Portobello Road and Notting Hill

It's always the way isn't it - we make a point of exploring further afield, travelling hundreds of miles from home to discover somewhere new, but we forget that there are places we've never been much nearer than we think.

I don't live in London, but it's close enough that it's an easy day out on the train, and yes, I've 'done' most of the big touristy things - Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the London Eye, the British Museum... but there are some many other parts of London that I've never experienced, so a couple of weeks ago I took myself off to Notting Hill and Portobello Road.

Of course, I've seen photos of these neighbourhoods, and seen them in films and on TV, but they usually end up being a different experience in real life. Portobello Road is famous for its market, but this is normally at its busiest at the end of the week - on a Monday it was pretty quiet with only a few stall holders set up on the street, and a number of the antiques shops not open at all.

That didn't matter though as I wandered along window shopping and admiring all the prettily painted buildings, occasionally heading down a side street if a flash of colour caught my eye. The road itself is quite long, a decent walk, with the types of shops changing along its length - you'll find the coffee shop chains in the centre section, with more local traders further out. It was an interesting walk, and one I'd definitely repeat on a Friday or Saturday when the market is full swing to really make the most of the community atmosphere, although it is a major tourist draw too.

After a late-ish brunch in a cafe on Westbourne Grove (definitely the more expensive part of the area) I headed back out to walk some of the residential streets and see some of the famed pastel-coloured painted houses. The streets and crescents in the area really are beautiful, still proudly showing off their upper-class, well-heeled history, even if many of the terraced townhouses have now been divided into (still very expensive) flats. The colours are gorgeous against white paintwork and black wrought-iron railings, beautifully tended gardens, wide tree-lined streets, and private gated gardens - quiet oases in the middle of the city.

One thing that surprised me - and I guess it shouldn't have, given the name of the area - was just how hilly it actually it in this part of London! The straight lengths of Ladbroke Grove reveal significant undulations and provided excellent exercise that after several miles of walking left my legs aching the following day.

I'm sure I only scratched the surface of this neighbourhood, and there are many others I'd like to explore across London, and I think the best way to do it is just head out, walk the streets and see what you come across.

(Click on photos to expand)