I Heart My City: Daniel’s London

19 May

Daniel's advice: Start seeing the world differently, no matter what your age. (Photograph by Holidais Bunch, My Shot)

Daniel Raven-Ellison is using films, books, websites, and walks to take geography far beyond memorizing dots on a map, challenging people to experience the world meaningful, surprising ways. This National Geographic Emerging Explorer says ”adventure has become something we watch on TV. In fact, there are amazing adventures to be had right outside our doors.” Here are Daniel’s tips for taking this attitude to the streets of London, where he lives. Check out his latest project, Mission:Explore, then follow Daniel’s story on Twitter @RavenEllison.
London is My CityThe first place I take a visitor from out of town is on a half-day or more exploration — from Cambridge Heath to central London, stopping at Hackney City Farm, Columbia Road (and flower market if it’s Sunday), Brick Lane (with its amazing street art, independent shops, and historical geography mash-up of food, architecture, and culture), Spitalfields Market, the City of London including St. Paul’s Cathedral, over to Tate Modern and along the river through the Southbank Arts Centre, across the Golden Jubilee Bridges (with a view to Canary Wharf, the Shard, the Palace of Westminster, and the Thames), up to Trafalgar Square and ending at the Salisbury, a Victorian gin palace. This walk goes from off- to on-the-beaten-track and gives a sense of London’s scale and diversity.

St. Paul’s Cathedral and a routemaster bus frame the unstoppable dance of London. (Photograph by Rolando Rodriguez Leal, My Shot)

When I crave maps I always go to Stanford’s in Covent Garden where I also like to explore the alleys and independent shops off Seven Dials.

To escape grey I head to the string of gardens, parks, and greenways that make London one of the greenest cities in the world.

If I want to discover somewhere new I go online to sites like the London Profiler and the London LSOA Atlas to find somewhere with an unusual or interesting social, economic, or environmental profile — then visit it to experience what it’s really like.

For complete quiet, I can hide away in Epping Forest.

London’s regal Buckingham Palace. (Photograph by Mariusz Smiejek, My Shot)

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with a manky pigeon, some escort cards in a red, urine-smelling phone box, an overweight grey squirrel in Hyde Park, one of our thousands of CCTV cameras, an ‘arts-based’ screening device being used to block views of poverty from the Olympic Park, and some decent street art.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Buckingham Palace it has to be the Swan.

Sam Smiths pubs are my one-stop shops for great ales in often quirky and comfortable pubs.

The Angel, a Sam Smiths pub in Soho. (Photograph by Ewan Munro, Flickr)

Locals know to skip Borough Market and check out Brixton Market instead.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to the Southbank Arts Centre or the Barbican which always have a diverse range of free music, spoken word, and other events going on.

For a huge splurge I go to Ealing Broadway, my local shopping centre. There are some good charity shops and I like to invest in my local community. The Rolling Stones cut their teeth here, there is great pizza at Santa Maria (a slice of Italy with awesome food), a stunning chain of parks which hold scores of festivals in the summer months that reflect local cultures, PM Gallery and House and much more.

Photo ops in my city include its skyline and the best vantage points are from Richmond Park in the west (with a protected view of St. Paul’s Cathedral from King Henry VIII’s Mound) Parliament and Primrose Hill in the north and Greenwich Parkin the southeast (all of which have great villages, pubs, and independent

The London Eye at night. (Photograph by Gunter Hofer, My Shot)

shops nearby). From central London, take a ride around the London Eye or up the Shard, London’s newest tower and Europe’s tallest skyscraper.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be a mixture of Prince Harry and MIA.

The most random thing about my city is how the riots were managed last year. The riots took London by surprise and are not normal at all. You can expect to travel around the vast majority of London in peace. If you want Londoners to be friendly to you, ask one how their day is going. Want to remain anonymous and be left alone? Don’t.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves canoeing and seeing the city self-powered from the Thames, a real privilege. If you’ve got (lots) more time you can walk the length of the 184-mile river from source to mouth.

My city’s best museum is the V&A in South Kensington or the fantastic Museum of Childhood in East London, near the start of the walk I suggested earlier.

Stanfords, a must-visit spot for any aspiring geographer. (Photograph by Thierry Gregorius, Flickr)

The V&A is beautifully organized into different artistic techniques and methods. If you’ve got kids bring notebooks and pencils for them to sketch what they find. That night you might be able to sleep at the Science or Natural History museums which are are right across the street.

My favorite walking route is right across the city. I enjoy walking from the green-belt — a donut of semi-green space and fields that’s stuffed full of urban life — to its heart. You can grab a tube train for 40 minutes north, east, south, or west and be in a field. Once you’re there it will take a day of good walking to reach a pint of London Pride (my favorite standard ale that you can find across the capital). Visit Walk London to discover signed and planned routes across the capital and one that loops right around it.

For a night of dancing, go to Fabric (for something big) or Notting Hill Arts Club (for something more intimate). For live music, check out the scores of festivals that fill London’s parks and streets. During the Olympics it’s going to be next to impossible to miss major performances taking place in the cities squares, parks, and gardens. Check out the London 2012 Festival site to see what’s going on.


Experience exceptional wildlife at the Wetlands Centre. (Photograph by Neil Parker, My Shot)

Wong Kei in Chinatown is the spot for late-night eats. Great Chinese food and service at good prices. It has a real sense of China about it.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Time Out.

You can tell a lot about my city from riding a bus route and people-watching. Be daring and pick one that goes to the edge of the city and back.

You can tell if someone is from my city… no wait, you can’t. Over 300 languages are spoken by people in the city. Nearly half of people living in central London were born outside of the UK.

In the spring you should go on an adventure through Southeast London’s Green Chain and discover bluebells in the ancient Oxleas Woods.

In the summer you should go to a BBC Prom in the early evening and then finish off your day at the Global Gathering for an all-night rave.

Check out the Frieze Art Fair in the fall. (Photograph by Linda Nylind, Flickr)

In the fall you should stick around for a series of stunning major arts festivals including the Thames Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Open House, London Design Festival, Frieze Art Fair, and the Battle of Ideas.

In the winter you should drink too much mulled wine on November 5th (okay, it’s still fall, technically, but it feels like winter) and watch English people enjoy a dark ritual as they burn effigies of Guy Fawkes, a man who tried to blow-up the Houses of Parliament. You can expect fireworks set to music in many parks across the capital, but you could also take a flask of warm booze up a hill and shuffle your own soundtrack for an alternative and free experience. 

A hidden gem in my city is the London Wetlands Centre in Barnes and its new otters.

Don’t miss Glastonbury Festival in June. Nowhere near London but too good not to mention. Held on a farm near Pilton in Somerset, over 150,000 people brave the elements to enjoy some of the best performances that are available to experience on the planet ranging from famous bands to eclectic circus acts.

Fun times at Thames Festival. (Photograph by Slawek Kozdras, My Shot)

Just outside my city, you can climb stunning mountains in Wales or the Lake District, both of which are just over three hours from central London by train.

The best way to see my city is on foot.

If my city were a pet it would be a ring-necked parakeet. Imported from the Himalayas, many as pets, these immigrant birds now live in large ex-pat like colonies around the capital. I love watching these birds on the sides of tall railway bridges in west London, perched almost as if they were on rocky cliffs.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in a large town.

The best book about my city is  A Mis-Guide to Anywhere.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Inner City Life” by Goldie.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss Mission:Explore, our website that’s packed full of free activities for them to do almost anywhere!!

The London 2012 Olympics could only happen in my city. Really.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because it’s got so much going on. Whoever you are, there is so much for you to enjoy in London.

See how Daniel’s London stacks up against Tara’s London and Job’s London.

I Heart My City: Daniel’s London


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