Top 10 Things To Do In London Besides The Olympics
With the London 2012 Olympics upon us, it seems the entire world has gone sports mad. If you’re lucky enough to be in London for the Olympics, and looking for sights to see outside Olympic Park, here are 10 off the-beaten-track experiences to be had in London that have nothing to do with sports (and won’t cost you an arm and a leg).
1) Neal’s Yard
One of the most colorful and cozy corners of London, Neal’s Yard is tucked away at the back of Covent Garden. With bright bunting, Buddhas and trees in colorful pots, it is here that you’ll find good vegetarian food including my favorite sun-dried tomato and coriander rice bran muffins. They’re only £2 each, but be sure to have cash, as cards are not accepted. A visit to Neal’s Yard would also not be complete without picking up some organic skin care products at Neal’s Yard Remedies. Although the shops are all over London, it’s nice to buy the products from where it all began.
2) Monmouth Street
Also in Covent Garden just up from the famous Seven Dials, is Monmouth Coffee, a boutique cafe established in 1978 that’s a must-visit for any coffee lovers coming to London. Be prepared to queue as I’ve never seen the place without a line out the door. Then it’s just a couple of doors up to Coco de Mer, probably the classiest adult shop in London and then on to Mysteries where all your spiritual needs can be met in this rickety but welcoming little store.
3) Daunt’s Bookshop
Arguably the most famous travel bookshop in the world, Daunt’s beautiful main store is located on Marylebone High Street in an exclusive London suburb. You can get lost for hours in this Edwardian shop with its oak shelves — an experience you’ll never find on Amazon. They also sell top quality non-travel related literature. Then, head next door to The Natural Kitchen and buy an organic snack and sit outside to enjoy your new book.
4) Drinking by the Thames
Join the rest of the Brits on a summer afternoon and stand outside around the riverfront downing your pint — it’s the London thing to do. The Thames has been cleaned up over recent years and there are now a multitude of drinking establishments, from modern clean-cut bars to traditional pubs complete with their obligatory hanging baskets full of brightly colored petunias.
5) Borough Markets
The full markets are open from Thursday to Saturday just across the road from London Bridge Station, with other permanent restaurants open everyday. It’s like going back in time to purchase your raw produce just as you would have hundreds of years ago. Just don’t be put off by the freshly culled deer and pheasant dripping blood while hanging precariously by their feet. Raw vegetables, meat, cheese, flowers and more modern cuisine make this heaven for gourmet lovers. There are also a variety of restaurants and wine bars including Roast, Black and Blue and Vinopolis. You can also pop into The Globe Pub, made famous for its staring role in the movie Bridget Jones’ Diary.
6) Sunset in a Royal Park
Primrose Hill in Regent’s Park, North London is a favorite but I prefer Greenwich Park on the southeastern outskirts of the city. It was the first of the royal parks in London, established in 1433, and has more history than most of the others combined. Not only did the Romans build temples here (ruins of which can still be seen), but the Royal Observatory was built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675 (which means this is the home of Greenwich Mean Time). Henry VIII and his two daughters Mary I and Elizabeth I were also born here. The 73-hectare park is built on the side of a hill so views of London and the Thames River are expansive and provide the perfect foreground for the spectacular sunsets that London is often blessed with.
On the top of my list of nights out is a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater located in Bankside (near the Southwark Bridge), not far from Borough Markets. This theatre is a replication located very near to the site of the original theater built in 1599 of which William Shakespeare was a shareholder. Many of his plays were performed here and today the same experience can be had with the audience enjoying the very conditions and atmosphere from the 16th century.
8) Brick Lane
A visit to London is not complete without having a curry in Brick Lane. It is the curry center of London thanks to its strong Bangladeshi community. Brick Lane is in the city’s east, not too far from Liverpool Street Station. Perhaps eat at Aladin (listed on BBC’s list of “The World’s Best Curry Houses”) or The Bengal Village, but there’s definitely plenty to choose from. The small street is very colorful as a result of small stores bursting with the latest designs from young fashion students and also because of the copious amounts of street art, thanks to artists such as Banksy. There is no shortages of bars either. The Vibe has huge open areas, perfect for watching sporting events (if you really have to) and listening to live music, including open mic nights.
9) Antique Shopping in Notting Hill
Portobello Road is impossible to walk down on a weekend due to the throngs visiting the famous markets. But go midweek and the crowds are much lighter, making it easier and more enjoyable to rummage through the many antique stores. Because England has such a long and interesting history, you’re sure to be happy with some of the finds you make, including old clocks, golf clubs, toys and luggage. Keep your stamina up by grabbing a famous red velvet cupcake from the Hummingbird Bakery.
10) Free Museums
Surprisingly, most of London’s main museums offer free admission. The establishments include some of the greatest collections in the world, so there is no excuse not to see The Rosetta Stone at The British Museum, Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” at the National Gallery or the Dinosaur Gallery at the Natural History Museum.
These experiences are easy to get to and inexpensive, and will offer you the chance to experience a city more familiar to a local than a tourist. In the end you will get deeper into the real London, beyond the London Eye and the famous Tower . . . and, of course, the Olympics.
By Rebecca Ashton
About the Author
Rebecca’s life is one big Walkabout, experiencing external and internal journeys as they make themselves known to her. She aims to inspire others to do the same and learn from the experiences life offers. Her base camp is in Sydney, Australia where she’ll usually be found on the back of a horse.