Escape the Bubble: Notting Hill

After watching this delightful corner of London being splashed over the big screen in classic British films such as Notting Hill and Love Actually, I was keen to experience Notting Hill in the flesh. Travelling to London for the day with my most loyal travel companion, my Mother, my mind was playing over the endless scenes of Notting Hill streets that I’d seen a thousand times in film. Out of habit, I had done some research on the best spots in the area, however when I stepped out of Notting Hill Gate, warmly greeted by a wave of selfie-stick brandishing tourists, I decided to simply follow my nose, or rather, whichever path was least congested!

The first thing worth noting about this area is its, almost too pretty to be true, cobbled streets, lined with beautiful pastel-coloured houses and blossom trees. Walking along I was trying hard to curb my serious house-envy, and was kindly reminded by my Mother that I’d probably have to become a millionaire in order to call one of these coveted properties my home. Sigh. A girl can dream…

Wandering down the street we stumbled straight into the thick of Portobello Market, the wonders of which literally never cease. It was prime time on a Saturday and the stalls were practically overflowing with anything and everything you could imagine: from antique silverware to taxidermy. There was a definite eclectic energy to the place; observing all the different types of people wandering the market was almost as interesting as browsing the wares on offer. As well as the market stalls, there are also a vast array of interesting independent shops on Portobello Road, including the intriguing London Antique Clock Centre, which is worth a visit even if, God forbid, antique clocks are not your jam.

About half way down the Market, the caffeine monster within me was calling, so we headed into a nearby café to refuel. The place we ate, Gail’s bakery, can most accurately be described as a haven for carb-lovers everywhere. This artisan bakery-cum-café doesn’t just sell bread, it serves lunches and sweet treats too. Luckily for me, the coffee did not disappoint either, and was perfectly complemented by a fresh almond croissant. I would definitely recommend Gail’s if you’re visiting the area, but be warned – it’s no well kept secret, so get there early instead of queuing impatiently in a state of pre-caffeine irritability as I did! (Sorry Mum.)

Restored to my usual self, I was keen to shop some more. Being the charity shop fiend that I am, I already knew that some of the best charity shops in London were to be found in this very borough. The Notting Hill charity shop scene (which ironically, with it being such an affluent neighbourhood, is not ‘scene’ at all) is hugely impressive. Charity shops in the area range from the Oxfam Boutique, which carries designer labels and high end pieces, through to a  high-street favourite Cancer Research UK. Definitely worth checking out is Mary’s Living & Giving shop, a boutique-style charity shop set up by retail expert turned TV personality, Mary Portas. Located just a stone’s throw away from the market, this shop doesn’t even feel like charity shop at all, its pleasing storefront and neatly presented garments make for a great shopping experience

Our day in bustling and vibrant Notting Hill culminated with a drink at an unusual, yet charming, traditional pub – The Windsor Castle. Whilst completely unassuming from the outside, this pub has a delightfully quirky spirit and is characterised by original features such as tiny wooden doors which separate the space into different sections, causing everyone (excluding my Mum and me) to crouch as they pass through. Although this place may appear to be somewhat incongruous in amongst the pretty and prim surroundings of Notting Hill, its unexpected interior and good, honest English pub-food makes it a great alternative to a fancy restaurant. For me it was the perfect place to end the day; its hidden-quirkiness an ode to the vibrant, charming and often unexpected neighbourhood of Notting Hill itself.

Images courtesy of Raphael Chekroun and Oussenyou Cisse