Friday, June 28, 2013

Off the beaten path - things to do in London if you are staying a bit longer

where to go in London
Photo by Doug Wheller

London has always been the gateway to Europe. With excellent transport links to the rest of Europe, you can hardly find a more suitable launchpad for your grand European tour (check out Zoover.co.uk for that). However, if you are going to stay in London for more than a couple of days here are a couple more places to explore. Enjoy!


Primrose Hill

Let's face it, London Zoo isn't exactly a premier London destination. In fact, the most interesting bit in the entire zoo is where the meerkats are. All thanks to the price comparison site, everyone expects the meerkats to start doing crazy stuff. It is not going to happen but we can all hope.

Regents Park where London Zoo lies is prim and proper especially with its rose garden and the fountains scattered around its vast area. My only grouse is that it feels a bit too flat. Primose Hill, that is just across Prince Albert Road from is a totally different story altogether, albeit one that is often neglected by tourists to London.

Instead of flowers, playing fields and animal enclosures, it offers a gentle up slope in the Northwesterly direction. Crisscrossed with a number of paths, the ascend hardly breaks a sweat. Knowing that the reward will be a panoramic view of the Thames is motivation enough. What I always appreciate is a good lie down along the slope, staring at the passing clouds and slurp on one of those 99 flake cone (you can count on the ice-cream van to be permanently parked along Prince Albert Road. On a good day, you will witness some serious kite flying.

When you are done, stroll down to Regent's Park Road where a row of interesting cafes reside. I recommend heading to Lanka for a slice of green tea chocolate gateau.


Daunt Bookshop

Daunt Bookshop is a London based chain book shop own by former banker James Daunt. It is known for its unique way of arranging books - instead of grouping the books by genre, they are shelved geographically. You will find travel guides, social commentaries, humour, poetry, history and fiction categorised according to their countries. It can be a bit bewildering at the start but after awhile you will start to wonder why all the other bookshops are not doing the same too. Interestingly, if you spend a bit more time looking at the offerings available for each country, you begin to get a rough picture of it - how its people are like, what does it have to offer,

Its flagship store at Marylebone High Street is almost an institution in its own right. The former Edwardian antique bookshop built in 1912 boosts a soothing skylight that lights up not only the ground area but also a small elevated gallery. There is even a now defunct walk-in safe in the store designed to store rare and expensive books. Just ask the staff where it is.


James Smith & Sons

This institution at the junction of New Oxford Street and Bloomsbury Street is an unlikely destination that makes it to the tourists must visit list. After all, it is an umbrella shop. However, it is not just any shop, it is the umbrella shop. Established in 1830, James Smith & Sons have been supplying both Londoners and tourists with brollies (thanks to the wet English weather) of every possibly shape, size and colour, hip flasks and an impressive array of walking sticks - once a necessity to the gentleman's attire.

An added bonus is its staff who are friendly and welcome any gawking of the shop's wares. They are always obliging to any questions that you might have. Still housed in much of its original fittings, the shop is literally frozen in time.

Like any others with a long history, James Smith & Sons has its quirks. It is closed at precisely 5.25pm - the original James Smith had to leave by that time to make sure he caught the train back home.


Graffiti hunting in Shoreditch

Join the hordes of photographers that descend in Shoreditch every weekend to walk the graffiti circuit in the area. Here, graffiti is not only permitted, it is celebrated. Interestingly, there is this understanding between graffiti artists and even amateurs - there is rarely any "vandalism" of existing works. There are of course hits and misses with doodles that you normally see near railway tracks but there are some notable works as well.

I would suggest alighting at Old Street station and walk east. Cut into Rivington Street, turn right onto Shoreditch High Street and left onto Redchurch Street, and finally a right onto Brick Lane. That will bring you through most of London's East End gallery. Bring a pair of good walking shoes.

For more on where to go visit in London, check out my tips for visiting London

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