One of the most famous cities in the world, London has more to explore than meets the eye. Chelsea from Wit and Wishes divulges the secrets of this enigmatic captial…
Have you ever lived in a city where, no matter how much you explored, there was always something new to discover?
Well, that’s how I felt while living in London for 6 months! It was back in January 2015, but some of the memories still feel like it was just yesterday. I originally chose to study in London for a variety of reasons, the main ones including: my mother was born in London, and I had always yearned to visit her city of birth; I wanted to be in a vibrant, diverse, and historic city; and I wanted to be close to the action awaiting me in mainland Europe. Beyond this, my university of choice had an intriguing selection of classes that were at my disposal – and with plenty of elective courses left in my full curriculum, I was planning to take advantage of studying outside of my business major!
However, there was one thing that I did not fully realize when I made my school choice: it was in eastern London – Mile End, to be exact. And not only is Mile End is a 20-30 minute tube ride outside the heart of the city (not including the walks between the tube station and my uni), but it happens to be just slightly west of Shoreditch – which is a hotspot in east London! Go figure. Regardless of this slight hiccup in my plans, London turned out to be an amazing experience and I would go back in a heartbeat. Here are a few highlights from this wonderful time:
Brick Lane: Near Aldgate East, three stops west of Mile End on the District Line, there exists an absolute haven for South Asian food – which makes sense, considering that it’s a hub for London’s Bangladeshi community. You may or may not have heard stories about Brick Lane, which is becoming more and more of a “destination” for the alternative and artsy crowd. However, my Brick Lane experience involved turning down an unassuming and narrow street, where my friend and I discovered countless restaurant owners standing outside of their establishments and touting the curries and delicacies that awaited inside. Of course, all for competitive prices. Brick Lane was a frequent go-to of mine for affordable but delicious lunches and dinners – I recall getting a full-course meal, with wine included, for around 20 USD. What a bargain! Indeed, it is a must-see – or should I say, must-eat?
Museum-Hopping: During my semester in London, I had the privilege of taking a class which brought us to a different London museum each week. Talk about a great way to learn my new city! Since the museums that we visited (including the Getty, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery, and more) were spread throughout the city – and since we often met between 3 or 4pm – I quickly learned how the tube traffic flowed in various areas of London. And, I learned when to simply avoid the tube (4:30 to 6pm, more or less) and take refuge in a local coffee shop instead. This general buzz of the city was something that I grew accustomed to, and thrived upon. Whether in Leicester Square or Piccadilly or South Kensington or Covent Garden, there was always a unique place to be discovered while waiting for the tube lines to die down!
2AM Bike Ride: It may sound unconventional, but traveling around London via bicycle at 2am (with friends) turned out to be a fantastic way to see a different side of the city! Two of my flatmates were familiar with London – having had the previous semester to learn the layout – and on a random late night, they suggested that we rent bikes in Mile End and ride into the city. It’s important to note here that there are bike-rental stations scattered throughout London, so we could take a break whenever we needed.
Honestly, as long as you’re with (at least) two other trustworthy people, I highly recommend trying this! Perhaps not at 2 in the morning, but: try exploring London after dark. The city is all lit up and beautiful; the major attractions are empty and perfect for getting a closer look; and, you’ll feel pretty cool.
Playing a Tourist: I couldn’t write about my time in London, England, without mentioning some classic English sights to see! In the last few weeks of my time abroad, I realized that I had spent so much time traveling outside of the country (around class schedules), that I had barely explored the country that I was in. In a moment of panic-induced searching, and with a stroke of luck, I managed to find a discounted bus tour that took riders to Stonehenge, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, AND the Cotswolds – all major “tourist” spots that were on my forgotten list! We used Premium Tours Ltd via a Groupon deal and our tour was fantastic. I cannot recommend them enough!
As you can see, living outside of the city center did not hold me back from a rich and fulfilling semester abroad! Sure, being in Mile End wasn’t as close to all of the London action as I was expecting. But, I think living out there allowed me to explore more than I would have if I had stayed in central London. In the end, an experience is what you make it – so make it memorable.
Follow Chelsea’s travels over on her blog and Instagram: