The Quietest Spots in LondonPosted: October 16, 2011
I mentioned the quiet moments I’ve experienced worldwide, but I’d also like to say a little something about London. Living in the centre of London, a hugely dense city of some eight million people, sometimes it’s really hard to escape the grind and find somewhere peaceful to let your mind wander. Often, these peaceful spots prove to be pretty unexpected places, because clearly you’re not always going to find an oasis of calm out in the middle of Oxford Circus. But London’s a very lucky city, actually, as there are parks and alleyways and hidden corners all over the place. This list was partly inspired by my friend Gemma, who runs a consolidated list of peaceful spots on her blog. The ones I’ve listed below are my favourites. What are yours?
Daunt Books 83 Marylebone High Street, plus others. This is my favourite bookshop in London, bar none. In an era of W.H. Smith, Foyle’s and Waterstone’s, not to mention the influx of Amazon, I think it’s important to have some independent bookshops around. There are several Daunt Books branches, all of which are different and connected in some way with their respective neighborhoods. I don’t know about the others, but the Marylebone branch has the ordinary categories–fiction, non-fiction, cooking, and so on–as well as country categories; that means that if you’re searching for books on, say, Russia, in addition to travel guidebooks you’ll also find books by Russian authors like Dostoevsky and Turgenev and fiction set in Russia. Genius.
Mount Street Gardens When I used to work right around the corner, I came here with my lunch all the time. Grosvenor Square is nearby, too, but it’s usually packed and lacks places to sit (well, except for the grass). Mount Street Gardens are full of benches and quiet spots, facing a beautiful old church one side and–lucky, lucky–the Christian Louboutin shoe store on the other.
Starbucks on South Molton Lane: Why yes, Starbucks: the quietest place on earth. But for serious, this branch is always a goodie. Even when Oxford street is teeming with people, the upstairs of this branch is a quiet spot for a crême brulée latte. Even better, it’s housed in a sweet old building with rickety stairs and comfy chairs.
Yumchaa, 45 Berwick Street: This is another place that has a tendency to get very busy during lunchtime or on the weekends. But never fear, there’s a lovely basement seating area, which is a fine space to while away some hours with a nice chai latte.
Victoria and Albert Museum: If you go to the special exhibits on a Saturday afternoon then, no, you will not have this place to yourself. If, on the other hand, you go to one of the quieter areas, like the prints or textiles gallery, or parts of the costume exhibits, you can have a lovely peaceful time. Bonus: the outdoor seating area is lovely and calm, and the food is some of the best I’ve ever had at a museum.
St. Paul’s Cathedral: If you get the chance to go to a concert here, please do say yes. What a beautiful, resilient structure; in 1940, during the Blitz, through some miracle or divine grace, St. Paul’s was left standing while everything around it was burned to ashes. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s just such a calm, awe-inspiring stained-glass spot.
The Parks: Oh boy, too many to choose from! I think London has a real leg-up in the greenery arena over other giants like Moscow or New York. I’ve never seen anything like it. I usually go running in Hyde Park, but that can get awfully crowded on a sunny day, so nice alternatives are Kensington Gardens or Regent’s Park, both of which are still very central. Another idea is to pull a Julia Roberts (à la Notting Hill) and jump the fence to one of London’s private gardens. No one will ever know! I also hear really lovely things about Richmond park, but I haven’t been there yet. Possibly my favourite green gem in the city is Hampstead Heath up north. The village is really lovely, you can visit Freud’s house or the Keats museum, and you can walk across the park to Highgate cemetery, such a beautiful old spot (and burial ground to Marx, among others).
The Mews: Hidden in alleys and culs-de-sac, the mews of London are the former stables of the gentry. But where the gentry once parked their horses, we now park ourselves. And really, these are some of the most desirable properties in London–secluded, central, with charming window boxes and cobbled streets, and sweet young families pushing prams.
Marylebone Station: I can’t say I’m one of those people who just rides the trains for fun, but it’s a nice idea, especially if you’re starting from Marylebone. This is a very quiet place, as far as train stations go, and it’s a lovely little labyrinthine walk from my house–I get to pass around the back of people’s houses and our local church. Fun times! Marylebone station also houses the Bakerloo tube line, which gets you to the centre of the city, and is my favourite; it’s never as packed as, say, the Central line, so I try and take it whenever I can. Marylebone forever!
Future Quiet-Time Plans: Other good ideas for quiet times should include the British library, boating along the Thames to Greenwich, a trip out to the Cotswolds some few hours away, a peaceful afternoon tea, and more museum-hunting. Have fun!