LONDON'S COOLEST NEIGHBOURHOOD: A LOCAL'S GUIDE TO PECKHAM
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If you’ve ever met me you know I always passionately brag about how awesome Peckham is to literally anyone who’d listen so I’m super excited to finally share my guide to this amazing neighbourhood with you. I remember the first time I rode a bus through Peckham. It was the middle of the day and I had to do a double-take when we went past a burning car (totally engulfed in flames like a scene from a movie or a video game) in one of the little streets off Peckham High Street. But what baffled me the most was how no one else on the bus seemed to notice or acknowledge it and just around the corner some kids were leisurely kicking a ball around. Over my 14 years of living in London I’ve seen Peckham go from a drabby place you wouldn’t want to find yourself in after dark to one of the trendiest and exciting London neighbourhoods that’s locals’ favourite place to live in and hang out in.
So if you’ve already ticked off all the major sightseeing spots and the insta-famous streets around Chelsea and Notting Hill, and you’re looking to experience authentic local London then Peckham should be at the top of your list. I’m hoping this guide will inspire you to set off on an adventure south of the river to this diverse, vibrant district.
To really understand the unique identity of this thriving neighbourhood you need to learn a little about its history.
Ask any Londoner about Peckham and they’re likely to mention the bad reputation that has been lingering in the area since the 70s. Don’t get me wrong, Peckham has had its fair share of problems in the past when poverty and high unemployment led to it becoming one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in all of Western Europe. The gang violence hasn’t helped much either. Peckham rivalries with the neighbouring areas like Brixton and Lewisham begun back in the 50s and quickly escalated. In the 90s and 00s, Peckham was home to some of the most prolific and violent gangs in the capital that put the neighbourhood in the news for all the wrong reasons and gave it the nickname Peck-nam (rhyming with Vietnam and meaning basically a war zone). This further cemented people’s opinions about the area that the residents have been trying to shake off ever since.
In recent years this awesome south London neighbourhood has really turned a corner, thanks to a multi-million-pound investment into the regeneration efforts and an extension of the Overground transport line in 2012 connecting the neighbourhood with trendy Shoreditch. Today it’s one of the hottest postcodes on the map filled with independent boutiques, specialty cafes and rooftop bars. So much so that in 2017 it was named the best area in London to live in by The Sunday Times (yes, really!).
But Peckham isn’t like the other gentrified areas: out with the old and in with the new. Here everyone lives together (trendy speciality coffee houses and West African hair salons) in harmony, united in their love for the neighbourhood. It remains one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the capital with many different cultures living side by side. It’s home to the biggest Nigerian community in the UK as well as large Caribbean, South American, Bangladeshi and Chinese communities. All you need to do is take a walk down Rye Lane and you’ll be greeted by the independent grocery stores displaying mountains of pounded yam and okra, glistening pink tilapia fish and brightly coloured scotch bonnet chillies, oriental supermarkets stocking hard to find foods from Vietnam, China, Korea, the Philippines and Thailand as well as several halal butchers.
HOW TO GET TO PECKHAM
As London’s one of the best-connected cities in the world you can easily get to Peckham by public transport from pretty much anywhere. It can be reached directly by train from Victoria in only 12 minutes, Blackfriars in 14 minutes and London Bridge in 10 minutes or by London Overground from Shoreditch in around 20 minutes. There are also less frequent train connections from St Pancras and even Luton Airport as well as plenty of buses to various places in the city. To arrive right in the centre of the action get off at Peckham Rye station.
WHERE TO STAY
To really immerse yourself into the neighbourhood and experience the thriving nightlife without having to navigate the night buses or having to splash out on a cab ride you might want to base yourself here for a couple of days. You can choose amongst one of over 200 Airbnb options (look for places in the area around Bellenden Road) or if you prefer a hotel, I’d recommend The Victoria Inn which is a fantastic pub with 15 stylishly restored boutique bedrooms upstairs.
SHOPPING PECKHAM STYLE
Peckham is dotted with neighbourhood delis and independent boutiques. Take a walk along family friendly Bellenden Road where you’ll find the General Store (they’re a grocery store but also sell locally produced coffee, chocolate and preserves which make perfect gifts or souvenirs to take home), D.A.Y Boutique (a clothing and accessories boutique stocking independent Scandinavian style labels) and Form SE15 (a boutique run by a long-time neighbourhood local selling clothes and accessories by a mix of established and young makers). Then head over to the Review bookstore to pick out your next read. The staff are very knowledgeable about literature (the store hosts an annual literary festival) and always give spot-on recommendations.
If you’d like to stock up on some locally made booze then stop by the Hop Burns & Black bottle shop on East Dulwich Road. Here you can pick up some South East London brewed beers and ciders and even a bottle of locally made sake.
On the opposite side, heading down Peckham High Street you can’t miss the bright yellow coloured facade of Persepolis, a Persian food deli and craft store. Pop in to buy traditional Middle Eastern sweets, fragrant herbs and spices, saffron tea, Iranian cuisine cookbooks, handicrafts and cookery tools.
Throughout the year on the weekends, Copeland Park (accessed through an alleyway at 133 Rye Lane) hosts markets such as DIY Art Market (where you can purchase works from local artists and publishers at affordable prices), Peckham Salvage Yard (South London’s go-to destination for everything vintage) and Independent Ceramics Market. They’re very popular with locals and a great way to snap a unique bargain as a memento from your travels. Check their website for details of the upcoming events.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
There’s so much to see and do in Peckham, you could easily stay a week and not get bored.
If you like to start your day on a healthy note, you’ll be pleased to have one of the best yoga studios in the capital literally on your doorstep. Yogarise in the Bussey Building is a bright and welcoming space founded by a couple of neighbourhood locals back in 2014. It has a really friendly community feel and their completely non-judgmental whatever your fitness level or yoga experience. You’ll find a range of classes from beginners through yin and restorative sessions to uplifting yogasana and rocket to really get your heart rate going. Some of my favourite teachers are Emma Peel, Lolo Lam, Helen Russell-Clark and Erin Pritchard. Alternatively check out Level Six yoga studio at Peckham Levels. They’re also excellent and have anon site cafe serving healthy veggie breakfasts and lunches. Both studios allow you to book pay as you go or if you’re staying in the area for longer you can make use of the really good value intro offers.
If you’re in Peckham on a sunny day, a visit to Peckham Rye Park is a must. It’s such a great, relaxing spot to take a stroll in and just hang out for an hour or two. Make sure to check out the ornamental Sexby Garden (in spring the garden’s Pergola gets covered in lush purple wisteria). On summer weekends you’ll see locals enjoying sunbathing, having picnics or enjoying a game of football or cricket.
Peckham is also a perfect destination for art lovers. Head to the free South London Gallery to see works by contemporary British and international artists. The gallery focuses particularly on artists who have rarely or never had a solo show in London so it’s a great opportunity to discover some original names. You can read more about the gallery and its fantastic cafe in the post I wrote a couple of months ago. A small Copeland Gallery space in Copeland Park also regularly hosts exhibitions of works by independent, contemporary artists (check the current event schedule on their website). Or walk up the insta-famous neon pink staircase to the top of a multi-storey car park and check out the thought-provoking Bold Tendencies art installations. Whilst here make sure you take some time to grab an Aperol spritz from the legendary Frank’s Cafe and admire one of the best views in London (Frank’s is open only during summer, usually from late May till the end of September, check the exact dates on their website).
Once you’ve had a look around the neighbourhood and got your fill of art and shopping, relax at one of the area’s cinemas or theatres. Peckham is the home of Peckhamplex, probably the cheapest multi-screen cinema in the city where you can catch all the latest blockbuster film releases for £4.99! There are no seat reservations and the rough and ready interior has seen better days but at those prices you can’t really complain! For more arthouse repertoire head to The Montpelier pub which has a small Back Room Cinema at the rear showing some great independent titles. In the summer there’s also a rooftop cinema on the top floor of Bussey Building (which used to be an ammunition factory) where you can relax on a deck chair under a blanket and with some popcorn in hand and enjoy such classics as Notting Hill and Dirty Dancing alongside current favourites. Right next door there is the Bussey Rooftop Bar (in Peckham you’re spoilt for choice for rooftops!) which is a perfect spot for a pre-cinema cocktail whilst watching the sun go down or a cheeky nightcap after the movie.
If you prefer more refined entertainment, check out the CLF Art Cafe (also in the Bussey Building) which hosts a regular programme of theatre plays and concerts or pop round to CLF Art Lounge by the train station to listen to live music or see a comedy or a cabaret show.
Do you like retro arcade games? If so, then The Four Quarters bar on Rye Lane should be on your to-visit list for sure. It’s London’s only authentic arcade bar (they also have another branch in Hackney Wick) boasting over 15 original arcade cabs from the early 80s up to the 00s and a cosy upstairs room with 10 retro consoles. The consoles are free to play whilst the arcade cabs run on US quarters that can be purchased from the bar. There’s no better way to spend an evening than heading out with some friends and seeing who’s the king of Sega Rally or Street Fighter 2!
You can’t possibly come to Peckham and not pop into Peckham Levels. It’s, in fact, such an important neighbourhood hotspot it deserves its own paragraph! Here seven levels of a multi-storey car park have been transformed into a community space for locals and a cultural destination for visitors. It’s worth checking it out even just for the brightly coloured staircase that’s every Instagrammer's dream! Most of the space is taken up by artists studios and coworking spaces but if you head up to the level six you’ll find Near & Far Bar (Palm Springs vibes inspired cocktail bar where you can order an Emergency Brexit), Level Six yoga studio I mentioned earlier, Cahoona’s Hair Hub hair salon (run by a hairstylist responsible for Amy Winehouse’s famous beehive) and a few street food stalls.
If you’re an artist, you can make use of the open access screen printing facility, darkroom and photography studio or the Kiln Rooms ceramics studio which offers a range of classes (head to their website for details).
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
It’s not so much where to eat and drink but more how to choose from the long list of amazing spots. I will write a separate post about the thriving cafe, restaurant and bar scene in Peckham but for now here are some of my favourites.
For a good coffee and a snack, you can’t go wrong with Brick House Bread just around the corner from the Peckham Rye train station. It’s where I get my bread from, their sourdough loaves are some of the best in London and they won the best baguette at World Bread Awards 2014. A flat white and a sandwich or a pastry from here will set you up right for a full day of exploring. If you’re after a more substantial morning meal head over to Anderson & Co. on Bellenden Road or Tupi on Rye Lane (their folded eggs are to die for!) that both do fantastic brunches.
My absolute light lunch favourite is Crane’s Kitchen next to the South London Gallery. Here you can enjoy a seasonally changing menu in a beautifully designed double-height space that gets flooded with light on sunny days.
You’ve likely caught a whiff of the meat being cooked on the robata grill at the Coal Rooms as you exited the station. This meat lovers paradise located in the old station ticket office is one of the hottest food joints in town and a perfect spot for dinner! The best seats are at the counter where you can watch the chefs skillfully preparing the food whilst enjoying a delicious juicy steak. An absolute must-have is the legendary ‘Peckham Fatboy’: potato hash with lashings of raclette cheese and beef fat mayonnaise, sprinkled with a generous handful of crispy onions.
If you’re after something more casual head to Choumert Road just a couple minutes walk away where you can choose between Miss Tapas, a tiny relaxed neighbourhood tapas bar that is a firm favourite amongst locals (don’t be surprised if you have to wait for a table even on a weekday), or Bar Om, a friendly Vietnamese small plates bar specialising in seafood (but also serving up fantastic spare ribs).
There are lots of fantastic drinking spots in Peckham whatever you fancy. Right next to the station there’s Brick Brewery taproom where you can enjoy some locally brewed beers. If you can’t make it here, don’t worry though as they’re on the menu in most restaurants and bars in the area. Peckham is also home to Kanpai, the only craft sake brewery in the UK (on Fridays and Saturdays you can try their stuff in the bar above the brewery), and London’s only mead maker Gosnells of London (they have a honey themed bar upstairs at Coal Rooms where you can try different meads and mead based cocktails). If you’re looking for a casual, intimate cocktail spot, then check out Funkidory. It’s a small independent cocktail bar with a very original menu: think kombucha negronis or dark rum, cold brew and chilli combo.
I hope you enjoyed this guide and it inspired you to go and explore Peckham next time you’re in London. If so, I’d love to read in the comments about what you thought and which spots you enjoyed the most!