Just over a year ago, we made a big grown-up decision and bought a house in the London suburbs. At the time, I was devastated to move outside of London. Of course, I love our new lovely big house (something we never would have been able to afford inside of any of the zones), and the proximity to the countryside is a major plus. But there’s just something about London - the buzz of living in the city, the ability to order any type of Deliveroo at any time of day that's unparalleled. Of course, now that we're in lockdown, I'm beyond thankful to live near fields I can go walking in and to not be in such a densely populated area. But, like many people, quarantine has given me time to reflect on my time living in London, and the things I both liked and disliked about it.
1. The History
The city of Seattle, where I grew up, was founded in 1851 - the flat we lived in in Maida Vale was easily older than that, probably by fifty years or so. It’s easy to forget it because so many parts of London feel so modern, but there’s real history all over the city. From the gorgeous Shakespeare’s Globe that still sits on the banks of the Thames, to the Tower of London where you can literally walk where Henry VIII’s wives were beheaded, it’s like stepping back in time. You can see the old ruins of the London Wall near Tower Hill, which dates back to the Roman rule of Britain. Even something as ordinary as the pubs and shops tend to be older than the founding of the United States. Another tip is to look for the blue circle-shaped plaques on the sides of buildings - they notate historical sites or homes of historical figures, and can be found all around the city.
2. The Food
The Brits get a really bad rep for their food. The idea that it’s all beige and a bit meat-and-gravy isn’t necessarily false (Sunday roasts are still VERY much a thing here), but the London foodie scene is very much an exciting one. Because the city is such a melting pot of largely European and Asian cultures, you can find some amazing food here inspired by cuisines all over the world. Not to mention, the food markets are some of my favorites - Brick Lane, Borough Market, Giant Robot, and KERB are all worth a visit, as well as many many more.
3. Free Museums
One amazing thing about London is that the majority of its museums, excluding specific exhibits, have free entry - and there are a LOT of great museums to make your way through. Some of my favorites include the Victoria & Albert, the British Museum where you can see the ACTUAL Rosetta’s Stone, the Natural History museum with its never-ending displays, dinosaur bones, and incredible architecture… I could go on…
4. Weekend Walks
Hands-down my favorite thing to do when we lived in London was just pick a direction and keep walking. We were incredibly lucky to live in Maida Vale, which is just north of Paddington, so if we walked to the East, we’d hit Regent’s Park, and to the south, we’d end up in Hyde Park. The parks could be a positive point in themselves on this list - there are so many, and they're dotted all around the city, so you're never far from an open green space. There were so many days I’d find myself in a random part of the city just because I’d carried on walking and exploring. One of my favorite memories was the day we followed the canal from Little Venice near our flat, through Regent’s Park, past the Camden locks, through King’s Cross and Hackney, and ended up in Limehouse near Canary Wharf, just stopping off at a pub here and there for a snack or a pint.
5. Pub Culture
Speaking of pubs - if there’s one thing the Brits do better than anyone, it’s pub culture. This is true of the entire country, not just London, but there’s something so quintessentially British about leaving the office on a summer's evening and meeting friends at a pub, where you stand out in the street with your drinks, trying to soak up as much of that precious English sunshine as you can. Not to mention, in certain parts of London there are so many to choose from, you can't throw a stone without hitting a pub.
1. The Tube
Okay, let’s just be clear from the get-go that the London Underground is actually a far better alternative than basically all of the public transport services we have in the States (New York MTA - I’m looking at you). However, I have a few gripes with the Tube. One - why is it never a normal temperature? In the summer, it’s a sauna. In the winter, it’s a sauna where somebody’s left the door open for a few minutes to let some air in, which has hardly made a difference. Two - It’s incredibly overcrowded during commuter times, and you spend your 30-minute ride home in somebody’s armpit. If there's an option to walk, I would always rather take it than go on the Underground.
2. The Pollution
I recently went to get a facial, and my esthetician told me that my skin had begun to show signs of pollution damage, which has horrified me and resulted in me buying basically every skincare product on the market to prevent it. Also - not to get a little TMI here - but anyone else have black boogers after living in the London smog? No? Just me?
3. It’s so flat
To be fair, this is my gripe about the South of England in general. I grew up in Seattle, which is basically just one big hill, which means that there are some incredible vantage points of the city. Sometimes a girl just wants a hill or two, you know? There are a few in London, but they tend to be overrun with people on any nice day. If anybody knows of one less over-populated than Hampstead Heath or Primrose Hill, please get at me.
4. People and Noise Everywhere
This is my problem with any city, in all honesty. I grew up in the suburbs, so being surrounded by constant noise was something I had to get used to in my later years, living in a city. Where we lived in London was comparatively residential to most areas, but you would still be hard pressed to find a time where there weren't people around. Since moving back out to the suburbs, I've been so surprised by how quiet it is! It's a nice break from town, as I still work and spend a majority of my time in and around central London.
5. Grocery Shopping
Full-sized grocery stores do exist in London, but unfortunately not within walking distance of where we lived. Therefore, when we moved into the city, we decided to start getting our groceries delivered through online shopping. This was usually an okay solution, but every so often I would miss just walking through a grocery store with a massive cart (trolley), and picking up whatever the heck I felt like. The selection in our local Tesco Metro didn’t really allow for that…
The funny thing is, even while I was compiling this list, I found myself making excuses for why the "worst" things were the way they are. And if I'm honest, I could think of far more than 5 things I loved about living in London. Because I'm in and around it constantly, there are things I gripe about (mostly commuting-related, and... yeah, I could do without the black boogers...), but of all the cities I've been to, London is truly unique in that it's uniquely full of respect and love and so much pride for its history and yet has a modern, metropolitan buzz to it. At the risk of sounding insanely cheesy, London stole my heart the first time I visited over seven years ago, and it's had it ever since.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about London? Would you ever live there? Leave a comment below, and let me know!