Strolling the streets, with merely a rough idea of where I really was, London had me. Downing pints in pubs older than my parents, eating food that was eerily delicious given it’s made to go and meeting friends old and new. As far as exciting cities go, London is up there.
In mid 2016, I went to Europe. Initially heading into Edinburgh, I spent about three weeks there. But although I had a great time in Scotland and Edinburgh, this is about the leg after my time in Scotland.
Next stop, London.
Now, to preface this, this was my first time to the English capital. I initially spent a week in London, followed by another week there, almost a month later.
So in total, I spent 2 weeks here. And God damn, if it wasn’t a great time. Meeting friends in the heart of London with The Kinks playing in my head as somewhat of a theme song throughout the journey. The experience of travelling alone through one of the worlds biggest and busiest cities was a daunting and rewarding task.
Before I start, keep in mind that this was during the British summer time. So your experiences may be different depending on which time you’re there.
Now, before you get bored. Here are the best three things to do in London, based on my 2 week experience, first timer experience. I’m not saying don’t trust my advice, just so you know!
So keep in mind, although it seems like in every story I’m drinking (I am), I’m no alcoholic, merely wetting the ol’ whistle!
Portobello Road Markets
For me, this was a surprise bag. Originally, I planned on going to the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising (you should go, I’ve heard its really good), but in turn got a much better and cultural experience.
Hopping off the Tube at Ladbroke Grove Station, I decided to walk in the direction of the museum. It was a Saturday and on the other side of the road as I advanced, there was loud reggae music playing on big speakers, accompanied by the smell of something delicious wafting over the road.
I decided I had time, so I went and checked it out.
Upon walking into the entrance, there were loads of street vendors selling clothing, vintage, hippie, punk, military and every other style you can think of. Immediately, I loved it.
Thinking I still had loads of time, I moseyed in further. Trying on tie-dye shirts (buying three), denim and leather jackets, and a long executive looking trench coat (I’ve wanted one ever since watching Law and Order. The original seasons, none of that pervy rubbish).
So I keep walking and come across the food section. Filled with food carts and drinks vendors of all kinds. Which is handy, because by this point I was hungry and thirsty. It was a hot day, give me a break!
So I went to the orange juice man. He squeezed the oranges himself, to the background music he was playing at the time (most vendors had their own music playing, adding to the atmosphere). There were people everywhere, looking stylish, eating, drinking and baking in the hot sun.
I spoke to the man, from memory, he was jamacan and he said to me that his juice was the best. I scoffed and said something along the lines of “It better be, since its so expensive”. We both laughed. Then he told me, if you get one and don’t like it, you can have your money back”.
I bought an OJ and walked over to buy a burrito, sat down and tucked in.
Now, let me tell you. THIS ORANGE JUICE WAS AMAZING! It sounds silly, but this juice made my trip. Adding all of the commotion of Portobello Road, the markets, the infusion of music and smells being played and smelt from all directions. Amazing.
A testament to this orange deliciousness is that I went back and bought another. Whilst adding my adoration to the man who made it, while also encouraging others to buy it!
Following this, I continued to walk down the Portobello Road Markets, watching street performers, stopping in for a pint, seeing the colourful and trendy-looking buildings bend around the street.
I couldn’t ask for more. A warm and summery London day with great food, atmosphere and the OJ that will forever haunt my dreams.
London offers lots of great things. Whether its the countless museums, the history, the bridges littered up and down the Thames, Buckingham Palace, the Tube (loved it) or anything else you could think of. However, I, without thinking, ended up spending more than my fair share of days stumbling around SOHO.
SOHO, like the rest of London, was bustling. But in my experience, there was something different about it.
Like I said earlier, I had the Kinks stuck in my head throughout my stay. None more than when I was in SOHO. I even tempted myself and played the song Lola, about a man in SOHO who… Um, you can take a listen for yourself.
But yeah, great place.
My first stop in SOHO wasn’t in really in SOHO. A stones throw away from Trafalgar Square lays Piccadilly Circus. With a wall of luminance advertising Samsung, Coca-Cola and other massive brands, Piccadilly was a great hub.
On my first time, I stepped into a pub and ordered a pint. Not really sure where to go from there, I asked the bartender where SOHO was, because I wanted to go. Turns out, I was basically already there.
I went for a walk, went into some shops, soaked up the culture. Drinking a mixture of water, coffee and beer, I was loving it.
The following day I met an Italian friend of mine from Australia who was working on Wardour Street and grabbed some beers and some dinner. Some good times were had! We were mingling with some local girls, having a drink and catching up.
The following day, back to SOHO. This time to meet another friend. A Swede this time. She’s a friend from Australia who in the week previous, moved to London for a job.
We sat, we drank, we ate. We made our way through to China Town, walking into shops, local eateries and pubs. As I said before, I’m no alcoholic, just on holiday!
The bottom line with SOHO is, that its a place full of people. People who are strange, creative, night owls and the rest.
During the remainder of my time in London, I returned to SOHO on a few occasions. I have some great stories to tell, but not enough time.
So I’ll just leave this with you… On a night out (by myself) I met some guys who were celebrating a mates 21st. They invited me in, we sang karaoke, went on a pub crawl and made some great friends. Basically, the place is fun. Enjoy yourself there. Because I know next time I’m in LDN with the boys, I’m going straight back and making a night of it!
I only went to Camden once. I headed into the main section of the Camden Lock and went for a stroll. I was kicking myself because I did only go there once, however, my experience is like none other, of mine at least.
In Australia, I have a friend who swears by Camden to be the best area in London. As far as my experience goes, I can see why he’d think that. Because it was a fiery, non-stop, exciting area which has, from what I heard, went through a rough patch in the past. Thankfully, it’s now better.
Yet on my visit, I was somewhat greeted by a man who was big, strong, white man, who said he’d just been released from prison. He asked me for money and I said I didn’t have any.
By this point, my time in Camden was coming to a close. I was sitting down against a wall with a large mural and graffiti all over when he sat down next to me. I didn’t flinch, shudder or say anything apart from “Hey mate, how are you?”
He was actually a kinda nice guy. We sat, chatted and got on for about 10-15 minutes. He then asked me for money and I said sorry. He then grabbed my wallet and phone and began looking through them.
It was a bit of a surprise, so I snatched them back and he fought back. I ran through the crowded streets and back to the Tube station. Oddly enough, this is a strangely exhilarating and interesting memory for me. So much so, that I’m glad it happened!
But beyond this, Camden is actually a great place to visit. There’s water to sit by, hawkers markets, food and clothing stalls littered in the streets, walls covered in graffiti and street art and little hole-in-the-way pubs that serve great beers by a trendy looking millennial.
This, like SOHO, is a place for me. I love cheap food, drinks and clothing, so why wouldn’t it be?
I remember going into a shop filled with juggling and skateboarding equipment, thinking “this is the type of obscure living that I love and why I love just strolling through areas”.
Following this, I slipped down into the street and went for a drink. I was strolling through when I heard a one man band playing in a bar. Few people there, so I thought I’d show some support.
When I say a one man band, he was a man with a guitar, a microphone and a harmonica strapped around his neck. In between songs, he began speaking to the slowly increasing crowd.
When he finished his set, he came over and spoke to me. Don’t ask me why, he just did. First thing I say to him is “So where about in Perth are you from?” He replies, shocked, with a suburb relatively close to mine. We started chatting, he left then left.
There was a funny thing about the conversation. Because although we sat speaking for a good 20+ minutes, there was never any strings attached. Sure we exchanged names, but nothing more. Just stories.
We got on well and then left. There was something strange about meeting a person who is from the exact same area as you, on the other side of the world.
This is travelling, I tell ya’ what!
Lastly, i’d like to note that the above advice isn’t aimed purely at travellers. It’s aimed towards anyone who would like a bit of time in the city. Now obviously, this was my first time. I did head out and do lots of things other than these three things. But if you want to get out there, have a drink, meet good people and get some valuable life experience, I’d recommend heading to London.
If not London, then I’d recommend almost anywhere else. Britain was great to me, I loved Edinburgh and London equally. But I’ve also done a fair bit of other travelling and the advice I’d give is that of Anthony Bourdain. And that’s to ditch the bullshit travel guides, do a bit of research online and do it your way. For me, that means meandering somewhat aimlessly around a city, beach or wherever I find myself, constantly following my instincts and distractions to my next location.
For me that works. But hey, what do I know. You do you and if push comes to shove, maybe head into Camden, SOHO and Portobello Road and get one of those ridiculously good OJ’s.