Tips on London
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The Whirlwind Tour
By Alok Jha
Before going on to what there is to do in London, let me take you on a very quick tour of the
city. Starting at Imperial College in South Kensington and heading towards the river is the
Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. One of the most exclusive parts of London, it is
also full of famous people and very expensive houses and cars. It fits in well with its neighbour
to the east, Knightsbridge, very well indeed. This is the home of Harrods and a lot of other
designer boutiques and is always worth a look around.
Directly south of the river is Battersea which is a nice enough place but bloody hard to get in
or out of. The underground is sparse here and you have to get around by infrequent buses or
trains. Here, you will find the famous power station and dogsí home but other than that, itís a
largely unremarkable place. Heading east you come to Brixton, the home of the famous
Brixton Market and the centre of the Afro-Caribbean life in the capital. Some people like living
here and say that there is a real vibe in the streets and others are just plain scared. True, itís
not the safest place to be around late at night but there are many redeeming features
including one of the best music venues in the capital, the Brixton Academy.
Heading north-east towards the river we get to Southwark and London Bridge. The former is a place that is really being rejuvenated with the extension of the Jubilee line on the underground and the latter is the gateway to the City. A little further east is Tower Hill. Now we are getting into the more tourist-y parts of London. If you ever come here on a Saturday, youíll be overwhelmed by the number of people walking around. This is also home to those people who own yachts and the like with new houses being built up near the old docks all the time.
Further north is the City, a scary place where the streets are meticulously clean and the banks and big companies all fight to have the most impressive headquarters. It is a very cold and grey place and youíll find the largest number of trenchcoats youíve ever seen in one place right here. Even further north is Hackney, again a place with mixed reports about it. Some say that itís a place where you get mugged for breathing,
others thrive on the east-end atmosphere. Itís certainly a lively place anyway and youíll find some great markets around the area.
To the west are the Greek, Cypriot and Turkish parts of London. Finsbury Park and Harringay are places that are always alive, even in the early
morning. If you can manage to get past these places and their amazing bakeries, you get to Camden Town. This is home to one of the most famous (and overrated) street markets in London and also seems to be where all the music industry people hang around. You could easily bump into your favourite pop star here, so keep an autograph book handy. Further west is Hampstead, which is fast becoming the new cool place to live. Basically, all the people that hang around in Camden live in Hampstead. It is a very picturesque area considering how close it is to the centre of the city and the nearby Hampstead Heath is a good place to chill out.
St.Johnís Wood comes next and, again, this is quite an exclusive
area to live in. Not quite as pretentious as Chelsea, this is the kind of place that you could easily end up living in in around twenty years, if you get yourself a nice steady job. Another advantage of this area is the nearby Abbey Road recording studios and that zebra crossing. Next to St. Johnís Wood is the Irish part of London centred around Kilburn. This is a great place to live and the place is pretty friedly.
Further south is Paddington and its surrounding areas - home to St. Maryís campus of the Imperial College School of Medicine. Notting Hill is a bit further south and this is a trendy place to live if you are young and well-off in London. It is also home to the vibrant Carnival that takes place every summer as well as the famous Portobello Market. Sheperdís Bush lies even further south and this leads on into Hammersmith and the home of the Charring Cross and Westminster campus of the Medical School.
So far, we have gone around in a huge circle surrounding the centre of London. This is traversed by the huge Notting Hill Gate which turns into Oxford Street. Here youíll find all your main high street shops and also some big ones like Selfridges and John Lewis. At the east end of Oxford street, you enter the West End of London and thatís essentially the centre of most of the entertainment in the city in the form of Leicester Square.
Right next to this is Soho, the self-defined coolest place in London. It has an image of sex-shops and dodgy bars but, in actual fact, it is just about the funkiest place around. In its numerous alleys and maze of streets you will find bars and coffee-shops that are open 24 hours a day as well as great clubs and cool shops that sell all the obscure stuff that you could possibly want.
Travelling around the capital is easy enough without the use of a car (which, incidentally, you would be mad to bring with you) because of the extensive bus and tube network. Outer parts of London are served by trains and buses as well. Itís also easy to get around by foot; everything in the centre is within a forty minute walking distance of everything else. The biggest problem with describing what there is to do in London is simply where to start. To be honest, the best places to go take some time to find as you work your way through the countless bars, cinemas and restaurants just around Leicester Square and I suppose thatís a pretty good place to start, although you will soon want to explore other parts of the city. The centre of London, though, is dominated by this touristsí haven.
Cinema - The Square itself is surrounded on all sides by huge multiplex cinemas, most notably the Empire (for its comfort) and the Odeon (for all those Hollywood film premieres). Famous for all its cinemas, you get a lot of choice in terms of which films you want to see. Just off Leicester square is the Prince Charles, a cool little cinema that shows films a few weeks later than the other cinemas. This results in very student-friendly prices
(around £2.25) and is a great place to boot. Also worth mentioning is the Virgin in the Trocadero centre for its realtively good value. There are also tens of independent cinemas hidden away in back streets and all within the radius of about a mile from Leicester Square.
Theatre - The West End also boasts a huge number of theatres and productions in these vary greatly from one to another. There are the long-standing shows (like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera) as well as the art performances and limited runs or one-offs. Even though there a lot of productions here, it must be said that you can find theatres in practically any part of London, and some with performances to rival, if not better, those on in the West End. The world of fringe theatre thrives in rooms above pubs and church halls all across the capital. In fact, this is probably a good place to go out for a fairly cheap night out as the big shows can cost quite a lot to get into. For these, its best to go in big groups to take advantage of group discounts. Another thing you can do is to visit the Half Price Ticket Booth in Leicester Square, where tickets are available
for shows on the day you go to buy them. There is no guarantee of availability but there are good bargains to be had.
Night Life - Your night out neednít end with a film or a play, however. The nightlife here is fantastic and youíre bound to find something you like. Leicester Square itself isnít a good place to start for this aspect of your social life because the clubs here tend to be of the cheep Ďní cheesy variety. The queue of weirdoes outside the likes of the Hippodrome or the Equinox should be enough to keep you away, but if you ever find yourself in one of these places, then try not to wince at the neon lights and very bad music. Youíll have a better night out up Charring Cross Road in places like the Limelight, the Velvet Rooms or the Astoria. The last one, in particular, is a very versatile place (in fact itís two venues in one) and youíll get anything ranging from seventies nights to pure indie nights. For those of you interested in dance music, the places to go are the Ministry of Sound (expensive but very attractive), the Fridge in Brixton or Cloud 9 in Vauxhall as a start. There are literally hundreds of others and the best part of clubbing in London is the search for exactly what you want. Trust me, you'll find it.
Art - What about a bit of art, then? Of course thereís the Tate and National galleries. Both are excellent, but these arenít the only places to go. Endless exhibitions of art from (and for) all ages can be found in galleries across the capital and if you want an education in art, you can certainly get it (and largely free). There is everything form the stereotypical places where people stare at paintings in odd positions for hours to the cheap Ďní cheerful variety above pubs or bars. Hey, if you are a budding artist, you could even try and get them to display something of your own. You never know, you may even sell it for a ridiculously high price and then you wonít need to worry about saving money at all.
As you might have gathered, London is a very happening place. This is your opportunity to live in one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world, so ensure that you make a decision based on that - not on some uninformed opinion from someone who has never spent time here. Youíll need to compare the facilities and opportunities described here with those available in other places and then make your own mind up.
Otherwise, you really could miss out.
This text first appeared in the Imperial College Alternative Prospectus