Tips For Adulthood: Five Things Worth Doing In London (Part 2)

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I brought you my very own “bucket list” of five “on the radar” things you really ought to do in London.

As promised, this week I’m following that up with a list of five “under the radar” things you ought to do in London, but probably don’t know about:

1. Open House London – This has to be one of the all-time coolest things I’ve ever done in any city. Once a year in September, Open City – a non-profit, architecture education organization – identifies buildings in London of architectural interest and opens their doors to the public. Through Open House London, we’ve toured super-modern private flats, normally-closed-to-the-public government buildings, turn-of-the-century guild halls and environmentally-friendly houses. And all of it for free. This is something our family looks forward to every year when autumn rolls around. If you live here, or happen to be visiting in mid-September, don’t miss it!

2. Christmas Pantomimes – Here’s another seasonal treat, albeit for Christmastime. One of the signature cultural events that accompanies Christmas in London (sort of akin to ice skating at Rockefeller Center in New York City) is the Christmas Pantomime. A “panto” is a musical-comedy theatrical production based on a traditional story or fairy tale that typically includes song, dance, slapstick, cross-dressing and – most important of all – audience participation. They’re often quite bawdy, though usually aimed at a family audience. My favorite venue in London is the Hackney Empire. Brill! (As we say over here.)

3. Brick Lane – While London is justifiably renowned for its rich royal palaces and history, it’s also important to take in contemporary London. My recommendation on this score is to go over to Brick Lane in East London on a Sunday afternoon. A walk up and down this bustling street market will tell a story of London’s recent immigration history, with the bagel shops of yore sitting cheek by jowl with today’s Bengali curry shops. Afterwards, take a tour of the neighborhood with one of the seasoned guides from London Walks and learn more about its rich history, which dates from Jack the Ripper.

4. The Geffrye Museum – As long as you’re over in East London anyway, be sure to pop into the Geffrye Museum, a museum of – yes- living rooms through the ages. If you’re into social history, you’ll love this place, as it enables you to trace middle class life in England from 1600 to the present. Each room is – literally – a recreation of the average living room in any given period. Splendid fun for the whole family.

5. Sir John Soane’s Museum – I’m not even sure that I really know who Sir John Soane is, other than that he was an architect who lived and worked in London back in the 18th and 19th centuries. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this guy assembled the neatest (and most varied) collection of art, sculpture and personal effects and they now constitute a small museum in his home right in the heart of London. It takes less than an hour to tour, but you’ll see things ranging from a Roman sarcophagus to a model of the Bank of England (and back again…) Once again, the kids will love it.


I’m over on today talking about health care reform in the U.K.

Image: Brick Lane by roboppy via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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  • Reply Cathy

    September 29, 2010, 2:52 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. All very cool things to do. I got into Foreign & Commonwealth Office a couple of years ago thanks to Open House

  • Reply Daryl Boylan

    September 30, 2010, 1:09 am

    Can’t wait to try the ones listed I haven’t yet visited.
    One more: the Bevis Mark Synagogue, the oldest in London, probably in England. Years ago, you only got in (& only 1 morning a week) if you were on a walking tour; no idea how that works now. I’m sure it can be checked.

  • Reply delialloyd

    September 30, 2010, 6:45 am

    oh yes, great idea, Mom. Must add to my list!

  • Reply Hilary

    September 30, 2010, 5:48 pm

    Hi Delia .. good to meet you .. I hadn’t realised these tours or door openings as such were on .. what a great list of ideas you’ve given us. Next September I’ll give the architectural Open House tours a go .. sound fun.

    Then Sir John Soane and his museum – been meaning to go for ages .. and the Geffrye Museum .. sounds so interesting ..

    Great tips and ideas .. I just don’t get up to town that often .. I saw Sir John’s tomb on my walks to St Pancras Hospital – when my mother was there, before we got her down here to Sussex ..

    St Pancras Churchyard .. has some very interesting history .. as is the church .. the hospital was the old Victorian workhouse ..

    Glad I visited I shall be signing up .. thanks – Hilary

  • Reply Patricia

    September 30, 2010, 8:15 pm

    Oh I wish you had posted these ideas before I went to London….I could not find a walking tour so my daughter and I just made up our own….I just must come back for another visit. I am glad we did lots of theatre

  • Reply Mum in Awe

    October 12, 2010, 11:56 am

    Go see Ham House in Ham, Richmond. It’s beautiful, and so are the gardens, It’s by the Thames and such a lovely part of London. I Love Open House too!

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