What to Love About Life in London

There are some things we expected to love about life in London. Afternoon tea, big red buses, and the prospect of meeting royals spring to mind. We knew there would never be a shortage of things to do in London. But as with any place, once you dig below the surface and become immersed in life, new and surprising favorites start to emerge.

Last year during a visit to the States, on an epic road trip that took us 3,800 miles, we bemoaned the fact that there were literally zero English pubs dotting the countryside where we could stop for lunch and a view of something other than a stretch of interstate. Forget the abundance of Dairy Queens and truck stops with a million brands of beef jerky. We wanted an English pub.

Clearly, our life in London was starting to impact us.

Now here on the precipice of a new adventure, one that will be outside of this island’s borders, it’s about time we clued the world in on all the aspects of London life that we will really and truly miss, big and small.

What to Love About Life in London: Drinking Pimm's outside!

Drinking Outside

Drinking outdoors is far superior to indoor drinking (who knows why this is? A mystery for the ages!), but in most places, drinking outside is limited to specific areas with boundaries. In New York, our previous home, I remember covertly drinking champagne with friends at a picnic only to have the park attendant berate us about our open containers, kicking us out of the park. In the UK, there are no open container laws. I repeat, you can drink…anywhere. There is something surprisingly liberating about a leisurely afternoon in a park with snacks and a bottle of wine, or walking to the football match with a drink in hand.

Short Election Cycles

With the US at full tilt for over a year fighting over the upcoming election, we have a new appreciation for British politics. During an election year, candidates are selected by their parties and public debate and discourse are allowed for just a few weeks leading up to Election Day. There are also very strict rules about advertising on radio or TV, namely it’s not allowed by a political party. There are a couple of televised debates, manifestos are published, front pages are filled with lively coverage, but then it’s over. Last year we had an election in the UK and we barely even noticed it. If that isn’t something we’ll miss, I don’t know what is.

What to Love About Life in London: The fantastic pubs found everywhere!

Pub Life

We’ve already mentioned it, but the British pub is the best invention ever. It makes sense that it’s been a mainstay of life for more than 1,000 years. Here’s why we’ll miss the humble pub: They. Are. Everywhere. We have never driven around wondering where to stop for a meal, consulting Yelp or TripAdvisor. There is simply no need. We get off any motorway exit we want, drive about 10 seconds and stop at the next pub we see. The food is usually hearty, delicious and can also be quite varied. There is something for everyone. And you know exactly what to expect, but not in the disgusting way that is an Olive Garden in Times Square.

The BBC

While the BBC is available in some form around the world, the vast majority of programming available within the UK is outstanding. There is a constantly revolving door of fantastic dramas and stunning documentaries, spread over three BBC channels. Plus, there are absolutely ZERO commercials. The hour long shows are actually an hour (well, closer to 59 minutes to be precise). The sports coverage, like for the current Olympics, means twelve hours of continuous coverage without a single ad. Our favorite BBC show, The Great British Bake-Off, has just recently begun airing abroad, so now the world can be clued into this fantastic show.

What to Love About Life in London: Tons of diversity throughout London

It’s a True Melting Pot

Having lived in New York City, we never expected to be impressed by London’s diversity. But, to provide a little context around just how diverse it is here, the British are now a minority in London. Over 50% of the population hail from another country. Over the years, we’ve made very few British friends, but regularly hang out with people from Bangladesh, Australia, Sweden, Ireland, Finland, the US, among others. Julie’s closest co-workers are Spanish, French, Polish, and Italian.

What to Love About Life in London: Tons of Green Space!

Tons of Green Space

The amount of open land and parks within London is staggering with 40% of the space designated as public green space. While you may have heard of spacious Hyde Park, it is not even the largest park in Central London, let alone the rest of the city. Richmond Park, in the southwest part of the city, is three times the size of Central Park in New York and has 650 tame, wild deer. Compared to NYC’s 14% green space, the difference is immediately obvious and something we’ll miss dearly.

What to Love About Life in London: Great public transportation!

Efficient Public Transportation

Locals bemoan the London Underground, complaining that it’s dirty, hot, and underwhelming. Clearly, it’s a matter of perspective. We find the Underground sparkling clean, orderly and well-run especially when compared to many US cities (including NYC, Boston, Chicago). Our longest wait for the Tube ever was eight minutes. The bus system is stellar, too, with extensive routes and clearly displayed wait times. Plus when city life is tough, London offers five airports to head out on holiday.

What to Love About Life in London: Lots of old stuff

Old Stuff

Our apartment is about 200 years old. The church in the square predates that. We’ve been to the Mayflower pub from which the actual Mayflower ship departed. We’ve stood in the center of the Globe theater, watching a play while standing. The UK is history come to life and it’s everywhere. Yes, you can see the exact place where Anne Boleyn was executed at the Tower of London. Yes, there’s Buckingham Palace. But the pub NEXT to the palace has been around just as long. With the constant construction around here and fast-rising luxury condos, it’s easy to forget how long London has been vital to the world. Until you step into a shop that has been supplying goods to its people for 300 years. And then you remember.

What to Love About Life in London: Respectful queueing

For the Love of the Queue

The fine art of standing in line is quite possibly one of the favorite activities for Brits. If you just formed a line for no reason in public, we guarantee some people would join, despite not knowing what they are queuing for. What makes queuing so amazing is the Brits’ willingness to be fair and organized. No one ever cuts in line and everyone is aware who is next. We were recently in Italy, waiting to board a bus to the airport, when a handful of pushy Italians shoved their way through the crowd to front. We were so angry that there was not more civility, and that no one was respecting the queue. But we did the similarly British thing about it: nothing. We just muttered under our breath and rolled our eyes.

The Not so Bad Weather

Most people’s biggest knock on London is the terrible weather. It’s “overcast and dreary” everyone told us. Well, that’s true to an extent. But frankly, we love the weather in London. After spending years of shoveling out our cars in the harsh Maine winters, and enduring the sweltering heat of NYC in August, the temperate weather here suits us just fine. In three winters, we have had no snow and a grand total of about four frosts. The summers hover in mid-20’s C (mid-70’s F), with no humidity. No need for air conditioning, and you can sleep in total comfort at night, year round.

Yikes!

What are we thinking? London is so great and nuanced and lovely, we’ll be sad to leave some of our favorite parts. Don’t worry – we’ll take our new found love for queuing, public television and diversity with us as we pursue new adventures.

Have you noticed that your favorite parts of your city aren’t what you expected? We’d love to hear all about those hidden gems below!

What to Love About Life in London

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  • August 9, 2016

    I’m sad you guys are moving away! But thanks for providing me a handy list of the things I can look forward to very soon. Good luck with your new adventures.
    Laura Lynch recently posted…Why Foodies Should Visit Niagara FallsMy Profile

    • August 10, 2016
      Julie

      Oh Laura! We’re so sad to miss your arrival. I can’t wait to read all about your adventures here and see what makes your list 🙂

  • August 11, 2016

    Agreed 95% with this list – I have to admit, the weather in London got to me after 5.5 years there but I do miss London like crazy!! I also moved there from NYC and I actually prefer London to NYC. EEk! I did not just say this on the web!! 😉

  • August 13, 2016

    Love this post! I live in Brighton, UK now but spent many years studying my degree then living and working in London. It is such an amazing & diverse city and I miss it when I haven’t been there for a while. Love your photo at the top of Primrose Hill, I used to live just around the corner 🙂
    Our Seaside Baby recently posted…India Diaries: We’re going to India!My Profile

    • August 15, 2016

      Nice! That view is great, and you can count the ridiculous number of construction cranes propped up around the city!

  • August 13, 2016

    When I lived abroad the thing I missed most (along with salt and vinegar crisps) was British pubs. Nowhere else quite has pubs like ours. Be careful though public drinking is not legal everywhere. There are many cities that have bans on drinking in public!
    Anne Slater-Brooks recently posted…Discovering The Stunning Mountain Ruins Of TermessosMy Profile

    • August 15, 2016

      Salt and vinegar crips are our favorite!

  • August 14, 2016

    Agree with pretty much everything! The pubs are great, the old historic buildings are amazing and pretty much everywhere. I would add one of my favourite things – markets! And especially food markets like in Greenwich! Oh, and then you can take the food and go eat in a park with some great view! Got me dreaming of London again!
    Sia recently posted…Burgas Salterns – A Natural Pink Spa in BulgariaMy Profile

    • August 15, 2016

      The markets were going to be #11 for us! Love that Greenwich Market too, and the views from Greenwich Park are amazing!

  • August 14, 2016

    Funny to read that the chance to meet some royals was one of your musts in London when you arrived. Nice list

    • August 15, 2016

      Was hoping we would become ‘besties’ with Will and Kate, but alas, no such luck!

  • August 14, 2016

    As a fellow American, turned British, I concur! The short election cycles are a blessing, and none of those awful political ads you get in the US!

    • August 15, 2016

      I have reached peak ‘Trump’ talk with my European friends…

  • August 14, 2016

    I visited London and agree to some of the items on your list, but trust me the weather is not one of them. Hail the British pub though.
    Travelwith2ofus recently posted…Barcelona for first time visitors with free things to do listMy Profile

    • August 15, 2016

      The weather one is controversial, but frankly, I’ll take some grey skies in exchange for mild winters any day!

  • August 14, 2016

    You guys rock in terms of making clear of what you really love about the places you go to. great personal insight on such an amazing city! I love London. I’m going to share this article. thx!!
    João Leitão recently posted…Peek Inside a Full Passport and be inspired to TravelMy Profile

    • August 15, 2016

      Glad you enjoyed it João! I loved the ‘Full Passport’ post!

  • August 15, 2016

    You’re right about London being a huge melting pot! That’s one of the things I loved about it during my last visit. Great photos!
    anna recently posted…Epic Adventure Challenges Around the World with Large MinorityMy Profile

    • August 15, 2016

      Thanks! We love that about London. We had our going away party this weekend, and had a total blend of cultures. Very fun!

  • August 16, 2016

    Great list here!
    Only we have more better summer season here in UK. We could enjoy more of the outdoors.

    • August 18, 2016

      Thanks!

  • March 6, 2017

    The old notable structures are astounding and basically all over. I would include one of my most loved things – markets! Also, particularly nourishment markets like in Greenwich!