Guest Post: 5 Unique Free London Activities

Written by Yuli Linssen-Kaminitz. Yuli is originally from Israel but has been living in Holland for the last couple of years with her Dutch husband. London has always seemed to her like a tempting place to run away to which might have to do with the fact that her mother used to live here when she was the same age as Yuli is today…

London is one of the most vibrant cities in Europe with an unlimited number of museums, more than 100 theaters, the famous royal family, numerous vintage shops and of course Kate Moss. Even though London attracts more than 27 million tourists a year, many people from outside Europe still find it an extremely expensive destination to visit.

In order to make life easier for those of you who cannot afford to go to on a shopping spree or watch three theatre shows in a row, here are my top 5 free things to do in the city:

1. Speakers’ corner
Cumberland Gate Park Lane, North East corner of Hyde Park, London W1K 7TY, United Kingdom – 07533 098 035
Open Sun 12pm-7:30pm

Not only this attraction is free of charge, it is also worth visiting regardless! Where else would you be able to listen to extremely passionate people talking about their beliefs, ideas, conspiracy theories and rough opinions?  In 1872, Parliament decided to allow public speaking in the north-eastern corner of London’s Hyde Park. People from all over the country gathered to raise their important issues – the main discussions were: politics, religion, the economic situation and more. Until this day, every Sunday you will be able to witness people standing on small chairs in Hyde Park and lecturing the crowd.

2. Primrose Hill
Primrose Hill, Primrose Hill Road, Primrose Hill, NW3 3NA

This is the perfect spot to chill out, have a pleasant picnic and watch the spectacular sunset. Located in the north side of Regent’s Park, Primrose hill not only offers the most magnificent view of the city, the district which surrounds it is full of cozy cafes, trendy restaurants, tiny pubs and shopping streets. Start your day with getting a tan in the sun and finish it with a glass of wine. There is even a chance you will come across a celebrity such as Gwen Stefani, Jude Law and Ewan McGregor; all of them are extremely fond of this place.

3. National Theatre Square
South Bank, London, SE1 9PX

The National Theatre Square offers three different vast auditoriums where more than 20 productions are being played per year!  Even though most of the shows do cost money to enter, you would be pleasantly surprise to discover how many free performances are offered monthly. During the whole summer until September 26 you will be able to enjoy for free the spectacular outdoor theatre- “Watch This Space Festival”. This wonderful event includes: extraordinary circus, brilliant dancers, acrobatic performances and many more.

4. Richmond Park
Holly Lodge TW10 5HS

Richmond Park is located in Richmond, West London. It is extremely hard to believe that such an astonishingly beautiful nature area is just 12 miles away from central London! This breathtaking Royal Park is the biggest in London; it covers 2,500 acres of complete beauty and total freedom for the wild animals. Walking there, witnessing the deer running free and listening to the sound of birds, will make you feel like you are not in the UK but in a far away country which words cannot describe how striking is it.

5. Sunday UpMarket and the Backyard Market
Ely’s Yard (entrances on Brick Lane & Hanbury Street), The Old Truman Brewery London E1

Both of these markets are sort of hidden hotspots in the city. They are quite alternative and most of the people there are locals. The Backyard market, (open Sunday from 11am till 6pm and Saturday from 10am to 5pm) offers exceptional fashion from young, talented and upcoming designers. Even though the stalls do not offer free treats, you will surly enjoy strolling around and be inspired by the fashion forward clothes, one of a kind jewellery and the distinctive arts & craft treasures. The Sunday UpMarket which is located right next to the Backyard Market is similar with its unique fashion items, funky vibe and colorfulness. The major point of distinction from its neighboring market is the famous food area: Tempting cupcakes, Turkish and Moroccan homemade delicious meals, Spanish paellas, sushi and many more! The best part is: free tasting is offered to everyone!

Yuli works for EasyToBook.com, which specializes in discount rates on hotels all over the world that range from simple motels all the way up to celebrated 5-star venues. For more information about hotels in London, visit their site.

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Exploring Eel Pie Island

If you take a short ride on the R68 bus from Richmond, alight at King Street and turn the corner, you’ll come to a narrow footbridge arching over the Thames. This leads to the magical and eccentric Eel Pie Island with an off-beat name just right for its off-beat story.

Bridge To Eel Pie Island

This mysterious little slice of traffic-free land has a musical history that tosses about names like John Mayall, Mick Jagger, Cyril Davies, Eric Clapton, David Bowie. Even before their time, Charles Dickens was said to enjoy a beer over that bridge and Henry VIII was rumoured to pop by the island to fill his stomach with eel pies on his way to entertain his mistresses.

Rainbow Shed

The island’s Eel Pie Hotel became the phenomenon that started it all with hundreds of revellers flooding the island to see The Who or The Stones in the hotel, to drink, dance, get high, sleep around. It started with ballroom dancing, progressed to jazz followed by the Mods and rock ‘n’ roll. Eventually, when the party scene got out of control, a mysterious fire burned the hotel to the ground.

England

In his memoir “Eel Pie Dharma” about his time on the island, Chris Faiers explained that the site was briefly re-opened as Colonel Barefoot’s Rock Garden where Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd took to the stage. Then the squatters took over. “200 dossers, hippies, runaway schoolkids, drug dealers, petty thieves, heroin addicts, artists, poets, bikers, American hippy tourists, au pair girls and Zen philosophers from all over the world’, who consumed vast quantities of LSD and opened a sex room for orgies”, he wrote.

Blue Eyes

Of course, that has all has changed now. The island has calmed down and is home to a mixed and creative group of just over 100 people. Some are retirees who live in sweet little cottages near the water.

Paintbrushes in Artist's Studio

Over 20 artists live and work in studios further down the island and there’s another group who work in the shipyard.

Eel Pie Ship Yard

Twice a year Eel Pie Island welcomes the public to visit the artists in their studios. Last weekend was one of those times so I went to explore.

Skeleton in Cage

Crossing the footbridge, I was already in another world. I picked up a hand drawn map pointing out the studios from a stack of papers weighed down by a smooth rock and started walking down a winding path. Lush shrubs and flowers formed the edges of the pathway which was empty besides the occasional dog-walker.

Love Shack

The first obvious sign of what was to come was the Love Shack, with colourful tiled front steps and an alligator on the front of the house about to eat a dangling gnome.

Gator and Gnome

There was a sign nearby on a tree that said “Wrong Day, Go Back”. I walked on.

Wrong Day

A green shed with old advertisements for Star Cigarettes, HMV and Punch stood next to a similar building called The Lion Boathouse.

Side of Ship Display
There are a few shops on the island selling necessities like firewood and paint supplies, but residents have easy access to Twickenham shops just over the other side of the river.

Star, HMV, Punch

The most eccentric part of the island was the artist’s community – an organised mess of colourful painted shacks, sheds and old boats where these people live and work. Barbie doll head on the ground, skeleton dangling in a cage outside a house, a broken kitchen sink, a stack of metal spoons, shipyard tools littering the ground.

Watch on the Wall

The people were lovely – chatty, welcoming, friendly, eager to talk about their work. They sold large paintings, sculptures, handmade greeting cards, jeweller, ceramics and photography.
Rosa Diaz

There’s even costume designer called Rosa Diaz famous for collecting Barbie dolls. Many of the artists have been living on the island for years and years. It’s a brilliant and supportive little community.

Nude and Mirror

After walking the complete trail, I turned and headed back under the afternoon sun. I walked slowly back down the green, twisting path.

I Can't Remember
An old man with a walker stopped to smile and nod in my direction before I headed back out of the psychedelic world across the lazy grey Thames. I bet he has some good stories to tell if he’s been living there a while. The crowds have poured out, but there are stories there, unspoken history, memories.

Home in an Old Ship

The island closed back up a few hours after I left, private once again for the rest of the year.

No Cycling

Links:
http://www.timeout.com/london/features/267/1.html
http://www.eelpieislandartists.co.uk/
http://www.eelpie.org

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Listen to a Londoner: Claire Watson

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you want to be interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new volunteers.

Claire Watson, 26

Claire works in social media strategy and lives in Islington. She wishes that running everywhere, and subsequently being able to go to the pub in your lycra, was socially acceptable. She’s currently working on the Boutique Run and training for the Guernsey marathon in August. She’s set up a JustGiving page if you’d like to support her efforts.

LLO: Give us the basics first: How long have you lived in London, where are you from originally and how did you end up here?
CW:
I’ve been in London for 3.5 years. I lived in Clapham Junction for few years, and now been up in Islington for the past 9 months. I grew up in leafy north Hertfordshire so would often come into central London on the train at weekends and have always wanted to experience living and working here.

LLO: As a runner preparing for a marathon, where’s your favourite place in the city to train?
CW:
I’m really lucky to live within a 15 minute run of Primrose Hill – it’s a great place to train… Not only is powering up the hill some of the best conditioning training you can do, it’s such a beautiful view when you reach the top.

LLO: Tell us a bit about the Boutique Run coming up in Battersea Park this July. What brought about the idea and what can we expect?
CW:
All the stats show that women would exercise more if the facilities were of a better quality, if they could do it with friends and if the competition was friendly – not fierce. So Boutique Run is a new event concept which leaps these hurdles with style. Women can take part in a 5 or 10k run followed by a post race experience unlike any other. We’re talking free champagne, hot showers, massage, a fabulous after party and a special ‘Bouti’ bag full of goodies!

LLO: Favourite shop in London for sports gear?
CW:
Sweaty Betty is fantastic – they do really great clothes that are really flattering and feminine. They normally have really good sales and if you sign up to the catalogue list you get another 10% off your sale items (as well as a nice catalogue in the post every few months)

LLO: Best place for pampering and massage after a long run
CW:
I don’t tend to get massages in London, as they are so expensive! My boyfriend kindly got me (and him) a day’s introduction to massage course as a Christmas present this year, so we’re now pretty competent at getting each other’s knots out! It was a really nice activity to do together on a rainy Saturday in London and now we’re saving money not having to go out to get them. Although I’m yet to find a massage deal that I would like, I’d recommend signing up to Wahanda.com, as they have some great health and beauty offers across several really nice London spas and beauticians.  

LLO: And of course, the reward – favourite place to enjoy a night out in the capital?
CW:
There are so many great places to go out that offer something completely different for whatever your mood. Is it really sappy if I say it’s more about the people than the place we go, as there are so many fun places? I have the best nights out with my girlfriends from school. We live all across London so tend to congregate in Covent Garden as a centre point. Cocktails at Sophie’s Steakhouse are great and you can’t go wrong with 1/2 price happy hours at Jewel.

LLO: Any advice for busy Londoners looking to stay fit but might not quite have the energy for all these marathons?
CW:
Everyday activities. Instead of standing to the right on escalators on the tube, walk up them (really squeeze your buns as you do it to give them even more of a work out). There are loads of great parks in London, so just get out there and walk or jog around them.

I also took up softball a couple of years ago through work – there are loads of leagues taking off in London, predominantly based around companies. It’s more about socialising in the evening sun than anything else… And a great way to meet people. http://www.baseballsoftballuk.com/

LLO:  What’s the coolest thing about living in your postcode?
CW:
Freightliners Farm – hearing cows mooing when we have the windows open, or being woken up by the cockerels.

LLO: Tell us about something, somewhere or someone that you’ve discovered in London and think the rest of us should know about.
CW:
The Thai Green curry man who sets up his stall every lunch time in Goodge Place – thoroughly delicious. Also, if you have a friend who works for PWC, ask them to take you to the Turret meeting rooms in the Embankment office – one of the best views of London I’ve been lucky enough to see.

LLO: Is there somewhere in London you’ve love to explore on a long run but haven’t had a chance yet?
CW:
The Thames path out in Richmond – I did a quick run down there a few weeks ago and will definitly be carrying out some of the hard 20 milers out past Richmond, towards Ham and Kingston- it’s really beautiful and you feel 1,000 miles away from a busy city.

Thanks Claire!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Jodie Mandat

Listen to a Londoner. This is a weekly post where people who live (or have lived for a while) in London answer a few questions about the Big Smoke. If you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, give me a shout at littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new victims volunteers….

Jodie MandatJodie Mandat, 25

“Im an Australian living the life in London for a year so I can travel europe and see the world. I came here for eight weeks on a holiday last year with my best friend and loved it so much, I went home, sold my house and all my furniture, left all my friends, my boyfriend and my really great job. I’ve made some really good friends here so I’ll be sad to leave in only six more months. The travel bug has bitten me HARD! I didn’t think I’d love it here as much as I am, so when I do go home I’ll have to decide where I want to live forever. On a more personal note, I’m a shopaholic and a chatterbox! :p”

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
JM:
6 months

LLO: Where are you or your family from originally if not London?
JM:
Melbourne, Australia

LLO: Best thing about London?
JM:
Always something to do.

LLO: Worst thing about London?
JM:
I’m starting to think it’s not so much the cold, but the dampness of everything.

LLO: North, south, east or west? 
JM:
I live in the northwest, but I love it all

LLO: Best restaurant?
JM:
Little Bay when I’m feeling adventurous and Pizza Express when I’m feeling casual

LLO: Best shop?
JM:
I’m going to have to say Topshop!

LLO: Best place to escape the city?
JM:
Richmond is lovely and so is Greenwich, but closer to town, Hampstead Heath.

LLO: How do you spend your time on the tube?
JM:
Usually eyeballing the newspaper of the person next me until I can get my mits on my own copy, but if I’m standing, I’m usually concertrating on NOT breathing where somone else is!

LLO: Most random thing you’ve seen in London?
JM:
People dressed like it’s Halloween when it isn’t!

LLO: Best place to catch a gig?
JM:
Somerset House.

LLO: Best local band?
JM:
(not sure if theyre local but dicovered them here) Just Jack

LLO: Favourite book, song or film about London?
JM:
Not sure they’re about london, but they’re certainly based in or make reference to London; Book – Confessions of a Shopaholic, Song – “Ldn” by Lily Allen, Film – Closer or Green Street Hooligans

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
JM:
Brick Lane 

LLO: Best place to spend a Sunday afternoon? 
JM:
Almost any pub or the kitchen with the other flatmates!

LLO: Best museum or gallery?
JM:
I’m yet to find one in london that I really love 😦

LLO: Favourite market?
JM:
Camden 

LLO: Best London magazine, newspaper or website?
JM:
Company magazine, The London Paper before they scrapped it and www.tfl.co.uk 

LLO: If you were to dress up as one of the tube station names for a costume party, which would you be?
JM:
Cockfosters (hehe) or maybe Elephant and Castle.

LLO: Best time of year in London?
JM:
Summer!

LLO: First place to take a visitor?
JM:
On a red bus, top deck to Oxford Street (but only if they like to shop). Otherwise, Big Ben.

LLO: Favourite place to be on a Saturday night?
JM:
A bar in Islington or Angel

LLO: Best and worst things about tourists?
JM:
Best – good moods. Worst – slow walking and getting in my way to take photos.

LLO: What would you change about the city if you had the power to do so?
JM:
The rubbish and spit on the sidewalk. Eeewwwww! And, I’d make people apologise for bumping into other people.

LLO: Most interesting recent news story?
JM:
All the British soldiers that die in the Middle East. It’s so sad. We haven’t sent that many troops from Australia, so we don’t hear as many stories about them being killed. The most interesting, however, was the one a while ago on TV called; Katie, My Beautiful Face.

Thanks Jodie!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Koushik Ghosh

Listen to a Londoner. This is a weekly post where people who live (or have lived for a while) in London answer a few questions about the Big Smoke. If you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, give me a shout at littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new victims volunteers….

Koushik GhoshKoushik Ghosh, 30
(Bonus answers from Koushik who sped past the 10 questions like Lucy a few weeks ago!) 

Koushik spends his days cutting people up working as a surgeon in Chelsea. By night he likes nothing more than playing chess, pool and occasionally listening to loud funky music whilst driving his car around West London.

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
KG:
Pretty much all 30 years of my life. I was born in Edgware General Hospital and brought up in North London. 

LLO: Where is your family from originally?
KG:
My parents are originally from Kolkata, in West Bengal, India

LLO: Best thing about London?
KG:
 I think its probably the vibrancy and diversity of cultures, though the number of things to see and do are almost endless. Clubs, bars, galleries, museums, wonderful parks – from the young and eclectic to the cultured and sophisticated – there’s something for everyone.

LLO: North, south, east or west?
KG:
Being someone who has lived in pretty much all parts of London, I can say there’s pros and cons for most areas. I grew up in North London and a lot of my friends live in and around various parts of it so that always has good memories for me. The last few years I have lived in South London and found it to be lovely in terms of parks and people, but it has slightly worse travel links. East London is certainly diverse and vibrant with some nice restaurants if you look in the right places, though it tends to be a little rougher than other parts. Though, to me London is like a mosaic – you won’t live in a bad patch without being a stones throw from a good patch.

LLO: Best restaurant?
KG:
Ooo thats a tough one. I’d have to go for Buen Ayre in Bethnal Green or Tayabs in Whitechapel.

LLO: Best place to escape the city?
KG:
Wonder out into the suburbs of North West London and beyond. Perhaps venture to Elstree in Hertfordshire and pick strawberries. Or get lost with the wild deer in Richmond Park and then take a rowing boat down the Thames in the summer.

LLO: 2012 Olympics – stay or go?
KG:
Definitely stay – if just to say you were there. I think it’s going to transform the face of East London; the vibe will be amazing.

LLO: Best place to catch a gig?
KG:
The Bull and Gate Pub, Kentish Town

LLO: Best local band?
KG:
They started playing acid jazz in Ealing venues back in the early Nineties – Jamiroquai

LLO: Favourite book, song or film about London?
KG:
It’s an old film from the Nineties called Martha Meet Frank, Daniel and Lawrence. I watched it with some friends from school and it made you feel quite excited about the city we lived in.

LLO: Favourite market?
KG:
I really like Greenwich Market – so bustling and not a sprawling mess full of tourists like a lot of the other markets in London. There’s more of a feeling of authenticity to it.

LLO: Most influential Londoner?
KG:
Joe Strummer of the Clash

LLO: Best London magazine, newspaper or website?
KG:
I have always been a fan of The Metro – it summarizes important and entertaining news stories in bite-size, attractive chunks and is free and readily available.

LLO: First place to take a visitor?
KG:
Ronnie Scotts Jazz club, Soho.

LLO: Boris is…
KG:
…A hero for saving that lady being beaten up by those chavettes. Also a bumbling buffoon – but in the most entertaining way possible.

LLO: What would you change about the city if you had the power to do so?
KG:
Introduce mobile phone reception on the underground and make it run 24 hours.

Thanks Koushik!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.