DonnaM » Blog Archive » London – social filtering needed

London – social filtering needed

I’m going to be in London in June (for UX London) for the first time and have about 4.5 days completely free to tourist. I have absolutely no idea what I absolutely must do. I will definitely see stereotypically London things but need some help with the weird things that I might specifically like. 

So, based on my previous touristing, here’s what I like:

  • Walking through interesting history & architecture (can probably tick this off with no effort)
  • Anything that is just stunningly beautiful, or unique nature
  • Costumes, of any type and any period
  • Weaving
  • Other textiles
  • Design museums (even better if they have textiles, but furniture and interesting industrial design is excellent)
  • Paul Weller, The Jam & late 70s punk
  • Dr Martens – is there a Dr Martens museum? Or awesome shop. That would be cool.
  • Doctor Who
  • Interesting, funky shopping streets. Even if I don’t buy anything
  • Cool arts & crafts markets
  • Secondhand bookstores
  • Pubs that combine great beer with great people watching
  • Pubs with good beer
  • Live theatre
  • Cathedrals – not for religiousness, but they are often awesomely beautiful

And I really don’t need:

  • General art galleries: Yes, I’ll pretend to be cultured, but I feel more like ‘yes, I saw that’. If I must do it, I must
  • Snooty expensive things
  • Touristy expensive things
  • Any tour that makes me do it your way, not my way (I’m looking at you, Gracelands audio tour)
  • Nasty, flashy shopping streets where I feel like I can’t walk into a shop (I’m looking at you, South Beach)

So tell me what I should at least research. And tell me what I should think about…

20 Responses to “London – social filtering needed”

  1. Cennydd Says:

    For cathedrals, St Paul’s is an obvious one. It’s over the Millennium Bridge from Tate Modern, if you did decide to do that general art gallery thing.

    Interesting shopping on Marylebone High Street, Upper Street (Islington), Portobello Rd etc.

    Design Museum is near Tower Bridge. Never been (gasp!) but heard excellent things. Actually, might join you for that if you go.

    Borough Market is an excellent food market, running on Friday afternoons and Saturday daytime.

    Sam Smith pubs are pretty cool. Good ‘old man’ styling, cheap for London, and more interesting beer than the generic Carling / John Smiths stuff you get everywhere else.

  2. Donna Spencer Says:

    @Cennydd – you know, one of my favourite pubs ever was Flying Saucer in memphis. good beer, good street watching, good company. so anything neat like that would be good. but it must have good beer.

    St Pauls sounds like a must anyway & I’ll research the rest…

  3. Donogh Says:

    and zoom in for bookstores. No way to filter out second hand ones though…

  4. Karen Says:

    The “City of London” churches are worth exploring, particularly as they often have concerts on at lunchtimes for the banking workers nearby.

    For textiles/furniture museums then the obvious one is the V&A but there is also the Geffrye, MoDa and the Horniman a bit further out (and lots of other little ones)

    Charing Cross Road is good for bookshops, both chains and little ones.

    You can’t really people watch at the Princess Louise at Holborn, because it has been restored to a Victorian gin palace and the amazing fittings get in the way. Both Windsor Castle pubs are also worth a look.

    If I remember rightly Camden Town is the place to be for Dr Martens.

    And stay away from Oxford Street and Leicester Square!

  5. Sjors Says:

    What I find quite enjoyable is the east london area around the Truman brewery > (there is a great sunday market there, also lots of hand crafted things) and if you walk a bit up from there you can go to Shorditch high street which has some interesting design and furniture shops.

  6. Brian Says:

    Bodiam Castle ( was great fun. It’s just a shell for the most part, but there are still steep stairs to climb and it was in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

    The British Lion‎, 8-10 The Bayle, Folkestone, Kent is a nice little traditional pub with some decent brews on tap.

    Leeds Castle ( is fully furnished and functional and includes many tapestries and things that might be right up your alley.


  7. Donna Spencer Says:

    Oh, excellent suggestions. Thanks. I’ll look them all up. I forgot about castles…

  8. Matt Balara Says:

    I’ll second Cennydd, the Design Museum’s a must. I’ve been there and it absolutely rocks.

    And if you like design & bookstores, visit one of the branches of Magma around town. Not used, but they have such a great selection. Wallet danger galore!

    Enjoy London!

  9. Amanda Jahn Says:

    To start off:
    A walk along the Southbank. Start from the Houses of Parliament and walk all the way along to Tower Bridge. You should see the London Eye, Royal Festival Hall, National Film Institute, Hayward Gallery, the Millennium Bridge, Tate Modern, St Pauls and Tower Bridge… There is also a few pubs along that route. Although not really any of note that I’d recommend. There is also a second hand book stall just near the NFi (on weekends I think). If you walk just a little bit further, you will enter into Shad Thames where the Design Museum is. I’m a member and can highly recommend it. I’d be keen to join if you went (and have an extra guest pass).

    Kew Gardens is supposed to be lovely, although despite being here 6 years, I’ve never actually got there. Richmond Park is beautiful too and has deer!

    There used to be a big Doc Martens shop in Covent Garden but this closed a few years back (this was the famous one that most people seemed to think of)… There is a new one but it’s not really noteworthy, so I think Camden is your best bet. Camden is a bit of a dive IMHO!

    The Brick Lane / Spitalfields area is highly recommended on a Sunday but super busy. Lots of great vintage shops and places to drink / people watch. Beigel Bake at the North end is great for a snack.. just look for the queue! There is a great greasy spoon on Hanbury Street too. Just near Spitalfields Church is Fournier Street which is the home of Gilbert and George (the artists). They own two terraced houses numbered 11 and 11 and a half. Plenty of pubs and bars around here but you want to look out for The Pride of Spitalfield. It’s on a side street about midway along Brick Lane and is a proper East End boozer.

    Broadway Market on a Saturday on London Fields is nice but also busy. Lots of lovely food stalls, cafes and various random shops and stalls too. The Dove (Belgian pub) and the Cat & Mutton are worth a look into for a pint. London Fields is also a lovely park. There is a pub with decking towards the North end called Pub on the Park.

    I’d echo Cennydd’s suggestions around Sam Smiths pubs, there is one at the back of Tottenham Court Road called the Bricklayers Arms. The web group Pubstandards congregate here around the middle Thursday of the month if that coincides with your trip. The Marquis of Granby on the corner of Cambridge Circus is also quite decent and very close to the secondhand bookshops of Charing Cross Road. Lastly the Porterhouse in Covent Garden has a very decent beer range but I’m not overly fond of the atmosphere – it’s a huge monstrous 3 storey place.

    Here is a map of all the Sam Smiths pubs in London:

  10. Donna Spencer Says:

    Cool, so let’s go to the design museum together (Cennydd & Amanda) – I’ll figure out a time with you both closer to june.

    And Amanda, your suggestions are perfect. Thanks!

  11. Harpraxis Says:

    I second the Victoria and Albert Museum, it covers your first six points. (If you haven’t already been there.) The costume and textiles from around the world are superb and there’s a wealth of other design. Loved the bookshop for design texts too.

    Bloomsbury still has great secondhand and other bookshops, including Collinge & Clarke on Leigh St (which you may recognise as the shop in “Black Books”); Shepherd’s Bookbinders at 76 Southhampton Row has a dazzling array of papers as well as books on typography and book design.

    And on Litchfield St just off Charing Cross Rd, there’s Zwemmer’s bookshop which specialises in design, arts, and film.

    Westminster Abbey is the ultimate in English Gothic and is stunning. It can get a bit crowded but it’s one of the places worth it, and I was happy to pay the entrance fee as well as a further donation.

    For boots, try British Boot Company on Kentish Town Rd in Camden. They get limited edition and vintage Doc Martens, and similar brands like Solovair.

    The Tottenham is the only pub on Oxford St, right near Tottenham tube station. It’s got most of its original Belle Epoque interior decoration and is just beautiful. They do great beers. The Chandos is another nice little Sam Smiths pub, near Trafalgar Square on the southern end of Covent Garden. (Avoid Oxford St and surrounds the rest of the time, though. Jam-packed with people all day and night.) The Old Cheshire Cheese in The City is also nice.

  12. Jessica Enders Says:

    You might remember this from the other day, but I would put the V&A ( as a must on your list, if only for the costume collection. Looks like there’s even a wedding fashions exhibit at the mo’, which would be way cool:

  13. Andrew Says:

    go to Brixton….electric avenue, Brixton Academy, the most insane collection of wig shops and soak it up…

  14. Annie D Says:

    Yes, V&A ticks many of your boxes, as others have pointed out.

    Borough Market – interesting, but getting a bit twee these days.

    For something very different see if your trip fits in with opening hours of the Dennis Servers house in Spitalfields (an interesting area for wandering around anyway) An incredible experience of life in a town house through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

    For pubs: the Blackfriars (right by the bridge of the same name) is an interesting experience. Try the Lamb in Lamb’s Conduit Street (retained its old glass windowed bar) – and serves Young’s Beers (no longer brewed in London, but still, with Fuller’s, a “London” taste. )

    Theatre – well, try National Theatre on the South Bank – the Donmar and the Almeida are worth checking out for interesting buildings and good plays.

  15. Ian Says:


    First off, buy an Oyster card with a one week travelcard pass on it. It’ll save you money and save your legs as you can jump on a bus when you get tired. Second, try to use the buses more than the tube when you’re in the middle. You see a lot more, and you get the feel for the city.

    If the weather’s good, you can’t do much better than a walk along Regent’s Canal, from Little Venice (a bit twee) to Islington. It’s a good couple of hours, and you see a different angle on London. You also end up walking right past Regent’s Park, one of my faves.

    Also worth doing is jumping on a Thames Clipper from Waterloo to Greenwich. It’s a great service and you get to see the whole city from the river, without paying for a cruise tour. It’s about 9 quid for a day pass and you can use it to call in at several place that people above have mentioned. Greenwich has a great Sunday market too.

    The other cool thing to do if you want to just see the sights is to jump on a Number 11 bus, which, by a fluke of planning on London Transport’s part, takes you on a route that covers pretty much all the “sights”. You can choose to get off anywhere that looks fun.

    If you want good fish and chips, check out the Fish House in Lariston Road, Bethnal Green.

    Hope this helps.

    And if you happen to be near the British Museum, give me a shout – we’re just around the corner.

    Have fun,


  16. Donna Spencer Says:

    Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. I have the London Lonely Planet now so with that plus your suggestions I think I’m right…

  17. Martin Belam Says:

    Were you looking for old-style 60s and 70s Doctor Who locations / things – or the new series?

    There is a real TARDIS (well, police phone box) outside Earls Court Tube station if you are over on that side of London.

    The walk along the Southbank ticks quite a few Doctor Who boxes. Jon Pertwee filmed at the South Bank for “Frontier In Space” in 1973. The London Eye was the Auton’s transmitter in “Rose”, and Big Ben was destroyed by the Slitheen in “Aliens Of London”.

    In fact, if you go to this site which has just stunned me with the sheer level of geeky detail – – and type in London, you’ll get a map of Central London with Doctor Who references sign-posted all over it

  18. Donna Spencer Says:

    @Martin – awesome!

  19. Suffian Says:

    Weird but infinitely cool: The Thames Barrier.

  20. duncan Says:

    There’s a Fashion & Textiles museum on Bermondsey Street, which isn’t too far from Borough Market if you’re in that area.

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