Studying Abroad in London? This City Guide Will Help You Plan the Perfect Trip

April 20th, 2018 at 5:00am

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to travel to London. Afternoon tea, black cabs, Anna Wintour, Ed Sheeran, and the Royal Family—what’s not to love? So, the summer after my junior year of college, I found a study-abroad program, booked a flight, and spent arguably the best six weeks of my life across the pond. Of course, there are the must-see touristy items to check off your bucket list while in London, like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and taking a picture with a red telephone booth. But, unlike taking a vacation, studying abroad offers the unique experience of living like a local. Whether you study abroad for an entire semester or a short, summer term like I did, it can be hard to see and do everything that the locals do. We asked other students who studied in London what their must-sees and must-dos were in order to experience London like a local. So, if you’re planning to study abroad in London, be sure to check these places out.

The Best Restaurants

  • Churchill Arms: If you’ve ever looked up pictures of London, odds are that you’ve come across a picture of the Churchill Arms pub because the outside is covered with beautiful flowers. It’s one of the better-known pubs across London, located in Kensington, but what makes it unique is that it doesn’t serve the typical pub food like fish and chips. Instead, it serves authentic Thai cuisine. Marymount University student, Sydney Helphenstine, said “I was so obsessed with the Churchill Arms. It was literally the best Thai food I’ve ever had.”
  • The Barge House: Located alongside a canal in East London is one of my personal favorites, The Barge House, which is a modern British restaurant known for its weekend brunch. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, they serve the famous “Breakfast In Bread.” Just look up pictures of this on Instagram, and you’ll see why it’s worth the 45-minute tube ride outside of center city.
  • Ask Italian: This Italian chain has locations all across London, and it was one of Rebecca Roberts’, a student at The University of Arkansas, favorites during her time spent in London. “The food was so good every time. My friends and I loved eating there,” she said. Rebecca also recommends walking along the South Bank where a lot of fun restaurants and pubs can be found.
  • Friends of Ours: This bright cafe is another spot in East London that serves great brunch, according to Central Michigan University student, Lex Kelley. “This was my favorite brunch spot,” she said. “It’s a little hole in the wall spot that serves amazing and beautiful food.” Friends of Ours serves a lot of typical breakfast favorites, such as avocado toast and scrambled eggs, but what makes the menu so unique is that most of the items are vegetarian or can be ordered as such.
  • Bill’s: Looking for a classic? According to Shpresa Sulollari, a student at Florida State University, you’ve got to try Bill’s. “[It’s] a classic and you can find them everywhere in London. Their scones and jam make me cry happy tears.” Head there for solid food options at any time of the day.

Attractions You Shouldn’t Miss

  • Gods Own Junkyard: This recommendation is a little bit of a trek from center-city London, but it’s totally worth it according to Courtney Wyman, a student at the University of Mississippi. Gods Own Junkyard is a museum filled with old, reconstructed neon signs and movie props. “It’s such an amazing art gallery,” she said. “It’s just covered with cool lights and colors.” It’s only open on weekends, but in 2011, a Vogue photo shoot took place there, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
  • Portobello Road: Also known as the world’s largest antique market, Portobello Road sits in Notting Hill (yes, just like the movie). Even though the bookstore from the movie isn’t a bookstore anymore, it’s still cool to find if you’ve seen the film, according to Bellarmine University student, Lydia Lange. She says this area is a must-see and that there’s great music and food here as well. The antique market is open Monday through Saturday. The main day with the most vendors being Saturday.
  • South Bank: The South Bank is a great place to give yourself a walking tour of the city. You can start at the London Eye and end at the Tower Bridge—which is a trek, but it’s worth it. Bailey Reed, a University of Arizona student, said, “I really enjoyed walking around South Bank. It was always so breathtaking and you get to look and enjoy all the famous buildings and the atmosphere.”
  • Markets: London is full of different street markets that each have different vendors and different vibes. If you’re looking for food, Lex recommends going to Spitalfields Market, Maltby Street Market, and Borough Market. The Camden Market is another market that is great for food since it is filled with an abundance of food trucks.
  • Museums and Parks: London is full of tons of museums and parks, and the best part is they’re free. As urban as London may be, the city is about 40 percent green space, most of which is made up of public parks that are gorgeous for having a picnic on a sunny day. Admission into museums is completely free unless there is a special exhibit going on. The Victoria and Albert Museum has an amazing history of fashion exhibit that I would personally recommend.

Where to Go Shopping

  • Brick Lane: Brick Lane is one of the best-known streets in Shoreditch. “It’s a cool spot to go to because there are a lot of vintage clothing shops that you wouldn’t be able to find in a normal store,” Jordyn Kuchenbrod, a Bellarmine University student, said. On Sundays, the entire street is shut down for the Brick Lane Market, where vendors set up tents with even more vintage clothing. Other spots, to hit on this street include the Cereal Killer Cafe and Box Park.
  • Oxford Street: Located in central London, Oxford Street a mile-long stretch filled with hundreds of stores. “It has stores like Zara and Topshop but also has stores that you couldn’t find normally in the U.S., so it was a super cool place to go,” Jordyn said.
  • Carnaby Street: Right in the middle of center-city London, is Carnaby Street. “It has loads of unique places, so even though you may not buy anything, it’s still fun just to look,” said Olivia Hamilton, a student at the University of Mississippi. “There is a shoe store called Irregular Choice that has the most unique shoes I have ever seen.”
  • Atika: Located just off of Brick Lane, this vintage department store is a can’t-miss shop according to Lydia. “It’s super cool and I know a bunch of famous people shop there, too,” she said. The prices are affordable, which is also a plus.
  • Harrods: Located in the borough of Kensington, Harrods is one of the most well-known department stores in the city. It is filled with luxury and designer brands, so it’s not the most affordable, but it’s definitely worth it to just go look around for fun.

How to Get Around

  • The Underground: Also known as, the tube, the Underground is London’s version of the New York City subway system and one of the main methods of transportation in the city. It seems confusing at first, but “It’s not as confusing as it seems,” Rebecca said. The most confusing part is that the tube map is not geographically correct, so what looks relatively close together on the tube map, might be miles apart above ground. To use the tube, you’ll need an Oyster card which you scan when you enter and exit the tube. Thes cards are reloadable and can be purchased online or at any of the Underground stations.
  • The Bus System: Another common form of transportation in London is the red double-decker buses. You might think that these buses are only used for giving city tours to the tourists, but they are also commonly used by locals. “The bus system there is such a good way to get around,” said Sydney. “It’s quick and easy to understand.” To use the bus system, you can use the same Oyster card that is used for the Underground; the only difference is that you don’t have to scan it when you get off at your stop.
  • Walking: What most people don’t realize is that London is a much smaller city than it seems, which means pretty much everything is within a walkable distance. If you can’t figure out public transportation, going it on foot is always an option.
  • Citymapper App: The Citymapper app is so helpful when it comes to navigating London. You simply input your current location and your destination and it will tell you the quickest route you could take on all the above methods of transportation, plus more—the tube, the bus, walking, biking, even taking a cab or an uber. This app will be a lifesaver when you’re trying to find all of the must-see places mentioned earlier.

Have you studied abroad in London? Let us know your tips in the comments below!

Featured photo by @ellietelander