23 March 2016 Insider’s Guide, City in the spotlight, On a shoestring, Location Guides

London oozes cool. Its people are some of the world’s best dressed and the city’s famous unfriendliness is just part of its image. The streets of the British capital are a kind of catwalk - where people spell out their identity. It is a place where you can be truly eccentric; wear whatever you want without batting an eyelid.

But the word “cool” is indefinable; indescribable. Within this huge sprawling city, there are different kinds of cool - you can’t pigeonhole it. There are trendy parts of town all over but you have to find the place you fit best. Do you fit in with Hackney’s hipster twenty-somethings? Peckham’s grungy art scene? Or perhaps you’re more of an interiors-in-Islington kind of gal? There’s only one way to find out…



The place: East London

Tube Station: Hackney Wick

The people: Eccentrics, young artists, creatives and cyclists

The grand allure: Canal side coffees.

London’s soul is in its suburbs. That’s what the residents of Hackney Wick would tell you. Once East London was all about Shoreditch, the trendy district that rubs shoulders with the capital’s financial district. But once Shoreditch became a victim of its own success, the area’s artists and creatives followed the cheaper rents, further afield. Overlooking the Olympic Park, it might feel like Hackney Wick is out in the sticks but it has its own ecosystem here; it’s own bars, cafes, canals, galleries. 

Here you’ll find huge murals spread across old, brick walls and ramshackle cafes overlooking the canal. Rub shoulders with the locals in bars hidden in defunct industrial estates and see if you can charm your way into an an impromptu party or gig at the much revered Peanut Factory - an informal warehouse filled with artists studios, living spaces and live music events.

There’s plenty to do: try Counter Cafe for a canal side breakfast or go to CRATE Brewery for pizza. Catch a show at The Yard Theatre or try to touch the bottom in the 25m diving pool at the London aquatics centre.



The place: South London

Tube Station: Peckham Rye

The people: Similar to the Hackney crowd but grungier, grubbier and with more sportswear.

The allure: Caribbean culture mixed with a rough and ready art scene. 

Walk down Rye Lane (the high street) on any day of the week and you’ll find a high-street that’s fizzing with activity. Market stalls selling fish, yam and slabs of dazzlingly-red meat spill out onto the pavements.

Music floats into the night air from passing cars as students spill out of the area’s renowned club, the Bussey Building, drinking Red Stripe - the Caribbean's beer of choice. In daylight, trip from gallery to gallery. In Peckham there are plenty: Hannah Barry, South London Gallery, Rod Barton and the Sunday Painter. In summer, Bold Tendencies, a sculpture park opens in the multi-storey car park above the cinema, with a hugely popular bar - Frank’s - on the top floor. Check out Burgess Park for the ping pong tables and dirt bike tracks. In the evening, stay warm by the bonfire at Bar Story.



The place: North London

Tube Station: Canonbury or Angel

The people: The well-heeled, sophisticated type with a tendency to brunch.

The allure: The endless boutique and vintage furniture shops spread across hidden alleyways and wide boulevards. 

Wander off the main Upper Street thoroughfare onto Camden Passage, a quaint little alleyway that could easily belong in any tiny market town. Weave past the cafe chairs spilling out into the passage and wile away hours in the vintage shops and furniture boutiques. On Saturdays, Camden Passage is home to one of London’s oldest antiques markets - a favourite with antique dealers and interior designers. For flush Londoners, thinking of redecorating, Islington is the only place to come. Try Atelier Abigail Ahern or Twentytwentyone. If you’re staying at easyHotel London Old Street, it’s not far to take your shopping bags.

After a spot of shopping, take advantage of Islington’s chic food scene. Upper Street is home to the flagship branch of Ottolenghi, the British-Israeli restaurant empire which has shot to prominence in recent years for its fashionable fusion food.

Walk off lunch along Islington’s waterways, originally built to bring in fresh water to London from Hertfordshire. The short section of canal between Canonbury Road and St Paul’s Road is an oasis within the busy borough.



The place: Central London

Tube Station: Tottenham Court Road

The people: An eclectic mix of anyone and everyone

Allure: The sheer variety - from sex cinemas to west end shows and classy jazz joints.

No one in their right mind could call Soho undiscovered - it is a firm staple on the tourist trail through London’s west end. But there are undiscovered pockets. People see Soho how they want to see it - they rarely explore it all at once. But Soho’s claim to cool is in its variety.

The tourists go for cocktails and theatre trips. The LGBTQ community go for raucous gay-friendly clubbing and old timer Londoners go to step back in time; to remember what Soho was like in the “golden era” of London’s swinging sixties. Don’t forget about the Soho clientele who slink in and out, exploring the area’s dark underbelly - the sex shows, the “masseurs” and the 18+ cinemas.

See the whole range of Soho: see a west end show at The Dominion Theatre; dance all night at G-A-Y bar; leaf through the past, page by page at The Vintage Magazine Shop; get served by surly bar staff at cave-like metal bar Garlic and Shots, listen to world-class jazz at Ronnie Scott’s and soak it all up with pizza at Pizza Pilgrims.