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London Guide For Students - Enjoying
Transports | Eating | Sightseeing and shopping | Pubs and clubs | Other
 

V. Enjoying London

1. Transports

OK, now you have a job, an house and an account (don't you ?). It's now time to discover life in London. There is a lot of things to do there, but London is a huge city, so you will have to use the (in)famous London's transport system.

The Tube

Tube station near Big Ben

If you dislike Paris' Metro, you will hate London's Tube ! In fact, the underground network is like the RER in France, but there is a dozen of lines. Trains are clean and safe, even during the night, you can come back home at any hour, without security problem. Lines are not open 24h a day, though. They close between 11PM and 1AM.

The main issue with the tube is its reliability. There is always delays, and breakdowns or technical problems are common (the famous "signal failure", which is happening almost every day). Moreover, tube is expensive, especially if you travel during peak hours (until 10.30 AM). The daily travel card for zones 1-4 is £7.80, and only 8.00€ in France.

Tube organization is weird : directions are not always well indicated, and sometimes trains from different lines are travelling on the same track. So, be careful, it's easy to take the wrong train.

In some cases, you will have to take commuter trains to go to home, as tube don't go everywhere. There is no difference, ticket prices are the same , but there is less trains during the day.

The tube - Click to enlargeAnother thing :
Don't try to fraud in the tube. There is control agents near each door, you just can't cheat ! Fines are from £10 to £75. It is also very difficult to do that in commuter trains, but it depends of your journey (I managed to save about £150 of train tickets to go to work, because my line wasn't controlled).

Go to Transport For London Website >>>
Download the full tube/train network map >>> (PDF document, 199KB)

 

Bus network

That's just a bus :) Click to enlarge

Buses are a lot better than tube. A trip is £1 per hour, for any distance. Some lines are working 24 hours a day, like in Paris, but there is a bus every 20-25 min, not every hour like the French "Noctambus". Moreover, buses are a good way to discover London. Just take the first bus you see, go upstairs and visit London for cheap !

After all, buses aren't perfect : they're slower than tube (especially if you are travelling outside the Congestion Charge zone). And there is no line map onboard, so the first time it is difficult to find the good stop.

 

Taxis

An official London cab, or Black cab

I've tried the cab one time : for the return to France. We had about 40kg of baggage each, so the taxi was very helpful. Taxis are not that expensive, especially if you're not alone in the cab: about £25 to go from Ilford (zone 4) to Waterloo train station (£8.30 / pers.)

There is two types of cabs : licensed cabs (pictured on the right) and Minicabs. The Minicab is cheaper than an official cab, but you have to book the trip in advance, by calling a Minicab company. They are unofficial, though, so be careful as you have no guarantee.

 

Car

Don't think about it. You will have to pay a tax if you're driving in Central London : the Congestion Charge, which is £5 per day. And, even if you can afford it, think again : would you really drive on the left during four months ? Trust me, don't bring your car, that's a very bad idea.

 

My student photocard

Discount programme

Last year, we had the opportunity to obtain a student discount card, which allows you to pay 33% less for weekly and monthly travel cards (unfortunately, it doesn't work with daily travel cards). The UCL will give you all the information about that. This card costs £5.

 

2. Eating

You will be surprised by food in London. At first, by its cost. But then, by its taste ! British food is 40% more expensive, and probably 400% less tasty than French products.

 

Where you can buy

After all, you'll need to eat, so I'm giving you a small list of supermarkets :

  • Tesco shops are the most represented. They are cheap (for English's eyes), and food isn't too bad.
  • Sainsbury's are also common, but they're more expensive, and food quality is not that good.
  • Mark and Spencer's are less common, food here is very expensive, but of good quality.
  • If you're lucky, you will find a Lidl or another hard-discounter. Food at Lidl is really cheap, but be careful, as some things are really disgusting (we found some suspicious little green things in a yoghurt).
  • Ultimate shops are frozen food shops, like Farmfoods. There is good quality food for cheap. And you don't have to look for "best before" dates, as it is frozen...

Tip : in most supermarkets, you will find "reduced" items. That's food which is about to expire, so you will have a good discount on it. You've more chance to find reduced items just before closing.

 

Markets

Borough Market

In general, this is a good idea to buy food on the markets. It's cheaper, and usually tastier than supermarket's. There are several markets everywhere in London. The most famous markets, Camden and Portobello Road, are not selling food, but you can find everything you need in places like Berwick or Borough. In general, markets settle during the weekend, in the morning. Look around, you'll probably find something interesting.

London markets >>>

 

What you can buy

  • The famous jelly (funny, but not bad). I advise you to bring one back to France, this is a good way to entertain your boring family meals,
  • Turkey or chicken : meat for cheap,
  • A Cheesecake : very good, but avoid Sainsbury's cheesecakes, too heavy for a normal stomach :-),
  • French baguette or pastry : there is a lot of French bakeries in London, a baguette or a croissant isn't too expensive.
  • Indian food : delicious, but requires lots of water to cool down your mouth,
  • Pasta, pasta, and pasta again...

 

What you can't buy in England (unless you're rich and lucky)

  • French "charcuterie",
  • French cheese (except Camembert which can be found in many places),
  • Mustard (English mustard is very... particular),
  • Good bread (English bread is definitely tasteless).

Note : You will probably find French products on markets, but prices are very, very expensive. I've seen French mustard for £2.70 (it was exactly the same low price mustard that you can find in France in "Carrefour" for 0.30 € ! )

 

What you MUST not buy in England

The famous jelly. This one is strawberry flavoured.
  • Pork meal with sauce at Farmfoods (I never had tasted cat food before, now I have),
  • Chocolate Yoghurts at Lidl (cheap but hazardous for your health),
  • Low Fat products in general (except if you like tasteless things with bizarre ingredients).

But don't worry, in England you will discover a lot of new and funny tastes, which will probably make you love France even more...

 

3. Sightseeing and shopping

The top ten list

Just one thing : I will not do the tourist guide, there is a lot of sites or books for that (see links section). However, here is a shortlist of things you HAVE to see in London :

  1. Camden TownCamden Town : unique place, unique people and unique shops... nothing else to add, it's simply the best place of London. Better on weekends.
    Tube : Camden Town (tube stop closed on Sundays afternoon)
  2. Covent Garden : The bigger London's pedestrian space, and with the best street entertainers in the capital. A cool place for sitting and having a break.
    Tube : Covent Garden and Leicester Square
  3. Canary WharfCanary Wharf and the City : If you like modern architecture and skyscrapers, this is a must see. You will discover some of the tallest buildings in Europe. Better during the week, as streets are empty on weekends.
    Tube : Canary Wharf (take the DLR from Bank), or Bank and Liverpool Street for the City
  4. The British Museum and the National Gallery : Probably the most famous museums in Britain. The first is like the Louvre in Paris, whereas the second holds a fabulous collection of European paintings. Tube : Tottenham Court Road (British Museum), Trafalgar Square (National Gallery)
  5. Tate Modern Museum : Both for modern art and for the amazing architecture of the museum.
    Tube : Blackfriars, then take Millennium Bridge.
  6. St James ParkLondon parks : like Regent's Park, Hyde Park or St James. Some calm areas, with lakes, birds and squirrels.
    Tube : Green Park, St James's Park, Regent's Park
  7. Kensington and Chelsea : The richest districts of London, full of big Victorian-style houses, luxury cars. South Kensington is both the French District and the museums District. A friendly place, with cafés and book shops.
    Tube : Knightsbridge, South Kensington and Sloane Square
  8. Angel : A quiet place with markets and many music shops, with discs you'll never find elsewhere.
    Tube : Angel, obviously !
  9. ChinatownChinatown : it's a nice pedestrian zone, with Chinese gates in front of each entrance and Asian-style decorations. If you're looking for Asian products, it's here.
    Location : between Tottenham Court Road and Leicester Square tube stops.
  10. Oxford Street and Regent Street : London's Champs Elysées, with lots of fashion boutiques, but always crowded.
    Tube : Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus

And also, don't forget tourist traps like Houses of Parliament, Piccadilly, Trafalgar, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London,...

 

Shop which worth it

In London, there is a handful of shops you'll never see in France, and maybe elsewhere in the world :
  • CyberdogCyberdog and all other shops in Camden : Cyberdog is a futuristic fashion house, and a techno music shop as well. That's just the most crazy shop I've ever seen. What's more, all shops in Camden are very special too.
    Location : Cyberdog is located somewhere in the Stables Market, Camden Town.
  • England Rocks : a small boutique under the Apple Market at Covent Garden. There you can find everything about British rockstars during the 60's, especially The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Lots of collectables, and some very exceptional items.
  • Harrods Toys DepartmentHarrods : One say that you can find everything at Harrod's. That's true. Visiting this huge store should take an entire day, but don't miss the toys department, the pet shop and the ground floor. So British, and so crazy.
    Location : just over Knightsbridge Tube stop, you can't miss it.
  • Hamley's : Seven floors of toys, games and teddy bears. It's children's heaven, but I should admit that I enjoyed this store as well !
    Location : in Regent's Street, near Piccadilly Circus.
  • The Apple StoreThis one is especially for EFREI students : the Apple Store : This newly opened store is the holy sanctuary for Mac and iPod lovers. The atmosphere is very particular, people are bringing their own Mac and are surfing the net all day long. In the meantime, you will see dream machines with 33-inches screens in free access. Don't slaver on the computers, though !
    Location : in Regent's Street, near Oxford Circus.
  • And, last but not least : Ilford's Sainsbury ! Well... wait a minute. This shop is not fun, not amazing, not big, not special, nothing. It should be a mistake :) !

 

4. Pubs and clubs

I should say that drinking is not my cup of tea (good joke, isn't it ?). But, if you want good addresses, check out this site : http://www.fluidfoundation.com.

Concerning nightclubs, there are a couple of famous music temples in London :

  • The Fabric : It's currently THE club in London, the music is mostly house, techno and electro. Entrance between £10 and £15.
    The Fabric, 77 Charterhouse Street, London EC1M 3HN - http://www.fabriclondon.com
  • The Ministry of Sound : The other well known club of London, which has discovered many famous DJ. Entrance from £4.
    Ministry of Sound, 103 Gaunt Street, London SE1 6DP - http://www.ministryofsound.com
Brits at the pub

 

5. Other Things

There is a lot of events in London every time, but it's impossible to know a long time in advance what, where and when something will happen. The best guide for everything is Time Out, which can be found everywhere. You can also visit its website at http://www.timeout.com.

 

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