Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner that I love London so, the classic Cockney song goes. And, yes, I do get a funny feeling inside of me just walking up and down.
People in big cities rarely make time to see the tourist sights and take advantage of the attractions. Having spent eight years in the Cayman Islands, when I returned to London at the end of 2015, reacquainting myself with its delights was top priority.
Having done all the tourism stuff like London Eye, Harrods, Houses of Parliament, Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Oxford Street shopping numerous times, I’ve developed my own favourite haunts.
The musicals Motown and Michael Jackson’s Thriller are fantastic shows. Right in the heart of the city, they should be on anyone’s list, young or old, as so many songs are the soundtracks of people’s lives. Budget about $50 a ticket. For regular entertainment, I’m often at Mau Mau wine bar in Portobello Road, Ladbroke Grove, for their Sunday night open mic reggae show backed by an excellent band. Entrance is a grocery tin which goes to the local food bank. It’s only on from 9-10.30 p.m. but is so popular visitors from abroad make a point of stopping in. Brixton Jamm in south London is a must too on a Sunday evening, for old school reggae where the celebrated sound system Channel One regularly plays. For comedy, try the compact Leicester Square theatre. Great TV comedians try out new material here and for as little as $11 so anyone can belly laugh to their heart’s content.
Caribbean takeaways and restaurants have sprouted up all over London in the past decade so it’s not difficult to find some jerk chicken, rice’n’peas, ackee and saltfish… Recommended ones for London visitors are Mr Jerk’s in Wardour Street, just off Oxford Street, Boom Burger in Portobello Road, Ladbroke Grove, Negril on Brixton Hill, Café Caribbean in Spitalfields Market, Fish, Wings & Tings, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, The Rum Kitchen off Carnaby Street, central London, Jamaica Patty Co in Covent Garden and Rudie’s in Dalston or Brixton. Average price $15 for meal and drink. All authentic dishes but being Caribbean cuisine be prepared for a long wait!
For an alternative from Caribbean but equally as flavoursome, try Nando’s the popular peri peri chicken chain, which reminds me of Cayman’s Chicken! Chicken! Nando’s grills its chicken which is customised in degrees of hotness and the sides are varied and good value. Lots for veggies too. Always excellent service. Peri peri fries and bottomless frozen yoghurt – but not at the same time – is recommended.
Although there are many independent book shops, my favourite is Waterstones in Piccadilly, close to Piccadilly Circus. It may be huge but feels like a hidden secret because it’s rarely busy. Apart from a zillion book of all genres, there are cafés, rest rooms and comfy leather sofas to seduce you into spending hours browsing and reading. Foyle’s is another world-renowned book store in Tottenham Court Road, but for me Waterstones’ coziness is the bestseller.
My local park is five minutes’ walk and a godsend throughout the year. Gladstone Park in Dollis Hill, north-west London, has two cafes, a duck pond, tennis courts, basketball area, boxing gym, children’s playgrounds and an outdoor exercise area for adults like me. A hidden gem. I’m there pretty much every day, even in winter. When time allows though I head for Hyde Park, especially in the summer, when for a few
bucks relaxing in a deck chair beside the Serpentine, people watching and admiring the bird life bobbing around boaters. People whizzing past on skateboards, roller blades and hired Santander cycles adds to the ambience. The café is pricey but well worth the experience. Lovely place.
Not a big shopper, but when I do have to venture to a mall, there is Brent Cross only a short drive away. It was built in the 70s and considered gigantic but is dwarfed by newer places now. Small but perfectly formed, Brent Cross retains its popularity, partly because of its huge car park which is all on ground level. Selfridges is my favourite department store. Great restaurant and high-end stuff at a reasonable price. Love the crockery in there. Always good value in the sales.
To travel on London’s extensive public transport system, it’s best to get a Visitor Oyster card to save money and for convenience. You top them up with cash or card at many outlets beside transports stations, including grocery shops, gas stations and newsagents and to use just tap in and tap out. For the equivalent of $1.60 you can travel on any bus route for its entire length. My favourite routes are 267 (Hammersmith to Fulwell Garage) and 52 (Willesden to Victoria Station).
I’m blessed in living only a couple of miles from Wembley Stadium. Been to many football matches there as well as American football games, boxing shows and concerts. Jubilee Line is on my doorstep so it’s easy to get to the Olympic Stadium in the east at the other end of the line to watch the athletic world championships there next month. Tourists this summer can also watch cricket at Lord’s and the Oval. For me though, going to York Hall in Bethnal Green, east London, is the best, to watch amateur and pro boxing.
Free attractions London has an array of amazing free attractions and landmarks that you can visit without spending a penny. These include top art galleries and museums including Tate Modern, National Gallery and British Museum, the Southbank Centre art complex, and outdoor spaces such as Hampstead Heath, Regent’s Park and Victoria Park. Piccadilly Circus is ideal for taking a break and watching the world go by. I used to take the kids to the Science Museum so often the staff got to know us. One sort of free attraction I used to enjoy was Hamley’s toy shop in Regent Street when the kids were small. They allow you a cheeky play with the Scalextric, train sets and all manner of toys and games for nothing. We all loved it. I would take the kids upstairs to the café as a final treat.