Live like a local – experience Clerkenwell cool in London

The historic region of Clerkenwell has a lot to offer Londoners and visitors alike

Live like a local – experience Clerkenwell cool in London
25 August 2012

Like most great global cities, London has plenty of districts which tourists often overlook but which really deserve more attention. I’ve lived in the Clerkenwell area for nearly 18 months now and I am totally loving it. It’s an artsy, design-led neighborhood that takes its coffee very seriously and is blessed with a plethora of great cafes and restaurants.

Centrally located, it’s close to the City of London and the West End and has easy access to the Kings Cross/St Pancras transport hub.

Whether you’re visiting from out of town or a London local looking to explore a new area, here’s a few highlights to get you started.

Where to stay:

  • The Zetter Hotel epitomizes the best of Clerkenwell – strong design, well appointed rooms and in the heart of the action on Clerkenwell Road;
  • The Malmaison Hotel is perfectly located in picturesque Charterhouse Square – dark and romantic, the perfect place for an illicit weekend;
  • Rent an apartment through Airbnb – a sure-fire way of finding your Clerkenwell groove and blending in with the locals.

Getting around:

  • Grab an Oyster Card for easy access to London’s public transport system of tubes and buses – nearby Farringdon tube station is particularly well connected, one stop away from Kings Cross/St Pancras as well as direct trains to Gatwick and Luton airports;
  • Embrace the bike hire system – Clerkenwell is well served by docking stations and it’s the quickest and easiest way to get around;
  • Taxi – London’s famous black cabs can be easily flagged down on the street and £10 (€13 $16) will pretty much get you wherever you need to go;
  • Walk – Everything is surprisingly close and you’ll discover a lot of hidden gems as you wander the streets of this neighborhood.

Points of interest:

  • St John’s Gate dates back to 1504 – the Monastic Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem provided medical assistance during the crusades;
  • Smithfield Meat Market is still a working market and early each morning it is rammed with trucks unloading their cargo of carcasses and butchers hauling meat in every direction;
  • West Smithfield is where you can find a memorial to William Wallace – the Scottish patriot who was hung, drawn and quartered in this public square;
  • Sadler’s Wells is renowned for dance productions – a great night out if you’re looking for a bit of culture;
  • Fabric nightclub is one of London’s super clubs and attracts a young crowd of hard-core clubbers from around the world.

Best breakfast/brunch options:

  • Smiths of Smithfield, Charterhouse Street – A long-standing fixture on the Clerkenwell landscape, celebrity chef John Torode keeps packing them in at this relaxed and casual warehouse space;
  • Workshop Coffee Co, Clerkenwell Road – They roast their own coffee but their food is also seriously good;
  • J&A Cafe, Clerkenwell Road – A bit tricky to find but worth it. Locals don’t like to share this one;
  • Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell Road – Crisp, white and classy. Clever combinations of food – always feels fresh and fashionable;
  • Dose, Long Lane – A small coffee joint with room for only a few tables, really friendly staff and good cakes and sandwiches;
  • Caravan – Cycle up to Exmouth Market for brunch Australian-style. Big food, big flavours.

Best bars:

  • Zetter Townhouse, Clerkenwell Road – The kind of bar I could happily move into, top drawer cocktails made with love and attention to detail. Comfortable armchairs and sofas where it’s easy to spend the evening.
  • Cellar Gascon, West Smithfield – Gallic cool at its best. Impressive bar snacks showcasing the cuisine of Gascony and stylish french bar staff to guide you through your wine choices.
  • Giant Robot, Clerkenwell Road – Beer, cocktails and burgers for that after-work vibe.

Best restaurants:

  • St John, St John – Renowned for ‘nose-to-tail’ eating, St John is regularly quoted as one of London’s top restaurants. Challenge your palette and impress your friends.
  • Bistrot Bruno Loubet, Clerkenwell Road – Date night? Look no further – seductive French cooking at its best. After dinner pop next door to the Zetter Townhouse for a nightcap.
  • Comptoir Gascon, Charterhouse Street – Really good rustic French food from Gascony. Order the cassoulet and some full-bodied red wine.
  • Polpo, Cowcross Street – Small plates of Italian food, perfect for a casual meal after work.
  • Vinoteca, St John – The best wine bar in London. Great wines that you won’t be familiar with, paired with top drawer food.
  • The Eagle, Farringdon Road – London’s original gastropub, serving hearty peasant food that is always a crowd pleaser.

The lease on my flat in Clerkenwell is nearly up and I’ll be moving on, but it’s been a great 18 months getting to know a really cool and livable part of London.

Read more from Gareth Johnson.

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