Local life envelops you in London, but you might notice it only in snatches. London being a big city, its residents are pragmatic about crowds: Londoners will wait for late-opening nights before slipping into museums or galleries to avoid the worst of the rush, but swarm en masse to parks as soon as the sun pops out to make the most of every ray of sunshine.
Drinking Like a Local
Londoners, and the British in general, get bad press for binge drinking. But most drinking in London is actually warmly sociable, gregarious and harmless fun. Londoners drink at the ‘local’ – shorthand for the ‘pub around the corner’. Prices may be high but generosity is commonplace and drinkers always step up to buy a round. Despite the fickle weather, alfresco drinking is commonplace, be it in beer gardens, on patios or along pavements.
Dining Like a Local
As a rule of thumb, Londoners will dine at their local fish and chip shop or enjoy Sunday roast at their local gastropub rather than trek across town for dinner, but they'll readily go out for a meal further afield for special occasions. You’ll also find them piling on the peri-peri sauce at Nando’s, enjoying a fry-up (full English breakfast) at a 'greasy spoon' (a no-frills cafe), grabbing a sandwich from Marks & Spencer to lunch outside in Hyde Park or, increasingly, queuing outside the numerous food trucks dotting the city for a hot takeaway lunch. Food markets are incredibly popular, be they the gourmet kind such as Borough Market or smaller farmers markets across town.
Idiosyncratic delicacies you'll find Londoners tucking in include chip butty (fries in a sandwich), marmite (a yeast extract spread) on toast and jellied eel (often served with pies).
Shopping Like a Local
They are on home turf, so Londoners know precisely where to shop. They’ll be in charity shops hunting for overlooked first editions and cheap clothing, skimming market stalls for vintage togs at the Sunday UpMarket off Brick Lane, browsing along Portobello Rd, rifling through Brixton Village or retreating to small, independent bookshops for peace, quiet and old-school service. But you’ll also find them in their droves in high-street franchises in Kensington High St and Oxford St, or shiny malls such as Westfield.
Taking to the Park
London has some of the world’s most beautiful urban green spaces and locals swarm en masse to the park the minute the sun pops out to read a book, play football, rule over a picnic or barbeue, or just chat with friends on the grass. Join them at lunchtime when office workers come out for their fix of sunlight or at weekends for fun and games.
Sightseeing Like a Local
Londoners habitually head off the beaten track, taking the back route into their local park, exploring London’s wilder fringes or making short cuts such as following Regent’s Canal across North London. Go exploring in zones 2 and 3 and see what you find. Many Londoners bide their time till late-night openings for central London museums, when there are smaller crowds, and save 'regular hour' visits for special exhibitions.
Owning a property is a national obsession in the UK, but is made particularly difficult in London, where prices are stratospheric. Talks of unaffordable housing, renting versus buying, mortgage deals, putting an offer and being gazumped, DIY and grand renovations are classic Sunday lunch fodder.
- North vs South
The existential divide between 'Norff' and 'Saff' of the river remains as wide as ever. Each camp swears by its side. For Londoners, the main difference is that South London is less accessible by tube (which means that house prices are generally lower, although this is about to change with the extension of the northern line). But for visitors, the debate is moot: London is London, with the same amazing array of sights, restaurants, bars and markets.
- The Weather (& Whether It'll Hold Out for Saturday's barbecue)
More than wet, cold or grey, London's weather is unpredictable. This causes Londoners any amount of angst about their barbecue/picnic/beer garden plans from April to September, when it's supposed to be spring/summer but you may still get hit by unseasonal showers/cold snaps/high winds.
- Public Transport
London has a world-class public transport network, but Londoners like nothing more than to moan about their commute to work. Grievances range from delays due to improbably long red lights/signal failure/leaves on track/the wrong kind of snow (all real-life examples) to the horribly high fares. Londoners can also argue endlessly about the definitive route from A to B.
Britain has a tradition of rabble-rousing – see the rather combative style of debate in the House of Commons. While Londoners may be reticent at first, once their teeth are stuck in they won’t let a political debate go; so if you like politics, you’ll find company.
Passions run high when it comes to the beautiful game, and rivalries between London's three major teams (Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur) are real. The capital has other clubs in the Premier League, including West Ham and Crystal Palace, each with equally devoted supporters.
Need to Know
- Santander Cycles Bike-sharing is fun, cheap, practical and definitively local, and there are docking stations everywhere.
- Oyster Cards Londoners who travel by public transport use this contactless card, which nets excellent discounts and avoids queues for tickets.
- Routemaster heritage bus 15 This bus line is excellent for sightseeing, so grab a seat upstairs.