Postcards From London: A Saudi's guide to London

Postcards From London: A Saudi's guide to London

Saudi professor Dr Ghadah W. Alharthi takes us to her favourite haunts in her adopted home city
23 November 23
Ghadah Alharti's London Guide Image source: Rob Greig

“London fuels creativity and ambition," Dr Ghadah W. Alharthi enthuses.

“It offers access to a wealth of knowledge and a vibrant community.” The Saudi associate professor would know – she teaches on innovation and culture at the prestigious Central Saint Martins - University of the Arts London. After arriving in the city to study more than a decade ago, Ghadah has been busy creating her own vast network of creatives, and now works on her dream project of supporting them, bridging local and global cultural projects across the world – and here in the UK capital.

“My journey so far has led me to collaborate with dynamic institutions such as the Royal Academy of Arts, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Knowledge Quarter [a small area around King's Cross, Euston Road, and Bloomsbury], a focal point for one of the world's greatest knowledge clusters, including where I teach,” she explains.

For Ghadah, London is incredibly inspiring and intellectually stimulating. “It represents a culture of possibility, where every culture and avenue are open for exploration.” The city's accessibility to the rest of Europe adds another layer of allure. "It's the best place to grow a business and a network," she explains. "But it's challenging to succeed and to remain one of the top people in your field here. Many friends have relocated in pursuit of an alternative lifestyle, driven by tax incentives for companies and to avoid the relentless consumerism, which is often without regard for environmental sustainability."

Ghadah has seen the city evolve during her time here, with both highs and lows – often at the same time. Its recent economic challenges, for example, have also impressively highlighted the community's resilience and sparked a strong commitment to sustainable living.

Even though she may be living far away from Saudi right now, Ghadah is still guided by the wisdom her family taught her. "From a young age, they kept repeating: don't limit your thinking by aiming to be the best on a local level in your field. Think global." Ghadah now feels she is living by this mantra, competing with the world in London, where diversity enriches the community. From culture to tech, she sees the future unfolding in the city's innovative landscape. "Despite having lived here for many years, I'm still not immune to its architectural beauty," Ghadah adds.

Architectural Must-Sees

Ghadah highly recommends a visit to Coal Drops Yard in north London, situated near Central Saint Martins. “This part of King’s Cross beautifully blends innovation and local culture. Much like the Samsung building [Samsung KX], which was designed by Heatherwick Studio – famous for revamping London's Victorian warehouses and contributing to the design of London's iconic red buses – Coal Drops Yard embodies progressive architecture that supports sustainable cities and underscores the pivotal role of design."

In her teaching, Ghadah always highlights examples of real-life projects that align with the broader messages of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as showcase how design is a powerful tool for implementing policies that nurture the environment in creating better future cities and improved living standards. Coal Drops Yard fits that special bill.

Foodie Finds

London has a diverse gastronomic landscape, but when pressed to pick a favourite place for food, Ghadah has to go for a special order from Brunette Brisket, a culinary gem created by her dear friend and chef, Lea Sednaoui. “This farm-to-table service offers organic brisket sandwiches that pay homage to the classic French dip. It's a gourmet experience, yet served somewhere that feels as comfortable as your own home in the heart of London.

Ghadah also highlights Wiltons in St James's. “It's a timeless classic that never loses its charm. The restaurant is a true reflection of London's refined culinary history.”

Fashion Choices

“One lesson I impart to my students at Central Saint Martins, many of whom come from creative backgrounds, is the importance of considering our environmental and social impact in every facet of business,” Ghadah shares. “This extends to the choices we make in supporting and purchasing from responsible and ethical businesses.”

One such example of responsible manufacturing is Dai, founded by Ghadah’s friend Joanna Dai. It is a London-based label and a certified B Corp (a company verified by B Lab to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability). It has a deep-rooted commitment to sustainability, ethical practices, and an eco-conscious approach, which includes the use of eco-friendly materials, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption, and a firm stance against the use of animal products.

Only in London

The capital is home to hundreds of ever-evolving, unique experiences.

“From the enchanting Chelsea Flower Show to the excitement of Wimbledon, the busyness of Frieze Week and accompanying satellite events, the cinematic magic of the BFI London Film Festival, every season unveils something extraordinary about the city and its community,” Ghadah says. “Add to that innovation talks at Nesta and the Royal Society of Arts that are also part of the diverse tapestry of London's cultural riches.”

Guaranteed to Impress

“When hosting guests in London, I always make it a point to take them to the Leighton House Museum in Kensington,” Ghadah reveals. “Following an extensive recent refurbishment, this gem has rekindled its charm with its exquisite interior.”

Ladbroke Hall is a newly opened creative hub in Notting Hill, an area Ghadah has a special affinity with, and where her mother’s family used to live. It features an iconic Nacho Carbonell grand monochrome chandelier and commissioned works by artist Christopher Le Brun, previously president of the Royal Academy of Arts.

“What I particularly appreciate about Ladbroke Hall is that it is more than just a venue; it's a much-needed community driven space, collaborating with local creatives and supporting youth initiatives in art, design, music, and dining for education and mentorship. It is what I believe cultural spaces should always aim to be, a place where the community can come together to create, innovate, and appreciate what cities like London have to offer.”

Green Spaces

In the greenest European city – a staggering 3,000 spots – Ghadah can easily select her preferred place for a walk. “The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. It’s the home of the Marianne North Gallery, a tribute to a remarkable plant hunter and botanical artist, and the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, with its inspiring exhibitions on nature and science.”

Library Love

“My alma mater, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), holds a library with a fascinating history,” Ghadah says. “The core of the building is truly special, featuring a traditional, classical atrium naturally illuminated by carefully angled rooflights, designed by architect Sir Denys Louis Lasdun – who also happens to be the creator behind one of my favourite London spots, the National Theatre.”

She also recommends the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which houses the UK's most extensive public reference collection on fine and decorative arts. Last but not least on her list is The London Library, founded in 1841 and located in St James's. It boasts an impressive collection of one million books and some of the top authors in the world as its members.

Noted images with thanks to Rob Greig