England: When in London... do what locals do

By Joanna Biddolph

The Shard, London. Photo / Thinkstock
The Shard, London. Photo / Thinkstock

Londoners do, of course, do London. I went up The Shard, western Europe's tallest building, the day it opened; regularly cross the Thames for skyline views; and sip coffee in the Portrait Restaurant before seeing new faces in the National Portrait Gallery. Londoners also enjoy London's villages, visiting them as if they were tourists if they are not lucky enough to live in one.

London is forever expanding. New developments offer community-style dwelling that mimics village life. Real life is more haphazard, owing much to locals who enveigle friends into helping turn a brainwave into a neighbourhood must-do. If you've done the sights and want to fill time differently, why not do as London's locals do?

East London: Broadway Market in Hackney

This formerly run down area is now undeniably cool - a multicultural melting pot of young hipsters, living-in-the-now middle-agers and life-long locals.

The coolest meeting spot is Broadway Market with 100 stalls bustling and buzzing every Saturday amidst on-trend boutiques and cafés. Run by the community for the community (market profits support local elder, homeless and youth initiatives) this is where locals do their weekly shop. With a quality fishmonger and butcher, bookshops, hairdresser, art gallery plus jellied eels and liquor (parsley sauce) at F Cooke, one of London's few remaining pie and mash shops, it is the most all-included, chain-free village in London.

Hackneyites make a day of it. Buy a picnic and stroll into London Fields to enjoy the wildflower meadow; take your swimming things - the lido is open year round (and, yes, it is heated). Or tread slightly further afield to Victoria Park, taking binoculars for birdwatching at the pond, good knees for a game of bowls or, in July, over-50s energy for the annual traditional tea dance.

How to get there: By bus or the North London Line. Liverpool Street: buses 26 and 48 to the King Edwards Road stop. Bethnal Green: any northbound bus to the King Edwards Road stop. Islington: 394 bus to Homerton Hospital/Broadway Market stop. North London Line: London Fields station and walk across the fields.

South: Dulwich

If schools define a location, Dulwich is by far the poshest of London's villages: it is home to three leading public schools, two of which provide a focus for this culturally sophisticated spot.

Residents turn out for Alleyn's international concert series and national theatre productions - and not because they are far cheaper than in town. Local theatre group, the much-praised Dulwich Players, performs in the wonderful theatre at Dulwich College, and in the open air in local gardens (see them in Shakespeare's As You Like It this June and July).

Life here moves at an easy pace, its well-heeled residents pausing for coffee at pavement cafes between dropping in on exhibitions of European old masters at the world-renowned Dulwich Picture gallery; taking young children for weekly storytelling sessions, or meeting authors at book signings and talks, at London's best independent bookshop, Dulwich Books; or playing a leisurely round of golf at the Dulwich & Sydenham Hill Golf Club before propping up the 19th bar for one of the most stunning panoramic views of the London skyline (visitor members welcome Monday to Friday if the club isn't hosting a competition or event).

How to get there: By train. Victoria to Herne Hill; or London Bridge to North Dulwich. Then meander.

West: Chiswick

Leafy is how estate agents describe Chiswick, after telling you about its villagey-feel - helped by having an award-winning butcher, fishmonger, delicatessen, greengrocer and chocolatier along Turnham Green Terrace and two fruit and veg stalls along the High Road.

Sauntering around Bedford Park (the first garden suburb), with its beautiful arts and crafts houses in tree-filled gardens, is a stress-escaping pastime. Its local church runs the annual Bedford Park Festival - two weeks of talks, walks and performances starting with a fête on the green in early June. It gets locals (especially men) making and baking for fancy dress and marmalade competitions. This year's will be opened by local resident actress Phyllis Logan - Downton Abbey's Mrs Hughes.

Every village has a park (or, here, six plus the riverbank) and that means dogs. Palladian villa Chiswick House is a significant tourist destination - and a favoured dog walking spot that hosts a dog show every September. Remember your home-bound pooch at this fun event where you can also take part in Chiswick's favourite sport: celebrity-spotting. Look out for Archie whose Chiswickian owner, Clare Balding, won accolades for her coverage of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Or watch the world (and possibly local resident Colin Firth) go by Chiswick's many cafés, bistros, brasseries and pubs. Locals know there is better food to be had in Chiswick's independent eateries so ... stay local and avoid the chains.

How to get there: District Line to Turnham Green or the 94 bus from its start, Charles II Street, just south of Piccadilly Circus. Grab the front seats on top and enjoy the view.

- nzherald.co.nz

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