This is my fifth time in London (it used to be my favourite city until I went to Istanbul). So by now, I have basically seen all the sights: Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, you name it. (I’ve even been to the B-Grade sights, like the Globe Theater, and the Charles Dickens Museum).
This time, I wanted to do some things that were a little off the beaten trail. So, in honour of Visit #5, I have assembled five things to do in London when you have seen it all.
1. Graffiti on Brick Lane
Brick Lane, Shoreditch
Brick Lane is found in Shoreditch, a grungy, alternative inner-city district of London. It is famous for the Brick Lane Market and its graffiti. I thought I would take my camera (and Kyle’s lens) for a wander there to flex my photography muscles.
Here’s what I learned: When you are trying to capture photos of a landmark, it seems as if people are suddenly diving from everywhere, clamouring to pose in front of it, and just downright getting in the way of your photo.
When, on the other hand, you decide a photo of graffiti would be better with people walking in-shot, and you hover around the corner waiting for someone – anyone! – to walk past, suddenly people couldn’t be more polite, and practically sprint out of the photo.
Frustrating. Very frustrating.
2. The Old Operating Theater Museum
9a St Thomas St, London SE1 9RI
Advertised on its website as “one of the most unusual museums in London”, The Old Operating Theater Museum has been on my radar for quite some time. The only problem was I never travelled to London with anyone strange enough to want to come with me. Solution: go there by myself.
The museum houses the relics of the oldest Operating Theater in Europe. Established around 1822, the Operating Theater predates anesthetics. This is a fact that is particularly powerful to keep in mind as you peruse artifacts such as amputation saws, obstetrical forceps, or my personal favourite: the male urethral probe.
In 1862, the construction of Charing Cross Station compelled the Operating Theater to relocate to Lambeth. Some original objects were stored in the attic of a church, and apparently forgotten about until after World War 2.
Today, you can see this fascinating exhibit by climbing the ridiculously narrow staircase up to the same attic of the same church.
I seriously believe this is one of the most interesting museums I have ever been to – just don’t go straight after lunch!
3. Highgate Cemetery
Waterlow Park, London N6 6PJ
Readers of this blog will already know that I have a special soft spot for cemeteries, so it will come as no surprise to you that one features in this list. The Highgate Cemetery also has the added bonus of 1. housing the gravestone of Karl Marx, and 2. boasting some of the best views of the City of London. It is also said to be haunted, which is super cool!
Hot Tip: Make sure – unlike us – you get there before the gates close at 3.30 pm. Luckily Kyle had his telephoto lens, so we were able to zoom right in on Karl Marx’s grave so it looked liked we had visited it up close. *Ahem, I mean, as the picture below implies, we definitely visited the grave of Karl Marx at an especially close proximity…
Greenwich, SE10 8XJ
So, sure, Greenwich is probably already featured in many London “must see” lists, but I feel it is overlooked by the majority of visitors, maybe because it is a little bit outside of the city. But I think Greenwich is well worth the short trip on the Docklands Light Rail.
Make sure you visit the Royal Observatory, where you can see the zero-point of global meridian, otherwise thought of as “the beginning of time”. It is pretty cool to stand here and ponder just how arbitrary a concept time really is.
There is an interesting museum downstairs with a display on the history of time keeping, time measurement and time standardisation. Oh, and if that hasn’t sold you, there are also some huge-ass telescopes!
If you fancy a bite to eat afterwards, head to the Greenwich Market for some reasonably priced (by London standards) street food. And if you fancy some green juice and vegan cake to wash it down (as I did) there is a cool little health-food store near Cutty Sark station with the supremely off-putting name of My Detox Diet.
5. Borough Market
8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL
Not only are markets a really good way to get in touch with the authentic local character of a place, they are also a cheap and fun option for lunch. So, on my last full day in London, I headed to the Borough Market for exactly that purpose.
Borough Market is a high-quality fresh produce market that has been operating since the 13th Century. Nowadays, several things have changed. For one, I would imagine the hygiene standards are somewhat improved. And secondly, there is a rail line right above the market hall, which makes for an interesting auditory accompaniment to your market perusals.
There is all sorts of food on offer here: organic fruit and veg, fresh juices, artisanal bread and cheese, gluten free cakes, and wine. There are also street food stands spanning several cultures (Ethiopian, Egyptian, Thai…) as a testament to London’s diversity.
I grabbed myself a huge falafel wrap and ate as I wandered, camera balanced in my free hand. As a traveller, I also took a huge slice of bread and butter pudding. At £7 for the lot, it was the cheapest 2-course meal I had in London.
Mind the Gap!
PS: I also spent one morning searching for a camera store because – you won’t believe this – I dropped the cap of one of Kyle’s expensive lenses DOWN THE GAP BETWEEN THE PLATFORM AND THE TRAIN!!
We were running to catch the train and the cap seemed to literally jump off the lens and down the gap. Anyway, I found a camera store, and at only 8 pound for a replacement cap, no harm done.
To be honest, I always thought the “mind the gap” announcement was just a cute joke perpetuated by London Tourism. Now whenever I hear that announcement I will think of that lost lens-cap, and the apparent validity of the warning.