FACT: London is one of the most diverse, colourful, cultural, beautiful and inspiring cities in the world. I am constantly astounded by the hidden gems buried within the treasure trove that is the capital. With each new discovery I feel so lucky that this is my home from home.
So here is my pick of the best places to dine, wine, sip coffee, view, explore, mooch and just enjoy – all though the eyes of a very stingy student! Sometimes the best places cost nothing at all…
- Brick Lane – A buzzing cultural heaven with a diverse mix of cafes, restaurants, clothes shops, bookshops, galleries, markets, street food, record stores, random stalls, street art and so much more – you name it, it’s there. In particular I would recommend…
- The Underground Vintage Clothing market – You feel like Alice in Wonderland as you descend the steps into a fairy-tale world – albeit in a basement. This place is the Narnia of Vintage clothing; think retro sunnies, fisherman jumpers, tweed jackets, Burberry trenches and dresses galore. All of it is fabulously unique – I could spend the whole weekend buried in it’s comforting embrace. Open Thursday – Sunday.
- Damascu Bite – Ever tried Syrian food? Neither had I, before I ate at this place – and then I was blown away. The Middle Eastern décor brings to mind a palatial Moroccan boudoir, complete with archways and mosaic tiles. The food is delicious, with the spicy aromas filling the cosy interior. The falafel in a toasted wrap is to die for.
- Dark Sugars Chocolates – A must for chocoholics. This shop contains actual mountains of hand-crafted chocolate in all it’s angelic guises: truffles, praline, thick slabs and even hot chocolate. The flavours are varied and adventurous: coffee and walnut, chilli, rum, ginger, salted caramel, raspberry – anything goes! The choccies are arranged on vast wooden platters and within huge shells, which gives the shop a rustic, natural and authentic edge. But be warned; the delightful creations come at a price.
- Cereal Killer Café – If you are cereal obsessed then this will become a regular haunt. Nestled between an antiques shop and the Dark Sugars Chocolate Shop (see above), this café is smack bang in the centre of hipster land. With over 120 different types of cereal, the interior resembles a cereal library with walls and walls of the stuff! You can choose any type of cereal, milk/yoghurt, and toppings – although if you are indecisive (like moi), it could take you a while to order. The décor harks back to those heady childhood days with stuffed toys, framed jigsaw puzzles and buzzing TV’s playing old cartoons. It sounds strange. Try it and decide for yourself. Open everyday 7am – 10pm.
- Beyond Retro – Another vintage treasure trove (there are many down Brick Lane), this one is especially good for its bags and shoes, as well as designer labels – all sourced from charitable organisations. The company’s aim is to dig into the nostalgia for our cultural heritage and when you see what’s on offer you’ll soon be donning that 40’s tea dress and those Mary Jane’s. Open Monday – Saturday 10am – 7pm, Sunday – 11.30am – 6.00pm.
- Chez Elles – Upon entering this delectable little French café you are immediately transported to Paris – French music plays softly in the background while French waitresses in striped shirts and red lipstick whizz around with pain au chocolat, pastries and chocolat chaud. The interior is decorated in a lovely quirky style with a touch of chintz – floral patterns adorn teacups and bunting, while bird cages act as lamp shades. Try the Hazelnut Coffee – it’s divine. The only thing missing is a view of the Eiffel Tower. Open 11.30am – 10.30pm every day.
- Old Spitalfields Market – This market has something for everyone: fashion, art, antiques, food, rare and collectible vinyl. On my first ever visit I fell in love; the first stall contained vintage film cameras and old leather camera cases, as well as leather hat boxes and old-fashioned suitcases. As you weave your way through the maze of stalls you’ll also find an array of jewellery – rings galore! – I also stumbled upon a stall selling handmade pottery and glass. There are different themed markets on particular days: Mon – Wed 10am – 5pm (general market stalls), Thurs 9am – 5pm (antiques and vintage market), Sat 11am – 5pm (themed market day), Sun 9am – 5pm (general market stalls).
- Miz en Bouche – Located on the outskirts of Angel (and just a stones throw from my university), this French bistro serves traditional French cuisine with a lovely little alfresco area where you can watch the world go by. The cappuccinos are a frothy, foamy delight. Open Monday 11am – 3pm, Tuesday – Thursday 11am – 10pm, Friday – Saturday 11am – 10.30pm, Sunday closed.
- The Hummingbird Bakery – Despite it’s rather small interior (all good things come in small packages) as soon as you walk into the haven of girly pink splendour – almost like a scene in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette – you are hit with the sweet aroma of cakes. The baked goods sit in domed glass cases; tempting you with their beautiful decorations. I tried a chocolate and peanut butter whooppie pie, which actually left me speechless. I now want to go back and try everything – which is bad news for my waistline. Open Monday – Friday 9.30am – 7pm, Saturday – Sunday 10am – 7pm.
- After Noah – I imagine Christopher Columbus would have approved of this antiques and furniture shop. Old globes and huge maps decorate the selves and walls, alongside retro signs, nautical mirrors and restored vintage furniture. One half of the shop is dedicated to old-fashioned toys and there are some particularly amazing salvaged industrial lamps. This shop certainly breaks the stereotypical mould of stuffy, smelly antiques – this is antiques gone cool. Open Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm, Sunday 11am – 5pm.
- Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – This is the place to be in Soho. Started in 1959, it’s known for the famous faces that choose its intimate setting to while away the hours dancing to legendary jazz music. The basement houses the club, however upstairs is Ronnie’s Bar, which is just as buzzing and electric as the former, with live jazz every night – I love a good saxophone player. My top tip? Go on Wednesdays when entry is £5.00, but pre-drink before hand – the drinks are extortionate. Or if you want to treat yourself go for one of the fruity cocktails and watch the bartender work his magic. I felt as if I was in a James Bond film. The bar is open 6pm – 3am every night (Sundays until midnight).
- KU Bar – This is a gay bar, but just as fun for everyone and anyone! Like Ronnie Scott’s it has a club downstairs and a bar upstairs – the colourful lighting and chart-topper songs make this the ideal place to let your hair down. Plus the toned bare chests of the bar tenders or ‘Boyz’ means there’s never a shortage of eye-candy. Open Monday – Saturday until 3am.
Regent’s Park – Perfect for a Sunday stroll and relaxed picnic. Beautiful in all seasons; the exotically colourful flowers in the summer or the crunchy red and amber leaves in the autumn. The landscape garden is absolutely breath-taking – I adore the fountains. But watch out for those squirrels – they will suddenly appear as soon as you whack out a sandwich!