London is the most amazing city in the world.
Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” You’ve probably seen that quote before, but there’s a reason why. It’s true. I left a year ago this month to study in London for four months and I instantly fell in love with the city.
Hopefully the Olympics this year will provide some great exposure for London, although its reputation as one of the great cities in the world is not lacking. My main hope is that many will see beyond Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and Big Ben, because like most big tourist cities, London has so much more to offer than the most popular spots.
London is by no means the place it’s typically played out to be. The Royal Family, old Victorian architecture and tea sandwiches are just a sliver of what this city has to offer. London is 100 percent an immigrants’ city. I’ve been to L.A., New York, all the big cities…but I’ve never been anywhere that every time you walk one block, you walk into a different culture.
Here are five spots in London that I think show off the best the city has to offer: the diversity, the history and experiences you cannot find anywhere else. Many are in East London, close to the Olympic Park, which is located in Stratford.
Brick Lane is in the East End, a somewhat grittier part of London but still extremely accessible and close to the center. The East End used to be the working class, immigrant part of London and it has the most character of any London neighborhood, I think.On Sundays this narrow street turns into a market, full of ethnic cuisine (Ethiopian, Halal, Chinese, anything you want), vintage clothing, rare records and random bric-a-brac. The area is also known as “Banglatown” because of the high percentage of Bangladeshi immigrants, and it is the largest concentration of Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants in London.
High-profile hairdressers will leave their upscale salons and do haircuts on the street for 15 pounds, a fraction of their normal prices. This place just has a really great vibe. It feels like London. It is by far my favorite market of them all. Right off Brick Lane is Columbia Road, where there is a flower market on Sundays, which is absolutely gorgeous. A must see.
Tube: Aldgate East or Liverpool Street
Primrose Hill is on the northern edge of Regent’s Park and is one of the most beautiful spots in London. London is very flat, but this is one place where you can see everything without getting on the overpriced London Eye. The neighborhood next-door is one of the priciest in North London, and beautiful as a place to just stroll around. A great place to relax on a sunny day. Tube: Chalk Farm
Camden Town / Portobello Market
These two markets are two of the biggest tourist attractions in London, but they’re also two of the best. Camden Town, in the north, is home to London’s punk and hippie culture, with lots of great bars and clubs and a huge flea market that sells random, amazing, pointless things. The symbols of this area are Doc Martens, ‘90s club kids and Amy Winehouse (her house is nearby). Portobello Market is on the opposite side of town, in the west, and many know it from the movie Notting Hill. It’s just like it’s portrayed in the movie: pastel townhouses, antique stores and quaint walking streets. On the weekends it turns into a busy market but it’s a ton of fun. Both of these markets are a must see during your time in London.
Tube: Camden Town (Camden Town Market) and Notting Hill Gate or Ladbroke Grove (Portobello Market)
Shoreditch / Dalston
Shoreditch is the hipster area, but it’s also the nightlife capital. This is where all the trendy bars and clubs are located and it’s a great place to bar hop at night. During the day, it’s the place to go for indie art galleries and vintage shopping. Dalston is a neighborhood just north of Shoreditch. It’s an area that used to be a little rough, but the low rents brought in a wave of artists and working-class families that have gentrified the area. There’s not much to see as far as attractions go, but if you want a taste of what a real, working-class London is like this is a great place to go. Ridley Road Market is held almost every day featuring fresh meats, Caribbean food and Rasta clothing. There’s not much here for the tourist to buy, but it gives you taste of an everyday farmers market frequented by people in this area. For Shoreditch – Tube: Old Street. For Dalston – Overground: Dalston KingslandThe Angel
The Angel is a popular area in Islington, a borough in between Camden and Hackney. This area is great for art galleries, antiques, restaurants and drinks. It has a very cozy feel, so for me, it’s the perfect place to grab a bite with friends and have a relaxing night out. The walk north on Upper Street towards Highbury & Islington tube station is lined with great pubs and restaurants. The tube station houses the longest escalator in Europe ( it takes about five minutes to ride it all the way down!) Tube: Angel
Other areas that are worth checking out:
Shepherd’s Bush, Borough Market, Regent’s Park, Edgware Road, Bloomsbury (British Museum), Brixton (Caribbean area), SoHo, Holland Park, Little Venice.
Daniel Rasmussen, a graduate of Corona del Sol High School, is in his senior year at Arizona State University. He writes regularly for Wrangler News.