– by Antonia
I recently hoped on the Eurostar for a 2.5 hour ride from Paris to London. It still amazes just how close these two famous yet very different cities are. I lived in London for six years when I was younger, before moving to America. So I’m familiar with the city but don’t have much of a relationship with it now that I’m a grown up. I don’t know it the way I know New York and Paris, so during this visit I decided to find out what “London Town” really has to offer.
When I think of London art is really the last thing that comes to mind. Art, especially classical art, feels more like a French thing. So I was really surprised by all the museums the city has to offer. There are so many museums in London (possibly more than in Paris) and the crazy part is most of them are free, unlike the ones Paris and New York. Definitely check out a museum or two when visiting London, especially for a chance to see really famous objects like the Rosetta Stone and pieces of the Pantheon; you’ll find these at the British Museum.
The lobby of the British Museum alone is a lot to marvel at. A cylindrical stark white library is at its center. The whole building is Greek inspired and is closely based on the Palace of Athena. It’s roomy, despite plenty of visitors, and is one of those places that just feels nice to walk through. Grab a guide at the reception (for two pounds); it outlines the 10 top things to see in the museum in one hour, which is super helpful if you’re short on time. I made it through the Rosetta stone, the Pantheon and Egyptian Mummies. There’s also a cute little restaurant at the top floor of the museum.
You can attempt to do the “museum challenge” and visit the Victoria and Albert, Science Museum and Natural history museums. They’re all in the same area and all close at around 6pm (so start early). Big shout out to the Natural History museum; it’s always so cool to see dinosaur fossils and replications. It also has a 1300 year old giant sequoia and an earthquake simulation that’s definitely worth trying.
We happened to be in London during the last week of February, so we got to attend “Friday Late” at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Guggenheim and the Brooklyn Museum in New York have a similar event. The Museum stays open later than usual with live music, special exhibits and drinks!
The Tate Modern is also definitely a must-see, even just for the building and free wifi :). It used to be an old factory and now houses modern art. I wanted to check out the Hunterian Museum, which is supposedly one of London’s weirdest museums and has a giant skull on display, but we ran out of time.
Like many big cities, London is carved out into neighborhoods each with it’s own personality. Neighborhoods worth checking out include:
- The South Bank: It’s a little touristy but has a nice energy with people jogging, skateboarders skating and plenty of outdoor seating for days with good weather.
- Notting Hill: It’s a colorful part of town with charm and pictures of Julia Roberts in the windows of convenience shops. If you’re into vintage furniture, there are plenty of shops to choose from here.
- Shoreditch: Here’s where all the cool kids go. There’s lots going on in Shoreditch–cool restaurants and cool bars.
- Camden: Surprisingly, this neighborhood stuck out to me, likely because I scored gold here. It’s a markety part of town with a punk vibe. I stumbled upon a vintage store called Rokit. It’s the type of vintage that’s actually cheap, not the vintage where things still cost at least $300 because it’s designer. I picked up a faux fur coat, an oversized tweed coat, a blazer and a turban all for 26 pounds! (You get an extra 10% discount with a student ID). While in this area, feel free to wonder by the Canal (Camden Lock).
food & beverage
The British are definitely not known for their food, so my expectations were lowered. But again I was pleasantly surprised.
- Definitely try Indian food in London. This is one of the city’s fortés. We tried Needoo Grill in East London, which has an amazing website ;). If you’re looking for a chic ambiance, don’t go here. It’s gaudy and cheesy, but the food is great and honestly the ambiance adds to the experience. It was opened by a former manager from Tayyabs (a super famous Indian restaurant that’s hard to get a seat) and is said to have a menu that rivals Tayyabs. I’ve never tried the latter but Needoo was definitely great and filling. One of the best parts was the fact that it’s BYOB, so a full meal with appetizers and plenty of “spirits” to go around, ended up costing our group only 12 pounds per person.
- We stayed in the center of London for part of our trip and dipped into The Prince Regent, one of the best pubs in Marylebone. I liked it because it had that pubby vibe but was still clean. I got the fish and chips with mushy peas—really yummy but really filling. I couldn’t eat it all.
- Pizza East in Shoreditch was also yummy. It reminded me of Mama Shelter in Paris, with it’s communal seating. We took bar seats for dinner, because the place was super full, and watched the chefs make pizza after pizza after pizza.
- I was craving Mexican food because it’s practically nonexistent in Paris. So while we were wondering the South Bank we stopped into Wahaca. I have high standards when it comes to Mexican. Wahaca doesn’t beat the stuff you’d get out in California but it did the job. The vibe is kitschy and the menu changes often so there’s always something new to try.
- Finally, there’s no visiting London without high tea. I learned quickly that high tea is not just tea, it’s an experience. We went to The Delaunay on our last Sunday in London and took their two Viennese options (a savory and a sweet). A beautiful tower of cakes and little sandwiches was brought out (and I was able to get vegetarian options substituted). Consider skipping lunch before high tea, because it was pretty filling. We had to leave a few cakes behind. The ambiance is what you’d expect of a place called The Delaunay—“chi-chi,” slightly formal, but really great friendly service.
Having lived in New York and now living in Paris, I’ve become more aware of the little things that distinguish one major city from the other. London is super cosmopolitan. Apparently, there are over 300 different languages spoken in London, especially French. I seemed to hear French everywhere we went. London has a lot of energy; it’s more like New York in its movement. It’s crowded and fast. But what stood out to me about London is, at least architecturally, and probably even philosophically, its a hybrid of tradition and modernity. Paris visibly looks like a town out of the 15th century, while New York is a concrete jungle. London falls somewhere in between the two. It has lots of documented history that still has a strong palpable presence, but it’s also very much a fast moving modern city, which, despite it’s weather, attracts visitors from all over.