I was lucky enough to be able to live in London for a month in January 2018. Although I had visited London a few years before, I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of daily life in London. I was prepared to dislike the fast-paced lifestyle and be overwhelmed by the grey, rainy weather: luckily, I was proven absolutely wrong-o. London is an incredibly dynamic city that is worth so much more than the 3-4 days it gets on a standard Euro trip from the US. Here are 7 interesting things I learned during my time in this bustling cosmopolitan city:
#1. London is crazy diverse.
London is undoubtedly one of the most diverse cities I have ever visited. I mean, there came a point where I was surprised to hear people speaking native British English, or to even hear English at all. Walking the streets or drinking in pubs, I heard tons of Arabic, Italian, and Spanish – and that’s just to name a few of the languages I recognized. People of different races and ethnicities abound like I’ve never seen before: from South and East Asia to the Middle East to Africa to all over Europe, virtually every corner of the world is represented in London. This is great when it comes to food, as it seems like you can find cuisine from almost any country on the globe in this cosmopolitan capital. Much of this diversity is due to the fact that London is a hub of opportunity for people from all over the world for a variety of reasons. Some people come in pursuit of work opportunities that their home countries simply can’t provide. Others come for a year or two to get a job in a clothing store or restaurant to improve their English, making them more competitive candidates for top jobs when they return home. It’s really interesting to see, hear, and experience the melting pot that is London, and even more interesting to meet the people that make it so!
#2. London is a snacker’s paradise.
When I’m doing some exploring in a city (which sometimes entails walking over 10 miles a day as I sightsee), I tend to get hungry. I’m a snacker, so I like to eat often throughout the day. This can be a problem in cities that don’t really have many snack-friendly spots where you can pop in and easily get a tasty little something on the go. Thankfully, London is very snacker-friendly. The ubiquitous Pret a Manger is hard to miss: it’s almost impossible to walk 50 feet in London without seeing one. Pret a Manger is a snacker’s best friend. From tasty granola bars to mini acai bowls to edamame and spinach protein packs to muesli cups to portions of delicious pasta, Pret has something to satisfy all cravings. The jaded Londoner may say he’s sick of the place, but I think it’s a solid call for a quick snack or small meal. If you’re not into Pret, there are plenty of other options to meet your snacking needs. Small cafes are scattered throughout London where you can find almost everything from vegan peanut protein balls to buttery scones. Delish.
#3. London’s free world-class museums make for great rainy day activities.
London has some of the best museums in the world, and they’re pretty much all free. The National Gallery, the British Museum, the Tate Modern, the V&A Museum, and the Natural History Museum are all open to the public free of charge. My personal favorites are the National Gallery – the modern art collections are amazing and include Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and one of Monet’s iconic Japanese bridge paintings – and the British Museum. The British Museum actually offers free 45-minute tours of various exhibits throughout the day, like those of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, and Ancient Greece. I spent about 4 hours exploring this place and loved it. The Rosetta Stone and the mummies are must-sees!
#4. London isn’t as expensive as you may think.
Between cost of living and the strength of the pound compared to the US dollar, I expected to break the bank in London. However, after a few weeks, I discovered that, no, London isn’t cheap, but it definitely didn’t condemn me to bankruptcy as I expected. It’s definitely very possible to eat and drink in London for reasonable prices. Half-pints in pubs can easily cost under 3 pounds, and a full pint a bit over 5. Not bad. Spanish cañas, my gold standard for inexpensive beer, are usually between 1-2 euros, but the quantity of beer is less than what you get in London. When it comes to meals, more casual restaurants like Tayyabs, a tasty Indian restaurant in Shoreditch, can be 10-15 pounds or so. My meal at the trendier Shoreditch House, which included pasta bolognese and splitting a carafe of wine, came out to a little over 20 pounds. In the Soho Houses in Miami or New York City, we’d be probably looking at a heftier bill, especially when tip comes into the picture.
#5. Just when you think London isn’t that expensive, your Oyster Card ruins everything.
London life may not have been as expensive as I thought, but the Oyster Card used to purchase Tube (aka metro) tickets does rock your bank account. There is seemingly no weekly or monthly card deal for the Tube that’s worth it for someone who isn’t a hardcore commuter, so the Oyster pretty much works as a pay-as-you-go system. And it hurts the wallet. 10 pounds goes out the window after just a few Tube rides! After a year in Madrid, where I paid 20 euros for a month’s worth of unlimited metros, buses, and local trains, coughing up for the London Underground was painful.
#6. People greet you with “Hiya.”
This is apparently a pretty standard British English greeting. This was weird to my American ears, since I am much more used to “Hello,” “Hi,” or “Hey.” Of course, I have heard people use “Hiya” before, but not nearly as much as I heard it in London.
#7. London may be known for its grey skies, but the city actually bursts with color!
London can be grey and dreary, and its brick and stone architecture often doesn’t help to brighten the mood. However, after some exploring, I learned that London has some of the most colorful neighborhoods I’ve ever visited. I spent the perfect Saturday roaming the rainbow rows of homes in Notting Hill, then browsing the booths of the local Portobello Road Market, which sell everything from food to jewelry to purses and more. Primrose Hill, one of my favorite areas of London, also showcases streets lined with cozy homes coated in pastel colors. I recommend strolling the quaint streets of the Primrose Hill neighborhood, then popping into a local cafe for a scone and clotted cream. After fueling up, head to the popular hill in the park to catch the sunset. My afternoons spent among the vivid tones and creamy hues of these neighborhoods are some of my favorite memories from London.
Below are some of my favorite photos from my time in London:
There really is nowhere in the world like London, and I’m so happy I got the opportunity to spend a month there. Comment below with more interesting ideas and tips for London living!