When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?
T. S. ELIOT, The Rock
It’s all too easy when you’re living in London to discover that you’ve been scurrying back and forth along your personal ant trail for a while without ever diverting your journey or even just stopping to look up. Perhaps you’ve been working too many hours, perhaps you feel like you’ve constantly been caught up in overwhelming crowds of tourists and commuters or maybe the only times you’ve been outside recently you’ve been greeted by darkness and/or grim January weather. In these conditions the urban experience can start to seem all a bit thankless and makes it easy to lose sight of why you’re there in the first place.
If you want to live in London and love it, you can’t live passively. You’re basically like a Borrower trying to embrace a giant, so you have to stay on your toes to avoid getting accidentally squished/overwhelmed. There are way more than a single lifetime’s worth of wonderful things you can do in the city, and it pays to be proactive about enjoying them.
I had such a relaxing, family-filled time in the north over Christmas that I was a bit down on London when I arrived back in the new year, so I’ve decided to take stock and remind myself of all things I love doing in the city to prepare myself for what will inevitably be another wonderful year ahead.
Parks and picnics
Thank goodness for the parks. Seriously, they make London in the summertime just a wonderful place to be.
My favourite spot to head on the very hottest of days is Hampstead Ladies’ Pond, where I can lie around semi-nude in the sunshine in peace, breaking occasionally to take a dip with my friends or spoon up melty camembert left out to bake under the sun with crusty bread. If it is hot get here early to bag yourself a spot though, and watch out for greedy birds (and I do mean actual birds) that may come a’wandering your way if you’re eating.
One of my favourite picnics of summer 2013 was a post-Carnival pizza picnic. We grabbed boxes of pizza from Mulberry Street in Notting Hill and then hot-footed it down to Kensington Gardens, which is always one of my favourite places to sit out in the sunshine, whether I’m eating pizza with friends or just chilling out alone with a book.
Find a view
Sometimes a little perspective can be a big help. In north London there’s a Primrose Hill and then Parliament Hill on the Heath, but I’m personally a huge fan of the view from the Observatory in Greenwich Park.
On a temperate evening I also like to head up to the rooftop bar at Trafalgar Hotel. I must admit that some of the best views of London I’ve enjoyed aren’t terribly publicly accessible though, like the ones from Centrepoint, the Millbank Tower, and this one from One Canada Square in Canary Wharf.
Then of course there’s the view from my bedroom. That makes me feel pretty in love with London too.
Get outta town
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but it’s actually very easy to escape all the hustle of London using only the tube lines. One of my favourite places to head to if I want to feel like I’m out of London while still being in London is Richmond. An early-morning walk through Richmond Park in the autumn is probably the most peaceful activities the city has to offer, with kicking back next to the Thames, ice-cream or beer in hand, coming in a close second.
Take in a show
Wicked, the Lion King, Matilda, Les Mis… they’re all feel-good fodder, but nothing quite compares to the best London theatre. Anything at the National Theatre, the Donmar Warehouse or the Globe is always a good bet, and I’ve seen some of the best theatre of my life thanks to them.
If it really is a special occasion though, the best place to go is the Royal Opera House. As a ballet-obsessed child, I used to dream about this place long before I ever set foot in London, and the whole experience of visiting is every bit as magical as I’d imagined. Tickets range from single to triple figures, but if you can get your hands on them then you must go. If you want to make a real night of it get dressed up and sup sophisticated drinks in the Paul Hamlyn Hall Champagne bar during the intervals.
Guzzle down a dirty burger
The London burger craze is so 2011 if you’re a blogger, so 2012 if you’re a Londoner, or so 2013 if you’re a national newspaper — but the truth is all those burger joints that sprung up? They’re still very much going strong, and they’re perfect for a weekend treat. My personal faves are:
Among many, many others.
Uniquely London fun times
I don’t know if I’d risk paying £50 for Secret Cinema given that you don’t know what film you’ll be seeing, but I have been to two Future Cinema events and one Secret Music event this year and they were all wonderful. I got dressed up all 40s to see Casablanca at the Troxy, all 20s to see Laura Marling at the Grand Eagle Ball and all 50s to watch Dirty Dancing and then dance the night away at the staff quarters after party.
Whether it’s Museum Lates or street food night markets, there are always wonderful events going on that take advantage of the many of the most old and interesting corners of the city. If you’re after something really different, look to Lime & Tonic who gave me an awesome Bond-themed night out at a secret five star hotel earlier this year — and escorted me there in this smallcarBIGCITY mini.
Stand and stare
If I get out of work and it’s a beautiful evening, rather than ducking into the closest underground station I’ll stick my hands in my pockets and take a walk. I don’t recommend stopping to stand and stare in Leicester Square or on Oxford Street, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to take a moment every now and then to appreciate how much history is just right there in front of your eyes.
On New Year’s Eve I was invited by Vodafone and the Mayor of London to dinner and drinks at the Corinthia Hotel before a special VIP viewing of the fireworks against the backdrop of the South Bank. It was one of those perfect moments to stand and just take it all in.
Okay, London 2014, I think I’m ready for you now.