Starting at university, especially one as highly demanding as Imperial, can be both exciting and overwhelming. Most students often find themselves swamped with work from the second week of term, but it’s always worth remembering that by studying here you also live in one of the greatest and most well-known cities in the world. And the best thing about London is that it has so much more to offer besides the famous tourist spots, such as Big Ben or London Eye. So here’s a short guide to exploring London, which includes less touristy places, well worth a visit. Most of them are free – a huge win in London as you’ll soon realise – and can be used as nice study break destinations. So let’s put our walking shoes on and explore this beautiful city!
Just within a walking distance of Leicester Square you’ll find Covent Garden. Its main attraction is the indoor market, with cute – albeit quite pricey – restaurants and shops. Just outside the market is the Royal Opera House, and the surrounding areas are always full of street performers. One of the coolest things around is Maxwell’s Bar & Grill restaurant, just opposite the Covent Garden tube station. This place sells amazing freakshakes – super delicious milkshakes with cakes, marshmallows, and ice-cream on top – that are not to be missed. So take your SO, friends, or even just yourself out on a freakshake date for a well-deserved sugar boost after a long and tiring week!
Owing to its artsy and hipsterish vibe, Shoreditch has become a popular destination for young people, particularly famous for its vibrant nightlife. However, besides many cool clubs and bars, you’ll also find amazing graffiti almost on every corner. So whether you’re a hopeless party animal or have an eye for street art, this is a place for you! In addition, walking further east from Liverpool Street tube station will lead you to Brick Lane, where huge street and indoor markets take place every Sunday. You’ll have a chance to try street food from all over the globe, find interesting clothes and collectables, and enjoy talented street performers. You can even walk all the way to the Flower Market on Columbia Road if you fancy some plants for your new room.
One of the coolest things about London is that among all the grand buildings and busy streets you can also find many parks, perfect for jogging, cycling, or having a picnic with friends to maintain that study-leisure balance. Most Imperial students opt for Hyde Park, conveniently located minutes away from South Kensington campus, where even a short walk can be a nice break from the library. Another option is Holland Park, where you’ll find the Japanese Kyoto Garden with colourful flowers, peacocks, waterfalls, and fish ponds. If you fancy spending more time outdoors, it’s worth paying a visit to Regent’s Park, home of beautiful gardens, fountains, statues, and diverse wildlife. Situated on the northern side of the park is Primrose Hill, offering an amazing view of London’s skyline, which makes it a popular destination among picnickers.
This little gem, hidden in the heart of Paddington, is a perfect place for romantic walks with that special someone, or even just by yourself. It’s a smaller and much cheaper version of the actual Venice in Italy: basically a collection of beautiful canals, full of colourful boats. Some of them are used as cafes, where you can get an affordable deal on cream tea, something you have to try at least once while visiting the UK. The best way of getting around is taking the tube to Warwick Avenue station, which is just within walking distance of Little Venice. Walking alongside the canals will eventually lead you to Paddington station, where you can depart home, or on to your next destination.
Chinatown and Leicester Square
Located in the very centre of London, Chinatown contains many Asian shops and restaurants, and is one of London’s must-see places. If you crave traditional Asian food, like dim sum or bubble tea, or want to enjoy the views of Chinese-style gates and lanterns, this is the place for you! It’s also the most popular destination for Chinese New Year celebrations in the spring.
Moreover, Chinatown is just next door to Leicester Square, which is surrounded by cinemas, English pubs, and restaurants. You can also find an enormous M&M’s World shop there, containing more chocolate in one place than you could ever imagine. Beware though – it’s full of screaming kids at any given time, but is still an interesting place to see if you have a sweet tooth.
Minutes away from Leicester Square is Piccadilly Circus, with the famous statue of Eros; and Regent Street, one of the biggest shopping destinations in London. The best way to reach these spots is to take the tube to Leicester Square station and just walk around the area. Enjoy the views!