It’s really easy to take various elements of your life for granted. Whether it’s your home, job, friends or even the city you live in, you can get so bogged down in day-to-day life that you stop seeing the wood for the trees. You may see the beauty in other places but overlook all of the amazing things right on your doorstep. You may praise the art, architecture, cafe culture or music scene in another city but then fail to acknowledge how great all of those things are in the place that you live.
So this week I’ve been slowing down and taking the time to really appreciate the city I live in.
Whether you are a fellow Londoner or just thinking of coming for a visit, I wanted to share some of my favourite elements of London with you (and I’ll admit to cheating and squishing lots in to keep to just ten points!)
1. The art galleries and museums
The National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy, the Courtauld, the Royal Collection, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, The British Library, The British Museum, the V&A, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Foundlings Museum, the Design Museum, the Museum of London, Buckingham Palace…the list goes on, and on.
London has some of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries, with blockbuster exhibitions and incredible permanent collections, many of which can be accessed for free.
Being able to mooch around the permanent collections and the National Gallery or NPG, seeing a show with my dad at the RA, or enjoying a Friday late at the V&A with my pals is such bliss and something I feel so lucky to be able to do.
2. The river and the canal
A run or stroll along the Thames is still one of my absolute favourite things and over 10 years after moving to London I’m still totally in love with the view of London from the river.
Whether it’s the approach to St Paul’s while crossing Millennium Bridge, the skyline of the city from Tower Bridge, gazing across at Parliament and Big Ben from the South Bank at Westminster, or the bright bridge at Chelsea viewed from Battersea park, there are so many beautiful and ever-changing vista across London from the banks of the Thames. I still love the hectic South Bank and packed pavements from the Royal Festival Hall at Waterloo, past the Globe and into Bermondsey. I love St Catherine’s dock and Wapping to the north and the quieter stretches out at and Putney and Richmond to the south; no trip to London is complete without a stroll along the river!
A close second to the Thames is the canal, with beautiful stretches from Regents Park to Camden Town, around lazy Little Venice, and from Angel to the Olympic Park at Stratford, all worth exploring. I’ve spent so many Sundays running along the tow paths, dipping in and out of the parks, admiring the boats and soaking up the blissfully serene canal-life atmosphere.
3. The transport
The tube, bus and overground system in London is so efficient you can easily travel from one end of the city to the other without even thinking about getting into a car (which suits me very well!).
From Brixton to Walthamstow on the Victoria line takes little more than 30 minutes and this stretch can now be navigated 24 hours a day with the new night tube. The over ground means that from Highbury to Peckham is only 35 minutes and from home I can be at the Olympic Pool in Stratford in little over 20 minutes! If you want a more scenic view of the city river buses run from Hampton Court out west to Woolwich Arsenal in the east and the Emirates Airline provides the most stunning views over Greenwich. Who needs a car?!
4. The parks
Whether you are looking for sculpted flower gardens, parks with play areas for children, open heaths with swimming ponds or just a little green space to lounge in the sun with a picnic or barbecue, London is rich in areas of green space. Londoners treat the parks as an extension of their own gardens (normally as so few of us actually have gardens!) and in the summer they are packed with people enjoying the sun in their lunch breaks, out running, cycling or enjoying a glass of Prosecco after work.
I’m so lucky that my office in situated in Green Park, with St James’s Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens only minutes away. A run along the river can quickly see me in Battersea Park, while my running route home allows me to pass through Regent’s Park and onto the tow path past London zoo. From home I can wander down to Clissold Park, where there is a children’s play area, petting zoo, cafe and plenty of green space to lounge and run around, and just beyond is the newly opened Woodberry Wetlands nature reserve. Highbury Fields is only a couple of minutes’ jog away, where there are tennis courts, as well as a weekly Park Run, which R and I attend, and Finsbury Park is not much further away. Perfect park life.
5. The theatres and cinemas
Whether you are looking for a musical or comedy show, a blockbuster-play or small independent production there is no shortage of theatres in London. From the West End to smaller venues in all boroughs of the city, there is so much choice and diversity for live shows and performances.
If it is a movie you are looking for options range from summertime outdoor screenings to secret cinema productions, and from independent cinemas such as the Picture House and Everyman, where you can enjoy a glass of wine in your seat, to the mainstream VUE, Odeon and Cineworld centres.
6. The pools and lidos
From Hampstead ponds to Brockwell Lido and from the Olympic Pool in Stratford to the Serpentine in Kensington, there are plenty of options available for indoor and outdoor swimming.
The ‘Better’ gym company, who manage many of the council pools in London, make sure that access to most of the pools in the city is affordable on a ‘drop in’ basis, meaning that you don’t have to be a member of an expensive gym to have access to a 50m pool.
7. The architecture
From the Shard to the Globe and from Tate Modern to the Tower of London, London’s architecture is diverse and beautiful. Combining new buildings such as the Millennium Dome, the ‘Gherkin’ and the ‘Walky-talky’ with historic structures including Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Banqueting House at Whitehall, and rich in palaces from Buckingham Palace and St James’s, to Kensington Palace and Hampton Court, London offers a beautiful and rich array of architectural structures.
This is city with so much history, but also so much innovation and vibrancy, all of which can be read through its architecture.
8. The cafes, restaurants and markets
Once you’ve exhausted yourself running in the parks or along the river, seen every exhibition, been to the theatre, caught a movie and strolled through the streets taking in all of the architecture you might fancy a bite to eat. London is replete with restaurants and cafes, with cuisine from all over the world, serving everything from early morning breakfasts, lazy Sunday brunches, quick working or leisurely lunches and intimate suppers. Whether you want cocktails and small plates, afternoon tea and cake, or just a coffee and a place to sit with the paper or a good book, I honestly think you could eat and drink at a different venue every day and never run out of options.
And if it’s food to go you are looking for, the market culture is also rich and delicious, from the now well-trodden slabs of Borough Market, to the crowded stalls of Camden lock and Covent Garden, and from the real food market at Waterloo to the stands at Old Spitalfields (where you can also pick-up clothes, crafts and antiques).
9. The diversity of the people
You can go out in London wearing a bin bag and wellies, with bright purple hair and a hundred piercings and no one will bat an eyelid. The city is so diverse that nothing seems to shock, and even the most bizarre ensemble is met with nonchalant acceptance.
This sense of diversity isn’t limited to fashion; every country seems to be represented through the people, shops and cuisine in London. You rarely get on a tube without hearing another language spoken or visit a restaurant without reaping the benefits of the cultural diversity of the city. My friends come from all over the world and I feel that my life, and the life of the city, is richer as a result.
10. My pals
All of these amazing elements are made all the better by having my pals around to share them with me.
Whether we are wandering around an exhibition together, watching a rubbish movie with popcorn, lingering over brunch well into lunchtime, buying over-priced vintage clothes, running along the canal, picnicking in the park with cans of g’n’t from M&S, or watching the sun set over the river from a rooftop bar or balcony, I can’t imagine London without all of my wonderful pals around for fun and nonsense.