The Solaris guide to London
I have been living in London for 15 years and I still love the big smoke dearly. So when friends ask me about what to do when traveling to the capital of Britain I am happy to give advice. So in order to not repeat myself all the time I thought I'd write up this little tourist guide for y'all...
A disclaimer: This is by no means an extensive list. Covering everything this amazing town has to offer would be impossible! So this travel guide is aimed at people being obsessed with the same stuff that I am: Shopping, Urban Art and Record Shops!
To start off I'd like to give the basic advice of allowing enough time. I'd say visit, at least for three days, not including travel. When I go on a city break, I try to fly in late on a Thursday to wake up fresh the next day and fly home on the Monday so I don't have to rush on the weekend. Just saying'...
Regarding accommodation, I would go for an AirBnB in the East London area: Shoreditch / Hackney. That's where all the fun is and you are not stuck somewhere in Zone 4 with no way to get home conveniently.
Airport wise, I prefer Gatwick and Luton as it's relatively well connected. Stanstead and Heathrow are further away and a bit of a pain in the butt.
Regarding travel within London: I'd get an Oyster card as soon as possible to get the best travel deals and the convenience of touching in and out. This card can be acquired at any tube station and returned for a refund when you leave town again.
The two apps to download: UBER and Citymapper! Now you are ready to go...
Day 1 - Friday: Shopping Mania!
Fresh out of bed I'd start with a breakfast on the go at Pret-A-Manger. Yes it's a chain but we don't have a lot of time and the food is great. Soho and Carnaby Street are full of stores with international acclaim so I'd wander from Holborn via Neil Street into Soho and further on to Carnaby Street. As I am into my Streetwear my points of call would be Supreme, Maharishi, Patta, Palace, Oi Polloi and Foot Patrol. More common spots to hit would be Adidas Originals, Nike, Size? and Carhartt. For a more eclectic taste I'd recommend Lazy Oaf and Dover Street Market. Especially Maharishi is worth a visit as the shop has a fantastic interior design!
A word of warning regarding visiting Supreme: The Hype is strong! Schedule in around 2 hours of waiting time to enter the store, especially on a Friday when they just got new stock in.
For lunch, I would try to grab a filthy meal deal at Boots or another super market along the way. You really can't fill your belly cheaper and we need all our money for booze and trainers later on!
If that doesn't tickle your fancy you can grab some food at the Japan Centre on Piccadilly Square: They got very affordable Sushi and Bento boxes.
Now that we are fed and freshly dressed we can continue to start record digging: Sounds of the Universe, Reckless Records, Sister Ray and Phonica are all in the area and cater for the vinyl obsessed.
The pubs will start filling up from 4 PM onwards so it's a great time to wrap up your shopping spree ( no pun intended ) and start getting some beers in whilst soaking up the hustle and bustle of the city. Expect to see loads of Bankers getting absolutely shitfaced! Great people watching spots are The John Snow or The Coach & Horses.
British etiquette: No half Pints and Shandies allowed! A proper visit to the pub consists of four pints average BY LAW! Bar snacks can be consumed, I would recommend Pork Scratchings. More certified British snacks would be Wotsits, Monster Munch and Scampi Fries. Bar snacks / crisps are regarded actual food in Britain so don't feel bad if your dinner accidentally consists of 5 pints of beer and a bag of dry roasted nuts. We all been there!
The John Snow pub actually belongs to a group of pubs run by the Samuel Smith brewery: This means it doesn't serve big mainstream beers like Heineken or Stella but brands brewed by Samuel Smith. The good thing about it: The price for booze is very affordable and well below other pubs! So seek them out, there are a couple located in Soho!
For dinner, I'd hit Bodeans to get some filthy ribs or pulled pork. Other places to check out would be Wahaca for some Mexican Street Food and great Tequilas or any of the other chain restaurants that litter the area: Busaba Eatthai, Byron Burgers, Chipotle wraps. What can I say... I am a man of simple pleasures!
If you wanna go posh I'd recommend Yauchatcha: A trendy Dim Sum place with great food and interior...
For some late night entertainment I would just spend the night in the pub and get drunk: It's a British classic! If you feel more cultural you might want to catch a musical or check out the Prince Charles Cinema: Their prices are really cheap and they show a lot of weird cult flicks and sing-a-longs! My favorite cinema in London...
If you want to drink late and don't fancy a horrible overpriced and naff Soho bar I'd go to the Crow Bar which is open until 3 AM. But be careful: The patrons do enjoy their Heavy Metal!
If you feel peckish after I'd definitely go to Bar Italia for a late night snack and coffee: This place is just legendary and a must see!
Day 2: Tourist stuff and museums
On Saturday I'd start early with a walk through Bricklane. There is loads of great Street Art to check out: Either in the Normadic Gardens, on the walls around Bricklane or at Stolen Space Gallery at the Whitechapel end of the street. In any case, check out the motorcycle shop run by London Artist D*Face called Rebel Alliance and grab some nice patches or a cool T Shirt! If your art taste is more contemporary: There is Whitechapel Gallery just down the road also.
FYI: I put a lot of stickers up in that area so keep your eyes peeled and tag me on Instagram! ;)
If you get hungry grab a beigel from the legendary Beigel Bake at the top of Bricklane. Open 24/7 on 365 days in the year! I even spotted Apex Twin there one day so you are in good company. Go for the salty Beef Beigel with mustard! A Bricklane essential...
Then onwards to London Bridge. Take the 149 Bus from Liverpool Street Station and ride all the way down to the river. Have a walk via Borough Market, past the Golden Hinde towards Tate Modern. Especially the new extension is worth a visit as you can be a bit of a peeping Tom!
From there you can continue walking up alongside the river towards the Southbank Centre, the London Eye and finally Big Ben! If you still can walk I'd cross the river and go central again via Trafalgar Square and maybe holla at Buckingham Palace if you must. That should all your tourist snaps be done then!
I'd then jump on the tube and head back East to grab some Vietnamese food in Shoreditch. But a word of warning: Don't get caught up in some naff tourist bar after for drinks! If they have an excessive amount of neon in their windows... MOVE ON!
My recommendations for after food liquid entertainment would be Dragon Bar, Jaguar Shoes, Old Shoreditch Station and the Bricklayers Arms to name check the few cool places in the heavily gentrified area. A hidden gem is the Bar Bohemia with its entrance innocently hidden between a news agent and a Kebab shop. But don't be fooled! Bar Bohemia is a fantastic place for cocktails in a 60ties retro setting. Highly recommended! They got loads of Absinth too... be careful!
As the night progresses I'd head up further East: Dalston is full of pubs and venues to dance the night away and get some drinks in. My recommendations: The Shakewell Arms and Dalston Superstore ( yes it's a LGBTQ bar but Hetero friendly and a lot of fun! ) and The Alibi.
If you are a fan of the Resident Evil franchise I would definitely check out the Ridley Road Market Bar. It's a trendy Berlin-esque bar in the middle of the notorious Ridley Road Market in Dalston where during the day many local butchers sell their wares... just so you can enjoy the sweet smell of rotting flesh whist queueing up for your Mojito at night! It's definitely an authentic East London experience...
For a late night snack I'd recommend the awesome Lamb Shish at Umut 2000: All meaty awesomeness wrapped in home baked bread and cooked over a big fire!
If you see some elderly men walking up the street: That could be British art duo Gilbert & George who frequent the same Turkish restaurant every day for art reasons. Mangal 2 doesn't only serve great Turkish food but has the most hilarious Twitter feed ever. Check it!
Sunday Day 3: Chill and Sunday Roast
Sunday is fun day! As all museums and shops will be open it's possible to wrap up any loose ends from Friday or Saturday. Just make sure you are in a good pub to eat a proper British roast around 5PM!
A great spot to hang out when the weather is good is the Columbia Flower Market. It's very close to Bricklane so if you still want to check out Stolen Space or the markets you can easily wander over. My pub of choice in the area would be The Royal Oak for a cheeky afternoon pint and a roast!
For record lovers, the East has some great shops to discover as well: From the more obvious Rough Trade and Sister Ray to Love Vinyl, Kristina Records, Eldica and Lucky 7. And whilst you are in the area, why not say hi to NTS Radio which has its recording studio near the Dalston Overland Station.
When the night falls head over to The Haggerston, a pub between Haggerston Station and Dalston. They have live Jazz on Sundays and the place is rammed with Hipsters... and I mean this in the best way possible! It's open late so expect to get drunk and have a dance! Do it! If you are single this is a great spot to check out too #meatmarket
Now if you have been clever and listened to my advice you can sleep in a little before packing your things and heading home on Monday. I hope this guide helped you a little. Hit me up on Twitter if you have any questions, always happy to help! For further research, I would recommend TimeOut and TripAdvisor.
Essential British vocabulary:
Cheers! Thank you!
Are you taking the piss? Are you bullshitting me?
Let's go for a cheeky half! Let's get really drunk!
You foookin' cunt!!! You god damn vagina! ( Worst insult in the British language )
Getting smashed / shitfaced / hammered = Getting drunk
Hair of the dog = To continue drinking when hangover
In that note... hope you enjoyed my little introduction to the awesomeness that is London. And remember: Don't take the piss... you cheeky twats!
Group hug, Solaris