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London Guide for the Uninitiated
French version : Guide de Londres pour les non-initiés
London means different things for different people. For some, it can be a place of patriotism and glory, whereby images of the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and Nelson’s Column will parade across the back of one’s eye. Or perhaps its attraction lies in its cultural diversity, evoking smells of steam-cooked Taiwanese pork buns and BBQ-fried jerk chicken, exhaled from tiny back-alleys. Or maybe, for others, London is a place of hedonism, be it laced with crystal glass highballs and million-pound views, or heavy basslines, pumped out from clubs situated beneath the plethora of railway arches dotted across the city. I have attempted to include all popular spots while slipping in a few hidden gems, so you can experience London to its fullest.
Popular sites to see
Whether or not you are interested in history, the famous landmarks are well worth a sight, if only for their architectural magnificence and bucket-list statuses. With that in mind, take a walk over Westminster Bridge and view the splendor of Britain’s 500-year-old Houses of Parliament; book a tour if you are politically interested. Continue on to Trafalgar Square, crane your neck up at Nelson’s Column and take a hike around the National Portrait Gallery, before wandering up to Buckingham Palace.
There are many others which you also don’t want to miss. Here is an extensive list of the most popular site seeing destinations, so you won’t miss anything.
- London eye
Top Pubs you don’t want to miss
As with any good trip, your visit to London should begin (and end) in a pub. Pubs are the essence of British culture; it was in a pub where Lord of the Rings was first drafted, and where the infamous Gunpowder Plot was conscripted, incriminating the name of Guy Fawkes forever more. London is home to some of the most historical and eclectic pubs in Britain, with everything from dark, crumbling caves for interiors to glittering cavernous halls. To get you started, here are London’s 5 most popular pubs according to TripAdvisor:
1. The Mayflower Pub, Rotherhithe. This pub is almost 400 years old and its owners have tried to retain its original features and ambience as much as possible, only with a highly plausible update on the food menu. A good starting point for a pub crawl around Rotherhithe that will quite literally take you back in time.
2. The Queen’s Head, Piccadilly Circus. For a welcome respite from the big shops and gaudy advertisements of modern Central London head to this independent pub that dates back to 1736. Sink some real ale and chow down on some hearty food in this surprisingly good value central location.
3. The Andover Arms, Hammersmith. If you find yourself out in the deep unknown of West London, The Andover Arms will feed, water and bed you for the night in the comfortable surroundings of a traditional English pub, but with just a touch of fancy so that it feels a little bit special.
4. The Victoria, Paddington. This pub is a good bolt hole to counterbalance the wide open spaces of nearby Hyde Park. A Fuller’s pub, expect a cosy atmosphere and some classic London beer whilst you revel in the fact that Charles Dickens wrote some of his last novel, Our Mutual Friend, whilst sat in your very spot.
Arms, Kensington. The Churchill Arms is a heart-warmingly quaint little pub found in the shadows of the royal Kensington Palace. Another Fuller’s pub, this merry and comfortable establishment should round off your visit to the classy Kensington High Street and Gardens perfectly, with some good Thai grub on offer to remind you how two cultures can live so cooperatively side-by-side.
- Tamesis Dock: If you are wondering around parliament, this is a perfect stop for a break just an 8-minute walk from parliament. Take a walk just over the bridge, turn right, and carry on walking until you see it. It is a pub on a boat, docked up on the Thames. On top of the dock is a seating area, where you can watch the sunset over parliament and the surrounding city with a cold beer, and some great pub food.
- A Cheeky Secret on the Cheap. (Keep this one hush): If you are looking for a quiet place to have some very cheap drinks in the center of London, well you are very lucky you have read this article. If you are travelling on the underground, you will likely come across Euston Square. Get off! Most people will go and spend a huge amount at the Euston Tap down the road (worth a look though). However even closer, 10 meters from the main exit, you will see 336 in big text on the nearest building. Forgive me for not giving the street name, I won’t make it that easy for you. Go in and turn immediately to the door on your right. For 2.50 as pint, where you will usually pay around 6, this is the place to have a few cheeky ones, before you move on to the next thing on your agenda. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself.
- Putt in the Park: In the Park (next to Acton central railway station) is mini golf where you can get cold beers at the bar while you play. It looks very tranquil, with small streams running through it, and a lot of greenery. A fun activity, up to 2-4 persons per game. Consider going next door to the Station House after, (can’t miss it) for some fantastic pizzas.
Top Destinations for Nightlife
London nightlife is awash with diversity and eclecticism. No matter who you are or what your preferences are, there is a community out there that shares your values, be it top-quality claret, raucous cabaret, endless comedy or all-night clubbing. The following is a list of three neighbourhoods famed for their unique nightlife and why they need to be checked out:
1. Camden Town Camden is the kookiest, wackiest part of London, where all manner of arts are celebrated and encouraged. The markets contain bargain handmade clothes and leather goods, foods from all over the world and artwork in abundant. You’ll find the pubs and street corners buzzing with quirky characters and loud live music. Check out The Hawley Arms for rock star fame and Camden Town Brewery to see where the infamous Camden Beer is brewed.
2. Shoreditch Shoreditch is one for late night bars and street food. There’s practically a street food festival on every street, and a new bar or restaurant at least every fortnight. Shoreditch is quite pricey, but the competition keeps the quality of food and drinks up to scratch. Check out The Blues Kitchen for hip-swinging live music every night and 8 Hoxton Square for top-quality food.
3. Mayfair Mayfair is for those who want to splash some cash on high-end dining and classy drinking. For a genuine Mayfair experience that doesn’t break the bank head to Kitty Fisher’s, whose namesake became famous for her taste in London’s wealthy men and their lavish lifestyle.
4. Oxford street If you love shopping for designer brands, this is certainly the place to be. It has a comprehensive high-end selection in between many coffee shops, restaurants, and bars.
Going off the beaten track
London is renowned for its national museums and art galleries, but if you want to experience something a little different it also doesn’t disappoint.
First, we have ‘Sir John Soane's Museum’, the former residence of the architect of the Bank of England. Architectural drawings, works of art and antiquities abound, including the Egyptian Sarcophagus of Seti. If social history is more your area of interest, then the ‘Geffrye Museum’ explores the English Home from 1600 to the present day. With a focus on the living room, you may even see your own home style featured.
Once you have had a cocktail or two at ‘The Savoy Hotel’s American Bar’, head next door and check out the hotel’s museum. Photos of famous guests and even vintage alcohol make an appearance. Cheers!
For those with more unusual interests, there is plenty on offer. ‘The Grant Museum of Zoology’ hosts ‘Dead Life Drawing’ where you can sketch a host of ‘still-life’ models, all with a glass of wine in hand. ‘The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities’ houses a mixture of bizarre and grim exhibits and even offers a petting evening where you can meet live millipedes. Depending whether you find old dolls creepy or fascinating ‘The Pollock Toy Museum’ might make it on to your list.
Finally, if you enjoy the macabre, ‘The Old Operating Theatre Museum’ and ‘The Museum of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’ might be to your taste. Here you can experience what it was like to undergo basic surgery plus get up close to leeches and a mummified hand.
The music hall was very much a part of London life in the last couple of centuries and ‘Wilton’s Music Hall’ in Tower Hamlet’s recreates the atmosphere with a variety of performances.
If you are a fan of Dan Brown you may want to pay a visit to the ‘Temple’ area of London. Established by the Knights Templar in the 12th Century this area has been central to the practice of law over the centuries, plus it played a pivotal role in ‘The Da Vinci Code’.
If you want to see life as it was lived in the 18th Century head to ‘Dennis Severs’ House’. This house looks as though the family who called it home have just walked away, with beds unmade and food on the table. If you enjoy National Trust properties, then surprisingly there is one right in the heart of the capital. ‘Fulham Palace’ offers art, history and a diverse range of events throughout the year.
Life in Roman times can even be glimpsed at the ‘Guildhall Art Gallery’. When the building was restored in 1988 the circular walls of an amphitheatre, with all its bloody history, came into view.
There are also plenty of places to explore in London if you enjoy a boutique shopping experience. ‘Camden Passage’ is probably the most well-known centre of independent stores, with its cluster of cafes and shops, many of which have a vintage vibe. Perhaps less well known but equally attractive to visit is ‘Little Venice’. Here is a hub of waterside cafes, shops and restaurants and you can even jump on canal boats to take you to your next destination.
As much as London is a bustling urban centre what makes it so attractive to visitors is the array of green spaces dotted around the capital.
Central to all activity in London is, of course, the Thames and you can travel along the 40 mile ‘Thames Path’ on foot or bike. Why not stop off at ‘The Prospect of Whitby’, one of Charles Dickens’ favourite pubs, for lunch.
If you need a little Zen in your life, then the ‘Japanese Roof Garden at the School of Oriental and African Studies’ might be the perfect place to relax. With the garden’s focus on forgiveness, all will seem well with the world after a visit. You can continue the Japanese theme by visiting the ‘Kyoto Japanese Garden’ in Kensington.
‘Postman’s Park’, a short distance from ‘St. Paul’s Cathedral’, is dedicated to bravery. The touching exhibits are dedicated to those who have lost their life trying to save others. Download the app related to the park if you want to learn more about each individual featured.
Before you choose which restaurant you want to head to in London decide on exactly what you want to eat as there is something to suit almost every taste.
Ice-cream is catapulted into the future at ‘Chin Chin Labs’ in Camden. A variety of frozen dairy treats are concocted by a generous application of liquid nitrogen. Next, travel from the future to the past, and visit a traditional stalwart of London culinary expertise, the ‘Pie and Mash Shop’. If you dare, you could even try the jellied eels.
In London recently there has been an upsurge in restaurants who offer seclusion. ‘Back in 5 Minutes’. ‘Four O Nine’, ‘Old Tom and English’ and ‘Freud’ are all great examples. Some of these restaurants are reservation-only, so research each one before you head out.
Matched by this trend for exclusivity is the desire to enjoy the decadence of cocktails. ‘Callooh Callay’ in Shoreditch, ‘Happiness Forgets’, ‘Love & Liquor’, ‘The Lucky Pig’, ‘Mr. Fogg’s’ and the creatively named ‘Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Bar’ will have you up late with not a care in the world about that early-morning alarm. In fact, the enjoyment of the night will more than make up for your heavy head in the morning.
Want to take that feeling of living in the era of prohibition to a whole other level? Then take a look at what’s on offer at ‘The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town’. This speakeasy bar hidden within the Shoreditch branch of ‘The Breakfast Club’ can only be accessed by a Smeg Fridge. If you do gain access, remember to abide by the one rule of the establishment, never leave by the fridge door.
Do your own research
When in doubt, look to TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor holds more than 320 million reviews of over 6.2 million businesses and attractions worldwide, with 200 new contributions posted every minute.[i] London has ranked highest on MasterCard’s Global Destinations Cities Index as the most visited city in the world for the past 7 years. That’s a lot of visitors, with a lot of opinions.
For local knowledge, your point of call should be Time Out London. Time Out has a large workforce that includes volunteer contributions from your everyday Joe trying to get his entertainment fix, to full-time slaves of the recreational lifestyle, who spend every waking minute sourcing the best up-and-coming and underground bars, restaurants and events, and visiting all those with undeserved hype so that you don’t have to. Independent guides are numerous too, covering lots of sectors, whether you are looking to do London on a budget, London with a team, or London as a couple, to name but three.
Social media will also be massively helpful. Good bars, restaurants, journalists and entertainment entrepreneurs are generally good friends with each other, so by following one’s Twitter or Instagram thread, a plethora of local, independent and specialised businesses will open up to you.
For gigs and music events you’re really spoilt for
choice. Resident Advisor will cover all your electronic music needs, showcasing the most popular current events alongside an intricate list of clubs and live music to satisfy even the most obscure tastes. If you have particular artists in mind then track them on
Bandsintown, a website with a huge database of artists that has all the information on live events, sending out notifications when new shows are
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