3 (Free) Things I Miss About London
Written by Jaillan Yehia
When we think of a big city like London we automatically think of the headline attractions that make it famous – and we tend to assume that a trip to the big smoke has to cost the earth.
For me moving away from London highlighted the fact that the best things in life, and in London, really are free.
Here are three things about my home town that I really miss, but which don’t cost anything to experience once you’ve touched down in London Town…
It’s becoming increasingly popular to ‘live like a local’ on our travels – we all know that Londoners wouldn’t be caught dead in Madame Tussaud’s on a Sunday afternoon, any more than New Yorkers spend each weekend ascending the Empire State Building or Parisians eat all their sugary snacks at Ladurée.
If you swerve all the over-priced tourist traps that locals wouldn’t touch with a barge pole you really can have an inspiring break in one of the world’s most expensive cities, and my favourite city on earth, for a lot less than you think.
Let’s face it, locals’ insider secrets tend to be places and experiences that either don’t cost a thing or are at the very least a major bargain. So I think it is well worth putting most of your budget into choosing a really cool local part of London to stay in, ideally in an apartment so you have somewhere spacious to kick off your shoes after a long day of sightseeing.
Here are three things I miss about London and get nostalgic about when I think of my hometown – they’re things I’d recommend to any visitor who wants to see London in a new light.
1. Walking or Cycling along The Grand Union Canal
The canal, in my book, is London’s single best kept secret, and it’s probably the one thing I miss most about my own city.
People travel all over Europe for quaint canals; Venice has been trading off it’s canals for centuries, as has Amsterdam, and places like Panama are synonymous with their waterways, but right in the heart of London there is a canal that crosses the entire city from East to West, yet it often goes unsung.
The Regent’s Canal, which is the name given to the portion of the larger Grand Union canal as it bisects central London, is an amazing place for a walk or bike ride in the city, giving you a completely unique perspective on some of the city’s iconic destinations from London Zoo to Canary Wharf.
Some sections are more gritty and urban, others startlingly beautiful and scenic – but each stretch is intertwined with London’s history, and helps you discover neighborhoods which you might never usually stumble upon whether you’re a native or a newcomer.
Tip: Pick a stretch of the canal that interests you to try out – whether it’s the lock at Camden Town that will lead you to the famous market, or the area around recently redeveloped King’s Cross – and either go for a stroll or borrow or rent a bicycle to cover more ground. The great thing about using Barclay’s bike is that you can pick it up at your starting point and simply drop your bike off when you’re ready to call it a day and head into the pub!
2. Underground Architecture Spotting
One of the wonderful things about London is that it is literally crammed with history and creativity and you can find beauty in the most unexpected places.
While dashing from A to B you often find that you’re stopped in your tracks quite literally by what you see on London’s underground system.
But I’m not just talking about the crazy folk you come across or the ad campaigns you’re inundated by (the fun of which is not to be underestimated) I’m referring to the wonderful design touches you’ll find across the entire 270-station network of what is undisputedly the world’s first underground railway.
The initiated already know that Harry Beck’s tube map is a legend of modern cartography, but the stations themselves are often masterpieces of design, and for the price of a tube ticket you can enjoy every architectural style from Charles Holden’s art deco style to Norman Foster’s modernism via Eduardo Paolozzi’s pop art.
Tip: Buy an Oyster card and load it with a travel card for either one day or one week, depending how long you’re in town for, and get the most out of London’s well-designed stations many of which are listed buildings.
3. Finding Street Art Just About Everywhere
It’s a given that London is full of amazing art galleries – and as well as internationally renowned names like The Tate galleries or the National Gallery, and the host of private galleries all over the city that you’re free to pop your head into anytime, another of the aspects of London life that I miss is the pervasiveness of street art everywhere you turn.
There are certain areas of the city where you can expect to find some eye candy on every street corner. The streets surrounding Old Street roundabout are guaranteed to have you staring and snapping, and in general East London, especially Brick Lane, Shoreditch and Whitechapel is the most densely packed with pictorial representations by the capital’s spray can wielding artists.
But even further afield it’s surprisingly easy to stumble on world class street art in any of London’s neighborhoods – last time I was back I happened upon a piece of street art in the spot in Turnpike Lane where a Banksy had been removed and sold for £750,000, so as always in London it pays to keep your eyes open – you really never know what you might see.
Tip: If you’re a big street art fan and don’t have the time to wander the streets in search of specific artists you can go on a dedicated walking tour of the art of the East End which is becoming a really popular way to see the more local side of London.
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