x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The travel experience: Silicon Roundabout, London

Rosemary Behan goes on a tour of “Silicon Roundabout” a noisy, dirty traffic hub linking the City with Shoreditch and north London.

‘Silicon Roundabout’, London. Courtesy of Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg
‘Silicon Roundabout’, London. Courtesy of Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg

Innovation, openness, connectedness. These are the themes around which a new tour of London's burgeoning tech scene are built. And, standing in the middle of "Silicon Roundabout", a term coined by Matt Biddulph, then the chief technology officer for Dopplr, a social network for frequent travellers that was based in the area, there's a certain symmetry in the notion that today the intangible matters as much as the tangible.

The centre of "Tech City" is a noisy, dirty traffic hub linking the City with Shoreditch and north London. A home in recent years for creatives, thanks to its lower rents and gritty location, its proximity to the world's financial centre and its "edgy" reputation has, since 2008, made it Europe's fastest-growing tech and innovation "cluster." So much so that Insider London, a tour company that runs a variety of specialised tours all over the UK capital, from design and architecture tours to "death and debauchery", has created a walking tour through the area.

At 5pm on a Wednesday, our guide, Tobias, meets us at Old Street Underground station, and takes us, via a secret lift, into the surprisingly quiet centre of the roundabout, itself soon to be subject to a major redevelopment. He explains that, since 2008, more than 1,300 tech companies have settled in the streets around the roundabout. Its postcode, EC1, Tobias states, was responsible for 76 per cent of growth across all central London in 2011.

Two blocks of luxury apartments have opened overlooking the roundabout, and Campus London and TechHub, entrepreneurial spaces similar to Dubai's Make Business Hub, are just across the road. In the Shoreditch Grind, a coffee shop on the side of the roundabout that is a more informal meeting place for people with silver laptops, we meet some graduates of Make who are starting new businesses in London.

Walking down towards Shoreditch, Tobias shows us the addresses of some of the area's more interesting new businesses, including the "Boxpark", a retail centre with shops built into stacked containers ("the world's first pop-up shopping mall", Tobias says), and a branch of the Lebanese street food company Yalla Yalla. Eating a shawarma and tabboule in Shoreditch - that, in a round-about sort of way, confirmed that everything in today's world is connected.

Insider London's Silicon Roundabout Tour costs £20 (Dh113) per person. For more details visit www.insider-london.co.uk or call 0044 844 504 8080.


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