Why go to London?
November 17, 2007 8:04 AM   Subscribe

For an average American student, what is compelling about London?

The Queen's Guard, London Bridge, these might appeal to mom and dad, or the grandparents, but what will interest younger Americans in or around London? Stonehenge... better, what else? How can, say, music or fashion be offered as an image, event, or destination?
posted by StickyCarpet to Travel & Transportation around London, England (30 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Big rock etc music scene, with related fashion: Camden Town, Camden market, & other places. Contemporary art scene in West End (Mayfair) and East End (Shoreditch/Hoxton/Vyner Street).
posted by londongeezer at 8:17 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: lower drinking age and european moral standards. seriously, that's what they all think about.
posted by krautland at 8:19 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Tate Modern. London Eye. The Tube can be interesting in and of itself at the right places.

Fashion: Many Londoners in the know would avoid Oxford Street for their own shopping, but I still find it to be a spectacle. The Camden markets are a totally different kind of spectacle. The Victoria and Albert Museum does fashion exhibits.
posted by grouse at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you have to ask, maybe you shouldn't bother. Traveling is it's own reward. London is fantastic and it is also a great travel hub to get to just about any other European destination on the cheap. Stonehenge is an overrated tourist trap and there are many other burial mounds and interesting places to go. Bath is a wonderful city you get get to from London.
posted by 45moore45 at 8:22 AM on November 17, 2007

It's huge, diverse and vibrant, and the nightlife is good.
posted by fire&wings at 8:23 AM on November 17, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, thanks speedy, helpful people! I'm especially looking for things that can be presented on video.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:26 AM on November 17, 2007

What's the context of your question? Are you going there yourself, are you trying to find entertainment for a young friend, are you trying to create a "come to London" travel video (and if so, for whom? Study Abroad students, teens traveling with their families, etc.)?
posted by cadge at 8:51 AM on November 17, 2007

Best answer: for me, it was:
- english speaking (i wanted to study in an area where i already knew the language)
- club scene/nightlife
- theater (oh how i miss it, nothing like it here in San Diego)
- diverse culture (i especially like Indian culture)
- soccer / football
- art (British museum, tate modern)
- architecture & history
- big city feel (tube, can walk anywhere)
- can take a quick train to Paris, rest of Europe
- Scotland isn't very far away
- pubs
posted by escher at 8:54 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

While I was studying there as a college student I took some time one day to walk around the city. It happened to be around Big Ben and near the picadilly Circle (sp?) and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. You don't need to have a backpack, just your id some cash and an umbrella (only if the weather forecast says it's goign to pour). You can get a day pass for underground for 6quid I believe, but you can spend a weekday going around...walk around for a few blocks to go see and if you don't like it, go to another stop further away.

Take a small map of the city with you so you know. But that was more fun than going to places as a group cause you're able to absorb everything. Have Fun!
posted by icollectpurses at 8:57 AM on November 17, 2007

Best answer: Are you trying to create an ad or informational presentation or something?

Frankly I'd also put some focus on food. Don't succumb to the stereotype of bad British food, it's at least as good as dorm food (ba dum PISH).

Berwick St. and maybe a "Kings Road then and now."

Also the Design Museum.

Speaker's Corner.
posted by rhizome at 8:57 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I lived in London for many years, and when my parents visited on a particular trip, my dad wanted to see Stonehenge. My mum and I sat in the car. Looks just like all the photos; no need to get wet.

This is an odd question to ask about a city, anyway. I'm not sure that it is any more interesting than, say, New York if you're not from around there. It is big and colourful and busy and active, and that is invigorating to visitors.

London is an easy ask for Americans because of the (semi) shared language. The semi part also keeps it interesting.

Anyway, teenagers: London Eye, Greenwich market; Jack the Ripper walking tours; the King's Road, V&A, Selfridge's and Camden market for fashion; Funland at the Trocadero for rides and video games; Chinatown next door for food.

The Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the zoo are also excellent for people of all ages. The zoo will bankrupt you but the museums are free.

There should be ample visual material on all of those London attractions online.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:03 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely the cultures. There are so many rich and developed subcultures and countercultures in London. Each postal code practically represents its own culture.

On top of that, it is probably the most international city in the world. I don't think there is any other place you can go where you will meet so many people from all over the world.
posted by giggleknickers at 9:03 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: are you trying to create a "come to London" travel video (and if so, for whom? Study Abroad students?)

posted by StickyCarpet at 9:12 AM on November 17, 2007

Best answer: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." - Samuel Johnson.
posted by paulsc at 9:18 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Great visuals might include double-decker buses, the crown jewels, the flea market at Portobello Road, and HARRODS (as an attraction more than a store, of course).
posted by nkknkk at 9:19 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How about the peaceful co-existence of dapper non-threatening police and all of those subcultures?
posted by Free word order! at 9:54 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

There's the world's largest dildo.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:56 AM on November 17, 2007

Remember, London Bridge is just a bridge on a site with a lot of history. Tower Bridge is the famous one.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:01 AM on November 17, 2007

Besides which, London Bridge is in Arizona.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:05 AM on November 17, 2007

Response by poster: Tower Bridge is the famous one.

Oh yeah, right.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:18 AM on November 17, 2007

Best answer: Are you asking about the experience of tourists? Or of people who come to study or live long-term in London?

As a tourist, London has great art, great artifacts, and some great history -- you could do weeks there, just seeing historical sites and museums, let alone the other attractions. I'm sure there are other things to do, but I'm a history/landscape tourist myself (as a youngish North American student). I thought the Museum of London was very good, and the London Walks walking tour I took stupendous (I did the "hidden London" one). People do tell me that London also has this thing called a "nightlife" as well as art, music, theatre, etc. But I just don't know if that can compare to "Hanging Sword Alley".

But for the longer term (studying or living there for months) - it's about a change of environment, I supose.

On a day to day level, I think that the fact that London is a very large city is the most important thing. I don't find it that different from New York, superficially, or Paris -- I think there is more difference between a small city and large city than between two large cities. The multicultural living, the fast pace can be had in many cities around the world.

But on a deeper level, living in London would still be living in another country, with a closely related but distinct culture, especially politically. You don't experience this as a tourist, but you do if you live here for any time.

Britain is also a European country, and though it shares a lot of cultural things with it's former colonies, it has a very different feel in terms of the way people relate to space. London isn't that old a city, physically, (due to the Great Fire and the Blitz), but it's layout still predates the automobile. Again, I don't find it so different from New York, which also predates cars - more lowrise, even crazier subway system - but it would be very different for anyone from somewhere like the mid-west or Los Angelos or something.

So you get to experience a change in culture and environment, which usually a good learning experience. If you study in a British educational program (as opposed to an American program overseas), you would also experience a change in curriculum and ways of doing things - I have found interacting with British academics to be very good for my own intellectual development.

I do think that as a cultural exchange, it's not as big a step as moving to a non-Anglo place - and so you don't have quite the same learning experience as you do when you truly risk yourself by going in for another language and a very different culture. As an Anglo, I would say that if I were choosing study abroad program for the experience of truly being "abroad" and gaining the confidence and skills one does by navigating an alien culture, I would not choose London (too much like home, too easy). I would go to London if I were going to do a program there that would relate to the unique culture and/or history of the place.
posted by jb at 11:25 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Americans are used to the distribution of 'capitals': there's New York for finance, fine arts and print media; D.C. for politics, LA for entertainment; San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Seattle for technology. (Forgive the rough and ready characterisation.)

London monopolises pretty much everything in England (and arguably, the entire UK). That centralisation has its disadvantages, especially if you live in what sometimes gets dismissed as 'the provinces', but it also allows cross-currents and overlaps between fields that aren't quite as available in the US.

Whatever your field, some of the best and brightest are likely to live and work in London, or within a couple of hours' train journey.
posted by holgate at 11:57 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: London is an international city full of history and culture, and also a charming, funny little village. It feels like a small town and the center of civilization all at once. It's college-towny enough that even the random guy at the pub knows about the hip new band (free CDs in the guardian have better indie music than a lot of college stations play in the US...), but you can also wander past buildings built in 1100 and overhear conversations in 3 different languages in an average day. Punks and snobs are both representative. It's got great old architecture but they don't take it too seriously, and they're not worried to put up new stuff, the way a place like boston is (because boston is the self-conscious little brother, who has some old stuff, but nothing in comparison to london, so it projects a fake ego about being "quaint" and "old timey", while london just keeps on keeping on. there's no way london could lose its historicity, so it doesn't have to hold so tight...)

I would just have fun in the city and video it - go swimming in the Lido at Hampstead Heath, and wander through the beautiful land (there are so many great parks in London, actually, but the Heath is really something). The museums are not just great collections, but many of them have very nice places to hang out as well - I think it's the National that has a library inside, and the Tate that has a lawn by the Thames (? can't remember offhand right now - but it's definitely set up to make cultural things appealing to the masses, not boring shit your parents make you do...) Go out for Indian food, stop by some pubs, if you want to make a point about night life go check out some clubs or something - like any city there is always stuff going on, but it's the flavor of the place that makes it a cool place to hang out. Plus, for a year abroad a-they speak english and b-it's very easy to make weekend trips to many cities in europe (I've done amsterdam, paris, stockholm for very low airfare; spain & italy are pretty near too, and even greece, turkey, etc are much more plausible once you're already on the right continent)

(sigh). I love london. if only it weren't so damn expensive!
posted by mdn at 1:02 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For me it was theater. A student ID got you cheap tickets on the day for just about any performance that wasn't sold out. I saw like three shows a week for an entire semester. Not sure how you'd represent that in a video though.

The other big thing for me was just diversity. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, Indiana. The only minorities we had were one black family and two Vietnamese. On my first night in London, I found myself in a booth at a bar with an Indian, a Nigerian, and a Sikh. It was awesome.
posted by web-goddess at 1:29 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If someone's feeling particularly adventurous and morbid, a visit over to the Golders Green crematorium is a must-do.

I went this past May in pilgrimage to the graves of Keith Moon and Marc Bolan. What I ended up finding (besides Keith and Marc) was Peter Sellers and his entire family, Bram Stoker and a bunch of others. You can go into their main office and they'll usually hand you a sheet detailing which celebrities are there and where you might find them. It even includes the ones who have "passed through" and where they're buried now. If you still have difficulty, you can usually ask any of the staff you see. They are quite friendly and happy to take you in the right direction.

If nothing else, the grounds are gorgeous and peaceful. I sat on a bench at the scattering lawn for half an hour and had the luck of seeing an ash scattering during that time.

Definitely something I'll see again and recommend to anyone going out to London.
posted by arishaun at 1:54 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Im a student that lives in London and has all my life, and, Im sure other students do other things, very rewarding things, but for alot of people my age, the aim is to get drunk and have a great time. You will not tire of theme clubs/bars (and Ive heard the 'clubs' here are alot different to the ones in the US) shows, bands, live music of all kinds and from every different country.

But mostly get drunk, party, have good times, do things you cant do at home. The emails neonshock @ gmail if you want specifics.
posted by Neonshock at 5:29 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

The excitement of all of it far away from the world you know. As perfectly captured here. (YouTube link)
posted by Gucky at 8:55 PM on November 17, 2007

I just visited England for the first time last summer. I'd always wanted to see Stonehenge. Stonehenge is totally not worth the time and effort. There are literally scores other more interesting things to do England.
posted by jdroth at 11:49 PM on November 17, 2007

Just for an alternate point of view, I always wanted to visit Stonehenge, and when I finally did in 2000, it was well worth it. I thought it was fascinating and awe-inspiring and I was really glad I had made the trip. I was 24 at the time.

It really just depends on the person I guess. If there are people who are visiting it because they feel they have to, then they probably won't find it as interesting. I was really interested in learning the history behind it though (of which I knew very little at the time) and it lived up to my expectations. My stepfather felt the same way.

So if you've always wanted to see Stonehenge, don't let people here put you off. There is so much to see and do in England, you shouldn't do anything that you feel you are "supposed" to do because I can guarantee that you will not be short of activities that you can do that you will really enjoy. I've now lived here for 4 years and I still haven't been to Buckingham Palace. I probably will some day, but there are too many other things I want to do first.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:35 AM on November 18, 2007

Response by poster: Amazing. Thank you so much everyone. Distilled to a page of notes this is absolutely AWESOME!!
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:09 AM on November 18, 2007

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