Heading to London during the Olympics? Throw out the usual guidebook recommendations and get creative with your sightseeing, dining and cultural plans to find your own slice of traditional London.
Hot, crowded and chaotic. London can be all that in summer. Throw in an extra million people a day during the Olympics that begin later this month, and finding a corner of the city that doesn’t feel like Disneyland will be a challenge.
If you’re going to London, this is the summer to throw out the usual guidebook recommendations and get creative with your sightseeing, dining and cultural plans.
Unless you have tickets to the Olympics marathon swimming or triathlon events in Hyde Park, head instead to quieter Regent’s Park with its web of peaceful walking paths, a lake and formal gardens. The London Zoo is here as well as Regent’s Canal, edged by a path where locals enjoy leisurely strolls.
Think music as well as theater. Maggie Dobson, longtime owner of the B&B booking agency At Home In London, suggests the free concerts in the foyer of the National Theatre (www.nationaltheatre.org.uk) and free lunchtime concerts at St. Martin-in-the-Fields (www.smitf.org) in Trafalgar Square.
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Restaurants are pricey. Scout out an authentic neighborhood pub for a pint of ale or a traditional Sunday roast. For ideas, join one of London Walk’s nighttime pub walks. These walks are a bargain at 9 pounds ($14) per person, plus drinks. Walks start and end at a Tube stop, so no worries about getting home. See www.walks.com.
Fish and chips really do come wrapped in newspaper. Find a park bench and try this traditional takeout meal, then head to an eel, pie and mash shop for a Cockney treat.
The eels are stewed and jellied. The pies are steak and kidney and the mash is mashed potatoes. Add parsley gravy, called liquor, and a side of mushy peas and your tablemates will think you were born in London’s East End.
Try Manze’s, 87 Tower Bridge Road, London’s oldest pie-and-mash shop (manze.co.uk), or A. Cooke’s (www.cookespieandmash.com) in the Shepherds Bush market, a traditional London street market catering to the local Irish and Afro-Caribbean community.
Walk off the calories with a country stroll. No need to research on your own. The Saturday Walkers Club has it all figured out with hikes every Saturday and Sunday and sometimes midweek. The walks are free, and organizers arrange a pub stop. (www.walkingclub.org.uk)
For culture without the West End tourist crowds, head to South Bank complex on the Thames River in the heart of London. If you’re visiting the London Eye, you’re close.
Guidebooks will point you to the Shakespeare Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern art museum along the south side of the Thames, but there’s much more.
Take a leisurely walk along the riverside path that runs from the National Theatre near the Eye downriver to Tower Bridge and beyond. Stop at a pub. Browse through the bookstalls under the Waterloo bridge. You’ll feel as if you’re in a small village instead of the heart of London. No traffic noise, no sirens, no crowds.
Have a question or comment on travel? Contact Carol Pucci: firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @carolpucci.