12 HOURS IN AND AROUND BRIXTON
Brixton sits at one end of the Victoria line on the London Underground. It is in the south of the city and is represented by a long light blue line on the tube map that appears to stop abruptly in zone two. South London is famously poorly served by the tube system: there are 250 stations on the north side of the river but just 29 stations on the south side. Fortunately for us, Brixton has its own station; and this is where we will start on our journey around this multicultural district of the capital.
Emerging from the London Underground into the frost-bitten air at the height of rush hour can be a reviving experience. Down there, under the ground with its undulating tide of commuters, can be a claustrophobic and suffocating experience. Emerging from Brixton station and taking that first gasp of air can feel a little like tearing off a strip of parcel tape from your mouth. You can breathe again, finally – and once you have calibrated yourself to your new surroundings you can start to think about re-fuelling.
Like many of London’s multi-ethnic areas, you are spoilt for choice in Brixton. There are also the more prosaic and familiar options. Heading right out of the tube station you will come across a couple of chain coffee houses about 100 yards down, one on either side of the road. It’s the usual stuff – bang-average hot drinks with the ancillary option of a sandwich or muffin on the side. Then again, sometimes that’s precisely what you want, especially if you’re in a hurry.
There are Pret A Manger, Costa, and McDonalds, plus a couple of smaller independent shops that all do speedy snacks and breakfasts for the traveller on the go – or the traveller who simply wants the basics done well.
For something a little fancier, try Federation Coffee inside Brixton Market’s covered arcade. As well as the selection of hot beverages, there’s the chance to try the smashed avocado on sourdough or banana bread if you’re feeling peckish. A selection of grilled sandwiches are also available, as are yogurts with granola.
Federation Coffee, 77-78 Brixton Village and Market Row Markets, Coldharbour Lane, London SW9 8PS.
If you want something a little more daring on the weekend, head down to The Blues Kitchen on Acre Lane. Here you can get everything from a traditional full English breakfast to pancakes to Huevos Rancheros (fried eggs Mexican style).
The Blues Kitchen, 40 Acre Lane, Brixton, London SW2 5SP. Phone: 020 7274 0591
Now that you’ve satisfied your appetite, it’s time to get yourself acquainted with the neighbourhood. If the weather is good, you might want to go for a stroll amidst the greenery at Brockwell Park, a tranquil expanse with an impressive view of the city. Opened to the public in 1891, Brockwell Park is home to the famous Lido, one of the most impressive outdoor public swimming pools in all of London. That’s right, it’s an outdoor swimming pool. Probably best therefore to visit in the summer, although the park is good for a relaxing stroll at any time of the year.
Brockwell Park, Norwood Road, London SE24 9BJ
For lunch, you could do worse than sample some of the West Indian street food. With this in mind, Brixton Market is an ideal place to start. Over 80 street sellers ply their trade in the famous market, different parts of which can be reached via Electric Avenue, Brixton Station Road, or Pope’s Road. There are several stalls that sell dinner boxes of things like jerk chicken, rice, and plantains to take away. “Authentic” is a word that is bandied around to sell all sorts nowadays, however the Brixton Market is the genuine article for those looking for genuine Caribbean food and a host of other enchanting cultural trinkets.
Brixton Market, 16B Electric Avenue, Brixton, London SW9 8JX (Click here to view a map of the market)
On Saturdays, be sure to check out the Brixton Brewery, an independent brewery that produces craft beer using local ingredients. You can enjoy a pint or two in the tap room or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can even take a full tour, complete with a beer tasting session.
Brixton Brewery, Arch 547, Brixton Station Road, Brixton, London SW9 8PF. Phone: 020 3609 8880
How about a quick beverage before we forge ahead into the critical hours of the afternoon?
Whether you want a pint of fizzy lager or a softer drink, The Beehive – a straightforward JD Wetherspoon pub – is located mid-way up the Brixton Road near the train station. A quiet place at this hour of the day, The Beehive resembles its namesake if you pop back at 5 o’clock. However, mid-afternoon is a good time to slow things down, park yourself at one of the wooden tables, unfold your paper, and peruse the day’s events. The Beehive in the daytime is also a good place to meet some of the locals.
The Beehive, 407-409 Brixton Road, Brixton, London, SW9 7DG. Phone: 020 7738 3643
Catch a movie at the centrally located Ritzy Cinema, a building that was recently restored from a picture house first built in 1911. In addition to five screens, the cinema complex contains a couple of bars, and a café. As with most cinemas, it’s wise to eat your snacks – or at least to buy them – before you get into the cinema itself, where the food and drink prices are apt to unsettle the discerning spender.
Ritzy Cinema, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, London, SW2 1JG
Another option for the afternoon – which will especially suit those with a sweet tooth – is a visit to the Brixton chocolate museum. You can drop in and make your own chocolatey creations in group or individual sessions, or you can visit the chocolate museum’s free exhibition and learn about the process of chocolate making.
The Chocolate Museum, 187 Ferndale Road, Brixton, London SW9 8BA. Phone: 07723 434235 (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays)
There are a ton of options in Brixton for those who like to eat before they head out for an evening’s entertainment. You can get pizza at Made of Dough or plates of tapas in Boqueria. There’s also the option of Mama’s Jerk, Khamsa (Algerian/BYO wine, beer, or champagne), or Nanban, which serves something intriguingly called “Japanese soul food”. On weekends, you can get spicy Pakistani street food at the Elephant in Brixton Village.
Made of Dough, Pop Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Road, London, SW9 8PQ.
Boqueria, 192 Acre Lane, Brixton, London SW2 5UL. Phone: 020 7733 4408
Mama’s Jerk, 49 Brixton Station Road, London, SW9 8PQ.
Khamsa, 140 Acre Lane, Brixton, London, SW2 5UT. Phone: 020 7733 3150
Nanban, 426 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London, SW9 8LF. Phone: 020 7346 0098.
Elephant, 55 Granville Arcade, Brixton Village Market, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8PS. Phone: 7715 439857 (open for dinner Thursday to Saturday)
After all that food, you might not feel like doing much other than lying down, but should you still be up for venturing out where better than the Brixton Academy, one of the best live music venues in London. Many world-famous bands have graced the stage at the academy over the years, from Madonna to The Clash to Rita Ora, so it’s worth checking who’s on when you’re in town.
The O2 Academy, Brixton, 211 Stockwell Road, Brixton, London SW9 9SL
If a gig isn’t for you, then why not check out some of the local bars? The Shrub and Shutter, Three Eight Four, and Salon all offer a range of beers, cocktails, and mocktails to suit every palate.
The Shrub and Shutter, 336 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8QH. Phone: 020 7326 0643 (closed Sunday and Monday)
Three Eight Four, 384 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8LF. Phone: 020 3417 7309
Salon, 18 Market Row, Brixton, London SW9 8LD. Phone: 020 7501 9152 (closed Sunday evenings and all day Monday)