An Introduction to Vegan London

Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated February 19, 2012.

I didn’t get to travel as much as I would have liked last year, but I did manage to spend a week in London, England, at the beginning of December.

December’s a great month to visit London, if you don’t mind that it gets dark early in the afternoon. But the Brits really do get into the holiday spirit, and I quite enjoy London at this time of the year. The Christmas lights on Regent Street were fabulous,

© Ingrid Haunold

and yes, that’s a pub full of Santa Clauses. You didn’t think there was just one, now did you?

© Ingrid Haunold

I actually know London quite well, having lived there for a few years in the late nineties and early noughties, and am already familiar with many of the vegetarian restaurants. I nevertheless bought a couple of restaurant guides on Amazon before my trip, which I will review in the coming days (Veggie & Organic London and Vegetarian London – both books are available on Amazon UK, but not through their US website.)

Whenever I visit London, I stay at the Piccadilly Backpackers Hostel in Soho, which is situated one block behind Piccadilly Circus. The location and price are unbeatable (beds are from £ 12.00 per night, depending on the season and room size/number of beds per room – I paid £ 29.00 per night in a 6-bed mixed (male/female) room in December).

I generally prefer backpacker’s or youth hostels to regular hotels, because most of them simply don’t cater to vegan travellers. You’ll find down pillows at hotels, woollen blankets and/or carpets, leather chairs, and so forth. All are a big no-no for strict vegans, who try to live a cruelty-free life. And even though many hotels provide (ovo-lacto) vegetarian breakfasts these days, vegan foods are still not offered most of the time, so vegans are paying for goods and services they can’t use and don’t want. Hence, my preference for backpacker’s hostels and the like. They’re very basic, sometimes outright grungy, but generally cruelty-free.

Consider yourself warned: The Piccadilly Backpackers Hostel really offers very little besides cheap beds in a great location. The women’s washroom on my floor consisted of three shower stalls without doors (just curtains), three toilets, and one (yes, one) small sink for everyone. Let’s just say that all the women on this floor got to know each other very well. Still, I’ve been staying there for many years, and I intend to come back in the future.

The hostel does offer some basic (mostly non-vegan) breakfast options. But there’s a small Whole Foods supermarket right around the corner, which opens early in the morning. They offer some great breakfast choices (e.g. a vegan yoghurt pot with fruit), and they also sell coffee with soy milk.

London is a great city for vegan tourists. The city is truly multi-cultural, and many Londoners are vegetarians. Feeding yourself won’t be difficult. During my latest visit, I purposely tried to eat in as many non-vegetarian restaurants as possible, just to see how easy or difficult that would be. I was pleasantly surprised. I was almost always able to at least buy some vegan sushi or a hummus sandwich, something I wasn’t able to do in New York City, for example.

I’ll post more detailed restaurant and store reviews in the coming days, but if you’ve never been to London before, just go. It’s a great city, and a great place to be vegan.

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