When I first moved to London, I asked a friend where I should live. She told me that if she could do it all over again, she would live in Hampstead. Now that I’ve been in London for six years, I sometimes wonder what I would tell someone if they asked me the same question. Usually I find myself leaning towards a particular neighborhood in central London: Clerkenwell.

Leaves in Clerkenwell, London

In fact, I love Clerkenwell so much that when a new aparthotel called Supercity invites me to have a two-night staycation in the neighborhood, I jump at the chance to see what it would be like to live there. Off I go to The Rosebery, their shiny new property on Rosebery Avenue in Clerkenwell.

The Rosebery Aparthotel in Clerkenwell, London

I arrive on a sunny afternoon and check into my apartment. It’s a one-bedroom with a large living room and kitchen, and a bathroom off the main hall. Windows line the front wall, illuminating the sleek contemporary furnishings, and out the bedroom I have a view of the City skyscrapers and St Paul’s Cathedral. Apart from a fan that’s a bit squeaky and an LCD panel for the lights and heat that doesn’t seem to do what I tell it to, it’s a great place to stay.

Room at The Rosebery in Clerkenwell, London

I set up my laptop at the desk in the living room and connect to the free WiFi, but I can’t bring myself to get any work done. Clerkenwell is calling, and I want to go explore.

The Shard and St Paul's Cathedral in London

I head outside and cross Farringdon Road, making my way to Exmouth Market. The street and its outdoor market are some of the best places to eat in Clerkenwell. From Santore, with its delicious pizzas, to Hummus Bros, where I stop for an afternoon snack of ful medames with fluffy pita, it is teeming with great restaurants, cafes, and outdoor market stalls.

Exmouth Market in London

As I walk around, I also discover a hidden gem near Exmouth Market. Down a little alley, I find a pretty park full of delicate flowers and adorable dogs. Maybe I will move to Clerkenwell after all.

Park in Clerkenwell, London

Not far from the park, I discover another of the neighborhood’s highlights. The Clerkenwell Collection invites me for a glass of wine and a tour of their shop, which sells everything from handbags to bespoke suits. I particularly like the accessories from Elvis & Kresse, which are made from reclaimed materials.

The Clerkenwell Collection in London

And speaking of shops, I discover the great food market on Leather Lane, where I pick up a halloumi wrap from Victus & Bibo and can’t believe how good it is (no wonder there’s a massive queue). Behind the stall is Prufrock, one of the best coffee shops in Clerkenwell, and I get a latte to savor as I walk over to Smithfield Market.

Prufrock Coffee in Clerkenwell, London

On the way I pass The Bleeding Heart Tavern, a place I once discovered on a taxi tour of London. East of it is Cowcross Street, which is packed with great restaurants and pubs.

Alley in Clerkenwell, London

At the end of Cowcross Street I come to Smithfield. It is a massive Victorian meat market that somehow managed to survive in central London when all of its counterparts moved away from the city center. By the time I get there, the market is empty (all of the trading takes place in the wee hours of the morning), but I can still admire its Victorian metalwork and read about its history.

Smithfield Market in London

The most interesting bits are that Scottish hero William Wallace was executed here, and that in the early 19th century, men used to come to Smithfield Market to sell their unwanted wives. Yikes…

Smithfields, London

While Smithfield may have once been a scary place (for rebellious Scots and women, anyway), it is now surrounded by some of the best restaurants in London. From Club Gascon to the south, to the cozy Fox & Anchor pub to the north, from Michelin-starred St John, to perennial favorite The Modern Pantry, and new-and-noteworthy Foxlow, there is no shortage of great places to eat (and that’s to say nothing of little secret bars like Tart and the Zetter Townhouse Bar).

Fox and Anchor Pub in Clerkenwell, London

After my day of sightseeing, I head to one such restaurant in Clerkenwell for dinner. I have been invited to Bird of Smithfield, a new multi-story dining and drinking establishment near Smithfield Market, to try the cuisine of chef Alan Bird, formerly of The Ivy.

Trees in Clerkenwell, London

My dinner starts out on a positive note in a cozy first-floor dining room with friendly service. It’s pouring rain outside and I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be than a warm room full of good food and wine.

Dinner at Bird of Smithfield in London

The starter of scallops with Jerusalem artichokes, pears, and bacon is comforting and then some, with rich flavors complimenting one another in a sinfully delicious way. I can’t help but order the special of the night for my main, the 28-day dry aged South Devon sirloin beef with Bearnaise sauce, which is juicy and rare and perfect for keeping me warm as the raindrops lash at the window panes.

Dessert at Bird of Smithfield in London

No comforting winter meal would be complete without chocolate, so I dive into a divine sea salt caramel and Cru Virunga crackling pot and finish off the last of my Valpolicella with it. The meal has been a winner, and as I walk downstairs and exit through the bar, I’m tempted to stay all evening.

Building in Clerkenwell, London

But my room at The Rosebery calls, and I’m glad it does. Warm and dry, it lulls me through the night and gets me ready for my continued exploration of the neighborhood. One the best things about Clerkenwell and nearby Farringdon is the history, and I love discovering it as I walk through the area.

Church in Farringdon, London

In addition to Smithfield Market, there are pretty historic churches tucked away behind stone arches, and secret gardens like that of the Museum of the Order of St John.

Ivy Covered Building in Clerkenwell, London

I could spend all day walking through Clerkenwell, but my staycation is coming to an end. I check out of The Rosebery and start home, all the while knowing that the past two days have confirmed my original thought: if someone asked me where to live in London, I would definitely say Clerkenwell.

18 comments on “Lady in Clerkenwell”

  1. Does Clerkenwell or Farringdon have any significant kind of residential areas? I have always been under the impression they are more aligned to the financial district and filled with weekday commuters rather than having a neighbourhood feel to them.

  2. As well as working in Clerkenwell, I’ve lived here for over 6 years, and this is great summary of the area – which I so love living in. In answer to the above question, there is lots of residential tucked away – and the trendy buzziness during the working week is perfectly tempered with the leisurely weekends, where Clerkenwell has a village feel to it. I’m glad you enjoyed your glass of wine and tour with us at The Clerkenwell Collection, and look forward to your next visit!

  3. Thanks for sharing! I lived in angel and Clerkenwell for 5 years and love the fact that you see it’s promise. It’s quite overlooked I think. Exmouth market is a total gem and I love just pottering on brisk sunny days. There’s so much to see.

    Love your idea of a staycation in order to see different areas on London too!

  4. What a sweet and lovely neighborhood. I’m shocked every time you show a new neighborhood in London–there are so many! That meal at the restaurant by the Ivy chef sounded delicious! I loved the Ivy in Los Angeles!

  5. Agreed! Like you, I love Clerkenwell. For me, it’s the perfect ‘central’ village, with so much going for it AND really easy access to City, the East End and West End. For some reason, though, it’s not easy to convince people to come and stay here when they visit London (I manage holiday rental apartments in Clerkenwell).

  6. I am currently reading Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography. As soon as I turned to where I left off last night, there was a paragraph talking about how buying/selling meat at Smithfields has been happening on that same spot for almost 1000 years!

    I used to work in The City and oftentimes I would get off at Angel and walk down St. John Street early in the morning to get some air. Clerkenwell is one of my favourite London neighbourhoods. Happy to have found your blog, but it makes me want to move back to London!

  7. Stumbled upon this entry while Googling “living in Clerkenwell.” 🙂 I’m moving to London in September for my postgraduate studies, and I’ll be staying close to the Barbican. Seems I made a good choice! I’m very excited to explore my new neighborhood and will definitely keep an eye out for the places you recommended.

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