Olympics 2012: Best Markets And Shops For Food Lovers

public marketsJust because you’re in London for the Olympics and watching world-class athletes torch calories, doesn’t mean you should be deprived of saturated fats and carbs. Despite its former reputation as a culinary wasteland, 21st century London has become one of the world’s great food cities, renowned for its fine dining and ethnic eateries, markets, specialty shops, and food artisans.

Take one for the team and pay a visit to the following for a taste of today’s London.

The city has its share of farmers and public markets, but if your time is short, the Borough Market is, in my opinion, one of the world’s great food markets. I discovered it on my day off from working at a restaurant in Marylebone in 2001, and I’ve found few other markets that offer comparable delights with regard to quality and diversity.

Located in Southwark along the Thames, Borough Market was established in 1755 and is London’s oldest produce market. Today, you’ll also find baked goods, meat and poultry, seafood, charcuterie, cheese and other English artisan foods, as well as international specialty products: argan oil from Morocco; spices, pickles, fruit pastes and preserves from the Eastern Mediterranean, India and Grenada; Croatian patés, French goose fat and fresh Perigord truffles; and Calabrian licorice root.

The Borough Market is open Thursday through Saturday; click here for times and bus and Underground directions.

Maltby Street is a selection of “breakaway vendors” from Borough Market, including Neal’s Yard Dairy, Monmouth Coffee and St. JOHN Bakery (owned by chef Fergus Henderson he of the much-loved St. JOHN Restaurant, a champion of offal and author of “The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating”). Unlike the market vendors, these are permanent shops that primarily wholesale during the week, and open to the public on Saturday mornings. Psst: Go early to get the custard or jam doughnuts at St. JOHN.cheeseWorld-famous Neal’s Yard Dairy has two shops (the other is in Covent Garden). If you love – or would like to learn about – handcrafted cheeses from the UK, be sure to stop by for a taste.

London’s other great cheese shop is La Fromagerie, with locations in Marlyebone and Highbury. Next door is The Ginger Pig, “butchers and farmers of rare breeds raised on the North York Moors.” Opt for a butchery class, farm tour, or some meat pies in lieu of purchasing fresh product. There’s also a location at the Borough Market.

Marylebone has a lively farmers market, held every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Spitalfields, in the East End, started out as a traders’ market in 1666, and today is a fashionable complex with food, fine dining, boutiques, community events and public art. For non-edible souvenirs, check out Divermenti, a kitchenware store and cooking school in Marlyebone.

[Photo credits: vendor, Flickr user nakedsky; cheese, Flickr user Stepheye]

Tips to Help You Keep Fit While Traveling

10 free things to do in London

british museum While London, United Kingdom, is often thought to be one of the more expensive cities to travel to, it doesn’t have to be. If you plan ahead and add some quality, budget-friendly options to your itinerary, you can actually spend a vacation in London without going bankrupt. To help, here is a list of ten free things to do in London.

Visit a museum

Unlike many other cities, there are many top museums in London that are free to enter. The most popular museum to visit in the country is the British Museum, which was founded in 1753 and was the first national public museum in the world. It is a good idea to visit this museum not only because it will save you money, but also because it will give you comprehensive insight into the history and culture of the region you are visiting. Other noteworthy London museums that offer free entry include:

  • Imperial War Museum – See antique guns, tanks, artillery, and aircraft and trace the history of armed conflict, especially that which pertained to Britain and the Commonwealth.
  • Wellcome Collection– This museum is very unique, and sometimes even a bit disturbing, but is a must-see for those with a curious mind. The exhibits explore the connection between medicine, life, and art in the past, present, and future. Some interesting things you will see include Napoleon’s toothbrush, used guillotine blades, and naturally preserved mummies.
  • V&A Museum of Childhood– For something fun and whimsical, visit this museum and peruse an extensive collection of toys, games, costumes, and exhibits that explore the world of design through childhood.

Take in some art and creativity

As with museums, London also features numerous top-quality art galleries that are free to enter. One of my favorites is the Tate Modern, which features five floors of modern art including abstractions, pop art, cubism, minimalism, and expressionism. If you want to see paintings from the early Renaissance to the Post-Impression periods, the National Gallery features over 2,000 works. And, for the photographers out there (or those who simply like to look at pictures), the Photographers’ Gallery, which opened in 1971 as the first independent gallery in Britain devoted to photography, houses displays of themed photo galleries.

Laugh until you cry at a comedy club

For almost every night of the week you are in London there is a venue that can deliver free laughs. Here is a guide to a week of knee-slapping comedy:

  • Monday- Archangel features new material from established comics as well as up-and-coming comedians working on their first five or ten minutes of jokes.
  • Tuesday- The Source Below features Brooklyn-native Lewis Schaffer every Tuesday (and sometimes more) as he continuously adds new jokes to his already sharp act.
  • Wednesday- Comedy Cafe is one of the best comedy clubs in London and is where many big names in comedy first got started.
  • Thursday and Saturday- Camden Head is a pub, comedy, and music venue that brings in a mix of top-headliners, up-and-coming comedians, and first timers.
  • Sunday- Queen’s Head is a traditional English pub that features a mix of big name and beginner talent in an intimate and friendly setting.

green park london Stroll through beautiful parks

London is home to some of the most beautiful parks in the world. Regent’s Park offers the Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens while Hyde Park is home to the Diana Fountain, a memorial to the Princess of Wales. Green Park is literally right next to Buckingham Palace and has the beautiful Canada Gate while St. James’s Park is the oldest park in London and is surrounded by three palaces. No matter what park you choose, you are sure to be surrounded by beauty on a budget.

Listen to some live music

From Monday-Saturday at 5:45PM and Saturday-Sunday at 1PM you can head over to the National Theatre on the South Bank for free performances of music styles from around the world. Furthermore, on Saturday afternoons at the Notting Hill Arts Club there are free live music concerts hosted from 4PM-8PM. If you’re into a more bar/club type vibe, The Old Blue Last often holds free shows. This is considered by many to be one of the best venues in London and artists like Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, Florence and the Machine, and Mumford and Sons have all played here.

Peruse the street markets

While it costs money to make purchases at a market, it doesn’t cost anything to browse. Budget-travelers will especially love Borough Market, an enormous open-air food market that has everything you could possible crave: breads, soups, sandwiches, meats, cheeses, spreads, sauces, cookies, candy, granola, pate, polenta, and more. The best part of all is almost every stall gives out free samples, so you can literally have a free lunch. There is also the famous Portobello Road Market that features an expansive collection of antiques, and the Old Spitalfields Market which sells everything from arts and crafts to clothing to antiques. If you’re looking for a more funkier market in an alternative setting, head over the numerous Camden Markets in Camden Town.

See the changing of the guard

No trip to London is complete without visiting Buckingham Palace and seeing the changing of the guard. This is when a new guard replaces an old guard, kind of like switching shifts, but is a lot more complicated and involves a formal ceremony that must be performed. Click here for a schedule of dates and times.

covent garden Take in a street performance

When in London, there are a few places you can go to see the talented street performers of the area. In the West Piazza of the Covent Garden Market, right outside St. Paul’s Church, you can see acts that are just as good as if you went to the theater. In fact, the street performers actually have to audition before performing, and there have been some really well-known acts, such as “Beautiful Stu” Goldsmith, the Scottish National Busking Champion, the world-renowned comedic stuntman Sean Bridges, and Cirque du Soleil-style performer, Courtney Orange (pictured right). If you’re more in the mood to see a debate or live discussion, head over to Speakers’ Corner in the north-east corner of Hyde Park, which mostly takes place on Sundays.

Learn something at the London Public Library

The London Public Library not only offers a wealth of knowledge through their myriad books and publications, but also through workshops and classes. Learn how to research your family tree, practice Tai Chi, work on mixed media art, relax with Yoga, and even play the Ukulele. Click here for a complete schedule.

Take a SANDEMAN’s NEW Europe Walking Tour

SANDEMAN’s NEW Europe Walking Tours are a favorite within the backpacking circuit and can give you a quality tour for a budget-friendly (free) price. I have personally been on a few of their tours throughout different cities in Europe and can vouch that they are exceptionally run. Most, if not all, of the guides have college degrees and have studied and trained to be knowledgeable in what they are talking about. You will get to see major and less-known sites and learn all about the history and culture of the region. All of the guides I have had have also been extremely funny and entertaining.

Daily Pampering: Private opera in London

What better way to experience the opera than nestled in your own private balcony under a starry night in London? Central London’s The Courtyard at 51 Buckingham Gate is offering just that for opera lovers, or for those who want to experience the opera in uniquely intimate way.

Michelin star chef, Sriram Ayur, will prepare a special menu for the evening, complete with cocktails and after-dinner drinks. The Victorian fountain, the Shakespearian frieze on the façade of the buildings and the tended flowerbeds add elegance to the Courtyard at 51, which will be transformed into an outdoor Opera house complete with scenes from balconies of this Taj hotel.

Opera performances are courtesy of The Covent Garden Strings Company, who have written the opera specifically for the Courtyard at 51. The performance takes into account the history of the hotel, as well as some of Shakespeare’s most pivotal moments from nearby London townhouses, including the famous scene from Romeo and Juliet.

The best part? This particular Daily Pampering doesn’t cost much, once you get to London. The evening at the opera costs only $88/per person (£59.50), but the experience of your own intimate opera in London is priceless. 51 Buckingham Gate is a member of the Taj Suites and Residences, so you can add to this pampering with a night in one of the hotel’s 86 elegant suites, complete with butler service.

The performances only happen four nights this summer: July 30th and 31st and August 20th and 21st, 2010.

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