When You Think of London, What Comes to Mind?

Hey there Atlas Obscura readers! We’re working on a fun storytelling project set in London right now, and could use your help. When you think of London—whether you’ve lived there, visited, or only dreamed about experiencing it for yourself—what unique aspects of that city do you think of first? Is there anything in particular related to London that you’ve always wondered about? It could be something related to its culture, its geography, its history, the people who live there, its famous places or institutions—really anything that comes to mind. Is there a belief you realize you have about London that you’re not actually sure is true? Is there something about the city that you feel certain is distinctive, but you’d love to understand better? Let us know in the comments below! We might use your idea in an upcoming project.

2 Likes

The London clubs on Pall Mall. What do they look like inside?

1 Like

History of the Sephardi community in East End

2 Likes

I’ve only visited a couple times, but I always feel a strange kind of anonymity. When I walk through the city, no one takes any notice, but it’s not because (in the way of NYC) so much else is going on. The best way I can describe it is that everyone is on the same level. It’s some kind of monochromaticity.

1 Like

Mindblowing museum and gallery overload; Underground station corridors and graphic design; throngs of young foreign students with matching backpacks; Georgian house facades; self-important monuments to colonialism and a declined, dead empire; Westminster majesty/depravity, Dickensian squalor and 21st century cosmopolitanism all smushed together and somehow seemingly all being of a piece.

3 Likes

When John Cleese tweeted that London “no longer feels like a British city”, that was the kind of ambiguous opinion that can be read a number of ways. Many saw a xenophobic boomer, others saw Pythonesque humor, I read an opinion similar to Anthony Bourdain’s “London belongs to everyone, it belongs to no one”. As the capital of the country, its most visited city, and home to many of its symbols and stereotypes, London is unquestionably British. It’s also unquestionably global.

Food: London has the most Michelin stars in Europe and these restaurants are mostly full of rich visitors. A majority of Londoners are more likely to get lunch from ready-to-eat chains and have curry house takeaway for dinner. The media loves to focus on the stories of migrant cooks trying to stop the attackers during London’s relatively common attacks, from the staff of Borough Market restaurants throwing produce crates in 2017 to the Polish cook with the narwhal tusk in '19.

Capitalism: London had the best Olympics opening ceremony. 5 top tier soccer clubs are based in or near the city but the future of the Olympic Stadium still seemed uncertain for a few years after the games (compare to Brazil post-2014). One of the streets with the most expensive houses in London is known as a not-at-all-secret money laundering magnet, and that’s just the one street.

Modern pop culture: The xx, Ministry of Sound, Battersea Power Station, Children of Men (the movie, also featuring Battersea and Banksy), Stormzy, Amy Winehouse, Camden Market’s cheap clothes and canvas prints of Amy and Frida Kahlo reminding me of the Coyoacán markets in Mexico City.

More capitalism: currently living in the UK, but nowhere near London, the most constant comment I hear about the capital is not about its demographics, transport, politics, culture, etc. The most common thing Brits say about London is probably: London is expensive.

1 Like

Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

I think of Buckingham Palace and the Royal Family.
I watch the series “The Crown” and of course the royal family has lost some of its luster know how they get paid to be the Royal Family!!! I visited London in 1969 and only cared about Piccadilly Circus and The Beatles!
But now it’s politics.
I feel like maybe it is better to live there is EnglAnd . I am embarrassed being an American Citizen due to the election of this gangster Donald Trump. I think our government is not for the best of its people but got the best of the rich!
What would it be like living under the Queen’s reign?
Better or worse! I am okay and make my own. I’m not suffering from Trumps reign I am just embarrassed. Long live the Queen!

I’ve been reading & rereading Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories since I was in 3rd grade, so my mental picture of London is a Holmesian picture of of horse cabs clattering over cobbles on fog shrouded streets, bobbies blowing whistles as they chase dark figures, all that good stuff. I imagine it’s a bit like imagining the US as scenes from a noir thriller, lol.

2 Likes

What exactly lies underneath London? Roman settlements? I don’t know.

2 Likes

I’ve been living in London for almost a year now, and my impression of it changed dramatically during the first few months. Experiencing the city as a tourist and experiencing it as someone living here are two very different things.
Top things that I recall blew my mind:

  1. Londinium
  2. The Thames comes from a spring
  3. The volume of green spaces
  4. River Thames frost fairs
  5. There are so many other ways to get around London than just the famous Tube
1 Like

Theatre & Muscles / Big Ben / Savile Row / Regent’s Park / Marble Arch / Ritz / Fish & Chips / Brexit - Lots of people … A great city to visit (wouldn’t want to live there)

Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper, Bryant and May. If I lived there I think I would continually be exploring old neighborhoods, trying to find access to the old sewer system with the Victorian architecture and in general acting like a tourist.

Also, Hollywood LOVES destroying London. The Tom Cruise Mummy movie, the second Thor, some Transformers thing and that GI Joe one where the city is OBLITERATED are only a few examples.

Edit:
…aaaaaand Hellboy 2019 went all in as well.

Oh, and one of the best ever gags about London from the credits of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GaPujM4qvZ0

Museums you are not required to pay for to get in. Unlike the Louvre and others where you find yourself doing the forced march in order to get your entrance fee worth of art, at the National Gallery you can do the Middle Ages one day, 17th century Netherlands the next, Impressionism a third day. Take your time, then go have a bracing cup of magnificent tea. Another favorite is the Museum of London in the Docklands. Strolling everywhere: the many parks, the tunnel under the river to Greenwich, Kew Gardens. Tired of strolling? There is nothing like the Tube for travel.

I’ve only visited once, two years ago, but I think about returning at least once a week and I have long fantasized about moving there. The general feeling I have about London when I look back on the trip is a sense that the average person there feels less stress than their counterparts in NY, SF, LA, etc. What gave me this impression was the energy in the air in the evenings, after work, when people were leaving their jobs to go home, but still making time to stop in at a pub before catching their train; younger and older people out late enjoying company at restaurants and bars until late hours when you’d almost never see that happening in most US cities; families out with children on a school holiday enjoying the free museums (here they are only free one day of the week, and that’s never on a holiday). There wasn’t a feeling of desperation there like I’ve felt in many major US cities, including my own. My guess about what was giving me this impression was healthcare. Having a baseline level of care and removing the worry and stress created by being chained to a job you might not like because you need your health coverage must create a huge difference in how you view your life and opportunities. Maybe this was all in my head, but it makes me feel that the rat race aspect of British capitalism might be just a teeny tiny bit more humane because with healthcare disconnected from your job, at least work isn’t a life-or-death situation? Whether I’m wrong or right about this, there was definitely a feeling that Londoners were out, enjoying their own city, every day of the week and at all times of day/night.

On a lighter note, the other two things that stick with me are food and clothes. The average supermarket or corner cafe in London (and all other cities in the UK I visited) is of a MUCH higher quality than what can be found in the US, and healthy staples seemed to be priced lower by comparison. This was striking. Finally, because I was there in the late Fall I also noted the smart, sensible but stylish coats, scarves and walking shoes and boots that Londoners wore. Women coordinated these items with many different dark-colored tights. I would call the street fashion of everyday people there something like “refined utilitarian”. Riding the tube and looking at all of the coat-shoe-umbrella-tights combinations was fun!

1 Like

Sherlock Holmes for sure :slight_smile: I’ve never actually been, but I’m hoping to visit within the next couple of years.

The magnificent Crossness Engines Trust. Victorian sewage pumping at its finest. Why make something that’s utilitarian ugly, when you can make it beautiful? That mindset, to me, is London.

1 Like

All the place names and where they originated. i.e. Scotland Yard, Threadneedle Street, Soho, Elephant & Castle, Harlesden, Spitalfields etc.

The year was 1984. London was the last stop on a 10 day trip with a tour group. Our group lodged at the Kensington Hotel just around the corner from Kensington Palace and I was thrilled to see the home of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. It’s hard to express the joy I felt being in London. I was 20 years old and in awe of everything I saw.