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Alternative Hot Spots: When You Skip Tourist Attractions to Live Like a Local

Last summer I had the privilege of studying abroad in London, or so I thought. However, if you ask my family and friends they would claim I was never there, and truthfully there is little evidence to reject their argument.

If you look through my photo album you won’t find one photo of me eating fish and chips, riding the London Eye, sipping tea, or riding a double decker bus. Months in England’s favorite city, and I hadn’t done the very activities that make the city so famous.

Months there and not a single picture with one of the Queen’s guards; some might say I wasted thousands of dollars, but instead of trying to make these statuesque men laugh, I was trying to experience a part of the city even Rick Steves wouldn’t think to write about.

Studying abroad isn’t like your average family vacation. Instead of your mother planning your dinners out a month in advance in order to make sure you have a reservation at “The Queen’s 5th Favorite Pizza Place”, you have time to walk around and consider restaurants that Yelp hasn’t exploited yet. Instead of hitting all of the tourist spots, I came across some hidden gems.

London Hidden Gem #1: Jak’s Restaurant and Jak’s Bar: This restaurant and bar duo is nestled in the Chelsea neighborhood. They don’t yet have to deal with the pressure to cook for a line of tourists, so they believe in cooking with all natural food. The atmosphere is more relaxed, and on some nights, you can even enjoy ’80s movies playing in the background while you sip on watermelon infused gin and elderflower martinis.

While studying abroad you are required to dedicate time toward your classes, and when you have an exam and 2 papers due in the same week, you are inevitably less enticed to spend 3 hours waiting in line for the London Eye experience. Instead, you are more likely to walk down The Queen’s Walk and find amazing street art—sometimes even Banksy’s work can be found hidden under bridges or tucked in neighboring alleyways.

Shopping in London can be painful—on both your patience and your wallet. Harrods is often the first choice for tourists looking for quick souvenirs, but good luck finding something that costs less pounds than you on the scale after Thanksgiving. Instead, take advantage of the markets all over the city, which sell everything from vintage t-shirts, handmade leather shoes, original artwork and even fresh pulled pork sandwiches.

London Hidden Gem #2: The Aldgate East Markets have something for everyone, from foodies to vintage collectors. On Sundays, the streets are filled with food vendors offering up their freshest recipes from trucks. Head underground where you can find hidden designer gems consigned for prices that are college-debt friendly.

Going abroad gives you the opportunity to shop, eat and relax like a local. Don’t let people back home make you feel like you missed out on the vital experiences of these famous cities. Trust me when I say that the only thing you would take away from the London Eye experience is a headache. Use your time to live like a local. Discover the new and evolving parts of the city, but without having to worry about people thinking you have crooked teeth.

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