Maybe you don’t know London at all. Or you have been there once or twice before on a weekend break. But perhaps you are one of those business people who travel often, in and out, sometimes on the same day… and you are starting to become a bit blasé about the place. If you are part of the latter, well this article was written with you in mind.
The old saying goes that when a man is tired of London he is tired of life. Allow me to disagree.
You can get well and truly fed up with London. There you go, I said it.
As someone who used to squeeze into the Northern Line during rush hour each day, was once told to wait two hours to get a table at a trendy Soho restaurant (never again) and saw half my monthly wages evaporate in rent, I can claim to know a thing or two about our capital.
London can be exhausting. Central London in particular can at times seem a maze of people, concrete and glass skyscrapers where every street is lined with the same coffee shop chains, supermarkets and fast food outlets. The irony is they keep changing, but they still feel the same. If Japanese ramen noodle bars go out of fashion, they are swiftly replaced by the latest low-carb, high-protein Korean inspired franchise. This city has an insatiable appetite for all things new.
And don’t get me started on gentrification and hipsters. You will not see me paying five quid for a bowl of breakfast cereals, thanks very much.
Another London is possible though. I am referring to those family run Indian curry houses in Southall with the best food outside Delhi. Or Arsenal FC supporter’s pubs ideal for pre-match drinks. The Art Deco cinema turned bingo club in Tooting. And those late night Turkish kebab takeaways inherent to London’s boozy nightlife. That’s right. A more down-to-earth London. Truly multicultural, more intimate and less hyper. Forget Buckingham Palace parades, Oxford street shopping and the overrated London Eye or Shard. There is life outside Zone 1. Get on the tube and experience an altogether different city.
How to get there
London has six commercial airports located at varying distances from the centre. I recommend choosing the airport that is closest to your final destination if possible, as it will save you time and money. For instance, if you are going to Croydon, it will be much more convenient for you to fly to London Gatwick airport even if the flight ticket may be slightly more expensive than flying to Luton or Southend.
All airports are well connected to central London with trains and buses, especially Heathrow. However, even public transport can be expensive and not entirely reliable. So why not pay a little extra and travel comfortably? You should worry about packing your suitcase, not about whether you are going to make it to the airport on time or not. Book a driver online with ShuttleDirect and just enjoy the ride!
Located in west London, the Kew gardens are more than a simple garden or park. The place boasts one of the largest and most diverse collection of living plants in the entire world.
Highlights include a Chinese style pagoda and the famous treetop walkway, a tall structure winding through tree tops. Also worth visiting are the plant houses. Some of them date back to Victorian times, where exotic flora can escape the harsh British winters. There are walk tours available, children’s workshops and many more family-friendly activities so even the youngest ones are guaranteed to have a fun time.
Nearest tube Station: Kew Gardens
Also located in leafy west London is the biggest of all royal parks. I am referring of course to Richmond Park. Covering over 2,000 acres (850 hectares) this is the capital’s biggest open space.
True to the spirit of English landscaping, Richmond park is an idyllic expansion of wild nature. Deer herds, rabbits and many bird species roam freely while it is also one of the best places in London for horse riding. At the highest point of the park, you will find Pembroke Lodge, an elegant Georgian mansion. With views over the Thames Valley, it is one of the most sought after venues in the UK for wedding receptions.
Nearest tube station: Richmond
Tooting Bec Lido
Time for a splash. You may not be aware of this but Londoners love sunbathing and outdoor swimming. It is not something they can do very often, so open air pools like this one in south London are extremely popular during the summer months.
Tooting Bec Lido is in fact home to the South London Swimming Club. However, between May and September it is open to the general public. It is the largest swimming pool in Britain, measuring 100 yards (91m) long and 33 yards (30m) wide. The colourful changing huts are the same as when the lido opened over one hundred years ago.
Nearest tube station: Tooting Bec.
If I had to choose somewhere in London where to spend the whole day that would be Greenwich as I know there are lots of things to do. For instance, you have the National Maritime Museum, a great place to learn about Britain’s history with the seas. The Cutty Sark, the fastest clipper ship of its time. There is also Greenwich market, where you can find antiques and food stalls. And a beautiful park crowned by the Royal Observatory and the Planetarium at the top of the hill. This is where the meridian line was originally drawn. You can stand on top of this line with one foot in the west and one in the east.
You will also find the Queen’s house, a former royal residence from the XVII century. The Old Royal Naval College, now home to the University of Greenwich. And even the Fan Museum, with a unique collection of over 3,000 handheld fans. As well as bars, restaurants, comedy clubs… You cannot get bored in Greenwich. The best way to get there from central London is by boat with one of the Thames Clippers. You can use your Oyster card to pay for the ticket.
Nearest tube Station: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich on the DLR.
Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Known by most people as Neasden Temple, it is Europe’s first traditional Hindu temple, and the UK’s biggest. This impressive example of Indian architecture was built entirely from donations with no government help. The complex consists of two areas; the actual temple or mandir and the community centre housing an exhibition on Hinduism, library, sports club and more.
The temple is open to all, whether you belong to the Hindu faith or not. In November, thousands of people come from all over the UK to worship and celebrate Diwali, one of the most important festivals of the Hindu calendar. It is the perfect occasion for a visit and enjoy the magnificent fireworks display.
Nearest tube station: Neasden
God’s Own Junkyard
Welcome to neon wonderland. Tucked away in an industrial estate in northeast London is the most extraordinary collection of vintage neon signs you could ever imagine. From “Girls Girls Girls” lights used by Soho’s sex industry to soft drink advertisements and movie props.
God’s Own Junkyard is an unconventional gallery that has elevated unused, unwanted neon junk to a rainbow coloured art form. You can also get something to eat or drink at the Rolling Scones café. Best of all, entry is free.
Nearest tube station: Walthamstow Central
While Brixton is at the end of the Victoria line, it is not far at all from central London. This once grubby part of London saw David Bowie being born here, and was also the scene of violent race riots in the 1980’s. However, like many other parts of London, it has seen property values rise over time and has become gentrified. Yet despite these changes, it is still largely seen as the epicentre of the black community. Nelson Mandela visited the area at his own special request in 1996. Rock down Electric Avenue like Eddy Grant and witness all the shops with African, Caribbean, South American and Asian products.
Brixton has many bars and pubs that open till late. However, my favourite spot is Brixton Village. It is a covered market packed with cheap restaurants and cafés from all over the world. It can get quite busy during weekends, and there is often a queue for the toilets, but it is still worth the trip. Alternatively you can go to the area’s newest addition, Pop Brixton, a community initiative with plenty of street food and many cultural events.
Nearest tube station: Brixton
Craft beer sales have exploded in recent years among a public often mistreated by global corporations with rich marketing budgets and poor taste buds. Indeed, many local craft beers are now being swallowed up by bigger brands eager to cash in on the trend.
But don’t let this put you off from visiting one of London’s many awesome breweries. I have chosen the Fulller’s Brewery, as it is one of London’s most traditional and visitor friendly breweries. Located in Chiswick, they have been brewing beer at the Griffin brewery site for hundreds of years. Their most famous brew is the London Pride ale, which can be found in many UK pubs and beyond.
You can book a tour (over 18’s only) and a guide will give you an overview of their history, as well as all the steps required to produce that perfect pint before culminating with a tasting session.
Nearest tube station: Stamford Brook
Crystal Palace Dinosaurs
This London suburb takes its name from an exhibition that took place in a wonderful plate-glass structure that stood there from 1854 to 1936, when it was destroyed by a fire. It is also the home of Crystal Palace FC, one of London’s professional football clubs.
My favourite place to go around here is Crystal Palace Park. The Victorian park is in itself a very pleasant experience, with a lake, a free maze and a giant chess board. The park also offers amazing views of central London from the highest point of the Norwood Ridge. But what makes it stand out from other parks are a series of life size dinosaur sculptures. These “monsters” representing a wide range of geological ages, can be found lurking around the lake. They were commissioned in 1852, way before any Jurassic Park movie, and are completely unknown to most tourists.
Nearest tube station: Crystal Palace Overground station.
Romford Greyhound Stadium
Why not head to the races in this slice of East London? And I don’t mean horses though… but dogs! Opened in 1929, it is one of only two stadiums left in the capital dedicated to this popular sport and has a capacity for 4,300 visitors.
Races take place five times per week at various different times. Place your bets, order a meal and some drinks while you watch these athletic greyhounds race each other around the track. It could be an ideal venue for entertaining clients or even a birthday party.
Nearest railway station: Romford