You’ve got your basics covered, Buckingham Palace, London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, galleries, museums, etc. Maybe you are planning to explore London on foot, maybe your plan is to figure out the tube, or maybe you’ll hop aboard the famous double decker hop on hop off bus. Fantastic! No matter what you hear, you have to cover your basics and see at least some of the major sights, you’ll regret it if you don’t. But make sure that you also take a few days to relax from running around tourist attractions and immerse yourself in real London, experiencing the local culture, everyday life, checking out London’s attractions, quirky areas and activities that rarely make it into the guide books.
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When I lived in London, touristy things got boring pretty fast but there were a few places that I could keep going back to over and over again.
1. Camden Town – I discovered Camden when I first arrived in London. Jet lagged and bursting with excitement, I ended up in a hostel right outside of Camden Town tube station. At first I wasn’t a fan of the area, of the weird buildings and strange people, I couldn’t wait for find permanent accommodation and get out of there. And it wasn’t until I saw Camden on the weekend, that I fell absolutely in love with it! Head down Camden Road on a Saturday and you will be in the heart of London’s culture. From unique small boutiques, to amazing food to one of a kind stalls hidden inside what used to be a horse stable. You can spend hours roaming around the market! But don’t forget to come back in the evening to check out Camden’s night life: hit the dance floor at Proud Camden or relax with some friends over a pint at Barfly.
2. The Borough market – heaven for foodies in London. Head down to Borough Market on a Saturday to join thousands of locals picking up fresh fruit and produce, or grab something from one of local or international stalls to enjoy right there and then. The market is also a great place for people watching, photo snapping and overall life loving. Opening hours are Wednesday to Thursday 10am to 5pm, Fridays from 10am to 6pm, and Saturdays from 8 am to 5 pm.
3. Brick Lane Market is the heart of London’s Bangladeshi and Bengali communities. Every Sunday morning Brick Lane transforms into a traditional flea-market with a wide variety of goods on sale: from vintage clothing to music, to jewellery and more. Head to Brick Lane for some shopping and the best curry in London – an experience that’s far from what you’d expect to see in London, but is actually a taste of true London culture. Sundays only: 8am – 2pm
4. Covent Garden has always been one of my favourite places in London. It looks and feel just like you would expect. Narrow cobblestone streets with unique boutiques, small theaters, buskers and great restaurants. There isn’t much to do here, but shop, eat and catch an occasional independent play, but there is something about this area that made me fall in love with London when I first visited it back in 2008. If you are looking for a great place for brunch, check out Bill’s Restaurant on St Martin’s Courtyard.
5. Green Park – often overlooked and under visited, this is a local gem with very few tourists around. Take a stroll in the park, bring a picnic or read a book under a tree. Perfect place to reflect on your trip, wind down or just rest your feet after a long day of sightseeing.