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.