Among the first things you do when you study abroad to London, or anywhere, is sight-seeing. This is the portion of the trip where everything you’ve read about in history books and seen in the films is sectioned off into neat little packages and presented to you via an over-sized tour bus. The first reflex reaction you will have when you go to see these amazing sights is to be underwhelmed. Seriously.
These sites are built up to a huge degree and you will most likely be jet-lagged and irritable on your first tour around the city. You may experience a bit of sadness and disillusionment when Stonehenge does not tower over your senses, but rather sits alone in the cold English country side. Do not panic! This is a preliminary guide to help you avoid these feelings and see the sights you are bound to encounter as they truly are – amazing, but not overwhelming.
One of the first stops during your time abroad will be a pub.
At your first pub, you will be sleep deprived and disoriented. Extroverts will soak it up, but if you are introverted it will be terrifying – a new space with new rules. Do not let that stop you! No one in the pub will realize or likely even care that you are, initially at least, a tourist. Sit with your group of friends, order a pint, and enjoy that traditional atmosphere that can only be experienced. As long as you are not obnoxiously loud or overtly rude, your company will simply meld into the quaint, British background. Make it a regular thing, you will feel less and less out of place the more time you spend there.
Notting Hill is a title of a film. It is also a well-known, upper-class neighborhood in west London.
Please, do not go there in search of Hugh Grant or a daily, charming little street market. While it can be amazing to go to the Portobello Road Market, usually on Saturdays, when the weather is nice, there are countless other neighborhoods to experience as well as countless other Saturday street markets – there is probably even one near your place of residence. The city has so many different neighborhoods and boroughs to offer, there is no reason to only experience one while searching for your charming English bloke.
The classic Red Phone Booth picture.
You have to get that #LondonCalling photo, right? But really, take your picture within the first week of your stay and then probably avoid them. You will notice right away that they are, for the most part, filthy, grimy, decrepit, and may or may not have housed a homeless person the night before your visit. It is an iconic image of the city, but it is not one that you need to devote too much energy to. Find a booth on your way to a more stimulating, or at least cleaner point of interest – Big Ben or the British Museum perhaps? It will be less of a shock if you don’t build it up, rather see it as a fun check mark on the tourism bucket list.
Stonehenge can be a disappointment.
From anecdotal evidence, it seems that many people expect the majestic, ordered, ring of stones against a scenic backdrop of the sunset, or the bright blue English sky. This is usually not the case. More often than not, you will find that visiting Stonehenge will include: snow, sleet, rain, wind, cloud cover, or even more rain! The best way to get every ounce of enjoyment possible out of a visit to Stonehenge is to listen to your tour guide, your professor, others who have got something to say about that ancient ring of stones. Most of the magic of Stonehenge will not come from knowing the dates of construction (around 3000 BC – 2000 BC, for the curious) or your experience of the weather. Just like most things in life, it is what you make it and for something so mysterious, you should have no difficult time making Stonehenge into the interesting and most non-disappointing visit it should be. Also, try to arrange it so you go to Bath after visiting Stonehenge – that may temper the sting a bit.
The most effective way to combat disappointment in visiting famous landmarks is having the correct expectations. Not necessarily to bring anything down, but rather, to know what to expect and to have very little chance of being disappointed.
These are just a handful of places and things that everyone should visit and experience while studying abroad in London or other surrounding areas. Also remember, the most exciting sight you may see while in London is the sun! So keep a sharp eye and remember to maintain an appropriate sense of wonder.