Today I explored Marylebone. I used to come here a lot when I was studying at uni in Regent’s Park and I have always loved the high street. I like that, even though isn’t exactly pedestrianised, people have the right of way at every street crossing. It gives the area a slower pace than other neighbourhoods around it (a speed completely opposite of Oxford Street, where the road ends). The high street is full of boutique shops, old pubs and speciality restaurants. It is lined with black iron street lanterns (not lights, lanterns) covered in hanging flower baskets. It’s remarkably charming.
Even though I love the area a lot, the parts I had visited before today were pretty limited. I really only explored the high street and a couple of side roads where my favourite cafes and things are. I guess that says something about the appeal of those places though because I generally have a really strong desire to see what I haven’t before and not just visit the same shops time after time. It was really nice to have an excuse to wander around and see more of the neighbourhood today. I got a much better feel for it as a whole and I have to say that (if I suddenly inherit £1M) I could quite happily live here.
Marylebone the Village
When I was walking around today, I figured out what it is that I love so much about Marylebone: it’s basically an English village in the middle of London. When I go out into the country to visit family or just get away from London (yep, even I need to get out of here sometimes) the things I love most are: open countryside, green space and commons, a community affection for gardening, real country pubs with real pub food and real country cider, narrow cobbled streets, old manor houses, cute local shops with strange specialisations and a strong sense of community.
You’d think that being in the middle of London and all, it would be impossible for one area to feel so completely different from everything around it or for it to feel like an excursion out of the city. So I thought I’d take you on a little tour of Marylebone to show you how many of the Perfect Country Village boxes it ticks.
Countryside, Greenery, Commons
It’s not inside the congestion zone so I didn’t go there today, but Regent’s Park could also essentially be called Marylebone Common. It’s my favourite park in London because it’s crammed with places for every recreational purpose, every one of them decorated with pretty flowers. In no particular order, Regent’s Park offers:
- loads of little gardens with different landscapes and personalities
- a couple of lakes (big enough to paddle boat on)
- a rose garden (the Queen’s, obviously)
- a tree-lined boulevard where you can hide from the sun in the summer or watch the leaves fall in the autumn
- several playgrounds
- endless picnic space
- acres of open fields for running free, doing cartwheels or flying kites
- numerous pitches where school and/or recreational teams practice football, rugby and cricket
- Regent’s Canal, which you can follow into Camden or Paddington, depending which way you’re headed.
It’s the perfect place to have out your back door. Local residents (and students) use it in the same way they would a common in a country village. I used to babysit kids who lived here and we often ran into their friends from school when we were out playing (or, more likely) eating ice cream.* I love the feeling of going out to the park and running into people you know. It makes London feel so small and neighbourly.
*Annoyingly, the ice cream seems to have disappeared from Regent’s Park – from the WHOLE park – since Benugo took over the catering this year. It’s a bad decision. Someone should really fix that.
Countryside in Marylebone: big tick.
Sense of community: tickity tick
A Community Affection for Gardening
I have never seen another part of London so into flowers. Marylebone has flower boxes on nearly every window and doorstep, and it has baskets hanging from nearly every street lantern. It clearly takes pride in looking pretty in that very British, gardeny way.
Garden love: tick
This may be the one category that doesn’t quite get full marks for its country-village likeness. Marylebone is full of pubs. There are loads of them. But you know my criteria for pubs to be worthy of mention. Because Marylebone is a fairly wealthy area, a lot of the pubs around here have been converted into high end gastro type things. They have pretty interior design, fancy menus and imported beers. That’s fine and dandy if that’s what you are into but it isn’t my taste. I like my pubs old and rough around the edges. And, if we’re talking about a country pub specifically, I need a good garden with lots of space for dining and drinking al fresco. None of the ones I saw today fit the bill but, to be fair, I didn’t have time to examine them all. Perhaps on the next walk I can pop into a few more to assess. The sacrifices I make for you, honestly.
Pub proliferation: tick
Pub perfection: based on the available data, no tick
Narrow Cobbled Streets
I didn’t know it from previous visits to the high street, but Marylebone is absolutely full of really adorable mews(es?). For non-Londoners, a “mews” is a small street lined with buildings formerly used as stables, which have been converted into adorable little homes (at least on the inside). I have seen a lot of mews on my previous walks but I wouldn’t have suggested you go out of your way to visit them. They are often just dead end streets lined with garage doors. The cuteness of them is generally hidden on the inside.
But in line with Marylebone’s dedication to beautification, residents often decorate the exteriors of their mews flats and make them their own brand of adorable. When I was walking down some of them, I really felt like I was in a country village like Rye or Clovelly. I loved it.
Charming cobbley streets: tick
Old Manor Houses
Another great feature of the countryside is manor houses. They usually sit in the middle of a massive estate, dominating the landscape. There isn’t much room in central London for sprawling lawns these days so the houses are now wedged between fancy flats and office buildings. After seeing miles and miles of continuous row houses and council estates these really stand out though and, it was wonderful to see some actual house-shaped houses. On the inside, many have been divided up into separate flats or converted into offices, but having the architecture of real homes thrown into the mix made Marylebone feel so much more rural and homey than most other parts of London.
Manor houses: tick
The majority of my walk today was in residential areas so I didn’t go into a lot of shops but there are a couple that are worth mentioning because they are (almost neurotically) obsessed with their specialty. I am certain I will find more to share with you on the next walk.
~ Daunt Books ~
I know on a few previous walks I’ve talked about finding my new favourite book shop but Daunt Books will always remain the cream of the crop for me. It was one of the first places I found in London and is probably responsible for activating my hidden-gem seeking passion. Every time I visit, I am still taken by how beautiful it is. I love showing it off to visitors and locals too. It’s just the perfect example of an old school, traditional book shop.
Daunt’s passion is travel. They don’t just sell guidebooks (they have an ample supply of books in every genre) but they arrange everything by country. That system of organisation seemed a little hard to navigate for me the first time, but I saw the magic of it when I went to the China section, for example, and found novels, political commentaries and photo books all tucked in around the travel books. It’s the perfect way to get a cross section of all the literature about a specific place in one glance. I highly recommend a visit and the perfect atmosphere to do it in.
~ Amanzi Tea ~
Another place I always stop when I am in the neighbourhood is Amanzi Tea. They are still new in London terms, only a year and a half or so old, so I promote them any time I can out of a selfish desire for them to stay here forever.
As you can probably tell from the name, tea is what rocks their boat. They love it. A lot. Every employee has to study a big book about the history of tea, how to correctly make the different varieties, how to store them and what benefits they offer. Because they are so well educated in their niche, the employees are all really eager to share their knowledge and answer any questions you have. They’ll walk you through their sample wall, opening tins for you to smell the different varieties. They also feature different teas every day you can sample them and, more often than not, they walk around with ad hoc sample trays of their more complicated mixed drinks. I recommend the Green Tea Mojito!
One thing they do in a totally different way is bubble tea. Instead of using the typical tapioca bubbles, they have bubbles full of fruit juice that pop in your mouth to give you a burst of flavour. They’re awesome. The blueberry bubbles are my favourite.
It’s a great place to become a regular because there will always be something new to try. Oh and because they make the best chai latte in town. Seriously. You should go.
Obviously, there are loads of other shops I didn’t get to today but I feel confident saying Marylebone gets full point for this category as well.
Obsessive little shops: tick, tick
The Final Results
Hopefully you can see how Marylebone has all the charm of a country village while being conveniently located a few minute’s walk from Baker Street and Bond Street Stations. It really is a self-sufficient bubble in the middle of London and it’s the best place to go if you want to get out of the city for a bit and can’t make it to the countryside. I’d definitely classify it as a walker/explorer’s paradise. Every part of it is pretty and there’s so much to take in. If you didn’t have any plans for this weekend, you do now.
See you next time!
89 days until the Congestion Zone Ends Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.
Quick update from the future: now that this project is finished, I’m off on another adventure! Keep in touch on my new blog at Three Miles an Hour. See you there!