Huffpost Travel

Herb Lester Maps: Cartographers Talk Maps In A Digital Age And London's Best Spots (PHOTOS)

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In this age of digital everything, one London company is aiming to turn back time with beautiful maps.

Herb Lester, the brain child of Ben Olins and Jane Smillie, was created after both founders left the U.K.'s Channel 4. Olins told The Huffington Post that after meeting at a "foul chain coffee shops" for meetings with each other, they decided to "map the best places to meet and work for people without offices. That became 'You Are Here,' our first map."

Each map has a unique purpose, but all of them share a perspective. The partners have created a Brooklyn map, but not a Manhattan map because, as Smillie says, "It seems pretty similar to East London -- an area that is changing quickly all the time. Also, it's quite daunting as a visitor. You know there's loads going on there but you have no idea how to find any of it."

"More than that, there are so many great old places which are in danger of getting overlooked with people's excitement to find new stuff. That's why we always incude places like Bamonte's and Ferdinando's," added Olins.

The question of physical maps is an interesting one, and one that the pair seems to have thought quite a lot about. Google Maps, while helpful, "doesn't help make decisions" for users. Herb Lester's maps, they argue, instead offer a trusted, curated voice that has a "different quality to what you read on your phone," Ollins says.

As the duo told blogger Daniel Gray, "Old fashioned, foldy, inky things have personality, something which Google maps and web guides lack. But the limitations of the format also force you to be selective, to only recommend things you genuinely believe to be good. It’s a fallacy that comprehensive listings are useful, when really they’re just confusing – it’s so much easier when someone makes a decision for you."

So far, the partners have issued maps for an eclectic smattering of cities, including Berlin, East London, Austin, Glasgow and Paris. They plan to chart a couple more U.K. cities this year and a few more European cities with some in America planned coming up.

The maps, which start at around 3 pounds, are available online and in an array of stores in the U.K. and U.S.

With the Olympics coming up in their fair city, Huffington Post Travel's Kate Auletta asked the pair for their favorite spots (and most overrated spots) around London.

Kate Auletta: You two would meet up at coffee shops that you hated. What's your favorite now?
Ben Olins: I like Wild & Wood on New Oxford Street. It’s small and wood-panelled with great coffee.
Jane Smillie: I like Nordic for the decor, the smell, the coffee and the excellent little snacks. Cinnamon buns.

KA: Favorite restaurants?
BO: Moro (34-36 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE) never disappoints.
JS: Tayyabs (83-89 Fieldgate Street, E1 1JU). When I feel weary of London I go there for lamb chops.

KA: Favorite pubs?
BO: The Wenlock Arms (26 Wenlock Road, N1 7TA) is currently under threat from developers, but it’s a fantastic local pub. It’s not pretty but has an allure of its own. After that, The Southampton Arms (139 Highgate Road, NW5 1LE), an outstanding real ale and cider pub which has become rather too popular for its own good.
JS: The Sutton Arms (6 Carthusian Street, EC1M 6EB). If you go in the afternoon it's really peaceful. And they serve good non-alcoholic beer, a rarity.

KA: Favorite museum?
BO: The V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) never disappoints. Also the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising (2 Colville Mews, W11 2AR).
JS: Leighton House is really amazing too.

KA: Most overrated attraction in London?
BO: The queues for London Dungeon and Madame Tussaud’s are beyond comprehension...
JS:...As is the popularity of the Westfield shopping malls.

KA: Most underrated attraction?
BO: Travelling on a double-decker bus. Any journey on the top deck has potential, just look above the shops and their tawdry signs and an entirely different London reveals itself: shabby offices and flats, ornate architectural flourishes, wild plants and flowers taking root.
JS: The Barbican Centre.

KA: What's your favorite walk?
BO: I love to walk in the slightly grubby West End back streets around Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia, but it’s hard to beat a walk along the South Bank, from London Bridge, followed by a stroll across the bridge to Embankment tube.
JS: A walk in East London is pretty fascinating, from Petticoat Lane to Brick Lane and then towards the city.

KA: Favorite food shop?
BO: I Camisa on Old Compton Street. It’s one of the last old, independent shops in Soho; a tiny, family-run Italian delicatessen which seems to have changed little in the last fifty years. My other favourite is the Camden Coffee Shop (11 Delancey Street, NW1 7NL), a tiny one-man operation, he sells only coffee, which is roasted on site in great, archaic machines.

KA: Favorite tube stop?
BO: St Johns Wood. Tt has a kind of honey-tinted quality and is little-changed since it was built in the late 1930s, with its bronze lamps and accents and cream-colored tiles.

KA: In your opinion, what's the best view in London?
BO: The London Eye shows the city from a unique vantage point. Even when you’re very familiar with London you see it in a fresh light.
JS: The view from the top of Primrose Hill is pretty amazing.

KA: Favorite park?
BO: We are blessed with so many, but Regents Park is everything a big city park should be, with ample space for people to escape, to play, to run, read. And always the gentle roar of traffic and fleeting glimpses of the wonderful architecture which surrounds it.
JS: Richmond Park. The deer are ace.

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