The following is a guest post a wrote for the rather brilliant Found on the Underground. Huge thanks to Sarah Karacs for giving me the opportunity to write this.
Not only is the tube stop a major transport hub of central London, it is – more famously – something of a magnet for lost Spanish school groups. Stepping out of the tube carriage onto the platform, you’ll be met by the cheery newsagent as he guards his treasure trove of sweets and fags. Like a Zone 1 Smaug, he caresses the Crunchies lovingly with his eyes, darting suspicious glances at anyone who even dares to browse through his Precious Things.
Making your way up the slightly-too-narrow stairs and into the main hall of the station, you’ll notice that inspirational quotes have been lovingly written out onto a standard-issue TFL notice board, presumably to give a glimmer of hope to the otherwise miserable commuters filing past every morning.
As you leave the station, you’ll come across the best florist in London, run by the happiest Cockney woman you’ll ever meet. She sells beautiful bouquets, roses and pot plants – perfect if you’re looking for something to liven up your desk or if you have inadvertently insulted your spouse’s cooking and need an emergency token of apology.
Head up Villiers Street and you’ll find an array of options for the hungry carnivore; Herman ze German offers the best sausages this side of Duesseldorf, with perfectly crunchy, oil-free baked fries and just the right amount of spicy currywurst. A couple of doors down isLupita, a good spot for a sit-down burrito or tasty Mexican salad.
If you can cope with the crowds of the Strand, wander on down to the Port House, a hidden gem for candlelit tapas and wine, and the speediest and friendliest service in the area.
In a rush? Avoid the usual chain stores – Pret, Itsu, Eat, of which there are dozens – and instead grab a salad or soup from Korean street food-inspired Kimchi, which also offers bench-style seating to catch up with friends over plum tea.
Broaden Your Mind
Got an hour to kill? Check out the RSA on John Adam Street for free lunchtime and evening lectures on a variety of topics, from the rise of alcohol-related crime to the history of cultural values in Maoist China.
The National Gallery is just a hop, skip and a jump away at Trafalgar Square, providing ample opportunity for art-lovers to admire the Holbein’s and Van Dykes. When in need of a coffee break, visit the National Café or Espresso Bar for a pit stop.
Alternatively, cross Hungerford Bridge to the South Bank and visit the South Bank Centre, which often has outdoor exhibitions and events, especially in the summer months. Bookworms should pop into Foyles underneath the Royal Festival Hall for a browse, especially if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten track guidebook or history of London (Peter Ackroyd’s ‘London: A Biography’ is a particular favourite).
Cut a Rug
Now to the fun bit: partying. One of the best but often overlooked hang-outs in the area isRetro Bar – one of the oldest gay bars in London. Cheap and cheerful with a mixed, laid-back crowd, it’s a great place to kick off a night out.
For those you hankering for a spot of Mother’s Ruin, head over to Gordon’s Wine Bar on Villiers Street or the Princess of Wales next door. Great gin and tonics, as long as you don’t mind the crowds elbowing their way to the bar. If it’s a sunny day and you can nab a space outside, it’s definitely worth it.
Depending on your persuasion, you may decide to pay a visit to Heaven to show off your moves and maybe catch the eye of that lucky someone. Be warned, their foam parties can be lethal – this author almost drowned in six feet of chemical fluff and had to be rescued by a glamorous drag queen in 10 inch heels. It was awesome.
Once you’re all partied out, run down to Trafalgar Square, dip you toes into the fountain, clamber atop the lions and breathe in the night air. Watch the night buses speed by, the hen nights stagger past and remember – this city is yours. Enjoy it.