How my obsession with London started
I don’t know exactly 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 traveled 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 that I’m generally someone who likes the summer, the sea, sunny days and beaches. The Thames is quite a lousy substitute for the 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 center 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 dodgy Cricklewood, where I lived. sort of grew on me. Of course, there were times when the slow traffic made me nervous, when the number of people in a shop 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, lay in a park on a sunny day or visited one of the markets. I was happy to be there every minute of every day: I liked traveling 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 is like living in a bubble; it isn’t much like real life at all. 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. I paid my rent in advance with my Erasmus scholarship, and whenever I was running out of money, my mom 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 consequently 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 of 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 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 park.
Enormous: be prepared to walk a lot or rent a bike. You can see deer and other animals!
A big beautiful park that includes a Japanese garden. Pretty special.
It’s next to the 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 old cemeteries. 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 fewer candles and flowers, and I find that reasonable. There are lots of cemeteries in London, and I’ve only visited two.
This one is 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 to enter.
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 because they’re crowded, you can buy/eat things from all over the world, they’re 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 are 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 toward 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 favorite 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 handmade jewelry 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 artwork. 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 of the same name was filmed, and where you can see cute colorful 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 pretty 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 (and cheap) stuff to do
Needless to say, but anyway: all parks are free as far as I know. Sometimes there are also special events with no 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 seeing because it’s enormous, lively and colorful. There are also various other events in the parks, like concerts, and one thing you can always do on a sunny day is have a picnic.
You’ll probably be tempted and buy something, but there’s no entry 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 in London, finding a way from wherever you’re staying to the center. 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 contemporary art. The views from the top floor are amazing!
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.
7 comentarios en “The Best of London”
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