Quirky Londoners, plz halp
July 24, 2014 8:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to London! Help me find fun things to do. I like comics, small indie concerts, clothes, outdoor markets, vintage stuff, handmade stuff, food, knitting, and going on walks.

I'll be in London, UK for nine weekdays in August. No "see the London Eye!" please; I'll be seeing the standard tourist sites on weekends with relatives. I'll be on my own in London the rest of the time, and I'm looking for activities to fill my mornings/afternoons/evenings.

I know about directories like Time Out London; the sheer amount of information tends to get overwhelming. I'm looking for specific recommendations here.

Thank you, Internet!
posted by A. mellifera to Travel & Transportation around London, England (23 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
If you like boardgames, hit up London On Board. They have multiple evening sessions a week and you can even spend an entire Sunday playing boardgames in a pub. I've only been once but have a friend who goes regularly and they're a friendly bunch.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:26 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I was in London in December, I spent a day just wandering around the side streets in Shoreditch. Lots of quirky little shops (including, down a long flight of stairs, a vintage shop that I could have spent a lifetime in) to poke through. Northern Line to the Old Street Station, walk up a few blocks to Shoreditch High Street, and explore. :)
posted by okayokayigive at 8:39 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cartoon Museum!
posted by raisingsand at 8:46 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

And if you have a smart phone, use one of the transport apps and you can go anywhere you want with ZERO headaches. We used Tube Tamer and it worked really great.
posted by raisingsand at 8:48 AM on July 24, 2014

Any specific kinds of food you like?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:50 AM on July 24, 2014

For vintage AND handmade stuff, head for Spitalfields Market. Bonus points: if you go there you also have the option of going to Teasmiths which is inside the market, for the best cup of tea in London*.


PS. I know you said no touristy stuff but whenever anyone says London Eye I want to beg with them to go to St Paul's Cathedral instead if they want a great view of London. Less expensive, no crazy queueing, and the bonus is you get to see the amazing building and its crypts if you want to as well.

posted by greenish at 8:56 AM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here's a five-minute London travelogue from Felicia Day. (Turn your volume down a little. Evidently, Ms Day was experiencing some sort of caffeine O.D. in this one.)

Highlights that stood out for me were Forbidden Planet Comics and Gosh Comics.
posted by trevor_case at 8:58 AM on July 24, 2014

I always enjoyed walks along the Regents Canal.

And speaking of canals, if you enjoy small, quirky museums, I can heartily recommend the London Canal Museum.
posted by ursus_comiter at 9:13 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Thursday vintage market at Old Spitalfields Market is the best IMO. I also enjoyed Portobello market (much more crowded, though) and some of the Camden markets, although you have to hunt around more to find anything good- at least when I was there a few years ago, most outdoor markets had various stalls selling the same mass produced clothes and junk, and Camden in particular is overrun with that kind of thing. The Market Hall and Stables sections had the best selection of handmade and vintage things, IIRC. Borough Market in Southwark is a great food-oriented market.

I want to go baaaack
posted by MadamM at 9:45 AM on July 24, 2014

Good, mostly-non-touristy markets (which are mostly open at the weekends, just FYI): London Fields (London Fields/Hackney), Camden Passage (Angel), Columbia Road (Benthal Green), Brick Lane (Shoreditch), Hampstead Heath (Hampstead/Kentish Town).

Camden and Borough Market are touristy but still nice to visit; I regularly grab lunch from Borough Market if I'm in South London at the weekend.

Parks: Hampstead Heath (Hampstead/Kentish Town), Victoria Park (Cambridge Heath), Epping Forest (Chingford), Queen's Park (Highgate).

Food: Soho, Angel.

Memail me if you want specifics!
posted by toerinishuman at 9:59 AM on July 24, 2014

I heard about this place from a friend and I've never been but I think it sounds amazing: Books for Cooks. Not only is it a cookbook store, they also have a cafe where they serve a meal with the recipes coming from the cookbook of the day.
posted by carolr at 10:33 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Run Riot is a left of centre listings site. It's curated so there's a lot less volume than time out.

Drink Shop Do is a cafe/bar with odd events.

Power Lunches is a very small bar with indie gigs.

Bethnal Green Working Man's Club looks and feels like a working man's club...but runs lots of interesting weird nights.

Walkit is useful for planning walks in London. There are also a number of long distance paths (Thames Path, London Circular, etc).

Also if you need people to do these things with meetup.com has lots of very active groups in London (including a couple of indie music groups).
posted by Erberus at 10:51 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

You might like Mudchute Farm. It's a hike from the tube station, but it's a great place to wander once you get there.

I also like Clerkenwell for wandering - it has a good mix of trendy/design-y stuff and historical sites. There are also lots of great restaurants there.
posted by snaw at 11:36 AM on July 24, 2014

Portobello Road Market on Saturday is a MUST.
posted by JenThePro at 11:48 AM on July 24, 2014

Get the Citymapper app for your phone - it tells you good routes by bus, tube, bikes etc.

If I were you I would take the river cruise down to Greenwich on a Thursday/Friday because it's wonderful and not massively expensive. You can walk along the river when you get there to see the Naval College, which is in every damned film you can name. Walk up the hill to the Royal Obsrvatory because the views are fab and the park is lovely. There are some sweet pubs near the river and a nice market for things like hats, earrings, art etc.

Then take the foot tunnel under the Thames if you like Victorian creepy coolness - and at Island Gardens you can get on the DLR. Sit at the front and pretend you're driving the driverless train. (Oh don't pretend you haven't done it, other Londoners).

I really like the very pointless emirates cable car nearby. I mean, it doesn't really go anywhere but it's fun.

For food, you could try borough market but NOT on a Saturday. There are kinds of food there I've never heard of before and the pubs are great.

Also, I think it's a smelly burny pit of hell, but visitors I've had from the US absolutely adored Camden Market. Even I can admit you can get groovy things there.

Seconding the rec for St. Paul's roof but you need to be fit and very not claustrophobic. I saw someone having a breakdown halfway up a ladder last time I went there. The views though, we're sublime.
posted by finisterre at 1:47 PM on July 24, 2014

I came in to suggest Drink Shop Do, but I see someone already has.  The Canal Museum that someone else mentioned is nearby (less than five minutes' walk), and another couple of minutes brings you to the free art galleries at the foot of the Guardian building, and another few minutes from there will bring you to Granary Square, where you'll find great street food at lunchtimes Tuesday-Friday and also the newly opened House of Illustration.  *pauses for breath*  I realise most of that isn't on your list of interests, but hey, you never know.  Then you can walk along Regent's Canal to Camden Market (warning: crazy busy on sunny Saturdays), and beyond it to Regent's Park, and if you're still enjoying the canal you can carry on past the aviaries and the houseboats (photo from here, a pretty nice description of walking the towpath, albeit going in the other direction) to Little Venice. This is another good account of the towpath walk.  Going a little further on, you'll find the entertaining Rolling Bridge (rolls up at about midday on Fridays, when two men turn up to test it) and then, outside Edgware Road Tube station, one of my favourite quirky statues.

Meanwhile, heading the other way from King's Cross, I gather that Loop in Islington is a delight for a serious knitter.

To find out about interesting things going on in London, I subscribe to Londonist's daily emails: instead of the overwhelming torrent of information you find on Time Out, you get a manageably short, curated list of things to do today (or tomorrow - they've taken to sending them out the night before). For instance, here's tomorrow's list.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:09 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

You want quirky - I'll give you quirky: The Nag's Head pub in Belgravia. Mobile phones not allowed, food not great, service rude, but you'll want to go there for the character which this tiny little pub has in spades: it's cluttered with all sorts of odd memorabilia and has a fabulously Dickensian feel.

Highgate Cemetery is a very well-established tourist attraction but there aren't words to describe how enormously moving and evocative a place it is, especially now in summer with the long summer evenings. Go for the guided tour of the west cemetery. The east is also beautiful but not as interesting or special. Highgate is a lovely place generally. After your walk through the cemetery you can refuel at High Tea of Highgate.

The markets (Camden, Portobello, Borough) are all great but do be warned how hideously crowded they can get on the weekends.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:30 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's a comics exhibition on at the British Library until August: http://www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/comics-unmasked/index.html, and if you're making a day of it you can wander up past Kings Cross station to Kerb for random streetfood: http://www.kerbfood.com/kings-cross/.
posted by symphonicknot at 4:12 PM on July 24, 2014

Walking around Shoreditch by yourself is okay, but if you're new to the area it can actually just be a lot of walking that looks the same as everywhere else in London. What do I suggest instead? A walking tour with Street Art London -- although the tour section of their website seems to be down at the moment, I've done the tour twice (once with students, once for the heck of it) and it's a fun way to see a lot of the area, some great art, and meet some people if you want. Both times we went for a meal/drink and so the entire experience ended up being about 3 hours.

I did one of the tours during the day and the other at night time -- both were awesome, so don't discount this as an evening activity.
posted by obliquicity at 3:40 AM on July 25, 2014

2nding the Street Art tour.

Hunterian Museum - we can pickle that
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 9:45 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you have a smartphone, try getting foursquare! It has a cool user base and is well known in London so it helps you find cool places to go nearby wherever you go.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 10:51 AM on July 25, 2014

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