I have a love-hate relationship with London, always have and always will. But recently I really wanted to give it a chance again – explore the city, and especially some of the lesser known areas. London is one of the most prestigious cities in the world and it certainly has a lot to offer tourists, but what about those of us who live close by, and want to explore without the crowds and chaos?
London is home to historical sights, world-class shopping, top-notch sporting, and wild nightlife. I’ve done the tourist attractions multiple times, and when me and Theo decided to head to London last weekend we picked four places we wanted to explore more: Hackney, St Katharine’s & Wapping, Hoxton and Soho. Armed with my handy Marco Polo Travel Guide we headed on the train to London for a fun-filled 48 hours.
HOW TO GET THERE
Travel to London by train, by Eurostar, by ferry, by coach, by car, by motorcycle, or by plane into one of London’s five airports. If you are like me, based in the UK, the quickest transportation is the train as it drops you straight into central, however if you are coming from abroad simply jump on a flight to Heathrow, City or Luton and jump on a train from there.
WHEN TO GO
London can be visited at any time of year, as it has a mild climate and extreme weather is rare. Visit in the spring to enjoy longer daylight hours and mild weather, with temperatures averaging 11° to 15°C however spring rainfall is common. The summer is a great time to visit, with warm (even hot!) weather where you can make the most of London’s green spaces, beer gardens and rooftop bars. Temperatures average 18°C and can go above 30°C – perfect if you’re attending one of London’s summer music festivals or outdoor cinemas. And then autumn is mild, 11° to 15°C and you can enjoy a variety of annual events, from the Totally Thames festival to Halloween celebrations, and although London is colder in winter, average temperatures of between 2 and 6°C mean you’ll still be able to fully enjoy the city – just make sure you wrap up warm!
WHAT TO DO
Morning At A Museum
As some as you get into London, jump on the tube and head over to South Kensington and the National History Museum. Only go if you are early as the queues start! The new display in the main hall is of a blue whale skeleton that will be supported by technology that allows smartphone and tablet users to watch the whale ‘come alive’ in the hall. Aside from this, the museum also contains some of earth’s tiniest life forms including insects and a whole host of beasts in the Blue Zone.
Check For Last-Minute Theatre Tickets At Leicester Square
After lunch, hop onto the tube to Leicester Square station, and find yourself some discounted tickets to many shows are available for that evening. The discounts are available at theatre box offices too, plan in advance which show you’d like to see, and head there to try and pick up some last minute tickets.
Shopping in Carnaby + Soho
Carnaby is the cheerful pedestrianised area in north Soho just behind Regent Street. Here you can find both chain and many smaller independent boutiques. A narrow passage leads into Kingly Court at the Southern end of Carnaby Street, where there are three floors of shops, studios and a choice of restaurants with an area for outside dining and nestled in the heart of Carnaby is the Newburgh Quarter, a diverse and distinctive shopping, dining, just a few minutes walk from Soho and Oxford Circus. I found some great high-street stores and record shops whilst wandering around this area.
Visit the National Gallery Or The British Museum
The British Museum is a short walk or train ride north, welcoming nearly 7 million visitors annually in recent years, it’s easy to see why the museum is such a popular attraction. With a vast collection of objects from the whole wide spectrum of cultural history..
Explore Covent Garden
Covent Garden is one of my favourite places in London – with a fun atmosphere and lots to do. Here you can find street artists, high-street shops, tasty restaurants and even a daily market. Vibrant Covent Garden in London’s West End is a must-see destination for anyone who enjoys shopping, theatre, restaurants, bars, history and culture. There are several smaller areas within Covent Garden that are worth exploring such as the The Opera Quarter, St Martin’s Courtyard, Seven Dials, Neal’s Yard … to name a few.
Visit the Tower of London
The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 (Ranulf Flambard) until 1952, although that was not its primary purpose. I headed her early on the Sunday mornign so I could beat the crowds, and I picked a beautiful day. I wandered around the outside of the building, right across Tower Bridge to get some wonderful shots, before heading inside to explore.
Explore street art in Hoxton and Shoreditch
The area of Hoxton and Shoreditch is a street art lovers dream. Graffiti is seen as art and something beautiful, instead of simply being vandalism. So many pieces of art have popped up over London over the past few years, thanks to Banksy and a few others, the city is alive with street art in Hoxton and Shoreditch more specifically. The area hosts many famous pieces of street art, including walls that have been decorated by leading local street artists such as Banksy, Eine, D*Face, Sweet Toof and Pure Evil while many of the world’s leading artists such as Swoon, Roa, Blek Le Rat and Vhils among others have placed beautiful artworks on the street. The area supports a thriving community including street artists and graffiti writers, street art galleries, street artist studios, suppliers and other creative industries.
Buy fresh flowers at Columbia Road Flower Market
Columbia Road Flower Market is a street market in East London, England which has a wonderful range of weird and wonderful flowers on sale for passing people to buy and take home. Columbia Road is a road of Victorian shops off Hackney Road in Tower Hamlets. The market is in operation every Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm, with traders arriving from 4 am to set up their stalls. There is a wide range of plants, bedding plants, shrubs, bulbs and freshly cut flowers is available at competitive prices and the smells and colours there are incredible. Many of the traders are the second or third generation of their family to sell at the market so you really feel like you are giving back to the community, rather than buying from high-street shops. The market also has shops selling bread and cheeses, antiques, garden accessories, unusual international edibles, soap, candlesticks and Buddhist artefacts.
Hackney Walk, situated on Morning Lane in E9, is home to London’s very first luxury outlet destination where you can find names such as Burberry, Zadig & Voltaire, Aquascutum, Joseph, Nike, Pringle of Scotland and so many more. Located five minute walk from Hackney Central, the new shopping district is setting the standard for high-end luxury goods in London. When it comes to shopping, nothing beats finding a killer discount that keeps you feeling smug for a week.
Here you can find slashed prices of up to 70% on your favourite designer brands without feeling as if you’re in a cut-price store. I headed to a few of the shops and picked up a brand new bag from the lovely ladies at Folli Follie. Head to my Instagram to see!
I had a lovely 48 wandering London and used my trusty guide to keep me heading in the right direction and I came across so many lesser known shops, cafes and restaurants because of this. Marco Polo Travel Guide books trump other equivalent maps because each time the book mentions a place, whether it’s a cafe, bar or landmark, it also makes sure it references the map co-ordinates too so that you can find the place super easy. BINGO!
WHERE TO STAY
There are an abundance of gorgeous hotels, B+Bs, places for hire and even canal boats. For me though, I had always wanted to stay at trendy The Hoxton in Shoreditch. The Hoxton hotels offer a unique sleep, eat, work and play experience in London and Europe with creative meeting space, on-site dining and private venue hire. I really love their style and how trend led they are, with a great atmosphere and cleverly designed bedrooms. They’ve also their own restaurant downstairs, The Hoxton Grill restaurant, which is run in partnership with Soho House & Co, they’ve a destination bar and The Apartment, which is their meetings and events space.
Each of the rooms comes with free fresh milk and water (they knew I loved a brew!), a free light breakfast bag to keep those hunger pangs at bay including a granola, yoghurt, banana and fresh orange juice, free wi-fi and international calls and a neighbourhood guide in each room so you can explore the area at ease.
WHERE TO EAT
Lunch at Ember Yard, Soho
Ember Yard is a new-style tapas bar, taking inspiration from Spanish and Italian techniques by cooking over wood and charcoal. I headed here for lunch on the first day in London and it was relaxed, friendly and the food was amazing. We opted for an array of small plates from the open plan kitchen, and dived into a cocktail or three. The menus are influenced by travels around the regions of Spain and Italy, in particular the Basque country and Tuscany, enjoy cleverly curated tapas options, charcuterie and puddings.
Pizza at Homeslice
For quick, simple and delicious wood-fired pizzas, Homeslice is an absolute home run of a restaurant. Huge slices cost £4 or you can gobble down a 20″ monster for £20. They serve unusual takes on classic Italian food, including toppings such as goats shoulder, savoy cabbage and sumac yoghurt.
Ice-cream pit stop at Scoop, Soho
In our opinion, this classic parlour sells some of the tastiest ice cream in town. Normally we’d recommend the authentically Italian straccitella or biscotti flavour, but for this week, it’s hard to look beyond the dark chocolate temptation that is Cioccolato Extra Fondente, straight from Madagascar.
Lunch at Legs, Hackney
Located in Hackney, East London, Legs offers delicious options for lunch, and wine-focused dining in the evening. Legs is driven by seasonality and quality produce, with a daily-changing menu. Me and Theo loved this place, and we opted to sit outside for our meal, in the sunshine. I went for a scrambled eggs, with chorizo on toast and it was insane – going back again soon!
Coffee at Timber Yard, Soho
If you’re looking for a bright, fresh, unpretentious and modern coffee shop then Timber Yard is right at the top of the tree. Combined with this top quality produce is a menu brimful of sweet, moist cakes and an array of sandwiches. I always head here if I need a little break from chaotic London.
Coffee at Paper Dress Vintage, Hackney
This is both a shop and cafe in one. What could be better? After wandering around Hackney on the second day we headed here for a coffee and a browse around their shop. Paper Dress Vintage is a East London vintage clothing boutique selling clothing, shoes and accessories from the 1900–80’s. It’s not just about the clothes, though – there’s a café, bar and events space too, with parties known to be thrown.
Dinner at Box Park, Shoreditch
Nestled in the East End just beside Shoreditch High Street. This permanent pop-up mall is home to a wide range of restaurants and cafés, and here are the best. BOXPARK Shoreditch fuses modern street food & pop-up shops to deliver a community of independent brands specialising in fashion, arts, food & drink. Find here Chop’d, FalafeLicious and Cottons Rhum Shack.
*This is a sponsored post, but all views and travel excitement my own