Best Places to Visit in London

While I’ve been writing different advice articles about studying abroad in general, I wanted to be more specific about the city I lived in-London! I recorded a podcast talking about my favorite spots, but this will be slightly more detailed. I absolutely loved my time in London, so I’d like to talk about some of my favorite places to go while I was there.

Photo by Benjamin Davies

Photo by Benjamin Davies

Entertainment

Of course my primary focus was academics while I was abroad, but of course I wanted to have fun as well. While New York is the biggest city for live theatre, London also has an incredible amount of theatre performances. I didn’t get to see as many shows as I would have liked, but I absolutely love the West End’s productions. I entered a ticket lottery with my friends. and we got discount tickets to see a production of “The Book of Mormon.” Theatre wasn’t my main focus of entertainment while I was there, but I still enjoyed having the access to so many great shows.

The main form of entertainment that I focused on was live music. As a music photographer, it was imperative that I experience London’s music scene. I went to a lot of concerts while I lived there, with a mix of bigger and smaller musicians. I got to attend a show at Alexandra Palace, which holds 10,000 people in a general admission capacity! My favorite venue was Koko, located in the Camden section of the city. It’s a beautiful theater with multiple levels.

Photo by Claudio Testa

Photo by Claudio Testa

Museums

I covered this in a podcast episode, but I want to reiterate just how amazing the museums in London are. Almost all of the museums in the city have free admission, so you can visit as many as you want without worrying about racking up high expenses in admission fees. My favorites were the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery. I also got to visit the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Imperial War Museum, and many others. London’s weather is known for being pretty gloomy, which is great for strolling around inside a museum. Each of these places have fascinating artifacts to view.

I spent a lot of my weekends exploring the city, and this included going through the different museums. A big reason why I wanted to take advantage of these places was the fact that in Philadelphia, every museum costs about $20 to enter. I don’t think I’ll ever have such easy access to so many educational places, so it was important to me to appreciate as much as I could.

Photo by Sabrina Mazzeo

Photo by Sabrina Mazzeo

Shopping

Of course, I have to mention all the great shopping spots around the city of London. While I don’t consider myself to be a large fan of shopping, I really enjoyed the different places I could go throughout the city! One of the more well-known areas is Oxford Street, where a lot of major stores are located. There’s also Spitalfields, a marketplace that has a lot of homemade items. Harrod’s is one of the more famous department stores, but everything there is expensive so of course it was out of my budget!

As a music fan, I was always on the lookout for good places to buy new CDs. While I didn’t find too many places, I really enjoyed HMV, which is the big music retailer. I also liked Rough Trade East, which is located in Whitechapel area of London. I didn’t want to spend too much money shopping, but I did enjoy walking around the different markets.

Photo by Paula Vermeulen

Photo by Paula Vermeulen

Food and Drink

What kind of blog post would this be without mentioning anything about food and drink? London is full of amazing food spots. I’m not the biggest foodie, but I loved the different food spots I saw during my time in the city. The biggest place I would recommend is Camden Town. While it’s definitely become more of a touristy spot, the food stalls there are absolutely incredible. I couldn’t choose a place to eat because all of the options sounded so good. There are also clothing stalls, places to buy art, and a lot of other shopping options within the market. This location is great for spending an afternoon when the weather is nice.

In terms of drink spots, honestly, most pubs are great. I went to a lot of different pubs around the city, and had a great experience at all of them. The drink prices are fairly high, but London is an expensive city so I knew that going in. One of the more expensive places I visited was Sky Garden, which is a beautiful spot at the top of a tall skyscraper. Admission is free, as long as you book a ticket online in advance. The pricey aspect came when I bought a cocktail that ended up being close to $18. It was definitely something I wouldn’t do more than once, but the view was absolutely worth it.

Photo by Aaron Van de Pol

Photo by Aaron Van de Pol

Overall, while I certainly didn’t get to see as much of London as I would have liked, I had an incredible experience during my three and a half months that I spent living in the city. I know I’ll be back multiple times in the future, so I plan on trying to explore new parts of the city with each visit.

Travel Tips While Studying Abroad

The biggest advantage to studying abroad? Close proximity to other travel locations! Depending on where you want to travel for your program, you will be close to some of the biggest travel cities in the world. Flights that usually take eight hours are just a short distance away.

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The first thing to know is that it’s important to plan your trip ahead of time. This seems obvious, but it’s definitely easy to think you can figure everything out once you get to your destination. Make sure you have an itinerary for the city you’re visiting. This can include restaurants, museums, tours, etc. I travelled to Brussels while on my semester abroad and nobody had a solid plan for what we wanted to visit while we were there. We lucked out by finding some great activities, but it could have gone horribly.

The first thing to do is book a hostel, Airbnb, or other form of accommodation. Then, you need to figure out which form of transportation you will be taking to get to your destination. I recommend taking a flight whenever possible. StudentUniverse is a great website that has great cheap flights for students. You can also take the train, and bus. Personally, I would recommend against taking overnight bus journeys. It’s a cheaper option, but is much longer and can add stress to your journey. I had a bad experience with taking an overnight bus (the police were called and arrests were made), so I would avoid taking them unless absolutely necessary. Taking the train or a plane will make your travel time shorter and allow you to have more time to explore the city you’re visiting!

Photo by Héctor Martinez

Photo by Héctor Martinez

Next, take full advantage of any free walking tours that are available. Many cities have different companies that offer various types of walking tours of the city. I went on a walking tour of Dublin that was centered around old folk stories, and in Edinburgh I went on a ghost story-themed walking tour. A big company that offers walking tours is Sandemans. The only price you pay is a tip at the end of the tour, but that’s optional. However, it’s totally worth it because the tours are extremely informative, they don’t last more than a couple of hours, and they let you see a lot of the city. Walking tours are a great way to see a lot of the city you’re visiting in a short period of time. It’s hard to get to see everything if you’re only there for a quick weekend trip, so these tours are a great way to get the most out of your time.


Also make sure to look at the different nightlife options that you have in the city. For example, look to see if there are any bar crawls that are happening! I participated in a pub crawl in Edinburgh and it was a great way to meet people who were also visiting from all over the world. You can also meet local residents of the city when you visit the different bars over the course of the night. This allows you to get a taste of the local nightlife, while also having a helpful guide to keep you from getting too lost in an unfamiliar place.

Photo by Erik Odiin

Photo by Erik Odiin

Finally, make sure that you take plenty of photos while you travel! This sounds like another obvious tip, but when you’re in the moment you probably won’t think about it. I look back and wish i had taken more photos during my own trips throughout my semester abroad. While it’s important to not get hung up on making sure you get the photo, you should still aim to document your travels for the future when you want to re-live your exciting travels.


Traveling while you’re studying abroad is a key part of the experience. Depending on where you are, you can have easy access to some of the most interesting places in the world. It would be foolish to not go and see as many of these as you can. Make sure to carefully plan your trips to get the most out of your time, but also don’t stress too much. This is one of the best aspects of studying abroad, so enjoy every minute of it!

Eating on a Budget While Studying Abroad

It may seem like a simple task, but when you’re living in a new place for a lengthy period of time, eating healthy while not spending too much money can be difficult when you’re studying abroad. If you’re in a country with a different currency, it can be confusing to remember what the equivalencies are while shopping. However, it’s important to know that it’s definitely a possibility.

Photo by Katie Smith

Photo by Katie Smith

When I was living in London, our living situation wasn’t…the best. We lived in tiny rooms with two people in them when they were really built for one person, and the only way we could consume food in the room was with a microwave. We had a tiny fridge that couldn’t really fit much. There were communal kitchens on each floor of the building, but they weren’t kept in the best of conditions because we lived on the same floor as some extremely messy students. However, we were lucky enough to be able to use the kitchens of the other floor. A lot of the people on my school’s program lived on the floor above us, so they normally used that kitchen and allowed us to join them. Even though the kitchens were slightly poor, they were still okay to use. But how did we manage to figure out how to get enough groceries to feed ourselves while fitting in the tiny fridges in our rooms?

There was a communal fridge to use in the kitchens, but that was the opposite of a good idea because you really didn’t know who would go in and use your food that you paid for. So, my roommate and I kept our food in our own fridge in our room. The problem was that it was extremely small, so it was pretty hard to fit food for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner for two people. This is where we really lucked out when it came to the grocery store we lived near.

We lived down the road from a Waitrose, which is one of the more expensive grocery store chains in England. While this meant high quality food, it also meant higher grocery bills. So what did we do? Well, luckily, Waitrose sells packaged meals that don’t have the different preservatives that you might find in the pre-cooked foods here in the United States. They also sold pre-made salads, as well as packaged pre-cooked chicken. This made everything way easier when it came time to eat; all I really had to do was put the ingredients together, with no cooking required.

One way to save money while shopping for food is to look for these pre-packaged foods. If they’re cheap enough, you could stock up on a few to balance out the amount of actual cooking you need to do in case you have a communal kitchen and can’t access an oven or stove. It’s also important to buy reusable grocery bags. While it could vary from place to place, in London, they charge you for each plastic bag you use. They charge what would be around 7 cents per plastic bag. This might not seem like a lot, but if you buy multiple bags per shop and you go shopping once a week, it definitely adds up. So, splurge for the bags when you first start shopping; they’re not that expensive overall, and you can use them when you come home from your time abroad. I still use my reusable bags from London when I go shopping!

Photo by Guus Baggermans

Photo by Guus Baggermans

Also, another fairly obvious point, but still necessary to include: reduce the amount of eating you do at restaurants. It’s important to get the experience of dining in a few restaurants in the city where you’re studying, but it’s also important to keep the balance of dining out and cooking for yourself in order to save your money for other experiences during your time abroad. Most of the eating I did during my semester was from the grocery store, but because I was in London, I loved eating in the pubs around town. I also took full advantage of being in the vicinity of the popular restaurant chain, Nando’s. However, I made sure that my restaurant visits were spread apart. This made me feel better about the amount of money I was spending on food. It also made the experience of dining at a restaurant feel more special, even if I was eating at a not-so-fancy place.

Another tip is to make sure that you’re not spending more money than necessary on products. Always compare prices, because chances are you can find a cheaper alternative that isn’t the brand name you’d be paying for. This applies to shopping wherever you are, but it’s especially important to remember when you’re on a study abroad budget.

Finally, remember: everything in moderation! It might not be smart to buy $50 worth of alcohol in one shopping trip, but if you find a cheap bottle of wine in the grocery store and you want to have it in the fridge for a leisurely night in, get it! Also treat yourself to some of the popular dessert items in the store. I made sure to try the different British chocolate bars that were sold in the grocery store, because I knew I wouldn’t really have access to them once I was gone.

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Overall, it might not be at the top of your mind when you’re thinking about studying abroad, but it’s extremely important to remember to keep to a budget when food shopping. If you spend less money on food, you’ll have more to spend on weekend trips, or other experiences around the city where you’re spending your time. It’s definitely a challenge to figure out a good way to eat, and eat well, for a low amount of money, especially if you don’t have the best options for a kitchen in your living situation. However, remember that it’s possible, and there are plenty of websites with easy and cheap recipes for you to utilize.

What Classes Should I Take When Studying Abroad?

The most appealing part of studying abroad is, of course, traveling around the city or country in which you’re living. However, it’s important to remember the main thing you have to do: actually study! Depending on your major and the program you’re completing, your course requirements will differ. However, you might have some flexibility with your course selection. For example, as a communication studies major, I was able to take a wide variety of classes while still getting credit for them. I took a writing-intensive class that allowed me to complete a requirement that I would have had to complete with a much more boring class back at my home university.

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So, what’s the first step in choosing my classes?

The first step, just like choosing classes at your home university, is to visit with an academic advisor. For my personal experience, I had to consult with an advisor different to the one I visited for my other classes, because he dealt specifically with the study abroad scheduling. I asked him for advice about how many classes to take, and he gave me some tips. For example, I was thinking about taking five classes-the number I’m used to. However, he pointed out that I’d want to have more time to explore. Because of his advice, I brought my course load down to four classes.

You should also consult with your go-to advisor about what requirements you need before choosing your classes. I had already met most of my requirements due to the fact that I was going abroad as an upperclassman. However, I still had one or two requirements that I was able to complete through the program. Check with your advisor about this, as it differs from student to student.

You may have a few extra prerequisites that you would like to get out of the way, or perhaps a foreign language requirement. Some programs may even offer courses more specific to your major, like a higher-level geography class or an exclusive course in psychology.
— USA Today
Photo by Yuya Hata

Photo by Yuya Hata

What are the best classes to take while I’m studying abroad?

That decision is ultimately up to you, based on your major and other personal interests. If you have enough elective credits to give you total freedom, take this opportunity to choose courses in subjects you’re passionate about or otherwise wouldn’t be able to take at your home institution. For example, I’m passionate about music. When I studied in London, I took a class called “Music in 20th Century Britain.” Not only did we learn about the most significant musicians in the time period of the course, but we also went to three live music events in the city. One of those bands became one of my new favorite bands to listen to. I had enough elective credits that I was able to take a class that truly interested me. I also know I definitely wouldn’t be able to take a class like that at my home university, so it was an incredible opportunity.


What program is best for me?

Again, this really depends on what you’re studying and where you want to go. Your university’s study abroad office can provide you with information about the different programs offered, including those offered through other universities. For example, if you want to study in Paris but your university doesn’t offer a program there, you can try to apply to a program at another university.

Your options might be more limited depending on your field of study. If you’re an engineering student, it might be more difficult to find a good program that fits the requirements you need to complete. Many universities offer programs for a wide range of majors, so there’s usually something for everyone.


It can seem like a stressful process to pick out the courses that you want to take while studying in another country or city. However, your university should have resources that make it as easy as possible for you to decide. There are so many different great options, so make sure to explore all the different subjects you can learn more about during your time abroad!

Travel Talks Podcast - Episode 2

London is such a large and exciting city, how can you start to look around for things to do?

While I only made a small dent in the list of places to go, there’s so much more to do in the city of London. in this episode, I talk about the different museum and concert venues I enjoyed visiting during my stay in the city.

The museums in the city of London are mostly free admission, with an encouragement to provide a small donation. This was a main motivator for me to visit as many as possible. In Philadelphia, most museums charge incredible amounts of money for admission. In London, that’s not the case. When you have so much free access to fascinating artifacts, why wouldn’t you go to as many as possible?

I also talk about the different concert venues that I enjoyed visiting during my stay. As an avid concert-goer and live music photographer, I made sure to take in the local music scene.

Finally, what is a podcast about things to do without talking about food? As a multicultural city, London has an incredible number of different types of cuisine, and there’s something for everyone. I wish I could have gone to more restaurants, but on a student budget, that wasn’t as possible as I’d have liked it to be. However, I still made sure to visit a few places!

Travel Talks Podcast - Episode 1

In my first episode of my podcast, I talk to recent Temple graduate Marley Greene about her study abroad experience! We discuss our favorite things about spending time abroad.

Studying Abroad: Is it a Good Idea?

Choosing to study abroad is an exciting decision to make as a student. Depending on what programs your university offers, there are countless destinations for you to choose from. But the big question is: how do you begin to think about where to study, what kind of program to choose, etc.? There are many factors to think about for a decision this major. As someone who has gone through the process, I can provide some advice based on my own experience to help you feel more confident about your decision. Before choosing whether or not to study abroad, there are some different things to consider.

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What are the advantages of studying abroad?

There are plenty of advantages to being a student somewhere other than your home country. Firstly, according to an article from The Independent, you are exposed to a new culture and way of life. Living in another place for an extended time exposes you to new traditions and other small things. Personally, living in London was an extremely interesting experience because I saw the ways that people went about everyday life. Something as mundane as the morning commute to work was different, as the etiquette of mobile transportation is different from here in Philadelphia. It was also different to see the way that alcohol is consumed over there. People tend to go to pubs after work for a casual drink with friends or colleagues, but we don’t really have that here. 

Another advantage of going abroad is the proximity to other countries. It’s extremely difficult to travel to European countries here in America because the continent is so far away. Depending on where you go to study, you’re just a short plane ride away from many excellent cities. 

You can also make new friends when you study abroad. These can be people on the same program as you, or people in the area that you’re living in. When I went abroad, I ended up befriending people from the city that I had met when I attended different concerts around town. I still talk to these people, and whenever I go back I plan on trying to meet up with them.

This sounds great! What are the drawbacks?

While studying abroad is definitely an incredible experience, it isn’t always sunny. There are a few drawbacks about going away for an extended period of time. First, there’s the issue of homesickness. I didn’t really experience it, but I know plenty of people who did. It’s not uncommon, and can make you feel like going away was a mistake. 

Going off of the homesickness factor, you might also get lonely while you live in another city. I had friends on the same program as me, but there were days where I felt lonely if everyone was doing their own thing. I’d go to museums alone and wonder if anyone else was feeling the same way. It didn’t last too long, but it was definitely something I thought about a lot during my time abroad.

Lastly, and quite possibly the biggest drawback, studying abroad is expensive. There are budget airlines and hotels to stay in while traveling (which I’ll talk about in another blog post), but it all adds up. Especially depending on where you go, it could be more expensive than other cities. London is known for being unfriendly to the wallet, so I had to plan and think about how much money I was going to be spending. In an article for the New York Times, a former ambassador says that studying abroad can be a waste of time and money. He says, “studying abroad is not essential to a good education or to helping one better understand the changing world we live in.”This is a good point, since not everyone who studies abroad necessarily takes away from the program what they might have expected. In this case, it might be a negative use of their time.

In later blog posts, I’ll go more in-depth with specific aspects of going away, like what to pack, things to do, and budgeting for other parts of your time away. Not everyone wants to go abroad, but if you’re thinking about it, definitely consider the advantages and disadvantages to your decision.