“You’ve never been to London?”, my phone chimed once, twice, fifty times after I’ve announced that I’ll be in London by the end September for the very first time. Apparently, when you’re a globetrotter, everyone assumes that you’ve crossed London off of your travel list a long time ago.
No, before this September, I’ve never been to London. I’ve always wanted to, however, our paths simply never crossed. And now that I’ve been, I’ve come to one simple conclusion: London isn’t a beautiful city.
Well, correction – London isn’t an obviously beautiful city, not like Milan or Barcelona are. The city towers over you; it’s crowded, messy and quite loud.
However, London has a special kind of charm. The city contradicts itself – between the skyscrapers you can find historically relevant constructions kept in their original form. The pathway between two modern office buildings often hides an architectural wonder, a small wooden house covered in flowers of intense colours. You finally find yourself in a country where you don’t have to worry about language barriers because everyone speak English only to encounter every other possible language on the street except the one you have imagined you will find yourself surrounded with. It’s as expensive as you have heard, if not more so; yet, some stuff is ridiculously cheap, probably even cheaper than in your home country. Also, if you think you know how they truly feel about the Royal Family, you will realise you had no realistic comprehension of it before you saw several grown men with the Queen’s face on their shirts.
Stuck somewhere between the American and a European version of a western city, London is quite different from the majority of European cities. There’s a lofty chance it won’t be what you expected it to be, even if your expectations were limited. Still, this doesn’t mean that London won’t seduce you and steal your heart.
Below you can find my super honest review of London!
Londoners are careless
London is a crowded city – everyone knows this, and before you arrive you mentally prepare yourself that you will probably have to bump few shoulders on the street. But no one can prepare you for the Westminster Tube entrance/exit, the rush hour on Oxford Street or the number of visitors who often wander aimlessly around the city and then stop in place when you least expect them to in order to take a picture. There are more than 8 million people living in London and who knows how many tourists – even in the off season – and none of them care for one another.
I come from a relatively small city where everyone watches their step, where people open door for you and where, if needed, you will receive help from complete strangers, so the lack of disdain the citizens of London have for other people came as a shock. If you aren’t careful, they will quite literally walk over you, especially if you look them in the eye and reveal yourself as a non-Londoner. In this case, they won’t even think about moving to the side to let you pass, which means that you will have to either throw yourself into the mass of moving bodies or prepare yourself for impact while secretly hoping the person opposite you is skillful enough to avoid you the last moment. I kind of understand them – when a horde of tourists takes over your city, you try to mark your territory the only way you can. Good news is, once you adapt this mindset that you literally own the pathway you are on, navigating the streets of London becomes rather easy.
They have a sixth sense
Londoners have sort of a sixth sense when it comes to crossing the road while the red light is still on. As soon as I arrived, I have noticed that London has a whole bunch of traffic lights. Sure, in a city as busy as this one regulations are highly necessary, however, in London, something’s always happening and the city is constantly on the move, resulting in rather impatient and always-in-a-hurry citizens. So how do these people manage to get anything done?
Easily – they ignore the traffic lights the same way they ignore people walking straight at them. A lot of times I was the only person standing on the crossing, waiting for the green light to appear. Londoners are pretty good at wild crossings – it’s like they have a sixth sense and can feel if the vehicle is coming from around the corner or not. I, on the other hand, have spent my entire life abiding by traffic rules, so this is a sport I decided not to participate in. Tip: don’t try this at home, kids!
The weather will surprise you
When I arrived to London it was, surprise, raining! The better part of tomorrow was marked by rainy weather as well – the entire city was dark and gloomy, and all those skyscrapers and large constructions painted in neutral colours made the city look apocalyptic. Honestly, it was exactly what you would expect after hearing a bunch of stories of rainy London.
However, once the rain stopped and sun came into its place, I had four days of perfectly nice weather at pleasant 22 degrees Celsius. I did check weather forecast before I arrived aware that, with today’s constant weather changes, it probably isn’t 100% trustworthy so I have prepared myself for the possibility of having to carry my umbrella with me. Thankfully, this was only a one day case.
I was able to explore the city in my sneakers and a leather jacket which, at times, proved to be unnecessary. This experience has shattered all the weather connected prejudice I had of London, and now I’ll always remember it like it belongs to a romcom rather than a horror movie. Honestly, weather plays a key role in the entire experience because London has a completely different vibe during its good and its bad days. I have never felt a city transform so much simply because the weather conditions have changed. It’s like London, mainly its attractions, breathe the same way the weather does. The same dark and scary construction transforms into a beautiful piece of architecture simply because the rain has stopped and I guess that’s one of London’s special charms.
So, if you’re lucky, you will also be able to say how amazing London weather is, which isn’t a statement you hear a lot.
And so will the prices
London is known to be an expensive city. There, you can’t compare prices to those back home – no matter where you’re from – because you’ll probably end up not purchasing anything and you didn’t come to London to go back home empty handed. Or, you know, starving.
While restaurant prices will make you wonder do you really need food and entrance fees into various attractions will make you realise culture is a luxury, some prices will surprise you – pleasantly! Food in stores – like Tesco and M&S Simply Food – is pretty moderately priced, as well as street food. Coffee is pretty affordable as well, especially in large coffee chains.
What really came as a surprise to me is how affordable hygienic products are. I walked into Boots and noticed that the majority of products, especially female, are more affordable than in Croatia.
If you have your priorities in order, and if you know how much money you’re prepared to spend on certain stuff, staying within your budget won’t be problem.
It’s surprisingly easy to navigate
For such an enormous city, London is super easy to navigate, especially if you’re a person aware of your surroundings.
I opted to explore London mainly on foot for two main reasons: a) I wanted to save money on public transportation, and b) I wanted to take the city in as much as possible.
You will be able to find whatever you’re looking for because there are signs everywhere – all you need to do is remain observant. Also, everything in London is pretty big, so you’ll notice your destination way before you actually reach it.
Of course, at one point, you will have to use the tube. Honestly, there’s no reason to worry – the only way you will lose your way is if you don’t read the signs placed all around you.
However, sometimes, it’s confusing
Unlike the majority of European cities where the old and the new part of town are completely separated, modern version of London was constructed around its historical remains. From the bank of the river Thames, you can see the old Tower Bridge and the Tower of London next to the modern offices and skyscrapers. This contrast can confuse, however, it’s one of London’s many special charms – you can’t see this just anywhere!
The city feels familiar even if you’ve never been
Britain’s history is famous worldwide; you can probably count at least five Britain’s rulers from the top of your head. You’ve learned about them in school, and you’ve probably seen movies and/or read books. You’ve explored London’s streets even before you arrived thanks to the movies and photos on the internet – you know its main attractions and hidden corners. London is also connected to numerous pop culture characters like Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who. Additionally, when you’re aware that you’re visiting such a big city, you make a point of exploring it beforehand and making a detailed plan of what you want to visit.
All of this makes London quite familiar already. When you make your way towards Big Ben, you already know what to expect. Who knew London could feel so familiar and safe to the first time visitor? It’s contradictory, but we’ve already came to a conclusion that London is full of contradictions anyway.
Its international dimension makes it special
London is an extremely multicultural city; not only because of the number of visitors, but because of the number of expats who live there. While I was there, I have heard so many different languages on the street and noticed so many different national cuisines offered.
When you have so much diversity, you feel less out of place. When I was at Borough Market, I saw a “Taste Croatia” stand, and it made me smile. I was far away from home, yet I was able to find a piece of it in such an urban center.
So, London, 10/10.