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Secret City: North London

By Shirley Tan at Middlesex University (Asia Pacific Regional Hub – Malaysia Office)
15 July 2014

London is one of the most vibrant and dynamic places in the world, with a student-friendly culture and enough art, theatre, history, food and music to keep you entertained for a lifetime.

It’s also one of the world’s most diverse cities. Step outside and you can find restaurants offering food from over 70 countries, hear over 300 languages being spoken, join any kind of student society you’re interested in, and meet people from all over the world.

But where to start? Many people say London is a city of villages, and each neighbourhood has its own unique character. Here, Shirley Tan shows us some of the highlights of North London – home of colourful markets, cool boutiques and picturesque parks – and gives us an in-depth look at the place closest to her heart, Hendon, where Middlesex University is based.

Neighbourhoods of North London

From the grimy glamour of Camden to the urban buzz of bohemian Stoke Newington, and the serenity of Hampstead Heath – the city north of the Thames represents all that is best about the UK’s capital! As a student here you’re perfectly placed to enjoy London life to its fullest, whatever your background, tastes and interests.

These are just some of the highlights:

Islington’s Upper Street, with its mix of restaurants, bars, theatres, shops and cinemas, is known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere. In contrast, right around the corner is Chapel Market, one of London’s liveliest markets.

Quirky fashion: A vintage clothes boutique in Islington ©VisitBritain / Pawel Libera

Highgate has a pleasant village atmosphere, a world away from the bustle of nearby Holloway Road. Visit pretty Waterlow Park for views over London and outdoor theatre in the summer, or see the graves of Karl Marx, Michael Faraday, Douglas Adams and George Eliot in Highgate Cemetery.

Camden has long been an essential destination for London’s students. The centre of the capital’s indie scene, Camden is a thriving social hub, with dozens of music venues, clubs and pubs – and of course Camden Lock Market, a fashion lover’s paradise.

Stoke Newington – or Stokey – is one of North London’s best-kept secrets. Eclectic shops, bars and clubs, as well as some of the best restaurants in town, are clustered around Church Street. Stokey is also one of the most culturally diverse parts of the capital.

Hampstead Heath is a lush oasis. These 791 acres have enough grass and woodland for you to find your own space – whether it’s for a quiet walk or a raucous picnic – plus famous swimming ponds and Kenwood House, renowned for its open-air concerts. What better way to spend a summer afternoon?

Let's go fly a kite: Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath ©VisitBritain / Britain on View

Hendon, where Middlesex University is based, is a suburb about 30 minutes from the centre of London by train. Here, some of my favourite things to see and do include:

•  Shopping at the vast Brent Cross Shopping Centre – this was the first large enclosed shopping
   centre in the UK, and is home to over 100 high street favourites.
•  The Royal Air Force Museum London, located on the former Hendon Aerodrome. It features a
   world-class collection of over 100 artefacts, from aircraft to lapel badges.
•  Trent Country Park, a park ideal for cycling, jogging, horse riding, golfing or just chilling out.
•  Barnet Copthall Leisure Centre, which has extensive gym and swimming facilities.
•  Allianz Park, the sports stadium and home of Saracens Rugby Club.
•  Alexandra Palace, one of London’s biggest music and entertainment venues. A short train ride from
   Hendon, it’s worth it to see the stars who perform there!

By now you’re likely to be getting hungry! Try ShakeTastic for ice cream and smoothies, or Pizza Express for pizza – there are branches all over London, including one in Brent Cross. Hendon Hall Hotel serves a traditional afternoon tea or dinner at the Garrick Restaurant.

There are many kosher restaurants here, including Adam’s, Kavanna and The Kanteen. Or take your tastebuds on a trip around the world – there’s the Portuguese café Wine & Bread, Polish restaurant Oliwia, Turkish restaurant Soffra, and Real Beijing Restaurant for Chinese food.

For drinks, head to The Claddagh Ring – a traditional Irish pub with outdoor seating and a beer garden – or Lounge 37. Or for a night out with a difference, try the Camden Pub Crawl – a regular event that takes you on a tour of some of the best bars, clubs and live music venues in North London.

Clubs, pubs and countless market stalls: Shopping on Camden High Street ©VisitBritain / Britain on View

Top tips for new Londoners

  • You don’t have to spend money to have fun – many of the best attractions are free, such as outdoor musicians in Covent Garden, most art galleries and museums (though special exhibitions might have a fee), and many beautiful parks.
  • There are also many student discounts available, for transport, cinema tickets, books, clothing and much more. Check out the NUS extra card.
  • Many bars, restaurants and entertainment venues run student nights, making it easy for you to socialise with other students in the city. Look out for recommendations on your campus and at your students’ union.
  • Be aware of queue etiquette, and don’t be surprised if you see people queuing for everything – at bus stops, tube stations, taxi ranks, cinemas, etc.!
  • You will have amazing opportunities to watch live sports, whether you’re into football, tennis, cricket, golf, or anything else – so buy a ticket and catch a game while you’re here. Find out more in The UK sporting calendar.
  • The UK is famous for its department stores and shopping streets, so don’t miss Harrods, Selfridges, Westfield, Oxford Street, Bond Street, Carnaby Street and Regent Street. Outdoor markets are also popular, where you can get everything from food to vintage fashion and handmade jewellery.
  • London has an excellent transport network, served by National Rail (trains), London Underground (the Tube) and buses. The easiest way to use public transport in London is with an Oyster card, and students’ discounts are available. Find out more in Travel in the UK.
  • That said, walking is a great way to get to know the city, and locations in central London are usually closer than you think! Invest in a pocket-size London A-Z if you don’t have access to a mobile map.

My final piece of advice – if you’re thinking about studying internationally, the UK really is the best place to be! The high quality of education, diverse culture, low costs, and world-class entertainment make this an incomparable destination for international students.

Read more

   •  Moving to the UK: The essential student checklist
   •  10 free places to see in the UK
   •  Explore the UK: City guides for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

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