Beyond the mass of bodies that daily envelops the likes of Oxford Circus and Regent Street, there are still pockets of London retaining a more sedate, authentic charm.
Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to agree with Samuel Johnson, there are times when the sheer volume of people in our capital who possess no spatial awareness and an effortless capacity to walk straight into you, head stuck in their phone (and then glare as if it’s your fault!), has the potential to push me ever-closer to a Michael Douglas in Falling Down moment.
Away from the manic focal points though are corners, activities, events and havens that maintain an almost village-like atmosphere and community feel, ensuring you don’t get tired of London or its vibrant life within.
Tucked away behind the less than salubrious Edgware Road, Connaught Village (connaught-village.co.uk) is part of the Hyde Park Estate and a luxury retail quarter and hot-spot for independent businesses and food and drink nestled in a calming oasis a short walk from Marble Arch. Amongst the highlights are Argentinean eaterie Abasto (abasto.co.uk) and the truly indulgent coffee shop Saint Aymes (saintaymes.com) – you can’t miss it; it’s been dubbed “the prettiest café in London”. Connaught Village also runs a programme of events throughout the year from opera recitals and food tastings to those promoting its position as one of London’s most canine friendly communities.
In the ‘hood
London is full of neighbourhoods retaining their identities and working hard to guard their sense of community. Amongst the star players are Dalston with its pop-up restaurants, literary cafes and charming gardens; the recent and splendidly regenerated Kings Cross; posh north London in the form of Kensal Rise (home to one of the city’s best independent film houses: thelexicinema.co.uk);
canal-side Hackney Wick; creative and trendy Walthamstow, and Stoke Newington (underground cocktail bars, literary festival and what is regarded as some of the best charity shops in the capital). culturetrip.com
Located between Hyde Park Corner and Green Park stations is another, long-forgotten stop. Down Street had a brief life as a working station from 1907 to 1932 but went on to become critical to winning the Second World War when it was transformed into the bomb-proof headquarters of the Railway Executive Committee. You can experience the warren of tunnels where Winston Churchill secretly took refuge at the height of the blitz on 90-minute tours organised by the London Transport Museum (ltmuseum.co.uk). The museum is also hosting Hidden London: The Exhibition until January 2021.
London has more than its fair share of strange tales and on a walk organised by Fun London Tours (funlondontours.com) you’ll journey into the depths of the old city to discover the more extraordinary stories and locations often overlooked. It will take you into the labyrinth of tiny lanes around Fleet Street and Temple, past ancient cloisters and churches, over forgotten rivers and wells led by guides who’ll lead with their explorer’s eye. The tour operates on selected days and costs £15 (£12 students and under-18s). The company also runs Harry Potter, ‘Grime and Punishment’ and ‘London Conspiracy’ tours.
TheSecret.city (thesecret.city) operates “treasure hunt-style experience” unlocking London’s hidden side in which you and a team of up to five rendezvous at an appointed location and have sent to your phone a chain of cryptic clues forming a series of directions, together with questions, as you immerse yourself in historic sights and obscure quirks while you solve riddles around the city. For the competitive, you can also see how you fare against other teams on a leader board. The trails take around three hours to complete and cost £25 per team.
Jewels in the crown
London has long been a world-leading city when it comes to design and fashion. If 2020 is bringing you a special occasion or you just want to spoil a loved one (or yourself) check-out Sophie Harley (sophieharley.com). A winner of UK jewellery designer of the year, Sophie operates from a studio in a secluded corner of west London (close to Portobello Road market; shopportobello.co.uk) and is celebrated for exquisite handmade commissions using only precious stones and metals and encompassing everything from wedding rings to cuff links. Her work was featured in Casino Royale and she numbers Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and Colin Firth amongst her admirers.
The Clink charity’s restaurant at HMP Brixton not only allows prisoners to work towards City and Guild qualifications in cooking and hospitality it’s also appeared on lists of the top 10 places to eat in London. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon teas and Sunday roasts, reservations must be made at least 72 hours in advance and under-18s aren’t permitted. Mobile phones are prohibited and alcohol isn’t served – but what a laudable cause! theclinkcharity.org
In with the new
Whilst New Year Resolutions are usually best avoided, if you want to get 2020 off to a healthy start check out Notorious Ldn (notoriousldn.com) – a trio of top-notch exercise and fitness professionals (including UK Thai boxing number one – and Kent lad – Charlie Peters) who run ‘pop-up’ group workouts in settings such as helipads and roof-top gardens and where the aim is to make every attendee “feel part of one big and passionate community”.
Get into the festive spirit at The SilverLine (thesilverline.org.uk) Christmas Celebration at St Marylebone Parish Church on December 6. The event will feature Miriam Margolyes, Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter, Tom Conti and others in an evening of seasonal readings, carols and festive music hosted by Esther Rantzen, founder of the charity set-up to support older people across the UK. Tickets from £10 available through designmynight.com.
The London Artisan (thelondonartisan.com) is hosting one of its regular fairs this Christmas (December 21 and 22) at The Old Truman Brewery. The event brings together designers of ceramics, glassware, textiles, homeware, jewellery, art and beauty products all of which are handmade, organic and sustainable. Perfect for some last-minute gift shopping!
The Gatehouse in Highgate Village is hosting a wreath making class with florist Monika Payne, together with brunch, on December 7. You’ll spend a relaxed morning learning how to make the most striking of decorations with all kit provided. £25 bookable via designmynight.com.
Christmas market: zero-waste styleBack for a second year having doubled in size, the Zero Waste Christmas Market is promising more brands, more variety and more choice that doesn’t cost the earth. The event at Oval Space in Shoreditch on December 7 will feature 44 zero waste brands, a gift-wrapping station (again, zero waste) and festive workshops. Tickets from £7.50 through eventbrite.co.uk
Coppa Club (coppaclub.co.uk) is bringing its popular luxury igloos back to London’s South Bank this festive season. With views of Tower Bridge and The Shard, you and your squad will be satisfyingly snug as you take in the atmosphere whilst lounging on cozy cushions and wrapped in blankets while you wine and dine from your striking Perspex capsule.