From a tour of the Tower of London to a spin on the London Eye, England’s capital boasts enough attractions to keep visitors coming back time and time again. But away from the big hitters there is another side to the city that many tourists miss out on entirely: the London that locals love.
Shopping and markets
Since mighty Westfield opened shopping centres at opposite ends of the capital, tourists and Londoners alike have flocked to these retail giants, home to all the usual high-street suspects.
However, to find the most unique fashion in the city, Londoners head east in search of vintage clothes in and around Brick Lane. As well as the biggies, such as the Cheshire St branch of Beyond Retro, there are lots of smaller stores dotted around the area and a Sunday market where you can grab one-off garments and bag the odd bargain.
Nearby, Broadway Market in Hackney is another East End favourite, with stalls offering gifts and delicious street food.
If you want to see London at its most cosmopolitan, head south to Brixton where you’ll find the city’s most multicultural food market (open Monday to Saturday) offering everything from pig’s trotters to Jamaican bullah cakes, as well as foodie Brixton Village.
East and Southeast London continue to have the hippest nightlife in the city. At the weekend Shoreditch and Hoxton are two of the most buzzing parts of town; from pricey private members’ clubs to studenty dives, there’s a truly eclectic mix of pubs, bars and clubs to discover here.
Londoners in search of somewhere more off the radar head to the nearby areas of Dalston and Hackney for underground clubs and bars. Dalston’s word-of-mouth reputation as the place to be on a Saturday night led to clubs such as Dalston Superstore and Passing Clouds becoming the epitome of fashionable London.
Peckham, in London’s southeast, is another increasingly popular area for a local night out. Long queues form early for alfresco drinking at Frank’s Cafe (frankscafe.org.uk), offering superlative views of the city from the top of a multi-storey car park (it's closed in the winter months). There are more cocktails and a relaxed vibe at Bar Story (barstory.co.uk), tucked underneath the arches of Peckham Rye Overground station.
For a great choice of restaurants Angel, in North London, is unbeatable. Alongside the chain restaurants, which you’ll find scattered across the capital, is a bevy of restaurants offering cuisine from around the world, from Turkish and French to Moroccan and Ethiopian. Wander along Upper Street and you will be spoilt for choice.
Curry has been claimed as the country’s new national dish and the capital has some fantastic Indian and Pakistani restaurants. Whitechapel may not be the best-looking part of town but it is one of the best places to get a curry. Less well known than nearby Brick Lane, this part of East London is offers tasty and reasonably priced curries. Take a wander round the area between Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road and you’ll find plenty to choose from.
Brick Lane. Image by Tony Hisgett / CC BY 2.0
The Thames Path National Trail stretches a whopping 184 miles from its source to the Thames Flood Barrier. Its busiest stretch is the South Bank area which is one of the best vantage points to see the city and some of the top sights such as the Houses of Parliament and Tate Modern. However, head a few miles west and you’ll discover another side to one of the world’s most famous rivers. Inviting pubs, boat clubs and a rural setting make it a great place to escape the city. The 4 miles between Putney Bridge and Barnes Footbridge is one stretch that is easily tackled.
Perfect for a Sunday stroll
Leafy Richmond in the southwest of the city has a village-like charm and an idyllic location on the river. It boasts an immense green space – one of the largest urban parklands in Europe – cosy pubs and pleasant architecture which attracts Londoners who are looking to escape the city. Highgate in north London has a similar laidback vibe. Although it is best known for its cemetery - the resting place of some of the city’s famous inhabitants - Highgate also has woods, along with some decent cafes and pubs that are the perfect spot for Sunday lunch.
South of the river, Bermondsey, which lies just east of Tower Bridge, is another up-and-coming neighbourhood. Vibrant Bermondsey Street has fashionable residents, independent shops and hip bars such as Village East (villageeast.co.uk). There are also an increasing number of craft breweries in the area, as well as the small but fun Maltby Street Market. Nearby Butler’s Wharf has riverfront restaurants offering one of the best views of Tower Bridge in the city, as well as the Design Museum.
This article was first published in 2010 and was updated by Sally Schafer in March 2015.