James Greig is a graphic designer turned writer who (on most days) can be found spilling his guts out to strangers on the Internet and helping people who want to freelance with his free email guide. After moving around for the former part of his existence — a time which included two months spent traveling across the USA by train after having a meltdown and quitting his job — he’s since moved back home. James has spent the last six years in London re-finding himself, which has led to rediscovering this beautiful and iconic city. Check out James’s 24-hour guide to London after the jump! Oh, and ever the meticulously forward-thinking dude, James has also set up a web page for D*S readers complete with more info and an interactive map of his guide. —Sabrina
Although I was born in London, my parents moved west to the countryside when I was a baby, and after that, north to Scotland. So when I came back to the capital six years ago, it was both a fresh start and a homecoming of sorts. The city is a restless soup of eight million souls from just about anywhere you can think of — overwhelming at first, but an endless source of inspiration once you get your head around its complex patchwork of neighborhoods. London is all about contrast for me: old Victorian houses next door to vicious tower blocks, and cobbled lanes hidden amongst skyscrapers.
9 am: I’ve only recently gotten into drinking good coffee, but luckily London is a few years ahead of me here. So my perfect day would start with a trip to Monmouth Coffee in Borough Market… and probably a pain-au-chocolat from one of the hundreds of food stalls in the area.
The South Bank gets hectic on weekends, but at this time of day it’s still relatively peaceful. Walk west along the Thames until you reach Tate Modern, and then over the river towards the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.
9:30 am: At this point I would jump on my bike (which I love, because it’s always the fastest way to get around London) and cycle to the Barbican Estate for a dose of ugly/beautiful Brutalist architecture. On most Sundays you can also explore the Barbican Conservatory, a tropical hotspot which is hidden away on the third level of the complex.
10 am: Now I’d head east to Shoreditch, and top up with a freshly squeezed treat from the Lovage juice window, which is nestled beside the Ace Hotel. (Alternatively, you can grab a coffee at Bulldog Edition if it’s caffeine, not vitamins, that you’re craving.)
Just around the corner on Calvert Avenue are classic British brands: Oliver Spencer (tailored gents clothing) and Ally Capellino (leather bags and accessories). I’m usually more of a window shopper than anything here, the other attraction being the architecture of the surrounding Boundary Estate, the world’s first — and possibly most photogenic — council housing.
11 am: Back on my bike for the half hour ride into town. Generally I’ll avoid taking the tube when possible, but if it’s raining or I’m feeling lazy then underground I go.
11:30 am: Time for a little culture. My favourite gallery in London is The Photographer’s Gallery, although I’ll often spend as much time in the basement bookshop as I do looking at the work on display.
1 pm: If I’m hungry, Jen Cafe in Chinatown is next on the list. You can see dumplings being made from scratch in the front window — I get mine fried — then watch the world go by with a mug of green tea. It’s not a restaurant though, so expect to be chopstick-to-chopstick with your fellow diners as you eat!
1:30 pm: As a graphic designer, Muji on Oxford Street is a compulsory stop for stationery supplies. If you’re fashion conscious, check out the Liberty department store for designer brands, or just to admire the black and white Tudor revival building, which was constructed from the timbers of two ships in the 1920s.
2:30 pm: I prefer my shopping trips short and sweet, so at this point I’d jump on the Underground and travel north to Hampstead Village. Walking northeast from the station along Flask Walk will give you a glimpse of how some of London’s wealthier residents live — this part of town can feel like another planet at times.
3 pm: When I’m in need of some fresh air and a little perspective, the wide-open spaces of Hampstead Heath are the only option.
Get lost in the woodland paths, see if you can find its famous outdoor bathing ponds, and then finish your walk at Parliament Hill, which has a panoramic view of central London. (But don’t wear your blue suede shoes like I did, as it can be muddy here when it’s wet.)
5 pm: Back down the hill to Angel, sitting at the top of a double-decker bus to soak up the street life on the way. If you have a sweet tooth, it’s almost impossible to walk past Ottolenghi in Islington without stopping. The deli is famous for its huge, cloud-like meringues, displayed in the window alongside an amazing spread of cakes, brownies and tarts. This is also one of my favourite restaurants (along with the rest of London’s foodies), so you need to book well in advance if you want to eat here.
6 pm: After a week immersed in pixels, I love cooking as a way of switching off, so now I’d take the train home to New Cross Gate to make Chinese food with my girlfriend. Our current obsession is Fuchsia Dunlop’s Gong Bao Chicken, an intense, tongue-tingling recipe combining chiles, peanuts and Sichuan pepper. (If you’re a visitor, try the Sichuan Folk restaurant in Spitalfields, which serves an equally delicious version of the dish.)
A few other places I like:
- The Adam & Eve
Recently opened on the eastern edge of Hackney, this is an old-fashioned boozer that’s been restored to just the right side of scruffy. It’s not only about the beers, though, the food is excellent, too, thanks to a supply of fresh produce arriving daily from Cornwall.
With its wooden flooring and pared-back white decor, this place feels closer to an art gallery than a bike shop. Even if you’re not into cycling, it’s worth a look for the range of beautiful lifestyle products which they import from Japan.
- Rio Cinema
This art deco cinema stands proud amongst the lively chaos of Kingsland Road in Dalston, and shows a mixture of blockbuster and arthouse films.
- Victoria Park
East London’s biggest green space, and a great place for a chilled-out bike ride. (Rent one at any of the TFL cycle hire stations nearby).