London is the perfect city to study abroad in. Really.
Okay, so maybe it is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in (that dollar to pound exchange rate is killer). And yeah, there is a chance that living here will lessen your lifespan because of the pollution. Yes, your in-bound flight will likely have to be put into a holding pattern, aimlessly circling the skies above the city until the runway is clear for landing (but hey, you can snap some great pics from up there). And okay, you will then have to wait in a ridiculously long line to get through the stringent border patrol (Heathrow, I’m looking at you). You’ll probably be temporarily deafened by emergency vehicles’ unnecessarily high-pitched sirens and, yeah, so maybe a London winter equates to forgetting what the sun looks like. And horrifyingly enough, Kraft Easy Mac and Target aren’t a thing here (but the good news is Ben and Jerry’s is!).
But pushing aside all these minor details, studying abroad in London will be the best (or second-best) decision you’ll ever make in your college career.
You know what’s cool? Friends from other states. You know what’s cooler? Friends from other countries.
I need say no more.
3. The Tube (and other Transport for London options).
London boasts one of the best public transportation systems in the world, and this is fact because I claim it as fact. I’ve taken the subway in various cities at home and abroad – NYC, Chicago, D.C., Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Marseille – and have found the London Underground to be the cleanest (I’ve seen more rats above the tube than within it), most well-marked and easiest system to use and understand. Then, of course, there’s a number of other public transport options aside from the Tube to get around London and surrounding areas: the London Overground, the DLR, National Rail Services, the bus system, etc.
Now, the Tube does come with a cost (precisely £2.20 – that’s $3.68 – per trip in zones 1-2). However, students can apply for a student Oyster Card here, which provides discounts on weekly and monthly rates. I get the weekly card, which is only £21.90 at the student price – totally worth it!
And if you’re in the Tube and need assistance getting around, there’s always an employee nearby to help you out. Not to mention, TfL has some pretty great ads posted throughout (the poems are the best!). And now I’m going to stop here before this turns into an Ode to the Tube.
4. The Evening Standard.
Okay, so it’s not exactly the New York Times, but it is free and it’s given away every evening around rush hour outside the Tube station. So now students and other cheapies have no excuse for not keeping up with London and UK news (as well as some international tidbits).
5. No Language Barrier.
No need to worry about accidentally ordering the dish of the day rather than the pasta of the day because the waiter didn’t understand your minimal French (I meant “pâtes,” not “plat,” sir in the Petit Palais museum café). Of course, there are times when the accent may get the best of you and you’ll have to ask someone to repeat themselves, but it’s still better than trying to purchase a ticket from Marseille to Aix-en-Provence while the bus driver who speaks no English attempts to give you instructions.
However, just because they speak English in London doesn’t mean you’ll be want for culture. Take a walk down any London street and you’re bound to have 2-3 different languages grace your ears on any given day, not to mention the wide variety of cultural restaurants and shops to be found here.
Sweet, sweet, beautiful food. Had I endless amounts of money to spend, I would’ve eaten out at every opportunity. However, I didn’t, so I can’t provide a long list of restaurant recommendations. London has just about every kind of food offering available, though, so there’s something for any taste. I kindly recommend Princi and Obika if you’re looking for some great Italian. Give the buffalo mozzarella pizza a go at either place and you’ll never look at life the same way again. Although it’s a UK-based chain, Gourmet Burger Kitchen serves some of the best burgers and shakes I’ve ever had. There’s multiple locations all across London (my favorite = the one in the O2 Arena).
7. Easy Access to Europe.
Craving a crêpe? Take a ride on the Eurostar and make it to Paris in less than 3 hours. Wishing to sip sangria on the sunny shores of Barcelona? Book a ticket on Ryanair for less than £60.
With a wide rail network, cheap airline accommodations like Ryanair and easyJet, and inexpensive bus fare on Megabus and the like, it’s easy – and affordable – to access other parts of Europe from London. So get packing. But don’t forget to bring your acceptance letter from your London school so that the UK border control won’t give you a hard time getting back into the country.
8. Markets on Markets on Markets.
London possesses a variety of markets, each with their own flare.
Feeling edgy? Try Camden Market. Hungry? Not for long after perusing Borough Market’s food stalls. Looking for handmade pieces and a bit of serenading from guitar-strumming Brits in the square? Covent Garden has you covered. Searching for, well, anything? Haul your sweet self over to Portobello Road Market and spend the day with the crowds meandering down the long stretch of road, filled with vendors selling everything from clothes to food. Then there’s Spitalfields, Brick Lane… I haven’t even begun to make a dint in the list.
Another thing London can brag about: its parks. Not only are they beautiful and well-kept, but there’s quite a few to visit. Picnic among the flowers in Regent’s Park, admire the London skyline atop Primrose Hill, people watch (and dog watch) in beautiful Hyde Park, or walk from Westminster through the idyllic scenery of St. James’s Park to catch a view of Buckingham Palace.
A favorite stroll of mine: take the Victoria Line to Pimlico, then walk down Vauxhill Bridge Road toward the Thames. There you’ll find a lovely bit of green space where you can sit and admire the view as well as watch banking planes as they make their way to one of the city’s several airports. Then walk left along the river until you reach Victoria Tower Gardens, a delightful mini-park which ends at the gold-tipped towers of Parliament rising against the blue sky. Along the way, you’ll pass by the Tate Britain, which may be worth stopping in if you’re an art fan (it has both modern and traditional pieces).
When I found out Wicked was coming to Nashville this semester, I was a bit bummed I wouldn’t be there to see it. Then I remembered LULZ WAIT A SEC, I’ll be in London where there’s not only Wicked, but basically every other musical and play I could ever want. London’s West End theatre district is teeming with every show under the sun it would seem. You can find less costly tickets at marked stores/booths across town, though I’ve never personally used one, as I’ve always been able to find decently-priced tickets directly on the show’s website.
11. Old Things.
London is old, so naturally there are old things everywhere. It’s awesome because you get to say WOW, I’ve only been on earth 21 years while this building has existed for the last 600 years. I feel young and also that’s really neato.
Speaking of old things, you can find lots of old things in London’s museums. The city’s best museums are all free. Therefore, you have absolutely no excuse not to go and be cultured.
Sweaters for £7. Coats for £15. Dresses for £10. Primark really is a magical, magical place. The one on Oxford is HUGE, but there’s generally always a crowd, which can get a bit overwhelming. Totally worth it as you can score some super cute clothes at crazy low prices.
14. Polite Cabbies.
My experience with cab drivers in other cities has been less than ideal. However, in London, I’ve yet to come across a rude cabbie. One even laughed when my flatmate, Jess, accidentally pulled off the ash tray thinking it was the door handle. How can you not love someone that good-humored about the destruction of their cab? Since they’ve all been so charmingly pleasant, they deserve a shout out of their own.
15. Better Words and Spellings.
They call college “uni” and put an extra “u” in words, and that’s only a small sample of the differences. I mean, colour is just so much cooler with than extra “u,” am I right?!
16. Daunt Books.
This place is so utterly fantastic, it deserves its own listing. Quite literally a heaven on earth for anyone who has any sort of interest in books, the store on Marylebone High Street is an absolute must-see. I know there are several other bookshops in London – probably which are all just as delightful – but after visiting Daunt, I can go nowhere else. Barnes and Noble, who?
DUH. Not only is the music scene fantastic here (hello, British artists are the best artists), but there’s some great venues to boot. The O2 Arena, O2 Academy Brixton, Royal Albert Hall, and Alexandra Palace are all places I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a show at, but this is far from a complete list of London venues. I give two thumbs up to all of those venues I named and definitely recommend seeing a show there; they all have their own unique character.
London can also be found as the muse of several songs. Ed wrote about it in “The City.” In “Christmas Lights,” Chris Martin refers to “taking his feet down to Oxford Street” and how “those Christmas lights keep shining on” which only just recently made sense to me as I realized Oxford Street puts on a huge light display each year at Christmas (I will admit I have occasional bouts of idiocracy).
And, I mean, c’mon now, Chris and company attended uni in London, met, formed a band, and became internationally renowned. Dreams come true here, y’all.
With that, I conclude my list of 17 reasons why studying abroad in London is the best decision you’ll ever make. My list is only small sample of the joys you can find here as a student.
If you ever have even the smallest chance of studying abroad, I highly encourage you to take it, whether or not it’s London you choose. It will hands down be the best semester of your life, I guarantee it.
“Midnight” – Coldplay
Coldplay and London go hand in hand, so of course it is necessary to include a Coldplay song here. This is one of their newest releases, and admittedly it’s vastly different from their usual material. However, I love it and have been listening to it on repeat. As anyone who knows me can be sure, I’m beyond ecstatic for their new album which comes out May 19, even if it will be filled with angsty break-up songs (poor Chris and Gwyneth, I was really rooting for ’em). And a new album has to mean another tour so you can bet your Belmont tuition that I will be there.