If the Harry Potter studio tour isn’t quite your idea of a perfect day in London, consider the favorite haunts of the city’s hippest new tour guides: the electronic music duo Goldfrapp.
Vocalist and keyboardist Alison Goldfrapp has called the neighborhood of East London home for 10 years. “I love it,” she says. “It’s the longest time I’ve ever lived in one area. London, although it’s changing rapidly, in my view, is still a wonderful mix of people from all walks of life and age groups. Around where I live is no exception.” It should come as no surprise her recommendations are book shops, cafes and cultural institutions that highlight the city’s range.
Her bandmate, keyboardist Will Gregory, is more nostalgic. “What I love about London are the layers of history that lurk close to the surface,” he says. “This city can suddenly transport you back a few decades or centuries in a way that you can smell and touch. So almost all my suggestions are museums…”
If you find yourself walking the streets of London with their new album Silver Eye, out now, buzzing in your earbuds, why not wander over to one of the artists’ favorite museums and coffee shops.
Donlon Books: “Small, charming and definitely inspiring, Donlon sells an eclectic and slightly subversive collection of art books and miscellaneous objects,” says Goldfrapp. “The shopkeeper Connor and his pals are always super helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. Always worth visiting for a rummage and a read. You’ll definitely find interesting stuff here.”
Leila’s Cafe: “There’s nothing fancy about this place,” she says. “Its decor is basic and it’s sometimes chilly if you get there early for breakfast. But its ‘no fuss’ [feel] is also its delight. The food is gorgeous and prepared with fresh, top quality ingredients. Their shop next door sells superb veg and if you like smoked mackerel they have the best you can buy in London.”
The Towpath Cafe: “This cafe on the canal path is run by the most delightful ladies serving the most heavenly, delicious food,” Goldfrapp gushes. “Come rain or shine, it’s a great place to sit and watch the world go by. It’s getting pretty popular these days… thats because it’s a little gem!”
Violet: “This is a tiny bakery selling alluring sweet and delicious American style cakes,” she says. “The just-baked aromas as you step through the door will get you all gooey for sure. It serves simple lunches and teas too. Have a nose around some of the other lovely independent shops along Wilton Way, including The Black Sculls motorcycles.”
The Barbican Centre: “I can — and do — spend hours in this place,” Goldfrapp admits of her final pick. “It’s a crazy and fascinating building, designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in the Brutalist style. The Centre hosts classical and contemporary music concerts, theatre performances, film screenings and art exhibitions. It has one of the largest public libraries in London and a wonderful conservatory, which always makes me think of the film Silent Running. You can sit outside by the fountains and ponder on a film or exhibition you’ve just seen or just wander in for a gander. It was once voted the ugliest building in London — I’m not sure it’s the ugliest but it’s definitely the most confusing to get around. Be prepared to get lost.”
Sir John Soane’s Museum: “This crazy interior design of this Georgian architect’s house offers an inspiring view into the mindset of a man from another era,” says Gregory of this unique, small museum.
Horniman Museum and Gardens: “Frederick John Horniman was a tea tycoon and a collector, but beyond all reason or understanding,” Gregory explains of his second must-visit spot. “He collected everything an Edwardian might covet: stuffed animals, mummies, sundials. He turned his obsessions into a legacy. Then he had to build this fantastic building to house it.” Be wary of getting there, though: “It’s a bit out of town near Forest Hill, so it’s kind of a day trip. It’s very good with kids though,” he adds.
Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret: “This might be the most terrifying place in London,” Gregory says of this haunting choice. “It’s the operating theatre, where amputations were performed without anesthetic. The surgical instruments on display are such vivid glimpses into the Gothic horrors of Victorian medicine they make the London Dungeon pale in comparison. If you are going up the Shard don’t miss this just around the corner.”
National Maritime Museum: “Another whiff of history that has genuine impact is Admiral Nelson‘s uniform on display at the Maritime Museum,” he says. “The bullet hole from the musket ball that killed him at the battle of Trafalgar is poignantly visible. He didn’t have to wear this conspicuous admiral’s jacket on deck but refused any concession to safety preferring to set an example of solidarity with his men. The jacket is shockingly small and frail.” His inside tip for visitors: “It’s worth taking the trip to Greenwich on one of the water taxi hydrofoils — it’s the fastest way to get around London.”
“Monmouth Coffee in Borough Market is great for a caffeine fix before you go around Tate Modern. Also Southwark Bijoux Cathedral is round the corner. If you have kids, take them onto the historic warship HMS Belfast. It’s a 3-D maze of corridors and bulkheads. The engine room is a wonder of 20th-century metalwork.
The Petrie Museum: “Hiding behind University College London (UCL) is a bit of an undiscovered gem containing very dry and dusty rows of Egyptian pots,” says Gregory.”They’re superficially dull until you realize that Petrie used his finds to create a timeline of pot styles that can date earthenware dug up anywhere. It is still used to this day to identify the period of a site. It’s a sort of archeological periodic table. Flinders Petrie, unsung Victorian genius.”
His final pick is the Royal Institution. “It has an evening science lecture that could be a worthwhile stop. You will find yourself in a lecture hall unchanged since the days of Faraday’s famous demonstration of first electric motor. In the basement, Faraday’s lab is still there perfectly preserved.”