Student, Abroad: London

What to know so you don’t “panic on the streets of London”


Gwen Pemberton (she/her) // Arts & Culture Editor

Cassie-Valenzuela-Poon (she/her) // Illustrator


Visiting London can feel very intimidating, or at least it did for me. I spent years of my life in Canada hearing about how magical the city was, and seeing romantic visions of Buckingham Palace and Covent Gardens in movies and TV. Since I only had three days in the city, I wanted to fit in a mix of sight seeing and local experiences. With a little guidance from my friend, who not only grew up in London but let me crash at her house, I managed to do everything on my list and still make it back to Amsterdam in time for my Monday morning class.

I wasn’t expecting to be as star-struck by the city as I was. Just getting from the airport to East London, I passed by multiple places that I had heard of so many times they had begun to feel fictional: Paddington, Tottenham Court Road Southall, King’s Cross. By the time I made it to my final destination I was pretty giddy. Unfortunately, it was too late at night to get straight to sight seeing. But all of that pent up energy was put to good use the next day. 

My friend and I headed out bright and early, hopped on a bus (I insisted on sitting on the top of the double-decker, of course) and drove into the city. First stop, the Tower of London. If you have the money to spend, the tour around the castle looked to be a very good time. As it was, I decided to spend my money elsewhere, content to look around the outer perimeter of the fortress. My friend was initially confused as to why I was practically jumping up and down with excitement, and she was shocked when I explained that I had never seen a “real-life castle” before.

The day didn’t slow down from there. We went on a tour of Tower Bridge next, and looked down on the city from the glass floor 42 meters above the Thames. Make sure to bring your student card, as a lot of attractions in the city offer student pricing. However, you won’t need it for museums like The National Gallery, Natural History Museum, or the next place we visited, The British Museum. There are more than 20 museums in London that you can visit free of charge. I didn’t have time for many, but they are a top priority for my next visit. Particularly the dinosaur on display at the Natural History Museum.

The British Museum was so large that there was no way to take in everything in one visit. My friend and I wandered the hall for hours, trying to soak in everything we could, and barely made it through six exhibits. My advice would be to go for depth over breadth, and choose a few things ahead of time that you know you want to learn about so that you don’t miss out.

Trafalgar Square was packed in the daytime, but going back at night was one of my favourite parts of the trip. Perched at the foot of Nelson’s Column behind the lion statues, there was an incredible view of the square, the city and the National Gallery. I sat there for hours listening to the music and conversation of people around and enjoying the view.

For students on a budget there are a few other things that I would recommend to help maximize your experience. First, get out of the city center. Leicester Square and Westminster were really fun, but other less popular areas were incredible to visit, and where all the best kebab shops were. If you’ve had enough of the Underground and want a change of scenery, the Uber boat down the Thames was a super fun and surprisingly cheap way to get a view of the whole city.

I had an amazing time in London, although my trip may be a little tourist-y for some people’s tastes. For me personally, it was nice to let go and enjoy seeing red telephone booths and postcard-worthy landmarks in person. Next time I visit I’ll have a whole new list of things to visit, and I won’t get lost on the Underground nearly as much.

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