This month, I was lucky enough to be treated to a mini-trip to London for my thirtieth birthday by my wonderful wife, Laura.
So, what to do with our precious time? Having visited the city many times for work in the past year, I wasn’t in a rush to get to Westminster. In fact, we actively set out to avoid the tourist traps, opting instead to seek out some of London’s more unusual attractions and activities.
Fresh off our first class train, we took the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich, where we checked into our hotel. I love Greenwich; its vast green spaces, maritime history and sense of community really remind me of my own neighbourhood in Leith, Edinburgh’s medieval port.
That evening we headed out to Wunderlust, a brilliant wee bar housed in a London route master, offering a fantastic variety of cocktails, yummy Austrian street food, and chilled beats. Much like our Leith local, Sofi’s, it also houses a small gallery. Happy hour is every day from 5pm to 8pm, where you can get one of a wide range of unusual cocktails for only £5. An absolute bargain in London, and a fantastic location, with an expansive outdoor area in the shadow of the DLR. The food was great (decent vegetarian and vegan options available) and also reasonably priced – we got change from £30 for cocktails, gourmet hot dogs and fries.
The next day we swung by Borough Market for a spot of brunch (delicious Egyptian kushari consumed in a rare stint of sunshine), before heading to the London Transport Museum. For a public transportation geek like myself, this museum and the accompanying shop is an absolute must-see. At £17 per head, there are cheaper cultural attractions; however, in my opinion, the fee is absolutely worth it, plus it admits you to the museum for a year. Brushing aside mild disappointment in the lack of new exhibits since my last visit, I had a fantastic time learning about the cultural history of London’s ferries, railways, tubes and buses. Cue plenty of selfies, excited tweets, and a considerably lighter wallet post-gift shop.
No time to stop though as next we had an appointment with Lady Chastity in Clapham…
The self proclaimed ‘Crystal Maze on Meth’ of escape games, Lady Chastity’s Reserve is not for the faint hearted! Something of escape game connoisseurs, we’ve played pretty much all the games in Scotland (and some in Thailand to boot), and have gotten out of every game we’ve ever played. The stakes were high, the pressure was on and the game did not disappoint! Halfway between the London Dungeon and a traditional escape game, this immersive hour involved puzzles, actors and lots of scares. I loved it, and would thoroughly recommend a visit – provided that you like being locked in a sinister room for up to an hour!!
All that puzzling made us hungry for dinner, so – thanks to a great suggestion via Facebook – we headed over to Inamo, an oriental fusion restaurant in Soho. Whilst the food was excellent (the best Thai Green Curry I’ve had outside of Southeast Asia), we weren’t there for the cuisine; more for the dining experience! You can even change the table cover, and play games while you wait for the food.
Of course, you can’t be in Soho on a Saturday night without a cocktail – plus we needed to calm our nerves from our encounter with Lady Chastity! Our last stop of the evening was concept bar Cahoots. Based on a 1940’s tube station, this bar is something a little different from your average watering hole. Not dissimilar to Edinburgh’s Panda & Sons, the bar has a hidden entrance, is table service only, and is decorated with original 1940’s and London Underground pieces. The staff were all dressed in 1940’s garb, and the cocktails were themed on popular culture of the time. It’s not cheap – the average cocktail was around £11 – but it was certainly something special, and a little bit different. Dressing up encouraged, this bar is definitely one for the vintage crowd!
Starting the morning in the established Greenwich eatery The Green Cafe, we fuelled up with a delicious breakfast before heading out for a general potter around Greenwich Market and the Old Naval College, looking out onto the Isle of Dogs. For only £3.40 on our Oyster cards, we then took in the sights of the Thames from above on the Emirates Air Line. Leaving from the O2, this took us to the regenerated area of the Royal Victoria Dock, before catching the DLR to the Museum of London Docklands. Housed over two sites, the Museum of London is a fabulous free resource, and – despite the name – is not just for tourists. It frequently has some of the best exhibitions in London, and the permanent collection and interpretation is excellent. This time, we learned all about the history of London’s Docklands area, from trading and slavery, through to regeneration.
It was then onto the highly romanticised Caledonian Sleeper for the journey home to Edinburgh. Phew! I need a holiday from my holiday…
This blog was originally featured on What Kirsty Did Next, on the 17th of May 2016.