Anyone who knows me well will know that the city of London is firmly entrenched in my heart. It’s not just home, it’s my past, my present and (hopefully) my future and I got lucky in finding a man en route, who moved here for work a decade ago but ended up more taken with the city than I am.
I cringe at sounding all Carrie Bradshaw New York City about it but I speak the truth when I tell you that life in London is a dream realised .
I grew up in the suburbs outside London in a peaceful and leafy part of the country that fringes the city, so near yet felt so far from the city I yearned to experience. When university applications came, I had to select four choices – I gave all my allocations to London universities and after I graduated, I worked my backside off to bag myself a London job.
Yes yes, I know you get nada for your money living hre and that the air will always be just a
little lot more polluted and yes, I am not oblivious to the ugly, unforgiving sides of London but this month’s link up topic is about home – and this is mine.
So how do you immortalise half a lifetime’s worth of memories and moments of a city into one blog post? Simple answer is you don’t so I won’t even attempt it. Instead, this post about the home within home – Blackheath and Greenwich a little pocket of South East London that even many Londoners are yet to visit. Until I met Pumpkin who was living in this ‘hood, I myself had never explored the area so if you aren’t yet familiar with this part of London Town, here are 10 reasons why I love Greenwich and Blackheath so much.
Greenwich and Blackheath Highlights
Markets – Greenwich Market and Blackheath Farmers’ Market
It’s pretty obvious from my posts on the Brussels’ weekend markets, the San Telmo Market in Buenos Aires and the food market in Brockley that I have a soft spot for browsing markets. I love hovering over handcrafted goods, listening to the personal stories of the traders and eating well-priced, food prepared in front of your eyes and inspired by world cuisines.
At the ever-popular Greenwich Market, you’ll find all of these in abundance. My all time favourite indulgent treats here are the filled Brazilian churros – the closest I have found to the real thing that I sampled when I tried the street foods of Rio de Janeiro.
The Blackheath Farmers’ Market is rather contrasting in character with just one or two stalls serving hot food and very much more of a local, village fresh produce market, serving predominantly residents who come here on Sunday mornings to stock up their fruit bowls, purchase bread straight out of the oven and dabble in the tempting cheese samples on offer.
You can read a little bit more about this market in my previous round up of Blackheath.
Green Parks & Open Spaces – Greenwich Park and Blackheath Common
Another classic old chestnut I hear a lot is “London doesn’t have any green spaces.” Hmm, I see what you’re trying to say but I’ve been to Hyde Park at least 30 times over the years and it’s not orange!
London has plenty of green spaces and both Greenwich Park with its manicured gardens as well as the more rugged heath of Blackheath Common are frequented by morning joggers, golf players, dog walkers, sunbathers, couples clasping hands and fashionista Mummies pushing around buggies.
This corner of London strikes the perfect balance by allowing me to stay close to the action without missing out on open spaces, ponds, riverside strolls or tranquil Sunday mornings.
Historical Monuments and Sights in Greenwich
If you find crowds to be suffocating, then avoid Greenwich on a sunny Saturday afternoon at midday. Tourists come in by the truckload and why the heck wouldn’t they? Within a tiny radius, Greenwich is home to a whole host of historical sites, iconic buildings and architectural stunners, all within or close to the UNESCO Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.
Sights include The Cutty Sark Ship, the National Maritime Museum, The Royal Observatory and Planetarium. For the last few years, the masterpieces from the National Astronomy Photographer of the Year Exhibition have been displayed at the Observatory in Greenwich.
We visited last year and stared in utter awe at an award-winning, magnificent photograph of the galaxy shot with the same camera that Pumpkin has, as we found ourselves wondering where on earth we were going so wrong with our photos!
And my insider’s tip for most quirky offbeat visitor experience is to spend a couple of hours at the Greenwich Fan Museum, home to a collection of more than 75 fans from around the world and one of the best value cream teas in the city. There are worse ways to recuperate from a morning of busy sightseeing than a dollop of clotted cream and jam on a freshly baked scone after all.
OK, who doesn’t love a good viewpoint (and I mean the scenic type not the opinionated type?!) I’ve sought out birds eye views in many of the cities I’ve travelled to, sometimes involving climbing a thousand steps such as Cologne (ok, it was a few hundred but it felt a lot more) or sometimes booking a swanky dinner at a high-rise Tokyo hotel. Here in London though, as with most things, viewpoints cost pennies. You’ll need a few notes in your wallet before you dine at the Shard or Sushi Samba and the rooftop bars are not lenient with their pricing either.
Thankfully, if you’re in the know, you can enjoy London views for free and 3 of my favourite spots to do this are the Sky Garden (there’ll be a blog post coming up in time about it), the green open space at the top of Primrose Hill and of course, my local one – at the top of the hill by the Observatory at Greenwich Park. I actually got engaged in this park and still recall walking up to this viewpoint with my fiancé with a feeling of elation being able to use that word for the first time.
- Blackheath Sunsets
Remember that smog I spoke about? It does a mighty job of obstructing the sunset skies, especially when it joins forces with its chums – traffic and urban congestion.
Luckily, the vast expanses and relative paucity of construction in the village of Blackheath mean that it’s a common occurrence to walk through the village in the early evening under a canopy of coral stained clouds.
- Hidden Authentic Foodie Gems
Whilst we aren’t flooded with Michelin restaurants here in Blackheath and Greenwich, I’m pleased to say that we’ve also managed to escape total infiltration with corporate chains. This is much more of an achievement in Blackheath than in Greenwich but Blackheath is one of the few places in the entire city that I am aware of where Starbucks came and went in a short space of time when plans to expand it got boycotted and smaller independent cafes and restaurants were able to stand by and watch smugly.
Lilika hand makes all her own treats and trades at Greenwich Market with macaron flavours that include M&Ms and lavender. Her macarons, in my opinion, actually slightly take the biscuit (mind the pun) over the high end brand rivals stocked in stores like Selfridges. She has worked her magic on vegan and gluten free options as well as branching out to delicious cheesecakes and macaron milkshakes and if she knows you’re after a specific flavour and you let her know, she’ll even try and accommodate it if she can into her batch for the following week.
The team behind my favourite local bakery, Boulangerie Jade, made it to the final of the BBC Bake Off Creme de la Creme show, the iced coffee shot at Tziganos Deli is the best I have tried in London (go straight for the larger size to avoid buyer’s regret) and on an unassuming street in Greenwich that won’t be winning points for aesthetics anytime soon, you’ll find some of the most underground but quirky hidden foodie gems in South East London.
One of these is the pub-style restaurant and coffee-house that we spent our anniversary at a couple of summers ago. Serving a simple selection of British and Irish classic staples and door wedge sized slabs of chicken pie like your grandma made (yours more so than mine, since mine were veggie), this is not a place for coulis, reductions, sous vide or foie gras.
This is perhaps not the place for the gluten free, dairy free, ingredient free or raw food movements but Green Pea, instead, is a welcoming and homely establishment that serves the kind of hearty food that will fuel you through a rough winter, leave you with heavy bellies and beaming smiles of satiety.
Owner Tom prepares everything from scratch and is so quirky and trusting that at the end of the night when we were the only ones left (and he had worked a 100 hour week), he asked for our permission to head home, congratulated us, told us he’d give us a box of chocolates as a belated anniversary gift next time and left us in his pub alone (!) whilst loosely pointing to the back door through which we could let ourselves out!
He would listen to nothing of the fact that we too were about to leave, insisting that we should relax and sit back on our anniversary and not rush back. He point blank refused to accept the tip we tried to leave and it’s an experience that can’t easily be translated in words – just trust me and go along one day for a wonderful cosy, un-pretentious dining experience.
Also on this street is one of my favourite Japanese joints, Zaibatsu, where the sushi is cheaper than many cocktails would be in central London but the chef, a former chef at a 5 star hotel in Mayfair, brings world-class presentation and high quality fusion Japanese to a BYOB cafe with plastic furniture and the kind of place you’d probably be wary of stepping into if you didn’t know.
- Travel around by foot, road, overground train, underground, boat & air!
Many Londoners live by the mantra that you don’t need a car in London and Pumpkin and I may well have done away with ours if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s part of my job remit to have one for domiciliary visits; but considering I’ve had it for 8 years, its mileage is ridiculously low thanks to the London transport system.
What makes Greenwich so special in transport terms though is that aside from all the usual buses and trains, you can reach us by air and by boat! True story – we went out for brunch a few months ago and as the sun was (for once) beaming above us, we hopped on the boat home, as you do! After boarding at the Southbank, we sailed all the way back to Greenwich along the Thames. It might take a little longer and cost a little more but you’ll escape the whole sardines-in-a-tin-can phenomenon and the views are a far more eye-catching than the occasional mouse seen scurrying across the platform of the underground station. This was us gazing up at Tower Bridge as glided along beneath it en route home.
And the air travel I’m talking about?! No, I don’t have my own helipad in the garden or a private jet or handsome pilot but thanks to the Emirates Airline Cable Car in Greenwich, adjacent to The 02, I don’t need one.
This is a genuine mode of commute for many lucky Londoners traversing the river every morning. It’s perhaps not one for those of you afraid of heights as the transparent cabins make you well aware that you’re hovering in the sky above a river but I’ve used it by day and by night and it affords you a unique bird’s eye view of this end of the city.
- The 02
Whilst you’re in the neighbourhood and waiting for your cable car ride, you could of course have a browse inside The 02, which has come a long way in the trendy stakes since the drab and uninspiring school trip the Millenium Dome (its birth name) many moons ago. Now, you’ll find a host of restaurants and bars inside, a cinema, an endless stream of big-name artists coming to the stage.
I’m not ashamed to say I’ve seen Lady Gaga perform live (love her or hate her, she owns the stage) and Lionel Richie will be on our turf this week – homemade cup of tea and a scone Lionel?
When the weather is rainy (when is it not in England?!), this giant dome is an easy place to party without needing your brolly. The fun isn’t restricted to the inside though with the option of climbing on the roof (yes it’s legal if you do it in the official manner) or the fancy new restaurant Craft, which I keep hearing rave reviews about.
Greenwich and Blackheath Festivals
There’s nothing more fun on a British summer’s day than gathering a group of fun-loving, frolicking friends onto an open green space, cracking open some Pimms, listening to the sound of live music or watching talented underground acts find a space for themselves to blossom. For such a little patch of the city, we are flooded with festivals.
The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival
This annual GDIF Festival with events dotted around Greenwich but also in Docklands comprises some of the best street acts, artists, acrobats, musicians and dancers from around the world to showcase a host of events that stretch out across a 10 day window.
There is also plenty on for children whether you fancy bringing your kids along to make fairy wings, slurp ice cream or play on retro wooden games.
I’ve already written about the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival 2014 but by chance, we happened to find ourselves in Greenwich again this year at the launch of the 2016 festival which was filled with as much silliness and fun factor as ever.
The Greenwich Food Fest
Perhaps you’re more of a foodie and would need more than a Mr Whippy with a flake to tempt you into exploring these pastures green in South East London.
Fear not, allow me to present to you the Greenwich Food Festival, which was on a couple of years ago, raising money for local food banks, though I must admit I don’t know if this will be a regular ongoing event.
But fear not, music lovers and foodies alike, I have just the festival for you:
The On Blackheath Festival
Perhaps you fancy listening to live bands and pulling out a picnic blanket but don’t fancy trudging through mud at Glastonbury?
I actually do really want to do the Glastonbury thing one day but for those who prefer something a little less messy, On Blackheath is a foodie and music focused, John Lewis sponsored, posh alternative.
I was wary that this would be all vegan spiralled vegetables and no greasy burger but if you wander around the food trucks, you will find that it strikes the right chord with a happy balance of both extremes and everything in between as well as live cooking demonstrations with some of London’s best chefs.
We visited for the first time last year and residents in the Blackheath area get discounts on pre-booked tickets. Shame that I was as Little Miss Last Minute as ever and turned up on the day to join the queue and buy tickets!
We sang down memory lane by letting the Manic Street Preachers remind us of our youth and stood hand in hand as Elbow soared out a pitch perfect rendition of their anthemic “Throw those curtains wide….One day like this a year will see me right…for life”, a song, which meant a lot to us, since we had chosen it as the soundtrack to our wedding highlights video.
The Greenwich Comedy Festival
And this makes no mention of the Greenwich Comedy Festival, which we have yet to make it to but often features renowned comedians such as Reginald Hunter, performing in the landscaped grounds of the Maritime Museum.
The Blackheath Foodies Festival
Just in the nick of time to get this into the post before The Blackheath Foodies Festival comes to our area in Blackheath this weekend. Unfortunately, despite both being so keen to go for what is sure to be a weekend of delicious eats and foodie insights, our diaries are full with family commitments but if you are heading down there, let me know and I’ll stalk your social media feeds for photos 😀
- It’s home
And for the 10th and final reason to love Greenwich and Blackheath, I’m including the most personal reason of all and the one that can be applied least generically but put simply, I love it because it’s home.
It became home by circumstance but this area of London embraced me with its pretty corners, rose gardens, al fresco cafes and village-come-city feel. I moved here to live with the man I love who had laid out some roots here but ironically now, when he hypothesises about moving to other parts of the city, it is me who can be found loyally paying homage to all that is special about Greenwich.
If you’re planning a visit to London, I hope I have managed to persuade you to allocate a part of your itinerary to the Royal Borough of Greenwich and if you’re house-hunting within this gigantic city, I hope I’ve managed to coax you into considering my patch. It’s been our home for several years – but perhaps one day, it might be yours. Perhaps it already is?
Have you ever visited Greenwich? Have you got any other tips I haven’t included here?