For many outsiders, the UK capital, London, is almost iconic, a symbol for the legends of its past and present. As such, it draws in students who not only want to soak up the city’s rich history, but also to immerse themselves in its present-day culture, like one student at Language Link in south-west London, who, says school spokesperson, Margaret Curran, “was attracted by the chance to experience the legends written about in Italian pop magazines”.
More than this, says Stuart Pollard, Director of Junior Programmes at Skola/International Community School in west London, “It is a city where everyone is welcome and has a chance to be who they are, and to add their own perspective to the city’s diversity.” He adds that the school’s programme is entitled ‘Discover London’, because “we believe that London is an experience and a learning opportunity which is second to none”.
“London has an exceptionally diverse ethnic population and a multitude of different lifestyles,” contributes Zoe Box of Crest Schools of English in Edgware, west London. ”Whatever your background, interests or lifestyle, you’ll always find something to do and people to meet.”
As Box highlights, London also has “the most amazing number of attractions”. A significant number of these are famous the world over. High on the list of popularity among Crest’s students are Westminster Abbey the traditional place of coronation and burial for monarchs and the official London royal residence, Buckingham Palace, which, she notes, “has been a rallying point for the British people at times of national rejoicing and crisis”.
In the historic city area, where London originally grew up on the north bank of the river Thames, are the unmistakable Tower of London site of many famous executions in earlier days and St Paul’s Cathedral, which, as Box points out, occupies the highest point in the City of London, and is one of London’s most famous and most recognisable sights. “At 365 feet (111 metres) high, it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1962, and its dome is also among the highest in the world,” she notes.
In addition, “The Houses of Parliament are a must-see for any traveller,” comments Sarah Lachman of Wimbledon School of English, and, of course, no visit to London would be complete without hearing the chimes of Big Ben at close quarters. At the same time, students’ appetite for history can also be satisfied by visits to some of the city’s many museums. “There are several hundred, such as the British Museum, which has historic artefacts from all over the world,” Lachman points out, “and they are all free!” Lesser known collections are also popular for example, the newly refurbished Museum of London, which, as Pollard highlights, “helps [students] to understand why London is so diverse, so large and such a mix of styles”. Also recommended is the new Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum, while Lachman claims, “The fabulous new Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum is a must!”
Another prime rainy-day destination is Madame Tussauds waxworks, which, Box explains “is a major tourist attraction…displaying waxworks of historical and royal figures, film stars, sports stars and famous murderers.” Madame Tussauds has recently taken over the neighbouring London Planetarium site and from summer 2010 is using it to house its Marvel Super Heroes 4D attraction.
When the weather is good, students can make the most of it by taking an excursion on the river, joining a walking tour or simply enjoying a picnic and/or a game of football in one of London’s many parks. “Our junior students always enjoy an excursion that starts at St Paul’s Cathedral, crosses the Millennium Bridge, and ends with a picnic outside the Tate Modern [art gallery]”, says Pollard. “They get to see the historic side of the city, have fantastic views up and down the river, and end up at one of London’s newer landmarks.” Those who are keen to gain a bird’s-eye view of the city can climb to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral, or take a spin on the giant ferris wheel known as the London Eye, which is situated on the south bank of the Thames.
“A river boat cruise is always a winner,” reveals Pollard, as it combines the hustle and bustle of the city with the calm of the water, whilst giving students a chance to experience some of London’s most famous sights.” Meanwhile walking tours cater for a range of interests, as Lachman explains. “International Friends do a free Tuesday walking tour of central London, which is a great way of finding out more about the city. There are a variety of other walking tours…such as a Jack the Ripper [famous nineteenth century murderer] walk, or, if the students come to our school, we do Wimbledon walking tours, as well.”
If it is the beach that a student hankers after, then the good news is that travelling in and out of London is very easy, as Lachman observes, and transport links to other towns and cities are excellent. “We strongly recommend students to take a forty-minute train ride to Southend-on-Sea,” says Peter Bulmer of north London-based Academy SJW, who adds, “Of all the seaside resorts near London, this is the most relaxed, and the one that most real Londoners prefer to visit.” Meanwhile, comments Lachman, “I think every student should spend at least a day in Oxford to know more about the history of England, and a trip to Brighton beach is also recommended,” she says.
The excursion possibilities are almost endless, and, at Academy SJW, students are given details of more than 50 popular and some less well-known places to visit. “Once [they] have done the obvious things, such as visiting Camden Market, getting lost in the British Museum and eating over-priced burgers at the Hard Rock Café,” says Bulmer, “we strongly recommend visiting such places as the National Portrait Gallery to view the annual portrait-painting competition; the RAF Aeroplane Museum at Hendon; the Photographers Gallery near Oxford Street; the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, with its summer pavilion [where] a new building is constructed every year by a world-famous architect; Arsenal football stadium, to see the club museum and take a tour of the changing rooms and other areas which are normally off limits to the general public; [and] the greyhound racing track at Wimbledon, where they will see how many Londoners spend their time and money.”
Sightseeing aside, Lachman says that students love to shop in central London’s top shopping areas, such as Oxford Street, Knightsbridge (home of Harrods department store) or Covent Garden. “Camden market is always an experience,” she adds. “It is a little part of London that has its own subculture.”
Indeed, Dave Amor from Into University East Anglia, London which boasts a new study centre in the heart of the city notes that there are an array of different markets to sample, most notably Brick Lane, Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane in the east end of London. Selling anything from exotic fruits to antique goods, Sunday’s can be particularly busy, he says. “One of the things [students] love most is the number of stalls offering cheap and tasty food from all over the world,” he adds.
There is as much to keep students busy in the evening as there is during the day. “London is the greatest city in the world for art, music, clubbing, theatre, sport, shopping and a host of other activities,” observes Box, providing more than 140 theatres (showing not only plays, but also ballet and opera), as well as concert halls, cinemas, live music venues, comedy clubs and clubbing scenes. Musical shows are particularly popular at Wimbledon School of English, notes Lachman, while Amor relates that the fashionable bars of Shoreditch are a big draw for students, as are the many art galleries dotted about the city.
According to Lachman, “There are little things about London that really please students. [They] tend to be really excited the first time they see a red double-decker bus, and when they take a walk over Waterloo Bridge, the view is perfect, with almost every London landmark in sight.” Similarly, comments Curran, “[One student] said that just standing in front of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, hugging the lions in Trafalgar Square, [and] strolling through Hyde Park made her jump for joy.”
As Bulmer points out, “Most things to do and places to visit in London have been around for ages, so it’s just a question of knowing how to find them the greyhound racing at Wimbledon is a good example. But new things are popping up all the time the maze in Trafalgar Square, for example, the Saatchi Gallery of Contemporary Art in Chelsea, or the ice rinks that appear all over the city every winter. Or the annual Morris Dancing Festival!”
“What [students] most like about London is that they feel it is a safe place. They say people are really polite and helpful, and there is always someone ready to help you if you happen to get lost or if you cannot find your way. What they find impressive is the way in which the Underground system is organised, and the punctuality of all means of transport in general. They also comment on the fact that all streets are clean and well lit, and pedestrians always have priority over cars. There are lots of places you can visit for free, such as the British Museum or the National Gallery...convenient for those who are on a tight budget.”
Gabriela Ardito, Viajes al Reino Unido, Argentina
“Students comment that London is busy, and that it is too large; its public transport is expensive, and it is expensive generally, although they find that clothing is cheaper than at home. On the positive side, it has great shopping, wonderful sights and museums; it is not too cold in winter, and has a very early spring, compared to the Czech Republic, with parks in bloom as early as March.”
Karel Klusak, Intact, Czech Republic
“[Students like] its incredibly rich culture and history but also the fact that it is one of the cities that combines both the best of contemporary art/architecture whilst retaining the best aspects of its heritage, in a way that very few great metropolises have managed to do. Students who have spent longer spells in London marvel at the fact that it is a city that has so many layers, a place that offers a never ending set of new experiences. Those who have just arrived comment on the great infrastructure and the ease and cheapness with which students can travel to every corner of the city.”
Ângela a’Barrow, Artha, Brazil