Forró dancing, free hugging and exotic fruit shopping in London

I got stuck in London. But I was definitely stuck in a good way. I was separated from my coat in Ireland but luckily it was a heat wave in the UK, so I didn’t need it at the moment. I knew I would need it after summer ended, so I decided to wait for it to catch up with me. At first, I thought it was putting a huge damper on my trip to have to wait for my coat for four and a half weeks, but in the end, I can’t imagine my trip without that time in London!

London is full of museums. The multitudes of theaters attract tourists and locals alike. The Changing of the Guards, Big Ben chiming the hour and streets filled with red double-decker buses and black cabs mold the image of London. But the city is so much more than that. Yes, London is known for museums, but it’s also infused with living history and multi-cultural scenes. The theaters put on amazing shows, but the city is crammed full of people from every walk of life living side by side. There are many traditional postcard images of London, but take a photo in the Brixton Market and you could easily place it in the Caribbean. There is a lot to experience in London besides what the guidebooks tell you and I was out to find them. Here are some cool places to check out in London that will leave at least some of your fellow tourists behind!

People-watching is wonderful in London. I found sitting in a park or a green square with a bag of cherries to be a wonderful pastime. Nearly 30% of people living in London were not born in London. London is probably the most diverse city I’ve been to besides New York City. You can walk down on any street in any part of London and hear different languages and accents. One of the first questions when meeting someone who lives in London is where they are from. The answers cover the globe and will astound you. People come from all over the world to live in London. Like New York City, it’s a place where dreams can come true, regardless of where you’re from. Several times, I went with my Argentinean friend to Guanabara, a Brazilian dance club in Covent Garden. Even on a Sunday night, the club is full, there is live music and without fail, there is amazing forró (pronounced fo-ho) dancing. Forró is a partner dance and a great way to meet people since many people go there alone for the purpose of dancing. Getting to know the Brazilian crowd in London shines an unusual light on the city and gives a whole new feel to this multi-cultural city.

A multi-lingual sign for a multi-cultural city

What better way to meet Londoners than to hug them? One warm summer day I offered hugs with about 30 other CouchSurfers through the Free Hugs Campaign to hundreds of Londoners and travelers along the Thames. Most people were excited about it and my very first hug of the day picked me up and swung me around so much that my sunglasses fell of my head and nearly broke! Talk about enthusiasm! It was great to experience the eagerness and friendliness people showed and their surprise that we were offering hugs without expecting anything back. It was a uplifting and a wonderful way to get in touch with London and make some people smile along the way.

London is full of markets. Camden Market in the north and Brixton Market in the south are my two favorites. Camden Market is known as the alternative market in London where you can find anything eclectic. Gothic and vintage clothing is as easy to find as palm readers and Indian food. At the Afro-Caribbean market in Brixton, you can find food and clothes from all over the world. You can even buy the controversial live African snails! If you plan on cooking anything international and can’t find the right ingredients at a normal shop, chances are good you can find it in Brixton! At times, it can feel like you’ve left London to buy unusual fruits, cuts of meat and strange looking fish from another country. If you want to feel like you’ve left London, just head to Brixton. You’ll probably be the only tourist there. Here are three London markets I recommend.

London is an amazing mix of cultures and lifestyles. Of course, you can learn about the city in a museum, but if you just look around yourself while standing on any street in London, you can experience the diverse city around you. There is a lot more to London than just museums, theaters and a list of things to see. By going outside the tourist trail of sites, you can experience the wonderfully eclectic London.

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