I have lived in London for most of my life and know there is far more to London that Big Ben and the London Eye. Of course you want to experience the London you see on TV and read in the guide books, but if you want to ‘get under the skin’ of this great city, and experience it the way a local would, read on.
London for most is not only the City of London in the centre but also the surrounding London boroughs. It is a melting pot of ethnicities, and an obvious example of where stereotyping prevails amongst the locals;
You only live in central London if you are filthy rich (think £30m townhouses in Westminster), South London is usually a bit dodgy (think the 2011 London riots in Clapham Junction & Croydon) but becoming increasingly popular amongst 20 somethings (love Brixton!), West & South West London is for the well-off upper/middle classes (think Made in Chelsea & yummy mummies in Chiswick), North & North East London is for the cool kids (recent popularity of Hoxton & Shoreditch), and East London is pretty poor and try-hard.
Don’t shoot me if you live in one of these places and don’t agree, they are stereotypes as I said, but these stereotypes are what give different parts of London such strong personalities.
So here are my suggestions of where to go and what to do in order to get a real taste of London through a locals eyes:
1. Go to a festival (or 2)
…SW4 (an electronic dance festival) on Clapham Common on Saturday & Sunday of August Bank Holiday weekend, followed by Notting Hill Carnival (Europe’s biggest street festival) in North West London on the Bank Holiday Monday is a great way to spend the long weekend to reach euphoric levels of fun! Be sure to leave Notting Hill Festival before 6pm though as it can get a little unsafe.
…Love Box in East London’s Victoria Park in July is a great example of a mass market British festival and is one the masses definitely flock to each year to have a blowout weekend (no camping and finishes at around 11 though – as does SW4- so bear that in mind!).
…or perhaps one of the many music events that happen in Hyde Park every year.
2. Eat at one of the thousands of amazing restaurants
…Gilgamesh (££) in Camden’s Stables Market is awesome for Pan-Asian yumminess in a cavernous first floor hall that you access by escalator. Some celebs turn up here at the weekends but it’s not too pricey for London.
…Tsunami (££) in Clapham North or Soho is a very classy Japanese restaurant with the BEST sushi I have tasted in London.
…Mein Tai (£) has been voted London’s best Vietnamese restaurant and my monthly visits to this delightful place in Clapham Junction can vouch for that! You can’t book ahead so be prepared to wait (it’s worth it) and bring cash to pay as they don’t take cards.
…Brixton Village (£) – many many cool, cheap cafe/restaurants line this hip collection of undercover alleyways in South London. Get there quick though before it loses is authenticity! (again cash only).
…Sketch (£££) is the only place in London to hold a Michelin Star for its afternoon tea and is definitely not cheap, but this quirky restaurant in central London (which has pod like toilets that play out the sound of frogs croaking!) is a fun visit for a special occasion.
…Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (£££) again not cheap (sorry!!) but an amazing restaurant run by one of Britain’s best chefs. I went for my 30th birthday and fully recommend.
…Anywhere on Brick Lane in East London for an awesome Curry (it’s famous for it!)
3. Party all night
…XoYo near Old Street in North London, Fabric in Farringdon central London, Kensington Roof gardens in South West London for some big club nights.
…Clapham (South), Brixton (South), Angel (North), Hoxton (NE), Ealing (West), Covent Garden (central) & Soho (central) are all good shouts for good pubs & bars.
4. Fireworks in Battersea Park
…My go-to place for watching fireworks on Bonfire Night (if you are in London in November) outside of being crushed and cold in central London. They are fantastic and that’s where the SW local crew usually go!
5. Go to the cinema
…No not the Odeon but any one of the hundreds of outdoor/theatre style cinemas that have become so popular over recent years. Look out for Secret Cinema who don’t tell you the film or the location until last minute, then you dress up to reflect the theme (think Bugsy Malone) and get to be part of an all immersive film experience where film & live performance merge (no you don’t have to perform!) for some good clean old fashion fun.
6. Go to the beach
…what you didn’t know there was a beach in London?? Every summer a pretty cool man-made beach appears in Camden! 150 tonnes of the finest sand, a pier with arcade games, fish & chips and a swimming pool entices some of London’s coolest young locals!
7. Take a walk down Southbank
…This one may well appear on the tourist list but it’s just as popular with locals. With plenty of wicked restaurants and a pretty cool view of the Thames and the London eye, this is one of my fav places in London. In the summer they create a small village where you can eat, drink and be merry….I’ve been seen there many a time!
8. Shop at Spitalfields Market
…You may well have heard plenty about Borough Market and as much as I love it (along with thousand’s of others) is far too crowded these days, so I much prefer to head over to Spitalfields in East London which is a little bit cooler and a lot less crowded for a wander around! It’s not food focused like Borough but has rows upon rows of vintage and bohemian fashion stalls, boutique shops & restaurants.
9. Off to the races!
…Although not technically in London, Epsom or Windsor races just outside London is a great day out to put a bet on a nag (horse!) and drink in the sunshine (if you’re lucky) with some mates whilst dressed to the nines.
10. Picnic on one of the many commons across London
…This is a standard local Londoner thing to do in the summer at the weekend. You will often find the masses playing frisbee and/or football, eating and drinking (do you sense a theme here!) and generally chilling out in the limited sunshine that Britain has to offer on one of the many green urban spaces across London!
And there you have it, 10 things to do in London that locals do, and some of my all time favourite ways of spending my time in my home city.
Have you been to London or live here and have some favourite places you would like to share? Comments below if you please 😉