorgeous rewards by going off-the-beaten-track in Paris, and tried to ditch clichés in Dubai and countless other places. Both Vid and I find ourselves attracted to little alleys and cafes that haven’t been hyped by a guidebook, eclectic bars that don’t feature on standard itineraries of a city, and hidden areas that tell endless tales about local culture.
Despite having written reams about offbeat favourites in most cities we have visited, we’ve been unable to muster the courage to write a comprehensive article about the city we’ve called home for almost 6 years. There’s SO much to share, we don’t know where to start.
Yet, our inbox is flooded with requests of sample itineraries of London. A reader recently tweeted us asking for suggestions to “Do London the Bruised Passports way” 🙂 That was when we decided to give in and talk about our favourite bits of London.
This is the London you visit after you’ve absorbed the grandeur of The Westminster Abbey and The Big Ben, spent a day being overwhelmed at The British History Museum, bought a fridge magnet with the British flag on it, and craned your neck while taking mandatory selfies next to one of the tallest clock towers in the world – The Big Ben. This is the London we love…
1) The Secrets of East London – Dalston and Hackney
East London is undoubtedly our favourite part of London. The bohemian and artsy part of town is peppered with independent cafes, magical bookshops, eccentric bars, and decadent vintage stores.
We love Brick Lane and Shoreditch but more and more tourists are beginning to frequent that part of town. As a result, it can get extremely crowded on weekends. That’s where Dalston and Hackney come into the picture. Both are up-and-coming bohemian neighbourhoods in London. Look past the strip of cheap take-aways and you will discover retro hair salons, shabby-chic cafes, avant garde designer stores, and some of the best street art in London (if you are familiar with our love for Street Art, you would know how happy that makes us 🙂 ).
One of our favourite places in the area is The Wilton Way Cafe. Tucked away in a tiny by-lane in Hackney, it is the perfect place to ruminate away from the hustle-bustle of Shoreditch. The menu at The Wilton Way Cafe offers great coffee and greater music – we like!
Address – 63 Wilton Way, E8 1BG London, United Kingdom
Closest Rail Station : Dalston Kingsland/Dalston Junction.
2) Offbeat Bars – The best places to get a drink in London
First things first – nothing comes close to sipping on English cider or local beer and conversing with locals at a neighbourhood pub in England. But if you’re going out with friends or celebrating the advent of a weekend, then there’s no shortage of quirky bars in London. Here are a couple of our favourites :-
a) Callooh Callay – We’re not sure what we like more about this bar – the Alice-in-Wonderland theme or its amazing cocktails. The only way to enter this bar is through a Victorian wardrobe and that is just the tip of the iceberg 🙂
Address – 65 Rivington Street EC2A 3AY, London, United Kingdom Closest Tube Station – Old Street
b) Cellar Door – This tiny bar is conveniently situated in Central London but it continues to remain a local secret because of its discreet entrance. This edgy bar has a distinct character – imagine 30’s Berlin meets New York basement dive (their words not ours!). We love their flavoured snuff. Daily cabaret and burlesque performances ensure a perfect evening. Entry is free. Arrive early to avoid disappointment.
Address – Zero Aldwych, WC2E 7DN London, United Kingdom Closest Station – Charing Cross (Rail), Embankment (Tube)
3) Offbeat Entertainment and shows
If you’ve had your fair share of London’s West End and are on the lookout for a really cool thing to do in London, then you should give The Magic Hour a go. World class magician Tony Middleton ‘Sonic’ is sure to cast a spell over you and transport you back to the Golden Age of magic. What’s more, The Magic Hour takes place in an evocative private drawing room just off Hyde Park, adding to the Victorian charm.
‘Sonic’ will pull of tricks with great finesse and leave you speechless. The master showman presents classic Victorian illusions and spellbinding sleight of hand in extreme close-up – think disappearing objects, time stopping still, and spirits writing messages from ‘the other side’. He’s performed alongside renowned artists such as Gary Barlow and Jonathan Ross and has received raving reviews on TripAdvisor. If you’r looking for an alternative thing to do in London, you must spare an evening and go see ‘Sonic’ perform. Rest assured, you won’t be disappointed 🙂
Address: 1-9 Inverness Terrace, London W2 3JP
Nearest Tube stations: Queensway, Bayswater. A 5 minute walk from Hyde Park.
Price: From £25 including a magic cocktail on arrival 🙂
4) Offbeat Open Markets
Borough Market, Portobello Road Market, Camden Market and Notting Hill Market might sound familiar to you because they’ve been suggested to you by endless brochures about London. Needless to say, these markets have a certain charm about them. But London has so much more to offer :-
a) If you’re looking for a slightly unusual experience head over to Columbia Flower Market – the weekly market (open only on Sundays) is a visual delight. Buckets full of flowers and foliage vie for the attention of passersby. The air is laden with the scent of fragrant flowers and cries of shopkeepers. Once you’ve had your fill, you can escape to neighbouring alleys full of vintage shops, cosy bakeries, and Italian delis.
Information – Open only on Sundays (8 am – 3 pm). Address: E2 7RG London, United Kingdom
Nearest Tube Station – Old Street/Bethnal Green
b) If you’re a foodie, then Greenwich Market is the market for you. The charming area is away from the hustle-bustle of Central London and is London’s only market situated within a UNESCO Heritage Site. The covered market is full of character and offers a wide array of foods from around the globe for the urban gourmand. Take-away a spicy Jamaican curry, fragrant Thai noodles, or calorie-laden churros and have it by the Thames, which is a five-minute walk away.
Information – Open Tuesday – Sunday (10 am – 5.30 pm). However, From April 7 till Autumn, it will be open everyday. Address: SE10 9HZ London, United Kingdom
Nearest Station – Cutty Sark (DLR), Greenwich (National Rail)
5) Street Art and Urban Culture
If you are a street art connoisseur, scour the cobble-stoned streets of Brick Lane and surrounding areas for street art masterpieces. Graffiti, stamps, stencils, and installations – everything is on offer. You will spot some legendary pieces by Stik, Banksy, Pablo Delgado, and Space Invader. If you want to familiarise yourself with Street Art, the free Street Art Tour by Alternative London is a good option. Another offbeat tour offered in this area is our favourite Eating London Food Tour.
South Bank is another great area for urban bunnies. The undercroft of The Southbank Centre has been the epicentre of UK’s skateboarding scene for years now. It’s the perfect place to get some great photographs of youngsters on their Penny skateboards against colourful graffiti.
Address – Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX London, United Kingdom
Closest Tube Station : Waterloo
6) Romantic Walks
Hop-on hop-off buses seem to be all the rage with tourists but we think walking in London is the best way of seeing London. In fact, it’s the only way to fall in love with London. Walking aimlessly around the city while absorbing its sights and sounds is the best way to acquaint oneself with the rich history and culture of London. The city offers countless delightful walks but here’s a couple of our favourites
- Start at Embankment tube station. With the Thames river on the right, start walking towards Tower Bridge. This walk is absolutely magical and romantic in the evening when most prominent buildings of London are lit. This walk will make you see London’s landmarks in a whole new fashion. Highly recommended!
- Start at St. Paul’s tube station. Walk towards Millenium Bridge. Once again, this walk is best undertaken at night. You could stop by one of the pubs on the way for a pint or two.
- Start at the Warwick Avenue tube station and walk from Little Venice to Camden. This 4.5 kilometre stretch, which goes through Regent’s Canal and Primrose Hill, is best covered in the morning. It offers the perfect introduction to London’s rich culture and history. Hop over to The Canal River Trust’s website for detailed directions.
Where to stay in London
Which is the best place to stay in London? Well, we are a bit biased towards Greenwich. We absolutely love this part of London. The other places that we recommend to our friends and readers are Kensington, Shoreditch (can be a bit crowded at times), and Embankment (more expensive). For more options and a collated availability of all hotels in London, have a look here.
Still not satiated? If you are looking for some great suggestions on things to do out of London, check out this amazing two week itinerary for UK chalked out by our friend Laurence at Finding The Universe (also, be warned – you are going to love his collection of pictures :-)).
We have everything you need to plan your trip to London, including what to pack (and what not to pack 😉 ) in our Guide to London.
While in London, the best way to explore the city is The London Pass (use code JULY6 for 6% discount on passes)