Anyone that has been to London knows that it’s a world of its own. All big cities feel a bit like that, I’m sure, Yet there is something about London that feels unlike any other cities I’ve visited. Every suburb feels miles away, and collectively it all makes a big and beautiful London.
I lived in London for a year and a half, and at the time it was a nerve-wracking experience. The biggest town I’d ever live in was Christchurch, New Zealand. Visiting Auckland was visiting a ‘big’ city. When I had the opportunity to au pair in London I jumped at it, though that’s not to say it wasn’t scary. I’ll admit, for the first month or so I relied on my kids to teach the tricks of the transport system, and I couldn’t sleep because there were voices outside my window, but you quickly learn to love London. You quickly learn to love the things that shocked you to begin with.
Now I’m home, missing London something fierce and writing about the top 7 things that I miss about London.
1. Public Transport
Oh, I dream about the public transport in London. In England in general. Between the Transport for London (or TFL for those in the know) and the National Rail Service, you can get anywhere, and it doesn’t cost you as much as you’d think. Sure, you’re going to pay more for a train to Edinburgh than a bus (word from the wise, don’t bus to Edinburgh from London), but it is still an entirely feasible financial option for those on a budget.
The TFL are the magnificent force behind the transport system in London. Every day 31 million journeys are made using TFL’s networks. When I say networks, I’m not just talking beyond the public transport. TFL is responsible for virtually everything that moves, from the roads, riverboats, rail services, and cycleways. TFL keeps London moving.
In London, you can get nearly anywhere at any time of night. In 2016 the Tube opened up their night services, selected lines running 24 hours through the weekend. 24-hour bus lines and night buses mean that there is always a way to get where you are going. Peak hour traffic can sometimes cause a small hernia, however, as at rush hour there is barely an inch to wiggle on the tube or the buses, the drivers not being in the habit of turning people away. If you have a particular issue with being stuck between five different stranger, all of whom are desperately trying to avoid eye contact, don’t be going anywhere during rush hour.
2. Cheap Fares to Europe (And Nearly Everywhere Else)
Oh, EasyJet, how I miss thee so. Like, I can’t even. You don’t know. Words. Ahhh!
As I’m sitting at my computer flicking between tabs of five different possible holidays that I can’t afford I am particularly missing how accessible the rest of the world is from London. I didn’t look far beyond the continent of Europe, because who needs New York when you can be in Rome in less than three hours. Everywhere flies to London, it’s the central hub for people traveling to Europe. Everyone simply starts in the UK before making the hop to the continent.
I used to haunt Skyscanner, Ryanair, and EasyJet like that mysterious knocking sounds coming from the closest that no one wants to admit they hear. I was always looking for deals and bargains. My best by far was a £9 flight to Copenhagen and the £5 flight onwards from there to Brussels. If I hadn’t been working weekends I would have made more of these flight, but alas I saved up for the longer trips. That didn’t stop me spending countless night browsing the depths of travel sites window shopping.
3. The Cultures
I say Cultures because there is so many of them.
I think I expected to move to England and be blown away by the pure politeness of everyone. I expected tea and scones, and people to drink with their pinkies held to the sky. What I got was a case of locational alcoholism and sarcasm that I caught like a bad bug. Then I moved to London, and all my expectations were shattered, yet again. I guess I expected to be faced with something that lay in a neutral zone between the Kingsman and Peaky Blinders. It turned out people didn’t go around greeting each other by saying ‘God Save the Queen’, and if you throw a stone down Oxford street the owner of the ‘Ouch’ is very likely not to be English. Home brewed Londoners are also an endangered species, they seem to have moved away, replaced by the rest of the world population.
London is a cultural hub, probably one of the most accessible cities in the world, and it’s full of opportunities that attract people from all over the globe. Everyone knows someone that moved to England for a while here in New Zealand, so why it hadn’t occurred to me that might be the case in other parts of the world, I’m not sure. It’s one of the most diverse cities in the world, and everyone is too busy with their own lives to be anything but tolerant. Everyone is included and welcomed to make themselves at home. You could walk down the street and pass 20 different nationalities. All these nationalities bring part of their own cultures over, and within the Greater London limits you don’t need to go far to find almost anything you could and couldn’t think of. London is quickly closing in on 9 million people, and I can honestly say there is something for everyone there.
4. Always Something to Do
There is always something to do in London. You should never be bored. Even after you’ve seen all those tourist sights you promise yourself you would there are a hundred new places still to check out. Most of these place must be seen more than once. As soon as you think you’ve seen it all, something new pops up. When you eventually (though it’s literally impossible) do see everything, then it’s just an hour train ride away to another interesting and magical place just outside London to explore.
London has more parks than any other major city, and checking them all out can be a great way to see the city. From Hyde Park to Acton Green, each park is a great way to escape the big city for a moment. Or Explore Richmond park, following deer and chasing squirrels. And there are more shop and cafe’s then anyone knows what to do with, so reward yourself after appreciating London’s greenery with a cup of coffee.
Then there are the concerts. Everyone plays in London. From those obscure bands that you thought only you liked, to the huge headliners that sell out shows before you can press refresh. Comedians use London as their playground, and of course, there is always the Magical West End. You can always find cheap tickets to so kind of show or event, and who knows, you might discover something that you never knew you liked. If all that isn’t enough, there are different fairs, festival, and conventions happening every week. It’s a city that is always moving and changing, and this includes its attractions and activities.
That brings me to my next point.
5. There is Always A Party
I live in a town where I can count the number of clubs on my fingers. London is a playground for anyone who loves to drink and party. You could go somewhere different every night for a year and still not see every drinking hole. London has it all, as far as nightlife is concerned, from heavy metal pop-up clubs, cocktail bars, to your cheap Australian bars. What’s your poison? There will be somewhere that sells it as their niche.
Londoners and the English, in general, have a rather generous relationship with alcohol. I grew up with a fair bit of drinking happening around me, and at the ripe old age of 17 I started drinking myself, but I have never consumed alcohol like they did in the UK. London, though there are (relatively) cheap places to drink (my favorite being O’Neill’s on Carnaby Street) you do not leave for a night out without having consumed well above the recommended average. A good night never starts before a bottle of wine has gone down if your alcohol tolerance is anything like mine after six months of solid drinking.
6. The Opportunities
London has opportunities that many other countries simply can’t offer people. People come flooding to the city to get a taste of their dream, to get their foot in the door in their future job. It isn’t hard to find opportunities in a town like London, but the competition is always hard. This is good for one reason, that when you do make it, it means you are really top of your field. If you don’t make it, you quickly learn in an environment like London that you have to pick yourself back up and keep going before you trodded on by rush hour traffic.
And it’s always rush hour in London. People a rushing to get to the next destination, next stage of their life, next step in their career. London is a town full of people looking forward. It’s on the cutting edge in nearly every industry, and it is always quickly changing. Some parts might look old, but don’t let a vast history fool you, London is every bit the modern city.
7. The Busyness
There’s always something going on, and you can hear London happening around you wherever you are.
At first getting used to all the sounds takes time, but eventually, it starts to sing you to sleep each night. Coming home to the sleepy little suburb on the outskirt of Christchurch it was too quiet. I miss late night fights as everyone leaves the bars, rowdy football fans and the sound of sirens in the early morning. Those collective parts of London life made the soundtrack to my day.
I love that you could look out from your window and see a hundred stories unfold. I love that there were always people around, and even if you don’t talk to anyone on a given day there is a feeling of solidarity in being around so many people. Being part of something so big, with so much history. London is busy, and sometimes that could be frustrating, but when it wasn’t it was refreshing, remembering that the small fish was finally swimming in the big pond.
If living in London taught me anything it is if you can survive London you can survive any city in the world. Whats more is if you can love London, you’ll never be the same again.