My relationship with London
How it started
I don’t know where my obsession with London came from, but I suppose it had something to do with Harry Potter, Love Actually and the British accent. I just know I liked it more each time I travelled there. At some point I decided that I’d like to spend some time living there in the future, and I had this thought in my mind until the day I applied for Erasmus. The strange thing is, though, that I’m generally someone who likes summer. Thames is quite a lousy substitute for sea, and while it doesn’t usually rain heavily in London, the weather changes quickly, and it’s often cloudy and wet. Also, London is enormous and crowded. It can take ages to get somewhere and walking around the centre at weekends can be a nightmare. Not to mention the fact that it’s ridiculously expensive.
none of these things made me dislike it. I spent nine months there having a laugh and enjoying every minute of it. I loved every part of the city; even the dodgy Cricklewood where I lived sort of grew on me. Of course, there were times when the slow traffic made me nervous, when the amount of people in Primark made me leave everything and walk out, or when I was shocked by the price of a glass of mediocre wine in some random club (8 pounds). But all that was nothing compared to the times when I walked London’s streets, lied in a park on a sunny day, or visited one of the markets. I was happy to be there all the time: I liked travelling by tube, going to Co-op and sometimes I even liked the rain. Moving there all alone didn’t scare me, and I was next to depressed when I had to go home. But there’s a good reason for all that: I was an exchange student.
Erasmus life is like living in a bubble; it, sadly, isn’t real. Everything’s temporary, and you’re aware of that. Consequently, you try to make the most out of it while you can. I had few classes and didn’t have to work, which meant that I didn’t have to commute to another part of the city every morning. Loneliness wasn’t something I struggled with either, as common as it might be for a foreigner in a big city. I had my Erasmus flatmates, and I basically forgot what it was like to be alone. I don’t think I watched two films by myself in the entire year. And then I had the scholarship. I paid my rent in advance, and whenever I was running out of money, my mum and my grandma would help me. I was free as a bird, and I didn’t have any real worries.
The cons of living in London therefore didn’t affect me as much. I enjoyed the good stuff, and I’ll focus on these here. I’ll leave out the main tourist sites because I’m sure you already know everything there is to know about Buckingham Palace and Madame Tussauds.
The best things about London are the mixture between old and new architecture, the many enormous parks, the amazing markets, and the fact that there’s always something going on. There are so many events, concerts, clubs, pubs and restaurants that it’s hard to run out of things to do or places to go to.
It’s no secret that London is full of amazing parks. It’s not all about Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, though. There are many other ones! I had Clitterhouse Playing Fields and Gladstone Park near to my residence, and I often ran there. The first one is basically just lots of grass and some benches, while the second one is more park-like. Neither of them is very special, though, while the ones listed below absolutely are:
There’s a hill, a forest, small lakes (in which people actually swim during summer; I guess they’re just that desperate), an amazing old palace called Inverforth House (you can walk through a part of its garden), rich people’s houses and Parliament hill (a very cool viewpoint).
Golders Hill Park
Basically, a zoo. You can see various kinds of birds and other animals, including squirrels, like in every London’s park.
Enormous: be prepared to walk a lot or rent a bike. You can see deer, though!.
A big pretty park that includes a Japanese garden. Pretty special.
Next to Thames, has an adventure park, and is right next to Battersea Power Station, which was on the cover of Animals by Pink Floyd.
The usual ones which are definitely worth a visit too: Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park (from here you can walk to Primrose Hill, another amazing viewpoint), St. James’s Park, Victoria Park, Green Park, Greenwich Park, etc.
It might sound bizarre, but I really like cemeteries. I prefer older ones with interesting tombstones. I think it also has something to do with the fact that cemeteries in England differ a lot from the ones in Slovenia. For one thing, there are a lot less candles and flowers, and I find that reasonable. There are lots of them in London, and I have only visited two:
Near Cricklewood. There’s a path that goes through it with a fence on both sides. People run, walk and cycle there. It’s beautiful, the tombstones are surrounded by trees, and it has a creepy gothic vibe to it, especially if you walk through it when it’s getting dark. It’s free of charge.
It’s divided into the West and the East Cemetery. I only visited the Eastern part. For the Western part you must book a guided tour (around 12 pounds). I only had to pay 4 pounds for the East Cemetery, which is where Karl Marx is buried. Douglas Adams is also among the people buried in the East Cemetery. The West Cemetery is supposed to have amazing architecture, and George Michael is buried there, but his grave isn’t visited during the tour.
Otherwise, London has the “Magnificent Seven”: seven big private cemeteries, all established in the 19th century because there wasn’t enough space in the existing ones. Highgate is one of them, alongside Kensal Green, Abney Park and Brompton, which are also supposed to be worth visiting.
Markets are among the things that make London such an amazing city to live in. They are just screaming London as they are crowded, you can buy/eat things from all over the world, they are loud and there’s music everywhere. Keep in mind to check the opening times online before visiting them: some are closed on Sundays (Borough Market) while some er only fully open on Sundays (Brick Lane). I’ve been to the following five markets several times and I really can’t decide which one I like best: Borough Market, Camden Market, Brick Lane, Portobello Road Market and Covent Garden. There are also other famous markets in London but I either haven’t been to them or have only been once and don’t really remember them, so I won’t write about them (Old Spitalfields Market, Greenwich Market, Broadway Market etc.).
My first memory of London. It’s near London Bridge, it’s full of amazing food (they sell fresh ingredients and ready meals, but nothing except food and drinks) and you can eat sitting by the Thames because it’s so close. It’s a nice stop when taking a walk from Tower Bridge towards Tate Modern or vice versa. As already mentioned, make sure not to go there on a Sunday and try to go between Wednesday and Saturday because not all traders are there on the first two days of the week (you won’t be hungry though). My all-time favourite dish is a mix of veggies from the Ethiopian stall.
Another old memory and simply a classic: full of tourists, music, graffiti, crazy shops and various food stalls with all the possible junk food you can imagine (you can find healthy stuff too though). Camden Market is open every day from ten to six. You can buy everything, from T-shirts, to hand-made jewellery and paintings.
Probably one of the best markets I’ve ever been to. There are always amazing street performers, there are various food halls and they sell a lot of art work. Perhaps because of the bagel shop, but I swear I sometimes felt as if I was in New York when walking through it. Brick Lane is officially only open on Sundays from 5 to 10. There are things you can do in the lane also on other days and there are some stalls, but I would definitely recommend going on a Sunday at about twelve or so (if you don’t mind the crowd).
Portobello Road Market
Located in Nothing Hill, where the film with the same name was filmed, and where you can see cute colourful houses and majestic white ones too. It’s where I ate the best falafel in my life (I can’t remember which stall it was, but I’m sure I’d find it again). Portobello is open every day except Sunday, the hours differ slightly, and the best day is Saturday.
A covered market that’s slightly posh. It’s adorable during the holidays and great to wander around when the weather sucks. Otherwise, I don’t think I ever bought anything there or ate in any of the restaurants (I’m not rich enough). Covent Garden is open every day.
Free stuff to do
Needless to say, but anyway: all parks are free as far as I know. Sometimes there are also special events with not entry fee. Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, for example, takes place around Christmas. It’s free to enter, but you’re naturally going to have to pay for taking any rides, or if you’re going to buy some junk food from the stalls. It’s worth just seeing it as it’s enormous and colourful. There are also various other events in parks, like concerts, and one thing you can always do on a sunny day is having a picnic.
You’ll probably be tempted and buy something, but there’s no enter fee, and markets are fun to just look at, as there’s so much art and so many street performers. Plus, the food is cheaper than in most restaurants.
If you like walking, you’ll enjoy losing yourself around London, finding a way from wherever you’re staying to the centre. For me the most interesting parts are Soho, Brixton and Camden Town (these also have many pubs and clubs and a very lively nightlife).
If you book online in advance (you can do it three weeks before), it’s completely free and the views are amazing. If you’re too late to book it, you can still reserve a table and have a (costly) meal.
Most of the museums in London are free (minus the special exhibitions they are holding at the moment). Among those are: Natural History, British Museum, National Gallery, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, etc. I would really recommend Tate Modern if you’re into art. I didn’t understand anything when I first visited it, but the thing with contemporary art is that you got to read the description. When I went there the second time, I found it a lot more interesting. The best thing for me is still the top floor and the amazing views of the city.
London is an amazing place to visit as a tourist. It’s also a great destination for an exchange or for studying. It’s the best place for outgoing people because it really offers a lot of basically everything. More than a year has passed since I left it behind, and I miss it daily. Luckily, I’m going there for a few days in November to catch up with some friends, and I’m really looking forward to visiting the same old spots. London just never gets old, I guess.