Many people associate big cities with industrialization, intimidation, and grayscale colors.
With the smoky gray exhaust emitted from cars and buses, the simple brown bricks of housing complexes, the sturdy black cement of the extensive road network, and the stormy gray clouds that linger over the city most days, one can easily perceive London as a place of darkness.
Most of the iconic landmarks and skyscrapers, despite their architectural brilliance, are some variation of black, brown or gray. When observing the city from above, the only flash of color in sight is the blue sky (on the off-chance that the weather decided to be nice that day). Even the River Thames rolls through the city with mellow waters of, not blue, but a dull, murky, mixture of brown and gray.
The point of this post is not to make London seem desolate and lifeless, but rather to highlight the beauty of certain vibrant and colorful areas in contrast to the seemingly mundane aspects of city life.
But the areas of color that stand out the most are not the ones that most would expect. When imagining the presence of color in a big city, many might envision Times Square. With neon lights, persistent advertisements, and flashy signs in every direction, chaotic city centers like this may seem like the epitome of colorful illumination. But I find this type of colorful to be artificial and mind-numbing.
In London, the most appealing areas of color are not the touristy areas filled with lights and billboards like Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, or the South Bank, but the more quiet, hidden areas that burst with humble and heartwarming colors.
1. The first oasis of color in London is Notting Hill. This infamous maze of quiet streets contains endless rows of modest little houses slathered in colors ranging from simple white to bright orange, mint green, soft lavender, and deep ocean blue. Walking down these streets feels like walking through a children’s storybook, where nothing can ever go wrong, happy endings are inevitable, and bright pink doors are normal.
While the residential neighborhoods of Notting Hill exude a relaxed positivity, Portobello Road is the center of excitement in the area. Not only are the colors of the buildings more saturated, the street overflows with a bustling market and a community of genuinely happy citizens. Street vendors chat with one another, people eagerly buy fresh fruits and vegetables, couples meander leisurely through the crowd, and citizens contently people-watch from little cafes on the side of the road. So aside from the obvious spectrum of colorful paint on the buildings, there is something wonderfully colorful and lively about the culture and atmosphere of Portobello Road.
2. The second most colorful area is Columbia Road in East London. On Sunday mornings, the tiny street hosts a popular flower market that fills the road with gorgeous aromas and plant displays. Underneath the rows of white tents lie lovely collections of flowers, fresh herbs, potted trees, vegetable plants, tiny cactuses, and other natural things that I couldn’t identify. So if you can withstand the busy crowds of customers packed into this small street, the Columbia Road Flower Market is definitely worth a trip due to the concentration of stunning plants that liven the air and excite the senses with rich, natural colors.
3. A short walk from Columbia Road is Brick Lane, another colorful spot in London. While this road is famous for its curry houses and beigel shops, it’s also decked out in street art and graffiti that brings colorful variety to the simple brown bricks of the buildings. Most of the art lies in the side streets that branch off of the busy Brick Lane, so simply glancing around corners as you walk down the main road will give you visual entertainment. Whether it be giant murals or small pictures, this area overflows with creativity and unique displays of artistry.
So if London ever starts to feel overwhelmingly dark, and if work or school starts to feel endlessly monotonous, these three areas are sure to infuse your life with color. But you don’t even have to venture all the way to Notting Hill or Brick Lane to discover something extraordinary. Though London is a huge industrial city full of driven people who always wear black and have tough work ethics, having an open mind can allow you to stumble across little pieces of beauty that will add a burst of color to an ordinary day.