The universe is divided into two groups of people: Those who love London and those who love New York. When I was twenty, the guy I was dating back then used to say that there is a defined line between London-lovers and New York-lovers, and one cannot cross that line. Whereas he was a definite London lover, I chose New York. Maybe that’s why we are no longer together. But seriously. The fact I’ve been living in New York for the last 10 years now definitely makes me one who prefers Manhattan, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t love London. I do.
I’ve been to London three times; First time was when I was 16 years old. It was a teenager-sweet sixteen-tour around some European capitals. The second time was quite an accident. I met a guy and we decided to meet again somewhere in the middle. We chose London. It rained throughout the whole week of end of May. My third time was two years ago. I was on my way from Tel Aviv back to New York and decided to pass through the British capital to visit my cousin. What started as a five-day trip ended up as 15. I got stuck in London due to the eruption of the Icelandic vulcan on April 2010 but enjoyed an unexpected early summer.
London is a touristic city by definition. If you are planning to visit the British capital this summer, bear in mind you would hit the massive touristic crowds who come to watch the Olympics or those who come to celebrate with the British nation the Queen’s 60th year on the throne. If this is not enough, there might be a chance you find yourself standing in a long line just to get in to the Charles Dickens Museum just in time for the author’s 200th birthday. But wait. There is more. Across town, Warner Brothers Studio Tour will open the Harry Potter studios to all the real fans who want to re-live the films. And last but not least, The Rolling Stones, celebrating their 50th anniversary, might tour again, with a possible finale in London.
No doubt, London is going to be a hot destination this Summer. If you find yourself in London, and yet, want to beat the crowds while you are there, I suggest checking in some less touristic destinations.
One of my favorite areas I have discovered is Hoxton. Funny enough, I got to this area by chance. I printed a map to follow Banksy’s steps and one of the locations was near the tube’s station Old Street. When I got out of the tube, my first reaction was to go and find Banksy’s famous graffiti Sweep on Hoxton but after asking few locals where I can find it, they told me the only Banksy’s left was the one outside Cargo club in Rivington street. Of course I ran to that direction, however, I was quite disappointed to find out the mural was a bit hidden by some plants. Nevertheless, I decided to walk around this area and I was happy to discover a vibrant district of Arts and entertainment and a large number of bars, nightclubs, restaurants and Art galleries. Not to mention some great walls covered with good graffiti. If I had an extra time in London, I would definitely spend more time in Hoxton, follow more graffiti walls, get in to more boutiques and enjoy watching the crowds.
Directions: Take the Northern line (black color) and get off Old Street Station.
While Hoxton is a neighborhood of a young and creative crowd, most of them are starving emerging artists, Hampstead, is also a less touristic area, but with a completely a different vibe. Hampsted is known for its affluent residents and a hub for some of the most expensive housing in the London area. I got to Hampsted as it was one stop away from the area I was staying, and every morning while I was taking the tube to the center of the city, I got curious about Hampstead. Besides, someone advised me to check Hampstead Heath which is a great park with one of the highest points overlooking London (great for photography). Strolling around this beautiful area, watching hound dogs running around and kids wearing rubber boots and running into puddles, made me feel like I was in a British movie. Speaking of movies, a lot of British movies have been filmed in this area; ‘Notting Hill‘, ‘Notes on a Scandal‘ to name a few, and all I could ask for was spotting Hugh Grant stepping out from the Kenwood House or walking his dog in one of the streets.
I highly recommend to take a hike to Hampsted Heath and walk around the narrow cobble stone streets. Enjoy a nice lunch in one of the notable and longstanding cafes such as La Gaffe, Gaucho Grill, or Le Cellier du Midi for example, and have a crowded-less shopping experience in one of the main streets.
Directions: Take the Northern line (black color) and get off Hampsted Station.
Another way to beat the crowds is sight-seeing the city at night. As long as you avoid Leicester Square, Piccadilly circus or Soho, which are all packed with club and theater crowds, it can be a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of Tower Bridge, London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and the Palace of Westminster, less packed.
London is an exciting city. There are so many sites and places to see and visit; I always recommend to check the side streets of a central area because so many gems and photography opportunities are out there. Walk around the side streets of Notting Hill, check out all floors of Liberty, enjoy a theatrical tour to Hampton Court Palace (highly recommended) or take an architectural tour around some of the most interesting buildings in London, such as The Gherkin. (try to time it during lunch break when all the business men in suits are out there).
London is an exciting city. The weather however, might be tricky and rainy at times, but one thing is sure; London is definitely going to be buzzing and hot!