life in the UK,  relocation,  UK

London by the local

When I moved to live in the British capital in 2012, it was not the easiest time for me to adjust. Suffice to say, I had a love-hate relationship with this city, mostly hate to be honest. Everyone told me how amazing my life would be in one of the best metropolies of the world and all I could see were ridiculous prices, problems with finding job, crazy distances between places and thousands of people on the streets; definitely, I felt overwhelmed. It took some time to get used to London vibes and now I love where I live; I feel proud of being a Polish Londoner, something I have never thought I would ever admit to. I have my favourite places, people, views, I can manoeuvre the dense London Underground system with closed eyes, I belong here, and this place is my home. I am the local.

This post was inspired by one of my clients. She is moving to the UK soon and asked if I could send her some insider tips on what to do in London, what is a must to see or do with friends on a day out. And that’s exactly what I highly recommend to everyone who is moving somewhere unfamiliar. To finally feel at home, host your friends and family, and then guide them around. They would have absolutely no idea if whatever you’re saying is or is not true, they would just admire your knowledge. And this feeling of appreciation is much needed for your subconsciousness.

An afternoon in London

I want to suggest something I did when hosting someone who has never seen London before, something to amuse your guests – an afternoon of vistas. It does not require any tickets to pay for with the exception for public transport. Most of all, it allows spending a quality time together without hurrying between one place and another.

We used to begin at the Tower of London (without entering the site), these days I highly recommend checking one of two nearby viewing platforms which are free to visit. Up until September 2023, the most popular way to see London from above would be either to check the free Sky Garden or to buy tickets to the Shard – the tallest building in the United Kingdom. Its open to public observation deck is located at a height of 244 metres (800 feet) and… was very expensive! It still is, even though the prices went down because of opening forementioned 2 places on the northern bank of the Thames in the City of London.

The first to open was 8 Bishopsgate, a 204 metres (669 feet) tall skyscraper with a public access to its 50th floor viewing gallery. It was followed shortly after, by its neighbour – 22 Bishopsgate, which may be the second tallest right after the Shard, but its viewing floor is situated 10 metres (33 feet) higher, making it the highest viewing gallery in the UK and the highest free viewing gallery in Europe. I love both places, especially the latter, though I admit that the Sky Garden is still my favourite. I highly suggest booking a free ticket, but, with the most recent buildings, the walk-ins are available all the time. When it’s 2 of you, it’s easy, in many cases you’ll just come in and enter. When it’s more, like in November when my brother visited us, the next available space to book was in 45 minutes, which is never an issue. With some spare time to spend, just walk next door to see the Leadenhall Market which dates back to the 14th century, with its beautiful roof structure and cobbled floor. You will immediately recognise this place from Harry Potter movies, but it’s much more to it. There, just wait over a pint of London ale or coffee for your entry time to come.

The City of London is what in many other towns across Europe, would be considered the Old Town. It is filled with historical landmarks, and you can easily spend a day over there checking all the interesting places. Depending on your preferences and weather, it can either be on a working day, when the area will be very busy or on the weekend when almost everything is going to be closed and the place will be virtually empty.

Anyway, reaching the Tower of London should take you maximum 15 minutes, London is a perfectly walkable city. It’s an early evening, so both the castle and the bridge are seen in daylight. There is a nice pub quite close to the fortress, which bears the most appropriate name – The Hung Drawn & Quartered, and where in the perfect atmosphere you and your guests can wait till sunset drinking and eating (remember, UK pubs are perfect places to eat, not only fish and chips). Then you would go to Tower Gateway, a DLR station and take a Lewisham train. It is good to stand and wait for the train at the end of the station, the DLR trains are computer operated, so there is no driver. The ride at the front always reminds me of a rollercoaster and it’s always a favourite for tourists. It’s getting darker and the train does not hide in the underground tunnels. There is a beautiful view at the Canary Wharf, and the track winds between skyscrapers just a moment before it disappears under the Thames only to cross the river.

You get off at the next station “Cutty Sark” and go towards the riverbank where this tea clipper is a museum now (and, thanks to its restoration after a disastrous fire, looks better than ever). You could admire the view of the Canary Wharf and after a while you would embark River Bus to Westminster. The view is, once again, magnificent. You pass, among others, the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, HMS Belfast, London Eye, The Houses of Parliament. The journey is very relaxing and is a great alternative to expensive river trips (it costs just a bit more than an underground ride, it is still part of Transport for London, after all; by the way, do not get confused with the name, Uber Boats, Uber is just a titular sponsor).

And now, you are in the city centre. Take a short walk towards Trafalgar Square and Chinatown. From there it’s only another 5 minutes walk and you are in Soho. While in one of the colorful bars you must try drinks originated in the British capital – either my favourite, an espresso martini (a combination of espresso, vodka and coffee liqueur, which according to the tradition was created for famous supermodel Kate Moss to wake her up and mess her up at the same time) or my husband’s favourite, a pornstar martini (made of vanilla flavoured vodka, Passoã, passion fruit and lime juices, always served with a shot glass of prosecco, and because of it’s provocative name, sometimes served as a passion fruit martini, instead) the most often ordered cocktail in the UK in 2018.

Below you will find some other suggestions of the places you may consider visit when in London. You will not find the popular spots here; it’s rather for a quiet day out if you happen to be in the area, maybe even live in London. We all know the famous museums, galleries, palaces – been there, done that, got the t-shirt. There is nothing wrong in being a tourist, just remember, I’m not one anymore. I am the Londoner already.

Rooftops of London (free of charge)

  • Sky Garden – my absolute favourite, it’s a jungle on the 37th floor, walk-ins are virtually impossible to get, keep trying though, nice restaurant for an evening out, well equipped bar and coffee place too, may be crowded;
  • 8 Bishopsgate (the Lookout) – much higher, great view, no coffee, a bit claustrophobic, still great view;
  • 22 Bishopsgate (the Horizon22) – the highest in London, amazing unobstracted London view, they have coffee! always fun to check;
  • the Garden at 120 – my favourite place for lunch when I work in the City, great view, not too high, but nice plants and a tiny stream on top of one of the office towers;
  • the Post Building – outside of the City, very spacious and pleasant, great views even if not too high above the ground;

My favourite areas

  • Soho – the whole area wakes up late afternoon, that’s when it’s the most colorful, it used to be a bit shady, very safe nevertheless, the later in the evening, the more “adults only”, if outside never worse than PG-13, when in the area definitely check the Carnaby Street and the Liberty (every September thay open Christmas shop on the highest floor, that’s where I buy one ornament every year);
  • the Outernet – very recent place right next to the Tottenham Court Road station, publicly available magical space filled with 16K resolution projectors which shows different installations, great for a stop in-between;
  • Covent Garden and West End – more, and a bit less, fancy area filled with interesting shops, cafes and restaurants, Seven Dials and Piazza are must see, great area to just wander around without any special plans;
  • Southbank – walk along the Thames, just a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Sq.;
  • the Globe – a realistic reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan open roof playhouse (my favourite experience ever – A Midsummer Night’s Dream show on midsummer night at midnight, still got chills)
  • Borough Market – place to shop and eat, that’s where I go for the best Polish style, although made by the Lithuanian Karaway bakery and called with a Lithuanian name bilberry vatrushka – they say it’s blueberry, but not 😉 bilberry grows only in the forest and it’s supreme to any farm picked blueberries;

My favourite experiences

  • ZOO nights – do you know that you can spend a night in the London ZOO? I recently did and the next post will be about this phenomenal experience;
  • Kew Garden picnic – go to the Royal Botanic Garden with your friends and remember to take a blanket, plenty of finger food and some drinks, then at some point when you get tired have a picnic;
  • West End shows – a theatre or a musicall, you will surely find something for you and your friends;
  • Sunday Roast in a local pub – majority of British pubs serve food, please avoid chains, find a local pub and support the community, check the quiz nights, have some fish and chips, but most of all eat the Sunday Roast, oh I love Yorkshire pudding soeaked in gravy!
  • Samuel Johnson’s house – a 300 year old filled with period furniture home of the famous English lexicographer where he compiled his Dictionary;
  • Sir John Soane’s Museum – home of a famous neo-classical architect, a true cabinet of curiosities, where paintings, models, sculptures are right next to ancient Egyptian sarcophagus and other antiquities.
  • Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy – a natural history museum which is part of University College of London, used in teaching, small and extremaly interesting, at least for me, by the way, UCL is home to other small and valuable collections (like Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology or Art Museum);
  • London Mithraeum – the ancient Roman Temple of Mithras which was discovered in the City of London and recently renovated and is open to visitors for a once of a kind experience.

I hope you like my article and London will inspire you as much as it inspires me. After all, as great Samuel Johnson once said: If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. What do you think of this list? Do you think that some of the points are overrated and shouldn’t be mentioned at all? Or maybe you would add something else?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *