The lively communities of south-east London and south-west London have some unique activities to share with the rest of us. Venture below the river for multi-storey aperitifs, limitless carbohydrates and an over-inflated mammal.
Things to do in south London
The IWM’s brand new First World War Galleries examine the politics and legacy of the 1914-1918 conflict, but also day-to-day life in the trenches. In photographs, artefacts like tins of food, and a collection of letters (many from fighters who never came back), the museum tells a powerful and moving story.
The Peter Harrison Planetarium in Greenwich Park is the only place in London where you can take your eyes on a tour of the universe. In these days of HD and 3D TV, the Planetarium has raised its game, with state-of-the-art projection technology and spectacular films revealing the latest scientific discoveries. Shows include Space Safari, which is suitable for children under eight.
Victorian south-east London was far more fascinating than most other parts of the capital thanks to tea trader Frederick John Horniman, who wanted to ‘bring the world to Forest Hill’. He began to collect specimens and artefacts of natural history and culture from all over the world to create his own museum in the late 1800s. The present museum opened in 1901 and the 130-year-old over-stuffed walrus is still its star attraction!
A few blocks south of Tower Bridge, Bermondsey Square has been developed as a classy enclave of bars and arty hangouts. However, the Friday antiques market is no new arrival. For years it’s been a savvy spot for browsing vintage homeware, furniture and jewellery. The hardcore buyers show up when it opens at 6am but you’ve got until 2pm to surf the stalls.
Whether you’re on your way home from a night’s clubbing or you’ve been up since 5am with your three-year-old, gloriously quiet mornings in central London are your reward. Head for St John Bakery, just behind Maltby Street Market for their famous freshly made doughnuts oozing with jam, or go Proustian with just-baked madeleines dipped in your cup of tea.
Community cafés are happily on the rise in London – places where local people come together and serve what their talents can muster. This vegan and vegetarian community café sits in peaceful Vauxhall Square. The dishes reflect the nationalities of its contributors and the meals are super-affordable – starters £3, mains £8, puds £3, BYO drink. Book ahead, it’s very popular.
Etta’s Kitchen is one of the exciting eateries that have made Brixton Village Market a hub for discerning foodies in the last couple of years. Opened as part of the Empty Shops Project, its décor is pretty basic, but Etta’s Caribbean-influenced menu is excellent. It’s fish-focused with the picks of that morning’s visit to Billingsgate, but there are veggie options too.
The stunning centrepiece of Greenwich’s maritime heritage, the Cutty Sark spent the end of the nineteenth century keeping London supplied with one of its favourite commodities: tea. The ship was nearly destroyed by fire in 2007, but reopened to the public in 2012 looking more handsome than ever. The £30 million restoration has seen the ship elevated three metres above its dry dock, allowing visitors to get closer than ever to its 65-metre-long gilded hull.
Carb connoisseurs are in for a treat at friendly neighbourhood café Breads Etcetera which, alongside a menu of hearty brunch fare, operates an all-you-can-eat toast service. A central table is piled high with loaves of all shapes, sizes and grains (all freshly baked on site) and there are individual toasters on tables, allowing you to prepare your morning slice exactly how you like it. Dry toast is no fun at all, of course, so be sure to make good use of the sizeable arsenal of spreads and jams.
If there’s one thing London’s trendy set love more than an Aperol spritz (a blend of orangey aperitif, prosecco and soda water), it’s an unconventional party space. Open-air Peckham bar Frank’s Café has both (it’s located on top of a multi-storey car park), with sensational views across London to boot. As with all of the city’s rooftop bars, queues can become formidable when the sun’s out. They’re worth sticking out, though: Frank’s is a scene-leading bar that, for once, lives up to the hashtagged hyperbole.