You’ll Never Believe This City is Actually the Smallest in England!
Hint: It starts with an “L” and ends with an “ondon”.
So, first, to address the title of this piece (this from London Dreaming):
“If I told you London is the smallest city in England, you would probably think I’m bonkers. Well, be ready to be proved wrong!
Technically, the City of London is only 2.9km squared and has a population of just over 9,000 people. Greater London however, is a whole other matter.”
. . .
Now, on with regular programming. . .
Sitting in the Salzburg international airport, I was nervous. Nervous of London. What was to come.
There was something about the city that I was admittedly scared of. I hadn’t felt nervous like that since on a plane leaving the United States for the first time nine months prior.
I was nervous to return to an English-speaking country. Would it be harder for me to communicate in my own language being away from native speakers for so long?
Though, I felt good knowing I would be able to read signs and maps. That had been a hardship I didn’t expect until facing it.
The beginning of my experience in London started off rough. I had some difficulties entering the United Kingdom.
They questioned me at Customs for 45 minutes. Finally, they officially detained me inside Stansted Airport.
I knew right from the get-go that I was speaking to the strictest immigration officer in the airport. She was letting people enter at a snail’s rate compared to other officers.
My visa had expired and I knew it. Poor planning led to a return flight booked accidentally one week after my visa expired. I thought I could sneak by undetected. How naive was I?
There was going to be some delay. I remained calm even after they took my passport from me for further background checks.
Luckily, after about two hours, I was finally allowed to enter. Only because I had already booked my flight home to the States in a week’s time. I was fortunate beyond belief.
I made the long trip to Central London on one of London’s infamous double-decker red buses. At first, I thought it was cool. I climbed the stairs of the bus and found myself a front row, open-windowed seat.
As the bus strolled through the outskirts of downtown London, I was wide-eyed the whole time. It was a surreal moment. Here I was, in the middle of London. At 21-years-old, roaming the world’s greatest cities on my own. What wasn’t to love?
Yet, stopping every quarter of a mile or so to pick people up became frustrating after a while. How is anybody supposed to make it anywhere in London on time?
Once I made it to the center, I was stunned by the enthusiasm in the atmosphere around London.
I assumed there would be a lot of buzz on the streets — which there was. A lot of noise. Busy sidewalks. Advertisements everywhere (comparatively to the rest of Europe). Tourists taking pictures around every corner.
But I did not imagine Londoners to be so joyous. It was a pleasant surprise.
Everywhere I go, city-folk are in a rush to get home. Tourists are in a rush to their next attraction. But, in London, the people were breathing in the air of the present.
Maybe the spring air brought smiles to peoples’ faces. Or maybe it was the TGIF-vibe as they strolled through the city in their business suits.
As I sat in Trafalgar Square, staring at the famous bronze lions — with the sound of the fountains behind me — listening to a sweet young girl, Esther Turner, busk with her guitar and a rather large gathering in front of her, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the city.
That night back at my hostel, №8 Seven Sisters in North London, there was quite a crowd in the lobby which doubled as a bar.
If you don’t like the busy, party atmosphere where you are sleeping, then I would refrain from staying here. They have music on pretty loud late into the night — especially when you’re trying to wake up early. But, being only an hour away from London Center at 8 British Pounds, it’s about the best deal you will find in the city.
The bathrooms are clean. The dorm rooms are spacious. There is a fully-equipped kitchen upstairs with markets across the street. What else can you ask for?
Red bus tour
The next day I boarded another double-decker red bus. I was headed towards London Center again. The ride from North London is quite entertaining and I was able to learn a lot about the city’s layout each time.
Tottenham Court became one of my favorite streets to drive through. Being a music junky, this street was littered with record shops. Nothing else was sold in Tottenham, it seemed.
Another one of my favorite areas in London is the Cambridge Circus. A beautiful community of red-bricked buildings and what I would consider a must-see.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for good books to read during your endeavors, look no further than Leicester Square. It has a plethora of book shops in the area.
I must admit, after the first night in London, the atmosphere changed. The city became more cliché. The old-timey black taxis. The classic double-decker red buses. The red payphone booths.
The crowded streets and Broadway vibe. The protesters, activists, and street performers vying for your attention. A taste of every cuisine from around the world.
London started to get back that big city feel I was anticipating all along. Nothing is wrong with it. There was still something special. Just expected.
It feels more like big cities in the U.S. than it does to any city I have visited in Europe. Even the amount of national flags I saw around the city more closely resembled America.
West Minster / Parliament Square
West Minster and Parliament Square are nothing short of awe-inspiring.
I took a free walking tour of London by SANDEMAN. The tour was informative, but due to the number of people on the tour and on the streets, it was hard to hear. Nonetheless, it’s still worth your time. I ended up doing two tours from SANDEMAN; the “alternative” tour as well.
As for some quick prices. . .
Broadway shows — tickets can usually be purchased at “half theatre price” in London Center for around 22 British Pounds per ticket.
In comparison, a Chipotle Burrito costs about $8.75 in London.
A student-priced movie ticket at Vue Theatre in Leicester Square costs about $16
A buffet in China Town could be found for less than $9 at many spots
Oyster Bus Card — 5 British Pounds but refundable after use at any train station. It’s about $2 every time you enter a bus with no transfer period. But after your third ride in one day, the rest are free. By bus is the cheapest way to get around. The Tube is more efficient and, thus, more expensive.
$3 for a cheap coffee in Pret A Manger, London’s Starbucks
I was there for the Queen’s 90th birthday in 2016. The celebration called for an extra-long changing of the guard’s ceremony. Each afternoon, the changing of the guards takes place at Buckingham Palace.
I found myself at the right place at the right time. I never saw the queen, though.
Afterward, I took a snooze in front of the Palace and found it hard to believe I was napping in the Queen’s front yard.
From Buckingham Palace, I decided to make the walk to Tower Bridge. Much further than anticipated.
The walk took me right along the River Thames past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the London Bridge.
Tower Bridge ended up being my favorite place in London. It was surrounded by the most unique architectural scene.
The drastic contrast of old and modern architecture can’t be found anywhere else in the world. I had a mix of castles and modern glass structures within the same viewfinder of my camera. Incredible!
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub
I decided to stop at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub on the way home. My tour guide earlier in the day was adamant about stopping in.
Upon entering, a group was just exiting and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as one of them drunkenly proclaimed, “Bloody hell, it’s still daylight out!”. . . it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I guess the bartender was doing something right that day.
More attractions around London
- London Eye — It’s impossible to miss this enormous riverside Ferris wheel. I was perfectly fine saving money by not riding it.
- Westminster Abbey — As you will learn on the SANDEMAN walking tour (among many other things), this is an operating cathedral. You can avoid admission fees by attending a free daily service.
- Big Ben — You know, Big Ben? That iconic British clocktower? Don’t worry, you won’t miss it.
- Palace of Westminster — It’s right next to Big Ben but is often under construction.
- Kensington Palace — Current home of the Prince.
- Hyde Park — London’s version of “Central Park”
- Piccadilly Circus — Roundabout plus public space that is always buzzing, especially at night.
Among so many other unforgettable and beautiful sights, this is London. It’s hectic. It’s hard to budget. But it’s London. It’s a Euro-trip must.
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