When visitors descend on England’s capital for this summer’s Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee, Craig Taylor hopes they will look beyond Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. “People have this notion of a city fixed in amber, as a place where men walk around in bowler hats,” says the author of Londoners (HarperCollins, $29.99), an oral history. He shares with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY some favorite excursions through a city he considers one of the world’s most vibrant.
- Jonny HannahMorito restaurant with its orange counter (and the more formal Moro) serve stylish Spanish tapas in the Exmouth Market area of London.
Morito restaurant with its orange counter (and the more formal Moro) serve stylish Spanish tapas in the Exmouth Market area of London.
A British Museum shortcut
You’ll feel quite cultured on this Bloomsbury neighborhood walk. First, browse Judd Books, which specializes in used and bargain volumes. Then cut through the free-admission British Museum, entering on Montague Place and exiting on Great Russell Street (britishmuseum.org). Taylor says the detour always inspires him. “I can’t stress how cool it is to cut through there and stand in front of some of the best exhibits in the Western world.” End the stroll with a slice of lemon cake at London Review Bookshop café (lrbshop.co.uk).
From royals to the Middle East
Start a whirlwind journey in Kensington at the Windsor Castle pub, which enthusiastically celebrates the monarchy (thewindsorcastlekensington.co.uk). “It’s so over the top, packed with photos of every royal you can possibly imagine,” Taylor says. Then stroll through a nearby Middle Easternneighborhood to Patogh, a wonderful Iranian restaurant on Edgware Road. “This one street is like wandering through the heart of Beirut,” he says.
Strolling Hampstead Heath
Hampstead Heath could be the best park in the world, Taylor says. “It’s a chunk of wilderness set down in the city. It’s probably the salvation of most Londoners.” After wandering its paths, stop by the Southampton Arms pub (thesouthamptonarms.co.uk), which serves meat pies and locally brewed beer and cider. “It’s my favorite in London,” he says.
Although the northeast London neighborhood of Dalston is becoming trendy, Taylor is drawn by its diversity. At the Ridley Road Market, you’ll find Nigerian action films on DVDand cut-rate kitchenware. Then head to Mangal Ocakbasi, a Turkish restaurant centered on an enormous grill (mangal1.com). “I lived nearby, and I could always smell them roasting meat,” Taylor says. Men might want to visit Pasha, a Turkish barbershop, for a straight-razor shave.
A Spanish kick
Taylor suggests starting this north London excursion at Clerkenwell Tales (clerkenwell-tales.co.uk), a bookshop “so well curated and welcoming you’ll leave feeling like a more intelligent person.” Then stroll through Exmouth Market and stop at Café Kick for coffee, cocktails or foosball. Top off your visit with dinner at Moro, a famous Spanish restaurant, or its adjacent offshoot, Morito (moro.co.uk). The former is a date-night classic. “It’s a place you have to dress up for a bit, but it’s worth it.”
Pizza and people-watching
Taylor used to live in Brixton, one of the city’s most ethnically mixed areas. Start with lunch at Franco Manca, where the sourdough pizza and people-watching are both top-notch (francomanca.co.uk). Then visit Brixton Market, great for cheap phone cards. “To understand London is to understand the markets,” he says. “It’s a fantastic mix.”
Dinner and politics
This excursion takes you to Brazil via the Kilburn neighborhood. Barraco Café’s extensive menu includes risotto, frog’s legs and live bossa-nova music (barracocafe.co.uk). Then take in another kind of performance at The Tricycle Theatre (tricycle.co.uk), where the programming is topical — a performance about Guantanamo Bay later went to New York. “They’ll do plays based on court transcripts, and it’s fascinating stuff,” says Taylor, a playwright himself.
That football feeling
Taylor says he’s never seen a tourist itinerary include Holloway Road, a busy commercial street in Islington, in north London. “It’s not a beautiful spot.” But you’ll likely meet talkative working Londoners sipping well-priced pints at its Coronet pub. And if you come on a day when the Arsenal Football Club (arsenal.com) plays at nearby Emirates Stadium, you’ll get a sense of what English football is all about. “There’s lots of singing,” he says.
A Freudian sip
Sigmund Freud‘s former Hampstead house is preserved as a museum (freud.org.uk). “It’s a fascinating place. A good alternative to the big museums packed with people,” Taylor says. Then, get to know the neighborhood at The Arches, a wine bar with cribbage, backgammon and dominoes. “It’s a great place to spend an evening.”
For an only-in-London pub crawl, start behind the Royal Courts of Justice at the Seven Stars, where you may see a barrister celebrating (or commiserating) with clients. “It’s full of Dickensian figures coming out of the courts,” Taylor says. Next stop: The Blackfriar on Queen Victoria Street, with its evocative century-old Art Nouveau interiors.
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