If New York is the city that never sleeps, London is the city that never stops giving.
I landed on the 4th January. After 24 hours of travelling from Sydney, I was exhausted and nothing could stop me from getting to my flat and sleeping. It’s now the end of January, and after several day naps and 6pm coffees, I have luckily discovered what lies beyond my bed.
Family and friends foretold me of London’s vibrant atmosphere, that you could do something different every day for a month and still not get through everything. London is “buzzing” and “diverse”, they said. It’s “eccentric” and “individual”. When I arrived, I saw that they were all right.
This city we call London is an incredible place. She never stops providing things to do, places to see, and people to watch. You walk through the streets and immediately realise you are in a world city. It is incredibly diverse, and the melting pot of cultures is precisely what gives London its energy. You see the different cuisines, then smell the different aromas, and hear the foreign accents. You feel like a global citizen.
I acknowledge that as an exchange student, my perspective is admittedly romanticised. I am not working nor do I have family responsibilities, making it easier to enjoy and appreciate the city. But nonetheless, London is magnificent in its own right and she has gifted me with a memorable first month. Just some of the highlights, of which I would recommend if you have a free day or night include:
- Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum was one of the first places I visited. I only managed to visit the World War I Galleries on the first floor, and if that is anything to go by, I can assure that the entire museum is exceptional. The multitude of preserved weapons, uniforms, photographs, diaries and letters filled me with awe. After almost two hours, my brain was so full with knowledge that it would’ve been too much to then delve into World War II. To not even get past the first floor is testament to its excellence and I intend on returning to discover the upper levels.
- West End
When I remember my day in London’s West End, I remember crowds. I walked out of Oxford Circus station, and could hardly move before being trampled for stopping to get my bearings. It was as if all 8 million Londoners were there. But learning to deal with crowds is an important and necessary skill. They literally are the fabric of London. Without these masses of people, Oxford and Regent streets would not be the bustling and iconic districts they are.
But the heart of West End lies in its theatre. Walking around, you can feel the creative aura. There are bright lights and loud music escaping from the theatres. You see huge billboards for current and upcoming shows; the Book of Mormon, the Lion King, Matilda, Aladdin, Jersey Boys, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, etc. The running successes of the West End theatres obviously highlight their quality, but also highlight the demand for arts. Unfortunately, back home, Sydney is experiencing a downturn with early lockout laws forcing many theatre houses to shut down. Here, the arts industry flourishes – people want to go out and watch a show, and the city supports this demand. Thanks to entertainment districts like the West End, London remains a vibrant arts hub.
- Be At One, Soho
This final one is not historically significant, nor does it possess cultural peculiarities that render it a popular tourist destination. Be At One is a cocktail bar and even worse, it’s a franchise.
Many study abroad students want to explore London nightlife and Be At One (in my opinion) is a great place to start. Having visited four times now, I feel confident in this recommendation.
When you walk in, all is dark but a neon arrow directing you down to the underground. It opens out onto a huge bar, filled with people of course. The cocktails here are outstanding and what’s more it has a Happy Hour making it student wallet-friendly! There’s not much else to say other than if you’re looking for a bar with good prices, good atmosphere and good music, this is a great choice.
Of course, these three places are a mere cross section of what’s on offer. If you are studying abroad in London, take advantage of the fact that you are in a city that will never stop giving you the chance to see, do, eat, drink, experience. The city is alive, it is worldly and for the next five months, I’m happy to call it home.