The beautiful Sustainable Urban Designer turned Fashion Editor at The Knot shares her DOs and DON’Ts of London along with her top 10 favorite gems.
Libby MacCarthy, resident of New York, author of Notesfromthebackrow.com, and fanatic of most everything French, grew up in Cumberland, Maine but moved to London to pursue her Master’s in Sustainable Urban Design in 2010. Her one year making it her own will never be forgotten and always remembered with great fondness.
If you’re ever considering visiting the legendary city, don’t miss out on Libby’s insider advice –
There is no city in the world quite like London. It has this life and energy that is unmatched by any other city I’ve ever lived in. There were times when I really didn’t appreciate it while I lived there, but it’s one of the most memorable things about it. It’s not crazy like New York – it’s got that creative vibe, but it lacks that neediness, the willingness to please, it’s raw, but refined in a way. Everyone just seems innately cool without being over the top or in your face. People are focused and work hard, but it doesn’t have the same rat race mentality as New York. It also has this great balance – there’s a ton of green space that you can escape to and not just a few dirty plazas with a couple scraggly trees, I’m talking acres of lush green lawns, thick patches of trees, ponds and flowers in full bloom. And it never really feels crowded – sure there will be tons of other people out, but you don’t spend the whole afternoon thinking “GET OUT OF MY PERSONAL BUBBLE.” It’s an interesting city too because it feels so categorically English, but it’s also such a melting pot.
Once you go, you’ll never really be able to get it out of your system.
Don’t spend your whole visit in the Tube. Explore the city on foot or use the Barclay’s Bikes to get around. You’ll get to see so much more and if you need to get somewhere during rush hour – DO NOT TAKE THE TUBE. You will probably end up having to wait for about 3 trains to go by before you can get on one.
Definitely spend an afternoon in a pub and seek out some live music. London is saturated with amazing musicians.
Libby’s top 10 favorite spots in London –
1. Broadway Market – For me this is the best London market, or at least it’s my favourite. This place has seriously great food, whether you’re there for the organic meats and fresh vegetables or the array of food stalls doling out delicious eats from every corner of the globe. The market is also sandwiched between great shops, pubs and restaurants. So you can test out some curry or homemade sweets then start hunting for anything from antiques to unique home wares and lingerie.
2. The Lion and The Unicorn – 42 Gaisford Street NW5 2ED – Tucked away on a residential street in Kentish Town, The Lion and The Unicorn is a great place to grab a bite or a pint (or two). The food is great and reasonably priced, the staff is super friendly and the beer garden is the perfect place to spend a leisurely afternoon. And if you’re so inclined, you can even indulge in a little theatre – the pub is also home to The Giant Olive Theatre Company. You can catch a performance five nights a week upstairs, right above the pub!
3. Primrose Hill – Primrose Hill is just north of Camden, but it feels like another world. It’s quaint, quiet and has great shops, places to eat and of course the park. It’s quieter than Regent’s Park and has amazing views of the entire city.
4. Night Jar & Worship Street Whistling Shop – One word: speakeasies. Night Jar has a bit more jazz age glamour than the Whistling Shop, but both serve up inspired prohibition (amongst other historical eras) style cocktails with intriguing ingredients you’ve never heard – and don’t worry, there’s no bathtub gin here. Night Jar has nightly live music performances, but you should definitely book a table, the place fills up fast.
5. Gordan’s Wine Bar – 47 Villiers Street WC2N 6NE – This subterranean wine bar has been around since 1890 and has become somewhat of a London institution. You’ll sip wine straight from the cask (or order a bottle of one of their dozens of wines) in the dimly lit basement vaults with dripping candles and exposed brick. It’s truly an experience.
A word of advice: don’t go near closing time and keep your bag, wallet or phone where you can see it.
6. Brick Lane – Brick Lane is oddly charming. It’s a little grungy and chaotic, but it’s a gold mine. You’ll find everything from hot empanadas to second hand furniture and unique pieces from emerging local designers. There’s the market itself, which happens on Sunday, but like Broadway Market, there’s a whole host of great shops, restaurants and galleries lining the streets that are definitely worth checking out.
7. Old Spitalfields Market – Located five minutes’ walk from Liverpool Street Station, Old Spitalfields Market is a covered market with a rotating selection of wares. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the main market days and each offers something a little different (think: Antiques Market on Thursdays, fashion and art on Fridays, and special themed markets on Saturdays).
8. Barfly – 49 Chalk Farm Road NW1 8AN – From the street, Barfly seems pretty unassuming, but this place has a pretty serious reputation. Some of the biggest names in the industry like Oasis and Coldplay had their first gigs here and Barfly continues to be one of the hottest venues for new talent.
9. South Bank – The South Bank is home to the Tate Modern, South Bank Centre, OXO Tower and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It’s a highly trafficked area but the views of the City of London are a unparalleled and there is always something going on, whether it be a market, festival, live music or an art exhibition.
10. Lantana Café – 13 Charlotte Place, W1T 1SN – I love this place and would go here at least twice a week to grab a coffee and sit outside. It’s on a little cobble stone street in a bustling neighbourhood and feels cozy and tucked away. The lattes are smooth and creamy and the pastries, salads and sandwiches are super fresh.
And lastly, for a night out, skip Piccadilly and Soho. Hit up Old Street, Hoxton Square or Shoreditch. You’ll find bars, clubs and restaurants with a lot more personality.
Definitely branch out and venture into areas of northwest and south London. You’ll be able to ditch the crowds and find a lot of hidden gems.