London as a tourist, or, I don’t live here anymore

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To anyone who has read my previous posts, it might seem as if I spend a lot of time bashing London. To be fair, I do. It’s overcrowded, the weather is typically a bit rubbish and almost everyone you meet on Tinder has the same fuckboy haircut and the same disappointing taste in music. Despite the beef, however, I actually really like London. It’s been around two years since I actually lived here and, while my memories are a mix of good and bad, I don’t regret the years I spent living and working in the capital.

Whenever I return to London now, I always feel a bit weird. I was a fully-fledged Londoner with an Oyster card and a gin problem. Complaining was my favourite sport. I would happily stand inside someone’s armpit on the tube without batting an eyelid. Now I’m a foreigner, a tourist. It doesn’t help that my English is getting worse by the day, but that’s another issue for another time.

Last summer I spent a week helping out at a hostel in North London, where some friends were working, and it was the first time I got to experience London as a tourist. It’s an absolute bloody rip off. When you’re earning a London wage, as I was, you don’t realise just how comically expensive everything is and how much money tourists spend every year on overpriced nothingness. This made me so angry last Summer that I decided I was going to leave the UK, before I remembered I’d already done that.

So for all my traveller friends, here is a guide to doing London right, without having to sell a vital organ:

Unpopular opinion – eff the tube. I HATE it. I mean, it’s wildly convenient, fast and for the most part, reliable. But it’s very expensive and if you’re a backpacker/travelling on any kind of budget, part of your soul will die when you realise how much a weekly ticket will cost. My advice, screw the tube. The bus is cheaper and, albeit a little slower, gives you more to look at. If you’re staying in Central, you’ll be surprised how much of London is very walkable. Santander cycles are FABULOUS but only recommended if you are a) a moderately experienced cyclist, b) remember which side of the road to drive on and c) are not a prick.

Trying to get round everything is almost impossible, especially if you’re only there for a few days. Many London sights, in my opinion, are extremely overrated (London Eye, I’m looking at you). Plan by area and choose a top five list (top ten if you’re around for a week or longer).

Many places worth visiting – St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower (and Tower Bridge), Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey – can be viewed from outside. Literally, you do not need to splash out on tickets for every London landmark. For many, the excitement of viewing them for the outside should be enough, because it’s cheaper. If there’s somewhere you absolutely HAVE to enter, check ticket prices and  tourism sites like Skint London or Londonist for possible deals.

I had a small meltdown in Madrid when I realised the Reina Sofia was TEN EUROS to enter. My friend, still a student, got in FOR FREE. It’s been almost a year and I’m still not over it, for real. Something I never really appreciated in London was that many of the museums are free (bar occasional special exhibitions). Even if you’re not a big museum buff, you’ll 100% find something of interest to you because there’s such a variety of exhibitions and themes.

Brick Lane curry houses have a great reputation, sure. But since Brick Lane became hipster capital of the world a few years ago, the curry houses are also quite expensive. Go further afield in Spitalfields and Whitechapel for great quality Indian food at a better price. Check out street food markets (Borough is overpriced but worth a visit) and if you’re sticking around Central, be prepared to shell out a bit more than you’re used to.

The botellon phenomena is something I wish continued in the UK past early 20s. Drinks in London are incredibly expensive, so if you’re looking to party, pre game before you go out. Expect that even small dance bars will also charge some sort of entry fee and factor this into your party budget. Cocaine is expensive, don’t do drugs kids.


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