When you are studying abroad in London you want to be able to see the important sights but you don’t exactly want to be mixed with the tourist crowd. This list lets you know what is worth is and what is overrated.
1. Instead of Oxford Street, Camden Market
Oxford street is famous in London for being filled with department stores, name brands and lots and lots of shopping. Which is all well and good until of course you realise that due to all the shops, there are a ridiculous number of shoppers. Walking down Oxford street is like running the gauntlet of tourists, shoppers and commuters. During the busiest times it can be difficult to walk in a straight line let alone casually window shop. Yes, the lights on Regent Street are pretty but if it’s cool shopping you want, I recommend Camden Market. Camden Market is held on weekends in the Camden Lock and consists of rows upon rows of stalls selling everything from rave gear to sundials. It is a lot of fun to walk around and look at all the crazy cool products and even buy a few for yourself. Also, there is a world food market where you can have Korean, Mexican, Iranian and South African food in one sitting. It’s great fun for a shopping day and is normally not too crowded.
2. Instead of Piccadilly Circus, Southbank
Piccadilly Circus has been hailed as the Times Square of London and is similarly as pointless. You can go stand in the middle of a roundabout looking at particularly large advertisements but it is always packed with tourists and very busy. There are cars and buses zooming around you so that you end up experience a loud, traffic-heavy version of a commercial break. Instead of Piccadilly circus, take a walk on the Southbank. Especially in the summer when they have such special events as the Wonderground or Love Festival, Southbank is a great place to walk along the water and see the sights while staying relaxed and not too crowded. Go for a spin on the carousel, skate in the mini skatepark or go see a show at the brilliant National Theatre or Hayward Gallery. There are lots of fun, pop-up restaurants and street performers and it is a great place to spend an evening.
3. Instead of the London Eye, Primrose Hill
The London Eye was meant to be a temporary exhibit but its popularity has made it a mainstay of the London skyline. That would all be quite cool if it didn’t cost £30 just to go up it. Yes it is a beautiful view but it moves very slowly and you usually have to wait in a long line and share a compartment. Simply, not worth it. If its a view you are looking for, my personal favourite is the one at the top of Primrose Hill. London is relatively hill scarce making the view from Primrose all the more beautiful. At the top of the hill you can see all of the beautiful London skyline which looks just as good in the daytime as it does at night. The park doesn’t close so it’s a great place to end your night out with a fantastic view. Alternatively, for the view-seekers, the restaurants at the top of the Shard usually have bars in which you can sit for a drink and a stunning view without breaking the bank with a whole meal.
4. Instead of the Tower, The Tower
This is one of the few popular tourists attractions that I genuinely think is worth it. Perhaps it is the history geek in me but the Tower is home to some of the most dramatic moments in British history. You can go look through the cells and learn about the royalty who died there but the crown jewel (no I do not regret that pun) is probably the crown jewels which you can see in their full splendor. Yes, there are lines and it is on the pricier side but, especially with the cool view of Tower Bridge, you should definitely check it out.
5. Instead of Madame Tussauds, V&A
Madame Tussauds is one of the most bizarre products of our consumer, celebrity-driven society. Don’t get me wrong, I know an uncomfortable amount about most celebrities that you could name but I don’t really have a desire to pay £30 to stand in a MASSIVE line to look at wax sculptures of them. Granted, the wax sculptors are talented and the realism is fascinating but it is hardly worth the trouble. Yes, there are historical figures who are represented but they are normally guesses based on idealised or outdated paintings and most customers zoom right by them to take a selfie with one direction. When you really think about it, it’s quite bizarre. It’s like taking a photo with a photo in an effort to be closer to our idealised celebrities. Anyway, I digress. A much cooler institution, in my opinion is the Victoria and Albert Museum, often known as the V&A museum of art and design. It is right next to the Science Museum and Natural History Museum which are both also worth a look but my favourite is the V&A which has exhibitions has everything from classical art from all over the world to exhibitions on fashion. Their fashion exhibitions are always very well put together, relevant and a lot of fun. You can go see their permanent collection for free and see their special exhibitions for reasonable prices.
6. Instead of Buckingham Palace, Hampton Court Palace
Buckingham Palace is definitely something you should see while in London but it is remarkably easy to get a good long look while driving or walking by. Many people stand outside the gates for hours and some even hope to be able to glimpse the queen through the curtains doing her laundry or something. I can wholeheartedly assure you that unless there is a special function of some sort you will not spot a candid moment of the Queen of England by loitering in front of her place. The changing of the guards is also mildly interesting but in the end it is men in fancy uniforms swapping shifts. What I do recommend, however, is Hampton Court Palace. This is a bit of trek as it is roughly an hour out of the city by car but it makes for a fantastic day trip. Even without it’s epic history, the palace is beautiful to see. There are expansive gardens, a maze, and beautiful art and architecture. You can walk the halls of Henry VIII and discover the frankly brilliant history behind a manor that has been around since 1236. Perhaps this is again my inner history nerd talking but it is totally worth the time it takes to get there.
7. Instead of West End Musical, Tiny Theatre
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good musical as much as the next person but I find that, for some tourists, they can seem like the only option when some of the most exciting theatre in London is in the tiny, artistic theatres. If the glitz and glam of the west end is not your style or you are ready to see something different, there are hundreds of tiny theatres in London that have really excellent productions. My personal favourite is the Donmar which is renown for it’s stellar performances but the venue is so intimate, every seat feels like the actors are right in front of their face. The stalls sections only has about 4 or 5 rows. It’s almost an entirely different experience when you are that close and the setting is that small. Another great tiny venue is The Print Room which houses excellent talent and alternative performances. I once saw a performance there that was entirely pitch black for the entire show. They used smell and sound to paint the scene and it was a brilliant experience.
8. Instead of Leicester Square, Outdoor Cinema
Leicester square is famous for its cinemas and red carpet previews but if you are just going to see a movie then it is ridiculously overpriced. A great alternative while in London during the summer is Outdoor Cinema. Film4 does outdoors screenings of great movies at Somerset House and lots of London burroughs run their own movies in local parks. It’s a great way to spend some time outside while feeding your movie addiction. If you are looking for good movie venues indoors, I like Everyman Cinema which has comfy couches you can use and a bar and restaurant so you can eat real food during the movie. It’s a little on the pricey side but it makes a great date.
9. Instead of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, literally any other museum
The Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker street always has an enormous line that goes all the way down the block. This has always puzzled me because even though I am quite the Sherlock fan (and yes the BBC show Sherlock is among the best things to have ever happened) I am still very much aware of the fact that he was not a real person. He is a fictional character and never actually lived at 221b Baker Street. I’m sure it’s interesting enough to look at different representations of him in the museum but it is definitely not worth the ridiculous line. Instead, go to any of London’s amazing museums many of which offer free entry. Notable alternatives include the British Museum, The National Gallery, the aforementioned V&A, The Tate, The Science Museum, The Natural History Museum and more! London is one the cultural hotspots of the world and it’s museums are incredible!
Studying abroad in London will be one of the most amazing times of your life so make sure to treasure every second and see the sights like a local. Remember to book your flights there and back through StudentUniverse for amazing student discounts.