Almost two years ago, I was a brand new Londoner. With a list as long as my arm of things I wanted to do here. So I made a bucket list. (Because that’s what people do right?)
My original thought was that once we’d ‘done’ all the things on the list, then we might move home – back to Edinburgh.
Now anyone else who’s moved to London and had a similar thought will recognise what happens next… the bucket list just keeps growing, and growing. And before you even realise it this city – this swirling mass of brilliant and bonkers things to do – is home.
So for any other new Londoners or just London lovers, here’s my bucket list for London… and with some optional advice of things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Take a tour inside Big Ben – and climb 334 steps to get inside the clock tower. To do the tour, you have to be a UK resident and book through your MP. Expect to wait a few months after your request but it’s totally worth it. Standing behind the clock face while the bell sounds out is one of the coolest (and loudest) things I’ve ever done.
Optional: Matching biscuit not required but highly recommended.
2. Visit Aldwych Station, an abandoned underground station… Ok, so Londoners go on the tube every day. It shouldn’t be that special to go and visit another Tube station but it is. It’s abandoned! It’s spooky! And it’s used as a filming location! The station was a bomb shelter (for artefacts from the British Museum) during WWII, then unused and unloved for many years, and then found a new life as a TV and film set. The train sequence in Sherlock was filmed here, and the Prodigy’s Firestarter music video to name a few. Tours are not that easy to come by but keep an eye on the London Transport Museum events page for when they’re on.
Optional: Pretending to be in that Firestarter video and doing a crazy dance while down there. Or taking pictures with lots of dust in them and then mildly freaking out that you’ve captured a ghostly presence in your photos.
3. Walk on the tracks of the Brunel Tunnel – the oldest tunnel in the Underground. When there’s engineering works on, the Brunel Tunnel Museum sometimes run tours of the tunnel – originally built as a ‘tourist attraction and party venue’, then became an area of disrepute, before being converted into the underground tunnel that it is today.
Optional: Stopping to take a snap on the bench replica of Tower Bridge outside the Museum. (Also since you’re here, go to the Museum. It’s tiny, like really, really tiny, but well worth spending 20 mins in.)
4. Breakfast at Duck & Waffle or at Sky Pod inside the Walkie Talkie. To celebrate our first year in London, we treated ourselves to breakfast at Duck & Waffle and sat admiring the view more than we actually ate breakfast. Then to celebrate surviving January 2015 (my least favourite month of the year) we went for a 7am breakfast at Sky Pod, which is the public ‘garden’ at the top of the Walkie Talkie building.
Optional: Go to work afterwards. Feel smug that you missed your normal crazy commute and ate breakfast somewhere pretty damn cool. Feel slightly regretful by 10am when you realise that two strong coffees at 7am was maybe too much.
5. Jive dance at Rivoli Ballroom, the only intact 1950s ballroom in London. It’s like stepping into something from a Baz Luhrmann film with the Chinese lanterns, flocked wallpaper and vintage charm. (It’s also been used as a film locating for Strictly Ballroom and, eh, Avengers Assemble.)
Optional: Realising that despite having done a jive lesson (and learning how to Lindy Hop), none of this has been retained by your traitor of a brain. If this happens, just go with the flow, fling yourself about and watch out for stray elbows (and men with wet backs!).
6. Press the champagne button at Bob Bob Ricard! This elegant, eccentric restaurant has four person booths (with tiny privacy curtains) and it makes me feel like I’m in a 40s movie (spotting a theme?) but the best bit of all is that button. Even if you don’t like champagne, you have to press it.
Optional: Hmm, the pudding! The Bob Bob Ricard special is a gold chocolate orb that melts when you pour chocolate sauce on it. It’s worth it just to watch it melt – but it’s also one heck of a luxurious dessert!
7. Go to City Hall on Open House London weekend. Yes, it looks like a giant bike helmet from the outside but if you’re after some pretty cool architecture and some relatively short queues (the Open House London ones are craaaazy long).
Optional: Lie down on the carpet, ignore the stares and admire the big swirly, whirly staircase.
8. Rent a Boris Bike. Ride about London, feeling like a boss.
Optional: Falling off said bike, and landing on your chin. If this does happen, head straight to Stories for gin, meringues and a serious amount of pain killers. Stay there until the sugar, alcohol and ibuprofen kick in. Whatever you do, don’t look in the mirror at what you’ve done to your face. This will only make you go extremely white and feel very sick. Then you’ll need more meringues and gin.
9. Eat in a converted toilet at The Attendant. Now I’m slightly obsessed with converted venues I’ll admit. Used to be a bus, train carriage, post office? Then I’m your biggest fan. Converted loo even better. Maybe that’s just me.
Optional: Thinking about the fact that people used to pee in here. Or where you’re eating.
10. Go to Secret Cinema. The secret, secret one. It’s an experiential night where you book before you have any idea what the film is. On the night, you’re then plunged into an immersive experience for an entire evening. Oh, and they take your phone off you, so there’s no sneaky snapping. Weirdly, this is also quite cool – you have to actually look at things with your eyes and remember them with your brain. Novel!
Optional 1: Drinking one too many vintage cocktails and waking up still in your 1920s flapper dress. I’m sure that’s how they did it back then. Ahem.
Optional 2: Go to Prangsta in New Cross for your outfit. The head piece I’m wearing here is from them – I would wear it every damn day if I thought I could get away with it.
11. Go on the Emirates Air Line… I’ll admit I thought this would be scary. So scary that I put off visiting it for ages, but it’s actually really rather cool. The queues can be huge but it’s worth the wait for a different view of London. Also there’s the silliness of getting into a cable car to cross a river, just because you can. Does it make any sense? Nope. But that’s another reason to like it.
Optional: Waving at the people in the other carriage. Yes, you’ll feel like a dweeb but it will put a big smile on your face and theirs.
12. Go late in the day to Columbia Road Flower Market… I think every guidebook ever tells you to get up super early for Columbia Road Flower Market. I’d say go late in the day as you get cheaper flowers, slightly less crowds and you can go for a late brunch afterwards.
Optional: Find the fox door knockers and dream about owning a flat on this road.
13. Have a drink on a rooftop car park… Frank’s Campari Bar is only open during the summer because let’s face it who wants to drink on the rooftop of a car park in winter? When it is open, you’ll find one of the busiest bars ever with one of my favourite views of London. (Ok, ok, so I have several favourite views but this one is great because you can see everything all at once.)
Optional: PeckhamPlex nearby is the cheapest (and cheeriest) cinemas in all of London so if you fancy doing something more than drinking, head here when the sun goes down.
14. Go up BT Tower… I was very lucky to do this as part of my old job last year. If you get the chance to go, jump at it. The view is pretty special, especially if it turns from day into night while you’re up there.
Optional: If the restaurant starts revolving, standing on either side of the moving floor and slowly watch as the view changes. Weird but awesomely weird.
15. Capture a London sunset… the thing about London is that you don’t have to be up high to have an amazing view. You just have to be walking home from work one night as the sun goes down and turns everything pink.
Optional: Admire the sunset from the Hungerford bridge as a busker sings No Woman, No Cry – and two tourists join in, singing in unexpectedly perfect harmony.
16. Find ‘your’ London… Yeah, that seems like an odd bucket list suggestion. But I find if you’re a new Londoner then it doesn’t really feel like you live in London. It feels like you’re passing through, like London belongs to other people, but not yet to you.
Every Londoner has their own patch, their own places that they revisit, their own piece of London well-trod… and the nice thing about exploring is that you get to find out where your bit of London is. It’s out there, somewhere, that patchwork of random things that belongs just to you.
If you want any more suggestions, check out my Pinterest board: London bucket list. It’s very much unfinished and I love that more than all the things I’ve done so far. And of course any suggestions of things I should add to the list are very welcome too. Anything weird and wonderful. Especially if it’s another converted loo or a new view!