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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