While I’m off to Vegas for the Star Trek 50th Creation Convention I’ve asked a couple of people to guest blog for you here on Broke in the Big Smoke. Today Dave Clough from music blog Life Support Machine tells you how those in their twenties who are new to London can avoid the tourist traps of the city.
London means different things for different people. For some, it can be a place of patriotism and glory, whereby images of the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and Nelson’s Column will parade across the back of one’s eye. Or perhaps its attraction lies in its cultural diversity, evoking smells of steam-cooked Taiwanese pork buns and BBQ-fried jerk chicken, exhaled from tiny back-alleys. Or maybe, for others, London is a place of hedonism, be it laced with crystal glass highballs and million-pound views, or heavy basslines, pumped out from clubs situated beneath the plethora of railway arches dotted across the city.
Whatever experience you’re looking for be sure you know where to find it, for London has a tendency to leave the uninitiated visitor with a rather sour taste in their mouth if they fall foul of its many garish tourist traps, which is why we have put together this guide for those who, perhaps, haven’t visited London before, or who have and haven’t had the experience they were looking for. This is authored by a London resident of 7 years and edited by a Home Counties native, who regularly frequents the capital for its culture and nightlife, so we hope we can add some real value and insight into what London has to offer the millennial, and more importantly, where to find it.
Do your research
When in doubt, look to TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor holds more than 320 million reviews of over 6.2 million businesses and attractions worldwide, with 200 new contributions posted every minute. London has ranked highest on MasterCard’s Global Destinations Cities Index as the most visited city in the world for the past 7 years. That’s a lot of visitors, with a lot of opinions.
For local knowledge, your point of call should be Time Out London. Time Out has a large workforce that includes volunteer contributions from your everyday Joe trying to get his entertainment fix, to full-time slaves of the recreational lifestyle, who spend every waking minute sourcing the best up-and-coming and underground bars, restaurants and events, and visiting all those with undeserved hype so that you don’t have to. Independent guides are numerous too, covering lots of sectors, whether you are looking to do London on a budget, London with a team, or London as a couple, to name but three.
Social media will also be massively helpful. Good bars, restaurants, journalists and entertainment entrepreneurs are generally good friends with each other, so by following one’s Twitter or Instagram thread, a plethora of local, independent and specialised businesses will open up to you.
For gigs and music events you’re really spoilt for choice. Resident Advisor will cover all your electronic music needs, showcasing the most popular current events alongside an intricate list of clubs and live music to satisfy even the most obscure tastes. If you have particular artists in mind then track them on Bandsintown, a website with a huge database of artists that has all the information on live events, sending out notifications when new shows are announced.
Sights to see
Whether or not you are interested in history, the famous landmarks are well worth a sight, if only for their architectural magnificence and bucket-list statuses. With that in mind, take a walk over Westminster Bridge and view the splendor of Britain’s 500-year-old Houses of Parliament; book a tour if you are politically interested. Continue on to Trafalgar Square, crane your neck up at Nelson’s Column and take a hike around the National Portrait Gallery, before wandering up the Mall to the Queen’s front doorstep. This will leave you with a general notion to the majesty of London, as well as give you something to tell your parents and colleagues about, who maybe aren’t as interested in the same music and culture as you.
As with any good trip, your visit to London should begin (and end) in a pub. Pubs are the essence of British culture; it was in a pub where Lord of the Rings was first drafted, and where the infamous Gunpowder Plot was conscripted, incriminating the name of Guy Fawkes forever more. London is home to some of the most historical and eclectic pubs in Britain, with everything from dark, crumbling caves for interiors to glittering cavernous halls. To get you started, here are London’s 5 most popular pubs according to TripAdvisor:
- The Mayflower Pub, Rotherhithe. This pub is almost 400 years old and its owners have tried to retain its original features and ambience as much as possible, only with a highly plausible update on the food menu. A good starting point for a pub crawl around Rotherhithe that will quite literally take you back in time.
- The Queen’s Head, Piccadilly Circus. For a welcome respite from the big shops and gaudy advertisements of modern Central London head to this independent pub that dates back to 1736. Sink some real ale and chow down on some hearty food in this surprisingly good value central location.
- The Andover Arms, Hammersmith. If you find yourself out in the deep unknown of West London, The Andover Arms will feed, water and bed you for the night in the comfortable surroundings of a traditional English pub, but with just a touch of fancy so that it feels a little bit special.
- The Victoria, Paddington. This pub is a good bolt hole to counterbalance the wide open spaces of nearby Hyde Park. A Fuller’s pub, expect a cosy atmosphere and some classic London beer whilst you revel in the fact that Charles Dickens wrote some of his last novel, Our Mutual Friend, whilst sat in your very spot.
- The Churchill Arms, Kensington. The Churchill Arms is a heart-warmingly quaint little pub found in the shadows of the royal Kensington Palace. Another Fuller’s pub, this merry and comfortable establishment should round off your visit to the classy Kensington High Street and Gardens perfectly, with some good Thai grub on offer to remind you how two cultures can live so cooperatively side-by-side.
Top destinations for nightlife
London nightlife is awash with diversity and eclecticism. No matter who you are or what your preferences are, there is a community out there that shares your values, be it top-quality claret, raucous cabaret, endless comedy or all-night clubbing. The following is a list of three neighbourhoods famed for their unique nightlife and why they need to be checked out:
- Camden Town – Camden is the kookiest, wackiest part of London, where all manner of arts are celebrated and encouraged. The markets contain bargain handmade clothes and leather goods, foods from all over the world and artwork in abundant. You’ll find the pubs and street corners buzzing with quirky characters and loud live music. Check out The Hawley Arms for rock star fame and Camden Town Brewery to see where the infamous Camden Beer is brewed.
- Shoreditch – Shoreditch is one for late night bars and street food. There’s practically a street food festival on every street, and a new bar or restaurant at least every fortnight. Shoreditch is quite pricey, but the competition keeps the quality of food and drinks up to scratch. Check out The Blues Kitchen for hip-swinging live music every night and 8 Hoxton Square for top-quality food.
- Mayfair – Mayfair is for those who want to splash some cash on high-end dining and classy drinking. For a genuine Mayfair experience that doesn’t break the bank head to Kitty Fisher’s, whose namesake became famous for her taste in London’s wealthy men and their lavish lifestyle.