Having left London more than seven weeks ago (the longest I’ve been away from the city in the ten years I’ve lived there), a little sense of missing the place is starting to creep in.
We’ve travelling in Southeast Asia for the last two months, which have been very dynamic and full of new experiences, adventures and discoveries – but, rain and British awkwardness aside, there are some things that London does really well.
Here are the top seven things I miss about London – or in other words, the top seven things you should definitely do if you happen to be there:
1. Listening to orchestral classical music in one of the world’s most evocative venues for only £5
The ellipse-shaped Grade I listed Royal Albert Hall is an attraction in itself, but combined with the enchanting music of the Proms, it is definitely one of the annual highlights in London. The Proms take place over eight weeks in late summer (usually from mid August until mid September), during which time there are more than 80 concerts. If you’re not too bothered about reserved seating and prepared for some queuing before the event, you can get a ticket on the spot for only £5 in one of the standing areas directly in front of the stage, or more excitingly, bring a picnic with you and sit on the floor high-up in the gallery.
2. Wandering around the streets of Soho
Overcrowded and annoying as it can be, there is something extremely captivating about Soho and the ever-changing life there. The place is buzzing with locals and tourists alike, savouring the many bars, restaurants and clubs; strolling around the boutique shops on the backstreets; or guiltily lurking around the corners of the sex shops. For the music enthusiasts, it’s also home to the infamous Berwick Street and its record shops. And as one of the most liberated spots in one of the most liberated cities in the world, it’s the place where you can be anything you want to be – dressed in plastic bags, walking on stilts – no heads will be turned. They’ve seen it all before. And with new kids on the restaurant and bar scene popping up almost every week, Soho always keeps you returning for more.
3. Travelling abroad while staying at home
Perhaps the culinary diversity which London offers is one of the reasons why Brits are less enthusiastic travellers than some of the other west european nations. Naples? Bangkok? Tokyo? It’s all around the corner anyways and surrounded by plenty of pubs, too! The latter – a massive additional bonus which you can’t always rely on abroad!
London is home to one of the most diverse culinary scenes in the world – and if you’re even half the food hedonist that we are – you’ll totally fall in love with it! From Mexican to Thai to Greek – UK’s capital has it all, and plenty of it. And the ability to easily tap into virtually any international cuisine with an almost guaranteed excellent experience is something I’ll always miss.
4. Strolling in Regent’s Park, Hampstead Heath, Richmond Park or any other of London’s great green spaces
With eight royal parks in central London alone, to say that the city has a few is an underestimation. Around 40% of London is green space (the sixth highest percentage in the world), so wherever you are, chances are that the closest park won’t be more than a 30-minute walk away. Whether it’s just a casual stroll, a picnic with friends, or some ‘it’s end of July already and high time I put my bathing suit on’ action – the parks of London are an excellent spot.
Here are some of our favourite parks:
Hampstead Heath: with its 320 hectares of green land, both hilly and wild forested patches, and three swimming ponds (a men’s, a women’s and a mixed one), Hampstead Heath makes for one of the best outdoor Sundays the capital can offer. And with some of London’s most expensive properties on its periphery, it’s also a good location for celebrity spotting if that’s your thing. The downside? Alcohol is usually not allowed in the ponds areas. A deal-breaker for some, surely, but if you can resist the temptation for some time, you can reward yourself with a pint or two later in one of the pubs around the park. The Bull & Last, The Spaniard’s Inn, The Flask and The Red Lion & Sun are some of our favourite – and some of the best gastro pubs in London.
Richmond Park: if you’re the type that prefers encountering animals rather than human beings when in nature (or in general), Richmond Park is the place for you. You’ll meet more deer than people there – there are 650+ of them, roaming freely in the park. The park also has great cycle paths of low to medium difficulty. And when it’s time to get back to society, Richmond Village has quite a bit of it. Stein’s offers a perfect pitstop on the way back to the train for a stein of beer and a Bavarian sausage.
Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill: we used to live in Camden, and Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill were two of the best aspects about this. For us, they were most often a site for our runs, a place for lazy summer days spent under the tree shade (can’t work out too much!), or home to bracing hikes up to the viewing platform on the top of Primrose Hill. When there, make sure you take a moment to converse with the spiritual sun, before admiring the fantastic views all across London. Regent’s Park is also home to a boating lake, wonderful ornamental gardens and the Open Air Theatre.
5. Ditching the music player and going to a gig instead
With so many gigs happening in London at any time, you can easily become a ‘live music only’ consumer. From the biggest names in the industry out there, through some more quirky choices, to little independent bands, London is buzzing with live music opportunities. The choice is so abundant, you actually need a rather robust planning system to make sure it doesn’t bypass you. I use the Bands In Town and Songkick apps to stay on top of it.
6. Museums, museums, museums
London houses some of the world’s most iconic and imaginative museums – and they’re usually very lively places, too. Some of our favourite are the Science Museum, V&A, Tate Modern, the British Museum, the Wellcome Collection, and the Imperial War Museum. Make sure you also check out the Churchill War Rooms, part of the latter but situated on different premises. All museums also offer free admission, introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 2011 as part of his “Education, education, education.” priority. There are some really quirky choices, too: the Crime Museum, Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, and Cartoon Museum to name a few.
7. Having a drink at a new place every day for more than ten years
As much as big cities can sometimes feel remote and unsettling, there is something wonderfully magical about the fact that you can have a drink at a new place in London every day for more than ten years. Here is just a handful of our (many!) favourite places:
The Vault at Milroy’s of Soho: accessible through a secret door in the bookcase at the back of Milroy’s at Soho, a small independent shop specialising in whisky, is The Vault – a wonderfully charming speakeasy bar in Soho. If expertly made cocktails, a candle-lit setting, exposed brick walls and rustic hardwood tables are your thing – you’ll love it too!
The Star At Night – cocktail bar offering more than 200 premium gins and specialising in the Copa Serve Gin & Tonic – all of this in a relaxed atmosphere and with table service.
The Lyric – a Victorian craft beer pub on the backstreets of Soho with a great choice of both draught and bottled beers. It tends to get very crowded inside but you can usually find a spot outside where you can be plastered between another customer and the wall. It’s totally worth it, though! We discovered it only recently, using the Craft Beer app, which I would definitely recommend – it’s a great way of discovering the best craft beer places in London.
Aqua Spirit – great cocktails in a rooftop bar just off Regent’s Street? Yes, please! One of the quieter spots in this part of London, too!