The Lonely Planet’s challenge: how to spend the perfect day in your city, London
“’Scuse me young gangsta,” a young bearded bloke called out. He veered off the path to approach my somewhat surprised ‘gangsta’ friend and us on our bench outside the pub. Then he began to perform an entirely improvised rap. He was homeless, he said. Or, rather, he rapped. He just wanted to let us know what beautiful mermaids he had on his arm, he rapped.
This epitomises my first rule for a perfect day in London: do not ignore the people. The most important thing that makes a city enjoyable is its people. Wandering around an unfamiliar city or even your hometown can be an intimidating and isolating experience. London, in particular, is often criticised for being an unfriendly city. Many of my Scouse pals (famed for hating Londoners) describe its inhabitants rushing frantically past, unsmiling and bashing unsuspecting tourists out of their way.
However, even in this city, people can be charming, welcoming and genuine, when given a chance. Book into a youth hostel and the staff will warmly give you directions and more extra pillows than you could ever need. Strike up a conversation with a bartender and they will gladly tell you their name and may give you discounted drinks. Sometimes just being acknowledged as a human rather than machine can make all the difference. While wandering the streets or hopping a train, do not be afraid to swap bike stories with strangers, talk to a rough-sleeper and help save a pigeon or share a high-five with an excited child. It might just make both of your days.
My second main tip if you want to achieve an idyllic day in this capital is to embrace the outside. There are a great many interesting and cultural activities to experience inside London’s buildings, but why not save these for a rainy day? The best day out would be spent outside soaking up the atmosphere and meeting new characters. The day could start with a dawn trip to Heathrow airport. Lie in the field populated with horses and watch the planes come in to land as the sky gradually lightens. From there, make your way to north London and take a semi-wild dip in Hampstead Heath’s lido or climb some trees. For lunch, check out the Koshari Street buffet of Egyptian food near Trafalgar square. Eat on the steps of St Martin in the Field’s, on the backs of the square’s own lions or by the Thames itself. Take in the famous view from Waterloo Bridge (cue The Kinks) and then head along the Southbank (here lies plenty of opportunities to meet eccentric characters). Try your hand at skateboarding, sing along with a busker, somersault on a pop-up bouncy castle or delve into the permanent book market sale. For a gorgeous evening meal, why not head to Brick Lane for samosas. Climb up to one of the city’s vantage points to take in the sunset of your day outside. The One New Change Centre and Shell buildings offer brilliant and free alternatives to the Shard or St Paul’s Cathedral. The perfect end to an exhausting day outside.
The view of St Paul’s Cathedral from the One New Change centre