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Do you fancy exploring London off-path? Have you visited all the museums, seen the Big Ben, took a ride in the London Eye and you feel like doing something different? Read on, my dear, you’ll find a great inspiration list for the best outdoor local markets in London!
I have loved London since I visited it for the first time in 2002 for a summer language camp. I was a teenage girl with a visible flair for foreign languages. The thought of becoming an English translator was slowly incubating in my mind, but I needed the spark that would set me off.
Coming to London from a small town in Poland was a huge shock for me at that time. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw so much diversity all at once. I was being surprised to hear how polite people can be and comparing this with brusque and very reserved Poles made me cringe. I thought it would be worth working hard to learn as much as possible about the place where everything seemed possible. Now, more than 10 years later, I am writing this post and the M.A. in English lays in front of me. I’ve also just come back from London and although the diversity doesn’t surprise me that much any more, I still love it and can well imagine myself living there one day.
Being done with a short introduction, let me now get to the point. What to see in London in 48 hours? The answer depends on what your preferences are, but if, like me, you are done with the biggest highlights and want to wander off the beaten path, this post is for you. My plan for London was to stay clear from the biggest attractions and explore road markets which are not the first choice for the majority of tourists.
I’ve compiled this list in chronological order, but you will mainly find here road markets and green areas.
Camden Town – off-path London despite the crowds
After I had walked for about an hour, I finally saw the famous Camden Town. To say that it’s off the beaten path would be an exaggeration. It is actually very popular both among the locals and tourists, but it’s still a place people don’t normally visit when first time in London. I’ve heard that Camden is the centre of punk rock and all the coolest individuals you can imagine.
True, I’ve seen a few people who could well be punk rock stars, but what drew my attention the most, was the magnitude of all the weirdest antiques, vintage clothes, cuisines from all around the world, and the flea market stretching from the Camden Lock to the Stables Market. I absolutely loved it there!
The dense smell of incense, leather, spices, and dust was filling my nostrils as I was paving my way through the crowds in very narrow lanes of the market. There was an old collection of Encyclopaedia Britannica, a pile of old, leather suitcases, of the sort you find photos with travel quotes on (48 pounds and you can own one!), dusty books of the Victorian era, shirts and jeans from the 80s, black dresses for Gothic queens, old vinyls, Cuban cigars, and even a collection of analogue cameras.
Name a thing and you’ll be able to find it in Camden Town. And the food! A culinary world travel spread on a few hundreds of square meters. Camden Town and what’s hidden behind the Camden Lock are definitely a place to experience when visiting London. Just allow yourself plenty of time.
Pub crawl in Soho, London
I have a friend in London whom I have known for four years already. We met each other during Erasmus exchange in Munich and have visited each other a few times already. It’s one of the reasons why I always encourage people to go and study abroad – you get friends based in all different countries. As much as I love solo travel, I would most likely not go for an evening’s drink alone, because it would just feel weird. However, in a company of a friend it is all different. We went to some pubs to taste different English ales and later to China Town to eat something and, of course, taste Chinese beer.
China Town – all the best food in London
We went to a restaurant with allegedly the best Chinese food in the neighbourhood. It was full, to the extent that people had to share tables, which I personally don’t mind at all. Shortly after we had ordered our meal, three men were located at our table and the conversation begun. It turned out that all of them live in Singapore and came to England only for the rugby games. One of them left England over 30 years ago and doesn’t feel like coming back. I work for a company that has an office in Singapore so I know a few facts about that country, thanks to which, it was easy to keep the conversation going.
My colleague once told us that it’s a custom in Singapore to put a tissue on a table or a chair to indicate that you book the place while you are buying the food. Lunches are particularly busy and given that people have a very limited amount of time, they don’t want to waste it waiting for free seats. The newly-met companions told us a story about a man in Singapore who wasn’t familiarised with the local etiquette and thought that the tissue was a piece of rubbish. Not thinking much, he threw it away. When the person who booked the seat came to see his place was taken, he got so angry, that he actually brought a lawsuit against the other guy. So if you travel to Singapore, keep that in mind. :-D It’s an unwritten rule especially in business areas.
Colombia Road Flower Market – local, off-path London
I love this place! As the name suggests, it’s all about flowers! Colombia Road is relatively small, at least comparing to Camden Town, but I can well imagine going there every Sunday for a few months and I am sure, I would still find surprising things there. You’ll find there dozens of stands with flowers. Asters, bells of Ireland, birds of paradise, gerbera, heather, liatris, all sorts of cacti! If only I could take them to Poland, I would buy some of them, since the choice was jaw-dropping.
But flowers are not the only thing you can find there! Street performers, second-hand book shops, alternative art galleries, little stands with food, vintage clothing shops, antique stands! I walked into side alleys of the Colombia Road to find whole little worlds of bizarre objects for sale, solo performer singing old songs and playing guitar.
Everywhere I looked, I found something interesting. At one point I felt a bit hungry and in need of another coffee, so I went to a little back yard converted into a coffee garden and bought a coffee and a sandwich with cheese and tomatoes. Since all chairs were occupied, I sat down on a kerb. I was watching the street life while enjoying my little lunch.
Such moments are the drive of my travels. I can’t really describe how much I love it when I can enjoy some good food and just watch what’s happening in the streets. I am often fascinated by people’s behaviours; I like to guess who’s on a first date, which mother feels like she has had enough, who is going to take a selfie next, how much time that guy with impressive beard takes in the morning to look better than Victoria’s Secret models? Sometime when I sit down like that and watch, people come over and start talking to me. That’s what I love about solo travel.
Brick Lane – the best place to explore in London
Colombia Road is not far away from the Brick Lane. I walked slowly from one place to another, and it took me about 30-40 minutes. Brick Lane is just beautiful. Bustling with life, colourful, dynamic, artistic, and noisy. Of course, you will find there LOTS of unique shops, cosy bookshops, tons of cafes, but what nailed it in Brick Lane, was the atmosphere.
Everybody seemed so laid back and this feeling was contagious. I loved huge warehouses redecorated and made into markets, I felt I could spend ages in the little “Brick Lane Bookshop”, but the best was when I reached a pretty large square. Six-storey brick buildings with external staircases, tin containers, an old car on one of the roofs, and lots of benches and tables.
Hundreds of people sitting down, eating lunches, drinking coffees, taking selfies, socialising. A river of people passing by. I spent there an hour, just sitting down and taking photos. I’ve known that I want to visit Brick Lane from the moment I had finished reading a book by Monica Ali with the same title as the road. However, I had not expected this to be so awesome. If you feel like drinking a coffee, you can for example, buy it from a guy who prepares it at the back of his old black taxi.
From Brick Lane, I walked down the Liverpool Street (awesome!) went by tube back to the centre of London. I wanted to take a look at the River Thames before going to Victoria Station to catch my bus to the airport. What I found there astounded me. Crowds of people standing on the pavement taking selfies in front of Big Ben.
As I was paving my way through the crowd to get to the river, I had to pay the utmost attention not to get hit by a selfie stick. The crowd was becoming more and more dense. At the bank of the river I saw hundreds of people, nearly all of them taking selfies. This view made me laugh quite a bit. When I was looking at those people freezing with mannered, sometimes pretentious smiles or duck faces, I thought I will most likely never come to terms with the idea of selfies.
No offence to anyone, but I find it awkward and so unnatural. And I don’t mean taking a selfie because you want to remember this later, but taking hundreds of selfies in one place, making the selfie itself the centre of your interest, and not the people or the place around you. It’s like shifting perspective from Big Ben into your full lips. Pointless.
From the River Thames I walked to the Victoria Station and hopped on the Greenline bus to Luton airport. The weekend felt very good and I hope some of the places I’ve been to will inspire you to visit London as well.
My hostel: Smart Hyde Park View Hostel
I was satisfied, but a week before my friends were there and the room they got was damp (they had no window) and dirty, so I guess it depends on the room and company.
Tube: if you have a pay pass card, you don’t have to buy the Oyster card (5GBP) to travel with the tube! Since recently it has been possible to pay with a normal pay pass card! It’s a HUGE convenience. A day of travelling by London tube in zones 1 and 2 will cost you MAXIMUM 6.40 GBP which is so much cheaper than buying single tickets!