“As an American living in London for the last five years, there are a few places around this endlessly surprising city that I find myself constantly drawn to and often taking my visiting American friends to see when they cross the pond. London is a multicultural powerhouse with millions of international tourists visiting each year from virtually every country in the world. And yet possibly the most recognisable and enthusiastic tourist in London is the American one, with dreams of seeing the Queen, of eating fish and chips in traditional pub and seeing the iconic “London Bridge”. I’d like to think I understand this happy-go-lucky tourist and would like to offer my personal suggestions that go beyond the guidebook. Whether you are a foodie, history buff, literature nerd or want to explore London’s hidden gems—I’ve compiled this list as an essential top ten for the American abroad in London”.
Tucked away in a typical residential area lies the globally recognised street with the zebra crossing that featured on the Beatles album of the same name—Abbey Road. Though the crossing itself will doubtlessly have quite a few tourists, many of whom will be barefoot in an attempt to recapture the album cover, the street is relatively free of the crowds and buzz of central London. Here you can experience the real London vibe as you walk past the famous Abbey Road Studios that produced the Beatles and take a trip to nearby Regents Park and Primrose Hill, which are arguably more beautiful than the routinely visited Hyde Park.
Platform 9 ¾
For Harry Potter fans, a visit to the UK is not complete without at least seeing one location from the world-renowned series. Luckily, King’s Cross station appreciates this endeavour and has erected a special tribute to the Potter series, by placing a plaque designating 9 ¾ on a wall outside the station and a half-disappeared trolley leading through the wall. Visitors can queue up to take a fabulous photo with the trolley that is apparently heading to famous platform that leads to Hogwarts. And if you want to dress up for the occasion, Kings Cross has a Potter merchandise shop to get you prepared for your journey to Hogwarts.
Beyond fish and chips there is one British dish that is a must for any American to these hardy Isles—pie and mash. On a chilly, rainy day in the heart of an English summer, there is nothing more comforting than tucking into a hot and gooey meat pie with generous portions of chunky steak, that’s been stewed in a magical gravy of Guinness. Nowhere in the capital understands this better than Mother Mash, a central London café with a sophisticated polish but with a creed that is all about the food. Enjoy heaping bowls of cheddar cheese mash topped with lamb and mint sausages or a pumpkin and goat’s cheese pie. The delectable choices will make you want to stay all day
This gorgeous hidden passageway in Islington is the Anglophiles dream. Nestled between lovely vintage shops and aromatic cafes, teashops and hotspot brunch venues is this winding cobblestone alley that links Angel to the canal. On weekends, the passage is truly alive with dozens of market stalls and stands set up to offer a charming array of bric-a-brac finds and tasty nibbles. Most of the cafes have awning-covered terraces where you can take in an Earl Grey or a smooth latte and watch the fascinating mix of passerby before ambling down to the canal for an afternoon stroll.
Wilton’s Music Hall
This fabulous traditional music hall is often even passed over by Londoners. Burrowed in the heart of the city, this mid-19th century music hall is one of the only remaining of its kind in London. This is an excellent opportunity to have a really smashing good night and to enjoy a historic performance of vaudeville opera, cabaret, dance, classical and other diverse entertainments all under the glorious chandeliers and original Victorian features of this grand theatre. There is a restaurant with table seating on the upper balcony and a full-service bar with delightful artisan food and cocktails.
This imaginative, modern suspended bridge across the Thames has come to be one of the most beloved and picturesque landmarks in London. The bridge is steel yet flows like a DNA strand or a blade of light across the water, so that walking across can for some be a test of courage. Yet, the experience is definitely worth, it as pedestrians take in incredible views of the city. The bridge leads from the Tate Modern on the Southbank towards St. Paul’s, which is perfectly framed as you make your way across the river. At night, blue lights underneath the bridge light the whole structure, which only adds to the magic.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
If you do wander to the other side of Millennium Bridge, be sure to check in at St. Paul’s cathedral, which though much bigger than Westminster Abbey is much less visited by American tourists. This is a real shame, not only because St. Paul’s is much less expensive to get into than Westminster Abbey but also because St. Paul’s has just as much history and is also a crucially significant part of the national identity. An image of St. Paul’s, with its gleaming white façade and dome surrounded by smoke and fire but otherwise unharmed after the Blitz of World War II is what fashioned it as a symbol of British resolve.
Pitt Cue Co
If you find yourself homesick and longing for an American plate of ribs and corn on the cob, look no further than Pitt Cue Co. This urban-chic, ex-warehouse in East London has turned up the flames on their delicious barbeque delights. True to the American spirit, the restaurant now offers craft beers from their own brewery. So whether you want some salt beef with pickles, grilled lamb heart, octopus and whey or just a full rack of short ribs, this is definitely the place to get that fix.
Possibly one of the most lighthearted art structures in the world is the ArcelorMittal Orbit, which as the largest ever-outdoor art piece also features the longest enclosed slide down from the top. The structure is located in Stratford, in East London, in the newest addition to London’s parks, Olympic Park. This entire area is a great day out for friends and family alike, as in addition to the art structure and slide there is also a free public climbing wall, the brand new Olympic Stadium to explore and the largest mall in the city. In many ways Stratford resembles the beating heart of a vibrant American city more than a suburb of London, but with incredible skyline views of London city and the financial district.
Most Americans when they come to London don’t seem to be aware that London is home to more beautiful waterways than just the Thames, there are miles worth of canals to explore as well! And there is possibly no area more picturesque along the canals than Little Venice. If you wander further past Regent’s Park you’ll eventually discover a charming area filled with houseboats turned cafes serving up tasty crepes, teas, burgers and gourmet salads—there is also a boat that is a children’s puppet theatre. This is a fantastic area to while away the hours and relax on a sunny afternoon.
Angela Carlton is an American PhD student of English Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London and she is also one of CityUnscripted’s Local guides in her spare time.