A few weeks ago, we jetted off to London for a weekend for the first time ever. It sounds stupid saying it like that; I’ve been to London more times than I can count (I would guess in the region of 60), yet I’d never spent the night there, and I’ve rarely seen it before about 11am. This time, we were staying in a hostel in a courthouse, complete with rooms in jail cells, and… well, that was just the start of my crazy plans for an off-beat adventure in London.
The funny thing about London is I don’t really feel like a tourist there any more – but there are LOADS of things I still haven’t seen. In fact, I’ve hardly done anything when you think about it. I haven’t been into the Tower Of London or Buckingham Palace. I haven’t been on the London Eye. I haven’t been inside Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s. I’ve seen all of them from the outside countless times, but I haven’t “done what tourists do”.
But every time I go to London, I always manage to do something new. Whether it’s perusing stalls at Spitalfields market, or wandering down Portobello Road while a (male) friend walks down in a dress (true story), or finding yet another lane around Covent Garden, there’s always more to discover, and there is a ton still on my list, too.
One area I’ve managed to completely side-step is Shoreditch, an area increasingly packed with awesome stuff, so naturally I had a few plans scribbled down for there. There were a couple of other things I planned to do, including visiting our beloved Camden, but I definitely wanted it to be a “weird” weekend!
Here’s what we got up to!
Breakfast at Borough Market
Borough market isn’t entirely off-beat, I guess, but I’d never been there properly. I think I walked by it once but it was in the afternoon and everything was closing or sparse. So it made sense to get back there in the morning, and we had the perfect opportunity this time because we were meeting a friend off the train at London Bridge!
We grabbed breakfast there, which for me was a delicious croissant and focaccia bread, but Ash and Bobbie headed straight for something a bit more substantial.
All those pies looked delicious!!
While we were there, we could have gone up the Shard, which I was tempted to do given that Travelzoo have £15 tickets and I always refused to go up for £28. Alternatively, I’d gone to book Sky Garden but it was booked up, so that was out. Sky Garden is free, so it would have been perfect! In the end, we decided not to do the Shard, and headed to our next place instead.
A canal walk from Little Venice to Camden
This walk has been on my list for YEARS, but we’ve never got around to doing it. Well, the weather was absolutely DAZZLING today, so we headed straight there from Borough Market to get our walk on.
I cannot stress how pretty this walk is.
For almost three miles, we didn’t feel like we were in London at all.
We unfortunately had to make a detour off the canal at one point as it was cordoned off with police everywhere. We wondered if someone had been found in the canal, but then the street we were diverted down had forensics rooting through bins… well, nothing like a murder to add to the peace, hey?
We carried on, passing the zoo, which was pretty awesome because we saw warthogs and painted dogs! We heard no less than TWO people say, “omg look! HYENAS!” and I even heard one person ask if they were real. I was tempted to throw them in. To the canal I mean, not to the dogs. Wow, what do you take me for?! A Game Of Thrones villain?
We also passed a few absolutely ridiculous houses. Anyone want to bet how much these are worth?! Or, in fact, who lives in them?? They’re right next to Regent’s Park, too.
The whole walk took around an hour, and if we weren’t meeting friends in Camden, it would have been a perfect day to sit on Primrose Hill (we could have got some picnic bits from the market!), which affords some great views over London.
Info: for the canal walk, get off at Warwick Avenue station; the canal is less than a 5 minute walk from there. The whole Warwick Avenue area is so posh, it’s unreal.
Oh Camden. Camden was one of my first loves, and we visit almost every time we go to London. But I think, sadly, that our love affair with the place is coming to an end.
This was one of the first times I’ve visited on a Saturday, and it probably didn’t help that it was glorious weather, but it was rammed.
I’ve never seen it so busy!
And, of course *dons flat cap and sticks pipe in mouth* it’s nothing like it used to be. I met Camden on the cusp of becoming ruined, and held on to my love for it for a long time. It’s still a really cool place, and nothing takes away from the fact the buildings are amazing, the markets are fantastic and there are some incredible places to eat. But it’s no longer punk, and hasn’t been for a long time. Every time an alternative shop closes down, it’s replaced by a souvenir shop or something “trendy”. It’s well worth a visit, but I don’t feel like it’s worth a visit every time any more.
The sad thing is, one of my friends had never been, and I had raved about it so much to him that he probably wondered what on earth the fuss was all about! We did all have to say apologetically (having all been there many, many times) that we’d never seen it so chaotic.
Anyway, I still enjoyed a wander around, and we had some great food. We made a trip to Chin Chin Labs which was one of the original nitrogen ice cream places. Instead of ice cream, my friend and I shared one of their luxurious marshmallow hot chocolates!! LOOK AT THIS. It is ridiculous.
It was so rich and I will never have another one!! But I do recommend Chin Chins. Bobbie had a melted brownie something or other and almost died of a sugar overdose, I think!!
We also took a trip into Cyberdog, and when I say trip… well, you need to see Cyberdog at least once! They even had girls dancing on the platforms. It’s a totally mental rave punk and fetish store, and you have to see it to believe it.
I have to admit, we were in London for one reason: I was going to see Busted! So a friend and I went off to Wembley, leaving Ash and our other friends to do what they pleased. Namely drink.
They also visited Namco, which is a huge games arcade on South Bank, and if that’s your sort of thing, it’s well worth spending a rainy day there!
Seeing as you probably don’t want to hear how awesome my evening was at Busted, here’s a list of ridiculous bars and themed drinking experiences that I’d like to do in London.
Cahoots – a blitz themed experience. A few of my friends have done this and it looks like so much fun!! You have to book this one, but it looks worth it! If I wasn’t at Busted, I think we would have looked at doing this.
Alcotraz – another entire experience. This is pretty pricey (and again you have to book), but it looks fun as you dress up like you’re in jail.
Little Nan’s Bar – this is a little further out (the original one, anyway), but it’s a bar set up as an old living room! It looks AWESOME, and your drinks are served in teacups and cocktails are in teapots. Just lovely!
Mr Fogg’s Tavern – a bar filled with lots of memorabilia! My favourite kind of place.
Cirque – another crazy place filled with stuff. But circus-themed, obviously.
Tonight Josephine – full of neon signs. Full of pink. Full on Instagram.
Vaulty Towers – aside from the brilliant name, this place sounds absolutely bat shit crazy. “One of the tables is a treehouse accessed by a mini staircase” – ummm, I’m sold!!! They also have a wheel of fortune to decide your cocktail for you.
The Mayor Of Scaredy Cat Town… I’ll get to that one in a minute!!!
In the morning, we checked out and headed to Shoreditch; one of my least explored areas of London. Shoreditch has always had the reputation of being… well, I can’t be bothered to put it delicately so, rough. Nothing has ever attracted me to it, apart from Brick Lane. And even then, I had wandered down Brick Lane once and left unimpressed – because, it turns out, you don’t just “wander down Brick Lane” (we did have a bagel from the famous Beigel Bake though, so that was one thing we did right).
These days, Shoreditch has been transformed into one of the trendiest areas of London, an absolute epitome of gentrification. It’s still rough around the edges, but it’s got a vibe that it didn’t have before.
So this time, I had a whooooooole host of things I wanted to check out in Shoreditch, and clearly we weren’t going to have time for it all.
First – breakfast. Being that one thing we weren’t going to have time for was an impeccably crazy hidden bar inside a fridge (…yes, you read that right: a fridge), I thought perhaps we should grab brunch at The Breakfast Club. Inside the café, there’s a Smeg fridge, which you walk through to get to the fantastically named Mayor Of Scaredy Cat Town bar. I guess you could make this shit up, but really, I’m not!!!
Sadly for us, the queue for The Breakfast Club was lengthy. And anyway, we weren’t really in the mood for a proper brunch, so we skipped it and headed straight for Brick Lane.
And what’s on Brick Lane?
THE CEREAL KILLER CAFE!
The Cereal Killer Café has been going for years now, and when it first opened I had been keen to go until I saw the prices. This time, we decided to do it (because we were on holiday, after all). And it had nothing to do with the fact it was blasting out Hakuna Matata…
Alright, so let me say that this place is amazing! After years of doubt, it blew my expectations! It’s not somewhere I’d come back to regularly, but it was a lot of fun and you can choose from sooooo many cereals, it’s unreal. I had a banana one and a chocolate one! Plus yeah, Disney songs for days.
Even our bill was fun. It came in a Mrs Doubtfire VHS case!!
We were meeting a friend for lunch, and luckily for us, Sundays on Brick Lane mean MARKETS! Lots and lots of markets.
It meant that we could go for a wander, pick up some samples, then wander back down, grab the food that we wanted, and have a long-overdue catch up as we took things in. Ash even managed to get some poutine! I had a sample of some salted chicken from a Chinese stall on the way up, and picked up a whole portion of it on the way back down.
Everything looked and smelled delicious.
With lunch accomplished, I suggested one of my crazy ideas to our friend and her boyfriend, and they promptly agreed.
Junkyard Golf Club
We had originally been planning to go to Plonk Crazy Golf in Camden, but being that it was packed and looked like it would be small, rushed and unenjoyable, we had skipped it.
Thankfully, Junkyard Golf Club was not packed, nor was it too small or rushed. In fact, Junkyard Golf was the place that had originally been on my list; it was just that we knew we were going to Camden with a group of friends!
The hardest part? Deciding which course to play!!!
They have four to choose from: a circus one, jungle one, movie one, and overall crazy junkyard one. So the question was – do we choose the movie one or the crazy one?!
We chose *drum roll* the movie one! I think either would have been great, but the movie one was really fun, and I loved all the stupid references, and the puns in the names of the holes!
I lost of course, but we had so much fun and got pretty competitive!
You’re not allowed to take photos on a camera in there; only phones – which doesn’t make much sense to me, nor did it to the person who told us.
A course costs £10.50 to play, and it might be worth pre-booking, though we didn’t and it wasn’t a problem during the day.
Ballie Ballerson Ball Pit Bar
This has been on my list for sooooo long, so this was the one bar that was definitely going to happen! In fact, it was half the reason for coming to Shoreditch. We went with my friend Kylie, and had an absolute blast!
We spent almost two hours being big kids in the ball pits – yes, plural, there are two! – and also struggling to get up. Turns out, ball pits are surprisingly comfortable, but you really sink into them!
For obvious reasons, you can’t take drinks into the ball pits, but they do have some really interesting cocktails, so we had to have one each!
These are: Dibbie Dabberson (complete with Dip Dab) and You’re A Wizard, Harry (complete with smokey feature)!
You couldn’t really wipe the smiles off our faces in this place – this’ll cheer you right up!
Ballie Ballerson is fantastic. You do have to book it for a time slot, and you get two hours in the venue. I wasn’t sure if it would be enough, but it’s plenty of time for going nuts, having a drink, and going nuts again!! It costs £7.50 plus a 90p booking fee. That’s under a tenner for the most fun you’re gonna have in your life!
The one recurring theme throughout the day was the street art around Shoreditch. On our way to Brick Lane, I kept disappearing towards art like a magnet. Before meeting our friends for lunch, we took a wander through the markets finding patches of street art and entirely covered buildings. We had a bit of time before Ballie Ballerson too, and took some detours to check out things like the Village Underground.
How epic is this?!
I honestly took so many photos that I’ve made an entire photo post of Shoreditch street art!
One thing I missed was the Nomadic Community Garden – but there’s always next time! (And there will BE a next time, Shoreditch!!)
Clink78 Hostel – A Hostel In A Courthouse!
If it’s alright with you, I have a list of hostels I’d like to stay at. Is that weird? I don’t know – but Clink78 was 100% ON IT.
I mean, it’s in a courthouse. Some of the rooms are in JAILS. Even the common areas are in the court rooms, complete with all the original fixtures and fittings. It has a bar called ClashBar. And the reason it’s called that is The Clash once stood trial there for shooting pigeons. I love The Clash, so that was a fun addition to the place (plus Clazz & Ash = The Clash!).
All the beds have separators, which was really good, though we had some idiots in our room. One of our beds had been taken (no biggie – we just took top bunks) but the girl in it was rude, and their group continued to stay up until 1am getting ready to go out (!! geez, I’m too old for that) and apparently they came back at 5am and slammed doors, though I must have been out like a log because I didn’t even notice.
Thankfully our second night was much better! Was it the best hostel I’ve stayed in? No, but it was really cool and definitely one of the most unique. We spent some of the Sunday morning exploring it before we went out, which is unusual to do in a hostel!!
This is one of the coolest hostels in London, and I definitely recommend a stay!
(Please note: the links to the hostel are affiliate links, which means I earn a tiny bit of commission if you book, at no cost to you. This stay was paid for by myself and my partner, and there is no sponsorship involved.)
Overall, we had a brilliant weekend in London! It was more about seeing friends (and Busted) than anything else, but we did so much stuff!
Plus I loved seeing a new side of London; one that I’d practically never been to before, and seeing it all from new angles too. Next time we go, we’ll definitely be spending more time in Shoreditch, as I can’t believe I’m saying this – but we’ve both decided that it might be replacing Camden for us! It’s full of so much more that I want to explore.
You never know – I might be coming at ya with a quirky, off-beat weekend in London part two in the next few months!
What’s your favourite off-beat place in London?
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