My velvet escape travel tip: London

My velvet escape travel tip” is a guest series about what the name ‘Velvet Escape’ evokes and what that would be in the hometown of the guest writer. With this series, I hope to uncover travel tips from places around the world to help visitors have a truly local experience.

The more famous the city, the stronger the conviction behind the stereotype. And it’s all too easy to turn this stereotype into a self-fulfilling prophecy, something I’ve often been guilty of myself. On my first visit to Paris I made a beeline for the Eiffel Tower. This kicked off an elaborate and exhausting box-ticking itinerary with very little time for reflection.

900 year-old St Mary’s Church inspired the famous poet Lord Byron, who studied at the nearby Harrow School.

Photo credit: dgeezer’s Flickrstream

With a city like London, the temptation to “see the sights” is overwhelming since so many of them are global icons. While I’m not denying that many sights are priceless, I’d urge any visitor to be selective. Try to also discover a “secret London” you can call your own. Why not see your London trip as an organic journey of exploration, each step leading naturally to the next, rather than a hectic blur of somebody else’s “must-sees”?

London has so many dimensions I genuinely think this the best way to appreciate the city. Think of it as peeling layers off an onion. A friend of mine who visited London a few years back had the right idea. He randomly sat on buses starting from Trafalgar Square and got off wherever the urge took him. He then traced his way back by a circuitous route, lingering anywhere that took his fancy, steered only by his senses and a well-thumbed guidebook. Not only did he discover some amazing off-the-beaten-track places but he also truly interacted with the city. For a start, he was forced to ask people where he was! This took guts since he was willing to return home without seeing the things he was “supposed” to see. The only expectations he had to fulfil were his own.

Another friend came on a 5-day “salsa trip”. Armed with a Time Out and travelcard, he went to a different Latin party in a different corner of London every night! He gained great insight into the city by following his passion rather than other tourists.

Pick a theme – gastronomy, canals, parks, museums, comedy, sports, you name it – and let London gently reveal her treasure trove.

Having been born and raised in a mundane little suburb on the outer edge of the city, the classic “London sights” are fairly alien to me (distant memories of school trips aside). As a kid I was deeply fascinated by the extremities of the London tube map. What kind of people lived in Cockfosters? Would I find paradise in Richmond (actually you might if you visit Richmond Park in summer!)? London has many suburban gems. Here’s what I love most about London: I’m always discovering something new, often through the eyes of people from other countries who have come to visit or live in the world’s capital.

So this piece is not so much about “my velvet escape”, as it is my challenge to you to discover your own: find it and build lifelong memories on it! And if you have any top-secret London tips of your own, please share them in the comments below.

PS: If you insist on knowing, my own cherished corner of London is the panoramic viewing point just behind St Mary’s Church, Harrow on the Hill. It’s a truly gorgeous sanctuary.

About this week’s guest writer
Rajul photo Rajul Chande runs a blog on London and its hotels and has travelled to more than 30 countries. He founded London Hotels Insight to provide more in-depth information than is usually available. He also manages a marketing and publishing business working with a select group of clients.

Follow Rajul on Twitter.

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15 Responses to “My velvet escape travel tip: London”

  1. Brian Luckhurst 23/09/2010 9:16 am

    Great tips in this article. London is such a great city with so much to see and do. As a Scot who has lived here since the sixties and now has a freedom pass I am now discovering places I have never been to before. I would recommend “London Walks” as a really good way of getting to know parts of the city you otherwise would walk through and ignore. If you are looking for a change of city, I have just come back from a trip to Istanbul which is wonderful and worth a visit.

  2. London Tourist Guide 14/06/2010 1:35 pm

    Thanks for this article i love London its a great places to visit. I really like Hyde Park as its a great place for events such as party in the park and fairs.

  3. velvet 09/10/2009 12:29 am

    Thanks for your comment Katie! Good advice too. Think many tourists seldom ever venture out of zone 1, especially if it’s their first visit. I think I finally ventured out myself after several times in London, and that was to Wimbledon.

  4. velvet 09/10/2009 12:05 am

    Hi Andrea,
    Thanks for your comment. You’re absolutely right about London having more odd little corners. One other city I can think of is Paris, maybe New York. In such cities, you could live there an entire lifetime and still be amazed every day. 🙂


  5. Andrea Kirkby 08/10/2009 7:37 pm

    Great tips. I’m sure it’s the same for most cities – there’s so much more to them than just the ‘sights’ – but I think London has more odd little corners and unusual sights than most.

    I love the idea of riding the Tube to its ends – I have been to Epping, Cockfosters, Richmond, Heathrow (naturally), Uxbridge, but that leaves plenty of other places to discover before I end up at Mornington Crescent…

  6. Nomadic Matt 07/10/2009 9:59 am

    London is great….but Paris is a more exciting place to it.

  7. Katie, Tripbase 06/10/2009 6:31 pm

    Good tips. My advice would be to venture out of zone 1. Discover Shoreditch, Islington, Notting Hill, Camden… so many cool parts of the city to see.

  8. jen Laceda 06/10/2009 2:54 pm

    These are excellent tips!! Never thought of tackling London that way. You know how I’d do it? I’d do a British New Wave Music tour of London. Visit all the clubs, parties, hotels, arenas where New Order, Duran Duran (hey, I was young!), Tears for Fears, Culture Club, etc. played / stayed. Or do a London Mod Squad trip…time to upload the Jam on my iPod!


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