Some people put London high on their list of cities of historical and cultural significance, but to me this city is the only non British spot in the whole country. No doubt you will be able to find all the usual attributes of British lifestyle: Buckingham palace guards, the Royal family, afternoon tea, double decker buses, Notting Hills houses and outdoor vintage markets. However London is called cosmopolitan city for a reason – it is so diverse and multicultural that those truly authentic features of culture inevitably become less prominent and diluted in the sea of others.
There are so many articles and guides on things to see in London, that I decided to list some lesser known parts of the city in my list of things to do. This list will work perfectly for someone visiting London for the second or third time.
1. Explore Shoreditch
Shoreditch is the ultimate hipster area of London. It has been a subject to considerable gentrification as of recently, partly brought here by street artists with their now highly valued murals and graffiti. The regular attributes of hipster lifestyle: cool bars, artisanal coffee shops, music venues, contemporary art galleries, vintage clothes boutiques and mexican food trucks are all present here. The overall vibe is relaxed, creative and somewhat chic. I have some weird obsession with these areas – it is interesting to witness how the hipster culture, so fixated on being different, in fact turns out to be the most generalised across the world. Country culture is always very distinctive and authentic because it was born in a secluded environment where travel was a luxury, the hipster culture on the other hand is the epitome of the globalised world, with absolutely identical areas popping up in New York, London, Berlin and Sydney.
2. Do The London East End Street Art Tour
The East End area provides great opportunity to learn more about London street art while sipping artisan coffee and watching people. The best street art walking tour can be found here – streetartlondon.co.uk
Not only will you be able to see the famous murals, but also discover some smaller and usually hidden art pieces and get some insight into the field from professional street artists, who happen to be guides on this tour.
3. Visit London Museums
London is packed with museums. You just have to figure out which academic field you are most interested in and whether it is history, art or science – London will cater to everyone and for free. You can’t beat London museums in how interactive they are – they are the ultimate learning source for all things imaginable. You will surely remember presented information while turning the wheels, opening drawers, playing computer games, watching videos and generally having lots of fun. I went to Science and Natural History museum. Both were incredibly engaging, well organised and informative. As far as contemporary art museums, Tate Modern would be your best bet though temporary exhibitions are always better there than the permanent one.
4. Go Crawling
So the British are known for their drinking culture, and what is the best way to experience it if not the pub crawl! You can either binge drink in a group of friends or if you are traveling alone, join one of the pub crawls organized by tour agent. The agency price range between 12 to 15 pounds and it will get you access to 4-5 bars and a shot of alcohol in each (in one of the bars we were served plain cranberry juice though). It is a good way to save money and meet some cool people along the way. Major party areas in the city are Shoreditch and Camden, with Camden being on a more mainstream side. One thing to remember on the night out in London – the tube service stops around 1 am and doesn’t restart until 5 am. The bus is a great alternative but you have to be sober enough to perform google search for the route.
5. Stroll the Markets
You might have to jump locations to visit all the markets but you can also combine those with a day tour in Central London or Shoreditch. There are three major all year open markets in London:
- Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London. It is a bit pricey however its proximity to London touristic attractions make it the perfect stop for hungry travellers. It offers all sorts of food from around the world: English, Thai, Mexican, Italian, Spanish. You can also easily stock up on souvenirs here in the form of biscuits, cheeses, granolas, ciders and cute bottles of English jams.
- Brick Lane Market is my favorite. It takes you through stacks of vintage clothes, handmade accessories, art prints, furniture and jewelry. It is considerably small but not nearly as packed as Borough market. It also attracts some progressive and fashionable crowd so is a great spot for people watching.
- Camden Market is the craziest of all three, but most of its craziness is artificially fostered for tourists. The market lost some of its appeal once tourists decided it was fun to spend money here, because the prices got higher and some unique vendors got replaced by street fashion brands. It even got its own full blown online store, which is kind of weird and takes away from the idea of market as a hang out spot for locals.
London is about new, exciting and sometimes uncomfortable experiences rather than leisuring walks around sightseeing places. I am starting to think that living and making money here is the only way to truly enjoy the city, otherwise the real tourist attractions are limited, the weather is grim and gloomy, British culture is almost non existent, customer service is appalling, everything is madly expensive and, as far as new experiences, – you will always miss the best shows/concerts/exhibitions because they just never happen in the same time period you are visiting. It is hard to be a tourist in London!