The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

CAPITAL IDEA: London: A quick guide

LondonWelcome to the first “Capital Ideas”. It is a new feature here at The Displaced Nation. It’s our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).  Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

City: London

Where is it? On some damp, mildew-ridden island in the north Atlantic.

Why should I go? Because it’s one of the world’s great cities. An exciting modern city with a diverse population of eight million there’s something for everyone. With hosting the Olympics, 2012 was a great year for the city and infused it with a self-confidence unusual to the British. Quite simply, this is the perfect time to visit London.

So is it true that when a man tires of London he is tired of life? Not if he’s living in Dalston.

I don’t know anything about Dalston. You’re not missing much.

What are the must sees? Well, if you want to be that tourist, you know the one who wears pristine white sneakers and white socks, keeps their passport safe in their fannypack and planned their trip after taking out a Rick Steeves travel book from 1986, then the basic checklist is Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s, Tower of London. You can do all that by popping on one of those tourist trap sightseeing bus tours. You’ll get to sit on the top of a double-decker with other fannypack wearers — it’ll be beautiful.

Hmm, I don’t have a fannypack. Not to worry. You’re a The Displaced Nation reader, you want something a little more “not for tourists,” don’t you?

You know me so well. Tours can be good fun for the visitor limited in time. However, instead of those overpriced bus tours, we recommend London Walks. Brunel’s Thames tunnel, in particular, is one we’d recommend for a fascinating and sadly forgotten part of London’s history — it was once considered the eighth wonder of the world.

What about a walking tour that sounds a bit more “fun”? Well, provided you’re not traveling with kids, you could also do a pub crawl. That fun enough for you?

Absolutely. Any other suggestions? Spend a morning at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. There you’ll be able to visit two fascinating museums that are among our London favorites. There’s the Hunterian Museum (an C18th collection of anatomical specimens including the skeleton of Charles Byrne, known as the “Irish giant”) at the Royal College of Surgeons and across the fields is Sir John Soanes’s Museum (the former home of architect Sir John Soanes, the museum contains his extensive collection of antiquities and paintings). Or, if you’re in the city in the summer then venture to the north of the city and visit Highgate Cemetery. There you’ll be able to get a guided tour of the western cemetery – resting place of Michael Faraday and Christina Rossetti. In the eastern cemetery rests Karl Marx.

What’s a must-do? Spending time on the South Bank. Here you’ll find the National Theatre, the Royal Festival Hall, the Globe and the BFI Southbank (formerly known as the National Film Theatre). So the perfect place to take to showcase the city’s cultural merits.

Is the city easy to get around? Yes, although Londoners like moaning about the public transport, the city is home to one of the world’s best public transport systems. Familiarize yourself with the London Underground (known as “the tube”) and you can travel around the city easily and relatively cheaply. If you are a night owl then you need to remember that the underground stops running trains between 12.00am and 12.30am.

I hear the British cooking is awful. Do I need to pack sandwiches when visiting London? That outdated stereotype. London is home to some of the world’s best restaurants. And don’t forget how I mentioned earlier that London had such a diverse population, that’s reflected in the city’s restaurants. Whatever you fancy, be it Eritrean or Burmese, you can find it in London. Our recommendation is that you take a trip to Brick Lane for a slap-up Indian dinner.

Hmm, my mate John visited London last year and said the food still sucked. Did John stick with the tourist traps? New York is a great city for eating, but if you only go to restaurants at Time’s Square you’re not going to get that impression. One easy tip, never eat in an Angus Steak House.

So the locals don’t all eat jellied eels? No, but if you do want to experience an old cockney-style pie and mash shop, then we recommend Goddard’s at Greenwich. If you’re being really adventurous and want to unleash your inner pearly queen by having some jellied ell then this is the place to do it.

Have you ever tried it? Yes.

Did you like it? Let’s just say it was interesting.

What should I read? If you want to brush up on London, then we’d suggest Peter Ackroyd’s London for a nice, meaty read about the city, as well as his book The Thames. Other books we’d suggest are Iain Sinclair’s London: City of Disappearances, Henry Mayhew’s London and the London Poor and James Boswell’s London Journal. And, of  course, you can’t visit London and not be reminded of Dickens (do make a trip to the Charles Dickens Museum  , at 48 Doughty Street). We think Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend best show off  Dickens’s writing on London.

What should I watch? Notting Hill.

Really? Yes, it’s the most accurate cinematic depiction of the city.

I’m going to say this again, really? It’s so accurate that there’s even now a Notting Hill Carnival. This happens once a year where fans of the film get together and dress up as their favorite characters from the film and reenact their favorite scenes. Our top tip is that if you’re in London at the same time as the carnival, you should dress up as Julie Roberts or Hugh Grant and go up to people and tell them your favorite lines from the movie. They’ll love.

I really don’t think that’s what the Notting Hill Carnival is all about. Hand on heart, it’s true.

Hmmmm . . .

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new Random Nomad interview.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Image: awindram

4 responses to “CAPITAL IDEA: London: A quick guide

  1. michelloui January 31, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    *snort* Notting Hill Carnival, indeed ;)

    I love Sir John Soane’s museum. A couple of months ago we were wandering through London and saw a bus that was painted black (I think) and had little lamps inside and was called the Time Tour bus, that may or may not be an interesting twist on the tour bus. I plan to find out one day.

  2. Juliette February 2, 2013 at 8:58 am

    You’re too quick to dismiss Dalston!

  3. Roving Jay June 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

    I’m a Brit expat who left this damp island for the sunny shores of LA over 20 years ago. I’ve just spent 3 months on assignment in London. What a trip down memory lane – there’s been a few changes since I’ve been away!

    One of my favourite tourist past-times (without the white socks and sneakers) is to traipse around the markets. Borough Market for Food; Spitalfields for crafts; Brick Lane for antiques/bric-a-brac and artisans; Columbia Road for flowers and Camden for clothes and antiques/bric-a-brac.

    One weekend left before I go back to the States.. and on this weekend’s agenda is Portabello road…..

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