heron-tower

London tips pt.1: Wandering on the cheap

Part of a series on ‘Stuff To Do’, assuming you have a Top 10 guidebook under control already and want other stuff. Will also feature other posts on the subject of ‘TV and film locations to visit’, ‘Museums’, ‘Theatre, etc

A better view at (almost) no cost: Heron Tower or Tower 42: forget the London Eye, forget the Shard, they’ll both charge you like 30 quid, when you can get the same or better view for the cost of an orange juice instead. Two city bars have unbeatable views, and it’s a bar, so you can just mosey up, buy a lemonade, and stay as long as you want, and no booking/no tickets/blah blah if you’re on a budget. Heron Tower has 2 venues, Duck and Waffle and a Sushi Samba, but D&W is the higher one – tell the elevator desk guy at street level you just want to go to the bar, and that way you won’t need a reservation for the main restaurant. (otherwise, the other one is Tower 42, the entrance is on Old Broad Street and that bar is called City Social)

Southbank Greatest Hits: a potentially zero-cost highlights wander that takes in a shedload of instagram-worthy fun; start at Borough market, walk along the river till you can see Westminster, and you get to see, in order: Borough food market (posh market eats and fresh food stalls), Southwark cathedral (it’s old, innit), the Golden Hind (Elizabethan recreated tall ship), Shakespeare’s Globe theatre (there’s tours with the ‘museum’ part entrance, or see a show instead), Tate Modern, look across the millennium bridge to St Pauls, Southbank food and pubs, National Theatre (they do a full backstage tour for about 20 quid which is gr9), British Film Institute (they show old, cult, and modern films and have a great river front cafe/bar), under Waterloo Bridge second-hand book and print market, Hayward Gallery (contemporary art), Southbank Centre (free wifi, cafes, concerts – they have 4 resident orchestras), also you pass a lot of bridges (yay, bridges). It’s mainly on the actual riverside but sometimes twists inland. Just follow the crowds.

Columbia Road flower market (plus Lock Stock pub) Sunday mornings in this eastern London street is PACKED with flower stalls with jovial yelling cockney vendors – the surrounding streets have the occasional busker, some jumble sales, print shops, kitschy cute kitchen goods and independent coffee shops. But, like, FLOWERS man. So many flowers. It’s just the one street so you won’t get overwhelmed, except by colour. Bonus points if you can grab a table for Sunday lunch at The Royal Oak which was Samoan Joe’s pub in Lock Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels.  Good luck with the table though, it’s well busy - just get a pint. Go early – it’s from 8am and they pack up around 3pm.

[summer only] Picnic central in Green Park or Hyde Park: if it’s sunny, the rest of London will be there. I mean they just will be. Green Park has deck chairs scattered about if you can grab one of those. Pop into Marks or Sainsburys, get some strawberries. Sit on ground on grass in park. Eat the strawberries. You have now become one with the rest of London, who are all also doing this. If you can’t take central, and want a bit more ‘normal’ London, try Clissold Park in Stoke Newington – if you get bored you can walk down Stoke Newington Church Street which is a nice little wander re: cute shops (read: second hand clothes sold as ‘vintage’ and priced accordingly, independent shoe shops etc), and has lots of eating places. Like, LOTS. A good Turkish breakfast can be had quite easily.

Technically most of Greenwich will service your wandering needs as a whole: get off at the Cutty Sark DLR/tram stop, and you get: 3 or 4 museums, a huge fully rigged tea clipper, an indoor market, a huge park, the actual zero meridian, a big hill from which to look back at London – a really nice afternoon, but I’ll cover Greenwich properly in my Museums post.

The Pinnacle is the most doomed skyscraper to be built in the City of London, possibly ever. 

Because of its underdog nature, and its potential swirly, lavender coloured shape, it also happens to be my favourite, despite a mere stump of seven concrete storeys being all there actually is for it, since 2008, when its construction began.

Starting much earlier than most skyscraper now already completed (the neighbouring Heron Tower and Leadenhall Building, The Walkie Talkie, and The Shard, which robbed the poor Pinnacle of its never really obtained title of tallest building in Europe, despite being supposed to be such when the whole planning started in 2007), an unfortunate series of economic and design issue had it stalled, threatening demolition of even the tiny stub it is, which still occupies one of the few, extremely valuable plots within the square mile where a skyscraper can be constructed with the blessing of St Paul’s line of sight.

Now it would seem, despite a supposed redesign which involved many architects submissions, including Ken Shuttleworth ( the co-designer of 30 St. Mary Axe a.k.a. The Gherkin), that The Pinnacle will eventually resume construction while also maintaining the swirly design which got it nicknamed (as Londoners always like to do with these buildings) the Helter Skelter.

I for one hope to see the Pinnacle completed within my life time. I suspect it could (almost literally) overshadow the haughtiness of The Shard. After all, it is supposed to host, in its upper floors, a public viewing deck along with restaurants, and a world in swirls just looks better.

Further readings:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pinnacle_(London)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tallest_buildings_and_structures_in_London
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protected_views