Writing about London is probably the single easiest, but also the hardest, thing for me to do. This city and I have had a love affair for as long as I can remember. I like to think Michelle and my Anglophilia stems from my mother having read countless romantic, British period piece novels in her years whilst we were in the womb (and even still to this day). I remember blasting the Spice Girls on the radio and becoming enamored by how they spoke and also at Gerri’s signature Union Jack dress. I remember from very young, with all the British influence that inevitably seemed to find its way into our apartment and how much we wished it stayed there, how badlg we wanted to go overseas and make something of ourselves out there. It took me 19 years, but when I was in my third year at university, I made the choice to study abroad for a semester. It is still singlehandedly one of the best decisions I have ever made in my 22 years.
Fast forward two summers later. I was headed back since I left later that December and Michelle for the first time ever, at 23. To say we were excited could not even begin to cover an ounchanged of it. Of course, arriving at Gatwick Airport in the early hours of the morning, with no public transit to take us to our apartment in Peckham Rye wasn’t exactly the best way to start a week in my favourite, and what would become Michelle’s favourite city, but this unexpectedness didn’t frazzle us so much this time around. We were finally here and ready for whatever was to come our way.
We decided to venture into South London for our stay, an area I had rarely visited during my first trip. Peckham Rye wasn’t somewhere we were familiar with and we really wanted to explore as much of London as possible. While our flat was in Zone 2, it only took us 15 minutes to get into the city centre. We paid exponentially less money than most people would have paid staying directly in Zone 1. Looking into staying in the outer zones is a perfect way if you need to save money. It was a solid decision because it also allowed us to experience an area where more native and mixed Britons live. There are tons of bars, restaurants and rooftops to check out in Peckham, too. (Frank’s Cafe is a winner). We loved it there.
The first few days were spent wandering, shopping and going to anything free that the city had to offer. Our first full day was on a Saturday. So what does any knowledgable person do on a Saturday in London Town? Camden Market. Yes, the city seems to get 10x more crowded, but Camden Market is such a right of passage for any newcomer. There is so much character and a sense of otherworldliness that permeates the air in North London. I can see why the punks of the 90s and people like Amy Winehouse (R.I.P) decided to make their homes here. Everyone is unique and there’s always something going on that you don’t bother questioning anything. The pub scene is also pretty reckless up here. We fully realised the extent of that on a Camden pub crawl later that night.
Something most people really LOVE about London is the abundance of museums and the beautiful entrance fee they all have of £0. In New York, most museums charge by donation. Even still, you’re expected to leave something so as to not seem frugal. Some tourists find themselves leaving the “suggested donation” of $26. Not for us and not in London. The English seem to take the notion of “art is for the people” seriously and it’s quite humbling. London can get expensive (more so for us as Americans and the weaker dollar), so for a huge market, for both tourists and locals, to be free is the truly the best thing you can ask for.
Because of my experience with the city already, I took a lot of charge in leading Michelle where to go. This proved not to be the best way to navigate as it made hee miss out on some of the things I found accidentally when I had been living here. Still, right off the bat she told me how comfortable she felt walking the streets and figuring out the Tube. A few days in and it was like we were natives, which might as well be due to the fact that New York and London are sister cities…more like twins. We weren’t really anywhere foreign. We felt so at ease and right at home. Even getting lost didn’t feel like a burden because we explored new territories and zones that would have never happened otherwise. That’s the best advice I can give to travelers: allow yourself to get lost and don’t stress about being lost. We discovered the gorgeous hidden gem that is Neal’s Yard on accident this way which made the experience all the better.
The serendipity we felt in London only rejustified our desires to want to move our lives completely over the Atlantic. Unfortunately, (and especially with Brexit, which we can discuss another time), Americans in England is not the easiest nor most feasible thing in the world. But in due time. We still have a lot more love to give.
This list will be a pretty long one, so bear with us.
Where To Visit:
Camden Market – As mentioned above – so much to do, so much to see, hours of shopping, cheap street eats and lots of character (whether that be in the area or within the people). Usually the markets are on the weekends only, but I’ve heard they’ve extended hours and days of the week.
Big Ben/Houses of Parliament/Westminster Abbey/London Eye – The whole area of Westminster is pretty much unavoidable if you’re desperate to see the city’s highlights. It is insanely crowded, quite touristy and an area that most natives try to avoid (like New Yorkers and Times Square). But on a first trip, it’s a must. Big Ben is a stunning landmark and every time I go back to London, I make sure to see him, even from afar. A great way to be surprised at his sight is by going up from Trafalgar Square. A 15-minute walk and there he is. You can’t miss him.
Oxford Street/Tottenham Court Road – Many people seem to hate this shopping street because of how densely populated and crowded it is. I’m used to the madness from living in NYC and to be fair, most flagship stores area located here, hence the mess of people. But British shopping is so unlike any other because the English, like the Danish, are very concerned with clothing and presentability. Topshop, Selfridges, River Island, Zara, LUSH, Primark, John Lewis, Liberty, the list goes on. You can find everything and anything on Oxford Street if you’re in dire need of it or want to look a bit more fashionable.
Covent Garden/West End – Covent Garden is one of my favourite parts of London. There’s something so quaint about it that I never get tired of. I usually just wander and stop by some of the vintage stores (or charity shops as the Brits call them). West End is around as well, with a range of musicals and shows to choose from. Waking up early and lining up before the box office opens guarantees paying way less for a performance for that night. Michelle and I were able to watch a few musicals for as little as £30 and even scored first-row! Definitely recommended.
Shoreditch/Brick Lane – Another of my favourite places. It’s like the Brooklyn of London. Very cute shops and pubs surround the area. And don’t even get me started on the street art. It’s unique, colorful and all over the place. A perfect chance for a photo-op. Brick Lane in Shoreditch is known for its bagels. When I was living here, I craved NYC bagels and thought I was out of luck. Until I found Beigel Bake.
South Bank/Borough Market – Just south of the famous River Thames (pronounced like ‘tems’), is a very bustling side of London. During the weekends, Borough Market opens up and becomes a great area to find produce, bread, cheese, sweets and all types of spices. I really enjoy the way this area sort of meshes with natives and tourists when it’s open.
Chinatown/SoHo – Not much to see or do here except eat. These areas are pretty standard and similar all over the world. Lots of clubs, restaurants, and general people watching is perfect to do here.
Tower Bridge – Most people confuse Tower Bridge for London Bridge because it’s London’s most famous landmarked bridge. London Bridge is actually pretty subpar in comparison. Last year, the city opened up a really cool exhibition over the bridge that showcases the history of all the bridges of London and what they did for the economy. Even from afar, definitely take a stroll near near. It’s a magical looking backdrop.
Tate Modern – There are lots of museums in London as mentioned above, but there’s something beautiful about the art within the Tate. Maybe it’s because we’re suckers for modern art. After a trip there, take a walk across the Millennium Bridge (the one Bellatrix burns down in the sixth Harry Potter film), and you’ll end up right in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank/Barbican area of the city. Nothing riveting happens around there but it’s a good, serene place to wander about.
Notting Hill/Kensington – Oh, just like the movie. If you find love here, be sure to keep it. One of the most expensive parts of London, Notting Hill is known for the colorful façades of the houses. The area is also home to the thrifty, bohemian, vintage Portobello Market. In August, Notting Hill is also home to the most famous festival in the UK, Notting Hill Carnival, which draws in over 1 million people over the weekend. In Kensington, be sure to visit the numerous brunch spots, Kensington Gardens, and The Churchill Arms. Google a photo of it and you’ll know why it has become my favourite pub in London. It randomly serves Thai food, too. What more could you want?
Buckingham Palace – The Queen lives here! While most people never see her, the Changing of the Guard is what people look forward to and happens every other day beginning at 11:30 am. But make sure to get there early if you want any chance of seeing anything.
London Parks – Just like museums, there are LOTS of parks. Over 50% of London is green space. (NYC, take note). Hyde Park is probably the most famous, as it is home to lots of events during the summer and Winter Wonderland in the winter. It isn’t my favourite though. Regents Park and St. James’ Park are equally as beautiful and much quieter.
Chelsea – Another one of my favourite parts of London. A bit of an expensive neighborhood as well. It reminded me a lot of 5th Avenue and the Upper East Side in New York. Even though we could hardly afford anything here, we still thought it was so beautiful. Definite #neighborhoodgoals!
Warner Bros. Studio Tour – We wouldn’t have left without visiting this one. While it isn’t in London proper — about an hour outside — it is a MUST if you’re as crazy about this wizard as we are. Overall, we spent about 5 hours here. Yes, I know, that’s nuts. But it is a great experience. Even if you’re not a crazy fan, it’s cool to see a decade worth of film productions shot here. There is just so much to go through and I recommend taking your time to truly take in the experience. We absolutely shed some tears at the end (no shame). But, if all else fails, at least you’ll finally taste Butter Beer.
British Telly – So, there’s a lot of shitty British television out there. Yet, people seem to love it. It’s like a secret love/hate that no one wants to admit. But when you share with someone that you watch Made in Chelsea, let’s just say you shouldn’t be surprised to find out you aren’t the only one.
‘Cheeky Nandos’ – Oh, Nandos. Americans don’t understand the hype. “It’s just chicken,” we say. But it’s so much more than that. Personally, we love Nandos’ and it’s unfortunate there aren’t many in the States. But you gotta love the cheekiness of it. (Don’t even ask…its ‘cheekiness’ is just a thing no one outside of England will ever understand).
£3 Meal Deals – These saved my life as a student. And during last summer, too. Michelle and I are huge foodies, but with jam-packed schedules, on some days we couldn’t grab lunch or an evening meal, so we relied on these. They’re actually pretty great. Thank you, Sainsbury’s.
Beer – The English love their beer. So much so that they sometimes spill it on themselves. On nights out, at concerts, anywhere. It’s a phenomenon that I don’t really understand and would love for someone to explain to me why someone would willingly want to splash beer all over their heads…and other people. Please advise?
6 days in a city of 8 million people and a plethora of things to do wasn’t and will never be enough time. We made sure our days were well spent. I don’t think a second went by that we weren’t doing or seeing something. But it wasn’t long until our happiest days turned quickly into sadness because the end of our Euro Trip was approaching. Leaving London for the end of our adventure together was the smartest decision we made and also the most difficult.
But it’s okay. In the midst of everything, London will always be there to welcome us home. And it has and I’m sure it will continue to do so as long as our love for this city doesn’t wane. Believe me when I say, I don’t think it ever will. Until next time xxx