My Top 3 Favorite Things About London

Now that we are almost at the end of our time in London, I feel I can start listing my favorite things about it. I still have things to see and do in the remaining week, but here’s the current list!

  1. Architecture and History

I knew even as I was applying to go on this trip that my absolute favorite thing would be the ancient and beautiful architecture. Coming from a country as comparatively young as America, I’ve simply never seen anything as old as the buildings here! London has existed as a city for almost 2,000 years, and the sheer amount of history and human life it’s witnessed has yet to stop blowing my mind. I don’t think it ever will!

Besides their age, other things I love about the buildings here are the amount of detail they contain and the time and effort it took to create them. Both inside and out, many of the buildings here are incredibly and beautifully detailed, and they’re from a time before the efficiency of modern technology. So many talented craftspeople spent years upon years on the sculptures, friezes, columns, and other ornamentations that can be seen in buildings all around London, which is made even more impressive by the fact that before 1900, it was rare for people to live past the age of 50, and before 1800, past 40. They spent so much of their limited time here on Earth pouring their hearts and souls into their creations, hoping but not knowing they’d survive to tell their story. And what we see today are the works that did survive; through the bombings of World War II, the Great Fire of London, and the relentlessness of time, they remain. We may not know the names of these dedicated artists but their works live on, making London the city it is today, and I feel endlessly lucky to be able to see them.

Simply walking the streets of London is one of my favorite things to do here, because even the roads, cobbled or paved, enthrall me. I have a fair amount of ancestry from the United Kingdom, especially England, and I love that I may very well be walking in the footsteps of my ancestors. I can’t help but feel proud of this place and the people who came before me.

The House of Commons.
The House of Commons.

2. Urban Density

I’ve never lived in a town of more than 16,000 people, so living in London was definitely an adjustment at first! I’ve been in big cities in America, though, so I can tell you a bit about how London differs from any of them.

In any big city, there is a need to make the most of all available space. Things become smaller, more efficient and crammed together to fit so many people in one area. Never have I seen this truer than in London. Houses are built tall and narrow with many flights of stairs to fit more of them on each street. There might be more than a dozen businesses on just one side of a city block. I’ve been inside shops that are less than half the size of my bedroom at my homestay (which is approximately 56 square feet)! On my first day here, I wondered how all the businesses I saw could have enough customers to stay in business (because as it turns out, there are over 1 million businesses in London). I would soon learn in my British Life and Culture class, however, that London’s population is about 9 million. For context, the entire country of England is comparable in size to that of the state of Iowa, which has a population of 3 million.

There is also the fact that London is a European country, which already has smaller cars and lanes than in the US. All this combined should give you some idea of the city’s density.

Despite this, I’ve never found London to feel claustrophobic or overwhelming–just filled with opportunity and things to do and see! The sheer amount of activity is an exciting contrast to the towns I’ve lived in and the American cities I’ve visited. Before I arrived here, I planned to visit other cities in England so I wouldn’t get bored of London, but soon realized how unnecessary that’d be. You could truly live in London your whole life and never experience all of it!

A block full of shops on Gloucester Road.
A block full of shops on Gloucester Road.

3. Londoners

The people here are different than people in Iowa–and not just because of their accents! Everyone here is just driven in a way that I can’t put into words. They walk fast, get where they need to go, and do what they need to do. This is a city of ambition, the likes of which I’ve never seen in Des Moines or any city in Iowa. I’ve gotten a similar impression in Chicago, but even it’s not on London’s level. I think perhaps New York would have a similar level of hustle and bustle, but I haven’t been there to know for sure. I quite enjoy the ambitious atmosphere; it motivates me to get things done and get the most out of life.

The British interact with strangers a bit differently, too. As their collective go-go-go lifestyle might suggest, they’re not as into small talk as Americans tend to be. They’ll typically ask, “You alright?” or “Y’okay?” (equivalents to “How are you?”), then get right to the point. No one talks to you on the Tube except to apologize for bumping into you, and unless you’re a bit more to them than a stranger or the situation requires it, there simply won’t be much chitchat. (As an introvert, I appreciate this.)

Passengers on a Piccadilly Line tube.
Passengers on a Piccadilly Line tube.

Honorable Mention

I didn’t formally include them in the list as they are not a constant part of London, but one of my absolute favorite parts of my time here has been my classmates and professors. I feel incredibly fortunate to be experiencing so many wonderful things alongside new friends who are kind, passionate, and fun to be around. They are contributing to this trip becoming one of the best times of my life!

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