Big tourist sites are fun, but making time to slow down and hang out where locals do on your trip will help keep your energy up and give an opportunity to soak up the atmosphere, take it all in, and maybe have a chat with the stranger sitting next to you.
The best places to hang out in the city
First things first: to immerse yourself in London you need some comfortable shoes, a map, and an open mind. The Tube is convenient, but many stations are closer to each other than they look on the map. Instead, just walk it! You’ll see much more of the city.
Make time for a walk over Waterloo bridge at sunset, when all the city lights are just starting to twinkle. You’ll feel like you’re in the centre of everything and experiencing something magical.
The real, historical, gritty London is there for you to see, but you might have to look at things differently to notice it.
The authentic beauty of the historical architecture is generally way above shop level. Walking down Regent Street you can lose yourself thinking about what might have been happening 150 years ago inside those little windows in the turreted rooftops. Looking upwards along London streets is like looking at the past, right in front of you.
There’s more to Notting Hill than Paddington Bear and Hugh Grant! It’s a wonderfully diverse melting pot of locals and tourists, with a classic west London vibe. Walk along its streets and see stylishly dilapidated buildings rubbing up against pastel coloured fancies on curiously familiar rows and crescents. From antique shopping and vintage clothing stands on Portobello Road Market, to delicious street food and everything in between, Notting Hill is London in a nutshell.
A great experience off the walking path is a London River Boat Tour- try the route from Embankment to Greenwich. It’s easy and not too expensive and you can sit and enjoy a drink while a local guide tells you the history of the River Thames. There are usually some fascinating facts combining the grim, ironic, hilarious and unbelievable.
Situated on the south side of The Strand, near the river, Somerset House is a great place to change gears for a while and soak up some culture. It’s a stunning Neoclassical, Georgian building designed around a large piazza where you can settle down, eat delicious food and wander around the labyrinthine rooms of the House, which lead to small scale exhibitions, temporary art collections and during peak season, an outdoor cinema.
The National Gallery
London is filled with wonderful galleries, but the National Gallery is particularly special. It’s on Trafalgar Square and – bonus – it’s free! If you find yourself in need of some calm away from the busy city streets, it’s a great place to let your mind wander in the company of some of the most iconic and notable historic figures of the world.
Carnaby Street is a tourist hotspot, but it’s worth a look. Wandering around leads to some interesting areas such as Old Compton Street and Chinatown via colourful back streets filled with unique London restaurants and interesting bars. There ’s great coffee on every corner, alongside the buzzing heart of the performance, film and media world. Soho is full of surprises late into the night – who knows who you might bump into exiting through backstage doors?
The South Bank has a great vibe and is always fun. It’s bursting with activity and the energy of the river flowing along side it. Drop in for drinks and maybe a film at the British Film Institute; check out the skateboarders running tricks, and enjoy delicious and varied street food at the market.
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