Some travellers love it, others hate its guts; even residents are not sure what to make of their city. The same stereotypically unfriendly Londoners who moan incessantly about people standing on the left-hand side of the escalator are often heard overseas wishing that they were back home.
And I can relate. The same city that I couldn’t wait to move away from after living there for almost four years is the same city I couldn’t wait to back to when it hosted the 2012 Olympic Games.
It’s a complicated, love-hate sort of a thing. You see, just as there are two sides to a coin there are two sides to London – the fun and exciting part and the bit that chews you up and spits you out.
If London was a Batman villain it would be Two-Face. If it were a Charles Dickens novel it would be A Tale of Two Cities; Knight and Day if it were a bad Tom Cruise movie; Mr Hyde if it were an old timey monster.
And here’s why. I propose that my top four reasons to love London are also among my top reasons to hate the place.
Reasons to love and hate London
London’s stereotypically poor weather is not as bad as you think it is. The English capital is drier than Rome, New York, Brisbane and Rio de Janeiro, at least according to some British tourism websites.
I’m not about to pretend that London’s weather is amazing but the city has been known to have a few nice days every once in a while, and on these days the city really comes to life as Londoners seek to make the most of the weather.
On a sunny day in London everyone’s a little happier, a little nicer and London parks become like beaches – with women wearing bikinis and even men in business suits being known to strip down into their underwear.
On the other end of the spectrum, travel to London on a typically bitter winter’s day and you will wish you hadn’t. For seemingly months on end the city – and indeed all of Britain – is depressingly cold and grey.
Throw a stone in London and chances are, if you don’t hit a person, you will hit a pub. And most of them are pretty fantastic.
Pubs represent the social and cultural hub of London. They’re where it’s at when the weather is bad, when it’s good and everything in-between. Furthermore, London pubs are where you’ll witness the best –and worst – in conversation and bad jokes.
But just like everything else on this list, there is a flip side. The best pubs in London are often overcrowded, busy and utterly bereft of anywhere to sit – and you’re just adding to the problem. That’s right, you.
In a city of eight million people you can always expect to have to share any good pub with a good proportion of the population. And it’s worse on those rare sunny days in London, when all the London pubs with half decent beer gardens will fill up by lunchtime.
For inspiration, check out my guide to London’s best riverside pubs.
For years English football was like some foreign language that I just could not understand. And, to make matters worse, on match day there is always major delays on London public transport as often-loud and very obnoxious fans make their way to the games.
Eventually I caved in to the wonders of the beautiful game and went to my first match, an English Premier League encounter between West London football club Fulham and a little-known team called Manchester United. Followers of this travel blog (and anyone who follows that link) know how that one turned out.
The flip side of my love of football and London’s oldest professional football club is I absolutely hate Chelsea – with a passion normally reserved for Mondays and Marmite.
Okay, so London’s public transport is notoriously frustrating. But then which city’s transport network isn’t?
Since leaving London to travel through Southeast Asia I have a new found respect for London’s public transportation system. In Thailand, for example, buses are never on time, trains are a joke and travel by overnight sleeper buses and trains are a fact of life.
London, in comparison, is positively simple to get around. All you need is a little bit of patience – okay, a lot of patience – a Tube map and an Oyster card.
The Tube may be overcrowded or it may not be operational at all because of something inane like “leaves on the track” but it’s a lot cleaner than New York’s Subway, experiences less strikes than Paris’ Metro and is far more comprehensive than Berlin’s U-Bahn system.
For travel inspiration and the best tips to getting the most out of life in London visit Man vs World’s sister site Antipodean London.