I am back in the US! While my program is now technically over, I have a few more blog posts that I wrote while in London and during my semester abroad that I never got to post. The last few weeks of my trip were very busy with finals, last minute trips, and trying to say goodbye to London and the people in my program. Because of this, I didn’t have time to post everything I’d written. Here area few last thoughts I had while in London:
With my time in London winding down, I wanted to award a few superlatives to some of my favorite places in London that really became a part of every day life for me. I think it’s important for me to record this both for myself when (not if) I ever come back, but also for anyone reading that might be visiting anytime soon. This list is obviously just personal preference, and there were a lot of places that didn’t get on that should be recognized, but this is just a few places that gave me a lot of great memroies.
Best Pub Food: The George (in Southwark)
There are tons of great places to get pub food in London, and tons of great pubs at that, so this one was tough. The George, in my opinion, had the best variety and authenticity. There are a number of pubs called the George, but I can only vouch for the one in Southwark by Borough Market. This place was tucked away in a street corner and was really nice and old with cool wood balconies and interior. It felt cozy and had all the British favorites: bangers and mash, fish and chips, beef and ale pie, Sunday Roast, fish pie, and shepards pie. Really, you can’t go wrong. I got the fish and chips, which were ale-battered. This is the best way to make them. If a place has fried fish and chips, don’t do it. Ale battered is the way to go.
Price range: 10-20 pounds
Runner-Up: The Vauxhall Griffin
Best Indian Food: Malabar Junction
If there is one kind of food that is really popular here besides pub food, it’s Indian food. There are Indian food places on every corner and the definition of a TV dinner here are the microwavable tikka masalas and nan you can get from every grocery store. It’s huge. I really liked Malabar Junction, although most were great. It has a really pretty greenhouse eating area that makes it feel a little upscale, even though it was one of the cheaper Indian places I found. Plus, the garlic nan was the best I’d ever had.
Price range: 9-13 pounds
Best Place for a Pint: Euston Tap
Once again, most pubs are great, but it really depends on what atmosphere you are looking for. While I love the cozy, warm pub atmosphere, the place where I found the best pints was Euston Tap. This is a little place right by Euston Station, put into old refurbished guard buildings. There are two facing each other, the first one is the Euston Tap with beer and ale, and the other is the Cider Tap with…well…cider. READ: All cider in England is alcoholic. This has the best variety of beer and cider I found in London, with a constantly shifting menu and at least 12 different varieties at each of local and artisan drinks. They have upstairs seating with music and places to hang out outside.
Price range: 2.50-5.50 pounds
Runner Up: The Court on Tottenham Court Road
Best Grocery Store: Sainsbury’s
When in London, you must pick a team. The options? Mainly Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, or Waitrose, although there are smaller varieties as well. Personally, like Sainsbury’s. There are a ton of them so you never have to walk too far. Plus, they have a program called Sainsbury’s basics, where they have huge mark-downs on basic foods like canned vegetables, rice, pasta, cheese, etc. You can normally get most things for a pound or under. As long as you know how to cook, Sainsbury’s is good. Tesco’s specializes more in pre-made meals so while it is a tad more expensive, you don’t need to get basics to cook with. Meanwhile, Waitrose might have more variety but they are expensive.
Best (Cheap) Tea: Patisserie Valerie
This is a chain place so it should be easy to find one no matter where in the city you go. Really, this came down to price for me. You can’t beat it. Afternoon tea for two for 9 pounds. By the way, afternoon tea isn’t just tea. It’s a meal with scones and jams and sandwiches, and tea. Of course, there are really nice places to have afternoon tea like the Waldorf or the Ritz, but if you just want to get the experience, have a warm coze room, a good cup of tea, and save money, this is the place to be.
Price range: 9 pounds
Best Music Venue: Brixton Academy
This is where I saw Crystal Fighters in concert and not only was it the best music venue I saw in London, it’s the best music venue I’ve ever been to. Brixton as an area is really cool, upcoming and hip. Plus the venue is huge so you don’t feel sweaty and squashed the whole time and you can still be around a lot of people. They have a great variety of terrific music that comes through and it was set up so that despite being inside, the interior actually felt a little like you were at an outdoor concert. Really great.
Runner-up: the O2
Best Place for a Sweet Tooth: The Hummingbird Bakery
This cupcake shop is amazing. There are quite a few, but the one I went to most often was in Soho. Great cupcakes, okay prices, and a really nice treat. There are a lot of great flavors but my personal favorite was the Black Bottom Cupcake.
Runner Up: Ben’s Cookies
Price Range: about 2 pounds
Best Musical: Lion King
I saw quite a few musicals while I was here. Granted, Lion King isn’t the most London-y of the musicals (if you’re looking for something quintessential, you may want to consider Billy Elliott or Spamalot), but I did think it was phenomenally well-done and it was my favorite of the ones I saw. Plus, the theatre was beautiful and big enough to make all seats (even my cheap ones) great views.
Price Range: 45-250 pounds (depending on the seat)
Best Play: Shakespeare at the Globe
I got to see a ton of plays while in London, partly because I just went and partly because I got all of the extra tickets the theatre class might have had for some of the shows they went to see. I believe in total I saw 8. I really loved the Globe. The price wasn’t bad, especially if you do standing and the acting was amazing. I saw Henry VI there but I really think any Shakespeare play would do the trick. I had friends that saw Macbeth there and loved it as well. Two notes of wisdom though: you can only go in the summer and early autumn. They close it otherwise due to weather. Also, if you choose to sit, bring your own pillow to sit on. The stalls are really hard wood and they will charge you for a cushion there but they don’t mind you bringing your own. In summary the acting was great and the theater was awesome. Plus, the view of the Thames outside is beautiful!
Price Range: 10-50 pounds (depending on seat)
Best Study Place: Waterstone’s
This is my favorite bookstore in London. It’s a chain, but there was one in a beautiful old building right across the street from my flat so it was very convenient. Plus, they won me over the first day with a signed Margaret Atwood book. They have great author events all the time, and they are HUGE (the one near me is 5 stories). I could spend all day there. They have books for reading and research, plus a Costa Coffee for cheap snacks to keep you motivated during study time.
Runner-Up: Senate House Library (Fun fact: This is the library that George Orwell based his ministries in 1984 on. It looks very dystopian and Big Brother-esque. Plus, he wrote parts of the book in there!)
Best Shopping: Primark
I’m going to miss this place when I go back to the US. It’s like a mix between Forever 21, Target, and Walmart. It’s huge (four stories) and has anything you might need, from accessories, to shoes, to bags, to clothes, to housewares, to decorations, etc. Also, and here’s the good part, it’s super cheap. Really cheap. Like five pounds for jeans cheap. My boots fell apart part way through my trip and I replaced them with boots for only 20 pounds. It’s shopping heaven. But it’s also always very crowded, so beware.
Price range: CHEAP
Best Place for a Snack: Cornwall Pasty Shop
There are ones of these in every train station, so you are never far from a snack. They are pretty traditional, so a good London experience, and delicious. Pasties are like little puff-up pastries, filled with gooey delicious-ness, kind of like a to-go pot pie. You can get lots of different types, but my favorite is mushroom and chicken. Plus, they are really cheap!
Price Range: 3.50 pounds
Runner-Up: Pret A Manger
Best Park: St James’s
This park is really under appreciated. There are lots of great public parks in London, but St James’s is my favorite because it’s not overwhelming large, it has some of the best views of the city, and its not as packed as the others. They have yummy food stands for lunch, beautiful gardens, a lake, and nice bridges. Great for bike riding. Bottom-line really though is just go to a park. Any park. They are all great.
Runner-Up: Hyde Park (Really popular, but with good reason. Lots of great events, including Winter Wonderland in November/December and Speakers Corner every Sunday).
Best London Walking Tour: The Thames Pub Crawl with London Walks
London Walks offers a ton of great walking tours (only 7 for students and 9 for others). You don’t need an appointment or ticket, you just show up! While lots of them are good, I liked the Thames Pub Crawl because you get to see lots of historic pubs, and the Thames walk is beautiful. It has a ton of history and great views. Also, all of the tour guides are great (8 of them are named Richard, strangely) but my favorite was Richard Walker.
Price Range: 7-9 pounds
Runner-Up: Harry Potter in London with London Walks
Best Market: Portabello Road
This is tough because it really depends on what you are looking for. There are tons of street markets. I went to 6 but that’s not even close to all of them. Portabello is my favorite because it’s huge and has a great variety of things. Really wonderful foods, cheap clothes, great gifts, etc. Plus, Notting Hill is a really cool area. If you go, make sure you go early Saturday morning. It gets too crowded later, but any other day doesn’t have all the vendors. But like I said, it depends on what you want. If you just want clothes, go to Spitalfields Market, but if you want good food selection and groceries, go to Borough Market, etc.
Runner-Up: Borough Market (Fun fact: it’s the oldest market in London!)
Best Day Trip: Bath
Once again, it depends on what you are looking for. But I loved Bath because it was relaxing and if you are looking for a trip outside of London, my guess is you want something relaxing. Super historic, this city used to be home to the Roman baths when the Romans controlled London. You can still tour the old baths, which is really cool, and the tradition has continued in the form of lots of great spas and Inns. There are tons of wonderful shops and restaurants, and the Jane Austen Center, which I personally think is coo. Even just the Georgian architecture in the whole city is lovely. Perfect especially for a romantic getaway.
Best Take Away (Take Out): Wagamama
This is a Thai place that is pretty tasty and gives you a lot of food for your money. The interior isn’t super nice, but they are really fast, so take-away is the direction I’d take. If you want suggestions, I’m a fan of the firecracker chicken, but you have to be able to handle spicy.
Price Range: 7-10 pounds
Runner-Up: Japanese Canteen
These are just a few of my favorites, but I’m curious what stuck out to other people. What places became their favorite stomping grounds? What other places did I not even get to discover? I’ll have to come back with other people’s suggestions and find out!