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October 2005 issue

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London's attractions

London is a first-choice destination for many students going to the UK and few return home disappointed. Bethan Norris finds out how this capital city lives up to its reputation as one the world's most exciting places to visit.

Most people throughout the world have their own perceptions of London and what it has to offer, mainly through films, television or the fact that it is one of the business capitals of the world, home to many music legends and with a number of famous football teams. Many, however, are surprised to have their expectations fulfilled and often exceeded when studying in the city for a short stay or long-term study trip.

"London has something for everyone," explains Jane Dancaster from Wimbledon School of English in the south of the city. "Some of the most famous buildings and cultural attractions in the world, brilliant shops, fascinating markets, a vibrant entertainment scene – including the best choice of live music in the world – and a whole range of alternative fashion."

With a population of over seven million and the business and entertainment sectors of the city concentrated into a fairly small area, London can seem like an extremely busy, noisy place to visitors. But with such a concentration of people from diverse backgrounds the lively vibe that is generated is a big attraction for students. "London is the heart and soul of England," says Katherine Bradley from Malvern House Piccadilly Centre, in the centre of the West End entertainment area. "Students can experience the many different aspects and cultures that form this diverse and exciting city."

Popular areas for students to hang out in the evenings include Soho, Leicester Square, Oxford Street and Covent Garden, although bars and nightclubs are open until the early hours in almost every area of the city. Dancaster says that students at their school "have the whole of London, with its myriad rock concerts, theatres, cinemas, nightclubs and attractions on their doorstep – and when the underground stops there are night buses back to Wimbledon all through the night".

As well as offering the bright lights and excitement of the city centre, London also boasts many local, more low-key attractions, which vary depending on the area. Eurocentres is located in Pimlico in southwest London, an area that includes the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey (1), Buckingham Palace and Tate Britain, and according to Simon Rickets at the school, the area "has a village feel about it and mixes the grand – imposing Regency terraces – with the intimate – small street markets, cosy restaurants and pubs".

Ruth Chambers at EF International School of English also emphasises their school';s ideal position, close to many central London attractions, yet "located in a small, quiet residential street [and] unaffected by problems of noise and pollution". She adds, "Within walking distance of the school are some great little street markets, where farmers travel from all over the UK to sell fresh produce, attracting Londoners for shopping."

London has a reputation of being a very expensive city to live in or visit, but there are many things to do that don';t cost a penny, as Dancaster relates. "We have written a booklet, called London for Free, which we give to all our students when they arrive," she says. "One of the loveliest things you can do on a sunny day is stroll along the Thames from Waterloo Station to Tower Bridge, taking in such sights as the London Eye (2), the Jubilee Bridge, St Paul';s [cathedral], Tate Modern (3) and the Globe Theatre." She adds, "We have more green spaces than any other city, including the famous Royal Parks where you can take a boat on a lake, enjoy a free concert or watch a group of wild deer."

Anna Stanton from Aspect College London in Holborn agrees. "One of the best things about London is that a great many of the most interesting things to do are absolutely free…. Museums, galleries, concerts, markets, parks and many festivals are free of charge in the city," she says. And at Milner School of English, also in Wimbledon, Gene Lashchuk notes, "Our monthly social programme includes excursions and activities such as football, tennis and the occasional picnic. Our policy is cheap or free."

Another activity popular with students is to take a guided theme walk around some of the sights of London, which is also a good way of exploring some of the less well known areas of the city. Chambers says their school can organise specially designed themed walks for students. "[We offer] walking tours, eg. ‘Dickens'; London'; or ‘London in the movies';, which are led by professional guides," she says.

The River Thames is an important feature in London, dividing the city into the north and south, and boat trips provide a different view of the city';s attractions, as well as being a pleasant way to get around the city. "River trips are popular," says Rickets. "Downstream to Greenwich, Docklands and the Thames Barrier, and upstream to Kew Gardens, Richmond and Hampton Court." The Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and Traitor';s Gate are all best viewed from a boat on the Thames, while the commentary accompanying most boat trips also highlights many other points of interest. These include Execution Dock where pirates used to be hanged and left to be submerged by three tides before being cut down. River cruises are also not restricted to daylight hours, as Chambers points out. "Private EF parties on a boat on the River Thames are always a good night out," she says.

For an aerial view of London, Bradley claims that one of the best is from the top of the Monument (4), built to commemorate the Great Fire of London. "It';s 202 feet high (61.6 metres) because it is 202 feet from the site of the baker';s house in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire of London started in 1666," she says. "There are 311 stairs to climb but you do get a certificate to say you';ve done it."

An important aspect of a study trip to London for many students is that casual work is usually easy to find. The large number of bars, restaurants and hotels in the city mean that employers actively seek student workers, particularly during the busy summer months. However, students studying at Wimbledon School of English are well placed to take advantage of a unique type of work experience. "Our students help the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Association every year by staffing their information kiosk at Wimbledon Station," says Dancaster. "In return they get a tour of the world-famous tennis club and a Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Association t-shirt."


Agent viewpoint

"[My students] enjoy the huge option of activities [in London]. Brazilians like to be busy and London can keep you busy forever. They like to visit attractions, museums, galleries, go shopping during the day. At night they really enjoy going out to pubs, shows and musicals. They like to socialise with other students and make friends from all over the world."
Marcia Mattos, STB, Brazil

"London is recognised as one of the world';s most renowned cities for memorable history, diverse cultures, famous museums, art galleries, theatre and popular music. It also has a convenient public transportation system, part-time job opportunities, many green parks in the heart of the city and a wealth of opportunities for easy short-term travel to various European cities."
Julia Hong, Uhak.com, Korea

"We see that more and more students choose the school of our partners situated in London. There are no such big cities in Latvia and people want to experience living in this cosmopolitan place where lots of nationalities live together speaking the same language. Students like meeting people of different nationalities."
Evgeni Govor, Meridian Group, Latvia

"People in London are really friendly, helpful and kind. You can meet with any kind of trouble in the street but there will always be someone ready to help you. There is no way to get bored in London, no matter what the weather is like. You';ll always find something interesting to do, or just take a train or a bus and go to other cities."
Gabriela Ardito, Universidad del Salvador, Argentina

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