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By Moé Sekiya, the photographer from Tokyo who adores London’s pub culture and prefers a night at the museum to clubbing
When it comes to thinking about the best things to do in London at night, most people’s first thoughts would probably be about famous London nightlife areas, partying and clubbing. But what I love most about London nightlife is that it doesn’t have to mean any of that. There are so many quirky nights out in London you can enjoy, and a pub culture which I think is so unique to the city and woven into the fabric of most Londoner’s lives. For me, choosing things to do in London at night doesn’t mean going to a club; it’s about enjoying a few drinks in a cool pub, exploring a museum after dark and the crowds have left, going to see a musical or finding a small bar where I can enjoy some jazz. I’m not a party person, but I think the London nightlife scene means you don’t have to be. So these are, in my opinion, the best things to do in London at night. I hope you fall in love with them as much as I did.
London’s pub culture is something I love about living here. I like the culture of people gathering around, talking to strangers and just enjoying conversing. I think this doesn’t happen in many places and is something new to me having moved here four years ago from Tokyo. And now like any Londoner, I love the pubs in my neighbourhood. I live in Islington, and my local pubs are The Crown, and the Pig and Butcher. They both have such a great atmosphere, you feel like you can talk to anyone. The Pig and Butcher is a real country style gastropub, it feels a bit like a farmhouse kitchen. And they do amazing Sunday roasts, one of my favourites in London. The Crown is the kind of place people would imagine if they thought of a classic London pub. I also love The Chandos, a pub in central London which is my favourite place to go before a night out. My favourite space is on the first floor where you can normally find a table. London nightlife for me always starts with some drinks with a few friends, and I love that you normally chat with people, even if you don’t know them.
Something which I think is so unique to London is the culture of Museum Lates. This is where, either once a month or once a week depending on which museum it is, the doors stay open late and there are often other events on like film screenings, talks, live music and sometimes DJs. My favourites are the National Portrait Gallery, which happens every Friday and always has music of some sort and other things on like a talk on a different theme, and the Tate Modern which runs Tate Lates. You’ll find DJ sets, which often sell out, and they also have talks and workshops. But you can also just walk around the galleries if you’re not into the other events. I actually prefer them at night when they’re quieter; the gallery spaces have a different feel to them and wandering around them becomes a different experience. Before the National Portrait Gallery, I always try to go for a few drinks at The Chandos first since it’s just over the road! If you only had one night in London, I’d recommend you start with drinks in a pub, then check out a museum late. You can party anywhere in the world, but this is such a unique thing to do that you won’t be able to do in any other city, and you’ll get a real taste of what makes London so distinctive.
I think going to the theatre is something so special about London, but I’m personally addicted to musicals! My favourite is Kinky Boots - I’ve seen it three times! But I think the West End is such a unique part of the London nightlife scene, you can only really compare it to Broadway in New York. And it’s something you can do in London at night with family. I always book my tickets well in advance, but if you’re here on a flying visit you can go to Leicester Square and see what cheap last-minute tickets you can find at the TKTS booth. They always have some tickets for a famous musical, even if the seats aren’t amazing you can still feel the atmosphere and enjoy the vibe, it’s not something you find everywhere.
Something else which I love to do is go to jazz clubs and just have a few drinks, soak up the atmosphere and really enjoy listening to the music. I love the jazz scene in London, it’s a little different from what I’ve found in other cities. Often jazz bars can be quite fancy, and you can’t get close to the musicians, but here you’ll find that the atmosphere in small venues is really intimate; I love it. London nightlife in Soho to me is all about jazz bars, I wouldn’t come here at night for anything else. For an incredible jazz experience, you have to go to Ronnie Scott’s, which is one of the oldest jazz bars in the world and has hosted all of the greats, but the Pizza Express Jazz Club is much smaller and more intimate. Everyone sits clustered really close around the stage, and you can order pizza if you want too as a bonus!
If you’re asking yourself is London safe at night, you don’t need to worry. Of course, take care as you would in any city, but we’re lucky to have such good public transport, even at night so I never worry about getting home. My one tip - get an oyster card as soon as you arrive, so you can make the most of your time here and not worry about getting home at night. Just check if the tube line you need runs 24 hours.
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