An Honest Travel Guide to London

*I spent 4 days in London in July 2015 and I had mixed feelings about the city.  In this blog post, I am going to give you an honest overview of the city, including tips for culture, nightlife, food and things to do.  Everything you read is based off my own travel experiences:*

General Thoughts

Would you believe me if I told you that my very first visit to the United Kingdom was in the summer of 2015, after I had already been to 58 countries around the world?

Almost nobody believe me, but it’s true. I always skipped over London on my previous Euro trips because I knew it was a place I’d visit in the future.

So the future was now, and I decided to visit London after a crazy trippy time in Amsterdam.  I went with my best bud from home, Brian.

In this post, I am going to be brutally honest with you about my experiences in London.  Take it for what it’s worth.

And right off the bat, I can tell you that I didn’t love London, but I didn’t hate it, either.  I just think that it doesn’t nearly live up to all the hype and expectations.

Before I dive into more detail about why I have mixed feelings for London, I just want to say that I’m sure London is a great place if you’re LIVING and WORKING, but for budget travelers like myself, I can think of about 10 cities in Europe that’d be more interesting and affordable to visit.

Upon arrival, my first impressions of London were: busy, expensive, spread out and shockingly similar to New York City.

Why shockingly similar to NYC? Both cities are very diverse, both have a massive economic impact on the world, both have a large population and both are very touristy.

But honestly, I found London to be much busier than NYC (granted, I visited during the metro strike so it was complete chaos…)

The streets were so damn crowded, that it almost reminded me of being in back in Mumbai as I was pushing my way through people on the sidewalks.  And even when the underground Tube was finally working again, the Tube was so crowded that I hardly had any room to breathe while I was riding.  It was miserable.

The aggressive prices in London were a huge buzz kill for backpackers like myself on a tight budget.

London was so expensive that it reminded me of my previous trips to Sydney or Norway.  I’m talking about 14 GBP ($27) for a basic fish n’ chips meal in the city, and 2GBP ($3.10) for a water bottle in a shop. Granted, I’m sure it’s cheaper if I went outside the city center but this is what I found.  And don’t even think about getting inside a taxi, unless you want to completely empty out your wallet.

On a more positive note, I did have a nice time wandering around the city for the 4 days I was there. It was pleasurable to be a tourist and visit all of the London sites that I had heard so much about and that I saw in movies.  The people that I met were generally nice and welcoming, and I actually didn’t see any rain!

Let’s get into some facts:

Quick Facts:


Currency: Great British Pound (GBP)
– London’s history goes back to its founding by the Romans in 43 AD, who named it Londinium
– London’s ancient core (the City of London) retains its 1.12 square mile medieval boundries with a population of 7,375 in 2011.
– London is the world’ most visited city as measured by international arrivals and has the world’ largest airport system measured by passenger traffic
– There are 43 universities in London, making it the largest concentration of higher education institutes in Europe
– The metropolitan city area of London is just shy of 14 million people, making it the most populous in Europe.
– There are more than 300 languages spoken in London, more than any city in the world
– London has 4 UNESCO sites — Tower of London, Maritime greenwich Westminster Palace and Royal Botanic Gardens.
– London has more than 170 museums with 11 national museums
– Around 250 festivals take place annually
– There are more than 800 bookshops and over 380 public libraries including the British Library which holds the Magna Carta.

Things to Do:

London is very spread out with loads of things to do. Here are some of my favorites:

Chill in the Parks – London is filled with big parks near the city center, most notably Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and St. James Park. If the weather is nice, head over to one of these parks to relax and take in the atmosphere. You’ll love it.

Big Ben & Buckingham Palace – Perhaps the two most notable landmarks in London are definitely worth a visit. Big Ben, or the Great Clock Tower is the symbol of London and it holds the second largest four-faced chiming clock in the world.  Buckingham Palace is a historic London residence and principal workplace of the monarchy of the UK.  You can learn a lot about British history there, and I recommend to go during the changing of the guards!

River Thames – Not referred to as the “Thames River” but “River Thames,” this is the big river that intersects the city. The best place to experience the River is by walking along the South Bank – there are many restaurants, cafes and stores, and the views of the city are best from there.

London Eye – Everyone knows about the biggest Ferris wheel in the world. You pay $30 to ride it (I know, it’s a rip off..) but it was worth it for me. But beware to wait in a long line, up to 4 hours.

Tower Bridge– One of the most iconic bridges in the world in London’s Tower Bridge dating back to 1886. Admire it, take a million photos, and walk across it. Maybe you’ll even get to see the bridge open up for passing boats underneath it!

Shoreditch – My favorite neighborhood/district in the city was Shoreditch in East London. It’s very hipster, artsy and fun. Graffiti artists are encouraged to mark up the walls and the parks filled with stoned 20-something-year-olds. It’s a bit cheaper over in Shoreditch, and there are so many yummy restaurants to choose from. Definitely spend an afternoon here!

Borough Market – Ah – the best street market in London! On Saturdays, head over to Borough market for some delicious food (free samples too) and a lively atmosphere. I spent like 2 hours there roaming around and loved it. Amazing vibes.

Rent a Bike – I rented bikes almost everyday and it was my favorite way to explore London because it’s too big to walk everywhere.  It is so much easier to get to the city’s landmarks and parks via bicycle.

Looking for more free things to do around London? Check out my friend Megan’s post on What to Do in London for FREE!

Culture & People:

London is a very diverse city and you will see people from almost EVERY nationality in the world.  The diversity of London can also be seen with its architecture, which features an abundance of historic buildings but also keeps up with the latest trends in modern structures.

London also has a large arts and music scene, and is home to number of famous museums, galleries, theatres and cinemas and first-class entertainment.  You can’t get bored walking around the streets because there is always something interesting that you’ll stumble upon.

However, as mentioned before, the overall feeling of the culture in London is similar to what it’s like in the USA. Same language, same people, same food.  But this clearly makes sense – since we established independence from the Brits only 239 years ago.

Overall, I have to admit that British people are nice and respectful. I didn’t have any issues or concerns with them. But if you catch them after they’ve slammed 5 beers down in a pub, then things can get pretty rowdy!

I found the British accents to be quite amusing, especially the different lingo that they use.   For example, friendsmates, moneyquid, tired = knackeredsketchy = dodgy.

But then again, every English speaking country that I’ve been to has different words and lingo. Australian lingo is the funniest.

The stereotypes are true about English people – they do drink tea all day everyday. Any English person will telll you that drinking tea can solve any problem that you have. There are loads of cafes and places to get your hands on a nice warm cup of tea.

The Nightlife:

I had very high expectation about London’s nightlife, because my friends and followers told me that it’s really good.

But to be honest, the nightlife in London is VERY overrated.  This was my biggest disappointment about the city. This is the only photo that I have of me partying in London – at the biggest club called Ministry of Sound.

You’d think that a big city such as London would have bars and clubs open all night, right?

WRONG. I was shocked to see several of the bars close at 11PM or midnight — even on a Friday.

It was miserable to be having fun at a bar and then they tell you to get out because they are shutting their doors. It sucked even more to start drinking around 7PM to start the night because you aren’t able to party all night long. For this reason, among others (like $12 for a beer), I wouldn’t even put London in my Top 10 European Cities with the best nightlife…

However, I did come across a helpful website called Cluboid, which is dedicated to sharing the best nightlclubs and bars in London and select cities around the world.

With the help of Cluboid, I did find some fun places to go out around London.   Soho is probably the biggest nightlife district of the city. You should go there on any given night and you can find something happening.

The night clubs are big and crazy, and they are the exception for venues closing early — most stay open until the early morning. I went to the largest and most famous nightclub in London called Ministry of Sound and it was a blast.  I stayed there until 4AM.  The club is actually like 5 clubs in one – because there are 5 different rooms, with different DJ’s playing different kinds of techno music. I really enjoyed this place!

Some other fun clubs to check out are Cargo, Egg, Fabric, Heaven and Koko.  I’ve heard they are fun as well, but expect to spend $70-100 USD on the night with cover charges and drinks.

The Food:

I have 3 words for you: Fish n’ Chips.

YES, they are that freaking delicious in London. I think it’s a combination of the fresh white fish and the secret batter they use to cook the fish in. But whatever it is — I was digging it. I ate fish n’ chips at least once every day that I was in London.

Also, London has the best Indian food outside of India’s borders.  There are hundreds of fantastic places to get a nice curry and samosa, but expect to pay about $20USD minumum.

Bangers and Mash are amazing, and you should try them.  They are just mashed potatoes and sausage, served with onion gravy or fried onions.

Do yourself a favor and get an English breakfast for breakfast.  It has everything you could possibly want in a meal and more.

Most other food that I saw around London was the same stuff that you can find in The States. Burgers, bread, meat, soups, chips (fries), seafood, pastries, etc.

Final Words

Alright that’s pretty much everything you need to know about London from my perspective.  I know that many of you will disagree with me, and that’s just fine.  As I stated at the beginning of this post, everything you read is coming from my personal experiences and nothing else.

Have you ever been to London? Do you agree or disagree with me?

 

19 thoughts on “An Honest Travel Guide to London

  1. While my recent trip to London was marvelous, I was disappointed in my culinary experiences. I had Fish and Chips at the Henry Holland Pub and it was less I than expected and the Indian food at a restaurant in Earl’s Court didn’t match what I have had in the South Bay of Los Angeles. It was also hard if not impossible to find my favourite cream ales (Boddingtons and Old Speckled Hen) in pubs around London but the price of beer was quite a surprise as it was less of what a pint or half liter would cost in Los Angeles.

  2. Hello Drew – am enjoying your blogs. I’ve lived in London for many years now and as you always state at the beginning of your reports, it is quite different when you have some experience of a place or a local to guide you. London can be quite cheap if you know how to do it and avoid the obvious tourist areas. A few places that I think are worth a visit are Shoreditch (as you said), the Chancery Lane/Holborn area – some really old pubs and you must walk through the Inns of Court for a truly Dickensian vibe, Seven Dials (close to Covent Garden but not as busy), Spitalfields Market and the old Norton Folgate area – some beautiful buildings and restaurants, funky shops and all cheaper than the tourist areas. Greenwich Observatory and Park for the views, Borough Market, Hoxton and the Geffrye Museum, Brick Lane for architecture and food, the Neasden Hindu Temple, and some of the outlying villages areas, like Kew, Richmond, Hampstead and Belsize Park. A short list ( could go on), all accessible by tube. Tube is expensive but if you want to get around it’s necessary – London is HUGE, especially if you don’t restrict yourself to the touristy centre.

  3. Hi Drew, I’m loving your SEA blogs,but going to have to correct you on some things cost wise for London. You can get fish and chips takeaway for about $7.50, and maybe $10 in a restaurant. A bottle of water is a litre for 50p in a supermarket, which are dotted all over Central London. And you can eat the bulk of your meals from there for about $4 and have the occasional eat out meal. Beer is $6, had a few last night in a Central London pub, and even that is a price I complain about cos I remember when I first got here it was $3. Granted in a club it will probably be $8, but thats at a few top end clubs, theres many others for lower. You didnt mention accommodation, but with Airbnb now you can get for $30 a place about 20mins from Central London, and if youre happy to risk it, even North London Airbnb for $30 🙂 , oh and there are places that stay open late if you know where to look, but youre right, the early finishes of the majority was something that surprised me as a south african first arriving here, but I remember leaving one at 5am so I must have got lucky 🙂

  4. Ha interesting. I recently visited London for the first time too and am still hoping to get suddenly rich so I can afford to move there. I went to NYC (first time) not long after that and thought ‘wow what an over-hyped shitty version of London”.

  5. Hi Drew , London is very expensive, but there are places to visit such as York, Manchester, that are worth a view. Or what about Scotland, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and lots of other places.

  6. I went this year and I had mixed feelings too! I thought I was the only one. Thanks for sharing about your experience! London is really expensive. The only place I went shopping was at TESCO and I did loads of walking because the subway was really expensive.

  7. I was also in London during the Tube strike. We had decided ahead of time that we would NOT ride the London Eye (there are 7 of us, 2 adults, 5 children) so we went to the Sky Garden instead (http://skygarden.london/sky-garden). It’s an indoor garden with an outdoor terrace (restaurant and coffee shop too) on the top floor of a building. It’s completely free though you do need to arrange tickets in advance. The views of London are amazing and it was much more budget friendly than the Eye.

  8. I definitely understand why you see London this way and I can give you one advice: come back PREPARED and with MONEY ready to spend 🙂
    When I first move to London I felt exactly like you – it’s not a place to be cheap – def not for backpackers. When I lived in London this year I knew what to expect: I visited the best places to eat, the best bars, venues etc and it was amazing – like nowhere else. London is just not one of those cities that you can see in 3 days – then you’ll be hating it because the tube will be confusing, you won’t know where to go (as I told you none of the locals go to the Ministry of Sound – there are so many nicer clubs actually).
    Btw next time don’t go to London Eye – you can get much better view from the Shard – also skip the tourist trap aca observation deck and get a cocktail at the top bar – cheaper and nicer 😉

    1. Thanks for the tips Anna!! Yes I will go to the Shard next time for the view and I will make sure that my wallet is more prepared!!! Maybe you can show me around next time 🙂

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