Who doesn’t love the chicness and Britishness of a trip or day out to London? Whether you’ve visited Britain’s capital city or not, you can’t deny that a trip to England wouldn’t be complete without at least a look at what London has to offer. And here to show us the ropes is savvy Londoner, Helene…
1. Could you tell us a little about yourself and where you come from?
Hi everyone, I am Helene. I work in a full-time office job and try to split my free time amongst a multitude of hobbies – I love reading, yoga, photography, walking, playing the guitar (okay, trying to play the guitar is probably more accurate as I wouldn’t really call what I do proper playing!), going to the cinema, opera, baking, hanging out in cafes with yummy cakes, and of course travelling. Travelling is a massive passion of mine and the reason I decided to create my blog, Flight to Somewhere, which has ended up taking over my life lately as the time I don’t spend writing about travelling I spend researching how to run a website!
I live in London, UK, which I don’t think needs much of an introduction, but here is a fun fact – did you know that the London Underground (or the Tube as the locals call it) is the oldest underground railway network in the world?
2. How long have you lived in London? And what brought you here?
I’ve been living in London since 2010. I came to the UK to study in Wales and after graduating, it made sense to move to London as that’s where the job market is the biggest.
3. What do you love most about London?
Oh wow, that’s an interesting question, because I think what you appreciate as a local is not necessarily the same things that will be most exciting for tourists. One of my favourite things about London is how well connected it is to the rest of the world – with 6 airports (City, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and Southend) served by both classic and low-cost airlines, you can easily find cheap direct flights to pretty much anywhere, so that makes travelling super easy for me. I suppose that goes both ways though – it will be easy for visitors to get to London, no matter where they are flying in from.
I also love the cultural scene – London is very privileged in that regard. There are so many different events happening here, from massive pop/rock concerts from the biggest names in the industry, to the fantastic musicals, to special events like the shows that Secret Cinema put on every year, where you can dress up and get immersed in the world of the film you are watching, or the Films in Concert series at the Royal Albert Hall, where you can watch a film to the accompaniment of a live orchestra. None of those are cheap, but it’s a great treat every now and then. On the other hand, most of the museums are free, which certainly makes it more attractive to go there.
4. Is there anything that frustrates or annoys you when tourists visit London?
I find it super irritating when tourists choose to travel across the city during rush hour when the trains are already bursting at the seams with locals heading to their offices. I see it especially often with large school group tours, where for whatever reason the teachers feel the need to set off from the hotel before 8am. If you don’t absolutely have to travel during rush hour, it would make so much more sense to wait at least another hour, get a bit more sleep and then get on an emptier train with a lot more comfort, leaving the busy rush hour trains for commuters – a win-win for everyone!
5. In your opinion, which places should be at the top of any visitor’s wishlist in London?
That depends on whether it’s your first visit or not. If visiting for the first time, I think the must-sees are all the obvious touristy bits because they are just so iconic – you can’t visit London and not see the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the Tower, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and the like. Yes, it’s going to be crowded and yes, you will end up with the same photos that literally everyone who went to London has, but they are all magnificent structures and there is a reason why they are so well-known.
Those who have already been to London before can start venturing off the beaten path and thinking a bit more about the kind of things they generally enjoy, because no matter what it is, I am sure London has it. For example, if you want to get some photos of panoramic views, find some ideas in my post about 5 places for best views of London.
6. What foods must visitors eat when in the UK?
Well, Britain is not exactly known for being the leader in the charts of world cuisine (if there is such a chart!), but there are a few things that are typical whether you are in London or other parts of the country:
- Fish and chips (fried battered fish, usually cod or haddock, served with chips and mushy peas and traditionally wrapped in newspaper) – not my personal favourite as it’s quite a greasy dish, but chippy shops are an ever-present phenomenon on the streets of London and beyond.
- Shepherd’s pie (with minced lamb) or cottage pie (with minced beef) – not a pie in the usual sense, there is no dough involved, but a layer of minced meat with gravy and veg with a layer of mashed potato on top.
- Crumpets – kind of like a small but very thick round pancake with pores on top – eat warm with butter or an alternative topping.
- Scones with clotted cream and jam – vital ingredients for cream tea. You can go for a plain scone, one with raisins or perhaps something more adventurous like an Earl Grey infused scone?
7. What’s your favourite English word? Why? What does it mean?
Hmm, I quite like ‘serendipity’, not least because it’s the title of a film I’m partial to. According to the Oxford English dictionary, it means ‘the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way’.
8. What advice would you give to somebody moving to London from elsewhere?
Unless you are coming from a super expensive city, prepare to be unpleasantly surprised by the prices of rent and public transport – both are not exactly affordable in London. It is quite typical for people to live in flat- or house shares in order to be able to afford the rent, especially if they want to stay somewhere central and close to work. If the rent is looking suspiciously cheap, there is probably a good reason for that – the area might be dodgy or the transport links might not be great. So do lots of research and pick your area of residence wisely!
Of course, if you move out to the suburbs or even further to commuter towns, the rents drop, but the commute time and costs increase – I have been researching annual train ticket prices and it is not unusual to have to pay £5000 a year if you live outside the M25 (the circular motorway surrounding Greater London) just to get in and out of central London in a crowded carriage.
9. If you could describe your hometown in just one sentence, what would you say?
London is a cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures and yet still so quintessentially British!
10. If tourists were to know one thing about the British culture, what should that be?
Whilst cafe culture is not as developed as I would like, pubs are the place to be if you want to mingle with the locals! A typical thing to do after work is head to the nearest pub for drinks, be it with colleagues or meeting up with friends. Pubs are so popular that they don’t usually have enough tables to accommodate everyone, and for large groups from offices there won’t be a table big enough anyway, so more often than not you will see crowds of people standing outside pubs, drinks in hand. On Sunday, people head to the pubs for Sunday roast – a traditional meal, which consists of roast meat, potatoes, vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy – another great local food for you to try, by the way!
Thanks Helene – we’ve loved getting to know you and London better!
If you’re after more travel advice, inspiration and articles about London, then don’t forget to check out Helene’s travel blog, Flight to Somewhere. You can also follow her along on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest!
And if you’re after even more London inspiration, check out this awesome 2 day itinerary!