This is an unabridged version of a feature I wrote for the second issue of the adorable Betty Magazine (if you haven’t yet seen it, I suggest you have a read now). Whether hidden gems I’ve discovered by chance, or more obvious attractions that are cliched for a reason (ie. they’re brilliant), these are some of my favourite ways to spend a lazy day in London without spending a fortune. For that’s the thing about this wonderful city – no matter how much or how little you have to spend, there is always a wonderful plethora of fun and enriching adventures to be had! So without further ado, here is the first instalment of my guide to London ‘on the cheap’ (as they say):
1. The Lambeth walk: We Londoners sometimes take for granted just how picturesque our magnificent city is. So shun the Underground and spend an entire afternoon lazily strolling one of it’s best long walks. Among the best: the walk from Westminster (cross the bridge beside Parliament towards the London Eye) along Southbank to Tower Bridge at sunset, from Notting Hill to Camden along Regent’s Canal, or through the secret parks and laneways (open to the public, but hidden behind ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ doorways and gates) that stretch from Holbourn to Embankment to make up Inner Temple and Middle Temple.
2. Tate to Tate: Spend a morning gazing at Constables and Turners at Tate Britain, then make for the river in Pimlico and jump on the Tate to Tate ferry which for just a few pounds will take you on a scenic cruise up the Thames to Tate Modern (both galleries, like most in London, are free of charge). Check out the post-modern art du jour (though I love the Warhol room), then have a coffee on the balcony of the upstairs cafe with a postcard view across the Millenium Bridge to St Pauls.
3. Gastronomic bliss: If there’s one thing I love as much as a pretty dress, it’s good food. For the best there is, head straight to Borough Market on a Friday or Saturday. There, a foodie heaven awaits: the stinkiest cheeses at Neal’s Yard Dairy, perfectly brewed coffee at Monmouth, the best brownies at Flour Station, fat sun-ripened English strawberries and greengages at the fruit stalls, oozing chorizo mozzarella sandwiches…. I could go on. If all that eating wears you out, go to the Neal’s Yard Therapy rooms (next to Konditor & Cook) for one of the best massages in town for just £25 on a Monday.
4. Get your geek on: On top of the fact it is obliged to receive one copy of every book, magazine, newspaper, journals and manuscript published in the UK, the British Library has the world’s most enormous collection of books (that would be 14 million – second only to the LIbrary of Congress in Washington DC) in virtually every language – all of which can be borrowed for free. Spend a few hours holed up in a gloriously dusty corner of this behemoth and discover a book you’d always thought you should read but never quite had the time to do so, read a newspaper from 1890 (just because) or listen to an original Beatles recording (that, or read the latest copy of Vogue without the purchase price…).
5. Head for the hills: On a glorious summer’s day, pack a picnic and head for Primrose Hill or Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath and watch the sun set over London from the vantage point of your grassy knowl. One of London’s simple pleasures.
6. Sugary refinement: There are few girly pleasures more wonderful than buying a box of jewel-like macarons from Laduree. Visit the tiny gilded outpost of the Parisian patisserie, choose a little box of your favourite flavours (I love anything that tastes like it belongs in an English garden – rose, violet and orange blossom, oh my!), then wander along Burlington Arcade – where it’s still illegal to whistle or skip! You’ll feel instantly more sophisticated.
7. Cultural enrichment: London is teeming with artistic pursuits that cost no more than a plasticy sandwich and coffee from Starbucks. The very next weeknight you have free, skip the TV and find yourself some tickets to a talk or a show. Look on websites like Time Out, Last Minute, or on venue’s own sites. I love the talks at the British Academy, free jazz concerts in the foyer of the National Theatre, Shakespeare in the Globe or anything by the Royal Ballet.
8. £2 hapiness: Pack a £2 Penguin Classic, head to St James’ Park (the prettier cousin to its neighbouring Green Park), buy yourself an ice cream and hire a stripey sun lounger to spend an afternoon in blissful repose. Worth every penny of the £2 hire fee (you can stay as long as you want): also worth it just to chuckle at the pasty Englishmen in shorts, watch the fat ducks waddle past and soak up some happiness-inducing sunrays.
9. The secret garden: Ok, so your ‘garden’ may consist of two wilting herb pots on the window sill, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a house filled with floral happiness. Get to the Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday for armfulls of flowers or pots just waiting to be plonked on your window sill. Best times for bargains (and the sounds of happy cockney ‘ten for a fiver!” chants) are first thing in the morning or late afternoon when the sellers want to go home (don’t forget to potter about all the lovely boutiques around the area before buying your bouqets).
10. Rummage for treasure: Touristy it may be, but it is wonderfully satisfying to send a sunny weekend wandering the lengths of Portobello Road hunting for treasure in the antique stalls. Head for the vintage jewels, maps, china crockery and silver ware stalls (where you can trawl through the £1 bargain piles for pretty little dishes that will gleam like new after a polish). Afterwards, refuel at one of the chi chi cafes along Westbourne Grove or Ledbury Road (the ice creams at Melt are sublime on a hot day), then wander back through the leafy residential streets.
So tell me lovelies, what are your favourite things to do in London?
Love, Miss B xx