The UK has always been on my travel agenda and will probably always stay there – I will never get tired of this country. My first school trip brought us to the UK, a few years later I returned with a friend for a couple of days, and during my first years of studying I came back again to visit said friend who was doing her au-pair in the UK. Already during high school I knew that I wanted to go on exchange there, so during my bachelors I did not even consider any other country so I got to live in Yorkshire – in Sheffield – for half a year. During this period I did my fare share of travelling in the mid- and northern regions, but actually never came down to London as I have been there a few times before. So it was long overdue to pay another visit to this wonderful city and it came in handy that one of my Moscow-friends is doing his internship there, so another friend and I had the perfect excuse for visiting him and London.
As I have been in the city a few times before and seeing all the touristy spots of it was not on our agenda, we only had a loose plan in our head what to do over the weekend. Continue reading and you will find out how I like to explore a city that I have been to before (but this is of course also applicable to other cities as well!) :)
Go to a market.
Or several markets like we did ;) Quite recently I stumbled upon this post from Lisa’s From Dream to Plan in which she recommends several markets in London, so I had to check some of them out while we were in the area anyways.
As we arrived in the afternoon and had skipped lunch because of our flight and bus ride we were quite hungry so it came in handy that near where we were staying was a big food market – Borough Market. It is ‘your go-to for fresh produce in London Bridge’. Already upon arrival many different delicious smells reached us and we quickly decided for pumpkin Tortellino with pesto. Delicious!
The second market that we came across was Old Spitafields Market. Located in the Shoreditch area of London and built in 1876, the Victorian market hall is a market for everyone’s taste, and is open 7 days a week. There are market stalls, small boutiques and restaurants with an assortment of art objects, fashion, gift items, antiques and food. And probably much more. It is definitely a bit more vintage than some other markets which I found especially charming.
Go to a place with a viewing platform.
Looking at the city from a tall building is another great way of exploring the city. However, in most cities tourists are lured into paying a lot to go on top of a tower sometimes not even in the center of the city. So before falling into such a tourist trap it is a good idea to do a quick online search and find out if there are any cheaper options available that are located in a ‘better’ area of the city. London has some great locations for doing so. If you were planning on having a drink in a bar anyways, the Gong on the 52nd floor of the Shard is one great option. It has a walk-in policy so you do not even need to make a reservations weeks in advance. I have also heard that the Sky Garden is a great viewing place and you can book a free visit online but you’d need to do this a few weeks before your visit. Both the Gong and the Sky Garden are located near the London and Tower Bridge so the view should be great from there.
What we actually ended up doing was going to the Tate Modern Museum that is located on the riverbank of the Thames by the Millennium Bridge, and taking the elevator up to the 10th floor where we had a great view over central London as well. The museum hosts international modern and contemporary art and is open every day. Not only is the viewing platform for free but also some of the exhibitions so you can easily combine a quick museum tour with the viewing platform.
The exhibition that we saw – ‘Voices’ – was really interesting, as it showcased live art, installation and moving image by highlighting all different aspects of the human voice. We heard a rework of the sixteenth-century choral work Spem and listened to sculptures that integrated voices reflecting contemporary anxieties.
The funny thing was looking into all the apartments and watch people in their homes :D
Besides that, we also had drinks in a pub called Culpeper with a roof garden (not only a rooftop!!) in Aldgate that I can totally recommend. We actually got to enjoy (slightly expensive) white wine spritzers surrounded by beautiful decoration and plants while listening to actually good music. As we were too busy catching up on things while drinking in the atmosphere I kinda neglected to take pictures…
Go on a (free) walking tour…
…that does not specialise on tourist areas or tourist things. In cities that I haven’t been to before I like the occasional free walking tours as it is such a good way to see all the main tourist spots and hear funny stories about it. It is also a good way to meet other people if you are traveling by yourself. However, in some places you just do not want to go and see the tourist spots, or you have seen them before. In such a case, a free or at least cheap walking tour that specialises on something else – sometimes even themes like Harry Potter scenes, or other crazy ones – is a great opportunity to experience the city from another viewpoint. We went on a Street Art and Graffiti tour and got to see some beautiful art of which some has been created only recently. But I have way too many pictures of this tour which I definitely want to share, so this will be featured in another post :)
Take the public bus or tram.
The metro is usually the fastest way to get from A to B, but usually it is rather dull and packed with people, and in London also quite expensive. Don’t get me wrong, busses and trams can be packed as well, but at least you get to see something interesting while being uncomfortably close to strangers. So if you are done walking for the day and want to do some more exploring take a tram or bus as so many cities have a public transportation option that takes you to the most important sights anyways (and you do not have to take one of those expensive tourist bus tours) or you can just explore another area without having to do much walking. If you feel like you can just get off and on the bus again. That’s what we did – for example we took a bus from the Old Spitafields market to go back to the Thames while passing the St. Paul’s cathedral.
Enjoy the local cuisine in a local restaurant or pub.
The UK might not be famous for its kitchen, but there are definitely delicious things one can find. With the history of the former empire, many cuisines home to other countries are already immersed in the English kitchen. Enjoy a typical English breakfast, a Sunday Roast, Fish & Chips, or the Chicken Tikka Masala. Plus, a pint of beer or cider together with a nice meal in a not so fancy pub just perfectly rounds up a nice day that was probably a bit exhausting because of all the walking you did – so you wouldn’t want to hang out in a posh place anyways, am I right?
Take a stroll along the local river.
I just love cities that lie on a riverbank, and London is a great exemplar. The Thames is magnificent and great to look at, especially on such a sunny weekend. We decided to spend a lot of time near the Thames, especially at the Southbank – an entertainment and commercial district of central London between the Blackfriars Bridge and Westminster Bridge. We more or less walked from bridge to bridge, enjoyed a cup of coffee or some donuts here and there, and sat down whenever we felt like while enjoying the river and all the big monuments around.
We came back to the river on our second day as well, just to sit and relax for two hours and walk halfway over the Millennium Bridge – just because of the Harry Potter scene on it. Aren’t we nerds? Haha.