10 Things To Do in the Capital

Fortunately, in a city this diverse it’s impossible to run out of things to do...

Once you’ve lived in London till you know it like the palm of your hand, walked past the Big Ben countless times and been on the London Eye, you might safely think there is little left to discover. Fortunately, in a city this diverse it’s impossible to run out of things to do and new pictures to take.

Nowhere epitomises the life cycle of a city like the Docklands. The area has undergone tremendous change, from the worker’s slums of the Victorian era to today’s luxury apartments for the mega-rich. There is a strange beauty and soullessness that plague Heron Quays and Canary Wharf that neighbouring Hackney just doesn’t have; perhaps it’s the skyscrapers and branches of Smollensky’s that do it, pitted against the riverside docks. The former warehouses of Shadwell and Wapping have been transformed into plush studios and flats, but there is something quite delightful about strolling down the narrow streets they live on and ending up in one of the pubs with views over the Thames.

While we’re on the subject of the river, the Thames separates London into north and south, creating a palpable divide as inhabitants of both sections have a tendency to sneer at each other. Its importance cannot be underestimated, and any section of the river is worthy of time, whether it’s kicking back on a summer’s eve with a beer by the South Bank or walking along the Chelsea Embankment. If you happen to stroll along the Hammersmith Bridge after drinking at one of the riverside pubs, make sure you look for the hundreds of spiders that have colonised one side of the bridge, along with their impressively intricate webs.

Visit Borough Market. Extraordinarily expensive and hugely overcrowded, if you can it’s best to go on a Thursday or Friday when it’s slightly less busy and you actually get to see the wares on display. Foodies won’t be disappointed, be prepared to be awoken by the smells of Colston Bassett blue cheese, grilled spicy chorizo and giant Thai curries being prepared for your tasting pleasure. Plus you get to spend £15 on 100g of 18 month aged acorn-fed Spanish ham.

Explore one of London’s “villages”, which are essentially affluent pockets with plenty of trees and old-looking shops. Hampstead, Wimbledon, Greenwich, Walthamstow and Marylebone all have their very own self-contained hamlets, with upmarket restaurants and cafes that spill out onto the pavement on sunny days. There will probably be a farmer’s market taking place on a Sunday, but you won’t find a Wetherspoons or a Tesco for gold dust.
Do make time for the wonderful Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the London Zoo, but also, explore the Hunterian Museum, part of the Royal College of Surgeons and where you will find skeletons, surgical implements and embryos in glass jars. The Wellcome Collection on Euston Road also has shrunken heads, Chinese torture chairs and chastity belts.

Swim in the ponds at Hampstead, if only for the slightly surreal prospect of swimming outdoors in London. Being able to swim surrounded by the foliage of the heath is a lovely prospect, if a tad chilly, then again, some people are into masochism. There is a mixed pond as well as separate ponds for men and women, something which stems back to the more prudish 19th century, when they were first created.

Have at least one exorbitantly expensive meal where you eat things like smoked bone marrow and sea bream carpaccio. Have the attention of a sommelier to pair a wine to each dish and start with oysters and champagne, naturally. In terms of picking a restaurant you’re spoilt for choice, however you can narrow it down by deciding whether you want to see what all the fuss is about celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal (however at the time of writing, the latter’s newest venture, Dinner, is fully booked for the next 4 months).
Drink in a proper boozer that hasn’t been transformed into a swanky gastropub. The Coach & Horses has literary affiliations - Jeffrey Bernard was a patron, and the team behind Private Eye like to come here for lunch. Sam Smith’s pubs are good value and do what they say on the tin, i.e. serve drinks without any fanfare, and if you want to be able to say you had a pint where the Kray twins used to hang out, head to the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel.

The era of the independent book and record shop may be over now that high streets have replaced them with branches of HMV and Waterstones, but the odd example still exists, such as electronic music specialists Phonica in Soho, and vinyl shops Haggle Vinyl and On The Floor Records, not forgetting the ever popular Rough Trade with branches on Brick Lane and in Ladbroke Grove. Thumb through the second hand tomes at one of the shops on the Charing Cross Road or head to Daunt Books, which boasts the best selection of travel books in London.

Climb to the top of the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral if you’re feeling particularly fit; the eerie winding staircase has been named the Whispering Gallery as a light whisper resonates up to 100 feet away. For a more relaxing way of gaining a view, pick a hot summer’s night and watch the sun go down over Primrose Hill. Night owls will want to stay all night till sunrise, and many people turn up at 3am just for this purpose - if you are staying all night take some blankets as it does get chilly at the top.


Author:Leila Hawkins

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