The "Lungs of London": take a break from the city buzz and head up to Hampstead Heath. To breathe in wide, open and green views, start from the wonderful lido at Gospel Oak; trot up Parliament Hill to marvel at the city stretching out from east to west below; continue round the fields and woods to Kenwood House and enjoy a well-earned break on their outside cafe terrace; play spot the bird or spot the dog as you jog gently back down (approx three miles round route). To add to your fitness experience and commune further with nature, stop off at one of the swimming ponds (one each for men and women on the east Highgate side, and one mixed pond near Hampstead entrance) or finish off with a few lengths of the lido! To enjoy all four pools, enter the Hampstead Heath duathlon in early September, running between swims in all the pools, starting at the lido and finishing at the athletics track.
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath for a trails map and details of events like the duathlon. Can be easily reached from Gospel Oak or Hampstead Heath overground stations or C2 bus from Oxford Circus or 214 from the City/St Pancras, stopping at Parliament Fields.
Every October the East End of London becomes the biggest photography gallery in the country with over 200 exhibitions and events taking place in more than 100 venues showing the work of emerging and internationally renowned photographers. It’s a great opportunity to explore this end of the city and enjoy not only the extraordinary diversity of contemporary photography but also a highly distinctive district with a remarkable history and a fantastic variety of cafes, bars and restaurants.
While it feels a little odd to be recommending a visit to a cemetery, it’d be a shame to pass through Stoke Newington without experiencing the historic and very lovely Abney Park.
I enjoy wandering through and getting a bit lost in there once in a while, perhaps stopping for a quiet sit-down and a ponder on one of its old benches. It’s very peaceful considering it’s in an inner-city borough. When I’m deep inside, the whoosh of the Hackney traffic is almost completely masked by the tweeting of cheerful birds.
It’s overgrown and higgledy piggledy, with curious little pathways leading in between the ancient graves, some of which house beautiful stone statues. The park is a local nature reserve, and the eerily empty gothic-style chapel slap bang in the middle is now a Grade II listed building.
There are two entrances – the main one on Stoke Newington High Street and smaller gates on Stoke Newington Church Street. It's a lovely location to spend a quiet half an hour in London, and priceless on a sunny day.
The Bonnington Cafe is a homely, community-run, vegetarian restaurant in South London. The ex-squat cafe is tucked in a delightful square behind the heavy traffic of South Lambeth Road. If you find it, you will be treated to more of an experience than just a meal. Each night there is a different chef who gets to run the restaurant so the food varies. Prices are very cheap (three courses for £13) and the food is made fresh on the premises every day. Often there'll be local musicians who play in the evening to entertain you too. Overall a little gem of a place that maintains the hippy spirit of its beginnings.
Abi Ruchi, a Keralan restaurant in Church Street in Stoke Newington, is great for a cheap, healthy meal and my number one takeaway option.
There are a number of mouthwatering dishes that I could talk about here. One that springs to mind is the kadala curry (£3.75) - chick peas cooked in probably the tastiest coconutty stuff I've ever eaten. Another of my favourites is the masala dosa (£4.95). I've had rather a few dosai in my time and can say confidently that the sambar Abi Ruchi serve with theirs is of a particularly high standard, with its succulent chunky vegetables and rich flavour.
For non-vegetarians there are loads of meat and fish options that I've heard are also of high quality. Oh, and I don't know what they do to their rice but it's mighty good.
To cap it all, I always receive the warmest of welcomes when I visit Abi Ruchi. The staff insist on giving me poppadoms and pickles while I wait for my takeaway and the waiters are very knowledgeable about all the dishes, which might be unusual to those not used to south Indian food.
42 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0LU
+44(0)20 7923 4564
The Diwana is my favourite Indian restaurant in London. There are three reasons: the first is the fond memories it evokes of childhood trips to London, which invariably featured a re-fuel here. The second is the quality of the food - speaking as a British Asian it is the only place in London I have found which rivals my grandmother's cooking (although in case she ever reads this, it still comes off second best). The third is the value for money. If you go at lunchtime, for roughly £8 plus a drink, you can enjoy the sumptuous vegetarian buffet. This features dahls to die for, delicious saags, soul-nourishing channa massalas, more salads than you could possibly wish for, home-made raitas, freshly baked naans, pooris and parathas, and a fantastic selection of deserts. The gulab jaman are especially good here. The menu is of the same high standard but for the full experience I would wholeheartedly recommend going at lunch. If you do, don't eat any breakfast, and don't make dinner plans. You will be too full and in too high a state of food nirvana to want to eat another bite for the rest of the day.
121 Drummond Street, London, NW1 2HL
+44(0)20 7387 5556
Google map: bit.ly/f9NPgj
It is not immediately obvious how to find it, but once you do, the new View Tube; café, classroom, fledgling art space and bike hire, located on the Greenway adjacent to the stadium offers something alternative. A structure made from recycled shipping containers, this low-key green building solution puts into focus the monumental building project just feet away in the Olympic Park.
www.murallocator.org is a world-wide web of a gallery, to search out murals across the globe. Fascinating murals are on display from the Higgs Boson (ATLAS) detector, in Meyrin, Switzerland to Tupac Amaru Mural of Peru. Five are highlighted in London area, including the stunning Hackney Peace Carnival Mural located outside Dalston East Curve Garden. Dalston Lane is full of hustle, bustle where old and new buildings meet together and the perfect place for this Mural, unveiled by the late Tony Banks in 1985, depicting the Peace Carnival of 1983 and the many issues of the time.
This authentic hammam is located in London's vibrant Turkish community, and is a brilliant place to unwind. I went on one of the ladies' days (Wednesday and Saturday) and was encouraged to spend as much time as I wished in the calm, marbled steam room. A foaming scrub followed, after which an 'anti-stress massage' of my back and legs left me feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, all for £35. Other packages include deep tissue massage and full-body aromatherapy.
If you start a day trip to Greenwich at Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs (easily and enjoyably reached on a driverless Dockland light railway trip from Stratford), you can walk through the historic 1902 victorian foot tunnel to reach all the attractions of Greenwich. It has beautiful wooden lifts to take you into the tunnel complete with lift attendants, historical in themselves. The tunnel drips to add excitement for the children to remind them of the river above, although I hope this is just condensation! Once through the tunnel you arrive right in the heart of Greenwich with a choice of river boat trips, the beautiful painted ceiling at the Old Royal Naval College (activity sheets for children to explore the paintings too), Martitime museum, Royal Observatory and massive beautiful park for wonderful picnics all within 5a five minute walk. No one in the family ever says no to a trip like this as there is something for everyone and can be adapted to anything the British weather may throw your way.
A nature lovers walk or cycle that quietly winds through the heart of London's East End. See heron, geese, kingfishers and reed warblers, cows ducks and moorhens. Starting at Springfield Marina in Clapton, view the colourful canal boats or take tea in the Spark Cafe at the top of Springfield Park - then wander along past the Hackney marshes for spectaluar views of the 2012 Olympic site being constructed, plus graffiti on the sides of old industrial sites. Head off along to Victoria Park in Hackney to Lauriston "village" for fish and chips, pubs and cafes. Then hop on the bus home.
Google map: tinyurl.com/36lcq7l
The best way to view London is from the river and the Thames Clippers river taxi does the job. For £8 you can buy a River Roamer (after 10am weekdays and anytime weekends), and get on and off the boats all day. There is no garbled commentary (that's so common on the leisure boats) and it runs from Millbank (Tate Britain) to O2 at Greenwich stopping at all the usual sights (Tower of London, London Eye, The Globe, Greenwich etc).
The seats are comfortable, all seats have good views and there is a bar serving snacks, coffee, soft drinks, wine and beer at reasonable prices. The boats get busy towards the end of the day, especially travelling east. You may have to wait for the next boat, or make your way home by bus or tube. Even so, if you start early, the River Roamer ticket is good value.
Great pub near Spitalfields: traditional with a spice of trendiness and east London charm. If you fancy a good Sunday roast, take a break after your shopping tour on Spitalfields market and Brick Lane.
9 Folgate Street
A Thai restaurant down the bottom of the Isle of Dogs. I wouldn't come out here for the sake of the restaurant, but if you are out in Greenwich and fancy a riverside cocktail, then it is a short stroll from the foot tunnel or Island Gardens DLR.
Food is good, though not super-cheap (about £9 for a curry and about £2 for rice). Service is friendly.
But really it is all about the location on the river.
Locke's Wharf, Westferry Road
Tel: 020 7987 7999
Situated right next to the city and the bars, cafes and markets of Spitalfields and Brick Lane, the location is ideal. Tube station right next door also. Rooms are basic, but spotless, clean and comfortable. For £65/night at the weekend it's a bargain. Unusually for a hotel, the bar is buzzing and comfortable. The staff are so friendly. Definitely worth checking out.
Commercial Street, E1. Aldgate East tube station.
Cheap & tasty fried noodles, udon or noodles soups - every which way (meat, seafood, vegetarian) - a massive, speedily served plateful for under 4 pounds.
Not to mention the charms of the Cutty Sark & Greenwich park on the doorstep. Top tip: don't order starters, very few people manage to finish their main courses as it is.
Address: 39 Greenwich Church Street
Phone: 020 8858 2688
Just next to DLR station Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich
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