The Ultimate Non-Basic Guide To London

Who doesn’t want to be Taylor Swift in her “London Boy” era? Finding a ridiculously good-looking British man to take you to Camden Market, watching rugby with his school friends (actually, you know what, I’ll pass on that one), and enjoying nights in Brixton and Shoreditch in the afternoon. Until you show up to Highgate or Camden Market and realize: oh, sh*t, it’s just me and a billion teenagers who are all here because of TikTok. 

I hate to tell you this, but everywhere you’ve ever been recommended in London is… really, really basic. 

So… where do you go when you don’t want to have the same Instagram pics as everyone you know from high school? Look no further, because not only have we gathered the definitive list of spots to avoid—at ALL costs—we’ve also got you covered with the best places to go out, shop, eat, and stay in London.

Where To Stay In London

A word to the wise: Whatever you do, avoid Notting Hill. It’s so overpriced and you will end up in a tiny studio in Queensway for $400 a night—and while The Lost Poet is a very cute boutique hotel (yes, the one people on TikTok have called it “the secret hotel” despite it being… all over TikTok), you’ll end up only ever really seeing West London if you stay there. The same thing goes for Marylebone, Soho, and London Bridge areas. Other stays to avoid include The Hoxton and the Hyde Park Boutique Hotel. In other words: Just because that little clock app says something’s a good idea, doesn’t mean it’s always true.

We recommend setting up shop anywhere except central London. You’ll need to find somewhere with good travel connections, fun places you can walk to, and the least amount of tourists. On the whole, if you want to be in East London, go for an Airbnb in Hackney Wick or Bethnal Green— close to the tube station, but still with plenty to do in walking distance. If you’re looking for a little more luxury, go for North London: The Gyle is a five-minute walk from Kings Cross Station, set in a beautiful Victorian townhouse with a lot more style than most trendy hotels in the city. 

Where To Go Out In London

First thing’s first: You’re going to want to avoid a lot of places. Like, a lot… But especially the Roxy, fabric, Tiger Tiger, Infernos, anyone who tries to take you to Soho House for any reason whatsoever, pretty much most bars on a rooftop (especially the Sky Garden), and, yes, Sketch. Everyone has already taken a mirror selfie in those bathrooms–the world, and your bank account, do not need one more. 

All is not lost, though. In fact, far from it—we’ve got you covered for every occasion. If you’re testing the waters on your first London Hinge date, the candlelight and the very strong cocktails at Homeboy are about to be your best friend. For the perfect girls’ night out, grab drinks at Night Tales and then walk two minutes down the street for Hackney’s best-kept secret: Paper Dress Vintage, a vintage shop which turns into a (free!) club every Friday and Saturday. Think 80s records, lace slip dresses, and a dance floor so good you’ll never want to leave for the smoking area. 

Pro tip: Download the ticketing app DICE and search by location for DJ nights, gigs, and regular club events. 

Where To Shop In London

Let’s get one thing cleared up right now–you do not, and should not, and will not be going to Oxford Street. There is nothing there for you–unless you love industrial-sized Urban Outfitters and unhinged levels of pollution. This is like the Times Square of London, and we promise you can do much (much!) better than that.

It hurts not to gatekeep this one: Retromania in Victoria is the best vintage shop in London. And while West London is—you guessed it—one of the most basic places in London, there’s one vintage shop that none of the tourists know about: Retro Woman, hidden between Portobello Road and Notting Hill. For even cheaper finds, all you need is a pilgrimage to the charity shops in Kentish Town: just put “charity shops” into your Google Maps when you get out at Camden Town tube station, and walk up the street. You’re welcome.

Where To Eat In London

You can probably guess what we’re about to say here: Avoid anything your friends saw on TikTok (it will be overrun with seventeen-year-olds), as well as Da Mario, Bancone, Borough Market, and actually most places that come up when you Google “best italian food london”. The only exceptions are Padella and Trullo, which actually are worth the hype, if maybe not the queues (beat them by going on a mid-week for lunch). Also Sexy Fish, Aquavit, Hakkasan, and definitely Duck & Waffle (anything in a very tall glass building = the food is going to be bad. I don’t make the rules, it’s just true). 

As far as where you should actually go, Bibida in Notting Hill serves up Japanese and Korean food at prices you won’t find anywhere else in West London. Dying to try Dishoom? Beat the queues (they’re insanely long literally everywhere) and go for brunch, where you can enjoy unlimited chai refills. For the best hidden lunch spots, you’ll find the best bagels at Papo’s in Dalston (and you know you’re in East London when you’re eating lunch behind a garbage can in a repurposed factory—it’s authentic!) or head to Canopy Market in Kings Cross or Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell for the kind of street food that Borough Market pretends to sell but doesn’t.

As far as other options, I’d recommend Tofu Vegan in Angel; The River Cafe in Hammersmith; Osteria Basilico in Notting Hill; Brindisa in Soho; Pearl Liang in Paddington; and Ergon’s Deli on Regent Street.

Paris might be the city of love, and New York the city that never sleeps, but London is a city of surprises—and there is so much more to it than anything you’ve seen in a Richard Curtis movie (Notting Hill wouldn’t be on my basic list if it wasn’t for what Notting Hill did to the area). So go forth and find your own London, but just promise me you won’t go to Sketch. 

Featured image courtesy of Pexels/Pixabay

Ismene Ormonde
Ismene Ormonde
Ismene is a writer living in London. She's a natural gatekeeper with girlboss tendencies and an Aquarius, so you can imagine how difficult writing a bio is for her. By day, she's a freelance journalist, and by night she's probably spending 2-3 hours getting ready to go dancing with her roommates.