Off the Tourist Trail in London

Old Nov 22nd, 2003, 10:55 PM
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Off the Tourist Trail in London

I posted a similar topic earlier in the year, but my trip to London at that time was cancelled (for personal reasons).

I'm going to be in London later this week and I'm trying to find out any information on neighbourhoods or areas of London that are interesting but not typically visited by tourists. When I visit cities, I like to see where people live, work, eat, shop and not just where people can buy postcards. In essence I like to visit the "real" city.

Right now, I'm thinking of visiting Islington, Stoke Newington, Southall, Spitalfields, Hampstead, Brixton and Lewisham. I don't have a definite plan, and I will not end up seeing all of these places due to time constaints. I always have future trips, anyway

I'm quite interested in urban design, architecture, transit/transport infrastructure, markets, neighbourhoods, "main street" style shopping areas. I'm Just trying to pick people's brains to see if you have any comments on the things I've mentioned or any other ideas. I have no problem getting around by train/tube/bus. Any information on areas, streets, or sights to visit would be wonderful.

Thank you,
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Old Nov 23rd, 2003, 02:18 AM
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U might like what I found to be an interesting trip combining a bit of everything. Check out the new bit of the Jubilee line by going to London Bridge stn. That's close to Borough Market, & Southwark Cathedral. Borough High St too (tho didn't explore this myself). Then u can walk along the river thru one of the oldest parts of London - now all refurbished warehouses - to Tate Modern for the art, or the bldg, or just a cup of coffee. The cityscape opposite includes some interesting buildings and there is a map identifying them on the small balcony outside the cafe. Walk across the Millenium Bridge. Check out St Pauls, St Barts. Leadenhall Market. Plenty to see/soak up just wandering around the City. Best to go on a weekday as it's dead during the weekend.
After all that, the #11 bus from Liverpool street Stn back west (ends up in Fulham I think) is one of the best trips in London - fleet st, strand, Traf Sq, Whitehall.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2003, 03:12 AM
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I think Mr Sinton is asking about places rather further out, where ordinary Londoners live and gather, rather than for tourist attractions that draw visitors from all London and indeed all the rich world. I mean, places where you may have hired an apartment, or visited relatives, or dropped off a bus half way to Hampton Court or Windsor Castle. I have sent him by e-mail a note for south east London (starring Brixton), but hope others will give him thoughts on all other quarters: Wandworth, Willesden, West Ham?

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ben_haines_london is offline  
Old Nov 23rd, 2003, 08:00 AM
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Are you looking for typical or picturesque?

The overwhelming majority of Londoners live in sprawling, low-rise suburbs (most dating from around 1850 to 1970), generally ranging from nondescript to - well, drab if you're being polite.

Some have strange doses of exotica superimposed - like Willesden's Hindu temple, or Colindale's Japanese shopping mall. And practically all now have a relatively high proportion of surprising nationalities (like Harrow's middle-class Indians, or the Ethiopian clusters in Islington).

But most of your list isn't typical of where Londoners really live.

Southall was. But it's now go a huge South Asian population, the biggest Sikh temple outside India, vibrant main shopping streets , full of truly extraordinary places (like jewellers selling by weight), with illuminations during Diwali and bilingual signage at the railway station. And the wonderful Brilliant restaurant (specialising in the cooking of the Indian diaspora in East Africa). Great to visit - but typical only of London's other South Asian areas. Brixton, too is great to visit -but it's really very trendy and edgy. Lewisham captures the drabness of South London far better, and Slough is a much better example than Southall of the bleakness of the 1930's western suburbs.

Spitalfields' beautiful Huguenot area is typical only of how architecturally precious Londoners restore old buildings. But the Bangladeshi area to its east is exuberant (the main mosque has been both a synagogue and a Protestant church under previous migration waves), though architecturally undistinguished.

Hampstead is lived in mostly by refugees from Mitteleuropa, their children, and lefty intellectuals who've unaccountably got substantial private means. Islington by middle-aged professionals who colonised and restored the area between the 60s and the 80s: Stoke Newington by the next generation of well-educated property developers. All pretty, but not nearly as typical of where North Londoners really live as the uber-drab stretch of Holloway Road from Highbury Corner to Archway (the Nag's Head shopping area pretty much epitomises London shopping, and is undoubtedly seen at its most characteristic on a rainy November afternoon. Don't leave the trip too late, because Christmas decorations give it a quite inauthentic sheen of jolliness)

But if you insist on seeking out the picturesque bits of non-tourist London, be sure to go to one of Islington's theatres (the Almeida really is world-class, and the Lisbon Traviata currrently on at the Kings Head pub got interesting reviews, but there are other pub theatres). And eat along S. Newington Church St: the Rasa Travancore (Keralan Christian - ie non-veg, including pork, seafood and beef) is especially recommended.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2003, 08:44 AM
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A couple of years ago I went by tube and Silverlink train to Hackney to see Sutton House. SH was built in 1535 by one of Henry VIII's courtiers and is one the most complete Tudor house left in London. It doesn't have much in the way of furniture, but the building itself is interesting enough for an hour's visit, and it didn't take very long to get there, despite its location outside of central London. I can't recommend it as a must-see on a first or even second London trip, but as an off-the-beaten-track venue for someone interested in the Tudor era, it was worth the visit.

To get there, take the tube (Victoria line) to Islington & Highbury, and then change to the Silverlink train (some signs still call it the North London line but it is NOT the same as the "Northern" tube line). Take the Silverlink 3 stops to Hackney Central. From the station, cross the street to the Marks and Spencer side, and then head round the corner to Mare Street where you will see and HSBC bank. Cross the street to the bank, and walk behind the bank where you will be in a church courtyard with plantings. Keep walking straight through the yard for about 5-7 minutes (there are some signs for Sutton House) and when you can't walk any further, turn right. Sutton House will be in front of you.
2 Homerton High St, corner Isabella Road in Hackney. Hackney is a middle-class residential area of east London?not the usual tourist territory at all.

On the trip back into central London, if you like you can catch bus #S2 just across the street from SH. It will take you to Stratford Station where you can take the tube (Central Line). Or, exit Sutton House, turn left, and walk along Urswick Road to Lower Clapton Road (about 5 minutes.) From there you can take bus # 38 to Holborn tube stop.

Also not far from Hackney Central station: A Burberry factory outlet store: at 29-53 Chatam Place, E9. Phone ahead for hours they are open: The phone number for the outlet is 0208 985 3344
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Old Nov 23rd, 2003, 09:59 AM
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A fast neighborhood visit can be made to St. Johns Wood. Take the Jubilee Line to SJW (not far from midtown). When you get out of the train station, High Street (main shopping street with a Starbucks, lots of people to chat with in Starbucks and the bistro next door) is one block from the station. Or you can walk in opposite direction, see the American School (now well guarded), several other private schools with the kids in typical uniforms, cross Abbey Road past the famous crossing and studio, and then walk further down Abbey Road. I would suggest making a left onto Abbey Gardens, walk the one block to the end (19th c. homes intact) to Violet Park and see the moms and kids. Can't be more normal or neighborhood that that. However, its a expensive neighborhood with lots of expats from all over the world.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2003, 10:16 AM
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i went a few years ago to Dulwich and enjoyed the neighborhood very much.
a beautiful site with pictures and routes -
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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 12:03 AM
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Thank you for your responses. I the point that "interesting and non-touristy" isn't necessarily the same as "real". Certainly where I live (near San Francisco), most people do not live in areas one would describe as ineteresting at all.

I guess I'm just interested in having a unique experience in a city, rather than just seeing the same sights as everyone else. And my own interests are in urban areas.

flanneruk, your cynical views are very similar to mine. I can never understand how many people seem to love shopping at drab, ugly, monotonous shopping centres. The US seems to be paving the entire country for parking lots, drive-thrus and Wal-Marts. But I guess the people have spoken.
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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 02:22 AM
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You may be slightly misunderstanding me.

The Nags Head area isn't one iota like a WalMart-anchored mall or a strip mall (the only recently-built store with an associated car park is the distinctly upmarket, employee-owned, Waitrose supermarket - itself an unusual insight into English daily life). It's a scruffy, congested, ugly but very busy bit of just-out-of-centre London life. In many respects just the kind of urban shopping centre Wal Mart is alleged to be killing off in the US.
Unlike the main Islington or Hampstead shopping streets, it has few chain stores, no estate agents, no wine bars, few shops selling anything other than food, clothes and household goods, and no Starbucks last time I passed.

In fact the more I go on about it, the more appealing it sounds
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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 06:53 AM
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UrbanJames - I know exactly what you mean and I suspect you have the same travelling mentality as I do BUT the problem with London is that most of the non-touristy bits are pretty drab and I just can't bring myself to really recommend any of the non-touristy suburban areas. It is hard to think of a neighbourhood which is "real" and yet charming/intersting (I am sorry if this offends anyone). Having said that, I recommend a walk around Highgate (The villagey bit is 10 minutes walk from the underground station - zone 3 on the Northern Line). Highgate village is very pretty & I don't find it touristy at all (although others may disagree). There are great views of London from some of the streets & Waterlow Park is lovely at sunset (4pm now!). It's affluent, but more low key than its neighbour Hampstead. I also recommend the Saturday morning Borough food market - really wonderful and a much more interesting place than Waitrose or Sainsburys to watch Londoners buy their food! I have a couple of other suggestions if you don't have a full agenda yet. Let me know.
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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 06:54 AM
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One of the unusual places I've been is The Silver Vaults.....large cubicles just jam-packed with silver of every sort from jewelry to huge punch bowls...all very not have a clue where it is. I think I remember it being on the bottom of an office building, was so interesting to walk through and the merchants were very nice to tell us about all the inventory...well worth a look-see and I'm sure someone can give you exact directions.
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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 08:22 AM
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Hey James

Try Chiswick, W4. You can get off the District Line at Tunham Green station, then ramble down Turnham Green Terrace to the Chiswick High Road (like a main street). Little shops (hardware stores, fruiterers, bakeries, gifty-type places) & glorious restaurants & pubs.

HTH, and avoid South London unless you want to be permanently depressed!
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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 09:24 AM
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While Ealing Calling takes a view of my south London that I do not share, I do agree that Chiswick and Turnham Green are also right for you.

The silver vaults, too, are a quite different way of shopping. You find them at the Angel Islington on the northern line. Straight north of there you are on Upper Street, with a great range of shops, a leading cinema on Islington Green, and as flanerUK says a leading theatre at the Almeida. I am afraid you are out of time for the leading amateur theatre club at the Tower Canonbury, as they are rebuilding, but the walk there takes you through streets of fine Victorian housing reclaimed from slums, and I should expect the pubs to be good for conversation if you do not push yourself.

If you are still here, the Spitalfields winter Festival runs from Tuesday to Friday 9 to 19 December. Detail is on For community events I select three in Shoreditch church, nirth of Liverpool Street stastion
Monday 15 December. 5.30. Community carols, with pupils from three East London primary schools and the Canonbury Chamber Choir. Family event
Thursday 18 December. 6.30 and 8.30. (Concert performed twice)
Gabrieli Consort & Players. Charpentier Christmas Story and Christmas Mass
Paul McCreesh conductor.
Friday 19 December. 7pm. Hallelujah! London Adventist Chorale. Ken Burton director
Hallelujah Medley: Gary Hines Hallelujah, Lord, Robert Ray Acclamation - Alleluia, from Gospel Mass and Eurydice Osterman Alleluia
The Virgin Mary had a baby boy, Sweet little Jesus boy, Joy to the world,
I can tell the world, The peace that Jesus gives, A great and mighty wonder
O give thanks unto the Lord, When Jesus was a tiny baby, And his name shall be called, Praise the Lord, Oh my soul, Star of night, Jesus is a rock

You would eat at a curry house on Brick Lane, and enjoy the sarees in the windows. I have on disc a guide to choosing curry that I have e-mailed you.

In general, I half differ half agree with the helpful flannerUK on the topic of ethnic minority areas. Every detail he gives on Southall is true, but that makes it typical not only of London's other South Asian areas, but also of Brixton (which as you know I find comfortable, not edgy), Slough, Catford, Peckham, Golders Green, Old South Lambeth, Bayswater, and even South Kensington (for the French). Monocultural London needs special hunting: I did find a patch in Epsom when I went to a funeral there, and it felt odd, nowadays. Rest assured that the sparse street Christmas decorations now in Peckham and Catford make those places feel yet more drab than on a summer s day. False cheer, no.

Thanks for starting a correspondence which I shall organise topologically and store for future enquirers. Your question has come up before, but I cannot recall its ever being so well answered.

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ben_haines_london is offline  
Old Nov 24th, 2003, 10:35 AM
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Following up on the Hackney reference above - it reminded me of a thread some time ago about places in London that might be anything like EastEnders (as if!). Fassett Square in Hackney is claimed to be the inspiration for Albert Square:
and I also found a website devoted to walks around Hackney and neighbouring districts, one of which takes you through Fassett Square:

You can also make your own bus tour of the East End by catching either the 8 or 25 to Bow (you can pick both buses up either on Oxford St or at Bank underground station), and the other one back. This will take you via Bethnal Green and Roman Road market, and back via Mile End, Whitechapel market and the bottom of Brick Lane. You can get off and explore at any point, and both routes run past several Underground stations if you get bored and want to get back quickly.
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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 10:39 AM
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And I forgot - you might find some clues in a small magazine I found in Foyles:
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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 10:48 AM
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I just posted a reply to Degas question about streets in London, about Chelsea Green. Though just off Kings Road, it does not have a tourist 'feel' at all.
Wandsworth Bridge Road, Fulham; the Hurlingham Club area (see if you can get into that; very nice); also a place where many Londoners live (though admittedly a large expat community too).
As already mentioned, St John's Wood is very nice. Also nearby Primrose Hill.
People do live in Central London. The above areas are not tourist areas.
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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 11:03 AM
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I doubt this fits any of you catagories but we took the train out to Chislehurst (Charing Cross or London Bridge & ~20 min) for the Chislehurst Caves ( & ~5 min walk from station to the caves.

Its a 40 km series of manmade caves dug by the Druids, Romans and Saxons. During World War II ~15k Londoners lived in the caves to escape the bombing and during the '60s a series of concerts were held in the caves. The tour covered about 2km but very informative.


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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 04:25 PM
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Once again, thank you all so much for your ideas. I will be sure to eventually use all this information, even if it takes me many trips back to London.

I have only one (perhaps naive) question regarding taking the #8 or 25 bus through the East End. Are there any areas I should definitely NOT be getting off the bus? I'm quite find with seedy or run down areas, but I've heard enough things about the East End, that I don't want to put myself in a bad situation. I realize that most people overreact when it comes to issues of crime (i.e. DON'T GO TO BRIXTON!!! EVERYONE I KNOW WHO HAS GONE THERE HAS EITHER BEEN MUGGED OR MURDERED!!!). And many of the things of heard about the East End make it sound like an interesting place to explore, but I do keep my safety in mind.
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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 07:04 PM
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The 8 and 25 busses run past or near the Whitechapel Art Gallery with important shows of comtemporary art, the Queen Mary College of the University of London and the Theatre Royal in Stratford, famous as first home of the musical Oh What a Lovely War. Brixton is known for swinging nightlife, modern dress design, and television executives in studio flats. As you know, I have said by e-mail that in the social housing estates south east of the Elephant you should procede with good sense, so I hope you will believe me when I say I have no such reservations over the 8 and 25 bus routes.

Please now expect horrid warnings from Londoners who live in Hampstead and Epsom, and find Asians and black people alarming. The academics, television people, and others who live in the south and east do not many of them read this forum.

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Old Nov 24th, 2003, 07:41 PM
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Regardins bus #8 and #25,as someone who travels solo and has taken buses to many parts of east and southest London,I don't think there shall be any reservation.

I am afraid I am not as knowlegeable as previous posters,but I have enjoyed visiting the Christmas Market and high street in Bromley South; the Gallery, park and lovely college in Dulwich; the theatre in Stratford (interesting building,the station).
Quite often, there are some unusal exibitions in Whitechapel Gallery,and it is an intersting walk from gallery the Gallery through Petticoat Lane to Spitalfields.
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