Conquering London in two days on a small budget isn’t the easiest of feats. Luckily, the weather was close to perfect for walking around, and the cool breezes were a welcome relief from the hot sun. Our big tourist stop was to the infamous Tower of London, which sits next to the River Thames. As a lover of gory history I relished in it. While there, we were told an hour of historical and morbid tales from a prestigious “Beefeater”, saw the blindingly bright Crown Jewels, roamed the inner castle and saw enough amour and weaponry to clothe all of England’s Kings (literally).
We also got the chance to hang out with our old travel buddy from Southeast Asia, Dan. He took us on a walking tour over the Tower Bridge, then down the South Bank all the way to the London Eye. We sipped a cheap convenient shop (canned!) gin & tonic to quench our evening thirst, took pictures of Big Ben and the Parliament and watched a sunset that rivaled any of the ones we saw on the beaches of Cambodia.
The next day was none the less productive and we saw Buckingham Palace, walked till our feet ached, and saddled up on bikes and rode through Hyde Park.
When it comes to travel, these were perfect days.
Problem was, I just didn’t love London. What’s even more shocking is, I have no good explanation for it.
London was really nice, clean and efficient. The people seemed pretty cool and there was a lot to see. The red double-decker buses, the old school taxis and the beautiful elegant buildings all lived up to my expectations. Also, I knew if I lived there I would be within an eternal state of foreign food gluttony.
Maybe I needed more time? Maybe I didn’t explore enough of the neighborhoods to get the right vibe?
Or the problem might just have been that I had an overall better time and was just more intrigued by Northern England.
Reasons to visit Northern England
It’s more authentically English
London is fantastically international. Riding on the underground means being surrounded by tens of hundreds of nationalities at once. Everyone has come from a different background and a different walk of life. Like I said before, the foreign food options are astounding.
While these are all great things, London is it’s own entity, but not uniquely English. I felt more like I was getting to know England while visiting Yorkshire. I drank local ales from small pubs. I heard thick accents, which to my ear only differed subtly from village to village. To the local population though, I knew it was a way to find out where someone grew up without even having to ask. We drove past cottages that had stood on generations of farmland and old roads that were used in Roman times.
I saw the abandoned red telephone booths not as a tourist symbol but for what the really are today– reminders of the past kept for sentimental value. I realized that the double-decker buses aren’t always red, and that they are an actual mode of transportation, even in smaller towns. I saw all the ways which were normal to everyone else, but drastically different for me, when comparing it to my home country.
It’s way cheaper
In London, I felt like I was frequently preoccupied with the costs of everything. I was shocked when I saw the entry to one of the biggest tourist sites, the Tower of London, was £23 ($37) per person. That’s triple the price of the Taj Mahal!
One night, when I ordered the cheapest draught ale at the bar, I wasn’t left anymore relaxed at the last sip, but stressed when I saw it cost 5 quid! (That’s pounds to us North Americans). To help cut costs, one night of the two down south was spent near the airport. This was not out of convenience for our early flight, but because it saved us close to £40. This hotel also ended up being much nicer than the tiny, more expensive Best Western in Paddington.
For someone like myself who sees money as experiences, I feel that the longer my money lasts the more of the world I’ll get to see. In London, it was just hard paying such high prices but getting nothing of greater quality in return.
Thankfully, not all of England is as expensive as its capital. In Yorkshire, for the same price as London, I could try a couple of draught ales at the bar. For manageable prices, I ate at local small restaurants and had fantastic huge portions of fish & chips and steak pies. We traveled on the train most of the time, but others we found budget car rentals online. In York, the sightseeing didn’t cost much at all. Even an hour long ghost tour was only £5 and an hour long bus tour was £6.
I used to see myself as such a big city person. Maybe I’m just getting lazy or the long metro commutes in Seoul exhausted me, but if it ever takes longer than 25 minutes to get somewhere on the metro, I consider it far. London is not just a big city, but a huge one. You have to prepare for a lot of time to get to and from the airport, a lot of time on the metro and a lot of walking.
If I were to do my trip over again, I would have done London first, and then when I was exhausted, head north for some clean air, rolling pastures and easy travel. In the time it would take you to travel across half of London, you could travel between Leeds and York!
The scenery is beautiful
In the north of England, the population has to suffer through a lot of rainy weather. Luckily for me, I just got to reap the benefits of bright green rolling hills and abundant leafy trees. You may have noticed from the photos in my last post.
I loved riding the train and seeing so much countryside, absent of new high-rises or cemented ground. Compared to most places I’ve been there was just so much vacant land to gaze out the window at and enjoy. Even the towns were pleasant, too. The cobblestone streets and old stone houses took me back to another time. The still standing ancient monasteries like Kirkstall and Bolton Abbey made me realize how much history was there.
I was only in the area a little over a week, and I’m sure there was a lot of scenery I missed out on. I think the Lake District would be next on my list!
I’m not saying London is bad, or you should skip it.
I’m just stating what is obvious to most of the English– there is so much more to England than London. Besides, Yorkshire won the World Travel Awards for Europe’s Leading Destination in 2013, so I must be right about something.
Want to experience the English countryside the way it was meant to? Check out Sykes Cottages for charming cottage rentals all around England.