What’s your plan for London in March? Between intimate songwriter sessions and raucous after parties, there’s a high chance that Country 2 Country at the O2 will keep you busy enough. But, in case the huge country music festival leaves you any downtime in the capital, as locals we’re sharing some of our favourite spots; the lesser known treats surrounding London’s landmarks.
Near The O2
We know, we know, if it wasn’t the site of Country 2 Country festival, you probably wouldn’t travel this far east. But if you are staying in the area, one stop west on the tube will bring you to Canary Wharf. It’s the towering financial district which also houses a warren of high street shops in underground walkways (and in summer is home to free weekend festival Nashville Meets London).
Above ground search for Ole and Steen, a bakery and café with London’s best Danish pastries. After dark, a couple of doors along is the Big Easy, a New Orleans themed restaurant and bar with sinfully sticky food and free live blues every night. Or, try the decidedly British Boisdale, with its well stocked whisky bar and cigar library, offering ticketed live music every night, occasionally with country artists on the bill.
Near the Tower of London
This imposing castle, hiding gruesome histories and maintaining bizarre traditions, is one tourist attraction which is worth a tour – especially if you can make one of the after dark special events. This is where you’ll find the crown jewels (not Buckingham Palace) and the iconic bridge nearby is Tower Bridge (not London Bridge). If you arrive via Tower Hill tube station, look out for the ancient sundial which, as well as telling you the time if your phone battery dies, also charts the history of “London” since Roman times.
For refreshment, the beer garden of the Perkin Reveller boasts inventive cocktails with an atmospheric view, set in the shadow of the tower. Alternatively, ducking down a staircase beside the famous bridge will take you to St Katherine Docks, a little marina haven with a wide choice of mid-price restaurants and one Medieval banquet hall because, why not.
Near Oxford Street
This central shopping street is mainly avoided by Londoners, especially when it’s rammed with weekend dawdlers. If shopping centrally really appeals, nearby Carnaby Street (famed for it’s Rock and Roll past) has a few more interesting brands and is also home to Kingly Court, a covered yard of bars and eateries. Then, just south of Oxford Street you’ll find buzzing Soho. This edgier area is an historic mix of adult-only shops, legendary music venues behind darkened doorways (try Upstairs @ Ronnie Scott’s) and restaurants which have outlasted countless hipster food trends.
A must visit is stalwart whisky shop Millroy’s of Soho. With over 250 varieties in stock, there’s also a bar on the shop floor to help find your favourite before you buy. For more intimate drinks the shop’s cellar is home to a once secret but still excellent cocktail bar, The Vault. The far less clandestine Soho pub The Spice of Life has a long running and respected Open Mic night on Mondays while the first Sunday of every month they showcase unsigned talent in the ‘Country Soul Sessions’.
Overseas visitors, please try the fish and chips at Rock and Sole Plaice. Much of England will balk at the London prices and we balked when they added “world famous” to their sign, but it’s a far more authentic version of the traditional British dish than you’ll get in the nearby restaurants and pubs.
Musicians should make the pilgrimage to Denmark Street aka Tin Pan Alley for old times sake, even though the record studios which made its name have disappeared. These days all that remains of its melodic past are the musical instrument and instrument repair shops, but even if you’re not buying a banjo, stop for a light lunch or dinner at Flat Iron. There’s only one main on the menu, delectable sliced steak which, for £10, comes with a bit of salad.
Near Portobello Road
The famous west London street market has always attracted hoards, but even more so since its starring role in 1999 romcom Notting Hill. Before you hit the second hand stalls, look out for tiny cowboy boot shop Jessie Western half way up the road. The area’s also home to one of London’s most niche museums, the Museum of Brands and Packaging. Unlike our city’s flagship museums, this small venue does charge for admission (£9) but it takes you on a quirky, nostalgic trip through time via the things which have filled our shelves over the years.
Near the London Eye
Whether it’s just a drink on the Royal Festival Hall terrace, watching archived films for free in the BFI Mediatheque or catching an artsy festival, there’s always something to amuse you along the Thames’ Southbank. While there, you’re just a couple of moments away from The London Studios where you can sit in the audience of a TV show recording (get free tickets in advance from sites like SRO, The Applause Store or The BBC directly). To escape the main footfall, try the cafes of Gabriel’s Wharf.
Near Borough Market
This mecca of fine food [cover photograph] has become as much a tourist attraction as a place to pick up artisan produce. It has varied options for ready-to-eat but if you fancy something less fancy, you’re just ten minutes walk from a southern style BBQ joint, Texas Joe’s. Next door is their sister bar and juke joint Flying W Saloon. Back down toward the river there’s a somewhat touristy but charming old school pub Anchor Bankside.
London is a sprawling place and these are just a selection of central suggestions, so if you’re curious about any type of venue or area of the city we’ve not covered, just ask below. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with a few essential tips for travelling on the tube.
- To work out a rough underground journey time, count the number of stops and multiply that by 2.5 minutes to allow plenty of time. (Two minutes should be enough if your journey is only in zone one).
- Buy and preload an Oyster travel card for much cheaper fares (and also because you can no longer pay cash on buses). Keep your receipt and return it on your last day to reclaim the £5 deposit. Alternatively use a contactless bank card for the same discounted prices.
- Don’t bother take the tube to get between Covent Garden, Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus stations, they’re all within 5-15 minutes walk of each other.
- When waiting on an underground platform, stand opposite one of the tube logos on the walls. These indicate where the carriage doors should be, as long as the driver stops right on the line.
- Never, ever, EVER stand on the left side of the escalator or you will incur the wrath of eight million Londoners. (Although we promise, this really is a very friendly city.)
CJ & Judi (bonafide Eastenders)