“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
— Samuel Johnson
I left my home in beautiful Fall River, Nova Scotia on Canada’s East Coast in July 2015, thinking I was embarking on a solo backpacking trip through Eastern Europe. Adventure was bubbling up inside me and I decided to apply for a two-year Working Holiday Visa for the UK with plans on spending one year in Liverpool, England and another in Edinburgh, Scotland, but, London was calling. As soon as I touched down, I knew I couldn’t leave here. Almost three years and two visas’ later, I traded endless lakes for endless nights – I’m officially a Londoner.
London is arguably one of the most iconic and diverse cities in the world. It has everything from the UNESCO listed Westminster Abbey to alternative and punk-rock Camden Town. With the value of the pound fluctuating due to Brexit, and prices for long-haul flights 10% cheaper than last year, now is the perfect time to come and visit. If you’re looking for off the beaten path hidden gems for your next trip to the Big Smoke, keep reading, I’ve got you covered.
If, when you think of London you picture monarchy, prim and proper British high teas, and Burberry, you’re not wrong but, London also has an unseen side that most tourists don’t get to experience.
The East London Graffiti and Street Art Tour is perfect for those interested in art but not wanting the stuffiness of an art gallery. This is a FREE tip-based tour, which means you pay what you think it’s worth at the end. The tour takes you through Jack the Ripper territory and shows you how to recognize different types of materials and artist’s and spot even the tiniest treasures you wouldn’t normally notice. By the end of it, you’ll be able to name-drop your favourite street artist and spot their work the world over.
The best part? No two tours are the same; the street art changes so frequently here that sometimes one piece might only be up for a few hours before it gets tags over. If you’re lucky, you might get to see a Banksy!
Pro Tip: Wedged between the London Eye and Waterloo station lies a secret tunnel often overlooked by most tourists. What used to be called the Banksy Tunnel and is now referred to as the Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel is a street artist’s playground. It’s an old dingy tunnel that has been transformed floor to ceiling with spray paint!
If there’s one thing that Londoner’s love more than tea time, it’s brunch, better yet – a boozy brunch. If you want to fit in like a real Londoner, book yourself a reservation for brunch and start your day off the London way; with a glass of bubbly.
My favourite place to go is called Duck & Waffle. Located in The City, 40 floors up in the Heron Tower, Duck & Waffle is London’s tallest 24/7 restaurant. Weekend brunch is served from 9am – 4pm, and every table has breath-taking views of the city. Everything on the menu is just as delicious to look at as it is to eat, so get your Instagram’s ready. I suggest starting off with the bacon wrapped dates, followed by the classic duck and waffle, or the smoked salmon royale and wash it down with a breakfast fizz – a lightly carbonated blend of Grey Goose L’Orange, pink grapefruit and burnt toast infusion, (this is a typical example of a ‘London avant-garde cocktail’ description).
Pro Tip: If you get there early/late enough, you can watch the sun rise or set over the skyline. Make sure you make a reservation as this place is always in high demand. If your schedule allows, try going on a week day instead of weekend for better time options.
A Little Taste of Home
Britain might be famous for its’ fish and chips, (let’s get serious through, it’s better in the Maritimes), but when it comes to crustaceans, it knows where to get the best. Burger & Lobster serves fresh Nova Scotia lobster straight from the North Atlantic – yes, I mean fresh! The company has created a one-of-a-kind holding tank that allows the lobsters to stay live during transportation until its’ ready to be served to your plate!
The BBQ’d full lobster is my favourite; it’s served with the choice of a regular butter or with a mouth-watering lemon and garlic butter to dip in, reminiscent of hollandaise sauce. Trust me when I say it will change your life. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu; the lobster and prawn roll is substantial, with big thick pieces of meat served in a delicious fluffy bread; you won’t have room for desert after this.
Pro Tip: Go with a friend who likes to share, and split the lobster and prawn roll and the full lobster, you’ll both leave satisfied.
London has a plethora of markets strewn from north, south, east and west of the city; from vintage markets, to food and craft beers and wines, to bric-à-brac there’s something for everyone. My personal favourite is Columbia Road Flower Market, which operates only on Sunday’s. Hop on the tube and head towards hipster Shoreditch and follow the scents of nature’s perfume to the narrow outdoor market. The cobblestoned street is crammed with everything from succulents (tiny cacti), to potted chili peppers and of course, beautiful bouquets of the freshest in-seasons flowers.
Pro Tip: If you show up towards the end of opening hours, all the merchants are liquidating supplies. Don’t be alarmed when they begin yelling out, ‘everythin’ for a fiver!’ – which is British slang for £5. Bargain blooms are a plenty.
To Stand or Not to Stand, That is the Question
No trip to England would be complete without a little bit of Shakespeare! Walk along the South Bank and you’ll discover a circular thatch roofed building tucked next to the industrial-looking Tate Modern and the River Thames. This is Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of his original playhouse, located just a few hundred yards from the initial site.
Fortunately, not all theatre in London needs to break the bank and The Globe is an absolute bargain for budget travellers. For only five pounds, you can watch one of Shakespeare’s famous plays while standing in the yard of the building he was inspired to write most of them. For a few more pounds, seating is available around the theatre, too.
Pro Tip: Arrive early to get the best seat, and dress for the elements – it’s an open roof, just like the olden days! Plays run usually for about 2.5 – 3 hours so bring comfortable shoes. Food and drink are available during intermission.
Being in a city with a population almost 8x that of the Maritimes combined, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of the capital. Hopefully with these tips, you’ll feel less like a tourist, and more like a local and experience a side of London the movies don’t show.
For more tips or London ideas, follow @LivOnAShoestring for photos and stories of all my expat adventures.