London is open

By | Category: Travel destinations

London is open and it’s staying that way, writes Kaye Holland

Since, as a digital nomad, I spend so much time living and working abroad, people often ask which is my favourite ‘summer’ city.

My answer is always the same: London. Usually I’ll be greeted by a look of surprise – or else someone will stutter “But you’re always leaving” (it’s true London and I can’t be together for long) – but I’m not lying.

In London, there is always something to do. You have everything you want in terms of activity and accessibility. Every week a new (independent, natch) bar or restaurant is opening and I love the constant buzz. The capital also offers a cornucopia of world class carnivals, museums and art galleries, plus gorgeous gardens and parks (30 percent of the capital is given over to green space so wherever you find yourself in the city, a leafy retreat isn’t far away) meaning it’s nigh on impossible to get bored.

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My country dwelling family and friends counter that the capital gets crowded and can be costly (they’re correct – you’ll fork out £3 for a filter coffee and we won’t even mention the appalling London rents and extortionate house prices)  but I’d argue that it gives you something you can’t put a price on: energy.

My East Anglia based cousins also claim that London is a lonely place to live, but I’ve never understood that argument.  Next time you’re in town, look around: you’ll find that you’re surrounded by Londoners -aka some of the most interesting, outgoing and open people in the country.

I’m biased, of course, but in my mind Londoners are the most fascinating people on the planet. They’re people who want to participate in life, with many having come to London to escape their humdrum hometowns. As Elvis Costello’s hit 1984 song, London’s Brilliant Parade, goes:

“Just look at me
I’m having the time of my life
Or something quite like it
When I’m walking out and about
In London’s brilliant parade”

 

Regardless of what time of year you visit, you’ll find the Windward rush generation interacting with immigrants from India, Asian neighbourhoods juxtaposed alongside Jewish communities – and Poles working alongside Portuguese.

Case in point? Every morning I’ll say hello to the Jamaican barber opposite my front door, while waving to the Vietnamese shop owners up the road before being ushered onto the Metropolitan line platform by TFL staff from Sri Lanka –  and beginning my commute into central London.

On arriving at my desk, I’ll be greeted by colleagues from South Africa, Australia and Ireland before receiving instructions for the day from my Bangladeshi-born boss. After a night shift, I’ll be taken home in a taxi by a driver from Jordan and can discuss what is happening in the Middle East. And within a five minute walk – of both my flat and my office – I can tuck into Thai, Turkish, Lebanese or Ethiopian food at any hour.

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In short, on any given day, I can learn a little about their cultures  – not exactly something you can do in a homogenous suburb in Middle England. Very few places on the planet open its arms to so many, as demonstrated by the London referendum results. (Voters in the capital backed the Remain campaign which triumphed in 28 boroughs, to Leave’s five).

So don’t let Brexit put you off visiting London for, whatever your interest or budget, we have something for you. You can see world class theatre (think Shakespeare, straight plays and musicals), concerts, photography, opera, dance. A shopaholic? Shop to it at overdraft shattering Selfridges or at snap up a bargain at Spitalfields. Sports more your bag? The capital is home to no fewer than five Premier League football clubs, two international cricket grounds, the national stadiums for football and rugby, Wimbledon, the stretch of river used for the Oxford and Cambridge university boat race and the Queen Elizabeth Park stadium which hosted the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Phew…

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We have it all.

Decided to visit? You could stay in a chain hotel, shop on Oxford Street and eat out in Covent Garden but here are a few tips to help you experience London like a Londoner…

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Walk this way
Walking is the best way to explore central London – everywhere has something of interest. Websites like Walk London also exist so that visitors and Londoners alike, can opt to take a scenic walk to their destination rather than jumping on the tube. Or join a Talk of the Town walking tour – which can be scheduled to suit different palates, pockets, schedules and group sizes  – and get to grips with the colourful, cosmopolitan capital by interacting with locals whose life is spent living the city.
That said do take the tube at least once while in town – it’s fast, efficient (much more so than driving) and used by locals every single day.

Plan ahead
It may be possible to bag tickets to a big gig only a few days beforehand in Buenos Aires and other cities, but not so in London. Translation? If you want to see Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl at The Savoy Theatre, book well in advance. Likewise if you’re looking to eat at The Palomar or drink cocktails at Cahoots (two London hotspots), you’ll need to make a reservation at least a month beforehand. Make no mistake: planning is key to a successful stay in London.

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Don’t get stuck in Leicester Square
Don’t waste a minute of your time in Europe’s most exciting metropolis, lost in Leicester Square or chowing down in the chain gang (here’s looking at you Pizza Express, Wagamama etc ). Not when ‘real’ London is ready and waiting to be discovered. Head to a local neighbourhood – be it Brixton, Dalston, Tooting or Harrow – and see how, and where, everyday Londoners live.

Think outside the box
A football fan? Don’t just tour Wembley stadium – nab tickets to an actual match. If you can’t score tickets to Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal et al, try Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace or my team Watford. Tickets are cheaper but the passion is just as prevalent. Craving a curry? Leave Brick Lane to first time visitors and eat out in Ealing – you’ll feel even more like a local.

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Step off the tourist trail
No doubt your London itinerary includes stops at all the Blockbuster sights – think Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and co. But surrounding these icons are tonnes of lesser known sights that shouldn’t be missed. For instance once you’ve gawped at the neon billboard in Piccadilly Circus, which has been part of the capital since 1954, amble along to the beautiful Burlington Arcade for a shoeshine  – or to shop for a vintage Rolex or some designer threads. Just don’t whistle while you’re there… whistling (and singing, for that matter) were outlawed in the 1800s when ‘industrious women’ living above the arcade would whistle as a way of alerting the pickpockets below that police were approaching. Top-hat wearing Beadles – the ornate arcade’s own private police force – enforce the ban today.

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Similarly once you’ve seen South Ken (the wealthy borough boasts three of the city’s biggest free entry museums), take the tube one stop to Earl’s Court – the first London station to install escalators in 1911. On the inaugural run, “Bumper” Harris – a one legged man – rode up and down the escalators to demonstrate their safety to sceptical passengers. Then pop into the Evans & Peel Detective Agency bar over on Earls Court Square and pretend it’s Prohibition time in the 1920s.

Ticked off the centuries old Tower of London? Wander east of the castle to Wilton’s Music Hall – one of London’s earliest and most loved music halls, that’s recently completed a £2.5 million renovation while losing none of its rustic charm. Stop in for a swing dance class, history tour, theatre performance or perhaps just a drink.

If you follow the above advice, you’ll get to live life like a Londoner. Before long you’ll realise that this is the greatest city in the world and find a way to move here. We’re waiting for you with arms wide open…

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Kaye  is the co-founder of Talk of the Town London – an award winning (Historic Tour Operator of the Year 2017, Luxury Travel Guides) company specialising in entertaining tours of the capital). For the full low-down on Talk of the Town’s tours – which can be scheduled to suit different palettes, pockets, schedules and group size – click here

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Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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