London Calling

New Irish presenter, Laura Whitmore, was thrust into London's bright lights when she was plucked from obscurity and placed in front of the camera lens six months ago.

The bright lights of London have always enraptured me. Growing up in Bray, Co. Wicklow, I always felt I had everything at my fingertips. But London is a bit different.

As well as the obvious – in that its population is almost double the entire country of Ireland – there’s an eclectic buzz that courses through London’s veins like no other city. For me, living in London is a rite of passage: something we all need to get out of our system but not necessarily stay with forever.

Like many Irish tourists seeking to exploit the benefits of cheap airline flights, I’d been to London a lot growing up, mainly for the theatre and the shopping. So when I was plucked from obscurity six months ago and thrown headfirst into this bustling city as MTV’s newest presenter, my limited knowledge ranged from how to get from Oxford Street to Leicester Square. Problem.

But after six months I’ve been able to leave my A-Z map at home and become acquainted with a few special hotspots.

Firstly, London is ridiculously expensive. Despite the understandable currency distinction, even holding the pound equal to the euro this place is far more hazardous to your purse than Dublin. But if you know where you’re going, you can do London on the cheap.

Yes folks, it’s possible to have a bloody good night out without your conscience tut-tutting and relentlessly reminding you about this recession we’re all going through.

The MTV studios are based in Camden, North London and I live really close by, in Islington. I was 18 the first time I milled my way through the markets full of animated traders and scents of curry powder and warm sugar-coated waffles. Now five years later and working there, I’ve found a home away from home.

North London is full of trendy hotspots – but unlike trendy clubs such as the West End’s Chinawhite and Dolce, northern haunts are a little bit funkier and more laid back… and cheaper!

My pub pick in Camden is definitely Dublin Castle which reminds me of Eamonn Doran’s in Temple Bar during my college days. It’s quite homely with regular performances from up and coming bands and the price of a pint is reasonable enough. The further North you go, the cheaper your pint will become, but I much prefer the buzz around the Camden/Angel area.

Lockside Lounge is also a nice chilled bar and as it says on the tin, overlooks Camden’s barge-filled lock. Drinks aren’t too pricey and during the summer months there’s free veggie and meat hotdogs on Fridays. The student inside me loves free veggie hotdogs – oh yes I’m living the glamorous life!

Amy Winehouse fans will be delighted to know the infamous Hawley Arms is back and running after February’s fire. Other places to note in North London are Proud Galleries, The World’s End and The Oxford Arms.

Music seeps through London and you can get to some really cool gigs for under £20 - some as cheap as £5 (or free if you’re an MTV presenter). Recently I saw Dirty Pretty Things play one of their last London gigs ever in the Roundhouse on Chalk Farm Round. The Roundhouse has also seen Paul McCartney and Oasis play. Koko on Camden High Street has everyone from The Subways to Cut Copy to Noel Gallagher and further up the road the Electric Ballroom always has a few good gigs that won’t break the bank.

I usually like to relax at the weekends after a hectic week and there’s no better start than heading south to Borough Market. If you’re a fan of food, specifically cheese like me, this place is fab. I’ve spent many a hungover Saturday morning walking around nibbling cheese samples, tasting jams, sipping pink champagne and having the most amazing mulled mine. The homemade cakes aren’t half bad either!

You can’t come to London without taking advantage of the many museums – The Egyptian wing of the British Museum is something you need to see to believe (they have real mummies with the skin still preserved on them!), and the Tate Modern and National Portrait Gallery always have an interesting exhibition or two.

My Sundays are usually taken up at Spitalfield and Brick Lane Markets in East London. Brick Lane is full of vintage and second hand clothes and accessories stalls – I even managed to pick myself up a pair of cream second-hand knee boots for £2 and a '70s style bicycle for £60. Spitalfields is a bit fancier and is where a lot of new designers get their name known.

If, however, you want to experience the highlife and are willing to splash out then I recommend afternoon tea at The Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge, a bit of pampering in Mayfair’s exclusive Nyumba salon where the genius Michael Charalambous works his magic, and champagne cocktails in Claridges. Fancy!


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