Saturday, 13 August 2016

London Favourites

I've spent the last three years in and out of London, mostly sitting on delayed Southern trains, travelling in and out. In a few short weeks I'll be moving back up to London, properly, for real adult life - i.e. flat and job. And I'm pretty excited about it. Having the flexibility to go in and out of London as I please for the last year has been wonderful, and given me the freedom and the escape I needed to learn to love London, and appreciate it for all of the things it has to do and offer. As a Londoner, you often spend your time desperately trying to avoid anything remotely 'touristy' because it's expensive, and full of people who just don't understand the London etiquette. For me, it was when I started becoming a tourist in London again that I remembered how to love it. There's being a tourist and going to Madame Tussaud's and M&M World and going to the Hard Rock Cafe...but there's also scope to go out, and do things, and see things, and fall back in love with London. I've been compiling a list of my London Favourites to share with you: the things I love about London, and the things that are making me excited about being back. 

Nunhead Cemetery 
London is full of historic cemeteries, and I love them. For an afternoon out, an excellent tour and the chance to see some famous graves, including those of Karl Marx, George Eliot and Alexander Litvinenko, Highgate Cemetery should be your go-to. However, if you live South, and you're looking to be transported out of London and into the forest, Nunhead is my favourite. It has a real air of Gothic darkness and gloom, containing enormous monuments and graves in amongst the overgrowth. It is also home to some quite impressive war monuments, as well as a working cemetery with many recent burials. It's popular with dog walkers, and you're guaranteed to see at least one friendly dog who wants a stroke on your wander round. The views are also worth a mention. At the highest point in the cemetery, between the trees, there are lovely views into Central London, with St Paul's Cathedral being the main focal point. The cemetery is open to the public every day, as well as offering guided walks, exploring anything from local wildlife to a tour of the crypt and chapel. 

Miss Tapas
Whilst you're south of the river, and in the Peckham area, head to Miss Tapas - London's (the world's) finest tapas. Owned by one half of South London's super-restauranteur-power-couple (Frank @ Mr Bao is the other half), Blanca is the most wonderful host, serving consistently excellent and authentic Spanish food from this small, independent restaurant. The restaurant is located just seconds from Peckham Rye, and is really popular with the locals. It's not possible to make bookings, so make sure you get there early to secure yourself a table - or be looked after at the bar until one is ready. The menu changes regularly, so it's important that you keep going back to make sure you get a chance to try all the new dishes! The patatas bravas are the best I've ever had, and you have to order the Presa Iberica de Bellota. I promise it's the best pork you'll ever eat. The dishes come out quickly, as they're ready, so you're never waiting long for food. Plus, it's easy to order more if you're still feeling peckish. I've never had any room left for dessert, and finished off every meal with a glass of sherry - a Miss Tapas signature. 

City Farms 
Farms aren't only found in the countryside. In fact, some of the best farms (I'm talking petting zoo kind of farms) I've ever been to have been in London. My most recent find, and arguably the most impressive city farm, is Mudchute Farm in the Isle of Dogs. For a start, it's huge, and home to an exciting collection of cows, pigs, sheep, goats, donkeys, llamas and all the small animals and birds you'd ever expect to see on a farm. Despite being overlooked by Canary Wharf, it doesn't feel claustrophobic or an unpleasant place for these animals to be, instead providing large spaces for them to graze. It hosts regular events, including a weaving workshop that I'm keen to try and go to, and offers lots of family fun! Although it was closed when I last visited, Mudchute Farm also has its own farm shop which I definitely want to sample next time. Surrey Docks City Farm is my other, older favourite. It's much smaller, but there are a lot of goats, and they're my favourite. The layout is much more open, allowing for more interaction with some of the animals and the opportunity to feed them. I'd definitely recommend heading there in the Spring to see the lambs, and watch them being fed. After you've seen all the animals, pop into the cafe for some lunch or a slice of cake; I recommend the fresh mint tea! 

Sky Garden
I visited the Sky Garden for the first time a few months ago, and I was really impressed. London is full of rooftop bars, but very few are 155m up, open 7 days a week all year, and free to enter. Although entry is free, you do have to book in advance (weekends & sunrise/sunset get booked up quite far ahead) and, as such, you take a bit of a risk with the weather. I was lucky that it was a bright, clear evening when I visited, and we could see for miles. The views were quite something: London looks even better from above. Being able to stand out on the viewing platform soaking up the sun definitely helped make the visit so enjoyable. The bar serves a huge range of soft and alcoholic beverages, and was creating some pretty delicious looking cocktails! I was expecting the drinks to be crazy expensive, but pleasantly surprised by the 'normal' Central London pricing. The only slight disappointment for me was the 'garden' element. Sure, there's a few rockeries and stuff, but I was expecting something a bit more exciting and jungle-esque. For a full review and some pictures, check out my post

Another rooftop bar worth a mention is Frank's Cafe, an annual pop-up bar situated on the top floor of a Peckham multi-story car park. It doesn't sound that glamorous, and it isn't, and that's what is so nice about it. The car park level is covered in benches and trestle tables, providing seating for hundreds. It does get really busy at weekends, and on sunny weekday evenings however, so I'd recommend heading up straight after work and avoiding peak weekend times to avoid the queues and grab a seat. It's a really nice, communal way of drinking and socialising, made even better by the spectacular views over London. The views extend from the London Eye, across Central London and the City, to the Shard, Canary Wharf, and as far as the O2 - so you really do see the length of London. The drinks are reasonably priced, and I hear the food is pretty good this year, so pitch up with some friends on a sunny afternoon, eat, drink and don't leave until it gets too chilly to stay. Frank's is open until 1st October this year, so you've got plenty of time to make the most of it! 

Hyde Park
A little cliché perhaps, but Hyde Park is my favourite London park. There are better (and more) dogs in Regents Park, but there's something about Hyde Park, with the Serpentine, the Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, and all the hidden, secluded spots - perfect for a sunbathe, picnic or afternoon reading - that makes it extra special.  One of my favourite things about London is its relative abundance of open green spaces, and the opportunities it presents to escape the cityscape for a little while. I have fond memories of evenings spent wandering in Hyde Park, afternoons Boris Biking and eating ice cream, and post-exam picnics with friends. I'm looking forward to working just down the road from the park come September, and the chance to take a break from the office at lunchtime, see some dogs and get some fresh air. 

The Horniman Museum 
The Horniman Museum is a brand new favourite, having only visited for the first time last Monday. Ambitious plans to head to the British Museum for a morning of Egyptians were hindered by useless public transport, so the appeal of a short bus journey to the Horniman Museum at Forest Hill won us over. I had few expectations, and they were pretty much all surpassed. Arguably, the museum is comprised of a slightly unusual combination of collections and exhibitions: think Natural History Museum meets Wildlife Photographer of the Year meets London Aquarium meets 'hi, remember colonialism'. It was great though. There is a huge, and quite hilarious, collection of taxidermy, an exhibition dedicated to dinosaurs (largely focusing on dinosaur eggs), an amazing collection of photos taken in Rio, a mini aquarium and gardens with a great view over London. It was a lovely way to spend a morning, and I'll definitely be going back one day. 

Where are your favourite places in London? What do you recommend? 

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