“What is there to do on a Sunday in London?” my friend asked me, slightly forlornly. She’s coming down for a weekend soon and she finds herself in the city for a whole Sunday as her train back is not till 8pm on Sunday evening. Normally this would be easy, I’d suggest we all meet up and spend a happy, lazy Sunday together catching up and setting the world to rights. Sadly1 I am away that weekend myself so we can’t meet.
She’s been to the capital many times before so sight-seeing holds few attractions for her. Been there. Done that. Got the Union Jack teddy bear. She’s even done my favourite river trips so I’m going to have to be a bit more inventive. Luckily she’s not coming alone, her partner is coming too so time to put my thinking cap on….
What does London do really well on a Sunday?
My first thought is food. Well, there’s a surprise! 😉
London offers a huge range of every type of food you can imagine from Vietnamese to pie and mash with just about everything in between. Then I thought of Sunday markets, lovely green spaces for leisurely strolling, quirky museums and cosy pubs. All thing that London does really well.
My friends will probably have a hearty full English at the hotel and you can usually leave your bags there too if you ask nicely. However, it is remarkable how hungry you can get wandering round London! Luckily the city does have some really great, interesting and sometimes unexpected places to explore.
If the weather is dry, and it often is here, a walk after lunch, either in a London park or maybe by a canal or river, might be just the thing to refresh and blow the cobwebs off. I’ll suggest a couple of my favourite places for Sunday promenades.
The thing to remember about London is that it isn’t one place. It is made up of lots of quite distinctive areas. You could almost call it a city made up of a series of villages2. Step away from the usual tourist haunts of Westminster and the West End and have a look at a different side of London. Three of the many London villages I’m fond of on a Sunday are Shoreditch, Islington and Camden.
Travel is easier on Sundays
Getting round London on a Sunday is usually quite easy. Buses run smoothly, without much traffic, tubes are less congested than usual. I usually go for buses on a Sunday, just because it’s nice to see where you are going. You need either a one day travel card or, if you are clever you’ll have sorted yourself out with an Oyster Card in advance.
Sunday Markets in London
What does London do well? Hmm, how about Sunday markets? Fun to wander round, even if you have no intentions of buying anything. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve been to that one before as they are always changing. Madly busy later in the day the Sunday markets are at their best mid morning.There’s no need for you to get there too early when they are still sorting themselves out. Most don’t even start selling till 10ish because of the Sunday Trading laws.
The uber trendy go to Spitalfields and Brick Lane. Spitalfields has been modernised and many of the older stalls have gone. If you are keen on fashion it is still a good place to wander round. It is not huge so it won’t take all that long. Don’t forget to check out Montezuma’s chocolate shop too. They usually hand out tasters and I defy you to leave there without buying some!
There is still lots to see at Spitalfields but it has lost a bit of its atmosphere and is surrounded by places to eat, mostly chains like Eat or La Tasca. Ok but not very inspiring.
Patisserie Valerie might be part of a chain but it is stuffed with yummy treats and good coffee if you need one already. Alternatively the coffee cart does a very nice coffee if you want to be a real Londoner then drink it standing up. On a good day you could treat yourself to a hyper healthy raw box lunch from Rainbow Foods. There’s a nice little gated garden nearby where you can sit and eat it.
Brick Lane, on the other hand, is so hip these days it hurts! Good for people watching, if you like to see what these young urban folks get up to. The old Truman Brewery is now hyper cool but there is also a lot of tat.
My favourite Sunday market is nearer to Shoreditch, Columbia Rd Flower Market. It is less urban than Brick Lane and has a lot of Shabby Chic or vintage garden stuff. Try, if you can, not to buy the plants and flowers, they are hard to cart home on the train! Columbia Road and its environs are a joy to wander on a Sunday. There’s usually some street music with high quality buskers and excellent street food. (Hungry again? Already?) Don’t over indulge because I’m going to suggest a rather filling lunch!
If you are dedicated you could do all three of those but you’ll be shattered by lunch time so I don’t recommend it!
Portobello Market is not on open on a Sunday, despite what some guide books might say.
Second choice would be to nip out to Islington. This is a particularly good choice if your train is leaving from Euston as it it simplicity itself to get back there. A quick hop on the tube or a bus ride will take you to Angel from where you can easily wander across to the Chapel Street Market which on a Sunday becomes a sort of posh flea market with a mix of antique and vintage stuff . While you are there you can also have a gawk at some great Shabby Chic and vintage shops. On a Sunday between 10am and 2pm the Penton St end of the market becomes a Farmers market with a wide-range of produce, including meat and cheeses from farms within 100 miles of London. As well as fruit and vegetables, there are specialist butchers, egg sellers, jam stalls, mustards/sauces, ciders, and even wines. There are lots of good places to eat in Islington, too and a nice canal side walk, of which more anon…(see below)
Finally there is of course Camden. Camden Market is still quirky fun and interesting. Camden is a bit busier than the first two but worth a look. Camden Market tends to be the haunt of goths and other similarly interestingly dressed young people. Fun for people watching but maybe not so great for spotting things you might actually want to buy. Of course if you have teenagers at home this is the perfect place to pick them up a Punkyfish t-shirt or some Hello Kitty accessories and earn their undying gratitude, well at least for an hour or so.
Time for Lunch
If you are at Columbia Rd Flower Market try Vietnamese for a change
For an interesting lunch I’d suggest heading to Shoreditch, just up the road from Columbia Flower Market. Here you will find a selection of interesting and authentic Vietnamese restaurants. Vietnamese food is not wildly hot and you are often left to add your own fresh chillies. It is however fragrant and herby, with lots of fresh flavours. In winter these restaurants all do variations on Vietnamese noodle soups (Pho). My favourite is the beef noodle soup from Song Que (134 Kingsland Road). It is busy and good humoured in there on a Sunday. Get there early (opens at 12) or you’ll have to wait. In summer the Vietnamese salads and summer rolls are the thing to go for, basically choose any of the restaurants for these, they are all good.
After lunch stroll up the road to the delightful Geffrey Museum and see their interesting room sets. Also take sometime to enjoy their charming gardens. The Geffrey is a little gem and just the quirky kind of museum London does best.
In Islington? Try a lovely pub lunch at The Charles Lamb
My friend quite likes a good cosy pub and her partner is a real ale fanatic. London is full of wonderful authentic pubs with interesting selections of real ale and sometimes real cider. In Islington there are a couple of really good ones. My favourite for Sunday lunch has to be The Charles Lamb. This is a delightful small London pub with a side dining room. The bar area is light and airy and the pub has a very convivial, slightly French feel. Sundays can be busy though and they don’t take bookings. Get there early, they are open for lunch from 12 till 6. Grab a table in the side room if you can. On Sundays they do a wonderful traditional roast dinner for around £12 each.
Afterwards take a walk along the near by canal. You will probably need to after dinner! If you need a little lubrication you could do worse than the Navigation pub, just beside the canal.
Jazz and a roast dinner in Camden
Again there are some good places to eat in Camden, good pubs and the Regents Canal to walk along. My partner and I were just reminiscing about Sunday afternoon jazz and seafood sessions in a pub near Camden Lock. I supposed it was probably long gone as this was the 1980s. A quick Google search reveals that there are still quite a few pubs in Camden and the Primrose Hill area (which is where you end up if you walk the canal) doing Sunday roasts and jazz. I can’t really recommend any as it is too long since we did this. I will add it to the to-do list. Ah the perils of being a blogger 🙂
Pubs near Euston
My friends will be returning home via Euston and there are a couple of London pubs there that are worth a look. First up is the Bree Louise on Cobourg Street which is a bit of a mecca for real ale and cider buffs. My friend’s partner can tick off several brews he has probably never sampled before while they wait for their train. Even nearer to Euston is the new Euston Tap. The beer is situated in the old gatehouse in front of the station on one side whilst the Cider Tap is in the other. Again lots of varieties and quite a quirky but pleasant setting.