London is as huge as it can get and so it is easy to feel lost, confused and overwhelmed with the various options available. However, before you start looking for a flat share/rented accommodation, ask yourself: “What do I want? How do I want to live during my semester abroad?”
• Do I want to live alone or with flatmates? If the latter, how many? Kitchen sharing only or also a bathroom?
• Do I want to be closer to the Queen Mary campus (or actually on campus) so that I can easily access the library, gym, events etc., or do I want to be closer to the ‘centre’ so that I can visit central London more?
• Am I fan of commuting? Would I mind commuting for 20-30 minutes daily x 2 (for each route) or walking from accommodation to uni campus for 20-30 minutes?
• Is it important I have supermarkets/shopping centres within a 5-minute walking distance from where I live?
• Do I prefer a student accommodation provider or a private provider?
Your answers will heavily influence your search for flats. With this in mind, a few resources include:
• Living on Queen Mary’s campus – the best student experience one could have. It will provide you with a vibrant, friendly and international student community. Your flatmates can easily become your temporary student family, and all your go-to areas (e.g. café, gym, Canalside, Victoria Park, supermarkets, pubs and lecture halls) are within 1-15 minute walking distance. Plus, the dorms are modern, spacious, colourful and full of all essential facilities (for a very small price I would say compared to normal London costs).
• Good and close to campus areas: Limehouse (15-minute walk), Canary Wharf (10-minute bus ride or 25-minute walk), Stratford (one tube stop), Aldgate/Spitalfields/Liverpool Street (20-minute walk, in the City).
• If you want a 2-3 minute walk from accommodation to uni, you can search for flats in Mile End and Bow, or slightly further afield in areas like Whitechapel, Hackney and Shoreditch, for example.
• Student accommodation providers: Scape (two halls near Queen Mary’s Mile End campus), Unite (one near Queen Mary, one situated at 15-minute walking distance), University of London Intercollegiate Halls, or check this website here.
• Other providers: spareroom.co.uk; rightmove.co.uk or you can get in touch with students already based in London who are looking for flatmates. They will likely have already contacted a landlord. Search on Facebook “accommodation London” and various groups will appear (some of them dedicated to students from a certain university), or create a group with fellow Erasmus/Study Abroad students and you can search for accommodation together – the options are endless.
Budgeting as a student might not always be needed but it is a life skill – so, it is better to start developing or improving your budgeting skills now, with a simple budgeting spreadsheet you can adapt to your needs. You can find one here. The link also includes budgeting tips and resources for managing transportation, food and entertainment costs in London. From personal experience, the following techniques are useful:
• During your first and second week in London, explore all supermarkets around: Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Lidl, Co-Op. Marks & Spencer is regarded as the highest quality for food as well as Waitrose, Asda as the least (this will be reflected in the price of your food). Thus, if you are unhappy with the costs spent at, say, Tesco, you can easily shop at another supermarket.
• Decide what your priorities are: if you have a cap on the entertainment & leisure budget, e.g. £100 per month, make a list of most things you could potentially do/like to spend your entertainment money on: theatre, opera, parties, dinners, cafes & restaurants, street food, museums etc.; make a priority list: do I prefer to buy a £40 theatre ticket or spend that money for 3-4 nice brunches with friends on Saturday morning? Having a priority list and deciding which entertainment option you want to pursue will make you feel in control of your finances, as well as prove very satisfying because you made a well-informed decision and chose the best option for you in that particular week/month (with which you cannot argue with in the end).
• Make this a Google spreadsheet, bookmark it so that whenever you are out, you promptly fill in on your phone the amount paid at the tube station, café, library etc.
• Have a look at your expenses weekly/bimonthly/monthly and reflect if you are satisfied with how you managed your finances, and the money left for the next weeks. If unsatisfied, analyse what you spent the most money on, and ask yourself how necessary that was, whether you can minimise costs whilst maintaining or improving output (your satisfaction of entertainment, food you eat, shopping, trips and other costs).
The best study spaces are the Queen Mary Library (all floors, even if they have books that are not related to your field of study), Canalside, Whitechapel Library, the British Library, cafés (the Costa in Mile End is a nice place where people study), the Nest (on campus), the on-campus cafés such as Ground and Starbucks at the Curve. The Graduate Centre, especially on the seventh floor is great too and has a very special view over London!
What to do in London
London 101 or the basics include:
• Museums & Galleries(remember that they are free): British Museum, The National Gallery, Museum of London, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Modern and Tate Britain, Whitechapel Gallery, Saatchi Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts
• Other attractions: London Eye, Tower of London, Madame Tussauds, London Dungeon, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, Notting Hill/Portobello Road Market
• Markets: Covent Garden, Camden Town, Brick Lane Market, Columbia Road Flower Market, Broadway Market, Old Spitalfields Market
• Parks: Hyde Park, St. James’s Park, Regent’s Park, Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill, Victoria Park (next to campus)
• Nature: Greenwich Park, Richmond Park
• Entertainment: Leicester Square (where China Town is), Harry Potter Studios (Watford), theatre plays here
• Brunch recommendations: Duck & Waffle, Breakfast Club, Di Stefano (the go-to non-campus café of Queen Mary students); Dinner and Bars: Sushi Samba, Christopher’s, The Alchemist, Sky Garden, 12th Knot, to mention but a few – London has plenty of restaurants, cafés and bars. Even if you are walking around undecided, you will easily spot something.
• Views: Sky Garden, The Shard – the seventh floor of the Graduate Centre on campus!
Day/Weekend Trips Ideas
4-7 days: Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen), Ireland (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Belfast), The Netherlands (Amsterdam, The Hague, Keukenhof, Zaanse Schans, Giethoorn).
2-4 days: Wales (Cardiff – 2 days is enough; full list of national attractions here)
1/2/3 days depending on time and if/how destinations are combined: Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Stonehenge (near Salisbury), Stratford upon Avon, York, Canterbury, Cotswolds, Greenwich, Brighton, Cornwall, Devon, The Jurassic Coast, Liverpool, Windsor. See here for some example photos and itineraries.
How to: you can visit Ireland by plane; for the rest mentioned above, by train (including Eurostar to the Netherlands) or coach booked via trainline.com (sometimes coaches are significantly cheaper however, the duration of the journey is longer).
You can do spontaneous trips (decide 1-2 days before that you wish to travel) but depending on COVID-19 and the time of the year, you might not find train tickets or these might be very expensive. So, attempt to organise such a trip at least a couple of weeks in advance to avoid disappointment.
Enjoy your time in London!