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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 20 June, 2019

Twenty four hours (ish) in London: What to do and where to stay if you're heading over for a gig in the O2

Even if said gig gets cancelled.

THERE I WAS, ready to present myself with the Girlfriend of the Year Award for 2018, when I secured tickets for Childish Gambino’s headline London show as a surprise for my boyfriend’s birthday.

That was, until the rapper injured his foot during an earlier show of the tour and he subsequently postponed the rest of his US tour. 

I held out hope for the European dates (I had to, I’d already booked the flights and hotel), but with no word a week before the gig was due to be held, I rapidly had to start scrambling for ideas to keep the trophy on the mantel.

Where we stayed

As the gig was scheduled to be on in the O2, I was recommended the Qbic London City for ease of getting to and from. It’s a 15 minute walk from Liverpool Street train station – handy for us as we flew into Stansted and got a direct bus from there to the station (£30 return per person if you book online beforehand.) From there, it’s half an hour to the O2 on the tube.

It’s a “chic-budget hotel”, with lots of urban, industrial decor in the lobby and rooms. 

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Mid-week drinks🥂

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They regularly have a lot of good offers on rooms, with breakfast, late checkout and other extras costing you a few bob more.

I ended up paying £72.80 for a ‘cosy room’ for two people, using a 10% discount code I got when I signed up to Qbic’s newsletter. I went for the Breakfast of Champions, which was an additional £10 per person.

It’s worth noting that they’re also fairly strict on their check-in time (3pm) – something to consider if you’re thinking about booking a flight at the crack of dawn.

As we ended up landing at the Qbic at 10am, (I’m tired just thinking about it!), we dropped our bags and set off on our list of activities. 

What we did

As the trip was for his birthday and the whole thing had kind of gone tits up, I thought it fair to ask him if there was anything he actually wanted to do, instead of planning around him. He’d never done the London Eye, so I booked that online (again, because it’s cheaper.)

As we had a bit of time to kill before this, we started walking towards the Columbia Road Flower market, as I’d been recommended it on Insta. However, we ended up getting distracted by the Old Spitalfields Market instead.

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The market is absolutely overflowing with vintage wares, vinyl and food, and as it was Sunday, it was even more lively when we visited. If you don’t fancy loading yourself down with bags heading back (I couldn’t, as my bank account got frozen the Friday prior to leaving), it’s perfect for just browsing. Get a cute pic in the photobooth downstairs if you can stretch to £3.

Image from iOS (4) A shop at the market

There’s loads of other good shops in that area to poke through, including Rough Trade East and Classic Football Shirts.

We bought days passes that covered all of our transport (two cost us €28.98 in total), but you can just pay by contactless if you please. 

I was wary of booking a specific time slot in case we were delayed and didn’t make it, but I took the risk as again, it was cheaper to do so then booking a day pass. Two Fast Track tickets cost £68.40 – pretty pricey, so it makes sense to save where you can.

Image from iOS Just chillin'

After that, we headed out to Peckham Levels, another Insta recommendation. It’s described as a “cultural destination” (notions), with an auditorium, a kids’ play area, street food, bars and yoga studio, all in a multi-storey car park.

At the minute, Plonk Crazy Golf have a course down the very bottom, so we indulged in some explicitly crazy sporting action (some of the holes are actually really hard, just FYI.) It’s £13.69 for two people for 20 minutes.

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We decided not to get food there, but did go for a pint and ping pong (you pay a £10 deposit for the paddles and balls.)

Image from iOS (2)

What we didn’t do

There were a good few bits that we didn’t end up getting to do as time was against us, and everything bloody closes early on Sunday:

  • Ballie Ballerson: This is a nightclub that’s also a ball pit. We were debating about heading out that evening, but Google and the website have conflicting closing times for Sunday, so we didn’t chance it. It looks like supreme craic though and they do bottomless brunch, if that’s your buzz.
  • Columbia Road Flower Market: We tried to go for a gawk on Monday again, but Google said it was closed. Sad face.

Where we ate (and drank) 

In the event that your gig doesn’t get cancelled and you don’t fancy faffing around or putting yourself under time pressure, there are loads of food options at the O2.

For a pre-exploration treat, we went to Grounded near the hotel for coffee and pastries. I got a matcha latte and a peanut butter cookie, himself got a long black and a pain au chocolat (they do full breakfast options too!) Everything we ordered was delish, and the decor of the place was particularly splendid – kind of rundown and rustic. They also have a good few vegan options too, should you desire them.

Image from iOS (5) The view from our table at Grounded

As we had no gig to go to (sob), I booked Côte Brasserie at St. Katherine’s Docks, a lil’ French chain that I didn’t expect to impress me as much as it did. The service was really, really good – everyone was very attentive. I booked it saying it was Cian’s birthday (which wasn’t TECHNICALLY a lie), so we got two glasses of Kir Royale on arrival and an extra dessert for nada. A very nice touch. We split French onion soup and a bread basket to start, he got steak, I got chargrilled chicken and we split the desserts of creme caramel and chocolate fondant. All that and two drinks each came to £88.65.

We headed to Savage Garden after this, the rooftop bar at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London. The inside of the bar is mega luxe – all shiny new marble and dimly lit tables “for ambience” (it recently featured on E4′s Celebs Go Dating, so if it’s good enough for Olivia Attwood …)

We sat outside on the actual roof after one under the heaters, and it was extremely pleasant.

I got a gin and tonic, he got a Jameson and ginger before we had two Coronas and went on our merry (emphasis on that) way. Altogether, it cost £42.52.

In the interests of transparency, I feel it’s important to disclose that we went to the Liberty Bounds Wetherspoons after this. Y’know, to even the boujee out with the budget. The truth is, everything had started to shut up for the night, so we decided to have one more for the road. However, some kind Internet people sent us drinks via the app, so “one more” quickly turned into “one more and two bottles of prosecco, a jug of pornstar martinis, and a pitcher of Long Island iced tea”. It is what it is.

I booked breakfast in the hotel the morning after, and the Aisling in me was delighted I did. On top of the usual buffet breakfast offerings – juice, cereal, fruit, yoghurt, toast – they had a waffle maker. Game changer. Breakfast in the Qbic is served until 10:30am Monday to Friday, and 11am Saturday and Sunday. 

However, we made sure to leave enough room for a trip to the nearby Cereal Killer Café. I hadn’t heard much about it since it’s opened (and that whole debate about gentrification, awks), but the two lads running it have since come out with their own cookbook and line of cereals.

We kept it simple and ordered bowls of cereal (I went for a mix of Golden Grahams and Waffle Crisp, himself got Fruit Loops), but they do savoury brunch option, ice cream and flavoured milks if you’re in the mood for something different. It’s as kitsch-y as you’d imagine, with a custom Beanie Bear art piece on the wall, endless 90s paraphernalia on the shelves and the bill coming in a VHS box.

I can’t remember what we paid here, but rest assured it was obviously expensive for what you get. But with a place like this, you pay for the experience, right?

We didn’t have much time after this before our flight, however, we did make one more stop for coffee at Beanut. It’s a vegan pop-up on Brick Lane that makes all of its own milks. 

Image from iOS (6) A look at the Beanuts' menu

They do various plant-based treats as well, but as you can tell from the above, we were well and truly stuffed at this point. I went for a matcha latte made with cashew milk, himself got a black coffee. It was empty when we went in, and very relaxed – hopefully, these guys benefit from more footfall in the future.

At this point, we were ready to hit the proverbial road. In hindsight, even with the gig being cancelled, it would have been wiser to either a) come a day earlier or b) leave a day later, as the early flight left us a bit wrecked and with little time to recuperate. As it was late in the year though, neither of us were exactly flush with annual leave left, so we decided a night would be enough. 

Still, an enjoyable jaunt around LDN, gig or no gig!

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