It's like nowhere else in London. Some might say sanitised and boring, but I'd disagree. If you're tired of the hustle and bustle of central London hop on the Jubilee line, or, even better, the DLR, and come over. Great waterside eating and drinking (dimsum at Royal China is fantastic, and not too costly), super tall buildings, and expensive subterreanean shops. Whilst it is certainly not the weekend ghost town of earlier years, it still feels much calmer than London proper on a Saturday or Sunday.
In the summer especially there are often good free events in the small parks that are dotted around, such as concerts on Friday evenings, and films sometimes on Saturdays.
If you're coming with children then combine your visit with Mudchute City Farm down in the Isle of Dogs. It has cows, goats and guinea pigs, plus a riding school.
Hate the corporate tat of Oxford Street? Fed up with the tourists in Covent Garden? Too old for Camden Lock, but still want that eclectic edge? Try Church Street. Several chintzy, eclectic little boutiques and bric a brac shops, a couple of decent second hand bookshops, and loads of decent ethnic restaurants (Indian and Thai particularly well represented).
Seven Sisters tube, then a 243, 149, 73 or 76 bus. Alternatively, the overland station at Stoke Newington
Sunday flower market, good for buying fresh flowers and plants, but also great just to walk about. Plenty of cafes and shops to poke about in too, and within walking distance of Brick Lane (for a curry) or Kingsland Road (for Vietnamese).
Columbia Road, Hackney E2
This bookshop is only a few minutes walk from the British Library in Bloomsbury, Central London. It has a great selection of books on photography and of photographers monographs. Also a good stock of books on fashion photography, photo journalism, travel, nude and portrait photography. There are quite a few signed books and rare first editions too. Unique for photography lovers.
Photo Books International99 Judd StreetLondonWC1H 9NEURL: www.pbi-books.comTel: 020 7813 7363Nearest Stations: Kings Cross, Russell Square or Euston Station
It's in an old warehouse building just off Brick Lane (Hanbury street) running on Sunday mornings. It's far less crowded than the nearby Spitalfields Market which was cut in half by a redevelopment and is now too crowded with too many identikit stalls. It's got craft/jewellery, clothes and food stalls (excellent Ethopian food as well as all the usual suspects). Lots of beautiful stuff from new designers and a few quirky and fashionista clothes stalls. Good world music CD stall. And the Big Chill bar/historic Shoreditch is just round the corner.Get there around 11-12am and it's not crowded. Lock up bikes securely.....
Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street off Brick Lane.Nearest Station/Underground Liverpool Street
Desperately trying to pick up a life size, anime-styled model of Yoda signed by a Russian animator? Can't get enough of the latest hard core manga epic? Then pop into the flagship Forbidden Planet, the temple to all things geek. Even if you're not remotely interested in any of this, it's still worth visiting once, just to see the terrifyingly random collection of licenced tat that people are willing to buy so long as it's endorsed by George Lucas or signed by Terry Pratchett.
179 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8JR; Tel: 020 7420 3666; www.forbiddenplanet.com
Not just a London institution, but Fopp offers a credible, intelligent, independent-minded challenge to the hideous megastores on Oxford Street. CDs, DVDs and books are available at excellent prices and the range is hugely impressive.
1 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LL; www.fopp.co.uk
If you like cheese, then you've got two options. One, move to France. Two, visit either of La Fromagerie's two shops in London (one west, one north). They sell to all the big-name restaurants, so aren't the cheapest places in the world, but what's money for if not to buy good-quality cheese?
2-4 Moxon Street, W1U 4EW; Tel: 020 7935 0341
30 Highbury Park, N5 2AA; Tel: 020 7359 7440
Genius. Cheap DVDs, cheap music, cheap books, but it's not a secondhand store. It's like shopping online, but easier, because you really can browse around. If the world was a fair and just place, these are the kinds of prices we would normally pay. As it is, you'll just have to make do with places like Fopp.
1 Earlham Street, Covent Garden
Tel: 020 7379 0883
Nearest tube: Covent Garden or Tottenham Court Road
OK, so, it's an obvious choice, but this is toy heaven, or hell, according to your point of view. They say it's the world's largest toyshop, and even if it's not, it feels like it. Besides the extraordinary array of all things childlike on offer, the best thing is the staff, who are endlessly patient - no mean feat in a toyshop full of screaming children.
A word of advice - before you go, set the ground rules with your kids. If you let them know that you're only going to "look but not buy", then anything you do buy them will be a bonus. If they go with the impression that they're goingto be given their weight in toys, they'll only be disappointed.
It's one of those once-a-year experiences.
188-196 Regent Street, Soho, W1B 5BT
Tel: 0870 333 2455
Nearest tube: Oxford Street or Picadilly Circus
If you are bored with the hum drum that is wally world take the time on a Sunday to discover Spitalfields Market. Home to London's student fashion designers you may discover the new Stella McCarthy... Or come across the perfect retro furniture in the many 2nd hand shops.
Here you'll also find the most authentic Spanish Tapas, hams hanging from the ceiling and saw dust on the floor, bar in London.
Via a short walk through the bustling Brick Lane you will come across Columbia Road Flower market. An oasis amongst Tower Hamlets, it is great fun to get tangled up amongst the tree ferns and orchids. Possibly a perfect Sunday for those that love London.
A cracking microcosm of life in London - stalls selling things you never knew existed, from clothes to food to jewellery to furniture to art. stunning food served too, really cheap but authentic food from all over the world.
To get a taste of what London really is about, go to Camden Market.
Camden Town tube
Underneath Waterloo Bridge on Southbank, directly in front of the NFT, there is a daily sale of second-hand books, at great prices.
The selection is infinitely varied, and it's very easy to find some little gems in amongst the randomness. Be prepared to search though, there's no genre (etc) organisation!
You can spend a whole afternoon walking between Higbury and Islington and Angel tube stations. There are so many gorgeous boutiques and cafes. My recommendations for places to eat are Le Mercury (number 140a) for gorgeous French home cooking where all main courses are less than £7 and all starters are around £3.50 and the wonderful delicatessen Ottolenghi (number 287) which has the most mouthwatering window display with mounds of chocolate and raspberry meringues!
Then there's the shopping. Upper Street is perfect for Christmas present shopping as so many of its shops are crammed with "ooh, she'd love one of those" trinkets. There's After Noah at number 121 selling vintage telephones and wall clocks alongside unique pieces of jewellery and children's toys. Oliver Bonas at 147-148 has more of the same with a small selection of pretty outfits. Aria at 295-297 has some scrummy handbags and its interiors shop opposite sells furniture fit for a penthouse apartment.
On Sundays there is also a small but very good Farmers' Market behind the Town Hall and the independent cinema The Screen on the Green (number 83) is a great place to catch the latest arty flick.
If you want an early morning diversion on a Sunday 8 am til 2pm, columbia Road flower market is excellent, even for non-gardeners. Over the years new shops selling young designers' furniture, delicatessens and even a top cake shop, Treacle, have opened there, making it a great place to browse or meet... Warning though if you are taking small children - it is absolutely heaving and can be a bit daunting for a knee-high visitor.
Afterwards it is close enough to go to the Whitechapel art gallery, Spitalfields Market, Shoreditch or a curry in Brick Lane.
Nearest underground Old Street (turn left outside, walk along Old Street, into Hackney Road then after 200 metres turn right into Columbia Road)
A street with bars, pubs, market stalls on the weekend and a wonderful neighbourhood feel. There are also opening up many lovely smalls shops, a specialist music shop and others.
Broadway Market, next to London Fields, in Hackney
One of my favourite walks by the Thames is from Southwark Cathedral. Famous Borough Market is nearby. I get the train to London Bridge, then walk down past Southwark Cathedral, round to the left past a replica of Sir Francis Drake's Tudor Galleon Golden Hind walking along Clink Street home of the Clink Gaol. Which gives us our colloquial term for prison: clink.
Moving along into Bankside we have the historic Anchor Pub, 34 Bankside, Southwark, LONDON SE1 9EF. Here in 1666 Samuel Pepys witnessed the Great Fire of London in 1666: "a little alehouse on bankside... and there watched the fire grow." The Anchor was rebuilt in 1676 after fire devastated the area.
One bar is named after Dr Johnson, (Samuel Johnson's Dictionary) who drank here regularly. A copy of his dictionary is on display. Then we wander past Sam Wanamaker's newly reconstructed Globe Theatre, a wonderful way to see Shakespeare in the round, plein air!
Then you come to the Tate Modern, stop for lunch or a coffee, then pop over to St Pauls Cathedral on the other side of the Thames linked by the wonderful Millennium Bridge, a footbridge. Come back over and wander on past the Oxo tower...
Eventually your walk ends by the wonderful London Eye, great at dusk with the lights twinkling into view, great view of the Houses of Parliament. Next door is Saatchi's Gallery (for the next two years anyway). By this time you will be knackered.
London Bridge Station
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