Thoughts from an American in England: Five Things I Love About London

From free museums to good old London boozers, Rebecca Schulman gets her cultural kicks in Britain's capital and feels right at home.

It should be noted that I’m not the most skilled at math (or maths as they call it here in the UK). At an early age it was determined by my teachers that I should probably ‘stick to books’, which I took to heart, sealing my fate as an English Literature major and doomed for all of time to be asked the inevitable question: “What are you going to do withthatdegree?” to which I still don’t entirely know the answer.

But I digress. As an American transplant living in London, I’ve come to understand that the city has much more to offer than can be confined to a list format. If I were to sit down and try and assign a number to everything worth mentioning, it would probably reach into the thousands – or probably higher than I could even manage to count.

So I’ve pared it down to my five, for simplicity, in no particular order, with the knowledge that London has infinite offerings for all.

1: Free For All At Museums And Galleries

Interior of London's Natural History Museum
Dinosaurs, Darwin and myriad exhibits at the Natural History Museum (©BikeWorldTravel/iStockeditorial/Thinkstock)

London may not be known for being the most affordable place to vacation, but one thing it has that I wish other countries (I’m looking at you USA) would catch on to is admission-free museums. The major players, like the Victoria & Albert, Natural History, Science and British Museums are all free of charge to enjoy in addition to the National Gallery, Museum of London and Tate Modern and all of them are easily accessible by public transport. My favourite in particular is the Natural History Museum and I love wiling an afternoon looking at the dinosaur skeletons and stuffed birds, and wandering around posh South Kensington (where the museum is located) afterwards.

2: Take An Unofficial Tour On A Double Decker Bus

Classic red London bus
Cheap and fun way to travel around London (©Peter Spiro/iStockeditorial/Thinkstock)

When I first settled in London and acquired my Oyster card (something visitors and residents alike should all own) I felt bound to just the Underground or affectionately the ‘tube’. That’s not to say that the tube isn’t wonderful in its own right, but the buses are equally impressive and also a great deal cheaper. With your Oyster, a one-way ride costs a flat 1.45 and you can go almost anywhere in the city. And unlike the tube it can be quite a bit faster, as well as providing a unique aerial view if you ride on the top floor of the double-deckers (try and get to the very front if you can!). Understanding the various routes can take a bit of time but if you have a smart phone there are some great free apps out there that will help you get from point A to point B in a snap. Alternatively, you can just ask someone nearby, who’d probably be happy to help.

 

3. Get Shopping Satisfaction At Sunday markets

Market streets in Camden
Fashions galore at Camden's lively street markets (©PCruciatti/iStockeditorial/Thinkstock)

Going to market in London is a serious venture and there are tons to choose from. Some of the best are located in the general Shoreditch area. I’m referring specifically to my personal favourite the Sunday (Up) Market in Brick Lane (which is also a real treat to wander around after you’re done). It’s a great place to go for vintage clothing and myriad ethnic food in big bubbling vats just begging to be sampled. A short walk away is the Old Spitalfields Market filled with handmade wares from local designers and artisans, as well as more food in case you’re still hungry (the donut stall is definitely worth a visit). And of course there’s always Camden Market, a fixture on the alternative fashion and music scene since the 60s and now with myriad styles.

4. Sinking A Pint In Your Local Pub

Traditional London pub
Head for a pint at a traditional London pub (©BikeWorldTravel/iStockeditorial/Thinkstock)

There are thousands of pubs in London to choose from but regardless there’s something distinctly British about sitting down for a pint or two with your mates and recounting the day’s events. It would be foolish of me to recommend any pub in particular as everyone has their own haunts, but the key I think is to stay local. Wherever you’re situated there’s likely to be a watering hole nearby that will be filled with both residents and visitors mixing and mingling together. In addition to drinks, pubs offer some of the best examples of traditional British cuisine you’ll find anywhere else, like the standard fish and chips, bangers and mash and tasty roasts with all the trimmings on Sundays.

5. Feel Like A Local And Explore

Discover hidden-away backstreets of London
Get off the beaten track to discover hidden-away backstreets (©ZefArt/iStock/Thinkstock)

There’s no exact way for me to put this sensation into words, except to say that it’s like being adopted by a second family. You don’t even have to live in London to achieve this. What’s important is to simply explore; the major areas are certainly not to be missed but I’ve found that to get a taste of true London culture you have to think a bit outside the box. Wandering down side streets and tucked-away cobbled alleyways is one of the best ways to do this (while exercising the usual caution of course). You’ll often find yourself somewhere new and exciting and decidedly off the beaten path and, if you’re lucky, left out of the guidebooks.