Quirky London: An Alternative Guide

In London for work or to soak up the glamour of the fashion week? If you have a couple of extra days you might as well put on the tourist badge.

by Sara Kaufman

Two options: either go mainstream and head straight to Buckingham Palace and Covent Garden, or skip the Grand Tour and go off the beaten path. First option? Enjoy and please send pics. Second option? We’ve got you covered!

Visit

London’s art scene does not require introduction. Whether or not you know your Hirst from your Lachapelle, you’ve certainly heard of the Tate and the Victoria & Albert. So how about a trip to The Photographers’ Gallery? Located in cool Soho, this former warehouse focuses on the social value of photography. It has showcased names like Jurgen Teller, Salgado and Corinne Day. Currently on show – until October 14th – is a solo exhibition of Tish Murtha (1956 – 2013) portraying the rough beauty of the British working class.

tish murthaPhoto courtesy of The Photographer’s Gallery. ©Tish Murtha

Related article: The Serpentine Gallery 

Camden Market opened in 1976, stomping ground for the new-born Londonese punk scene. Nowadays – for good or for bad – studs, patches and The Clash have been mostly replaced by street food. However, in that same area, you can access the Regents Canal and stroll along the docks, between weeping willows, the London zoo and bohemian looking barges.

camden lock regents canal

If Camden has lost some of its original vibe, Brick Lane most definitely hasn’t. Set in the East End, this fun and multicultural area hosts art galleries, vintage shops and the best flea market in town.

Related article: Lost Property of London

Brick Lane Market

Travelling with kids? If Hamleys is too much of a risk (“Please mum….”) and Kengsinton Gardens feel too nostalgic (“Peter who?”), then head South. The very underestimated neighbourhood of Morden has the sweetest park in the city –Morden Hall –with waterways, a little café and even an art gallery. Close by, between Morden and Wimbledon, the Baby Swimming Company organises swimming classes for babies and toddlers, in a special pool with highly trained teachers.

Related article: Discover London's History of Art Scene

Coffee and bites

Once fully residential and slightly dull, Clapham is now one of London’s trendiest spots, but it still feels cosily neighbourhoody. The area is full of friendly cafes serving exclusive selections of specialty coffee; check out The Black Lab and Brickwood (which also offers a superb brunch).

brickwoodPhoto courtesy of Brickwood

If you’re still in the mood for specialty coffee you can move to Brixton, Clapham’s artsy Caribbean next door neighbour. Pop inside the local market (Brixton Village) and enjoy a cup at Federation. Brixton Village also features several other fun international dining spots and the whole area is lively and informal.

Related article: Where to find the best coffee in London 

brixton village

Ethnic food is certainly on London’s hotlist, our insider’s tip is Diba, in South Wimbledon: authentic Persian cuisine far away from the tourist masses. The Zereshk Polo is pure perfection.

Related article: Bodega Negra

Shopping

Nothing differentiates Mary’s Living & Giving Shop for Save the Children, Westbourne Grove, from the luxury boutiques in Notting Hill. Except the prices. This stylish shop, with items from names like Louboutin and Dior, is actually a charity shop. The clothes are second hand and the revenues go to Save the Children.

marysPhoto courtesy of Mary’s Living & Giving Shop

Charity shops in London are a much loved institution, by the charities they fund but also by locals, who can choose whether to stock on second hand fast fashion or hunt for selected pieces from Prada, Vivienne Westwood and Calvin Klein at a very reasonable price. Some of these shops are celebrity hotspots, like the Cancer Research UK shop in Marylebone (Kate Moss’ territory) and the British Red Cross shop in Chelsea, where the Beckhams donate their cast-offs.

Funnily enough, charity shops have their own identity, presumably reflecting the style of the people living – and donating – in their area. The British Red Cross in Ebury Street, for example, is strictly conservative (Barbour jackets and Burberry trenches) while All Aboard in West End Lane is rather boho chic. We love the Trinity Hospice shop in Battersea, where Traffic People donates the season’s unsold.

Why not do the right thing and include a charity shops crawl in your shopping plan? And if by the end of your trip you decide that those lime-green pants really don’t suit you anymore, why not donate them?

 

Let your hair down, and enjoy the quirky side of the big smoke!

 

brick lanePhoto courtesy of Brick Lane Coffee

 

For more ideas on things to do in London, visit our destination page.