An Alternative Guide to London
London is a formidable charge. Household-name landmarks pop up at every turn: The London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, Parliament, Wembley and the British Museum, to name but several.
Where to begin? Well in London’s case, it helps to see the trees through the forest, as it were, and break the city up into manageable segments. This is all made reasonably effortless of course, with a phenomenal public transit system. With that in mind, consider these worthwhile alternatives in the vast English capital.
Royal Parks of London like Hyde, Kensington, The Regent’s, Greenwich and massive, wildlife-profuse Richmond, provide some of the most picturesque views of the metropolis. While superb destinations all, London Parks & Gardens Trust holds a “secret gardens” tour of the city over one weekend every June. For as low as £7.50, visitors obtain special access to a glorious array of private heritage gardens not otherwise available to the public. The open house is a fabulous way to enjoy a serene, furtive side of London and proves especially popular with locals every year. The Trust also offers a comprehensive list of walks and cycle rides through various other green oases throughout the city, with free downloadable podcast guides to boot.
See Dead People
Paris has Père Lachaise and Montparnasse. London has the Magnificent Seven. No, not a Western Akira Kurosawa remake but a monumental cemetery ensemble built over the course of a decade to accommodate London’s significant population rise in the early 19th century.
A visit to a Magnificent Seven cemetery (Kensal Green, West Norwood, Highgate, Abney Park, Nun Head, Brompton or Tower Hamlets) is far from macabre. Highgate Cemetery, for one, has impressive Victorian mausoleums and famous burials that range from Karl Marx to punk impresario Malcolm McLaren. Brompton Cemetery is a prominent Grade II Royal Park next to Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea Football Club, where the tomb of club founder Henry Augustus Mears is a popular pilgrimage site. All-Gothic West Norwood Cemetery is a practical history lesson on London, with many of the city’s most famous architects, artists, entertainers, engineers and sportsmen in situ.
While luxury hotels in London snag Michelin stars with astonishing regularity, you don’t have to dine at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester or Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s to eat like a royal. For some of the most diverse and delicious street food in the world, live like a local and head to urban pockets like Brick Lane, Broadway Market, Greenwich Market, Portobello and Golborne and Exmouth Market. Here, a kaleidoscope of al fresco food stalls illustrate that London is indeed a premier (and yummy) global city.
While far from underground, with up to 100,000 visitors most weekends, Camden Markets is a pearl more tourists need to discover. The chain of markets in inner-city Camden Town is a hive of activity with bona fide alt-roots. Now open throughout the week, the former warehouse and lock site is a one-stop-shop for goth fashions, vintage threads, arts and crafts, bric-a-brac and music.
A pub crawl is a London rite of passage. In order not to muck it up, do your homework and focus on a theme or particular area. Fleet Street for example, is rife with history and lore-rich landmark pubs. Classic pub architecture is on hand between Grand Union Canal and Maida Vale tube station at places like the Bridge House, Warwick Castle and Warrington Hotel. Similarly, a scenic walk in the immediate vicinity of Kew Gardens unfurls pub gems like the London Apprentice, Magpie & Crown and Brewery Tap. With proper diligence and research, a fine London pub crawl will be your reward.