All eyes will be on London this August as the Olympics brings visitors from across the globe, whether in person or watching on their TV. For those lucky enough to travel to the capital, it can be difficult to choose what to do, especially given that central London will be heaving. Luckily, there is so much more to see than the obvious landmarks, and each area has its own very distinct character. Londoners have known this for years of course and here are their top tips for each part of the city.
Lose yourself in Hampstead Heath and you could be in rural countryside and not the capital city – outdoor swimming in three lifeguarded ponds, private picnic spots and fantastic views of the city skyline reward those willing to walk. If the English summer behaves itself, Parliament Hill Fields features a huge, Grade II listed lido. If shopping’s more your thing, the famous Camden Stables Market is a treasure trove of vintage clothing and accessories, antiques, collectables and alternative fashion. For more upmarket boutiques, try Islington’s Upper Street. For something completely different, explore the Grade I listed Highgate Cemetery, which opened in 1839 and is the final resting place of numerous notable figures and celebrities, including Karl Marx, Lucian Freud, and George Eliot. As well as its famous internments, the huge cemetery is a nature reserve and contains some beautiful structures, such as the Egyptian Avenue, Circle of Lebanon, and the Terrace Catacombs.
Being the venue for the 2012 Olympics has meant that the east of London has benefitted from a resurgence but it has always had a flourishing arts scene. The Whitechapel Gallery, which boasts free entry, is arguably London’s most respected independent gallery. Showcasing local, national and internationally renowned artists for over a century, its recent expansion means it now offers more than ever. The Museum of London Docklands in Canary Wharf is well worth a visit, as is the Geffrye Museum’s period rooms which present life in a London house from 1600 to the present day. Explore what it was like to live in the 18th century in Dennis Severs’ House is a restored Georgian townhouse.
Unassuming South London is full of hidden gems. Most of its museums are unsung but fantastic, meaning you get to enjoy them without the crowds. The brilliant Horniman Museum in Forest Hill exhibits an eclectic mix of musical instruments, anthropological and natural history collections in six free galleries, and features an acclaimed aquarium and award-winning gardens. For art, hotfoot it to the Dulwich Picture Gallery to feast your eyes on works by Rembrandt and Rubens. Head to Battersea’s Northcote Road for affordable antiques and to Brixton Village (in the former 1930s Granville Arcade) for pop-up cafes and vintage boutiques.
Affluent West London is the place to go for mooching around upmarket independent boutiques, enjoying a Champagne brunch at a trendy cafe and rummaging for antiques. Start the day at the Upstairs Cafe in Tom’s Deli on Westbourne Grove with one of their legendary breakfasts, as well as to see and be seen. Appetite sated, stay on Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Road for credit card burning designer shopping and then head to Portobello Road for antiques. For a hit of culture, visit the Leighton House Museum in Kensington, a remarkable 19th century building which was the former home of the leading Victorian artist Lord Leighton, and an incredible palace of art.
Book your flights, order your international travel insurance and have a blast exploring the London locals would rather keep to themselves.