As I was flicking through Tom Jones’ (different Tom Jones) “Tired of London, Tired of Life: One thing a day to do in London” I was surprised to see a few things missing. To be fair, London is stuffed full with places worth going to and narrowing them down to just 365 is a tough one. I’ve only managed to check off ten of those things to do, including the British Museum, the Southbank, the Natural History Museum and the Tate Modern gallery, but there is plenty more of the city that I have seen. Some of my choices may be somewhat obvious but I do consider them staples. Needless to say, there were too many for just one post.
#1: Sit by the fountains on Trafalgar Square
I generally don’t like crowded places. Trafalgar Square is a massive draw for tourists but that doesn’t make me love it any less. For somewhere so busy, I find it surprisingly calm. Having a touristy picture by the lions is a must but my favourite thing to do is just sit my the fountain- getting slightly sprayed with water- watching the world go by and spotting the slightly-out-of-place-but-not-at-all-out-of-place blue chicken.
#2: Explore the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery
There is another reason I love Trafalgar Square- its proximity to the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. I used to always get the train in-and-out of Charing Cross station so if I ever pitched up early (or missed my train) I’d wander around the collections at the National Gallery and buy a postcard of my favourite painting to go up on my bedroom wall. Then I decided to mix things up when I had some time to kill whilst waiting for a friend and went to the Portrait Gallery and found the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. I was almost happy when my friend told me he was running late and I could stay there a little longer.
#3: Eat cookies and watch street performers at Covent Garden
This is an activity I have forced on many a willing friend. Ben’s Cookies is a chain, with a branch in the Covent Garden Piazza. The cookies are cake-y and delicious (particularly if you catch them as the come out of the oven and they are all gooey) and are made better by the fact that you can eat them with a cup of milk- which are the only way cookies should be eaten. Then, if that’s not enough, there are regularly street performers around so you can watch them as you munch away.
#4: Marvel at the Royal Courts of Justice
One of the perks of working in the legal industry is that I get to go to the beautiful Royal Courts of Justice. But you don’t have to be a lawyer to get in- the courts are open to the public. You can go and sit in on a trial and see the legal system in action or just go and see the architecture. Unfortunately, I have never taken the opportunity to take a picture but do my best to rectify that. For now, you’ll have to go and look for yourself.
#5: Sift through treasures at Portobello Market
I don’t know how it took me until the end of last year to actually go to Portobello Market but I was not disappointed. There were as many trinkets as there were people, i.e. a lot: boxes of old pictures, baskets of jewellery, antiques, vintage clothes- there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Then there’s the food. Hummingbird Bakery is the perfect place for dessert cupcakes but if you’re looking for a main course then I’d recommend Falafel King. I’ve been looking for a food falafel place since I returned from my summer in Berlin, where I was obsessed with the one around the corner from my flat, and I finally found it here. I’ve tried to recreate their falafel, chilli and hummus salad many a time and it never comes close.
#6: Sift through treasures at Old Spitalfields Market
You can find several permanent restaurants and shops in the Old Spitalfields Markets but there are also an array of markets between Thursday and Sunday. My visit coincided with the antiques market held on Thursdays so I was able to rummage through trunks, old records, pictures… you get the picture. I must admit, it’s not my favourite market in London but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out.
#7: Eat Chinese food at Camden Market
There are also treasures to sift through at Camden Market, but in the interest of having a different title I’m focussing on the food. I used to go just for the Chinese food- the reams of incense-infused market stalls were an excellent bonus. In addition to the heaps of vintage clothes, knick-knacks and neon Cyberdog store, it’s London’s answer to a market you would expect to see in somewhere more exotic. I have a throw from there that I’m almost entirely sure I’ve seen in Asia and I spotted brown leather and carpet bags that I’d seen there in the souks of Marrakech. The area isn’t as edgy as I remember but it’s still pretty alternative and good for a night out.
#8: Eat your way around Borough Market
I love a good market (as you can probably tell from above) and Borough Market is one of my all-time favourites, for one sole reason: it’s full of food. Tasty, tasty food. The choices range from Caribbean food to juices, cured meets and an array of cheeses. On my last visit, I treated myself on a confit duck sandwich, a cup of sangria and cake for dessert from the adjacent Konditor and Cook bakery. It drives me nuts that the market is not open on Sundays, but it’s worth fighting your way through the Saturday crowds to the stalls.
#9: Find the real Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station
Many a film has been filmed in London and discovering set locations is always a thrill. King’s Cross is the station I use to get to work- platform 9 to be specific. Imagine my surprise when I realised that there is actually no barrier between platforms 9 and 10- just a couple of lanes of track and maybe some trains. The barrier used in the film was actually that between platforms 4 and 5. A stretch of wall close to platform 9 has been designated for tourists, with half a trolley stuck in the wall for the many photo-seekers.
#10: Shop in a German Winter Wonderland
Nothing says Christmas like a German Christmas Market. It’s been years since I’ve actually made it to one so last Christmas I thought I’d go to the closest thing: Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, where there is one. Okay, it wasn’t quite the same as the ones I went to in Aachen and Cologne but there was beer and currywurst and stalls with jams, jewellery and plenty of other stocking-fillers. Unlike the ones in Germany, there were rides and the music ranged from Katy Perry to Queen. I look forward to going again next year.