Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Best of London (Part 3)


On to my last Best of London post! I'm sure if I was staying here longer I'd have loads more to write about (notice that Britishism I used there?) But alas, back to the States I go. I've loved the time I've spent here, London is one of the most diverse, vibrant, cities I've ever lived in. I know a lot of people complain about the dreadful weather (it does rain an awful lot) and about the cold, uptight nature of its people, but I've found most of them to be quite lovely (except one crazy old lady who called me a "sick, lying little thief" in the middle of Piccadilly Street. But that's a whole other story).

Despite its reputation I've found London to be a city where: you can get around easily, sans car (it has some of the best public transport in the world.) Where you can a get good chicken biryani AND decent sushi AND a nice, spicy thai curry- on the same street. Where the people work hard, but play harder. Where no one thinks twice about bringing their glass of Pinot Grigio into a movie theater (I'm looking at you, Curzon). Where girls start sunbathing at the first glimpse of sunshine, in any available patch of grass, big or small. Where boys walk around with a footballs under their arms, and where an impromptu game could start at any moment- on the tube, in the street, in a shop. It's a place where employees take actual lunch breaks, and actual holidays, and don't feel guilty about either.

I'm not saying London is a perfect city. It's not. It has many problems, just like any huge metropolis. But I've found much to admire about my new home away from home. And so, without further ado, the best of the last:

Parks

1. Hyde Park/ Kensington Gardens- The 350 acres that make up Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are probably London's closest equivalent to Manhattan's Central Park (although not quite as expansive). Hyde Park is located in the heart of London, close to all the major tourist attractions, and yet it's big enough that you don't feel like you're pushing through crowds on Oxford Street.


With plenty of space to play (impromptu cricket, football, and Frisbee games are a common sight, plus tons of rollerblading, biking and horseback riding) and the lovely Serpentine boating lake (a perfect activity on a romantic summer's day) plus the famous Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park really does have it all. Kensington Gardens, lying immediately to the West of Hyde Park, boasts the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk (seven miles through lush greenery) the Albert Memorial and the gorgeous Italian Gardens. It's a must see.


2. Hampstead Heath- This is the park Londoners flock to when they need to get away from the stale city air. The first thing to know about Hampstead Heath: it's enormous. Encompassing 790 acres and located a little over three miles north of Trafalgar Square, stepping out of the tube to Hampstead feels like entering another world. The Heath is probably the wildest of London's parks, with high grassy fields, meadows, ancient woodlands, ponds (that you can swim or fish in) and plenty of hills to climb. Make your way up to Parliament Hill, the perfect picnic (and kite flying) location that boasts incredible views of the city. The stately Kenwood House adjoins the Heath, and is the perfect place to spend a lazy Sunday.

Neighborhoods

1. The City- The oldest part of London, the Square Mile (the space that was contained within the Medieval Walls of London) is now the nation's financial center, and boasts the striking St. Paul's Cathedral (pictured above) the Tower of London, London Bridge, and the Bank of England, among other notable landmarks. It's a perfect tourist destination, but also one I frequent for its impressive selection of shops and restaurants. But beware- the City basically shuts down at night.


2. The West End- Known to many as the the heart of the London theatre district, the West End is that and so much more. Every few blocks a new play seems to pop up, with their bright marquees, the patrons pouring out of them and into the night. The West End encompasses everything from the world famous Trafalgar Square (with the enormous National Gallery) to Piccadilly Circus (pictured above) to Chinatown and Leicester Square and more, the West End has something for everyone.


Soho, with its many cafes, restaurants, and gay nightclubs, is always a hit with the younger crowd, as is Covent Garden, Carnaby Street and Oxford Street. The West End is the area I frequent the most, and for good reason. The many bakeries, restaurants, cafes and shopping areas I mentioned in my first two Best of London posts are all located here. It's one of my favorite areas in London.


3. Camden Town- Camden Town is where you'll find all the punk, goth, bohemian, hippie folks in London. Known as the center for alternative culture, Camden Town is a must see, especially for its famous Camden Markets, where you'll find the strangest (and most unique) collection of clothes, accessories, home decor and everything in between.


Camden Town also has a lovely canal, and plenty of diverse food options. Camden Town is home to many famous Brits, including the late Amy Winehouse (pictured above) and Abbey Road Studios in North London isn't far from here. It's just an all around cool place, and one that's refreshingly different from any other part of London.


4. Notting Hill- Ascetically this area couldn't be more different from Camden Town, but Notting Hill has its own charms and quirks about it. Although its international fame comes from the eponymous Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant romcom, Notting Hill is also known for the Portobello Road Market, which is open every day (excluding Sundays). You can find anything and everything there, from jewelry to art to antiques to funky clothes and old books. There are plenty of pubs, restaurants and cafes lining the street, but when I went I indulged in one of the many pop up crepe stands. I don't know how you could resist the intoxicating smell of nutella, bananas and melting sugar wafting through the air. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.


5. South Bank- Another great tourist destination, the South Bank is home to the world famous London Eye (pictured below) the Tate Modern (free entrance except for special exhibits), Shakespeare's Globe Theater, The Old Vic and the Riverside Walkway, where you can take a lovely, tree lined stroll, the Thames at your side. I did this many times the first couple weeks after I arrived, it's such a beautiful area, and definitely a must see.


For more food options, head to the Borough Market. Open Thursday- Saturday and within 2 minutes from London Bridge, the Market has home grown, organic produce, diverse ethnic cuisine from all over the world and some of the best bread and cheese I've ever had. Also- cake. So much cake!


6. East End- An area close to my heart, since this is where I've been living for the past three months. The East End generally consists of the Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney, with smaller sub- areas like Whitechapel, Spitafields (with its Christ Church, pictured above) and Hoxton, among others.


This area has a history of being a little rough around the edges, but is slowly transforming into a hub for the young, artistic crowd. You've got Brick Lane and Spitafields Markets, which I've already discussed, you've got tons of great curry and authentic Bangladeshi and Indian cuisine, you've got the sophistication of Canary Wharf, and you've got the almost always sold out O2 arena.

There are so many other awesome neighborhoods in London that I haven't had the chance to visit yet, but these have been some of the places that most impressed me during my stay here.

I'll be back in Las Vegas on Friday, but I won't be there for long!

Stay tuned to find out where I'm heading next....

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