Favorite Places as a London Local?
May 25, 2012 8:19 AM   Subscribe

How can I go off the beaten path in London as a tourist? What are your favorite local spots?

When I travel I tend to go places where I already have friends and I love just going to their favorite spots - neighborhood restaurants, bars, cafes, venues, parks, etc. I love to get a glimpse of what it feels like to live in a place as much as I can, rather than as an outsider looking in at a novelty. Maybe it's just me fantasizing about moving somewhere new and exciting, but typical tourist attractions generally do little for me.

I'm about to travel to London for a little over a week with my mother to visit some of the places where she grew up and get a larger sense of my family history. We'll be staying at her friend's place in Balham. I definitely plan on asking the friend about her own local favorite places, but I'm not sure I can expect her to be all that in touch with what a 25 year old guy living in NYC might enjoy on the days and nights where I don't have anything planned.

I don't have any London friends to ask about their local favorite places, so I turn to the internet. If you've had time living in London, what was it that you like to do? Where do you like to go in your neighborhoods? What would a typical tourist never find on their own?

As a quick example, I live in Brooklyn in a place that tourists would have little reason to go. However, there's an excellent neighborhood bar a few blocks away with a fantastic folky open mic, great alt comedy, a wide beer selection, and a lovely garden patio. I'd never know about it if I didn't live nearby, nor would I know about half the places I love if I hadn't found them through friends or by wandering around an area I live.

A couple of things that I'm into:

- Alt comedy
- Fringe theater
- Small music venues
- Local art galleries

So lots of things that young hipster-types are typically into, I guess? But I'm totally open to anything outside of those boundaries as well. I'm also planning on going to a handful of museums as well so I won't be missing out entirely on that stuff, but I'd like to have a good mix.
posted by gregoryg to Travel & Transportation around London, England (26 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Roebuck on Richmond Hill. As a pub, it is pretty standard - the food is mostly good. The real draw is the view from across the road. Go on a nice afternoon, order a drink and they will let you take it outside to sit on the benches and enjoy the view. A nice, low-key afternoon.

(And the locals at there are pretty interesting, at least they were when I was one!)
posted by cessair at 8:26 AM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: You say that one way you found out about places was by "wandering around an area I live". Why not do the same in London (i.e., wander until you see something cool)?

But the Time Out London page has a section devoted to "hidden London," with some of the stuff only a local would know about. That may be a place to start.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shakespeare's Globe is not exactly un-touristy. But I'm a Londoner and it is definitely one of my favourite places. You are coming at exactly the right time for the beginning of the summer season and the Globe to Globe festival which features Shakespeare's plays as performed by various theatre groups from around the world in their own language. (Hebrew Merchant of Venice, anyone?) It should be great. The Bangladeshi production of The Tempest a few weeks ago blew my socks off. Make sure you get the £5 standing / groundling tickets for the best view and all the fun interaction with the actors.

A favourite neighbourhood of mine for cool food and shops is Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell. Clerkenwell Tales is a fantastic indie bookshop and there are some nice cafes there too where you can sit and read some of your new books.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:40 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One off the top of my head. I don't really know Balham, but a few stops up the Northern Line is Borough and The Gladstone, a teeny tiny pub that doubles up as a very small music venue at the weekends.
posted by ComfySofa at 8:40 AM on May 25, 2012

I work in Balham (well, Clapham South, same thing really). It's easy to walk to Clapham from there (~15 min), which has not only a large common but also a lot of cute shops, pubs, and restaurants. You can also easily take a bus to Clapham Junction, which is even nicer. You're very likely to find Londoners in these places and not tourists.
posted by toerinishuman at 9:01 AM on May 25, 2012

Bal-ham, gateway to the south!

East Dulwich is nice and pretty much off the tourist track, and there's a nice bar/pub/gallery on Lordship Lane. I only got to know it because of friends who live there.
posted by holgate at 9:07 AM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: Brixton is my area and fairly close to where you will be staying. I guess Brixton Village is a thing now? I don't know whether it's really common-tourist territory (yet) but there is some excellent food to be had there. The Brixton Windmill is a good small music venue and has things on most nights.

If you're into beer, the Crown&Anchor just opened on Brixton Road - I've not been yet but I keep meaning to.
posted by corvine at 10:02 AM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: The Bedford is considered a major hot spot in Balham, and would probably be to your liking.
posted by philipy at 10:17 AM on May 25, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies everyone, great suggestions so far! I just wanted to clarify: I'm not specifically looking for places around Balham, more that I want to get out and explore favorite places in lots of different neighborhoods.
posted by gregoryg at 10:28 AM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: Balham is surprisingly cool these days, you know. For food, try Lambert's if you like high end (ish) stuff at surprisingly good prices. For breakfast/brunch I often visit The French Cafe in Ritherdon Road because it's a nice spot and the food is good. The previously mentioned Bedford is merely an okay pub but it is one of the places for stand-up comedy on the nights it does Banana Cabaret.

On preview - just saw your clarification but I'll throw this out there anyway as I've already written it. :-)
posted by Decani at 10:31 AM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: The Rake claims to be the smallest pub in London (indoor seating for about 12, outdoor for another 20-30) and has something like 200 different bottled beers plus another 12 on tap (I don't think they do any, or many, mass-market lagers that you'd find anywhere/everywhere).

The Porterhouse in Covent Garden is, OTOH, one of the biggest with an even larger selection. And shows nothing but rugby.

And I like the Brixton Windmill too.

If you see a Taylor St Baristas, they have the best coffee.
posted by K.P. at 10:42 AM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: My interests are not yours, but some of my favourite lesser-known spots include the Wellcome Collection, the Brunei Gallery, the Petrie Museum, Chelsea Physic Garden, Sir John Soane's Museum, the Jewish Museum, Keats House, Dr Johnson's House and London Wetland Centre.

Climbing the Monument is fun, and cheaper than St Paul's. Borough Market is an interesting place to buy food or just browse. Harrow-on-the-Hill -- the actual hill where the school is, not the suburb below -- is a pretty area to walk around.

Cadogan Hall is an interesting music venue (mainly classical, some jazz and world music). Conway Hall has cheap classical concerts on Sunday evenings, as well as regular lectures and a large humanist library.

If you're a vegetarian (or even if you're not), I recommend Itadaki-Zen in King's Cross or Karma Free Pizza in Rayners Lane. If you visit the latter, you could also have a look at Europe's only Zoroastrian temple, built in a 1930s cinema. (It hasn't got its own site, so that's a post from my blog about my visit there; hope that's OK.)

I might think of some more later.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 10:48 AM on May 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

D'oh, can't believe I forgot Spirited Palace.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 11:11 AM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: Cafe OTO in Dalston is a much-loved avante garde music venue. Go there now before everyone else does.
posted by permafrost at 11:22 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Great curries in Tooting which is just down the road from Balham - Mirch Masala is a awesome bring your own booze place. Not so nearby but I'd check out Brick Lane or Spitalfield's market.
posted by laukf at 11:53 AM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: Spend an afternoon with Diamond Geezer's blog. One place in particular you can look in is the Random Boroughs section, where he visited all 33 over the past eight years. There are guaranteed to be tiny museums and offbeat places there somewhere in that rabbithole. Balham is in Wandsworth.
posted by randomination at 12:05 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding Brick Lane - but go past the curry houses and head towards the vintage shops and hipster bars towards the north.

You might want to try the Cellar Door in Aldwych, which is a bar in a converted underground public toilet.

Broadway Market is also very much a Londoner thing.

I also always recommend Highgate Cemetery - but make sure you go on the tour of the West Cemetery if you do travel up there.
posted by Summer at 1:02 PM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: So lots of things that young hipster-types are typically into, I guess?

Shoreditch and Hoxton are probably your places, then. I'm not hip enough to suggest exactly where, but I guess the area around Hoxton Square? I've been to Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen and Zigfrid von Underbelly recently and had a good time at both (they both do food and live gigs).

I second Brixton Village/Market - wander the market, eat cakes, get a cheap meal in the Village. And enough people have suggested the Windmill that we should have a meetup there...it has good music, a great soundman, and the coolest dog on the planet on the roof.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:05 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Walking along Regent Canal is nice and not too touristy - you could go from Camden Market west to the zoo, or in the other direction go from Islington or Hoxton out to Mile End. The Palm Tree is a nice pub out there, in a park right near the canal.
So is taking the Underground up to Hampstead Heath. Parliament Hill on a late summer evening, with all of the city spread out below you feels like the best place to be in the world. There are a couple of nice pubs up there too.
posted by Flashman at 1:54 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I drink at the Sir Richard Steele (aka The Steeles), Haverstock Hill. Last time I looked they had comedy on Saturday nights, but check. There's a good fish and chip shop, Olivers, next door. Combine with a walk on the heath or visit to Camden market? When I'm out east, I often eat at Mangal in Dalston (the one on the main road).
posted by londongeezer at 2:20 PM on May 25, 2012

Response by poster: So many great ideas! This gives me a lot of possibilities, thanks everyone. If you have more keep them coming :)
posted by gregoryg at 3:39 PM on May 25, 2012

If you see a Taylor St Baristas, they have the best coffee.

I beg to differ; that'd be Climpson and Sons in Broadway Market. Nude Espresso (near Brick Lane, and also in Soho Square) are pretty good too.

Shoreditch and Hoxton are probably your places, then. I'm not hip enough to suggest exactly where, but I guess the area around Hoxton Square?

Shoreditch/Hoxton are deteriorating into a heavily branded hipster theme park of promotional pop-up shops and purchasable experiences, much as Camden was turned into an alternative-rock theme park/open-air Hot Topic about a decade earlier. The artists and bohemians have long since been priced out of Shoreditch, and now the street art seems to be commissioned to give the area an “edge”.

From what I can tell, London Fields in Hackney is a bit of a hipster hangout in the summer months. It's also across the road from Broadway Market, which gets its fair share of hipsters/bobos. On the other side of the market is the canal, which, as Flashman mentioned, is great for walking (or cycling) along. They also now have Boris-bike rental spots near it.
posted by acb at 4:57 PM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: Explore Nerdy Day Trips and Travels With Beer.
posted by knile at 3:09 AM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Borough Market is considered touristy now - the smart foodies apparently moved to Maltby Street a while ago, and a number of businesses have moved on from there, even!

It's best to get to Borough Market very early (before 10 - after that the place fills up with what are disparagingly called "grazers" - tourists who wander around eating takeaway food and pigging out on the free samples) if you're going on a Saturday, but then you can combine it with a stroll along the river and Tate Modern (which might be touristy but which are absolutely essential anyway).

If you find yourself in the Waterloo area, have a coffee or a beer at Scooterworks - it used to be a Vespa repair shop, then they bought a Gaggia on a whim and now it's a hipster cafe. Nicer when it's quiet - they don't prize efficient service, but more than make up for it in character, if you're patient.

Oh, and FYI. We're having a Brooklyn invasion, apparently.
posted by Grangousier at 5:52 AM on May 26, 2012

Best answer: I'm late to this conversation, but as a resident of northwest London, my favorite local place is Hampstead Heath. And my favorite place on Hampstead Heath is The Pergola and Hill Garden. It's one of the most magical places I've been to in London. It's like something out of a fairy tale.

My second favorite place on Hampstead Heath is Parliament Hill-- it gives you a great view over London.

When you're done wandering around the Heath, head over to Hampstead village. Get a crepe at the crepe stand in front of the King William IV pub-- the sweet crepes are great. (The savory crepes are fine, but not as special.) If it's a hot day, you could instead (or in addition!) get ice cream at Slice of Ice. One of the London papers (maybe the Times?) called it the best ice cream in London. I don't think that's accurate-- but it's very good.

(What is the best ice cream in London, you ask? That would be Gelupo., near Picadilly Circus. All their gelato is fantastic, but any flavor involving ricotta is especially great. A great and fairly cheap evening in town is to go to dinner at The Tokyo Diner in Leicester Square; see a movie at The Prince Charles Cinema; then get gelato at Gelupo.)
posted by yankeefog at 7:17 AM on May 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If it's your first time in London, don't discount the big sights. As touristy as they are (Big Ben/Westminster, Palace, Tower, etc.), they are still pretty awesome as historical relics. However, I understand completely the desire to get off the beaten track a bit.

Wonderful afternoon walk: Try taking the train to Camden. After you spend 20 minutes checking out the markets and maybe grabbing lunch from one of the open stalls, find the Regents Canal walkway and walk west from Camden Lock to Regents Park/London Zoo along the canal walk. It gives you a chance to see a hidden part of London that many people miss. Then have a wonderful stroll through Regents Park (it's huge and varied) and exit out the bottom in Marylebone, where there's loads of cafes, pubs and restaurants to rest your feet, as well as the famous Daunt Books, a beautiful Edwardian bookstore.

Totally seconding Borough Market and Maltby St. for foodie-related enjoyment.

Also, a day out in Greenwich is a fun change of pace. You're still in the city, and yet you are not. The observatory, naval college and museum are a full afternoon. The Cutty Sark tavern has a lot of character and a great view overlooking the Thames. There's also a decent food market at Greenwich where you can get a very affordable and interesting lunch.
posted by amusebuche at 8:43 PM on May 27, 2012

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