Off the beaten path on our perfect London day

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Last Updated on January 16, 2016

Friends and family have recently been asking us if we miss London, the city we lived for three years before starting our travels. While we wouldn’t trade life on the road right now for anything, the questions did get us dreaming about what our perfect day in London used to look like….

English novelist Samuel Johnson said, “Those who tire of London, tire of life,” – a timeless statement as true now as ever before. For those who live in ‘the Big Smoke’, loving London goes far beyond the ‘hotel and theatre London’, double-decker buses, afternoon tea, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, although these are a classic and essential part of London life.

Our favorite morning in London would start very early…at 6am in fact. We begin out on Regents Canal watching the sunrise on an early morning kayaking tour run by Thames River Adventures, which start by paddling past the celebrity residences of Primrose Hill, through the undisturbed canal waters which cut through the London Zoo as the animals wake up before ending up in the post-punk mecca of Camden Town. (For late-risers, Thames River Adventures also offers lunch time and sunset tours.)

Kayaking on Regents Canal LondonWe would finish up around 7:30am, and although it would still be a bit early, there is always something happening in Camden, where the tour ends. People watching here is priceless round the clock, but at this time of the morning, club kids are making their way home and the few ‘suits’ who live in Camden are marching to their City offices. Not us! We just love to grab a coffee and stroll through the mix of punk, bohemian shops and cheap markets without the masses, and then head over to join the dog-walkers and joggers on Primrose Hill, one of the best views over London (where some celeb-spotting is possible during the day).

London views from Primrose hillAt this point, we figure we would be starving, and so we would head over to the Breakfast Club near Angel tube station in the Islington area. There are a few Breakfast Club cafes around London, but this one is by far the most popular, so expect to queue. While we wait, we’d check out the nearby indie and antique shops as their doors just squeak open in the morning. The energy at this time is still fresh and friendly, before it gets crowded in the afternoon.

After our bellies are good and stuffed with British (The Full Monty, or a Cheddar & Marmite Toast) or American-style breakfasts (pancakes, french toast, eggs and hash browns), there is no question where we would walk it all off. From Angel station, we’d hop on the 73 bus which comes from central London and heads east to Stoke Newington Church Street. We’d be on our way to Abney Park. This part of East London is home to the struggling artists, future creative genius types who are as drawn to Abney Park as we are… Not actually a park, this is actually a cemetery, and a mystical, almost magical Victorian cemetery at that. The tombstones are fascinating and the spot is perfect for a long walk or total relaxation – and the best part is that tourists have yet to find this treasure, even though it was featured in Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black video.

Abney Park Cemetery LondonNow that we’ve relaxed, and Dani has taken another hundred pictures of the place, we would head down to the heart of East London – Shoreditch. We love to walk up and down Brick Lane and Shoreditch High Street and peek into all the trendy shops and bars that pop up here. If we’re feeling peckish, as the English say, we could grab a quick bite at the all-vegan Rootmaster restaurant, set in a converted double decker bus near the Old Truman Brewery. The OTB is no longer a brewery, but a trendy urban market where up and coming designers sell clothes, there are antiques and quirky gifts, plus various spots to eat. There are no chains here, and while money has started to flow in Shoreditch, this whole area is still (arguably) an authentic artists enclave…for now.

Brick Lane Graffiti Artist LondonWe also never miss the chance to stroll through Spitalfields Market, one of our absolute favorites in the city. Here there are some of the most amazing collections of everything you ever wanted for sale. New belt? The coolest belts are here. So retro you only listen to cassette tapes? You’ll snap up your favorite bands on tape here and records, too. On certain days, Spitalfields has huge collections of records, in fact, plus great clothes, even greater purses and bags, and merchandise both bargain and up-scale that you had no idea you even wanted. If we haven’t been sucked in to one of the many restaurants located in Spitalfields, the next place we’ll head to, without a doubt, is Brick Lane.

Brick Lane LondonBrick Lane has historically been London’s Indian and Bangladeshi enclave, and as a result is an excellent spot for some of the best Indian food outside of India. This street is right on the tourist path, actually, but we don’t care. The street is lined with dozens of great Indian restaurants, and each wants to get you inside. We typically barter for at least one free bottle of wine and hopefully at least a free appetizer before stepping through the door of any of the restaurants. You can’t beat free booze, and no matter where you end up, the meals will always satisfy, and usually for under 20 for two people.

After we’ve had enough wine to loosen up the dancing legs, Dani would probably want to go dancing. Being in east London we would head over to the Electricity Showrooms or the Hoxton Pony for dancing, 93 Feet East for clubbing, quirky Callooh Callay or the Bedroom Bar for a relaxing but intoxicating end to the night.

Brick Lane at Night LondonBecause we are right in Shoreditch, we could jump right on to the new East London Line and head to Canary Wharf. We really love the maritime feel of this side of London, how connected to the water the area is.

London Canary WharfWe cannot wait to go back to London for an extended visit, and with the many inexpensive flights to London we find online all the time, we might be back sooner than we’d thought…

Have you been to London? What are your favorite things to do in London? Share your tips and favorite places in the comments



Tags : London


    1. Hi Dalene – glad we could help! The people at Thames Adventures are great, you will really enjoy the tours. If you need any tips or ideas for London, get in touch!

  1. Loved this! I’ve only recently moved here and am just beginning to explore the delights of the big LDN. Definitely want to try the kayaking tour – sounds so nice first thing in the morning.

    1. Hi Becky, thanks! The kayaking tour was one of our favorite all-time London experiences – it was so quiet we could hardly believe that we were in London!! Enjoy London and feel free to get in touch if you need any recommendations.

  2. I really miss London, this post reminded me how much I miss it. I also started my travels in London, I moved there for a year back in 2007, it was the first country I had ever been to outside the US. Since I moved away I’ve been hooked on traveling. I have never been back yet but I can’t wait to get there. My perfect day would just be getting to go back for the first time since I lived there…

    1. London is actually the first place that I ever went abroad too, back in high school. But that was nothing compared to exploring London day in and day out for an extended period of time. Can’t wait to read about your perfect day when you finally get back too!

  3. I’ve been to London a couple of times and have done tons of touristy thing but for some reason what I enjoyed most about being in London was doing nothing. That’s right, starting my day off with no plan whatsoever, take the bus somewhere and go for a walk wherever I decided to get off, going for coffee or tee somewhere… I don’t really know why but I think I actually enjoy doing nothing when I am on vacation. You end up seeing so much, experiencing things you wouldn’t experience when you have a schedule full with things to see and do…

    1. Couldn’t agree more. Wandering has resulted in much more ‘authentic’ experiences than running from tour to tour. You meet more people, find little shops, bars, restaurants you would have otherwise overlooked. When we lived in London we used to just hop on a bus and take it to the end, just to see where it goes, and what it’s like at the neighborhood with its name on the bus! Those were some of our most fun days!

    1. Thanks Jarmo! Borough Market is one of our favorite markets (definitely the favorite for food!) but we didn’t include it here as it has certainly made its way ‘on the beaten track’ for London visitors in recent years. Brick Lane can get busy too, but there is just such an authentic London feel about it 🙂

  4. Loved your write up on London. Have been going there for years – first with my children then my grandchildren. We are only 1 hour by train away from London. We ususally have new place to visit each time and then we just explore and come across lovely, interesting places . One time my grandson chose the museum with the `pickled` body parts – sounds awful but we all enjoyed it. The sad thing now when I say she we go to London the kids say `We`ve done it all Nan` Looks like I`ll have to go on my own !!!!!!

    1. Susan, you are absolutely right – there is always something new to discover in London. We never got tired of exploring neighborhoods, parks, restaurants & bars, bike trails, festivals and exhibitions while we lived there and can’t wait to go back to visit all of our favorite places in London. I hope you can convince the grandkids to go to London with you again and show them that they have NOT done it all yet 😉

    1. Hi Jack, a picnic in St James Park is a great tip – one of our favorite parks in London. We usually combined it with a walk over to Big Ben and continue along the river.

  5. Susan, there’s always another place in London to explore! Anyway…

    Some really wonderful tips for London, one of my favorites is to start a Saturday by breakfasting at Borough Market, then pick a random borough and explore.

    1. Thanks Jack! Your London tip is exactly what we used to do on the weekends – go to a market (in the end mostly Borough, because it was closest to where we lived) and then explore one of the many boroughs. Can’t get enough of London! 🙂

  6. Adventures are great, you’ll enjoy the tours. If you need any tips or ideas for London, get in touch! Definitely want to try the kayaking tour – sounds so nice first thing each day.

  7. Great article! You described very well all the things I loved to do when I lived in London 🙂
    Primrose Hill is definitely my favourite spot on a sunny day in London as you get a great view and then you can walk along the canal to Camden or even further east to Dalston which is also a cool area (north of Shoreditch)

    1. Thanks Alex! One day we followed the canal all the way from Ladbroke Grove (Notting Hill) to Little Venice, Primrose Hill, Camden, to Dalston from there and finally to Victoria Park. In Dalston we saw some amazing graffiti along the canal, and the walk was a great way to experience all the different neighborhoods of London.

  8. We ususally have new place to visit each time and then we just explore and come across lovely, interesting places . Hi Becky, thanks! Some really wonderful tips for London, one of my favorites is to start a Saturday by breakfasting at Borough Market, then pick a random borough and explore.

  9. Such a great and useful information, thanks a ton for sharing this, it is really a helpful post for any visitor, who is visiting London first time.

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