Interesting places for a stroll in London?
February 14, 2007 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm in London with some time to kill, and looking for some interesting places to wander around.

I'm not thinking tourist attractions like the Tower of London or Big Ben (I am interested in seeing them, but that's for later in the trip). I'm thinking more along the lines of proper musty dimly-lit secondhand bookshops, weird little curio shops, interesting old neighborhoods, lesser-known historical sites...

Basically, my plan is to travel to a particular Tube station, get off, and spend the afternoon strolling around and looking at stuff. I just need to know which station, and which way to stroll.

(bonus question: your suggestion for the best comic shop in London?)
posted by rifflesby to Travel & Transportation around London, England (24 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by mooders at 8:09 AM on February 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

The whole Inns of Court area is worth a wander. Basically get off the tube at Temple and head away from the river northeast-ish. I once came across a bird of prey exhibition in the bandstand of one of the little parks. Complete with the world's cutest baby owl.
posted by jontyjago at 8:19 AM on February 14, 2007

Best answer: Upper Street in Islington sounds just what you are looking for. Antiques, bookshops, oddities and a nice neighborhood feel. Either start at Angel and walk north to Highbury, or the other way round.
posted by grahamwell at 8:22 AM on February 14, 2007

Best answer: Tube: Tottenham Court Road (Circle or Northern Line).

Round the corner is Charing Cross Road. Enjoy.

Comics - just down the road and round the corner is Forbidden Planet in Shaftesbury Avenue
posted by Webbster at 8:26 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sir John Soane's Museum is just out of Holborn station. You leave the station on Holborn road, turn left and just before the Catholic Church (and the fruit stand) make another left through the alleyway. That will take you to a big park. The museum (which is free) is on the left hand side in the middle of a big bundle of row houses. Once you are done, walk out of the museum, turn left again and you will reach a high wall. Walk to the opening and you reach Grey's Inn, the inns of court for the city of London, the church there is where the Templars are buried and is a real sight. If you walk through the Inn, you can reach the Old Bailey, which is where the Law Lords meet in session.

I can't believe I still remember this, as I haven't been in over four years.
posted by parmanparman at 8:29 AM on February 14, 2007

Another (rather obvious) suggestion. Start at Chalk Farm station and walk south across the railway lines to Regent's park. The walk will take you through a pretty little neighborhood with pavement cafes and piano music floating out of open windows. At Regent's Park walk east along the canal, past the Zoo and into Camden Town. From Camden Town tube you can complete the circle back to Chalk Farm, taking in the markets, or check out Megacity comics in Inverness Street.

Complete the North London triple with a wander round Hampstead. Circular walks from the station should take in Keats' House and a bit of the heath. It's all good.
posted by grahamwell at 8:35 AM on February 14, 2007

hamstead heath and the surrounding community is a great place for a stroll, tho it's a rather long tube ride from the city...worth it tho if the weather isn't too shabby...

i have always enjoyed strolling the south bank, tho that's pretty touristy....

the imperial war musuem is one of the best in London, and not overly touristy...

Greenwich is also very awesome, kinda touristy, but after many trips to london i had never been, and really enjoyed a thames boat ride down there, it's great! The tube right there is also kind of an adventure, you go through all kinds of neat formerly very bombed out areas that are now getting upscale high rise it over to greenwich, then take the little boat back toward the city center...

You could also get off at Russell Square and head north to the British Library, it's a cool place with some neat collections

One other cool place is Sloane (Sloane station i think) you could go to the National Army Museum, i used to work there, it's pretty neat...but the Royal Hospital there along kings road is also awesome, so is the riverside and shops in area
posted by Salvatorparadise at 8:36 AM on February 14, 2007

If you really feel like a good walk that combines the mainstream with the unusual then you could do much worse than simply follow the Thames. For example you could walk from the Thames barrier all the way up to Kew Gardens with a couple of days to spare. There are many shorter variations.

Markets are among the best excuses to pick a tube station for strolling. One of my favourites is Columbia Road Flower market on a Sunday morning. Spitalfields and Brick Lane markets are also close by on the same day.
posted by rongorongo at 8:58 AM on February 14, 2007

Last time I was in London, I went shopping in Piccadilly and was in the same situation as you. So I just walked Southeast. A little ways later, I ended up in Trafalgar Square. I kept moving south and found St. James Park. I stayed there for a while, because it's still a beautiful stroll no matter how well-known it is. Then I continued walking down that road. The end of it looked rather familiar, but I had no clue what it was. So once I reached the big mansion at the end, I asked a fellow traveller what the place was. They looked at me like I was a total moron and said, "Buckingham Palace!" Thus, I stayed there for a while and later went back to my place in the Southbank from Victoria station.

The moral of the story? I kinda put myself in that state of mind that I was gonna get lost for a while. I had actually made it an active point to avoid Buckingham. But it was still fun. Perhaps that's something you could do?
posted by arishaun at 9:13 AM on February 14, 2007

Here is a good thread on London nooks and crannies that is good. Buying the Timeout Book of London Walks is probably an essential purchase, too.

The Holborn/Inns of Court/Sir John Soane museum suggestion is excellent. On another suggestion, there isn't an area called Sloane in case you try to look it up, the area is Chelsea. The tube stop is Sloane Square. You have the King's Road and Knightsbridge to wander around, here, too, plus Chelsea Physic Garden (next door to the Army Museum is worth a look).
posted by greycap at 9:49 AM on February 14, 2007

Best comic shop Gosh! opposite the British Museum. That's in Bloomsbury which is quite an interesting area to wander around. Shops selling curios in Museum Street, Coptic Street; SOAS (School of Oriental Arts and Sciences), including the wonderful Percival David collection of china in a townhouse, and other University of London Colleges; RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts); the Architectural Association which often has exhibitions open to the public; Mary Ward House which is an excellent example of Arts & Crafts architecture. Lots of English Heritage blue plaques - including Bloomsbury set references. Take the tube to Tottenham Court Road/Russell Square/Goodge Street.

Obligatory Londoner comment: Big Ben is not a tourist attraction, Big Ben is the name of a bell.
posted by boudicca at 9:51 AM on February 14, 2007

There is a musty second hand bookshop in Notting Hill which should please you greatly. There are some gems to be found in there and you can easily kill a few hours in and around the area. There is also a basement where all items are 10pence - 50pence. Its on the Portebello road right opposite the bus 31 stop.
posted by mycapaciousbottega at 10:04 AM on February 14, 2007

The Cabinet War Rooms, while not exactly lesser-known, are fantastic. One of the best museums I've ever visited (arguably because they had such good stuff to work with, but it is very well presented). In and out in less than an hour.
posted by genug at 10:52 AM on February 14, 2007

I take a lot of my out town guests to Highgate Cemetery.

Moody, historic, memorable, Gothic, Victorian and totally off the beaten path. Bonus: Archway Tube station is on a large hill overlooking London. Wonderful views really help the visitor get his/her bearings.
posted by Mutant at 11:06 AM on February 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

I can recommend Clerkenwell. Very central, and very interesting. Also home to the Jerusalem Tavern, one of the oldest and best pubs in London.

Don't forget to switch south a little bit, and have a walk around Smithfield as well.

There's not that much in the way of shopping around here - although head up to Exmouth Market and there are lots of small shops, restaurants and bars.

posted by coach_mcguirk at 11:18 AM on February 14, 2007

I just came in here to post about Clerkenwell and Exmouth Market. Drat.
posted by randomination at 11:27 AM on February 14, 2007

Everyone seems to have stolen my suggestions: Islington, Clerkenwell, the Inns of Court (Lincoln's Inn is quite interesting to walk through), Exmouth Market, etc.

You could try the reading room in the middle of the British Museum. You can walk right in and take a book off the shelf and read all you want. It's definitely a scholarly environment, and most of the time the dull roar from the tourists can be tuned out.

In Islington try walking along the canal (east of Upper St.). That was always fun, and usually peaceful.

As long as the wind isn't crazy, walking up Primrose Hill to get a view of the city is nice. It's just north of Regent Park.

Charing Cross Road for books.

How I miss London.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 12:36 PM on February 14, 2007

boudica beat me to it: the shops south of the British Museum (between Gt Russell Street and Bloomsbury Way, more or less) are well worth a wander, particularly the ones dealing in early 1900s esoterica. Ever wanted the collected works of Swedenborg or Madame Blatavsky? That's where you'll find them.

You can easily combine that with the Soane house and Inns of Court by heading east to Holborn.

(Tube? Tottenham Court Rd is closer, though you'll get in the mood better by walking from Russell Square and avoiding the Oxford Street hordes.)
posted by holgate at 12:42 PM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you do go to Islington, make sure you go to Paul A Young's chocolate shop, which is nestled among lots of antique shops on Camden Passage.
posted by holgate at 12:45 PM on February 14, 2007

Nthing John Soane house, British Museum, Cabinet War Rooms, Camden Passage antique shops.

Rules of wandering - if you see an interesting looking side street or alleyway, take it, you never know what you will find. Especially in London.

Rules of wandering London - tube stations are very close together. If you're spending the day walking round, you're almost better off not aiming to get back to the same station.

posted by finding.perdita at 1:10 PM on February 14, 2007

Nthing Camden to Chalk Farm, Cabinet War Rooms, Islington.

Additional suggestion - the city (as in, the financial district). Lots of the really old, historic london streets and institutions are here, so the architecture can be fabulous. You will find a marker designating the start point of the Great Fire of London in Pudding Lane. There's probably a great suggested walk to found online for this area, I don't know it offhand.
posted by Joh at 4:31 PM on February 14, 2007

For me, the "Treasures of the British Library" at St Pancras is the coolest room in London. The number and quality of the pieces is stunning. After you've had your fill of Maps, Bibles, Magna Cartas, and Shakespeare folios, they'll smack you with original Lewis Carroll text or Beatles lyrics in Paul and John's handwriting. Super Cool.
posted by bruceo at 8:38 PM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh - and take the BUS rather than the tube if you can. You get a better view, see where places are relative to each other and have the opportunity to hop off and explore if you see anything that interests you.
posted by rongorongo at 1:59 AM on February 15, 2007

Seconding Time Out London Walks (there are two books of these). They are meditations on an area or a theme as well as walks, so you could use them as a starting point to more off-topics wanderings of your own. Perhaps if there's something you're particularly interested in you could put together a walk of your own.
posted by paduasoy at 8:25 PM on February 15, 2007

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