There is more to London than Big Ben and the Queen. And while we are definitely not knocking these two timeless British icons, we are suggesting that perhaps it is time to dig a little deeper. London is a complex jigsaw made up of dozens of incredibly unique and quirky districts, each of which deserves at least a Sunday’s worth of exploration. We’ve listed just 5 of the many possibilities. Whether you’re an avocado mad foodie or an Instagram fanatic looking for the next best snap, there is certainly something for everyone.
"The area is steeped in Caribbean culture, which is evident not only in the carnival itself but in the many independent cafes and shops which fill the area. "
For some, visiting Notting Hill is all about retracing Hugh Grant’s and Julia Robert’s fictional footsteps through this iconic London district. However for those with slightly less star-struck agendas, Notting Hill is centred around exploring its famous market or celebrating in the summer during its legendary carnival. The area is steeped in Caribbean culture, which is evident not only in the carnival itself but in the many independent cafes and shops which fill the area.
Portobello market is one of the main attractions drawing in both hordes of tourists and plenty of Londoners as well. It sells everything from second hand vinyl, vintage Burberry coats and antique coins to fresh fruit, jerk chicken and churros. The Portobello market alone will have you on your feet exploring all day, tasting samples and trying on ridiculous fashion relics.
Yet there is more to the area than just this spectacular market. The Notting Hill Arts Club is the place to be if you are in the mood for a serious dance. Hosting a range of musical and cultural events, the club supports everyone from grime artists to afrobeat DJs. If the lyrically gifted voices of grime can’t tempt you, then head over to Lowry and Baker for the best eggs benedict you will ever set your greedy eyes upon.
Like Notting Hill with its culturally diverse population, Peckham has developed into an area flourishing with influences from across the map. What's different is that Peckham does not share the gentrified and Made in Chelsea-esque feel of Hugh Grant’s old stomping ground. The district is what you might like to label as ‘authentic’. It is not tailored for tourists and it fails to lure in Nikon-wielding holidaymakers.
Parts of it are slightly run down, with sprawling council estates and winding back alleys. Yet this is what makes it worth exploring. With the first couple of years of gentrification setting in there are plenty of wine bars, independent coffee houses and art galleries to make an outsider feel relatively at home.
"Peckham is a vibrant district that is now firmly on the cultural map - and it is home to some of the leading centres for the creative arts."
The growing South London art scene is probably the district’s strongest point. Whether it be artistic giants like the Guggenheim putting on South American art exhibitions or a set from some world famous musical collaborations at the Bussey Building (Music, art, film, theatre, workshops and dance events all take place within the venue), Peckham is a vibrant district that is now firmly on the cultural map - and it is home to some of the leading centres for the creative arts.
There is so much to explore, with the famously inexpensive Peckhamplex cinema, the South London Gallery (host to a variety of young emerging British talent) and the Peckham Farmers Market all found within walking distance of each other. Diversity is the key word here.
"Shoreditch is the instafamous, mural laden hipster paradise of London"
If you haven’t been there in person, chances are you’ve explored it on Instagram. Shoreditch is the instafamous, mural laden hipster paradise of London. It has more smashed avocado and Banksy style graffiti than you can shake a retro disposable camera at. Crammed with boutique shops, start-ups, co-working spaces and independent cafes, Shoreditch is the epicentre of all things young and trendy.
Take yourself to Brick Lane’s superb Sunday markets, which flog all things retro and vintage. Blitz London on Hanbury Street is the pinnacle of all of this and is cited as Europe’s biggest retro clothing shop. And now that shopping is basically an Olympic sport in terms of calories burnt, make sure you make the most of the abundant and overpriced (but extremely delicious) street food stalls.
Once you have overcompensated on the food front and drunk your weight in flat whites and craft beers, prepare to dance it all off in some of the capital’s most famous clubs. XOYO and Cargo are host to some of the world’s greatest DJs. They consistently put on mind-blowing events and are most definitely worth the Shoreditch price tag. All in all, whatever your feelings on gentrification may be, Shoreditch is a must see and do.
If we could argue that Peckham was not designed with tourists in mind then we can safely say Southbank is at the very least orientated towards them. It is a cultural and iconic hub, dominated by famous landmarks such as Tower Bridge and the London Eye. There is far more here than you could possibly hope to explore in a day, the Southbank centre alone is home to the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and The Hayward Gallery.
For theatre lovers, you have the internationally renowned Royal National Theatre, the Old Vic and the Young Vic - all within walking range. On the other end of the spectrum, for those that can think of nothing worse than listening to Shakespeare all afternoon, there is the London IMAX Super Cinema.
For the Instagrammers:
"Southbank provides some of London’s best photo opportunities, with plenty of panoramic views of the river and its many iconic bridges"
Yet it’s not all about Macbeth and famous big wheels, Southbank is also home to the undercrofts, which since the 1970s has been the London skate scene’s spiritual and physical home. Situated under the Queen Elizabeth Hall is a skating utopia, which for generations has contributed heavily to British skateboarding culture. It was in fact under threat from destruction, but thanks to a hardy set of dedicated campaigners, it has been saved for future generations, skaters and photographers to enjoy. Southbank in fact provides some of London’s best photo opportunities, with plenty of panoramic views of the river and its many iconic bridges.
The Clash, the Windrush generation, Brixton riots, gang culture and gentrification. Congratulations, you’ve read the Brixton Wikipedia page. But what about actually exploring Brixton? There is so much more to this district than its rather chequered past and that which the ‘fountain of knowledge’ Wikipedia suggests.
"Here you will find a multicultural melting pot that is largely driven by a strong community spirit."
Brixton market is one of the city’s best markets for independent traders and food stalls. Here you will find a multicultural melting pot that is largely driven by a strong community spirit. It is a perfect manifestation of all the quirks and diversity found in Brixton and it goes hand in hand with the regenerated Brixton village - a covered arcade providing more space for further fantastic goods and traders.
Carrying on with the food theme, Pop Brixton is a collection of old shipping containers that have been converted into bars, restaurants, a greenhouse and a huge selection of food stalls. You can sample a wide variety of extremely tasty dishes inspired by chefs from around the world. And finally, if we had to throw in just one landmark for you to get your bearings with when you finally explore this unique district, it would have to be the one and only Ritzy cinema. It is one of the oldest cinemas around, showing everything from the Lord of the Rings to La La Land. This really is a Brixton icon.