Go Local or Go Home: 7 Offbeat Experiences to Have in London

Stay away from the royal groupies with these ideas. | By Larry Porges  
Offbeat London
Artwork for sale (left) at Sotheby’s; A basket of fresh peas (right) on Maltby Street. Photos: Camera Press/Redux (painting), Dan Kitwood/Getty Images (peas)

Cruise to the Zoo

The London Zoo receives over 13 lakh visitors a year, but only a few know they can skip the lines and come in via the back door. London Waterbus is one of several companies that run cruises along Regent’s Canal—connecting leafy Little Venice with Camden Town—but it’s the only one that can let you off (right by the monkeys, sloths, and lemurs) at a private canal-side zoo gate (www.londonwaterbus.com; adults £25/₹2,200, children upto 16 £18/₹1,580; includes entry to the zoo).

Sold on Sotheby’s

Socialize with the elite at one of Sotheby’s regular public sales in Mayfair by registering online or at the auction house. If you purchase an item (say, by playing with the paddle too enthusiastically), make arrangements to take it home—atop Sotheby’s front door is an Egyptian statue from 1320 B.C. that was sold in the 1800s but never picked up by the buyer (www.sothebys.com).

Toast the Telly

Opened in 1949, Bar Italia on Soho’s Frith Street is popular for its friendliness, coffees, and celebrity patrons—look around for Kylie Minogue and Francis Ford Coppola. What’s not well known about this institution is that just upstairs from where you’re dipping biscotti into your cappuccino, a new invention called television was shown for the very first time in 1926 by Scotsman John Logie Baird (www.baritaliasoho.co.uk).

Hard Night’s Sleep

Starting in 1962, when they first moved to the English capital, the Beatles stayed on and off for more than a year at the President Hotel in Bloomsbury’s Russell Square. (This is before they were “bigger than Jesus”—the tuneful teens were sometimes escorted by their parents.) The hotel is still in business, so die-hard fans can sleep in the same spot where the Fab Four laid their famous mop-topped heads (www.imperialhotels.co.uk; doubles from £117/₹10,290).

Thames Treasure Hunt

When the tide is out on the river, “mudlarkers” rummage along the exposed bed of the Thames in search of bits of pottery, buttons, and other artefacts from bygone days. Give it a go—try the river’s north bank near St. Paul’s or around the Southwark and Blackfriars Bridges, though anywhere with waterfront access has a chance for some finds. Word to the wise: The tips on the Port of London Authority’s website (www.pla.co.uk) about slippery stone stairs and fast-moving tides are important reading. You’ll thank us later.

Out to Lunch

Everyone knows of the speciality food stalls at Southwark’s Borough Market, but shoppers looking for a local vibe should walk a kilometre east to Bermondsey’s Maltby Street. Some of the market’s original vendors relocated here to regain a sense of community. It’s not as large as Borough Market, but you can nosh on Scotch eggs and sip traditional mead (www.maltby.st).

Murder Mystery

Jack the Ripper hogs all the press when it comes to East London’s prostitute murders of 1888. Discover more about the victims by visiting The Ten Bells pub on Whitechapel’s Commercial Street—some of the unfortunates used to drink and drum up trade here. Then pay your respects a few kilometres east at the City of London Cemetery, the final resting place of two victims (www.tenbells.com).

Appeared in the September 2016 issue as “Go Local or Go Home”.

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