Updated: Jun 6, 2019
Have you ever traveled to a city where you didn’t know anyone and you weren’t exactly sure what to do? You might’ve gone online and looked up different spots to check out, but maybe the suggestions weren’t exactly what you were looking for?… I know I’ve been there and it's very frustrating. I find that getting recommendations from a specific person is a lot more helpful than the endless conflicting suggestions on the Internet.
Last month I spent a week running around London and in this post I’m going to tell you about some dope spots I checked out. So, if you’re going over there, thinking about going over there, or have already been and are trying to go back and try some new things… you’ll have some new suggestions. I hope you find them helpful!
There are some categories I think we all want to know about when we travel: Shopping and food, nightlife, art (if you’re like me), which neighborhoods to stay in, and touristy activities. For this month’s post, I’ll break down these 5 categories:
1. Where I Stayed
Being a Black person/person of color, choosing a place to stay when you travel can be a bit of a plight. I personally like to blend in as much as I can when I travel for many reasons: I don’t want to be the target of any hate, I don’t want to be taken advantage of if people can tell that I’m a tourist, and honestly I want to be around people that look like me. So, before I booked my airbnb, I made sure to look up which neighborhoods to stay in.
Through my research I found that Brixton in South London was the best place for us to stay. It’s kind of like Brooklyn, NY - although it’s being gentrified quite rapidly, as a person of color it's easy to blend in.
Down the street from where we stayed near the Brixton tube stop (“the tube” = London’s metropolitan train system) there is a pretty robust section of town with plenty of hustle and bustle. There’s an outdoor market during the day, plenty of spots to eat and shop, bookstores, shoe stores, tatt shops, etc… They’ve got Electric Brixton - an event space that is essentially their version of The Fillmore venues… And then as you move away from that central part of the neighborhood there is a large amount of residential living.
While in Brixton, we went to this place called Black Cultural Archives - a small heritage museum that celebrates the history of Black people in Britain. The space and the staff there were amazing. We checked out their current exhibition Radiating Greatness: Stories of Black Leadership (celebrating five Black British women that are in some of the highest positions in their career fields) and we also spent a night there at a spoken word event hosted by this compelling group known as Poetic Unity - this is a young group of artists whose mission is to unify, educate, and develop young people through poetry. There was about 10 poets, each from London, that spilled their truths about love, anxiety, ambitions, sex, grief, disparity, and celebration throughout their lives. After the show we conversed with many of the performers and made a connection that unified us even though we were from different parts of the world.
2. Art to See
When I travel I’m always looking for art hot spots. If you’re looking for commercial and/or museum style art head to Green Park - Central London. There are a bunch of commercial galleries off of Saint James St. - if you wanna see artwork valued at like 65K a pop this is the place you need to be. Some galleries we checked out were Stern Pissarro, Whitford Fine Art, and Sladmore Gallery. These galleries were also kind of cool because they had little quaint seating areas, like a museum. You could enjoy the art and kick back in somewhat of a private area.
Around that same area there are some cool museums like Tate Modern and Victoria and Albert. Tate Modern had so many Picasso pieces I almost lost my mind. And Victoria and Albert had this crazy section called “Cast Courts” with architectural structures including pillars, doorways, and balconies that were at least 40 feet high.
Camden Town is another place that has a lot of dope art spots. While I was out there, I went to go see my mentor Dagmar Painter’s exhibition opening in that part of town at P21 Gallery, which of course was impeccable. Sadly, that was the only time I got to go to that area, but I’ve been able to see the area and essentially visit it vicariously through photos and videos. There are graffitied community gardens and parks, little underground music spots, and art markets that looked incredible. Next time I’m out there I’m definitely exploring that area more.
We went to a number places when it came to checking out the nightlife, but by FAR I had the most fun when I was in Shoreditch and Hackney - Central/East London. Shoreditch had a poppin’ strip and packed clubs (in a good way). Imagine the intro scene from Paid In Full, but with double decker buses driving on the left side of the road. Dudes were out there in Balenciaga shoes mackin’ and talkin’ ishhh, women were there in fur coats and more than a little bit of jewelry on.
Many of the clubs and bars don’t close until 6am and when I was there, there was guaranteed good let out action (Good Let Out Action = Partygoers congregating on the street outside of nightclubs drunkenly conversing and pondering entertainment for the immediate future).
Once the parties in Shoreditch end you can head over to Hackney for after-parties that start at 7am and last until 1pm...
Also, the clubs out there were hella eclectic. London is a SUPER international city and much of the culture is heavily influenced by not only the U.K. and rest of Europe, but also by Caribbean, African, and American society; so the scene out there is extremely diverse. In one night you can go to 5+ clubs within walking distance and each one will be packed with people from all different parts of the world.
4. Food and Shopping
The best places I found for shopping were the areas Oxford Circus and Knightsbridge - Central London. Knightsbridge is a bit more on the expensive side with stores like Harrods - it's like Barney’s but with the super high U.K. prices… we stepped foot in there and the first brand name I saw was Tom Ford... Sooo for more affordable shopping I’d suggest Oxford Circus. They had some European based stores like Berksha and Reserve, as well as some U.S. favorites like Uniqlo, TopShop, and Zara.
Now, for food… To be honest I’m NOT a huge food guy. I’m not a picky eater - I can usually find something on the menu that I like. So, I’m only going to mention this one spot called Bill's - a sit down restaurant, 1920s aesthetic... I had what was called a fish pie: haddock, prawns, and cod mixed into a cheesy mashed potato, topped with baked cheese... It was B-O-M-B.
5. Touristy‘Ish/Stuff That’s Actually Worth Doing
Go see a debate at Parliament (for FREE). The building itself was amazing.. The look of it made me feel like I was walking into Hogwarts and the debates topics were interesting as hell. We went and saw a debate about veteran suicide issues affecting the UK. Hearing everyone debate and get their point across in an extremely polite manner was intriguing and very intellectually entertaining.
Visit the Hindu Temple (properly referred to as BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir London) in North London. It is an immaculate structure with all types of amazing statues and exhibits on view inside… PRECAUTION: This is not like a super touristy place - people actually go there to pray, etc. So, you have to take your shoes off and be respectful at all times.
I really liked London, so I want to end this with some tidbits and other reasons as to why London is cool place to travel to for Americans:
Public transportation is super easy to use. The tube takes you EVERYWHERE like the NYC Subway and it’s SUPER EASY to navigate, unlike the NYC Subway. And the buses run all the time, even late at night.
They speak English so there’s no real language barrier.
All things considered, it’s pretty low cost. The flights aren’t crazy expensive. You don’t have to get any shots or stock up on a bunch of medicines. The water is safe (enough) to drink. You can pretty much operate with a peace of mind, which is priceless.
It’s always helpful to have some ideas about where to go when you visit places. I hate not knowing where the hell to go. So, I hope this can serve as a bit of a guide and make your trip a little easier. Please pass this onto anyone you know that may be travelling to London and if you’re reading this right now and you’ve already been let ME know of some spots to check out the next time I’m there!