London in April?
March 24, 2019 10:34 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I will be in London for work in April. What can we do on nights and weekends? Difficulty: I don't like touristy, "you pays your money and you takes your look" kind of stuff. More inside on what I do like.

I'm into mundane details. E.g., in New York I would ride around the subways, wander through a bunch of grocery stores, attend random church services, eat at halal carts and dollar pizza joints.

(For all the New Yorkers here: I understand that's not the entirety of the New York experience, and that getting stuck in a tunnel once doesn't compare to the daily horror of commuting on the green line, but that sort of stuff holds my attention in a way that, e.g., the Empire State Building sky deck didn't.)

I like to try traditional foods that have fallen by the wayside, regional specialties, and local interpretations of foreign food. In Ohio, that was goetta from Jungle Jim's, Skyline chili, and random Ethiopian place where we were the only people in the place, had to get the waiter out of the kitchen, and ordered by telling her how many people we wanted her to feed.

I like cheap theater, like the kind of production where half the audience are attending for the sake of their relatives in the cast and the entire set is ten apple boxes stacked in various configurations. Some of my favorite shows have been student productions of The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Beauty Queen of Leenane, if that gives you an idea of my taste.

We're staying in E1 for work, but it's looking like E1 expects a better-heeled class of tourist. We'd be happy to take trips out of London on the weekends, especially if that meant I could ride an UK train. I get very excited about public transit. Also, it would probably be unsafe and/or illegal for us to drive in the UK.
posted by meaty shoe puppet to Travel & Transportation around London, England (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
For forgotten local food, try Eel Pie and Mash.

I suspect London has at least one ethnic restaurant from every country in the world. I've always enjoyed comparing British ethnic foods with the American interpretation of the same cuisine. British Chinese food is the best!

The London Transport Museum or the Post Office Underground Railway are worth a trip for infrastructure fans.
posted by monotreme at 11:28 PM on March 24, 2019

For the weekend, markets. London markets can be amazing just for browsing, as well as buying souvenirs that will actually capture the spirit of your visit rather than something with London on it. You sound like you'd enjoy the "others" on this list, though of the tourist ones, Brick Lane was great, Camden is worth a visit, and I love the antique clothing part of Portobello Road Market.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 11:36 PM on March 24, 2019

You should check out the british canals for a unique experience. Ideally by renting a narrowboat for a weekend.
If that won't work then take the trip boat from Little Venice to Camden Market, where you will find loads of food trucks. From there, walk up to Primrose hill for a nice view of London.,_London_-_April_2011.jpg
posted by Akke at 12:04 AM on March 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you’re staying near Aldgate or Shoreditch rather than Whitechapel - I like the market on Whitechapel Road because it’s not touristy. For something. Bit different try Columbia Flower Market on Sunday morning.

For local forgotten traditional food try Rinkoffs, I like the one on Valance St better. Also there is a jellied eel cart on Brick Lane I think. For pie and mash - the proper thing - Manzies is the place to go just south of Tower Bridge.

For public transport yes there is the tube. If you want to go in rush hour do read up on the local mores (stand on the right) so you can feel like part of the well oiled commuting machine. Also check out the DLR.

In terms of theatres, there’s dozens to try - my local was Southwark Theatre which I think might fit the bill.

Have fun!
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 12:10 AM on March 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you're looking for what Londoners do for local tourism, I'd suggest Ian Visits and Diamond Geezer as a list of things on the intersect between lesser known tourism and extremely niche exploration of public space. You should get a feel for a few interesting things to do there.
posted by ambrosen at 1:04 AM on March 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

You might want to look up student productions, for theater. See if LAMDA or RADA are putting out plays when you are there, and explore the theater clubs at the local universities, too.

My favourite thing to do in London is walk along the South Bank, from Westminster to the London Bridge, in the early evening when the sun is setting. April should be late enough that you can get away with a light jacket. There's the secondhand book market under Waterloo Bridge until 7pm, plenty of restaurants along the way, and the Globe at the end of the walk.
posted by snakeling at 1:09 AM on March 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

1. Ride the Docklands light railway, the Post Office trains, and go through the Thames Tunnel on foot
2. Eat at Lahore Kebab House, Tayyab’s, and Maltby St market
3. Wander through the east end Sunday markets, especially Columbia Row
posted by roofus at 2:11 AM on March 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Highly recommend a stroll along Brick Lane for "local interpretations of foreign food" - if you like Indian cuisine at all it's the curry capital of the UK, and there's some extremely good bagel shops there too. I also love Borough Market, but that's more "current UK trends in food", so if you're looking for somewhere a bit more traditional maybe give it a miss. If you do go, don't go on a weekend.

In terms of theatre, there's a lot of fringe theatre about, ranging from very good to very bad. This is a fairly useful website for shows that could go either way.
posted by spielzebub at 2:17 AM on March 25, 2019

Seconding Brick Lane. Keep exploring the alleyways until you find the tables with smaller vendors selling random things. Also Ridley Road market for a very local non-touristy feel.

I like the tiny little antique/flea markets in Camden Passage in Islington (used to be my neighborhood.)

Seconding Docklands Light Railway. Also the Overground, and the "river buses" that go to Greenwich.

Lots of "room above a pub" theaters including the Old Red Lion and King's Head Theatre Pub (in Angel). One step up in size is the Tristan Bates which has that hole-in-the-wall off-Broadway feel. There's a little cafe where theater types gather.

I love plain average chip shops... especially the fried chicken. I also love Roti King which is hidden away near Euston Station.

This might be too touristy for your taste -- but I love it -- Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese at 145 Fleet -- one of the oldest pubs in London.

Also -- if you're there on a Sunday, pop in to any pub offering a Sunday lunch. Some have gotten "artisanal" about it in Shoreditch, but there are many offering the traditional -- a roast, potatoes & veg, Yorkshire pudding.
posted by profreader at 3:15 AM on March 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Give Brick Lane a go by all means, but I think it be will be too touristy for the depth of everyday particularity you seek.

From where you are staying, walk up Hoxton Street. You will pass through the wealthy money end first—to see it take a look at Hoxton Square then return to Hoxton Street. Walk north through a mixture of local shops, job centres, libraries and community colleges that service the needs of a racially-diverse working class and the new middle class that has moved in. There will be an odd street market where you can buy cheap towells and toiletries.

By all means pop into F Cooke and have pie and mash and liquor (very traditional white working class fare). Have a pint in the Macbeth or the Howl at the Moon which both cater for younger, more mobile crowds. But make sure you leave Hoxton Street to visit the Daisy Café on Pearson Street. This is a cheap greasy spoon café heavily populated by locals. It is the opposite of a destination place. Have a mug of tea and listen to the conversations around you.

You are now free—journey back south down Kingsland Road for Vietnamese food, or walk East or West along the canal path, or journey north up Kingsland Road through Haggerston (past Burley Fisher books) to Dalston, where I would visit the daily market and again listen to the people. Spend the evening here. Visit the Oxfam thrift store and see what people throwaway. Watch fashionable people and watch unfashionable people. Visit Café Oto for improvisation of jazz, sometimes great, sometimes not. Go home.
posted by einekleine at 3:43 AM on March 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

London districts are super-varied; E1 covers a wide range of sins, everything from Spitalfields to Mile End. You'll get a fair bit of variety of domestic vs tourist life just walking back and forth to the tube station. Turn the corner off millionaire's row and you'll find yourself in a concrete council estate; London is no respecter of social divides.

If you're here for a month then definitely try and get out of London for a day trip or an overnight - almost all of the UK is accessible via a less-than-4hr train ride so you're not even really limited on where you go. If the weather is nice, down to the coast (Whitstable or Brighton to play on the slot machines) or to another city (Bath or Bristol for a different UK vibe).

If you're into public transport, make sure you ride the DLR for sure (no drivers!); and take the bus a couple of times. Buses are confusing for basically all of us, but there are a couple of routes which have the new fancy Routemasters, with old-fashioned back staircases. I love getting on these if I have an excuse.

The most mundane things I can think of usually involve the pub - Sunday lunch, a pint after work, watching a match for an hour or so. Find a local boozer - bonus points if you're on the river - and have a couple of pints and some chips.
posted by citands at 3:49 AM on March 25, 2019

I am a Londoner living in E2 and have been for the past four years.

Brick Lane is cool as a tourist destination, but their curries are terrible and are suitable only for hen/ stag parties, and tourists from Essex who don't know any better. The food has long lost any authenticity.

I support roofus recommendation to go to:

1. Ride the Docklands light railway, the Post Office trains, and go through the Thames Tunnel on foot
2. Eat at Lahore Kebab House, Tayyab’s, and Maltby St market"
3. Wander through the east end Sunday markets, especially Columbia Row [sic - actual spelling is 'Road']

East end Sunday markets are cool, but Columbia Road and Broadway market are now full of Instagrammers and tourists.

If you want a real proper market, go to Dalston's Ridley Road Market, open on Saturdays. It's slowly dying from gentrification but it's real and authentic and full of fresh fish sloshing about in Styrofoam boxes and Turkish restaurants. You can take the Overground line from Whitechapel (e1) and ride it up to Dalston. Overground line is good for sight-seeing because (as the name suggests), it's overground.

Like someone above mentioned, you could walk from Ridley Road Market -> Hoxton -> Kingsland Road/ Haggerston -> E1, which would tick a lot of your boxes.
posted by moiraine at 5:09 AM on March 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Ride the North London Line overground train.

Go to a non-league / lower league football match (Leyton Orient will be closest, also Barnet FC, AFC Wimbledon, Dagenham & Redbridge ).
posted by el_presidente at 6:07 AM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I second strolling along the South Bank. Always one of my favorite things to do in London. Afterwards you can get a drink at Gordons Wine Bar, as long as you can squeeze yourself in.

A sibling took me to lunch at the Cheshire Cheese pub recently and it was magnificent. We ate so much food we could barely talk, let alone walk, the rest of the day. It's the kind of totally old-school heavy on the meat and stodgy pudding food that evokes boarding school cooking: except it's delicious. And there is something incredible about eating somewhere that's several hundreds of years old. I didn't find it very touristy, but we were there for late lunch on a weekday.

I've been longing to try this place since I read the review in 2017: A Neapolitan family restaurant in Notting Hill. Camberwell and Brixton are interesting and non-touristy neighborhoods to just stroll around.
posted by EllaEm at 6:18 AM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

For mundanity, this is something I used to do if I was bored on a weekend in London - take the DLR to Canary Wharf. It's usually super busy with city workers but on a weekend it's totally dead and it's interesting to wander around looking at the huge buildings and transport stations with no people around. I would hit up the Museum of London Docklands, which is quite good and not usually on the tourist track.

Don't know how far you want to venture, but if you are there for a good long time and want to see ALL of London, some ideas from North London:
- take a train up to Alexandra Palace, just to have a look at the building. From there you can walk to Muswell Hill, which is pretty. I used to walk from my flat near Ally Pally, through Highgate Wood, over to the Prince of Wales pub for a quiz. A long walk but a nice one; lots of interesting houses to peer at.
- Take a bus up the hill through Archway. You will see lots of ordinary life there, and some great views. St. Etienne has a song lyric about Archway - "There are some nice parts of can see them from here."
- Walk up Green Lanes through the Harringay Ladder, visit random shops and Turkish restaurants and bakeries. Good baklava.
- Crouch End is nice to walk around. Maybe a bit more "cutesy" than you want, but it's got some nice pubs (the Kings Head has comedy in the basement).

I also second the tip to go to West London and look around the canals. Get on a boat if you can, or you could have a wander through Little Venice and then go to the Canal Cafe Theatre, it's a fringe comedy venue.

I used to do student theatre so I am friends with a lot of comedy/theatre people. Agree with the advice to find theatres above pubs, there are too many to list. I just looked at the FB page of my most out-there performance art type friend, and she's been doing her scratch performances at The Depot Clapton and The Betsey Trotwood. For something maybe a little more polished but still off the beaten track, you could check out The Yard or the New Diorama Theatre.
posted by cpatterson at 7:08 AM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Le Cochonnet used to be my local pizza joint when I lived in Maida Vale. I probably ate there or got takeaway at least once a week. I doubt you would find anyone eating there who lived more than half a mile away (unless they were someone's guest). I proposed to my wife in there in 2007.
posted by el_presidente at 7:11 AM on March 25, 2019

Museum of English Rural Life at University of Reading looks like fun.
posted by MichelleinMD at 7:47 AM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

You should check out the british canals for a unique experience. Ideally by renting a narrowboat for a weekend.
If that won't work then take the trip boat from Little Venice to Camden Market, where you will find loads of food trucks.

I was coming in to say exactly this. I spent a very pleasant couple hours on a weekend riding the canal ferry from Camden Market to Little Venice and back again; I even got a tea break at the Little Venice side. (We had to stop anyway and I was the only passenger, so the captain told me to go chill out at a little cafe-on-a-boat that was there; the shopkeeper was trying to wrap up early and gave me a free cupcake.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on March 25, 2019

Do one of these guided walking tours (recommended by me on a previous thread and apparently enjoyed by the recipient of the recommendation).
posted by caek at 10:49 AM on March 25, 2019

In London you can just walk and always find something fascinating! Read the plaques and road names and you get a sense of the history.

Walking around Highgate cemetary isn't a typical tourist activity but a very interesting dip into historic London.

You might or might not enjoy the non touristy museum's? The British library often has little exhibitions on and the Wellcome trust gallery has a great permanent exhibition of medical artifacts. British museum has evening events too and you won't be fighting crowds around the Rosetta stone. These are cultural events that are typically attended by locals.
posted by kadia_a at 10:54 AM on March 25, 2019

For cheap and enthusiastic theatre, you might check out London's improv scene. The Nursery Theatre, Hoopla, and C3Something are all good bets.

I've also heard fantastic things about Showstoppers and Austentatious.

You could also check out The London Comics and Improvisers network for leads on other shows while you're around.

(Disclaimer: In the past, I've appeared in shows with The Nursery, Hoopla, and C3Something. While I'm not currently involved with any of them, I still have friends who are.)
posted by yankeefog at 11:21 AM on March 25, 2019

Another fun/random thing to do: be an audience member for a BBC radio or TV show. Interesting to see behind the scenes.
posted by EllaEm at 11:30 AM on March 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

For theatre, you could try Camden People’s Theatre, the Arcola, the King’s Head Pub Theatre in Islington, the Rosemary Branch, the Tower Theatre. The Tower is actual am dram, most of the others are probably mostly inclined to early career professionals. The Arcola has some slightly more established professional stuff as well as early-career, but has pretty interesting programming across the board.
posted by penguin pie at 12:43 PM on March 25, 2019

I've lived in London for 7 years & my fave thing to do is to wander around Abney Park (overgrown cemetery/arboretum) when the weather is nice. On a Saturday you could also pop into the Stoke Newington farmers' market.

Also on Saturday nights, if you like live swing music (dancing optional, though lots of people do), Juju's is free & has nice drinks & lots of places to sit if you're not a dancer.

There is also an absolutely adorable board game cafe on a bus (they also recommend & explain games to their patrons, it's amazing).
posted by diffuse at 12:57 PM on March 25, 2019

You might find this list interesting:

It's a lot of places that are off the beaten track.

From E1 there are a lot of great walks you can do. One direction is to Spitalfields market, which is pleasant for getting gifts for family and yourself. From there you can walk across past Poppy's into Brick Lane market and its surroundings, where there are market stalls, odd shops and lots of great street art.

You can also walk down to the river. Head for London Bridge and walk through Borough market, then on to Westminster. It's a bit touristy but it is interesting.

As previous commenters have said, get the Docklands Light Railway. If you sit at the front, the views are great and you can pretend you're driving the train. The Greenwich foot tunnel is great and Greenwich at the other side is worth your time. Walk through the market and then up to the Royal Observatory, and across to Blackheath, which is a great walk with an awesome icecream shop at the end of it.

Finally, if you want great views, take the train to Gospel Oak and walk up to Parliament Hill for the best views.

Its worth bookmarking the TfL website on your phone or getting Citymapper. You'll be able to take buses and that's always a great way of seeing the city.
posted by finisterre at 2:51 PM on March 25, 2019

1. Take the boat East to Greenwich. Naval museum, royal observatory, great market. Walk up the hill in the park for amazing view of Docklands financial district across the river (picnic?). The Green Pea restaurant in Greenwich is also very special.
2. Not a lot of mentions of South London in comments above. Brixton is a great experience, very gentrified now, but the food market is still wonderful (pigs heads etc) and lots of lovely restaurants and bars just next door. Top two floors of the car park in Peckham (google: franks) definitely worth a visit at sunset.
posted by greytape at 4:59 PM on March 30, 2019

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