The Non-Tourist’s Guide to London
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Whether you’re planning to visit for a few days or considering a semester abroad, you can never go wrong with spending time in the England’s capitol and, arguably, one of the best cities in the world.
Say what you want about it, grumble about the weather and the trains never arriving on time, the British passive-aggressiveness and the lack of air-conditioning in most residential buildings, but London is a pretty damn special place to kick around.
Except, that is, during tourist high season (May to September) when the streets are crawling with vacationers. In the summer months, Europe’s the UK’s most magical metropolitan turns into a special kind of hellhole, filled with people who have no idea how to use the public transit system and spend way too much money shopping at Primark.
And while I really can’t knock tourists all that much as I am a “Londoner-In-Training”, and was once one of those noobs, it does really suck having to avoid certain landmarks, museums, and restaurants that I normally frequent when in need of inspiration during the “off” season because of… well… the crowds.
Fortunately, with the city being as vast as it, there are plenty of attractions off London’s beaten track that are equally as interesting as the V&A and Tate Modern, and as tasty as any Soho restaurant. Thus, I have included a few of my favorite and most affordable attractions in this Anti-Tourist Guide to London.
1. Hunterian Museum
If you enjoy checking out hundred-year-old specimens floating in jars and syphilis-mangled skulls locked behind glass cabinets, the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons is the place for you.
Located near Holborn tube station and Russell Square the museum boasts the massive collection of brothers John and William Hunter, two 18th century physicians, who “. . . assembled a collection of anatomical and pathological specimens, which were used to support [their] teaching work”, according to the Royal College of Surgeons’ website.
Although it may seem like a pretty morbid place to visit during a holiday, it’s an excellent alternative to the nearby British Museum and isn’t nearly as crowded during the high season. Best of all, it gives a good insight to the “scientific surgery” methods Georgian physicians adapted, in order to learn about anatomy and the inner workings of the human body pre-x-ray and MRI. I should also note, like many British museums and historical attractions, the Hunterian Museum is free – so if you’re really squeamish and can’t handle the Evelyn Tables, you can peace out whenever you like.
2. Hampstead Heath
Regent’s Park is overrated; I recommend spending a day bumming around “the Heath” instead. With 790 acres of park space, it’s a lot less crowded and ten times more picturesque than many of the other popular parks in central London. Pack a picnic and bring a swimsuit along if you fancy a dip in one of the swimming ponds. Hampstead Heath is the perfect place to spend a lazy, summer day outside.
3. Yumchaa Tea Shop
Many people visiting London for the first time seek out an afternoon tea experience of some kind, typically at the infamous Claridge’s or at trendy Sketch in Mayfair. And while it can be fun to dress up and munch on overpriced, miniature cucumber sandwiches in a pretentious environment, there are many alternatives if you’re looking for an excellent “cuppa” on a budget. Yumchaa Tea Shop has a variety of locations throughout London (including Soho and Camden) where you can nip in and have a great cup of loose leaf tea and catch up with friends, all on a budget. I highly recommend the “Regent’s Park” and “Raspberry Vanilla” blends, but there are plenty of options to suit every tea lover’s palate.
4. Granger & Co.
If you are looking to venture outside of London’s Soho and Mayfair for a bite to eat, try Granger & Co. Created by Bill Granger, an Australian restaurateur, this restaurant in west London is known amongst the locals for their tasty, yet simplistic dishes and relaxed atmosphere. I highly recommend the crispy duck or one of the BBQ dish as an entrée, followed by the white chocolate and pistachio pavlova for dessert. It’s affordable yet delicious cuisine, and absolutely worth the trip out to Notting Hill.
5. ABQ London
London is known amongst the locals for its excellent bar and nightlife scene, but ABQ kicks it up another notch when it comes to the molecular cocktail department. Forget the Experimental Cocktail Club in Chinatown and head on over to Hackney, to “cook” up some delicious bevvies in this Breaking Bad-themed cocktail lounge. Slip on a hazmat suit and get involved with the scientific “cooking” process; staff are on hand to help you out along the way and to ensure your cocktails turn out as tasty and boozy as ever. You’ll need to book in advance, as ABQ is extremely popular with the AMC television series’ super fans but, trust me, it’s totally worth planning your trip around a drinking sesh in an RV in East London, as odd as that sounds.