Waterside walk, London, England

Everyday Exploring: London

Exploring laidback neighbourhoods, getting an insight into the everyday life of the locals, and really getting a feel for the rhythm of a place can be as satisfying as seeing a city’s major sights.

Hanging out in ordinary ‘hoods might not suit every traveller, especially first-time visitors intent on ticking off monuments, but for us, it’s an important part of what our Grantourismo project is all about.

As we’d been to London a few times before we flew in last Monday for our launch party, we were excited about staying out of central London and away from the hoards of tourists and settling into our HomeAway rental apartment on the south side of the Thames. The location near Battersea and Clapham was ideal for us, giving us an insight into the bustle of daily life in the innercity ‘burbs while providing us with access on foot and by public transport to London’s better-known sights. Here’s what we did:

London On Foot: A Waterside Walk

A three-minute stroll from our apartment and we were at a lovely waterside promenade skirting the Thames that was busy with joggers, walkers, mothers with prams, and commuters striding to and from work, at all times of the day and night — despite the weather hovering around the zero mark most days! What we loved about the path was that it took us by everything from sleek, chic, expensive, glass-fronted apartments to more modest brick council housing estates.

We began our walk on a moody day after lunch at Roast and shopping at Borough Market, and slowly strolled home via the Millennium Bridge, the Tate Modern, the South Bank Centre, the London Eye, Westminster across the water, and (much, much later) Battersea Park. The walk provided a wonderful combination of must-do sights (if we were so inclined, although we weren’t on this trip) and local experiences.

London On Foot: Our Own Humble ‘Hood

A ten-minute walk southeast from our ‘home’ took us to bustling Clapham Junction, a busy transport hub with some good old-fashioned British pubs, an excellent Waitrose supermarket, Whole Foods, and a Debenhams department store in a gorgeous old building. The terraced brick houses in the side streets reminded us of British television series from the 1970s that we’d watched in Australia as kids — and our own inner-city suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne that foolishly followed the architectural style of the motherland despite the weather being vastly different.

A short amble in a northeast direction took us to Battersea Reach with some busy little cafes, neighbourhood restaurants, and shops (including Cake Boy!), and further along on the High Street, antique shops and art galleries –  – and beyond that leafy Battersea Park.

London By Bus: A Classy Commute

Crammed with commuters (not a single tourist aboard any we took), the 170 bus to Victoria Station stopped virtually on our doorstep. The single-storey red bus (no double-deckers do this run, sorry) provides easy access (a 15-to 30-minute ride depending on traffic) to Victoria Station and then on to London’s most popular neighbourhoods and major sights (including Soho, Covent Garden, Bloomsbury, The City, and so on) via the Underground.

More compelling for foodies and shoppers are the posh suburbs on the way that you can visit from the 170 including Chelsea, Kensington and Knightsbridge, and a little further afield, Mayfair and Marylebone, where we began our culinary-themed walk with Context.

Our Tips for Exploring London

  • Buy a pre-paid SIM card for your mobile phone on arrival (they’re sold everywhere from pharmacies to local supermarkets) for making restaurant reservations and calling cabs — we bought a T-mobile SIM for £5
  • Buy an Oyster card as soon as you arrive in London and if you’re going to be here for a week whack £20 on it — it can be used on the bus and tube and will save you loads of time queuing for tickets at train stations
  • Pick up a handy little Tube Map at the same time and figure out where your nearest station is — navigating the underground is overwhelming at first but becomes easier the more you do it; try to avoid peak hour travel when it’s uncomfortably crowded
  • Identify the nearest bus stop to your holiday rental then check the best bus routes here.
  • Note the number of a mini-cab company and call them if you’re running late for a restaurant — although they may not all have ‘the knowledge’ of a black cab, they’re significantly cheaper and will quote a price on the phone.

There are 9 comments

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  1. DaddyBird

    Lovely and very useful advice, and it reflects our experience staying at an inexpensive hotel in the Walworth area of London last Summer. We were in a very non-touristy area, but all that was still easily accessible by bus and Underground. It was very relaxing to just walk around and enjoy the neighborhood and avail the local cafés, shops and street market. The only way it could have been better was if we had a kitchen available for cooking the lovely produce from the market; thus, a vacation rental is an attractive option for future visits.

    Looking forward to more such posts from the coming stops on your journey!!

  2. lenore kenendy

    Just returned from a 4 day visit to London – the weather felt quite cold even though it was Feb, it was colder that I had expected.
    I bought the day pass for the bus – but I think I will try the Oyster card next time I go, as it will stop the queues – as this was half-term, the queues for tickets in the morning were quite long. However, the All day pass was well worth it – but I believe that the Oyster Card it would be even better value – so I’ll let you know

  3. Petulia

    Great advice. I personally love South London and find it extremely interesting. Clapham , Dulwich, Brixton are all great areas to explore. As for the walk along the South Bank of the river, I think it is one of the best ways to get a great skyline of the city and learn about the development of London.

  4. Lara Dunston

    Thanks for your comments, everyone!

    Glad you like the non-touristy areas too, Daddy Bird & Petu.

    Yep, definitely try that Oyster Card next time, Lenore – so convenient and great value.

  5. Caitlin

    If you are going to catch a mini cab, always order it by phone, NEVER take one off the street. There have been assaults associated with unlicensed minicar drivers. If you need to take one off the street then get a black cab. But if you order the minicar by phone then you know it’s all legit.

  6. Liv

    I love to see you recommending the buses! I prefer the bus rather than the tube, as you can see the city. It takes longer, but sometimes that is more fun. They are cheaper too.

  7. Lara Dunston

    Hi Liv – totally agree with you! We much prefer them. I’m not a fan of tubes/undergrounds in general – except in cities like Moscow, where they’re so beautiful – dark and smelly, and I find them really disorienting. I’d rather get to know a city on foot (we’ve walked the length and breadth of Paris for instance) and then supplement walking with bus rides, and occasionally a taxi. I need to *see* where I’m going! Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

  8. Pola (@jettingaround)

    London is a wonderful city to explore on foot! And I love the Tube.

    I agree that there is so much to see outside the main areas (as wonderful as they are). I have fond memories from venturing out to Crystal Palace.

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