As a US-based flight attendant who commutes from London – and flies London trips – I get the “What should I do on my London layover?” question a lot. Several weeks ago I posted my hands-down #1 suggestion for a random day in London. I promised some more ideas though. So here you go, in no particular order…ways I personally like to spend an afternoon in London:
#2. Explore Shoreditch
Shoreditch backs right up to Whitechapel – stomping grounds of Jack the Ripper. There are plenty of Ripper walking tours, though lots of local shops also sell self-walking tour books for a few pounds. Walking down the main road in Whitechapel you’ll also find the famous bell foundry, birthplace of the Liberty Bell and Big Ben, to name a couple. (Last time I went into the foundry, we were told we’d just missed a visit by Prince Charles.)
Shoreditch will give you an appreciation for graffiti as an art form, serving as an open-air exhibition for the city’s most talented artists (e.g. you’ll find Banksy work here) – see here for an introduction. The friends I have taken there describe it as “Brooklynesque”, full of unique boutiques and artsy types. Be sure to check out Spitalfields market, the Huguenot neighborhood, Artillery Passage and Lane (the former is as untouched a scene from Dickensian London as you’ll find and home to the Ripper’s last body), and Brick Lane (home to a Bangladeshi community and a hot spot for evenings out). Ultra-modern buildings crowd-in and loom behind this old neighborhood, playfully making you contemplate London’s history and the force of development. There’s also a cool mall made out of cargo shipping containers full or great eats. I particularly love having a drink at Boundary rooftop terrace.
I got o Shoreditch a different way every time. There’s an overground stop that drops you on the high street. Alternatively, Whitechapel tube stop makes for a fascinating walk (but you should know that this route takes you through a bustling Asian community as well as – depending on how you go – a large council estate. I’m fine with it, but I’ve had unsuspecting guests feel uncomfortable with this route.)
#3. Camden Market
I’m going to keep thins one brief because it’s much better known. Just go and hang out, walk around and enjoy the punky, artsy, unique atmosphere. Shop quirky items from independent sellers. Lots of fun. Really.
#4 and #5. Visit Richmond
Head SW to lovely Richmond – long time favorite of the royalty, rich and famous – for one of two lovely afternoon ideas. You can (#4) wander the high street, then towards the waterfront and enjoy life on the edge of the Thames. Hang out along the path for some people-watching, kayaking and beers. You can walk or (better for time) take a bus to end up at the National Trust property Ham House, a 17th century grand house on the water. Or, you can (#5) visit Hampton Court Palace, much loved by Henry VIII. (See here for even more ideas in Richmond. For example, Kew Gardens is also just around the corner.)
#6. Bishop’s Park & Fulham Palace
For a quiet little day, I might pop over to Putney Bridge tube stop. When you get off, find your way to the waterfront (about 50 meters, behind some buildings to your left as you exit) and follow the path. It’s a lovely walk and you’ll end up very shortly in Bishop’s Park – a haven for stick-fetching dogs and families. On weekend and game days (Fulham’s football stadium/Craven Cottage is just on the other side of the park) there’s an extra lively atmosphere complete with outdoor BBQ offerings from a couple of cafes in the park (one in a charming period house, owned by the neighboring church). In the center of the park you’ll find Fulham Palace. There’s relatively little to see inside, but it’s a pleasant spot and I love that it’s there, preserved, representing a history of the area that I had no idea about before. This is perfect for a day when you’re low on energy but want to enjoy the kind of nooks that give London its unique atmosphere.
That’s it for today. Don’t worry, I’ll be back with more another time. This should keep you busy for a while. By all means, drop me your day-out in London suggestions!