Why do people always compare New York and London? The summer before I studied abroad, friends and family members would reassure me that I’d be just fine during my time away from New York because London is exactly like Manhattan. I’m happy to say my friends were wrong–London is nothing like New York City.
While NY is the hallmark of efficiency –think “prewalking” on the subway platform or the characteristic NY grid–London strikes me as the complete opposite. People walk in what seems to be intentionally unpredictable patterns, just to contribute to the coordinated confusion of walking down the city’s winding streets. In place of walk/don’t walk signals London’s residents must look down at the ground to see painted warnings explicitly telling them to “Look Right!” in places where taxis may fly around the corner. London seems in many ways the opposite of NY. In stark contrast to NY’s pragmatism, London I find is one of the world’s most whimsical and unpredictable cities.
Take London’s food, for example. In all honesty, the UK has not developed the best reputation in terms of it’s culinary prowess and yes, nearly everything found in a local cafe or pub WILL be covered in mayonnaise, but London is also home to more Michelin star restaurants than anywhere else. How’s that for unexpected? What’s more is that local cuisines that sound as if they’d be kind of awful (think Full English Breakfast—eggs and beans) turn out to be rather delightful. As it turns out, London also has an amazing street market food scene. It would be a crime to visit London and miss out on the delicious chorizo sandwiches at Borough Market located just off the Thames River.
In terms of landmarks, consider the London Bridge, one of the city’s most recallable tourist sites. London Bridge is unexpectedly unrecognizable, though, with a rather plain span marked on either side by an inconspicuous sign engraved into the concrete well below eye level. In fact, the bridge is often mistaken for the larger more ornate Tower Bridge further down along the Thames River or the ultra-modern Millennium Bridge also along the Thames. Aside from the anticlimactic London Bridge, some other sites along the Thames include Big Ben (the infamous clock tower), the London Eye (amazing views of the city, except on rainy days), and the Tower of London (a don’t miss; you’ll be more entranced by the Crown Jewels than you think).
London is the complete juxtaposition of a modern and old-world city. You’ve got the Tower of London, dating back to 1078 alongside the sleek egg shaped Gherkin, the true architectural representation of London’s modernity. Starbucks coffeehouses sprinkle the city’s streets, but drip coffee is unheard of in many places and teashops are plentiful. London is rather famous for its club and music scene, but much of the city’s stores and tube system closes before midnight.
If you must, you can discover that there are some similarities between NY and London. Like NY, London is a huge travel hub. This luxury made weekend travel even easier for me as a study abroad student as my friends and I hopped from country to country. Like NY, London is also home to hundreds of museums, galleries, concerts, plays and sporting events. If you’re traveling to London through NYU’s study abroad program, you must take advantage of the cultural opportunities offered or take an art/architecture class. If not, definitely take advantage of free student admission to some museums and try not to miss out on a football game! Like NY, London has great parks and outdoor spaces. Regents Park might have been my favorite place in London overall between the beautiful fountains, ornate landscape design, and great running and walking paths. Like NY London also has amazing shopping, but its department stores blow NY department stores out of the water. You could spend days of your trip traversing the many stories of Harrods near Hyde Park, but don’t miss out on the delicious food halls or the lavender macarons at Parisian cafe Ladurée within the luxury department store.
London is a place you shouldn’t miss out on “because it’s just like NY.” If you spend some time looking at the intricacies and contradictions of London’s culture, you’ll see just how unique the city really is.
Story by Kate Duncan and Photos by Carolyn Balk