I have a strange relationship with London. Most of the time, I’m giddy with excitement at the amount of things to do on any given weekend, and the old architecture, melting pot of cultures, beautiful parks and proximity to the rest of Europe. Other times, I walk out my door, it’s raining again, and I just hate the miserable weather and the fact that taxi’s and even Uber are too expensive to justify not using public transport. Despite the bad things, there is so much that’s special and unique to London. I’m only starting to get to know it- but here are 10 things I love about living in London.
- You don’t need to spend money to have a good time
There’s so much free stuff to do in London. All the museums are free, for one. There are so many beautiful parks to walk around in, and lots of markets where you can soak up the vibe without actually purchasing anything. So far, I’ve only been to the Natural History Musuem, the Royal Albert and Tate. I can’t do longer than 2 hours in a museum so it’s nice to be able to return over and over without worrying without purchasing anything. In terms of markets, my favourites are Borough Market, Broadway Market and Columbia Flower Market.
2. Public transport FTW
You really don’t need a car in London. Most of the time, it’s quicker to get to where you need to go by tube vs. car. Black cabs are ridiculously expensive (think 20 pounds for a 10-15 minute journey), but Uber is more reasonable so that’s a good option for after midnight when the tube doesn’t run. All this tubing means that you walk a lot, which is great for people like me who don’t like exercise. I walk around 30 minutes – 1 hour every day, just going about my daily routine.
3. Pedestrians rule the streets
Related to my earlier point, London is very much a walkable city. You can mostly get to where you need to be within central London on foot – nothing is more than 45 minutes’ walk. Even though outer London is huge, central is actually quite small. I love the fact that there are actual sidewalks on every single street, making walking around pleasant. Drivers obey traffic light signals so it’s safe too. This will sound funny to Londoners, but where I’m from in Joburg, there are very few pedestrianised streets with sufficiently wide sidewalks. I love being outside, hearing the noise of the cars and smelling the fresh air.. so the fact that most of my shopping is done on a high street vs. a mall suits me perfectly.
4. There is something for everyone
London is honestly such a melting pot. Even at my office, there are at least 10-15 nationalities in my 30 person team. You never feel out of place as an expat. This translates to the variety of restaurants in the city – Lebanese, Italian, Indian, French, Mexican, Australian.. You have it all. I find this aspect similar to Joburg – it is actually one of the things I missed most when I left SA. In Singapore, you can get great noodles.. but you’ll have to look hard to find a good burrito, for example. Same thing in France – I got my fill of baguettes, but I was CRAVING indian food at the end – I couldn’t even find green chillies in the supermarket!
Oh my God. Earning pounds is the best thing ever. Like, even Paris seemed cheap to me. Having only ever had rands as a base currency before, this is like a whole new world to me. I can only imagine what UK residents must think when they visit SA. Everything probably seems free to them. That said, London itself is expensive, so I can’t actually save any money here. I try and console myself with the fact that if I was living in SA and was saving money, it would all get used to travel to places like… London 🙂
6. London is the centre of the world
Quite literally – it is. You can fly pretty much anywhere with a flight time of 8 hours or under. Everything happens in London. If an artist is on a tour, they’ll stop in London for sure. We get to see exhibitions by some of the world’s best artists. There are mammoth sized sporting and cultural events. It’s hard to be anything but excited about life here.
7. It’s so green!
There are parks everywhere. I feel like where New York has concentrated all its greenness into the humungous central park, London has dispersed its trees into smaller parks throughout the city. There are little squares in practically every block – including this one opposite my office where we have lunch when its sunny.
8. You can SEE the benefit of your tax money
In London, I pay the same amount of tax (% wise) as I did in SA, but here I get free (excellent) healthcare from the state, I’m yet to encounter a pothole or a traffic light that doesn’t work, buses and tube stations are clean and run efficiently, and prices for utilities like electricity and water are relatively low (and you are never without either.) This may not seem like much to the British, but to me, it’s a big deal.
Here, I worry about terrorist attacks but it’s kind of different- you still go about your daily life and hope that bad luck doesn’t strike. Of course, crime can happen everywhere, but in London, it’s not top of mind. It’s not even on my mind. In SA, I was cautious at every traffic light when I was driving by myself at night. Walking even 500 meters alone at night was not an option. In London, I’ve walked on isolated streets past midnight by myself and not felt uncomfortable in the least. That kind of freedom means a lot to me.
10. The people
This bit is twofold: one – the people I know in London, and two – Londoners in general.
One: There are EIGHTY people from my MBA class living in London right now, and quite a few of those are good friends of mine. It’s pretty awesome to move to a new city and immediately have a group of friends to hang out with. Also, because London is such a hub, there’s always someone visiting for work or leisure. In the three months we’ve lived in our apartment, we’ve hosted four different friends / family members in our spare bedroom.
Two: While not the friendliest, Londoners are super polite and very prim and proper. Grocery stores generally have no tellers – it’s all self checkout. There are newspaper stands where you drop in a pound and take your newspaper. It somehow just works – when people are trusted, they respond in a very positive way. There’s never any pushing or shoving, even at peak tube times. I like the fact that it’s organized, but not as robotic as it was in Singapore, for example. You see so many different types of people all happily coexisting. People watching on the tube is one of my favourite things to do. In London, you can be whoever you want to be – there’s no judgement.
After living in 4 different countries over the past year, and having travelled to dozens more, London is exactly where I want to be right now <3