Life in the big smoke

My guide to London

Last updated July 2015.

Hello there. This is my guide to London. London is a big city, we all settle somewhere. Because I've only ever lived in Hackney and Tower Hamlets (with a short stint in Notting Hill in-between) I know north and east London better than I know the south and the west. 

I like off-beat, independent and friendly places, but often the selection here is based on places I've come across by chance and liked. This is just one guide to the city. There are many other good guides there that will tell you something completely different.




Hackney is a borough (the London boroughs are like towns within the city) and many places people talk about in East London are part of Hackney. It’s a diverse area. It’s where some of the worst rioting happened. Parts of it are still very poor. Other parts are becoming very rich and house prices are going up faster in Hackney than in any other part of the city. Perhaps that’s why it used to be such an interesting place to be. It’s constantly changing, being shaped its people. I spend most of my time in Hackney and most of the places in this guide will be in and around the area.


I lived here for a year and Gerry’s studio is still in the area. Before my time in London Shoreditch used to be the place to go if you had any sort of artistic dreams. It was taken over by artists who established themselves in the 90s and earned their money in the early 00s. Today it’s better known for its reputation than its artists (most of them moved out as the rents increased).

During the weekends plenty of tourists and people from Essex roam the streets with bad haircuts and loud vintage sweaters. This is still hipster central.

Stoke Newington

This is the first area I moved to in London. I instantly fell in love with the pretty high street full of cute cafes, vintage shops and yoga studios. This leafy little suburb in North London isn’t on the tube network (but still easy to get to). It used to be populated by successful artists, media types and, but as the prices go up, bankers and their families are moving in.

Stoke Newington sits between Dalston, which used to be a bit dangerous, but is now loved by hipsters, suburban Finsbury Park, orthodox jewish Stamford Hill and Clapton, which is still a bit dangerous, but loved by hipsters with less money than the hipsters in Dalston.


Notting Hill

We lived in lovely posh Notting Hill during one quite confusing summer. Unless you love crowds Saturday is not a good time to visit the area. That’s when tourists swarm onto Portobello Road to visit the market. During weekdays it’s quieter, you’ll come across super stylish women with perfect hair and expensive designer bags, nannies and old rastafari men hanging around the council estates in the area.

Notting Hill is nice to visit every now and then, but living there felt a bit strange. It’s an expensive area and difficult to move to unless you have serious money. In the 80s and 90s it was a different story, then Notting Hill was poor and slightly edgy. Those who bought a house in the area thirty years ago are very happy.



Oh Camden, I used to love you when I was fifteen and first visited London. The market hadn’t been redeveloped and the area still felt a bit trashy and bohemian. Now Camden market has mutated into a monster market, it’s a maze full of shops selling the same things, you come across the occasional bronze statue of a horse and people shouting at you to buy street food. I rarely go there anymore, but sometimes Camden pulls me back. I long for that trashy, madness of its olden days, of hurrying around its streets in dirty ballerinas, sitting next to the canal people watching, drinking pints in sweaty pubs. The old charm isn’t easy to wash away.



South London is the new cool. Many of the artists leaving Hackney are moving here as it’s close to several good art schools. I don’t know Peckham that well, but I wish I did. I interviewed a couple of girls in the area a while ago and went on a grand tour of art studios and nice cafés. Some say that Peckham’s heyday is already over, that it’s become too expensive, too gentrified and whatever edge it had is gone. The Bussey building is supposedly a good place to hang out, although I’ve heard rumours about long queues and not very good over priced beer. Just another sign of gentrification gone wrong.





Vietnamese on Kingsland Road
Where Kingsland Road starts there is a stretch of road that’s packed with Vietnamese restaurants. They’re all good and the menus are quite similar, so pick any one of them. It’s a great and easy option for a cheap night out. The summer rolls and the noodle soups are a good choice.

Turkish in Hackney
There are a couple of great Turkish kebab places in Hackney and Bethnal Green. Think a smokey grill, lots of tender lamb and lovely charred onions. Yum. These are my favourites.

Numara Bos Cirrik
194 Stoke Newington High St London Greater London N16 7JD‎

Tas Firin
160 Bethnal Green Rd City of London London, Greater London E2 6DG‎

Mangal 1 Ocabasi
10 Arcola St London, Greater London E8 2DJ‎

Tayyabs in Whitechapel
83-89 Fieldgate St London E1 1JU
You can’t visit the UK without having a curry and Tayyabs in Whitechapel makes amazing curry. The restaurant is hidden away on a side street in Whitechapel, but is almost always packed so it’s worth booking a table.

Bagels on Brick Lane
159 Brick Lane, London, E1 6SB
There are two bagel shops on Brick Lane and luckily they are next to each other. Everyone seems to have an opinion on which one is the best. I always forget which one it was I liked and have come to the conclusion that they are not that different (some people might disagree). The bagels are good, the shops are open 24/7, what’s not to like.

52-54 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE
This is some of the best Sushi I’ve had in London. This small restaurant near Exmouth Market looks like a pink café, but is a good place to go for dinner or lunch. I’ve bought more sushi than I can eat for £5, which isn’t bad in London. It’s run and owned by some Japanese people and the motto for the restaurant is to master an easy laid back life and enjoy indulgence, just like a cat.



Korean in central London
11 Rathbone St London Greater London W1T 1NA‎
Koba is a great little Korean place close to Tottenham Court Road. It’s a good place to stop for lunch in town and also does nice dinners. I like the fact that you cook a lot of the food yourself, either in a hot stone bowl or on a hot plate on the table. The bibimbap is great.

The Tate Modern restaurant
Bankside, London SE1 9TG
Tate Modern is worth a visit anyway and the restaurant on the sixth floors has one of the best views in the city. The food and wine are good too!

The White Rabbit in Dalston
16 Bradbury St, London N16 8JN
The White Rabbit is a newish place on one of the backstreets in Dalston. The menu is simple with only a few dishes, but the food is amazing. Not a great place to bring a vegetarian, but if you’ve ever wanted to have a casual dinner, eat some rabbit and finish it off with ice cream topped with exploding candy (you know the stuff that starts popping in your mouth) this is your place.

The Cow
89 Westbourne Park Rd Paddington, London W2 5QH
Don’t let the name fool you, this is a great seafood place in Notting Hill. And don’t let the snail-looking cockles and whelks scare you. Or actually do and stick to their great shrimps instead. A good place to try the classic combo oysters and Guinness.



This is a favourite for the city’s bankers and most of the tables will be taken up by men in suits. Don’t let that (or the prices) put you off. This is probably the best steak house in London. The decor looks like it was taken straight out of the 30s. The food is amazing, the drinks are fab, the service is great and the price, naturally, reflects that.

St John Bread and Wine
94-96 Commercial St, London, E1 6LZ
St John Bread and Wine is a good place for lovers of strange meats and food without frills. The restaurant is known for serving strange cuts and using most bits of the animal. It’s a bit different, interesting and very tasty.

69–73, St John Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1M 4AN
A restaurant run by the people who created Hawksmoore. It’s slightly more laid back and the focus is on ribs instead of steak. Lots of interesting side dishes and tasty desserts. They’ve recently opened a second branch in Stoke Newington, which is supposed to feel like a “friendly neighbourhood restaurant”. I’ve been meaning to go there for brunch, they do a bottomless Bloody Mary which I might or might not tackle.

Ronnie Scotts
47 Frith Street, Soho, London, W1D 4HT
This is an amazing Jazz venue, tucked away on Frith Street in Soho. Some very famous people have played there. Gerry and I celebrated my thirtieth birthday there. The setting is great, low lights, red velvet, small booths and a menu that isn’t too ambitious, but great where it counts in a Jazz bar – the drinks list. Please try the Tiramisu cocktail if they still have it on the menu and if coffee and rum is your thing. I still think about that cocktail sometimes and would go back, just to have that. It’s often worth booking early to get a ticket.





Store Street Espresso
40 Store St London WC1E 7DB
Great coffee, very central.

Monmouth Coffee
27 Monmouth St, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9EU
Possibly the best coffee in London. Shop is always packed so go for a take away.

Fleet River Bakery
71 Lincoln’s Inn Fields City of London, WC2A 3JF
Nice cafe, good food and coffee close to Holborn.


Long White Cloud
151 Hackney Road E2 8JL
Great coffee, great lunch, lovely staff. My local. I go here several times a week.

Old Shoreditch Station
1 Kingsland Rd London, Greater London E2 8AA
Easily accessible in Shoreditch. Hipstercentral. Good coffee.

Gallery Cafe
21 Old Ford Rd London, Greater London E2 9PL
Lovely cafe in Bethnal Green. Good veggie food.



The Tabernacle
34-35 Powis Square London, Greater London W11 2AY
Great in the summer when you can sit outside. Not only a cafe, but also a venue and a restaurant. Does great french toast with bacon.


55 Kynaston Road, London, N16 0EB
I almost don’t want to write about this place I like it so much. It’s a small café tucked away on a side street in Stoke Newington. The coffee is amazing, although being a coffee-snob type place it takes the staff quite a long time to prepare a brew. It has to be perfect. The brunch is one of the best I’ve had in town. Always fresh, lots of innovative ingredients, just great.

250 Camden High St London, Greater London NW1 8QS
The veggie place in North London. Almost everything is vegan. The smoothies are expensive, contain strange things and taste lovely. The cakes all come with soy or rice cream. The canal floats by outside the window. Hideously busy during weekends.

The Tea Rooms in Stoke Newington
153-155 Stoke Newington Church St N16 0UH
Lovely traditional-ish tea rooms with a great selection of tea and cake. And lovely soups to boot.

Candid Arts Cafe
5 Torrens St London, Greater London EC1V 1NQ
Brightly coloured café hidden behind Angel tube station. Great place for friendly chats.


Drinks and Nightlife


The Jolly Butchers
204 Stoke Newington High St London, Greater London N16 7HU
Very good selection of beer, nice food, almost always busy.

The Golden Heart
110 Commercial St Shadwell, London E1 6LZ
The “local” place in Shoreditch. Filled with market traders during the weekends. Supposedly Tracy Emin’s local.

The Owl and the Pussycat
34 Redchurch St, City of London, Greater London E2 7DP
Lovely beer garden. Easy place to meet up in. Not as nice as it used to be. Bonus points for the name.

The Waterpoet
9-11 Folgate St Spitalfields, London E1 6BX
Huge pub with a great atmosphere and a nice garden. Red walls with golden mirrors and skeletons hanging in the corners. Another Shoreditch local tucked away in one of the Georgian side streets off Bishopsgate. A current favourite.

The Dove
24-28 Broadway Market, London, Greater London E8 4QJ
Great place for cosy dates, scrabble and Belgian beer.


Callooh Callay
65 Rivington St London EC2A 3AY
Nice cocktail bar in Hoxton with an ever-changing menu, entrance to a secret room through a wardrobe.

Off Broadway
63-65 Broadway Market, London E8 4PH
Good looking bar on Broadway Market. Used to serve up great drinks, slightly disappointing menu last time I visited.

Freud Bar
198, Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho, London, WC2H 8JL
Cute and dark bar tucked away close to the Seven Dials in Covent Garden. Extensive cocktail menu, choosing can be difficult.

Queen of Hoxton
1-5 Curtain Rd, London, Greater London EC2A 3JX
This place is made great by its rooftop bar with views over Shoreditch and the City. Last time I went there was a teepee on the roof.


There are plenty of good places to see gigs in London. These venues are worth checking out if you’re in town.



Brick Lane

Still a good place for vintage and alternative fashion. Beloved by trendy Swedes and other visiting hipsters. Probably best to visit on a Sunday when there are several markets in the area. Two of them are…

Spitalfields Market & The UpMarket

The two biggest Sunday markets around Brick Lane and Spitalfields. Not as good as they used to be (or so the traders say), but there are still a few independent designers and good vintage stalls to be found in the area, especially at Spitalfields. Going early is recommended. See if you can spot Plane Clothing.

Columbia Road

Columbia Rd City of London, E2 7RG
Another good Sunday activity. Columbia road is a sleepy street during most weekdays, but on Sundays it’s a shouty mass of flower traders and customers trying to get to the flowers. The area around the street wakes up from its weekday slumber and the shops and quirky boutiques along the road open their doors.

Church Street, Stoke Newington

Good for vintage. Not that busy compared to other places in London, but plenty of quality vintage shops and independent boutiques. Neighbouring Clapton is also becoming quite a good spot for indie shopping.

Upper Street, Islington

Slightly more expensive. A bit posh, not as busy as central London and Oxford Street.


Other fun stuff

Holland Park
45 Penywern Rd, Kensington, Greater London SW5 9
A pretty and quiet park in West London, surrounded by very expensive houses. There is a Japanese garden and a cafe with good ice cream.

Hampstead Heath
Spaniards Rd London NW3 7JJ
A huge park in north London with superb views of the city and natural ponds to swim in.

Broadway Market/London Fields
Another hipster hotspot, on warm summer days you can hardly see the grass in London Fields for all the hipsters. A great place for early Saturday morning brunch before Broadway Market gets too busy.

The British Library
96 Euston Rd London, Greater London NW1 2DB
The perfect library. A great place to stop for a coffee and just relax. Also a good place to write in.

Whole Foods, Kensington
The Barkers Building, 63-97 Kensington High St, London, W8 5SE
The vegetarian’s paradise. A huge shop filled with only wholesome food and “healthy” treats. The cafes upstairs offer a nice selection of different lunches.

35-47 Bethnal Green Rd E1 6LA
Great art/theatre venue, cinema and cafe. A good mix of stuff, including ping-pong nights!

Victor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors
A shop that isn’t just a shop. A place filled with fantastic and strange things. Mainly taxidermy, old medical equipment and other stuff only a mad alchemist/evil genius would pick up on his or her travels.

Dennis Severs’ house
If you want to experience what it might have been like to live in Spitalfields in the 18th century, this is the place to do it. Dennis Severs house is a “still life drama”, a historical imagination of what it might have been like to live in a family of Huguenot silk weavers in Spitalfields. The creator, Dennis Severs lived in the house from 1979 to 1999 and the house is now open to the public. I’ve not visited it yet, but it’s one of those things I’ve been meaning to do since I moved here.

The British Museum
I love this museum. It can be packed with bus loads of tourists, but when it isn’t it’s a great place to walk around and soak up a bit of history. Unfortunately some of that history might have been plundered by the British Empire to be proudly displayed in London. It’s worth remembering when looking at the remnants of Greek and Asian temples. I nonetheless love it because it’s a place almost weighed down by the age of its exhibits. If it’s not full of tourists it’s a place I visit to calm down, to realise I’m only one small blip amongst all of this history.

Images by Mika Ruusunen, Christian BattagliaAli Inay, Jordan Whitt, Leon EphraimSerge Esteve


Rose London says:

Thank you for this wonderful list! I am moving to London in a little over a month after many, many years of planning. Some of these spots I already knew about, but you have given me so much more to explore. Thank you! Rose!

Lotta says:

Thank you Rose. That’s really nice to hear. Good luck with your move. x

NLondon says:

Hi Charlotta, these pointers are so accurate! I read through your blog before I left for London and now I am in London and wanted to refer back to it. I have the same impressions of East London as you have and thoroughly enjoying it. Cheers!

Lotta says:

Hi Nadia. Yay! Really glad you like the guide and that you’ve found hit helpful.

Olivia says:

Thank you for this guide! In a few days I leave for London, I will be staying there for 3 months. This will be very helpful!

I cant wait to move to London to taste all great food and music too.

Kam says:

Such a great list! I’m looking to move there early next year. Where would you live if you had to do it now?

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