Lifestyle & Culture

Pauline Lemaire: My three favorite centers of calm in London

Columbia Road Flower Market

London is a bustling city, a magnificent and gargantuesque anthill, but it can become quite asphyxiating, even for a big city girl like me. Its mosaic of neighbourhoods is characterised by their distinct identities, but thankfully the majority of tourists concentrate on the most famous sites, leaving us – citizens of London – some space to live and breathe. 

Here are my three favourite places to go to when I feel like I need to get a breath of (metaphorical, or not) fresh air:

Word on the Water

I stumbled upon this bookshop out of complete luck. Quite literally a floating experience, this bookshop is on a houseboat. The first time I walked in I felt completely submerged by a feeling of well-being; this is the most wholesome place I have found in London so far.

The book selection seems tailored to my tastes; a mix of feminist literature and classics. Have a look for yourself on their catalogue! It is held by a group of three friends, one of which quit their psychiatrist practice, to focus on this bookshop. They also do gardening on the boat’s rooftop in the summer, and there’s a cosy couch inside and a fireplace for colder days. 

Address: Regent’s Canal Towpath, London N1C 4LW, United Kingdom

It is open everyday, from noon until 7 p.m. 

Hampstead Heath

Classic, yet impossible not to mention.

Have you ever thought about we don’t notice how much a city smells until we go to the countryside and inhale fresh air? And how once this seed has been planted (pun intended) in your mind you yearn for fresh air? Well at least I do, and Hampstead Heath is my garden of Eden.

Whenever the sun comes out I grab my book, hop in the tube and head to Hampstead. With its 320 hectares, it is one of the largest and oldest parks in the city. It consists mainly of centuries-old forests and meadows. What’s incredible about Hampstead Heath is its duality between nature and the urban, as it manages to make you feel as if you were in the countryside, yet you can still admire a breathtaking view of London.

It is open 24/7, and the easiest way to get there is probably to take the Northern Line and stop at Hampstead. 

Columbia Road Flower Market

I refer to this market as London’s weekly pilgrimage. This is certainly not the calmest place to be in on a Sunday, yet I find it to be a great change of scene. This street has a village vibe, as it is surrounded by low and colourful buildings, and most of the flower shop sellers do not speak the Queen’s English, which is a very welcomed soundscape change for me.

On your way there, you immediately grasp that you’re heading in the right direction, as more and more passers-by are holding a bouquet or a big plant. The endless stands paving the street boast roses, tulips, succulents, daffodils, dried flower bouquets and big green plants.

The bright colours mingle with the fragrances, but this comes at a price: the unstoppable desire of transforming your flat into an urban jungle, you have been warned!

However if you go there at around 1 p.m. with a big smile and some cash, you might be able to score some interesting discounts. It is a great place to wander in with friends or alone, in which case you can enjoy the anonymity granted by the crowd that surrounds you. 

Photo by Pauline Lemaire

Last but not least, there are the most adorable decoration shops whose beautiful windows adorn the street. You will find candles, vases, more vases, vintage clothing, antique stores, coffee shops and a boulangerie whose smell makes me feel like I’m back home in Paris. 

Address: Columbia Rd, London E2 7RG, United Kingdom

It is open on Sundays from 8 a.m. until roughly 2 p.m.

About the author:

Pauline Lemaire is a Digital Anthropology Masters student at University College London (UCL), and is thus currently based in London. She grew up in Singapore and Morocco, but her family has now relocated to Paris.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in French Literature and Philosophy from the University of Oxford.

See all of Pauline’s Dispatches posts here.

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Pauline Lemaire is a Digital Anthropology Masters student at University College London (UCL) and is thus currently based in London. She grew up in Singapore and Morocco, but her family has now relocated to Paris.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in French Literature and Philosophy from the University of Oxford.

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