An American Girl in London
Top 10 Things to do when you find yourself in London.
By Moira Sim, Fordham University
Nostalgia is strong for me right now, as this time last year I was living in London, England. When my school offered a British Heritage Film class across the pond last summer, I jumped at the opportunity. I had grown up with a BBC loving Father, so the allure of unlimited Cadbury chocolate and rain-drenched sidewalks was unrelenting. Add in the family vacation to England and Ireland years ago, and you end up with a 20-year-old tea-obsessed monster.
At the end of May last year I took off on British Airways to begin a new chapter in my life. I took my film class, which was amazing- we studied certain films that related to places in London and British history. For example, we watched Elizabeth I and went to a historical manor outside the city where the real Queen Elizabeth I lived and where they shot some of the film. My class was so lucky to be able to relate what we were learning to real life.
Whenever I travel somewhere, I like to feel as if I am actually living there for that short time. Being in London for an entire month allowed me to settle into that routine of a local and discover places that your average tourist wouldn’t.
Here are my Top 10 things to do when you find yourself in London:
Head up north of Paddington to London’s Little Venice. Here you can walk along the water where the Grand Union and Regent’s Canals meet and have a beautiful waterside lunch at The Waterway complete with a refreshing pitcher of Pimm’s. I absolutely loved this location and it is more of a residential area than say, Picadilly, so you get to feel like a real Londoner.
WATCH A FOOTBALL GAME AT A PUB.
Most of my class ended up at the Sir John Oldcastle in our area of Clerkenwell one day after class and watched a game of football (soccer, for my fellow Americans). The pub was packed with locals who were so emotionally invested in their team. The cheers and boos were deafening and it was so fun to relax with my classmates as well as meet new friends. You can literally pick any pub and the same experience will follow, but I loved the Porterhouse in Covent Garden as well as the Castle right outside the Farringdon tube station.
TAKE IN THE SCENERY
My last night in London a group of girls in my program went to a rooftop tapas bar, Madison. We split a bottle of champagne and some small plates overlooking the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Although pricey, the views can’t be beat and I think it’s necessary to splurge on something you wouldn’t be able to do back at home. This is a cheaper take on the view from the tourist flooded London Eye, plus you can have a few drinks and maybe meet a group of Argentine students like we did!
GET OUTSIDE THE CITY LIMITS.
Some of my favorite experience actually took place outside the London city limits. I mentioned before that our class went to the former home of Elizabeth I, Hatfield House. This is a beautiful estate and we had an amazing time taking photos and running around the massive gardens. Because of London’s close proximity to so many other countries, locals often take the train to Paris for a weekend getaway. We took advantage of our location, and became local Parisians for a few days!
MARKETS, MARKETS, MARKETS
Truth talk: I think I went to a different market every weekend. Portobello Road, Camden, Brick Lane, Borough, Exmouth… Markets are a favorite of young Londoners and I miss them terribly. You can find everything in these rows of tents; incredible food, unique jewelry, vintage clothing, and I can keep going. I had some of my best meals at Camden Market (go find the Lebanese shawarma and French crepe stands), as well as awesome nights (go to Proud Camden– built in a former horse stable). One of my favorite purchases was at Brick Lane, where I found a pair of black pearl earrings for an amazing deal.
Also at Brick Lane, a Bangladeshi area of London, you will find a full city block of different cultural food stands. You can chow on everything from Lithuanian to Ethiopian, and I would’ve eaten my way across the scaled down world if I had a bottomless stomach. Finally, grab dessert one day at Hummingbird – a bakery on Portobello Road with the most amazing cupcakes- I had one with Union Jack butter cream frosting to celebrate!
TWO WORDS: ICE BAR
One of my favorite nights out in London was when we went to the Ice Bar on Heddon Street in Mayfair. You buy a 45-minute session in a bar completely made of ice. Included in the 12 pound price is a cocktail in an ice glass, an insulated cape, and gloves. I just think it is so cool (literally) to have such a different bar experience. Therefore, the Ice Bar one of my can’t miss spots in London.
BE AWARE OF WHATS GOING ON!
When I arrived in London, it was the Jubilee celebration for Queen Elizabeth. This meant tons of opportunities that you wouldn’t get to experience now. One major thing was going to the Thames to watch the boat parade. There we saw Kate Middleton and Prince William especially close up, as well as the entire royal family. It was genuinely a once in a lifetime experience. We also went to Hyde Park one evening for the concert for the Queen. We relaxed on the grass, indulged in a few Pimm’s cups, and made friends with everyone around us while watching some of music’s biggest names (Jessie J, Ed Sheeran, etc…) perform on a huge screen with a live feed from Buckingham Palace.
Also keep an eye on what special exhibits are going on at those traditional tourist spots like museums and castles. I saw a wonderful exhibit about scandal and beauty at Hampton Court Palace, as well as a fashion and ball gown exhibit at the Victoria & Albert. Check out local listings in the paper or online for your city to see what unique experience you may have.
BE YOURSELF, A STUDENT.
One of my favorite things was just following what other students there did! We would stop at the same chicken shop, Perfect Chicken, on our way home almost every night we went out and ran into fellow study abroad students as well as local students from the London School of Economics. Our flats were right next to LSE, so we found out where they would usually go on weekends- Propaganda. Our first night we attended a fancy dress party there (British code for Costume party) for Jubilee and saw far too many masks of the royal family and Union Jack wigs! Another weekend we headed there for a more normal dance party that was packed with students from all over London. It was one of my favorite places near our flat to go out at night.
GO TO THE CRYPT AT ST.MARTINS IN THE FIELD.
Head across the street from the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square and check out this subterranean gem. You can create brass rubbings of former queens, celtic knots, and many more. They are a great present for parents, and it’s a nice, cool place to relax during the rare hot summer day in London.
TAKE IN A WEST END SHOW.
Yes, this is the most touristy of my picks, but one of my best experiences was seeing a play called Posh in the West End, London’s version of Broadway. Tickets are generally much cheaper here for students, and even though you may be in the nosebleeds, it’s an incredibly unique experience just to go inside the theaters here, which are older than our country! This particular show was about an Oxford student dining club, and dealt with class and society issues. Posh was a great show filled with humor and even set change breaks where the entire cast sang top 40 hits a capella, like Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO.
Looking back, my short time abroad was one of the best experiences of my life. I think it’s really important to fully immerse yourself in a different culture at least once. You would be surprised how different the English are from Americans, even though we share a common language. I can’t possibly share all of my favorite things to do in this amazing city, so I guess you’ll just have to hop on a flight and discover all that London has to offer for yourself. So eat all the lemon curd and drink all the hard cider in the city, and I hope you’ll have as good an experience as I did.