Local’s guide to London
I've been a happy Londoner for seven years, and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Although I know the city well, I still feel like a bit of a tourist, and I'm incapable of walking past Big Ben or the London Eye without taking a photo.
The thing I love most about London… is that it’s never finished. Cranes are as much a part of the skyline as the dome of St Paul’s, and new bars, restaurants and activities pop up with a rapidity bordering on surreal. You’d think after 2000 years there wouldn’t be anything left to do, but London is most content when it’s reinventing itself. This extends to the cultural psyche, too: Londoners are always ready to embrace – or create – new trends, especially in the hipster enclaves of the east.
A misconception about Londoners… is that they’re unfriendly and rude. This isn’t the case – generally speaking they’re just busy and distracted. If you act like a Londoner, you’ll be accepted as one. That’s to say, respect the unwritten rules, like standing on the right side of the escalator and never jumping the queue, and you’ll fit right in. Locals will always help with things like directions, so never be afraid to ask.
My favourite view of the city… is from Waterloo Bridge. Looking west you can see the Thames curving between the London Eye and Houses of Parliament, while to the east is the grand white dome of St Paul’s, with the steel and glass skyscrapers of the City beyond. The view is particularly dreamy on a summer’s evening at dusk, with the river bathed in purple and yellow light, and open-decked boats gliding by underneath.
A great cycle route can be found… along the Regent’s Canal, which ribbons for almost 9 miles between Paddington Basin in the west and Limehouse Basin in the east, where it joins the Thames. Although it’s never more than a mile or so from the hubbub of the city centre, you could sometimes be forgiven for thinking you were deep in the English countryside. Highlights along the way include Little Venice, Regent’s Park and Camden Lock.
One thing to avoid… is Leicester Square on weekends. I’ve never been entirely sure what draws people here: the square itself is rather ordinary (it’s no Trafalgar), and surrounded with overpriced cinemas and chain restaurants. And yet so intense are the crowds on a Saturday night you’d think the elixir of life was at its centre. Pigeon-stepping your way from one end to another is like trying to get to the front of the main stage at Glastonbury, with none of the rewards.
When I have friends in town… I take them along the Bermondsey Beer Mile. That’s the unofficial name for the string of craft microbreweries housed under the railway arches that cut through the streets and estates of this south London district. We tend to grab a bite to eat first at nearby Maltby Street Market before starting the crawl, which includes stops at Southwark Brewing Company, Anspach & Hobday and Partizan.
When I’m looking for a cheap eat… I often find myself on Brick Lane in East London, despite it being the opposite side of the city to where I live. It’s the geographical heart of London’s British Bangladeshi community, and famous for its abundance of curry houses. It’s difficult to pick a favourite – they’re all much of a muchness – but I’m particularly fond of Aladin and the Famous Curry Bazaar. Most don't sell alcohol, but operate a BYOB policy and don’t charge for corkage.
The best time to be in London is… the lead-up to Christmas. It’s the one time I find shopping on Oxford St enjoyable, largely because of the amazing lights strung up everywhere, and the pubs are cosier than ever, especially ones with open fires. You can just feel the whole city relaxing, with work Christmas parties spilling out of every restaurant and bar. I also always go to Christmas at Kew, an event which sees the Royal Botanic Gardens covered in light displays.
Some of the best art in London… is in the form of graffiti. When my family visited recently, I took them on a self-guided street art walking tour around Shoreditch – it made for an interesting change from the traditional galleries. Being graffiti, it comes and goes, but there are usually impressive pieces along Middlesex St, Fashion St, Hanbury St, Sclater St and Bacon Lane. Also worth a look is Leake St, aka Graffiti Tunnel, near Waterloo station.
If I could change one thing about London… it would be to lower the cost of living. London is arguably the greatest city in the world, but it’s also one of the most expensive. Property is preposterously priced, and for many people the idea of buying a house or flat seems about as likely as being summoned for afternoon tea with the queen. The price of drinks is forever on the rise, too – it’s not unusual to pay an eye-watering £6 for a pint.
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This article was originally published in September 2017 and last updated March 2020.