Center yourself in the chaos of the city.
Samuel Johnson famously said, “When a man [or woman] is tired of London, he is tired of life.” No offense, Sam, but sometimes I’m tired regardless of where I happen to be. As an introvert, cities can especially sap my energy. Compared to some of the Earth’s zaniest urban spaces, the streets of London might not seem too intimidating, but the U.K. capital remains one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. So what’s a girl to do to best conserve her energy whilst exploring London? Here are five inexpensive ways to find quiet, contemplative spaces to escape from the ordered chaos of London Town…
Grab a flat white at Notes Cafe
Of course, not all introverts are coffee drinkers, but cafes tend to be lovely places to steal away in many an international city. This is especially true of London, which has some of the best coffee in the world. During my time spent in the city last summer, my dear friend took it upon herself to show me some of the best cafes in town. My favorite was Notes, a film cafe tucked around the corner from Trafalgar Square on St. Martin’s Lane. Though close to one of the most popular tourist attractions in London, Notes itself is calm and cozy with long, wooden tables and a spidery chandelier in the back. Try a flat white, a latte-like beverage developed in New Zealand and Australia and hard to find in the United States, and enjoy whatever classic film happens to be showing on the cafe’s two flat-screen televisions. This introvert-approved activity can be done alone with a good book or with a friend or two happy to waste the hours away in good conversation and a cup of tea.
People watch at Covent Garden Market
Covent Garden Market, filled with its boutiques and restaurants, might not seem the best spot to go when trying to escape the crowds, but – done right – Covent Garden can be the perfect locale to sit back and watch the world go by. Let everyone else dodge one another while you curl into one of the many nooks of the massive neo-classical structure. Some of my most reflective moments in the city came when I was curled up against one of the stone pillars, jotting down observations about the city and its inhabitants, wondering what secrets the present passers-by and centuries-old marketplace held. Introverts tend to take in data very quickly and will shut down after a short while to process said data. Engaging in an activity like this can give you space and time to process that data without having to remove yourself from the intoxicating magic of this ancient city.
Watch a play at the National Theatre
There are so many amazing theaters within the confines of London, the central city in a country that values the art of theater. Though I have not spent enough time in London to explore them all, one of my favorites is the National, currently celebrating its 50th year in existence. The National Theatre is located along the South Bank of the Thames and hosts a variety of productions – from Shakespeare to contemporary works. They offer affordable 12-pound tickets for many of their publicly-funded productions. While visiting, I saw London Road, a musical set during the Ipswich serial murders. Though I found the production challenging, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. Attending with a good friend of mine, a British introvert, gave us the perfect opportunity to indulge the sides of our personalities eager to delve into deep, thoughtful conversation afterwards – over dessert and tea. The perfect end to a perfectly introverted evening.
Take a photography tour along the Thames
As an introvert who likes to take in the world at her own pace, I often find myself turning to digital photography – especially whilst traveling. Not only is it a way to literally and figuratively focus my curiosity about the world but also to process it in image-sized pieces both in the moment and days, months, and years after taking the picture. Photography also happens to be my favorite way to take in the Thames, the river that snakes through central London. Six years ago, when I visited the city for the first time in a 36-hour, layover-induced haze, walking hand-and-lens along the river with my camera is one of my few clear memories. On my two subsequent visits, similar journeys remain my most vivid. The most recent came in the hollow chill of early December. Needing an escape from the lovely, but overwhelming launch of the friend of a friend’s brewery, I grabbed my camera and my coat and took the Thames. I spent a good hour and a half skirting above and along its frigid waters, criss-crossing the many bridges that traverse its shores. That night it felt like there was nothing between me and the city, like it was sharing a secret with me so few stay quiet enough to hear.
Stand on the prime meridian at the Royal Observatory
Feel the need for some hardcore reflection on the nature of time while simultaneously escaping the hubbub of central London? Then look no further than the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, a relatively short train ride from central London. The observatory includes an exhibit called “The Time Galleries,” a look at how the spot became “the home of time.” Less abstractly, this means that the observatory is home to the prime meridian, aka 0 degree longitude. Come for the chance to get your picture taken on the famous line, stay for the fascinating peek into the evolution of timekeeping. Other possible points of reflections include: the subjectivity of time and/or the degree of bravado it takes to declare one point “the center of world time.”
What kinds of locales do you like to escape to when overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the big city, London or elsewhere? Share your favorites in the comments below!