In Courtney's latest blog post from London, she shares a comprehensive guide to some of the coolest spots in and around the city, from a unique cinema experience to an Instragammable ball pit for adults to day trips around England. You won't want to miss it!
Between friends and family recommendations to Instagram Ads to things you’ve seen in the movies to your own personal research, you’re going to have a mile-long list of all the things you want to do while you’re in England. And, don’t get me wrong, you should absolutely do them all! But, there are a few hidden gems that even local Londoners don’t know about, as well as things that you should consider trying to get the most out of your experience abroad. Looking back on my time in London this summer, I picked out seven things that—while they might not have been the coolest, craziest, or cup of tea for everyone—simply made me happy and contributed to the undying love I now have for the city. If possible, I recommend you give one, two, or all of them a go when you're in London.
Whether you’re an absolute cinephile or just enjoy the causal movie night once a month, London has the perfect place for you. Backyard Cinemas turns your movie night into an entire vacation experience without ever leaving the city!
When you arrive, you have to have your pre-purchased boarding tickets ready. Once Backyard Airlines checks you in, you’ll be ushered into the airport lounge while you wait to board your flight. Once your flight number is called, you get to board the “plane” and find your seats. Soon after, a flight attendant comes on to explain the safety measures for your journey to either LA or Miami, depending on where you choose to see your movie. Then, as on all flights, they’ll break out into song and dance. And that’s only the beginning.
Once you reach your destination, you’ll de-plane right onto a beach. Following the road signs, you’ll end up in the theatre; the floor made of sand, the walls decorated with plants and flowers, bright neon signs hanging overhead, bean bag chairs lining the rows, and a giant screen at the front. You can get your snacks and drinks while you wait for the show to start. Then, the lights dim and your flight attendant appears once again to pump up the crowd before the show with their dancing and a full on laser light show. And of course, then it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
They show everything from new movies to throwbacks to sing-a-long films, so there’s always something for everyone. This is an experience you can’t get anywhere else and makes for a fun and relaxing night out.
Write Postcards Home
Sending postcards home.
I know, I know. Postcards? What is this? The Middle Ages? Well, while there are much faster ways to communicate with your loved ones back home, postcards are still worth sending out. Not only do you get to pick out really fun and cute covers, but whoever you send them to will have the physical message and memory forever. I sent out a handful of postcards to my family, best friends, and even one to myself so I can remember how much I loved London while I was there. They’re cheap to buy and cheap to send and I 100% recommend them!
London Sky Garden
London Sky Garden.
The view from the balcony.
People will forever argue about where the best view in London is. But, I put that debate to rest today. There is no doubt that the best view of the city is from the London Sky Garden. Located on the 43rd floor of the famous “walkie talkie” skyscraper, the Sky Garden is the highest public garden in the city. In the garden, you get a 360 panoramic view of the city from the inside and the garden balcony. There’s tons of plants and trees that make you feel like you’re in one of London’s signature beautiful parks. There’s also a cafe, restaurant, and bar at the top so you could spend all the time you’d like relaxing and taking in the view. Oh, and tickets are free!
An Instragammable ball pit for adults!
Officially breaking the stereotype that it is unacceptable to play in a ball pit past the age of seven, Ballie Ballerson is the best night out in London. This place has two giant ball pits for adults to relive their favorite childhood memories. There are neon lights lining the ball pits, making it look like everything is glowing blue and pink. They play all the hits of today as well as some 2000’s throwbacks that everyone knows the words to. And of course, it’s totally Instagrammable! A word of caution, though: dress to play and HOLD ON TO YOUR BELONGINGS. The pit has been known to claim everything from shoes and hair ties to phones and wallets. Ball at your own risk.
Watch or Attend a Football Game
The football experience extends far beyond the stadium.
Just like America’s pastime is baseball, England’s is football. And they REALLY get into it, to say the very least. I was lucky enough to be in England for the Euros and let me tell you, I will never forget it. Every day England played, the city turned into one big arena for football fans to come together. Even if the game wasn’t until 8pm, fans were out and about, dressed in jerseys and red face paint, singing “Football’s Coming Home!” by 8am. The spirit of the city completely transforms on game days and you can barely focus on anything else. This year, England made it to the Euro Finals and since they haven’t won an international football tournament since 1966, it was a huge deal. I watched all the games up until the finals at pubs and it was so cool just to be in the atmosphere. Then, my friends and I went to Trafalgar Square during the final game. Everyone was singing, chanting, and cheering; I have never experienced anything like it before. Sadly, England ended up losing. But, if you want to experience a real, authentic English day or night, I totally recommend watching some football!
One Direction at Madame Tussauds.
Even if you don’t know what Madame Tussauds is, I guarantee you’ve seen some of the amazing exhibits inside the museum. Madame Tussauds is a museum featuring over 300 wax figures. Some of my favorites when I visited were Johnny Depp, Freddie Mercury, Dua Lipa, Princess Diana, Shrek, Brad Pitt, and of course, all five members of One Direction. They also have a new Star Wars exhibit that just opened up! The best part is you can take photos with all of them and, if you’re as convincing as I am, you can tell your friends and family that yes, you really did have tea with the Queen.
Tea with the Queen at Madame Tussauds.
Exploring all the England has to offer.
Did you really go to London if you didn't pose for a photo with one of the iconic red telephone booths?
Though this program is based in London, don’t limit yourself to the borders of the city. There’s so much of England to see! In addition to exploring London, I went to Oxford, Stonehenge, Bath, and Derby. They’re all unique parts of England that showed me the whole country isn’t shopping high streets, tourist attractions, and Parliament buildings. In Oxford, I got to see the world’s second oldest university. In Stonehenge, I saw what many people consider “the eighth wonder of the world” (and yes, I think aliens did have something to do with it). In Derby, I experienced what small town, residential life is like in most areas across England, which was extremely different from the lifestyle I was used to in London. I got a more holistic view of the country and British culture from expanding my horizons past London. All in all, don’t limit yourself to the city you’re studying in. Get out and see the world!
Join me next time for my final blog post!
Courtney Risner is an official CAPA London blogger for summer 2021, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Journalism and Political Science major from the University of Missouri, she is studying abroad in London this summer.
Courtney's journey continues all summer so stay tuned.