We're London locals and we love our city! In our online city guide & app we share our favorite spots for spring & summer 2017. City guides (blogs & apps) with always up-to-date tips by handpicked locals in 67 cities
I love outdoor swimming – whether it be in a lake, pond, river, reservoir or pool, if it’s open air I’m into it. London boasts a surprising amount of quality outdoor swimming – from Parliament Hill lido to Hampstead ponds there are plenty of options to cool off on a hot day.
My new favourite spot for this is the West reservoir centre. Not only does this large reservoir in North London boast good quality water (apparently, it used to supply drinking water to the whole of Hackney), it is also an absolutely stunning place to go for a dip. It’s huge – it has a 750m perimeter loop for the serious swimmers – and offers the surreal experience of swimming through silky clean water surrounded by reeds, birds and tower blocks. Walking to the café in Woodberry wetlands for a post-swim snack tops the whole experience off.
Now, this is not the easiest spot to visit if you’re only in London for a few days. In order to swim there, you need to book an induction for which you need to wear a wetsuit. In addition, there are only three swimming sessions a week. However, if you’re sticking around for more than a week and the weather’s warm, it’s all worth it. For the rest of the week the reservoir hosts a variety of water-based sports – from sailing to paddle-board yoga (very Hackney) – so if those float your boat (excuse the pun) then it’s worth wandering down.
Now that summer has finally arrived in London, finding outdoor space which isn’t full of people is a challenge. Woodberry wetlands is the ideal place to escape the city heat. A wildlife reserve hidden in North London offers a haven for those keen to spend some time outside.
The reserve consists of a collection of reservoirs which can be explored via the boardwalks and the new river path – a path that follows the aptly named ‘new’ river (constructed in 1613) all the way from Hertfordshire to Islington. Woodberry wetlands boasts an array of wildlife from birds to bats to rare moths (if rare moths are your kind of thing).
On a sunny Saturday, I go for a swim in West Reservoir Centre and then wander around the reservoir to the Coal House Café (pictured) to have a delicious full English overlooking the reservoir. Their breakfasts are delicious and you never know when you might spot a kingfisher.
Shopping on the King’s Road in Sloane Square is a serious business; anyone caught idling on the pavements will be run over by determined shoppers who will show no mercy when looking for the perfect gift. Bargain hunters here wear determined faces and take their shopping extremely seriously.
Yet on Saturday afternoons at Duke of York Square, shoppers and locals seem to take time to chill out. Steely faces melt into smiles, and gruff mutterings turn into laughter. The Fine Food Market seems to have that kind of effect on people.
An hour or so wandering around the stalls at the Duke of York Square Market is a relaxing tonic for the mind and a treat for the stomach. The air is filled with smoky British sausages mixed with the playful fragrance of Jamaican rum cakes. French cheese carts stand next to Nigerian food stalls. A short meander is like walking through a global gastronomic wonderland. The market is also a few steps from the Saatchi Gallery, so you can combine modern art with eclectic food.
On the Saturday afternoon of my visit, a local jazz band entertained locals as they sat down on public benches to chat and eat. I munched through a few empanadas at one booth before sneaking some chocolate at another. I figured the carrying of shopping bags would burn the calories.
This isn’t some hidden gem. Sorry, but I don’t care.
Star chef Yotam Ottolenghi is a worldwide success with his cookbooks and TV shows, but his flagship restaurant on Upper Street in Islington is amazing. I go regularly and I have never been disappointed.
The Ottolenghi take on Mediterranean food is fantastic and somehow still new, fresh and exciting despite his success. He mixes cultural influences and ingredients to a dazzling effect yet somehow makes it all work, look amazing and taste even better.
It’s hard to describe the food and do it justice as the influences are so varied so it is probably easier just to give a couple examples: how about ‘seared Cornish cuttlefish with arroz frito, fennel and lemon aioli’? Or ‘harissa parsnips with lime salsa verde and raw coconut’.
I could have picked anything as an example as it all sounds and tastes fantastic… and I haven’t even mentioned the cakes and pastries!
Dinner is rightly very popular so I normally book, but whatever time you go you will not be disappointed. They are open for breakfast (go – it’s fantastic), lunch and dinner.
There are a few other, smaller, locations to what I presume will be an expanding Ottolenghi chain in Notting Hill, Kensington and Belgravia but the Islington branch is the largest and the only one to open for dinner in the evenings.
Go. Join the queue if necessary, but go, as it really is that good.
Oto means ‘noise’ or ‘music’ in Japanese and that is exactly what you get at this truly amazing and innovative venue.
By day it is a mild-mannered café serving home-baked cakes, craft beers, teas, coffees, organic fruit juices, cider and wines but then, when the lights go out and the cafe closes for a couple of hours for the soundchecks, Oto turns into the home of the experimental musician and easily fulfills its stated aim of ‘providing a home for creative new music that exists outside of the mainstream’.
Past performers include Yoko Ono, London Improvisors Orchestra, Joe McPhee, Marshall Allen, Matthew Herbert and, amazingly and thrillingly, The Sun Ra Arkestra!
It’s jazz. It’s African. It’s Japanese. It’s experimental. It’s ambient. It’s deep. It’s global. And while some of the bigger names mean larger fees most gigs are around £10, but check the website first as the venue is small and gigs regularly sell out in advance.
Cafe Oto forms one point of the Dalston Jazz Triangle. The other two points being filled by the jazz daddy The Vortex and the newcomer Servant Jazz Quarters.
These three venues are about 500 yards apart and between them they cover the folky side of jazz (SJQ), the more traditional (Vortex) and the avant garde (Oto). Jazz has definitely found a cool home (or three) in E8. The Guardian even went to find out more about Oto as Italian Vogue had named it as the coolest venue in Britain!!
The unique combination of city and sea offers the visitor a wide variety of options. This is why The Hague is a popular city break destination. The cosy historic city centre has a royal feel to it. It won’t be the first time you’ll run into a royal family member in one of the shops. And it only takes 15 minutes by tram to kick of your shoes and feel the sand underneath your feet. The 11 km sandy beach is wide and clean. You can choose to go to Scheveningen, where you can surf, stand-up-paddle of kite surf. Or maybe you want to relax in one of the beach bars. Even when you’re up for thrills Scheveningen is the place to go to. The tower on the famous Pier has a bungee jump attraction and if you like more adventure you can zip-line your way back to the boulevard again. Are you more fan of easy rides, then take a spin in the ferris wheel. Scheveningen is also known for it’s nightlife. Holland Casino, the Circustheatre where big shows like Anastasia is presented, Pathé cinema, entertainment concept Crazy Piano’s and the to be opened in 2020 Hard Rock Café makes Scheveningen to best place for ‘A Night Out at sea’. Are you more into a calmer vibe, then Kijkduin fits you better than Scheveningen. Kijkduin beach is wide and clean as well, but with it’s small centre and lovely boulevard this beach resort is more modest. You can easily stroll through the dunes and even book a night or two in one of the cute beach houses. Here you sleep on the beach, what an experience.
Visit The Hague and let it embrace you. Experience how the combination of city life and beach life, makes your city break one that will become a memory you’ll never forget. Check denhaag.com for all upcoming festivals and events.
Unbeknown to the crowds on the South Bank (check the Canteen article here), there’s a hidden oasis just above their heads. Up the bright yellow staircase by the Southbank Centre is the Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden, sitting atop the hall of the same name.
The bar does the job nicely. It’s fun to stop off here on a sunny afternoon and order a cocktail pitcher with a group of friends (or without a group of friends, if it’s been that kind of week), and there are sandwiches and salads to munch on too. However, the main attraction is the setting: the Roof Garden allows you to surround yourself with fruit trees and wild flowers, as well as vegetable and herb allotments. To add to its appeal, it was designed by Cornwall’s Eden Project and created by a team of men and women from London’s Providence Row Housing Association, many of whom had suffered from homelessness.
The garden also offers bowl-me-over views of the Thames, with Big Ben peeking approvingly out through his scaffolding as you take your first refreshing sip.
If you’re in Camden and in the market for a meal, Pizza East is just up the road in lovely Kentish Town (there are also outlets in Shoreditch and Portobello).
First things first: the pizza regularly makes it onto London hotlists; it’s fluffy and crisp in all the right places, and laden with flavour. Try the mozzarella, tomato and basil for simplicity done well. I’d keep the other options sections of the menu in the running too, though, and some dishes are done in the wood-fired oven as well. The mac ‘n’ cheese takes some beating.
I like Pizza East in the evenings, when the place is bustling and filled with locals dwarfed by the high ceilings and industrial vibe. If you get carried away and leave with some serious digestion to do, the expanse of Hampstead Heath is calling to you just a few yards away. The perfect excuse to pig out!
If you’re a fan of Japanese food (whether it’s cooking it or eating it), then a visit to Japan Centre near Leicester Square is a must.
Due to its popularity, Japan Centre has recently moved to a new location (previously it was near Piccadilly Circus). This new location has a lot more space for sampling tasty Japanese food in a traditional food hall atmosphere. There is more space for you to sit down and dig into your fresh sushi, soup or bento box.
But what if you’re looking for treats to save for later? You can browse aisles of freshly baked pastries and Japanese snacks. Occasionally there are free food demonstrations where you can sample some delicious goodies.
For those talented enough to be able to cook Japanese cuisine at home, there are plenty of cookbooks, ingredients and cookery gift sets to choose from. Don’t pass up the chance to take a cute Hello Kitty dining set to take home!
Georgia (the country, not the US state) is known for its food, and this is my favourite place in London to try it.
If you’re here for a whistle-stop tour of Georgian cuisine, I’d encourage – nay, implore – you to make your first calling point a round of stuffed bread, either khachapuri (the cheesy one) or lobiani (which is stuffed with a spicy bean paste). The meze platter is also a winner, all aubergine and pepper and copious pomegranate.
After that, I can seldom resist the chicken livers (katmis gvidzli), which are billed as a starter but can be enlarged on request, though if you’re not offal-minded there’s no cause for concern, as everything seems tasty here. The khinkali dumplings are a real Georgian treat, while the pan-friend poussin is garlicky and satisfying. There are at least three vegetarian options on the menu too. Finally, don’t miss the Georgian wine; Georgia prides itself on having invented the stuff.
The opportunity to sample an extraordinary range of world cuisines is surely one of London’s greatest pleasures, and for me there can be few better places to begin than Little Georgia. (We were so convinced that after our third visit we booked a holiday in Tbilisi, and that didn’t disappoint either.)