London is pillar-box red telephone boxes, black cabs and beefeaters. London is world-class museums, theatres and landmarks. London is, quite simply, a treasure trove for tourists. Over the years, I’ve come to know London rather well, though I’d never claim to know it like the back of my hand like the candidates on The Apprentice so often do. If I don’t have my nose in a book or a crossword, I’ll be scouring the pages of Time Out, keeping my eyes peeled for new things to do in the capital. Beyond the blinding lights of Piccadilly Circus, there’s a bounty of lesser-known gems, just waiting to be explored – and that’s where this series comes in. Just as I did for Paris, I’ll be using this series as a means of documenting some old favourites and newly-discovered gems in the Big Smoke.
#1 Brick Lane | Brick Lane is but a hop, skip and a jump (or several) away from Liverpool Street Station, in the heart of London’s East End. Throngs of visitors venture to the area to browse its thrift shops and vintage boutiques. Others – myself included – head over for the street art (and the bagels). Splashes of colour cover façades, terraces and back alleys; a constantly-evolving canvas. On the surface, it’s always changing; underneath, it remains true to its roots. I’m always game for a hot salt beef bagel from Beigel Bake; the queue snaking round the shop and out onto the pavement always moves remarkably quickly. Also in the area are Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium (which I still haven’t been to) and the original Cereal Killer Café.
#2 Columbia Road Flower Market | Every Sunday, come rain or shine, tarpaulin-covered stalls line Columbia Road, selling fresh flowers by the bucketful. Dahlias, sunflowers, lilies: a rainbow of petals. By the time we arrived, the flower market was in full swing: traders calling out their offers; shoppers leaving with their arms full of flowers. One stand had a particularly nice selection of cacti and succulents in multi-coloured pots; unfortunately, being between homes, it wasn’t really practical for me to add to my collection of cacti on that occasion. Columbia Road Flower Market is open from 08:00 to 15:00-ish every Sunday, including Easter Sunday.
#3 Hackney City Farm | Escape to the Country would have you believe that farm animals and big cities were mutually exclusive – but in London, that’s simply not the case. I had long wanted to visit one of London’s working city farms, and finally got round to it this summer. Chickens strutted across the farmyard, nestled into wheelbarrows (and even piles of manure), clucking away to their heart’s content. Birdie and Beryl, their two British Saddlebacks, were contentedly rolling their toys around their pen with their mud-splattered snouts. Grazing in an adjacent field were the Three Billy Goats Gruff (and their pals, namely two donkeys and a small number of sheep). Look up as you enter, and you’ll spot a few beehives on the roof; every now and again, their resident beekeepers run honey-making demonstrations. There’s no entrance fee, as Hackney City Farm runs entirely on donations.
#4 Parkland Walk | According to GiGL, approximately 47% of London is green space. Making up a teensy weensy percentage of this is Parkland Walk, an old railway line which once ran from Ally Pally to Finsbury Park. Much like La Petite Ceinture and La Promenade Plantée in Paris, this wooded walkway feels worlds away from the metropolis; an oasis of greenery in the capital. From Wood Green, we walked up to Alexandra Palace (and almost got side-tracked at a foodie festival en route) and headed for the far corner, near the dinosaur park. Upon exiting the grounds, you’ll pick up signs to Parkland Walk, the city’s longest nature reserve. Closed-off tunnels now serve as bat sanctuaries; the platforms of yesteryear still stand, the tracks long since removed.