I spent an afternoon exploring Peckham, the London neighborhood that was just voted one of the coolest in the world — and I found 2 different communities living side-by-side

Business Insider Lifestyle 1 month ago

I've lived in London for four years, but before this week, I'd never been to the city's coolest neighborhood.

According to Time Out's annual ranking of the world's coolest neighborhood, Peckham in south London is the place to be.

While the top spot was taken by Arroios in Lisbon, Peckham was the highest entry from the UK, coming in at number 11.

The new ranking seemed like the perfect impetus to go and explore, so I hopped on a train (Peckham is only reachable by Overground train, rather than the Tube) to see what all the fuss was about.

Peckham Rye Station brings you out right into the hustle and bustle of Rye Lane.

Peckham Rye Station brings you out right into the hustle and bustle of Rye Lane.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

Full of fast food chains, pound shops, and discount stores, it was immediately clear Peckham isn't one of London's wealthiest areas.

Full of fast food chains, pound shops, and discount stores, it was immediately clear Peckham isn't one of London's wealthiest areas.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

It's not polished, but if you're after cheap, colorful, and cheerful, you're sorted.

It's not polished, but if you're after cheap, colorful, and cheerful, you're sorted.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I soon stumbled across the popular Peckhamplex, the area's famously cheap cinema where tickets are, incredibly, just £4.99 ($6) all the time. I made a mental note to come back.

I soon stumbled across the popular Peckhamplex, the area's famously cheap cinema where tickets are, incredibly, just £4.99 ($6) all the time. I made a mental note to come back.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

The cinema had a very retro feel, and I liked it.

The walls were covered in flyers advertising what was on, from gigs to screenings.

The walls were covered in flyers advertising what was on, from gigs to screenings.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I wandered around the side of the building, following a walkway lined with colorful graffiti.

I wandered around the side of the building, following a walkway lined with colorful graffiti.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

It was bright and leafy, and pleasantly calm compared to the busy madness of Rye Lane.

It was bright and leafy, and pleasantly calm compared to the busy madness of Rye Lane.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I soon found the entrance to Peckham Levels, which I'd heard a lot about.

I soon found the entrance to Peckham Levels, which I'd heard a lot about.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

Peckham Levels is the name of the floors above the cinema, and you have to climb up multiple flights of colorfully painted stairs to get there.

Peckham Levels is the name of the floors above the cinema, and you have to climb up multiple flights of colorfully painted stairs to get there.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

After going past a couple of private floors, I made it to the public area of Peckham Levels and emerged to find a huge space featuring bars, restaurants, working spaces, and more.

After going past a couple of private floors, I made it to the public area of Peckham Levels and emerged to find a huge space featuring bars, restaurants, working spaces, and more.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

There were various different areas on the main floor, all decorated in a quirky manner.

There were various different areas on the main floor, all decorated in a quirky manner.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

There was a kids play area and skate ramp, too.

There was a kids play area and skate ramp, too.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

Trendy food stalls were cooking up delicious chicken burgers and mezze.

Trendy food stalls were cooking up delicious chicken burgers and mezze.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

Being mid-afternoon on a Wednesday, it was pretty quiet, but there were a few people (largely millennials) working, chatting, and drinking.

Being mid-afternoon on a Wednesday, it was pretty quiet, but there were a few people (largely millennials) working, chatting, and drinking.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

One of the bars on the level struck me as pretty Instagrammable, complete with a disco ball and neon sign on the wall, and I imagined it would be a cool spot at night.

One of the bars on the level struck me as pretty Instagrammable, complete with a disco ball and neon sign on the wall, and I imagined it would be a cool spot at night.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

If you're less basic, however, you might be more taken by the more traditional pub section.

If you're less basic, however, you might be more taken by the more traditional pub section.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

Around every corner there seemed to be more surprises, like a hair salon.

Around every corner there seemed to be more surprises, like a hair salon.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I don't know what the point of this colorful mirror wall is, but I like it.

I don't know what the point of this colorful mirror wall is, but I like it.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

There was even a bright yoga studio, which looked like a pretty nice place to take a class.

There was even a bright yoga studio, which looked like a pretty nice place to take a class.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

The entrance to the studio featured a healthy cafe serving up vegan food and drinks such as buckwheat pancakes, toasted seed bread with activated nut butter, kombucha, cold pressed juices, and turmeric lattes with black pepper, dates, and baobab. So far so trendy.

The entrance to the studio featured a healthy cafe serving up vegan food and drinks such as buckwheat pancakes, toasted seed bread with activated nut butter, kombucha, cold pressed juices, and turmeric lattes with black pepper, dates, and baobab. So far so trendy.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

But when I ventured out of the building and back onto Rye Lane, the vibe was totally different.

But when I ventured out of the building and back onto Rye Lane, the vibe was totally different.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

It wasn't entirely clear to me where the rest of the "cool" stuff was just yet.

It wasn't entirely clear to me where the rest of the
Rachel Hosie/Insider

Then I found the library, which had an interesting design — the building actually won the Stirling Prize for Architecture in 2000.

Then I found the library, which had an interesting design — the building actually won the Stirling Prize for Architecture in 2000.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

The leisure centre opposite looked entirely different, but I was starting to realize Peckham's appeal. It's an area of contrasts — half polished, modern, and trendy, and half rough around the ages, but full of character.

The leisure centre opposite looked entirely different, but I was starting to realize Peckham's appeal. It's an area of contrasts — half polished, modern, and trendy, and half rough around the ages, but full of character.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts drama school sits just behind the library, another modern building.

Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts drama school sits just behind the library, another modern building.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I came to the entrance of Burgess Park so went for a stroll down Surrey Canal Walk. The dappled walkway was lovely and peaceful in the early autumn sunshine, and I only wished I had more time to head further into the park.

I came to the entrance of Burgess Park so went for a stroll down Surrey Canal Walk. The dappled walkway was lovely and peaceful in the early autumn sunshine, and I only wished I had more time to head further into the park.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

Heading back into central Peckham, I walked down some residential streets. As with most areas of London, there's a real mix of housing.

Heading back into central Peckham, I walked down some residential streets. As with most areas of London, there's a real mix of housing.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

There are blocks of council housing, as well as some semi-detached homes with gardens.

There are blocks of council housing, as well as some semi-detached homes with gardens.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I found Peckham High Street, which seemed similar to Rye Lane to me. Incredibly, it seems Queen Bey herself even has a store in Peckham. Who knew?

I found Peckham High Street, which seemed similar to Rye Lane to me. Incredibly, it seems Queen Bey herself even has a store in Peckham. Who knew?
Rachel Hosie/Insider

Everywhere I looked, there were bright pops of color, flavor, and lots of street art.

Everywhere I looked, there were bright pops of color, flavor, and lots of street art.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

This is Peckham High Street, which seems to have resisted the gentrification that's occurred in other areas of London.

This is Peckham High Street, which seems to have resisted the gentrification that's occurred in other areas of London.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

There are lots of recognizable budget brands, like Burger King and KFC...

There are lots of recognizable budget brands, like Burger King and KFC...
Rachel Hosie/Insider

... As well as small independent cafes and restaurants, many of which served traditional Caribbean dishes like jollof rice with beans.

... As well as small independent cafes and restaurants, many of which served traditional Caribbean dishes like jollof rice with beans.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

The buildings on the high street are actually very pretty, although I imagine living above all the nail salons, kebab shops, and fried chicken restaurants would get noisy.

The buildings on the high street are actually very pretty, although I imagine living above all the nail salons, kebab shops, and fried chicken restaurants would get noisy.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I turned off the main street on to Bellenden Road, which was immediately way quieter. I walked past this sweet-looking, modern school.

I turned off the main street on to Bellenden Road, which was immediately way quieter. I walked past this sweet-looking, modern school.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

And suddenly felt like I was somewhere entirely different altogether.

And suddenly felt like I was somewhere entirely different altogether.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I found myself amongst grand, polished homes with well-manicured front gardens and expensive cars in the driveways. It was so peaceful.

I found myself amongst grand, polished homes with well-manicured front gardens and expensive cars in the driveways. It was so peaceful.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

The street had an almost Notting Hill-esque feel to it, and as I approached a series of shops and cafes, there was a very quaint village vibe.

The street had an almost Notting Hill-esque feel to it, and as I approached a series of shops and cafes, there was a very quaint village vibe.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I popped into a cute cafe called Anderson and Co, which had a selection of delectable looking treats on the counter — the staff insisted that it was actually only a fraction of the usual spread, as they were about to close for the day.

I popped into a cute cafe called Anderson and Co, which had a selection of delectable looking treats on the counter — the staff insisted that it was actually only a fraction of the usual spread, as they were about to close for the day.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I crossed the road to find possibly the fanciest independent grocery store I've ever seen.

I crossed the road to find possibly the fanciest independent grocery store I've ever seen.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

The shelves were lined with jars and packets of products by brands I'd never seen, as well as baked goods.

The shelves were lined with jars and packets of products by brands I'd never seen, as well as baked goods.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

Fresh produce was all laid out in an artistic way.

Fresh produce was all laid out in an artistic way.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

As I wandered down the street, I passed a store selling grains, nuts, and seeds; another selling antique furniture; a retro style laundromat; and a branch of the small London pizza chain, Made of Dough (which I happen to know is delicious).

As I wandered down the street, I passed a store selling grains, nuts, and seeds; another selling antique furniture; a retro style laundromat; and a branch of the small London pizza chain, Made of Dough (which I happen to know is delicious).
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I popped into a stylish boutique, Form SE15, selling designer clothing, interiors, and gifts.

I popped into a stylish boutique, Form SE15, selling designer clothing, interiors, and gifts.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I then had a peek inside a pub called the Victoria. This wasn't a run of the mill boozer, though — the food menu included crushed avocado and poached eggs on toasted sourdough; baked Camembert with chilli jam, toasted sesame seeds, and sourdough; and a sirloin steak sandwich with fried onions, watercress, and fries.

I then had a peek inside a pub called the Victoria. This wasn't a run of the mill boozer, though — the food menu included crushed avocado and poached eggs on toasted sourdough; baked Camembert with chilli jam, toasted sesame seeds, and sourdough; and a sirloin steak sandwich with fried onions, watercress, and fries.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I asked the bartender what he thought made Peckham so special, and he told me he thinks it's the homely vibe and the sense of community. However, as I mingled amongst the yummy mummies and their children, I couldn't help but feel a bit uneasy about how it seemed like a totally different community to what I'd seen on Rye Lane and the High Street.

I asked the bartender what he thought made Peckham so special, and he told me he thinks it's the homely vibe and the sense of community. However, as I mingled amongst the yummy mummies and their children, I couldn't help but feel a bit uneasy about how it seemed like a totally different community to what I'd seen on Rye Lane and the High Street.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

There was still street art on Bellenden Road, but it wasn't the rough graffiti I'd seen earlier on in my travels.

There was still street art on Bellenden Road, but it wasn't the rough graffiti I'd seen earlier on in my travels.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I wandered down a leafy side street off Bellenden Road and ventured back to the hustle and bustle of central Peckham.

I wandered down a leafy side street off Bellenden Road and ventured back to the hustle and bustle of central Peckham.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

It couldn't have been further in appearance and vibe from the strange, bougie bubble of Bellenden Road.

It couldn't have been further in appearance and vibe from the strange, bougie bubble of Bellenden Road.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

The street was lined with African food stores, some of which were grilling meat outside, and it smelled delicious. They were also selling fruits and vegetables you don't see in mainstream supermarkets, like plantain.

The street was lined with African food stores, some of which were grilling meat outside, and it smelled delicious. They were also selling fruits and vegetables you don't see in mainstream supermarkets, like plantain.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

On Rye Lane, I found the entrance to the Bussey Building and climbed my way past the floors of offices and art spaces to the rooftop bar on the top.

On Rye Lane, I found the entrance to the Bussey Building and climbed my way past the floors of offices and art spaces to the rooftop bar on the top.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I'd heard about the Bussey Rooftop Bar before, but hadn't realized it was so beautiful. Covered in a canopy of colorful flowers with views of the London skyline, I loved the vibe.

I'd heard about the Bussey Rooftop Bar before, but hadn't realized it was so beautiful. Covered in a canopy of colorful flowers with views of the London skyline, I loved the vibe.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

There was a little chip shack catering for the inevitable munchies you get after a few drinks.

There was a little chip shack catering for the inevitable munchies you get after a few drinks.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

And naturally, a neon sign for the 'gram.

And naturally, a neon sign for the 'gram.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

On the other side of the building is the Rooftop Film Club, where movie-lovers can recline in deckchairs and enjoy films in the open air — provided they don't get distracted by the views, that is.

On the other side of the building is the Rooftop Film Club, where movie-lovers can recline in deckchairs and enjoy films in the open air — provided they don't get distracted by the views, that is.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

The final stop on my Peckham afternoon tour was back to Peckhamplex — perhaps the most famous bar in the area is Frank's on the roof of the building, but it didn't open till 5 p.m. that day. To get there, you have to climb up yet more flights of stairs, but the staircase to Frank's is an Insta-famous shade of bubblegum pink.

The final stop on my Peckham afternoon tour was back to Peckhamplex — perhaps the most famous bar in the area is Frank's on the roof of the building, but it didn't open till 5 p.m. that day. To get there, you have to climb up yet more flights of stairs, but the staircase to Frank's is an Insta-famous shade of bubblegum pink.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I couldn't resist.

I couldn't resist.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

When I reached the top of the staircase, I found an art exhibition about gaming.

When I reached the top of the staircase, I found an art exhibition about gaming.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

But I was there to find Frank's. And it wasn't what I was expecting. The bar was at the end of the rooftop, past a couple more outdoor art installations.

But I was there to find Frank's. And it wasn't what I was expecting. The bar was at the end of the rooftop, past a couple more outdoor art installations.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

While the view was indeed wonderful (much like the one from the Bussey rooftop, which I could see), Frank's was more rough around the edges than I'd expected.

While the view was indeed wonderful (much like the one from the Bussey rooftop, which I could see), Frank's was more rough around the edges than I'd expected.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

It was pretty simple and unfussy, with rows of picnic tables, next to no decorative touches, a bar selling classic cocktails, and a little restaurant shack serving bar snacks, small plates, and some bigger meals.

It was pretty simple and unfussy, with rows of picnic tables, next to no decorative touches, a bar selling classic cocktails, and a little restaurant shack serving bar snacks, small plates, and some bigger meals.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

While the industrial roughness of Frank's is certainly some people's cup of tea, my basic self couldn't help but prefer the pretty, colorful vibe of the Bussey Rooftop bar.

While the industrial roughness of Frank's is certainly some people's cup of tea, my basic self couldn't help but prefer the pretty, colorful vibe of the Bussey Rooftop bar.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

As I left Peckham, I felt a little confused. While there's undoubtedly a great sense of community in the area, I wondered if it's all one community, or rather two communities which rub along side-by-side.

What makes Peckham so cool is that it will cater to whatever you deem cool to mean, though — whether that's authentic homemade Caribbean cuisine, industrial art exhibitions, or flower walls and neon signs, you'll probably find what you're after here.


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