With so many things to do in London, it was rather difficult for me to decide what to visit during one weekend. On this occasion, I wanted to avoid the usual London attractions and get to really know the city. I wanted to discover its secrets, its less taken paths and find out what are the best places to visit in London.
I got a room in Hotel 55 located in Ealing. I had zero knowledge about the neighbourhood, but I was eager to explore and discover, so I thought, why not. As it turns out, Ealing has a high concentration of Japanese ex-pats working as professionals in some of London's high-end paying jobs. This explains how that particular part in Ealing, was incredibly clean, with well-maintained houses and immaculate gardens. Being such Japanophile, this discovery excited me a lot, providing that I could find shops and restaurants selling Japanese related goods. I was really chuffed to have successfully found such place, spot on to my liking.
As it happened, I arrived in London at the right time: the UK was literally just "suffering" from a heatwave, making its capital rather joyful, full of energy and very, very hot. This was an incredible sight in a country where the British summer is the equivalent of a wet late October in well..any other country. With this weather, came the puzzling question: what should I wear? Here in Britain, we aren't very prepared for hot, sunny days, hence my luggage for the weekend was mainly packed with sweaters, long sleeve blouses and long jeans. I don't know how on Earth I happened to have a skirt and a dress with me, but when I saw them in my suitcase I couldn't help but scream: Jackpot! Wearing a short dress, my straw hat and armed with a fully charged oyster card, I began my adventure around London.
My nearest tube station was West Acton, located a good 40 min journey away from Central London. I grew up being dependent on the subway system and as a matter of fact, till this day, travelling by subway is one of my favourite methods of transportation. I'm not too sure why, but in a sense it reminds me of sweet teenage memories, wearing converse, waiting on the platform, daydreaming about all sorts. It's something so romantic and beautiful about it.
The London tube though is anything but romantic. It's the sort of prime example of what not to do if you are a user experience designer. Yet, despite the fact that the London underground is, cramped, slow and relatively expensive, it has an unusual charm to it. It's its intricate tubey pathways, tiled platforms and unique stations which make it quaint in a unique way. However, if you are a subway enthusiast, then Tokyo won't leave you disappointed, being obvious, intuitive and very, very clean, all factors which the London tube lacks. (sorry, London!)
My first stop was in Hutton Gardens, a collection of streets famed for their countless jewellery stores. Here, you can buy wedding rings and bands, precious stones and metals for a much lower price than well known retail shops. If you decide to visit Hutton Gardens to shop, be prepared to spend several hours finding the right merchant. Don't forget to haggle, as sometimes this can really lower the prices. A short walking distance away, I found Covent Garden, yet another London shopping paradise.
I specifically wanted to check out Neal's Yard, a small street with an interior garden, dotted with a few shops and eateries. Colourful buildings and hippy arrangements are not the usual architecture style you find around London. Playful and vibrant, Neal's Yard is definitely worth a visit. It was very busy when I arrived, but I soon found out why: there is a pizza place (Homeslice) located in this secret spot, serving 20" large pizzas. Well priced and incredibly delicious, it really explains why so many travels from all across London to... get their slice. You can order for take out, or can take a seat and enjoy a pizza in a rather Italian looking street.
For the next few hours, I simply meandered aimlessly through the streets of London. In due course, I discovered a cupcakerie, a tea house and a Japanese sweet shop. Now, this sweet shop was something rather magical. Called Minamoto Kitchoan, this place is located on 44 Piccadilly, just a stone throw away from the Piccadilly Circus tube station. Don't visit this place before you have dinner as you will end up eating a kilo of sugar (rocky mistake no 1). I'm not joking, the sheer amount of yummy you will find in the shop, will make you buy everything and it will leave you penniless. Don't say I didn't warn you. I ended up sitting down in the shop, eating £40 worth of desserts. Sure, I got myself a box of green tea mochi for the road too. The damage was already done so what's an extra kilo of sugar going to do to me? I was committed.
Half an hour (and an extra few clothes sizes) later I found myself hunting for even more stuff in Fortnum & Mason. This is a top-notch department store which sells a lot of high-end goods. The ground floor was the main part of the store which interested me since it was dedicated to a huge tea variety. For those of you who don't know, I am crazy about tea. In fact, I pretty much replaced drinking water with green tea. This is yet another reason why I know I belong in Japan.
From shop to shop and street to street, I ended up in China Town. That's where I saw it: a cute little Japanese restaurant called Misato with lots of people waiting in the queue to dine in. I automatically thought this place must be good, hence I decided to spend some time, waiting for my turn to be seated and enjoy £8 noodles. When I ordered my soba (rocky mistake no 2) I received a soup with minced meat and Bolognese tasting pasta in it. It was so bad, it actually made me sick. The service and the environment were anything but Japanese. My evening got restored by my awesome mochi, so in the end, no harm done, just a waste of time and money. But I made this mistake so you don't have to. You're welcome.
I ended up my evening by visiting the main London attraction: the Big Ben. The reason why I left this for last is that I was keen to take some night shots of the Westminster area. I also thought it will probably be quieter after 9 pm, but as it turned out, the area was buzzing with tourists and Londoners alike. Eventually, I slowly walked towards the London Eye, to soak up some of the London vibes at night before embarking on a journey back to my hotel room in Ealing.
What really stuck with me about London was the flexibility the subway gave me. It was great to just leave my car at the hotel and be able to get around without needing to drive. I walked, meander, had a pint and passed countless angry drivers stuck in traffic. It was great! This is one thing you should do next time you visit London: ditch the car and use the public transport.
Subway aside, we all know London is timeless so it's nearly impossible to not find it amazing and so very charming. Although I would have difficulties keeping up with London's vibe at all times, I very much adore visiting the British capital, a true place of never-ending urban adventures.
What do you like most about London? what places would you like to visit most? Tell me all about it in the comments section bellow.