Living in Northern Ireland London is only a short plane journey away but other than for work and connecting flights I had never been to London to see the landmarks we so often see on the news, or in TV programmes and films.
With friends who have lived in London for almost 10 years I was long overdue a visit. We based ourselves at the Hilton London Angel hotel on Upper Street in Islington, just a few minutes walk from the nearest tube station and any amount of restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars to wine and dine. Perfect location for what would become an alcohol fuelled weekend getaway!
We spent the first day of our long weekend soaking up the infamous sights from Tower Bridge down the River Thames to Westminster. The crowds I’m sure were nothing compared to the summer months but with the grandiose sights and structures just as much a marvel from the outside we decided instead of joining the queues we’d prefer to see the inside of a pub. With pretty much everything you could ever want on tap our first pit stop was to Nicholson’s Horniman of Hays. Situated along on the riverbank near to the HMS Belfast the bar is part of Hays Galleria, originally a wharf. The Horniman itself sits on the site of a tea warehouse owned by it’s famous namesake tea merchant.
A short stroll will take you along the riverbank to Tower Bridge and across to the Tower of London and the Hung Drawn and Quartered ale and pie house. The gimmicky name may put off some but it’s cosy surroundings with tales of the Tower adorning the walls and reasonably priced (for London) menu is well worth a look.
Taking the half hour Thames City Cruise from Tower Pier we heard a little about the various sights on the way to Westminster by a funny and enthusiastic guide (and may have availed of the bar too). We disembarked beside Big Ben with it’s imposing chime and feeling the need to actually go see something, and perhaps sober up a bit I paid the £20 entrance fee to Westminster Abbey. With an audio guide for company I took in the grand interior with it’s ornate stone ceiling, the tombstones of the greats like Sir Issac Newton and the open space of the cloisters.
London has many boroughs and districts to explore but one I was eager to wander was the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. I didn’t bump into Binky, Jamie, Mark Francis or any other Made in Chelsea cast member but I did make a point of visiting the wonderful Leighton House Museum and Holland Park. Leighton House Museum was home to the Victorian artist Lord Leighton. His house is one of the most opulently decorated homes in London with it’s Arab Hall housing Leighton’s collection of tiles acquired from the Middle East and Turkey, the columned hallway a sea of turquoise blue tiles with islamic inscriptions. The museum often houses interesting art exhibitions like the Pre-Raphaelites on Paper exhibition which was running during my visit.
Images courtesy of Leighton House Museum published images
Holland park is a short stroll from the museum, the manicured spaces and beautiful Kyoto Japanese garden provide a quiet place for contemplation away from the busy London streets.
Back towards South Kensington you’ll find three larger museums to quench your thirst for knowledge on science, natural history and all things British. The four of us embraced our inner science geeks (avoiding the humongous queue for the Natural History Museum and the lure of the V&A) to marvel at the Science Museum’s exhibitions of space, travel and inventions. A little bit worrying when items of your childhood are encased in a glass cabinet – what a way to feel old!
Being slighty hungover from the night (and day) before there was only so much our dehydrated brains could take so it was off to locate a caffeine fix. We stumbled across the quaint grocers of the Brompton Food Market. Boxes of fresh fruit and veg, a deli counter with all sorts of tasty delights, the whirr of a coffee machine and a sign pointing to a secret garden lured us in. Dining on my favourite lunch of fresh crab on sourdough bread in the quaint garden I was in heaven. The craft ciders chilling in the fridge and Malbec by the glass was an added bonus. Located a few minutes walk from the South Kensington tube station I would highly recommend seeking it out. The owners have also opened the well received Hour Glass pub around the corner, serving seasonal British food at reasonable prices, I must suss it out on my next visit.
Back towards Islington and the delights of Upper Street, we were on a mission to find somewhere showing the FA Cup final (groan!). Craft beer and snacks took the edge off however in the new Radicals and Victuallers. Had to google what a victualler is – a person licensed to sell alcohol – good beer and educational, what more could you ask for. Well food, we asked for food, and on the recommendation of our friends we ordered brisket poutine – chips with cheese, gravy and beef brisket – and katsu curry fries. Mouth-wateringly good. A few beers later and we were ready for more so it was off down the street to MEATLiquor and it’s abattoir interior. The meat is juicy, the salads are referred to as “rabbit food” and the House Grog cocktail is so potent it’s limited to 2 per person, my kinda place! Needless to say we dabbled in the extremely palatable house grog and it all gets a little hazy from there!
Continuing on the vain of food it would be remiss of me not to mention the award winning Max’s Sandwich shop. The morning after the night before (light up dance floor, lost jacket and a kebab feature) we needed a substantial cure and it came in the form of huge gourmet sandwiches in Max’s on Crouch Hill near Finsbury Park. It’s a no frills just great food kinda place, coffee is served black or white and the HUGE sandwiches come in paper instead of plates to save on dishes. The sides of jalapeño mac’n’cheese balls and potatoes in harissa and yoghurt are unbelievably good. I need to go back pronto!
Full and revived it was time to explore a Sunday market so off we went to Brick Lane. The streets were bustling with the hipster masses perusing the fashion, food, art and flower stalls. Markets are a perfect place to pick up a bargain and talk to the makers and craftsmen about their wares. My friends and I picked up some organic cotton tees and vests from Idioma, a small family run company producing ethical clothing to enhance foreign language learning and cultural awareness through their beautifully designed attire.
Brick Lane in particular is a fascinating place with satirical street art adorning the walls and quirky shops such as the Cereal Killer Cafe and Brick Lane Coffee – whose hilarious sandwich board messages keep me amused on twitter.
So after a lot of food and drink with a bit of culture thrown in too our London weekender came to an end. There’s so much to see and do in the city and lots of different neighbourhoods to explore we barely scratched the surface. I guess that’s the beauty of London, always something different to discover, somewhere new to explore and plenty of places to establish as a firm favourite. I look forward to many a return visit, especially now the tube isn’t so daunting!
Thanks for an awesome weekend guys!
- “Do London like a Londoner”. I quote our friend on this. Don’t be afraid of using the tube, download a tube map app and purchase an oyster card for reduced fares.
- Get an elevated view. St Paul’s Cathedral dome, Tower Bridge, Sky Garden in the Walkie Talkie and the viewing platform and bars and restaurants in the Shard all offer great views of the City district.
- Avail of a free museum, so many museums and all world class. Check out late night museum events where you can enjoy food, drink, music, film and theatre in unique surroundings.