It’s been 10 years since I first moved to London for university. Admittedly, I’ve been away for periods of time since, whether home briefly while looking for my first office job, or off travelling. Still, London is my home – East London specifically. In the past 10 years I’ve lived in Mile End, Leyton, Stepney, Leytonstone, Homerton, and now in Dalston. I never write about London because I spend so much time dreaming of going elsewhere, but it’s my home and I love it very much, and I thought I’d use this occasion to share some of what I know about my wonderful city. I’ve highlighted a few of my favourite places; places that I revisit over and over again. My go-tos. I’ve been told that I go out more than the average person, and my bank account tells a similar story, so I’m hopefully quite well placed to make such recommendations!

These are my top tips for places to go in London:

Wellcome
The Wellcome Collection

If you’re poor…

More time than not, I’ve had very little money while living in one of the world’s most expensive cities. But, contrary to widely held belief, you don’t need money to enjoy London. In the summer, hit one of the beautiful parks – Victoria Park and Clissold Park are two of my favourites – with a few cans of drink and a picnic from M&S. In the colder months, duck into one of the free museums or galleries. There’s loads of them, but the Wellcome Collection near Euston is one of my favourites, and the V&A and Natural History Museum are iconic for a reason. They’re also right next to each other so you can hit them both in a day if you’re feeling strong.

Meat Fruit
Meat Fruit at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

If you’re feeling lush…

Fancy splashing some cash on a special and luxurious experience? Perhaps you want to celebrate a special occasion or treat someone? There are, of course, too many options to choose from. Looking for a world-class restaurant? Try Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner. It’s truly unique and quintessentially British (hint: order the Meat Fruit). The Skylon restaurant is another one of my favourites. It’s located in the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank and the bright and airy dining hall overlooks the Thames. The food and drink are top grade, and it’s veggie-friendly.

Udderbelly
Udderbelly on the Southbank

If the weather is good…

It doesn’t always rain in London, I promise! London summers are absolute belters, you’ll find yourself more sociable than ever and looking for the nearest outdoor bar. I’m always drawn to Southbank. There’s vans serving food and Pimms outdoors, there’s exhibitions and chain restaurants, as well as a food market and, most importantly, there’s a long stretch where you can walk along the riverfront. In the summer there’s also Udderbelly, where you can stop for a drink, or book tickets for a small-scale show – such as stand-up or burlesque. Everywhere you go there’s loads to look at, and it changes year-round.

Dinerama
Dinerama in Shoreditch

I’d also recommend a street food or night market while the weather’s balmy. Flat Iron Square near Borough has a great vibe and tasty food options, and Mercato Metropolitano nearby is also brilliant and has more roof cover. On the other side of the river, Dinerama in Shoreditch is my favourite. It’s best suited to a boozy Thursday night session. The food is good but comes in small portions, so it has more of a bar-vibe, but the structure of the place and its lively atmosphere are winners.

The Snooty Fox
The Snooty Fox by Canonbury overground station

If the weather is bad…

Pubs were designed for British winters. No one would deny that our winters are long, dark and depressing, but luckily, we have pubs. Warm lighting, traditional, hearty food and a range of beers on tap all make a good pub. But it’s the atmosphere that’s most important. It’s hard to recommend specific pubs because, honestly, you’re just going to go to one that’s near where you’re staying/living, but here are a few of my favourites. In Hackney: The People’s Park Tavern on the edge of Victoria Park (steer clear on very hot days or fireworks night!), the Chesham Arms and The Old Ship Inn. Around Bethnal Green, The Star of Bethnal Green and The Dundee Arms are both great. The Snooty Fox in Canonbury is lovely, and The Mayflower, which is on the Thames near Rotherhithe is the oldest Thameside pub. When it comes to good pubs, there’s too many to list (though I might try in another post!), get stuck in and find your new local.

Club Mexicana
Club Mexicana in Homerton’s The Spread Eagle

If you’re a herbivore…

I’m a pescatarian at present, but I’ve never been a big meat eater and I have vegan family members, so I’m always keen to try out the latest vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Fed by Water in Dalston does vegan Italian fare very well, and Club Mexicana, which has taken up permanent residency at The Spread Eagle in Homerton is popular for its vegan mexican. Mildreds is a vegetarian institution which now has restaurants all over the place, including near Kings Cross and in Dalston. It has plenty of hearty options such as burgers and pies. Alternatively, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, Vietnamese (and south-east Asian food in general) can be quite a good option since they don’t tend to use dairy and there’s loads of meat-free choices. Head to Kingsland Road in Dalston for a string of excellent and affordable – often BYOB – Vietnamese restaurants such as Song Que and Long Kee. I love this kind of food and go back to these restaurants time and time again.

Narrowboat
The Narrowboat pub near Angel

If it’s date night…

Casual food options, plenty of drinks and a fun or quirky environment are great for date spots. Pizza slices at Voodoo Ray’s, Homeslice or Pizza Union (various locations around London) are great for an informal, cheap and tasty bite to eat. For games and a cool atmosphere, Junk Yard Golf on Brick Lane is a great shout. Bounce and Fight Club, where you combine drinking with ping pong and darts respectively, are also surprisingly fun activities within buildings that feel like trendy bars. The Narrowboat pub near Angel is a very picturesque pub, and an underground cocktail bar such as The Lucky Pig near Euston would be great for a hot date.

Bar Story
Bar Story in Peckham

If you want to go out out…

Are you going owt owt? One of my favourites for a night of dancing and fun with friends is Brixton Jamm. It’s a small, pub-like venue where they get great DJs in and play loads of funk, soul and dance music. Also in the south is Tooting Tram and Social, and, in Peckham, Bar Story and for big nights out (buy tickets in advance) Bussey Building. I never went regularly to super clubs such as Ministry of Sound and Fabric, though they’re obviously worth checking out if you’re into dance music. My friends and I tend to choose bars and pubs that are open late, then go on to a grim, late-night haunt such as The Dolphin in Hackney, or back to someone’s house. I like Catch and Translate in Shoreditch, as well as Zigfrid von Underbelly by Hoxton Square and Queen of Hoxton, which has a cool rooftop terrace you need to see. If you like to rave, see what events are on at Printworks, it hosts all the big names.

Tamarin at London Zoo
An Emperor Tamarin at London Zoo

If you want to get back to nature…

I may like to party, but I also like to take leisurely walks and interact with nature and wildlife. There are, perhaps surprisingly, many places where you can do this in London, though typically they might be further out. For a start, I love London Zoo. For obvious reasons, it’s not the biggest, but I’ve been going there since I was a child and ZSL is a great charity doing great work. The workers and volunteers there are always happy to speak with you about the animals, just try to go on a weekday or get there at 10am when it opens. The best city farm is Mudchute Park & Farm, based in the docklands it’s a 32-acre site. Not bad for London! Kew Gardens and Richmond Park can be a trek to get to, but both are wonderful. Kew has loads of cool science initiatives and a tree-top walk. At Richmond Park you can spot wild deer and there’s loads of space, something that’s sometimes missing in London.

Do you love cinema? Culture? Are you looking for something a bit more unusual? Read 10 Years Living in London – Part Two!