The Top 5 Things That Surprised Me About London
God save the Queen! During a tour of Europe, I had the opportunity to spend some time in London. It was my first foray into a European country since I was in diapers, and after having travelled countless times to Latin American and Asian countries, it was time to explore another section of the world. Ultimately, we travel with preconceptions learned from media and friends. Now it was time to shed all of that with experience, for which there is no better teacher.
My preconceptions in this case was that it would be gloomy, a bit cold, polluted, and the food bland (except for the fish and chips!) I also knew that it would be rich in history with lots to do and experience. So without further ado, here are the top fives things that surprised me about London!
1) The subway system is a modern marvel
London's subway system, affectionately known as The Tube, should be considered one of the Man-Made Wonder's of the World. Seriously. It is more complex than ten spiderwebs overlapping one another, and as efficient as Toyota Prius. Not only does one have the luxury of taking the subway directly from the airport to almost anywhere in and around London, but it is easy to use (once you figure out how to pay for it!) and trains are coming and going at relatively short intervals. Being able to get to your hotel via train/subway from the airport sure beats getting ripped off via a $50 to $100 taxi ride in many countries.
At it's deepest point, the Tube is over 220 feet below ground Imagine multiple levels of subways criss-crossing one and you having to run up stairs to catch a car another car to connect to where you're going. I recommend you buy an Oyster pass with the option for it to be unlimited travel.
2) The food is delicious
Like, amazing. London may be the epicenter for where all of the best food from around the planet comes to spread its wings. The best Indian food, Chinese food, and Middle-Eastern food, can be found here. Go to Camdem Market to try out cuisine from around the world. I had one of the best Shawarma's of my life and the Bang Bang Chicken is famous for a reason. Every restaurant we went to, was amazing, including my new personal favorite, Pret a Manger which is a eat and run place for breakfast and lunch with amazing wraps, sandwiches and drinks. Everything is prepared fresh that day and when they run out, you're out of luck. I ate there twice a day! My favorite was the mango chutney falafel wrap. Great coffee and tea as well!
3) The people were very friendly
The British have a reputation of being snooty, especially in the big cosmopolitan city of London. Even strolling down the Rodeo Drive of London, I didn't find that to be true. Everyone from the shopkeepers to the citizens themselves were quite friendly, and always willing to lend a helping hand without even asking. Even when it looked like we were lost, people would approach us to ask us if we needed help. And let's face it - no matter where you are, the people make the place.
4) There were more iconic places to see than any city I've been to
Every city has it's "must see" places. In Peru, Machu Picchu comes to mind. In Toronto, the CN Tower and China Town. In London, I'm not even sure where I'd start! London Bridge, the Thames, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Camden Market, Picadilly Circus, the Shard, the British Museum…and I haven't even gotten warmed up yet. If you really want to catch a glimpse of the major sights, budget a solid five days here in London.
5) It was not as expensive as I thought it would be
Prior to going to London I was told how everything is super expensive. Average meals costing the equivalent of about $30 USD etc. It didn't take long though for that notion to be dispelled. For souvenir t-shirts, near Camden Market or the famous Primark department store (must visit btw), I was still finding good t-shirts for just 3 or 4 GBP. A good meal at one of the many grab and run shops (such as Pret a Manger mentioned above) could be had for 3 or 4 GBP. At the end of the day, you just have to look a little bit and you'll find the places that will save you a lot of money. These places are not hidden, by the way. Sure, there are plenty of pricey joints, but I could say the same about every city in the world.
SO - those were my top five surprises about London. The city is so rich in history you can feel it. Give it a try and you'll be surprised yourself :)