I remember my first time in London. It was a rushed 24-hour whirlwind tour of what I thought was the United Kingdom’s greatest city – i.e. Westminster, London Eye, Tower of London, Oxford Street, the whole shebang. To be honest, at the time I was so far from impressed such that I was sure I would never return. The sites were crowded. The tube was expensive. The weather was rubbish. And the food...let’s not even go there. However, fast forward four years or so later, I somehow found myself actually moving to London. Irony. Having now lived in the city for over a year, I may be having a slow change of heart as I begin to unpeel the city one layer at a time (or maybe it is just an endeavor by my psyche to justify to myself for why I moved here).
This is my attempt at a public service announcement to expose the “hidden” sides of London, and the parts of it that I think make it a pretty incredible city. The next time you find yourself in London, go slightly off the beaten path and say goodbye to the tourists. Here is an itinerary you can do on pretty much any weekend day:
9:00AM: Hit the darn snooze button, because it is the weekend after all. You deserve it.
10:30AM: Kick off your Saturday morning at Hyde Park with an hour of (free) butt whipping with Coach David Evans. Former professional rugby player and champion power lifter and kickboxer, Coach Evans will bring out the best in you with his focus on high intensity interval training through a mix of sprints, body weight exercises, and a bit of friendly competition. If it had been raining, be ready to get muddy.
Do it: Sign up and RSVP for free at happybootcamps.com. It’s quick and easy. Pop these coordinates into Google Map for a rough estimation of where the meeting spot is: 51.502758, -0.171530
12:00 PM: The boot camp crew normally goes to the Whole Foods nearby to grab a bite and chat, but if you have limited time in London, head straight to Maltby Market to feast your hunger. I hesitated to put Maltbyon the list as it is becoming just as crowded as Borough Market. However, since it is open air, if you toughen up and head there when the weather is ominous, the crowd will be minimal. From German sausages to indulgent brownies to craft beers, Maltby will have whatever you need to get your weekend fix.
Do it: You can get there from Hyde Park by cramming yourself into the tube or one of the buses, but if you are feeling like you earned the right to not have to fight for your food, hail a cab, sit back, and just people watch as your driver meanders through the streets.
2:00PM: After eating back the calories you burned in the morning, it is time to get an alternative view of London. For a mere £3.50 on an Oyster card, you can find yourself on the Emirates Air Line (i.e. fancy sponsored name for cable car) floating over the Thames. It normally takes 10 minutes to do the crossing between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, but if you go after 7PM the cars slow down so you have a few extra minutes to enjoy the night landscape. It is not the easiest place to get to, but then it would not be off the beaten path.
Do it: From Maltby Market, the Jubilee line at Bermondsey tube station will take you there in a jiff.
3:30PM: If you are in London during the winter, by this time the darkness will have begun to slowly settle in like an unwanted cousin. What better to complement the ever dark London weather than a trip to one of London’s cemeteries? Originally created in the 1800s, due to the limited space in London, to accommodate all the extra bodies, the Magnificent 7 Cemeteries surround the suburb of London. One of my favorites is Highgate Cemetery, an eerily beautiful depiction of romantic decay, and also the final resting place of Karl Marx. It is conveniently located right next to Hampstead Heath, so take a stroll through the park and up to the top of Parliament Hill and get yourself a second view of the London skyline.
Do it: The commute via the Underground from Greenwich will be approximately an hour. But do not let the length of time put you off, because it is worth it. Although, do make sure you get there before last admission (varies by time of the year, but bet on it being around 4:30). Keep in mind there is also a 4 quid fee for entry.
Your turn to sound off – what are your off the beaten path London hot spots?
Since coming to London I've been itching to explore Europe's hikes. But unlike many of the trails in the US it's been a bit more difficult in finding details about them online, so I'll try and do my part in bringing some of the information together. Here's a first stab with Norway's Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock).
Formed 10,000 years ago by the physical fortitude of a glacier minding it's own business, Pulpit Rock is a 25x25m flat shelf located in Rogaland County. It stands just about 604m above the Lysefjorden.
About the hike
It's only roughly 3.8km from the trailhead to Pulpit Rock with a net vertical ascent of ~334m. This doesn't sound like much, but the trail ripples up and down quite a bit so it's slightly misleading to just look at the 334 number. Overall, it's a well marked trail (follow the red "T") and whether it's a tough hike depends on the weather conditions.
There was still snow and ice in the latter part of the trail when I went. I'm not a big fan of hiking in snow and ice - mostly because I'm always thinking I'm going to slip and slide. And of course that's what happened.
When I was returning from Pulpit Rock I took the "Hill" path, which was mostly still covered in snow and ice, a fact I discovered as I slowly meandered my way out. I lost count the number of times I heard the unforgettable sound of ice slowly cracking beneath my feet, followed by a few brief expletives. The Hill trail rejoined the main path at kilometer 3 (or technically that's where it starts off). That was where I saw this sign:
In total it was about 2 hours up and 2 hours down. See photos of my hike here.
When I went
Early April 2016. I kicked off from the trailhead at 8:30, which meant fewer people at the top once I got there. There was a constant stream of hikers on their way as I was returning so I can only imagine how crowded it was later in the day.
Weather that day
Temperature: Min -2.8°C Average 2.8°C Max 9.2°C. Clear blue skies, little wind. No precipitation.
How I got there
A short 80 minute flight from London to Stavanger. From the airport I took the flybussen to get into the city (180 NOK RT). The bust stop is just to the right of the exit. In Stavanger, I hopped on the 30 minute ferry to Tau (52 NOK one way) followed by a ~25 minute bus ride to the trail head (175 NOK RT). Both bus and ferry accept cash and credit card (sorry, no Amex).
Where I stayed
Other useful links Visit Norway (for alternative and off season transportation options)
Remember: hike at your own risk as your safety is your responsibility.
Few will argue that there's nothing to do in London, but I've found it hard to discover things that won't leave me meandering around crowds of tourists and locals alike. I've only been in London for a few months, but if you're looking for some slightly but not completely beaten path activities, here's what I've found.
Hyde Park Boot Camp and Midnight Runners - Start off your Saturday or Sunday at Hyde Park with an hour of butt whipping with Coach David Evans (RSVP for free | Facebook). Alternatively, if you're a night owl, join the Midnight Runners on Tuesdays for a 10km run, interspersed with body weight exercises at London landmarks, around the Thames. Did I mention they carry backpack speakers that blast music to inspire and jiggle? Oh, and it's all free too (Facebook).
Magnificent 7 Cemeteries of London - What better to complement the ever dark London weather than with a trip to London's cemeteries? Originally created in the 1800s due to the limited space in London to accommodate all the extra bodies, the Magnificent 7 will take you through suburban London (for more history and details, check out Insider London's post). Start off with Highgate Cemetery, the resting place of Karl Marx. It's also located right next to Hampstead Heath, so take a stroll up to the top of Parliament Hill and get yourself a view of the London skyline.
Cable Car from Greenwich - For £3.50 on an Oyster card, you can find yourself on the Emirates Air Line crossing over the Thames. It normally takes 10 minutes to do the crossing between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, but if you go after 7PM the cars slow down so you have a few extra minutes to enjoy the night landscape. It's not the easiest place to get to, but then it wouldn't be off the beaten path.
Maltby Market - I hesitated to put Maltbyon the list as it's becoming just as crowded as Borough Market. However, since it's open air, if you toughen up and head there when the weather's ominous, the crowd will be minimal. From German sausages to indulgent brownies to craft beers, Maltby will have whatever you need to get your weekend fix (Facebook).