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Do you want tea, love? Please, take some to read this lively interview. Or even better, grab a pint of lager! We’re about to learn more about this stunning and vibrant city that London is.
As you know, a couple of times per month I interview a local to get the best insights and tips concerning a city that is on our bucket list. If you want to read other interviews of this series, take a look at my “Through the Eyes of a Local” archive! I’m sure you’ll learn a lot about other destinations and get inspired to visit these amazing places.
Today, we will learn more about the multicultural London from Lizzie. Enjoy!
I’m sure there are few people in the world that have not heard of London. As the capital of England, its appeal lies not only in its rich history, but its vibrant diversity and inspiring creative scene. From The Queen’s home in Buckingham Palace to the London Eye, to the 2012 Olympics, London has a firm place in the hearts of many all over the world. I feel so lucky to call this crazy place my home (for now, at least!), and let me show you why…
Could you please tell us a bit more about yourself? Where are you from and what do you do?
Hi! I’m Lizzie and I’m a twenty-something travel enthusiast who is currently trying to travel the world on a budget while holding down a full-time 9-5 job. I’m originally from a small town call Rochester in Kent, UK, but have been living and working in London for the past two years. Before that I was living in Chengdu, China teaching English! When I’m not travelling, you can find me hanging upside-down from something as my other passion is aerial performance – I even ran away to join the circus in 2015, and had an amazing time travelling around the UK and performing on aerial silks!
What do you like about London?
London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with over 300 languages spoken here every day. That means you can find something to suit absolutely every taste here, from museums and galleries, parks and wildlife reserves, to trendy pop-ups and incredible bars. As Samuel Johnson said; “he who is tired of London is tired of life” – although the quote is nearly 300 years old, it rings even more true today!
Which 3 places do you highly recommend paying a visit in the city?
One of the most incredible areas in London is Brick Lane near Shoreditch. It’s my favourite place to spend a Sunday afternoon, as it absolutely springs to life with market stalls and street vendors on every spare stretch of road. Over the last 100 years, it became an important area for settling Bengali immigrants, which has led to Brick Lane having some of the best curry houses in London! Recently, as East London becomes more gentrified, Brick Lane has become one of the leading areas for “trendy” foods, such as the rainbow bagel and bubble waffles, so check those out to brighten up your insta feed (but be prepared to queue).
You can also find the best collection of vintage clothes in almost every alleyway and doorway – As a firm lover of all things colourful and glittery, it is one of my go-to places for clothes shopping!
If you want to experience a slice of the English countryside, but don’t have time to take a train across the country, head to Hampstead in North London. On Hampstead Heath, you can experience one of the largest green areas in London, and even take a swim in the outdoor swimming ponds! Meanwhile, Hampstead Village has cobbled lanes, country pubs perfect for a Sunday afternoon roast, adorable French patisseries and – in the summer – flowers on almost every corner!
It also has the benefit of being a lot quieter than central London, so is the perfect place to escape the crowds.
Although very touristy and often super crowded, nothing can dim my love for Chinatown. Wandering through the busy streets, taking in the cacophony of sights, smells and sounds reminds me of Chengdu. I love to stop and browse through the supermarkets, which hold an incredible array of Asian supplies, so if you are longing for some mooncakes, this is the perfect place to stock up!
But the fun doesn’t stop at night – Gerrard Street also has two of the best speakeasy bars (The Experimental Cocktail Club and Opium), providing the perfect places to escape the hustle and bustle of the streets down below.
And which places should people avoid?
I recommend avoiding all of the usual tourist traps if you possibly can! London has a huge population, which gets swamped even more by the massive amounts of tourism it attracts at its main sights. Most of the time you won’t even get anywhere near what you want to see due to the crowds – and queues to the best attractions are often well over an hour long in the summer!
If you can; avoid them completely. If not, try visiting during the off-season. Once you have got the big sights out of the way, you can concentrate on exploring the “real” London (which is cheaper and much more interesting!).
Is there anything you don’t like about your hometown? What is it?
It makes me really upset to see the number of homeless people in the city – it feels like it has grown significantly over the last few years.
What is the best way to get around London? Is it easy to reach nearby cities?
By far the best way to get around London is to use public transport. Founded around 1500 years ago, it really wasn’t designed for cars – as a result, traffic is a nightmare. My top tip would be to download the app “citymapper” – it’s free, and will give you foolproof instructions to get from A to B using public transport. As London is the transport hub of the whole of the UK, it’s really easy to get just about anywhere from here. You can either use our extensive rail system, fly or hire a car.
How travel-friendly is the city?
London’s transport network is easy to use, and of course, being the capital of England, everyone speaks English. All of the airports are connected to the city centre by train routes (quite expensive) and bus routes (longer, but cheaper).
How safe is London? Is it ok to walk around with your camera or alone at night?
I have never felt unsafe in the majority of London – especially central London, as it is always busy, well-lit and you will often see police around. However, there are some areas that I feel less comfortable at night-time, like Brixton and Peckham. (Although I know this will be hotly contested as many people absolutely adore these slightly edgier locations!).
What are your favorite things to do in London?
Eat and drink! One of the best things about London (and worst things for my diet, *sob*) is the massive variety of restaurants and bars. You can enjoy almost any cuisine in just about any setting – from street food to Michelin star restaurants, we have it all! I’m also a massive cocktail fan, and there are enough quirky bars here to quench my thirst – which says a lot.
What are the best things to do when the weather is, respectively, bad or good?
London has a huge selection of both inside and outside activities, but my go-to for rubbish weather (disappointingly frequent in London!) is the Namco Games Arcade on the South Bank. It’s perfect for adults and kids alike, with enough games, activities, and prizes to while away a whole afternoon. On one of our rarer sunny days, head to any of the parks (I love Regent’s Park) with a picnic, friends and a bottle of wine – perfect!
Can you tell us where we can find the best view of the city?
There are so many options to get a fantastic view of the city, but my favourite place is Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. It is completely free to visit, and affords a view across the whole of the city, displaying all of the most famous landmarks. You can even take food and a kite and soak up the view for a whole afternoon!
What is the most traditional dish in London?
I guess this would have to be a roast dinner – usually consisting of roast beef, pork, chicken or lamb with an assortment of vegetables, gravy and most importantly a Yorkshire Pudding. Although (I think) the English are known for bland food, I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love a Sunday Roast! My two favourite places are The Spaniard in Hampstead, or The Gypsy Queen in Kentish Town – although they are normally really busy on a Sunday afternoon, so book in advance to avoid any disappointment or hangry friends!
Could you recommend a local bar and restaurant?
My absolute favourite bar is called Purl in Marylebone. It’s a really creative (I’m talking dry ice, exploding balloons, and fire) cocktail bar which rotates its menu seasonally. Although on the expensive-side (even for London), I think it’s well worth it. The intimate space, tastefully decorated in a 1940s style makes the perfect place for a first date or just a catch-up with friends.
What is the biggest tourist trap of London?
As one of the biggest cities in the world, London is full of tourist traps, however the one I would recommend least is the London Eye – it’s expensive, has a massive queue, and quite frankly, is a bit boring. Save your money and take a trip up the Shard, where you can eat in one of the restaurants while enjoying the view for the same price!
Can you tell us a memory that you have in this city?
I remember the first time I ever went to London – I was 8, and my family took me there for my birthday. I was absolutely blown away by the size of everything – and just how many people were walking around on the streets!
We arrived at Charing Cross Station and walked to Trafalgar Square, saw the National Portrait Gallery and then had lunch in Leicester Square. To this day, whenever I go to those places, I still feel a little rush of excitement that I actually live here now!
Could you describe the people of London?
Londoners are notorious for being unfriendly, although that isn’t completely true – we’re just super busy! You’ll often see people rushing around (possibly bumping into you in the process), but if you genuinely need help, people will always stop to assist. Although, my word of warning – don’t try and strike up a conversation on the tube, or you will be swiftly labelled “crazy”!
Tell us please a fun fact about London.
So this one is kind of gross, but I find it fascinating – All of our plumbing and sewers were built in the Victorian times, so are also not designed to deal with non-degradable plastic items that often get flushed down toilets. So, when people inevitably do flush these items away, they tend to clump together with cooking oil and grease from sinks and congeal into “Fat-bergs”.
These can grow into incredible sizes – last year a fatberg the size of 11 double-decker buses was found clogging up the sewers in East London!! Luckily workers were able to remove it, and you can even go and see a section of it in the Museum of London. Fat-tastic.
What piece of advice would you give to readers who want to visit your hometown?
Just come! London is always changing, always busy, and always exciting – you are guaranteed to fall in love with it. Although expensive, it is possible to do on a budget – a lot of the museums are completely free, and there really is something for everyone here!
What is the biggest prejudice other countries have about England?
I actually don’t know! From watching TV shows, it seems like the rest of the world thinks we all speak like the Queen and have tea coursing through our veins instead of blood. This is (mostly) untrue – England has several really distinct accents, and not many of them sound anything like most people’s idea of an English accent… although a lot of people I know do seem to subsist solely on tea!
Can you tell us a book based on England?
The Game of Thrones book series were actually based (albeit somewhat loosely!) on England’s Wars of the Roses. In the 14th-century, England’s royal families were involved in a long, devious war and struggle for the throne, and this tempestuous time was what George R. R. Martin based his novels on. However, if you are looking for something a little more realistic, I really like Persuasion by Jane Austin – it is beautifully written and paints a really vivid picture of typical life in England in the 1800s.
Thanks a lot Lizzie for sharing those tips with us!
Lizzie first caught the travel bug in 2009 when she went on a voyage around Asia, and since then has visited nearly 30 countries. She has a special place in her heart for Hong Kong and Japan, and is really excited to take her first trip to the Middle East this year! With a penchant for extravagant cocktails, escape rooms and all things unusual, her blog, Lizzie’s Restless Feet, aims to share practical tips on a budget to mid-range trips to remember.
Read more interviews of Through the Eyes of a Local series and get inspired for your next adventure!