Take a London bus
I love London. I will never get tired of London. I grew up in rural Nova Scotia and while I do enjoy nature and countryside I really love the city. My favorite thing about London is the great diversity ~ the number of languages spoken here, the many communities which live together side by side jostling for space but usually just rubbing along. So I thought I would share with you my top tip for seeing the breath of diversity in my city.
Take a bus.
I’m going to guide you along the bus route of the Number 12 ~ a route that will take you from the tourist destination of Trafalgar Square to the inner city neighbourhood of Peckham. I’m sure you will enjoy the ride!
Before we start here is a map of the entire route:
I suggest you get on the bus at Trafalgar Square rather than where it starts at Oxford Street. Oxford Street is messy, busy and chaotic. You really have to be in the mood to go there. For this journey, save your time & energy and catch the bus at Trafalgar Square. Before you do that, have a cuppa tea at the St. Martin’s in The Crypt Cafe. Or lunch in the restaurant at the top of the National Portrait Gallery. You’ll be surprised at the beautiful views from here.
After you hop on the bus, you’ll be able to enjoy the sights of Whitehall – political heart of the England. Feel smug like a native as you watch the tourists from the bus windows hang around the entrance of Downing Street. The bus goes over Westminster Bridge and look backwards to see the full glory of the Parliament Buildings. (I found this photo on the right on Clip Art of the old-fashioned No 12 Routemaster Bus travelling over Westminster Bridge)
You may want to hop off on the other side of the river at the stop for County Hall and take a walk down the Thames (past the horrible commercial enterprises that now dominate County Hall) to the South Bank Centre where you can browse the old bookstalls under Waterloo Bridge, get a coffee at the National Film Theatre Cafe and people watch or go up on Waterloo Bridge itself and take in what I think is the best views of the Thames. Then walk back to Westminster Bridge and get on the next number 12.
You’ll now wind around Lambeth North and you will soon find your way to the Elephant and Castle – notorious for it’s big pink monstrosity of a shopping centre. The area is now benefiting from a large input of regeneration funding.
The bus heads down the Walworth Road and East Street Market. Get off at East Street market to sample a proper, old style market with local people. When you rejoin the bus, it is likely you will experience traffic jams. When the bus reaches Camberwell, it’ll turn off down towards Peckham. On Peckham Road, you can get off at the South London Gallery to enjoy contemporary art and scrummy food at the gallery cafe.
Vibrant Peckham has had a bad rap over the years but it is a lively, diverse place to be. If you walk round you’ll see everything from Nigerian restaurants, stalls selling African fruit and veg, a cinema – Peckham Plex – which is the cheapest in London and which shows every from indie art house to summer blockbusters to the latest kids films.
Rejoin the 12 and take it up to Peckham Rye where you can walk around the beautiful gardens. Make your way to the Japanese Gardens and relax by the brook. In the summer, you can take in a round of bowls on the bowling green. And the wonderful Cafe on the Rye is open all year round – with delish organic menu. Beware – if you don’t have children you may feel overwhelmed by the numbers of families who make this spot their own.
That ends my suggested tour of London for all you newbies to London, potential visitors and even you North Londoners who rarely venture south of the River. Let me know how you got on!