Don’t worry, London students; London is far better than the terrible clubs you visited during Fresher’s Week. Away from the Tiger Tigers and Zoos there is a whole world of fantastic nightlife. Even if getting stuck to the floor of The Piccadilly Institute has sworn you off of clubbing for life, the capital offers so much to do. Plus, despite its reputation and what every parent tells you, you can afford to do it all without having to sell a single one of your kidneys.
London is a tricky city to write about. Not only because 1000-or-so words in nowhere near enough to even really begin to say everything great about it, but because it is always changing. Cranes are constantly erecting one building whilst others are being knocked down, and new clubs, bars and restaurants are constantly opening and closing (R.I.P. Fastoche in the Brunswick, my undergrad student staple.)
Of these new developments, however, the most exciting is the Night Tube. Meant to open September 2015 but delayed due to industrial disputes, a date for it starting has not been given. But by the end of the academic year it seems pretty inevitable that on Fridays or Saturdays your trip home will not have to involve two night buses and getting a crying girl’s mascara on you. Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria will be first to go 24 hours on the weekends, with the other lines soon to follow.
All of which means ‘I have to get the last tube’ can no longer be an excuse not to visit any or all of the following.
Exploring the City
Let’s make something clear straight away. ‘Exploring the city’ does not mean Big Ben, Oxford Street and a shopping bag full of stuff only slightly related to hard-coated chocolate from M&Ms World. Instead, it means feeding deer, climbing up the inside of stone pillars, seeing Da Vincis and Van Goghs, discovering rainforests in the heart of the city, and a thousand other weird and unique experiences that make London the best city to be young and free in the UK and possibly the world.
(I am not going to tell you where you can find any of the above things. Consider it your first exploration challenge to find them all.)
The best way to begin to explore the city is by bicycle. Cheap to rent from any of the many Santander-sponsored bike dispensers, cycling through the city is not as difficult as you might think it is (just avoid the terror-inducing Hyde Park roundabout), and is the best way by far to explore the city. Still, if it intimidates you, first visit one of the capital’s beautiful parks. Regents and Victoria are my personal favourites, but all of them are vital escapes from the city.
Apart from this tip, and my advice to find a high point like The Shard or The Eye at night to see how beautiful your new home city is, the rest is up to you. The joy of London is finding it out for yourself, discovering places off the beaten track. Some of my favourites include Wilton’s Music Hall, the Theatre and Performance section at the V&A, and the Close Up cinema off Brick Lane….now go and make your own list!
London has over 300 clubs and 2000 bars. So where to start?
Well, that very much depends what sort of night you want to have, and what sort of people you want do have it with. Gone are the days where you just had to make do with Wetherspoons and the one OK nightclub your city or town had (though if you are looking for a Spoons there are 150 of those in London).
A good place to start, though, is Shoreditch. East London has a (sometimes deserved) reputation for hipster nonsense, but for sheer numbers of weird and interesting bars, it has everywhere else beat. Hoxton Square combines great bars with live music like the Hoxton Square Bar, Electric Showroom and Ziegfried von Underbelly with some nice little food places, and is mostly chain-restaurant free. Your night can then continue in clubs like XOYO, Cargo and Village Underground
Your views on this Shoreditch experience inform where might be the best place for you to explore next. If you loved the quirky weird concept places like The Shoreditch, heading further east is your next step, to clubs like the Dalston Superstore and club nights like those at Oval Space.
If the whole thing left you craving just a normal pint, first visit Shoreditch’s Barley Mow, which is the perfect antidote to its surrounding area. Then, explore more of the central area around Camden, Euston and Bloomsbury. As well as being real student hubs (with prices to match), pubs like The Roebuck and clubs like Koko offer great drinking (the former) and dancing (the latter). They also offer one or two goth bars if you want the polar opposite of the East London experience.
Walking down many streets, it might be lead to believe that London dining existed solely of combinations of Pret, Starbucks and Pizza Express. Conversely, other areas seem designed to make you think that only oligarchs and their immediate families can afford eating out. However, it is possible to find good, affordable food without relying on faceless chains.
The first eating destinations you have to visit are London institutions. Make the most of that first student loan payment with a culinary tour of the city. Start with a Brick Lane curry. Choosing between them is difficult (most display ‘best curry in London’ banners), but they are by and large all excellent, with Sheba a good place to start. Next, Borough. Its market is as much about the experience of wandering around as it is about any particular truck, so have a good browse before choosing your lunch. Make some time at some point, however, for the raclette stall and its deliciously oozy cheese over potatoes. Next, pie and mash, a Cockney staple that was all but dead a few years ago. Luckily, there are still restaurants hanging on like Manzes and Cockneys Pie and Mash.
When you have tried London’s culinary past, try its present. Nothing if not a city of trends, London’s most defining current fad is upmarket fast food. Now, you are not a true Londoner until you have a favourite burger joint. To help find yours, some of the best can be found at the many locations of DirtyBurger, Soho’s Burger and Lobster or at MeatMarket in Covent Garden. Once you have done with burgers, try chicken at Chicken Shop (Kentish Town), hot dogs at Kensington’s Dirty Bones or even cereal at Shoreditch’s notorious Cereal Killer.
For those times when you want a little fine dining (i.e. when your parents take you for dinner), London offers some of the world’s best restaurants, with over fifty Michelin starred restaurants in the city. You might dismiss these as well out of your price range, but you’d be surprised. All you have to do is be aware of the times and days where restaurants are least visited. Most restaurants are desperate to boost their numbers on these days and offer huge discounts or deals. Mondays, Tuesdays and lunchtimes can see major discounts at even the fanciest restaurants.