Top 10 Things is a new series the top things to do in cities all over the world, written by Couchsurfing Ambassadors who love where they live and want to share local favorites, unique hot spots, and random nooks with other adventurous Couchsurfers.
So you’re in London. But how do you live it like a true Couchsurfer, forgetting the touristy bits to take in the city’s real essence?
1 – Go to a street food party
Be it winter or summer, may it rain or may it shine, Londoners do love the outdoors. When in town, don’t miss out on the street food events showing off the city’s incredible melting pot of cultures, from Caribbean to Korean, from Peruvian to Italian, all blended in with great music, a fun crowd and the understated London coolness mixing bankers with creatives, students with workers. Street Feast in Dalston, happening each season either in- or outdoors, the Urban Food Fest in Shoreditch and Night Tales near Old Street are some of the best examples of this never-ending trend. Cheap enough for a Couchsurfer yet perfect to try out different kinds of food, these events are generally free-entry and will give you the chance to mingle with the real Londoners.
2 – Have a cocktail
If you like a good tipple, you’re in the right place. London is the speakeasy heaven, the mixology spot, the place where you will find what you need, whether it’s in a car park or in a secret room behind a fridge. Sure, cocktails here are damn expensive, but they’re generally worth it. To avoid wasting your £9 (that is, alas, the average price of a cocktail in the capital), make sure you try the decadent Kahlua Espresso Martinis or the tasty Amaretto Sours at the Dead Dolls Club in Islington or Bethnal Green. Try the Alice In Wonderland cocktails at the Looking Glass Cocktail Club in Hackney Road, where you’ll be able to hide in the secret room behind the mirror, or wander around Chinatown to check out one of its many speakeasies. You’re not a Londoner if you haven’t tried at least one over-priced cocktail!
3 – Pick up a free magazine
How do Londoners find out about all the amazing places to eat at or the events to attend? It’s simple: they religiously pick up, each week and without fail, a copy of the free TimeOut London Magazine and Evening Standard Magazine. If you’re not around on Tuesday morning and Thursday night (which is when they come out and run out), follow them on Twitter to be on top of London’s events and happenings.
4 – Couchsurf
Londoners can be lovely, but if there’s one thing that they hate, well… that’s tourists. Wandering around, not having a clue, queuing to take a picture at the puzzling M&M’s world shop in Leicester Square… You’re doing it wrong! As an adopted Londoner, I can honestly said I have never loved the city more than when I started experiencing it like a local. So instead of checking in the next Travelodge in the outskirts of the capital, try Couchsurfing and have a real Londoner show you how we like to have fun in the City.
5 – Go to a free exhibition
Stereotypes say Londoners are particularly good at queuing, and that becomes very true each weekend at one of the capital’s marvelous free exhibitions. So join the queue (DON’T jump it, for your own sake) and go see some of the city’s best art on display. I’m talking Tate Modern Gallery on the South Bank, showing modern art from all over the world including De Chirico and Dalì, or the Welcome Collection, now showing exhibition on crime and the study of sex. Or just wander around one of the many indie galleries around town – you’ll run into one on every other street.
6 – Live East
Forget the over-crowded Oxford Street – it may be the biggest shopping area, but it’s also the most crowded and most obnoxious. East London is where the fun is at: market, bars, restaurants and pop-up shop make it the neighborhood you need to be checking out…and, ideally, finding a host in.
7 – Embrace the British humor
Black humor is something the British do marvelously. So embrace it by checking out kinky live shows in former pleasure district Soho or by having a drink at La Bodega Negra, the cocktail bar hidden behind what looks like a strip club. Or simply marvel at the cleverness behind street signs, ads and reminders – my favorite is Norman 9 Fingers at the London Zoo. He tried to feed the monkeys…
8 – Eat out
Sure, street food in London is great, but if you don’t eat in a restaurant you’d be missing out. Have a traditional British Sunday Roast in some of the city’s best pubs, like The Water Poet in Spitalfields, or some pie and mash at Pieminster, or an afternoon tea with scones, jam and clotted cream in tearooms all across London.
9 – Take a walk
Everybody wants to try the London Tube, but truth is London is extremely walkable. Take in the city’s charm by walking as much as you can – it will help your pockets and it will prevent you from gaining too much weight after all the food I’ve suggested. If you want to join a love for walking with your thirst for knowledge, sign up for a London walk and go explore every bit of the city with one of The London Walks’ incredibly clued-up tour guides. Far from being touristy, their tours are so good even Londoners join them during their days off. I recommend the Jack The Ripper walk, which will take you in some of the eeriest areas of the capital to follow Jack’s blood trail.
10 – Yeah, I know, you have to… Do the touristy bits.
The Big Ben, The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park… You just have to see all those. But I know you will. You don’t need my advice on that.
Bonus – Check out Couchsurfing Events in London.
Have a jolly good time!