Justin’s London: 10 Favourite Spots (2)

Without further ado, let’s continue the mini-series on places around the capital that I visit, love and treasure…

6. Horniman Museum

Hidden in the woods suburbia of Forest Hill, south London, the Horniman is a legend among middle school children: endowed to the public thanks to matrimonial quarrels but adored by immature thirteen-year-olds, this (slightly off the beaten track) museum and its adjoining park is a wonderful place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The museum owes its name and collection from its benefactor, Frederick Horniman. A tea merchant by trade, Horniman frequently travelled around the world and accumulated everything and anything along his way, filling up the house with all sort of artefacts imaginable. Eventually, the collection became so taxing on the household that Horniman’s wife forced him to choose between her and the collection (‘either the collection goes or we do,’ she was believed to have said).

Well, to nobody’s surprise, his wife won. The Hornimans moved, leaving the former residence open as a free museum in 1890. So the public won, too?

There is no escape that the Horniman is famous among teenagers because of its, erm, slang-friendly name, and I’ve always find it amusing (if a bit dark) that sending young schoolchildren to the Horniman is a common, even recommended, activity for junior school teachers. The museum is rich in exhibits of natural history, with the family-oriented aquarium a highlight; however Horniman’s interests expands beyond flora and fauna, so you can also see his comprehensive collection of musical instruments too (the biggest Tuba in the world, for example). You can quite easily see the museum’s appeal to smaller children – so rarely, the weekends are a quieter time to visit.

Not too keen on (dead) animals? The adjacent park is one of the rare oasis lost among the semi-detaches of south London. Equipped with a cafe, a bandstand and a greenhouse (for events), it’s a nice place to wander if the sun shines. As the place is called Forest Hill, after all, it also offers one of the best northward views into Central London: enjoying the panorama from a park bench, with an ice-cream at hand underneath the spring sun, is just that much better than queueing by the London Eye.

The most accessible station to the Horniman is, aptly, Forest Hill on the London Overground.

7. King’s Cross

Granary Square.

Quite recently I was asked what I favourite building in London was. Slightly surprised by the question, I stammered a bit before uttering ‘St. Pancras.’ While the railway gateway to locales as diverse as Paris and Luton Airport is a Victorian treasure in central London, it has not made the list; rather I’ve selected her ugly duckling next door, King’s Cross.

Reason 1: You can see St Pancras from Kings Cross; you cannot see St Pancras from inside St Pancras. Same reason as to why the best Parisian view is not from the Eiffel Tower.

Reason 2: Trains to the east coast of England and Scotland departs from King’s Cross. This includes Durham. Recalling nostalgically of my wonderful times there, the platforms at King’s Cross always bring a smile as I draw near.

Reason 3: Harry Potter. It is common knowledge among, like, the entire world, that the Boy Who Lived embarked on his journey to Hogwarts from platform 9 3/4 (even though Harry had missed the train a couple of times…)

Unfortunately, I’m obliged to inform you as a railway buff that Rowling got her station layout wrong: instead of a portal for wizards between platform 9 and 10, the muggle platforms are separated by two tracks serving commuter trains to… Cambridge. Of course, the muggle marketing department has also figured out the next best thing, installing a disappearing trolley completed with Gryffindor scarves (ignoring the Hufflepuffs as always) for perhaps the most interesting photo-op in a railway station ever. You’ll also find a dedicated fanship, perhaps our closest realisation of the Weasley shop, but stuffed with whatever magical merchandise there is in the world.

Reason 4: Granary Square. What was the dilapidated goods yard of the KGX is now one of the newest and largest public spaces in London. Situated by the canals, it is home to University of the Arts and dominated by a square of fountains. If you were ever early for a train, sipping a coffee by the plaza is perhaps the most leisurely way to pass the time.

Reason 5: Did I mentioned that King’s Cross is a train station?

8. Leadenhall Market


Photo credit: Katharine Groves

Buried deep in the financial heart of the City of London, Leadenhall is one of the oldest markets of the metropolis, dating from Roman times. The current version dates from 1881 and is perhaps the most extravagant and best-decorated market in history, beautiful to also star as Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Underneath the ornate dome lies a series of market stalls, housing centries-old shops, all similarly sophisticated in their designs. It really is a mind-blowing experience to do your everyday shopping here (if you can afford it).

As a City of London market, the stalls have naturally gravitated to cater for the city suits’ lunch trade, which also formed the rationale of my first visit. It was summer couple of years ago when I put on my own tie for an internship as a first venture into the City. The supervisor wanted to mask what was to follow was kind to take me out for lunch, and we strolled into Leadenhall for a burrito.

I reckon I’ll always remember the moment I first walked into Leadenhall, how I think the city life will be. Naivety, right?

Deep in the City, Bank or Monument stations are both good entry points for Leadenhall Market.

9. New Malden

While Asia has felt the full force of the Korean wave, countries on the other side of the world also becoming more receptive on the lure of Girl’s Generation, on the back of – yes, that one – Gangnam Style.

(n.b. 1: as of 2016, Girl’s Generation are too old to be girls or be from this generation anymore.)

(n.b.2: My Kpop fandom has not aged well.)

Following its exploits in music and pop culture, Korean cuisine is the new trend that has arrived at the British shores. If you’re a Londoner in search for some authentic Korean food and feel, you’re in luck. All you have to do is to take a train south-west from Waterloo.

In twenty minutes or so you’ll arrive in New Malden, and simultaneously be teleported to South Korea. New Malden, the largest Korean community outside of the Korean peninsula. The High Street may architecturally be British (and boring functional), but populated by Korean restaurants and supermarkets, along with some services that specifically cater to the Korean-speaking community: cram schools, estate agents, coffee shops that specialise in Patbingsu, a pub that transforms into the home ground of Rep. of Korea during the World Cup.

Unlike the touristic appeal of Chinatown, New Malden stands out precisely because it feels normal, boring even. This is where people live.

I often come here, imagining myself on my personal Grand Tour, for an escape to another country.

10. Tate Modern

Towards the City from behind the Tate. (New Observation Deck) Photo credit: Katharine Groves

Towards the City from behind the Tate. (New Observation Deck)
Photo credit: Katharine Groves

The cathedral of modern art in London. Its towering presence from a former power station cemented on the artsy South Bank, Tate Modern is perhaps most recognisable by its high chimney that dwarfs everything in its surrounding (at least, until the shard came along); much like its Anglian counterpart of St. Paul’s just across the Millenium Bridge.

This is an enormous shrine to culture, so long as you can comprehend how three blank porcelain pages constitute the zenith of art.

The turbine hall forms the centre of this complex: long enough to host Olympic track events, you really can comprehend the ridiculousness of its size even before its most recent extension completed in June.

Situated on the artsy South Bank and housed in a former power station, Tate is perhaps most recognisable by its high chimney that dwarfs everything in its surroundings entirely, much like its Anglian counterpart just across the Millenium Bridge. This is the enormous shrine to culture, if you can comprehend how three blank porcelain pages are the zenith of art.

With a hall that could probably host Olympic track events, Tate is ridiculous in size even before its recent extension, completed in June. The ‘pyramid’ (official name: Switch House) provides another ten floors of exhibition space, but the highlight for art-blind visitors like myself must be the new observation deck, providing some of the best vistas of central London, without charge. Another reason to skip the Eye.

You can probably tell I’m not very keen on the London Eye.

I must confess knowing next to nothing about modern art, yet Tate Modern is a recurring stop on my South Bank tour, if just to experience the sentiments of art: a thought-provoking photography exhibition, trying to see our world through the eyes of the artists; or, less pretentiously, to have a good smirk over the nonsensical works.

Or, more pretentiously, to find a sofa overlooking the turbine hall and ‘write my screenplay blog.’

The Tate is between Blackfriars and Southwark stations; although I almost always walk there…