Caribbean food. A Nigerian dance party. Art exhibits showcasing hard truths about a colonial legacy. This is the London I love, the one I had the chance to rediscover on a recent trip following a long pandemic pause.
With a favorable exchange rate between the pound and the U.S. dollar—and more eyes on London as it celebrates its ranking as the world’s best city—now’s a great time to get back across the pond. Consider, though, getting out of the tourist spots and diving deep into two culturally rich neighborhoods: Brixton and Shoreditch.
Over the years, I’ve spent hours on corners in the crowded streets of Brixton after Notting Hill Carnival, holding on to the last sounds of reggae and soca before night turned into day. I’ve had meetups over tea or the latest museum exhibit in the always trendy Shoreditch. Both have a hodgepodge of people and food, plus a palpable energy that’s addictive.
Here’s how I spent my time in London:
A few perfect days in Shoreditch
Check in to One Hundred Shoreditch
Book Now: One Hundred Shoreditch
Newly opened One Hundred Shoreditch is already a hotel where cool kids congregate to work and be seen, to consume floral cocktails and panoramic views at the Rooftop Bar or Seed Library—a mellow cocktail den in the basement. The dimly lit lobby, lined with wooden tables and communal seating, is reminiscent of its past as an Ace hotel, though this 258-room property is distinctly its own thing. My room—minimally designed with wooden accents and natural light—faced Shoreditch High Street, a hipster East London thoroughfare offering art galleries, vintage clothing shops, vegan pizza, and oat milk lattes.
Exploring flower shops, bakeries, galleries, and crab fried rice
My days in Shoreditch included a stop at the Columbia Road Flower Market to take in blooming bouquets of daffodils, tulips, and bluebells. A tangy blackberry apple cupcake and cup of mint tea from the nearby Lily Vanilli Bakery served as fuel before my visit to Autograph, a photo gallery designed by Sir David Adjaye. The Ghanaian British architect is known for his work on the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.; not surprisingly, this gallery showcases images and films with a theme of inclusivity and social justice. Sasha Huber’s You Name It exhibit—which explores who and what we memorialize—is currently running through March 2023.
I checked out artist Mónica de Miranda’s photo series called The Island, which ran until October 22 and explored the complex relationship between the African diaspora and Europe’s colonial past. In the evening, a reunion with a dear friend over briny oysters and crab fried rice at the always packed Smoking Goat nearby was a fulfilling finale to a day of exploring.
Dancing at Outernet
The following evening, I weaved my way through a packed dance floor at Outernet to celebrate Nigeria’s independence from British rule 62 years ago—a complicated reality not lost on me. Still, we danced—energetically and in unison to each lyric—as the room overflowed with shining Black bodies like my own that have always used movement as both a means of defiance and joy.
A stay at Sea Containers
Book Now: Sea Containers
The next day I checked into Sea Containers in the South Bank district. Offering a striking difference from the frenetic city energy of Shoreditch, the 359-room property sits on a quiet corner at the edge of the Thames River, with a maritime theme to match the waters just outside. A copper hull borders the reception area, and the top deck of the hotel contains a rooftop bar, the Knot, with panoramic views.
My riverfront suite’s spacious balcony lent itself to glittering views of the city in the distance. A visit to its calming agua Spa was the pick-me-up needed after all the walking through Shoreditch. At night on the ground floor, a white cacao and passionfruit cocktail at Lyaness bar eased me right into bedtime before another day of exploration.
A perfect day in Brixton
It’s been about five years since I last visited Brixton, located about 20 minutes away from Sea Containers via the Tube. A colleague and content creator, Eulanda Osagiede, lent me a few tips to make the most of my day in a neighborhood she’s lived near for 10 years and calls the heartbeat of London—though much is changing.
“As more money has been invested into Brixton, and the commercial real estate market has boomed, many local businesses who’ve been based in Brixton for 30 years or more have been forced to relocate due to lease increases,” she told me. “The loss of local business (often BIPOC-owned) can sometimes make Brixton feel commercialized. However, a brief walk through the neighborhood will clearly show you that Brixton’s multicultural influence is inseparable.” That untouched multiculturalism is exactly what I set out to find among streets that hold the energy, traditions, and flavor of the Black diaspora.
A Visit to Black Cultural Archives
I started at Black Cultural Archives, a building that preserves materials that celebrate the histories of African and Caribbean people in the United Kingdom. Transforming Legacies is a current exhibition running through January 2023 that brings together 21 emerging and established artists to showcase 40 years of Black British art across multiple disciplines, including painting, ceramics, film, and performance.
Lunch at Fish, Wings, & Tings, Kaosarn, or The Provincial
For lunch, I headed to Fish, Wings & Tings, a Caribbean restaurant serving codfish fritters with a creamy ginger and lime dipping sauce, curried goat, and, of course, a strong rum punch. It’s a perfect place to sit on the outside patio and watch people as reggae blares from speakers. For other Brixton food picks, Eulanda recommended a family-run Thai restaurant Kaosarn, specifically for its gaeng kua sapparod goong, a red curry cooked in coconut milk with fresh pineapple, tomatoes, kaffir leaves, fresh chile, and basil that can be topped with duck, tofu, vegetables, or prawns. For a lively brunch, the Provincial serves generous portions of Afro-Latinx dishes that include Peruvian wok-fried rice seasoned with ginger, and a deep-fried seafood platter with cassava chips.
Topping it all off at Supercute
On my next visit to London, I plan to visit Supercute, a Dominican-owned bar and Afro-Latinx dance venue in Brixton Village Market. For now, time has run out and so has my energy level—a testimony to a very fulfilling itinerary and brief return to London.
Getting to London
Virgin Atlantic has daily nonstop flights from LAX , Boston Logan International Airport, and JFK to London–Heathrow. On this trip, I got a taste of its Jetson-esque Upper Class cabin, complete with a lounge area to enjoy a drink and book to pass time.