There is something fascinating about London: it’s so big and so diverse it can easily feel like a different place than where you live if you happen to be stuck there for the whole summer (and this is the 3rd year counting that it’s the case for me). I’ve been to the seaside about 3 times and I’ll be out of town for the bank holiday weekend as I’ll be at the Youth 2000 prayer festival in Walsingham, but it’s nothing compared to my cousin who is seemingly instagramming every beach in Italy, or even just going back home, since I was born in a touristic destination much favoured by the English.
So all in all, thanks to London being London, I have a resemblance of a holiday anyway when a friend came to stay. Here’s an itinerary for what to do in London if you want to feel like you’re not in London.
Roman Holiday: Have you ever been to Portobello Road without old Italian songs blasted out loud, a lot of posters of the iconic Vespa and the perennial Italian tourists? Of course not. Despite the name having nothing to do with Italy, it sounds Italian enough and it looks like Rome’s Porta Portese enough. There is also a real Italian ice cream parlour (be prepared to pay a fair bit), so you can swap your lunch for something cold on the hottest days of the year. Take a stroll down the Italian gardens (in Kensington Gardens), and then grab a bite at Cacciari’s on Old Brompton Road (which is also one of the few places where to find piadina in London) before ending the day at the Brompton Oratory. Not really St Peter’s but an impressive church nonetheless. Bonus: if you went on a weekday the 6pm Mass in Latin would sound just about like one in Italian.
Trip to Spain: If you’re anything like the average Londoner, your FB timeline for the past 3 months has been inundated with pictures of Marbella and Tenerife. Tooting Bec Lido isn’t quite the same, although it allows you to take selfies of yourself in a swimming suit without driving 4h to Dorset (I’ve done that, cheers) and there’s hope you’ll meet fewer people you know than over there. Leave the sea behind for a trip to the Sierra de Guadarrama, with its green and its deers. That’s right, go walking in Richmond Park. End the night having tapas and sangria at Don Fernando’s, a family-run favourite with natives just meters away from Richmond Station. Bonus: you can bring a packed lunch bought in the Spanish deli in Portobello Road rather than buying anything with chorizo at Waitrose.
Getaway in the countryside: Nothing says “English countryside” like a stately home, and what better place than the renowned Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath, left by Lord Iveagh to English Heritage to be free to the public. With a marvellous cafe serving traditional food, astonishing architecture and art (including a portrait of my dearly beloved William Pitt the Younger by Gainsborough) and astonishing views that will make you forget you are in London, it’s the ideal setting for daydreaming about your Regency romance (until children start crying, that is). There are four swimming ponds in the park (it appears with two segregated by gender, so you can’t really stumble upon a mr Darcy in wet white shirt in all of them), and the delightful Freemasons Arms to have your Sunday roast or anything delightful to end the day. Bonus: Keats house, where the poet John Keats used to spend his holidays, is also in Hampstead.
In addition to these thematics day out, I’ve been once again at the Aqua on the Shard, now serving a thematic Roald Dhal afternoon tea as well as the usual selection of food and drinks (don’t go there when taking antibiotics or if teetotal, their non-alcoholic selection is very limited) and had some great sushi at Kokoro in Wimbledon Station (another place well attended by natives). I’ve also visited Tyneham and the delightful village of West Lulworth in Dorset after a day roasting under the sun in the sea. There is a lovely traditional fudge shop and a gastropub in Lulworth Cove that are worth checking out if ever in the area (the fish and chips shop wasn’t that good instead), as well as a prehistoric kayak tour that I wish I had known about in advance. It’s a picture perfect English village in the way foreigners think about the country, and likely a worthy holiday destination one day I will be able to take holidays other than wintering on my parents’ couch over Christmas again.