London is a modest city. Physically, it doesn’t have as much to offer as other European cities I’ve visited. Its streets don’t boast the obvious architectural beauty of Paris and it doesn’t have the quaint waterfront of Copenhagen. Unlike say Danes, Londoners aren’t obviously identifiable as being Londoners. For those of us who have never been before, we often think of London in terms of stereotypical images like red double-decker buses and Abbey Road. Which is probably precisely why locals tend to stay away from typical tourist traps like Buckingham Palace or Portobello Street.
So what is London really about?
You’ll find it hidden among its eccentric neighborhoods, and for me, particularly in East London. Bearing comparisons to the hipster boroughs of Brooklyn, it’s where the young scenesters congregate — and where I spotted Russell Brand walking his dog — at weekend vintage and food markets. Maybe it was the people watching, the colorful street art, the cheap Japanese food stands or the abundance of used-vinyl stalls —I found a £5 George Michael record, enough said — but I could have stayed there forever. Sorry New York, when I grow up I’m moving to London.
I’m not sure if it’s the writer or the 20-something in me, but I’ve become more and more averse to busy touristy areas. I was told to visit Camden Market, which was so cheesy and crowded that I did a lap and left. I much preferred the culture of vibrant local areas like Broadway Market with its fresh food and live music or Shoreditch with its maze of art-filled walls.
Believe me, I tried to be a tourist. I walked from the shopping district of Oxford Circus to the entertainment hub of Piccadilly Circus but immediately felt super disoriented. The buildings are reminiscent of Paris, dotted with theatres and moving Times Square-style ads. But as I turned the corner I immediately got lost in Soho. Once known for its red-light district, it’s now filled with quirky cafes and shops. I passed by a place called Hummus Bros which I was so tempted to try, but was too filled up on fish and chips from a nearby joint. I wandered inside a vintage magazine store and a record shop. Those are the places that I would visit if I lived there, and perhaps that’s the appeal.
I will however, say that Big Ben, the Tower of London and the London Eye are particularly nice at night, and Chelsea, while expensive, is also lovely. But I spent the majority of my time in the less-populated areas. Unfortunately though, the rumors are true. London is extremely expensive. As in, I’m scared to check my bank account, expensive. But I still love you anyway.
As much as I saw in three days, I won’t pretend to have even the slightest grasp on what London is all about. There’s an infinite amount of places to be explored. Some people ask me why I chose Dublin instead of a place like London, which I also would have loved. And part of it is exactly that: even if I had studied in London for four months, I would have left probably just as overwhelmed as when I arrived; that there’s still so much that I didn’t see. Dublin is a smaller city that I can actually grasp, and every time I come back from traveling, it feels like returning home.
Albeit, a home that I’ll be leaving in less than a month — yikes.