Ah, London. There’s no secret that I think she’s one of the greatest cities on earth. When I first spent significant time in London in 2006, I was smitten with how charming, unique and utterly foreign she was.
After living in continental Europe for over a year, visits to London started to take on a different feel. Compared to clean, orderly Switzerland, London started to feel an awful lot like, well home. It’s not just the lack of language barrier, although that definitely helps. The noise, the chaos, the abundance of cheapo off-brand goods, all gave me the warm and fuzzies for the U.S.A. So what’s an ugly American to do when she’s set loose in London for a week? Art, culture, history? Yeah that’s all good. But now for me a visit to London wouldn’t be complete without getting a contact high for everything I miss about American big city life.
Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy London as an American Expat…
Tuck Into a Full English Breakfast:
You had me at sautéed mushrooms…
Don’t get me wrong, after a year of living in Switzerland I can put away a gipfeli and espresso with aplomb. However, there’s always something about continental breakfasts that seem a bit lacking when compared to the steaming piles of eggs and home fries of my homeland. English breakfast is as close to diner food as you can get this side of the pond, and has a delicious charm all it’s own. So dig in!
Hit The Flea Markets:
Sure, Switzerland has flea markets… if you’re into well curated aisles of eclectic artifacts that you’ll only pay marginally less for than in an antique store. What London has is good old-fashioned DEALS, DEALS, DEALS.
London has an abundance of flea markets, each with its own charm. The Angel, Exmouth, Camden Town, Brick Road and Greenwich flea markets are a few of my favorites. Haggle with a man over some generic Tupperware you’ll probably never use, buy some old buttons for that craft project you’ve been meaning to do, let an artsy fartsy 20 something hipster convince you that you totally can pull off that cute homemade headband all the girls in Shoreditch are sporting, and top it all off by bringing home the largest and most perfectly formed head of lettuce home with you, even though you hate lettuce. What!? It was cheap!
Go See Some English Speaking Theater:
Seriously. There’s so much to see everyday of the week. Theater in London doesn’t even have to be expensive. Get beyond the big West End Production bubble by grabbing a copy of Time Out and just seeing what intrigues you.
Can’t get enough theater? Check out my guide to getting the most out of Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival!
Go Out To High Tea:
It’s more than just tea. Make sure you leave room for cakes and sandwiches!
Given my love of scones I’m kind of shocked that I never did this sooner. It took living with a bunch of British expats in Switzerland for me to truly understand the fact that a good cuppa tea truly does fix all of life’s problem’s. Soho’s Secret Tea Room (sshh!) has a cool vintage vibe and doesn’t feel too touristy.
Enjoy Pub Culture:
The English. They’ll apologize to you for breathing too loudly on the Tube, but get them into a Pub and they’re the most outgoing and gregarious people you’d ever want to meet. London is still one of two cities on the planet (Austin Texas being the other) where a strange man has offered to buy me a drink and wasn’t trying to rob me or take me home. Enjoy a pub quiz, watch the game, or cool off on a hot day with a Magner’s on ice. There’s nothing quite like it!
If dancing with random dudes is wrong I don’t want to be right…
Move over NYC, London truly is the city that never sleeps. The Tube may shut down at midnight but London Busses run all night long and will take you everywhere you need to go. While the arts and alternative culture scene in Zürich can sometimes feel limited and rather tame, you won’t have that problem in London. Want to go dancing? You can take a free Lindy-Hop Lesson and cut a rug to an authentic jazz band almost any night of the week. Need something edgier? I used to know the password to a weird industrial warehouse in Angel where you could dance next to gender ambiguous goth kids in cages until the sun came up.
If the idea of all that latex makes you hungry, the abundance of delicious and cheap street foods in London will help you refuel for whatever your next adventure is… anytime of day.
Get Lost on Public Transport, Get Annoyed At Absolutely Everyone:
Is it possibly that I actually missed this part of big city life? A Subway system with actual rats that are actually intimidating? Maybe even Pizza Rats? Check. Realizing that because you share the dominant language you can understand everyone’s inane conversations in public? Check. That feeling of claustrophobic rage when you have to walk up 283 steps to get out of the Tube on a hot summer day and nobody around you is moving fast enough? Check. Being bowled over by noise and pollution when you finally reach street level again? Check.
Get Some Free Culture, Get Into Some Green Space:
Flowerspotting at Greenwich Park
London has a ton of museums (obvi) and many of them offer free admissions. So no excuses! And while we’re at it, why stay inside? London also has a ton of amazing public parks. I’m partial to the view of London from Greenwich Park but Hampstead Heath is considered a favorite of locals.
Get Ready For Life On The Continent Again:
Who’da thunk I’d ever need a break from London? But it’s true, by the time my week in my home away from home was done I was ready to get back on calm, orderly, pollution free Swiss soil. And start dreaming of my next trip to London…
Did I miss anything? What are your favorite cities around the world to find a slice of home in?