Give me London in five days or less.
April 20, 2009 1:26 PM   Subscribe

London trip - recommendations?

Traveling to London next week for business, and I decided to stay a few extra days for some leisure travel. So, I need some advice.

I'm going to get my own hotel after the business is done, so I'm looking for somewhere cheap to stay. I'll have lots of electronics with me, so shared hostel rooms are out. Are there hostels in the area where I can get a private room? Or maybe a b&b type place?

Food recommendations - dim sum and Indian restaurants? Anywhere quintessentially "British" that's not a tourist hangout? Anywhere else I should eat?

I like to do a lot of walking around with my camera, so what neighborhoods should I visit? Maybe a day trip on the train to the countryside - feasible?

One thing I'd really love to do (and could use some advice on) is to take a trip out to the country, rent a bicycle, and ride around all day. Suggestions?

Any other must-see/do things in London? Outdoors stuff is good, arts and culture are good, food is good. The last time I was in London was when I was twelve, and we did the touristy stuff then. Travel dates are still up in the air, but it looks like I'll have time to myself from Friday, May 1 through Wednesday, May 6.
posted by backseatpilot to Travel & Transportation around London, England (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Tons of good stuff here. Lots of tips there on Indian food, photography, neighborhood, culture etc. Anything that isn't covered there that you want to know?
posted by cushie at 1:31 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Arts-wise, there's a really good Picasso exhibition on at the National Gallery - I think it's £12 entry, though could be more.

If you want to take a trip outside London, you could do worse than Cambridge. You could cycle around and take in the sights, and then walk to a pub in Grantchester (or even The Orchard) or Fen Ditton. Oxford is also train-close. Maybe not quite as rural as you wanted for either, but probably a little more chilled than London.
posted by djgh at 1:37 PM on April 20, 2009

I was in London last month, and wanted fish and chips. I was taken to The Golden Hind which I was told is one of the last great chip shops left in London. It was wonderful! It was on the cheap side, and was packed! You have to make reservations for a table. The food is delicious. You must BYOB.

Another great London "classic" is s&m (which stand for sausage & mash). There are several locations... I went to the one on Portobello Road. It's British comfort food... with an assortment of standards like bubble & squeak, toad in a hole, and spotted dick. Also very affordable, with a hipster vibe.

I really liked the Portobello Road /Notting Hill neighborhood for wandering. My favorite park is Holland Park... it has a Japanese Garden, peacocks and black bunny rabbits. It's much smaller than Hyde and Regents Parks, but it's a gem.
posted by kimdog at 1:39 PM on April 20, 2009

...toad in a hole...

Toad in the hole.

You make it sound like some kinky sex thing.
posted by Sova at 1:47 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Neighbourhoods: East London is diverse and interseting and not touristy in the way West London can be. You can walk along Regents Canal - starting in Islington or Hackney down to Canary Wharf which would make for an interesting intro to different sides of London. You can combine with Columbia Road flower market on a Sunday morning. Time Out do books of London walks which I'd recommend as they have interesting walks in areas of London that you may not consider otherwise - any book shop will stock them.

Food: Yauatcha in Soho is good for Dim Sum. Most Indians will be v similar to each other - but try Tabays in Whitechapel which is meant to do great Pakistani food. Check out Time Out (\london) website for wide range - will depend on where you staying as to where you'll want to eat. There is a feature on there about cheap eats which maybe useful if you have tight budget.

Can't help re hotel. On trip - you may do best to rent a bike in London and then take it somewhere on a train with you. If you are wanting to head into the countryside it is unlikely you will be able to find somewhere to hire a bike at the other end - possible exception is Oxford and Cambridge. Cambridge you could cycle along the river and out into the country reasonably quickly.
posted by smudge at 1:52 PM on April 20, 2009

I got some good answers about dim sum in London in this thread. I personally favour Chuen Cheng Ku.
posted by sueinnyc at 1:59 PM on April 20, 2009

National Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern are all good if you fancy staring at artworks.

Going up in the London Eye would give you a nice view of the geography of the city.

Don't take photos of police or transportation or anything that looks like it might be the sort of thing that terrorists might want to photograph.

Hampstead Heath or Richmond Park are good for walks (they're well inside London, but you'll feel like you're out in the country; Richmond Park has wild deer!). Otherwise, I agree about Oxford/Cambridge.

Indians: I quite like Cafe Naz on Brick Lane. There are a million Indian restaurants here, though.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:26 PM on April 20, 2009

Well, unless it has changed, The Majestic, was a hotel that could have inspired Fawlty Towers. Yeah, down to the manager slamming down the phone and yelling,"stupid! stupid! Stupid" The floors were lumpy too but it was cheap for its location. Do keep in mind that the befuddled Italian tourists felt very vindicated by how awful the food was at the hotel. What little Italian I could parse was on the line of, "How could people with such an awful cuisine have acquired an empire?" and "They beat us in the war? Damn, fascists." Again, YMMV, but I thought it was great entertainment for money.

For food, I always say Borough Market is where it is at. Definitely get a salted beef sandwich which I truly do miss from London. The pork loin sandwich was dry so avoid it unless you are slathering with the apple sauce. Some of the best things to do in London is to get some nice bread, cheese and other treats and people watch in many a great location.

My favorite tea shop is in a location near Oxford Circus called Postcard Teas and it is fun to sit and have tea brewed and talk to the owner and to the other customers about their travels and experiences.

London is a walking town. Take the Tube and just start walking and experience a town that has seen its share of glory and misery over several hundred years. Though someone may disagree that it is an amenity I thought the conversational styles heard on the bus and transport systems were great. Just the flow of accents and conversational rhythms. Yeah, you may have to wind through some real crazy conversations but you will never read Pratchett in quite the same way.
posted by jadepearl at 2:33 PM on April 20, 2009

If museums are your thing, then the British Museum is a must see. And in the neighbourhood (roughly) is the British Library, which can be a really interesting hour or so.
posted by sah at 3:29 PM on April 20, 2009

Seconding Columbia Road flower market on a Sunday, maybe walking down to Brick Lane and Spitalfields after that, but it's a few years since I've been to the latter two and I believe they've changed a lot. Having said that, if you take a copy of On Brick Lane by Rachel Lichtenstein as reading for the plane, a subsequent walk down Brick Lane would be fascinating on any day - it's a street that's been home to wave after wave of immigrants (Hugenot weavers, Jewish immigrants, Bengalis) and is now right on the outskirts of the financial district. She includes a guided walk in the back of the book which points out some of the buildings which reveal the fascinating history of the area.

And Brick Lane is also full of curry houses. Mmmmm.
posted by penguin pie at 4:25 PM on April 20, 2009

Another great London "classic" is s&m (which stand for sausage & mash)

Just to spare your blushes, I've never heard sausages and mash referred to as s&m, so don't go into a cafe and ask for s&m or you might just get raised eyebrows for your trouble. (Unless the waitress is a sadomasochist I guess, in which case you could have a truly unique London experience on your hands). Bangers and mash is how it's usually known.
posted by penguin pie at 4:37 PM on April 20, 2009

You said you've done most of tourist stuff, so leaving most of that out, I can recommend going along to a Jack the Ripper walk and taking in a show or two.
posted by MatJ at 4:39 PM on April 20, 2009

I took a great ride in the sun yesterday from North London via Battersea along the south of the Thames to Richmond. There's some lovely wide gravel paths from Hammersmith to Mortlake, and a great pub called the White Hart with a big terrace and barbecue food. Richmond Park's definitely a great place to go, and you can cycle there from central London. Hire a bike and check out TfL's site - their journey planner will give you cycle routes if you know where you want to go from and to, alternatively check out some of the London cycle maps.

Enjoy! Hope the weather's great.
posted by bullox at 5:05 PM on April 20, 2009

The Cabinet War Rooms and the Tate Modern -- wander in the entrance of the Tate even if you're not into art. It's architecturally very cool, you can see it before you the ticket booth (i.e., you can just pop your head in), and it's right next to the (OK, verytouristy) London Eye.
posted by kestrel251 at 7:24 PM on April 20, 2009

The Time Out Book of Country Walks was my favourite resource when I lived in London. It may be more appropriate if you're there for a bit longer, but every walk is designed to get you to a starting point (by rail), guide you through the walk and get you home in one day. I did about 25 out of the 50 walks in this book, and I couldn't pick one that I didn't enjoy.

Oh - and it almost always gets you to a great Pub by lunchtime....
posted by shimmerbug at 9:33 PM on April 20, 2009

If you make it out to Brick Lane, you should also take a look at the East End film Festival, which is showing some awesome-looking 3D films at the nearby Spitalfields market.
posted by tapeguy at 9:55 PM on April 20, 2009

I'll be in London at the same time. The one thing I don't intend to miss is the Wallace & Gromit A World of Cracking Ideas exhibit at the London Science Museum.
posted by Joleta at 9:56 PM on April 20, 2009

Take a ride on the River Thames to Greenwich and visit the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory. You can make the trip cheaply as part of a London Walks tour. The London Walks tours are fantastic, but I must respectfully disagree with MatJ; the Jack the Ripper walk was the least interesting and informative of the ten or so walks I've taken.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 11:28 PM on April 20, 2009

Take the tube (subway) to Kensington and walk back into the city centre via the Royal Parks. Start with Kensington Gardens, containing Kensington Palace, through Hyde Park then Green Park and finish in St James' Park, home to Buckingham Palace. Walk along the Mall and end up at Trafalgar Square. You'll have checked more sights than you can imagine.

posted by cameronfromedinburgh at 12:44 AM on April 21, 2009

Two recommendations for sort of high-end Indian food, although neither will break the bank if it's just you. A place called Tamarind in Mayfair does a sort of Indian nouvelle cuisine that's very nice. But my favorite place in the world is Veeraswamy, just off Picadilly Circus. The Chicken Makhani (I think it's on the menu as 'butter chicken') is the best I've had, and they have a spicy potato bread (some kind of kulcha) worth the entire bill. Of course, now I've overhyped it, but it's still must-eat. They ask for reservations, but I think you can usually get a spot same-day, at least early in the week, especially if you're OK with eating before 7:00.
posted by troywestfield at 6:43 AM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing a cycle ride from Cambridge to Grantchester if you can make it midweek or a stroll along the Lanes in Brighton if it's sunny out. Foodwise, there's a nice dim sum place on the seafront in Brighton and I'd recommend Cotto in Cambridge. Back in London you can go for a quintessentially "British" Brick Lane curry then hang out in the evening in the Old Street/Shoreditch area for cultural stuff - there is often good music around and a few nice galleries.

If you like his stuff, see the Gerhard Richter exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The Hunterian Museum near Holborn has been refurbished recently and is a really fun and interesting place to spend an evening. Also, Have a look if there's anything that interests you at the Barbican or at the various live music venues around North London - places like the Underworld, the Luminaire, the Lexington, the Scala, the Macbeth, Cargo, 93 Feet East etc. etc.

Most importantly, take a good map (or get familiar with those at bus stops) and avoid taking the tube whenever possible. Many journeys in Central London are much more pleasant (and often quicker) by foot.

Don't take photos of police or transportation or anything that looks like it might be the sort of thing that terrorists might want to photograph.

There's really no problem with doing this and I'd be dubious if it would actually break the new laws. Even so, please don't miss good shots because you're scared of the consequences - thankfully the British public haven't turned into mindless informers yet.
posted by turkeyphant at 5:45 AM on April 23, 2009

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