Samuel Johnson once quipped that “When you are tired of London you are tired of life.” For many of us, foreign students, who hail from the far-flung corners of the earth one of the greatest draws of LSE is its location. London. A city of contrast, no longer the capital of a great empire, though its architecture and splendour show that legacy, but still the energetic and dynamic financial and commercial hub of the West. A city of 10 million people spread over 120 square miles following the winding course of the Thames river as it flows steadily toward the sea. Yes, London is one of those cities like New York, Shanghai, Singapore or Rome which could well be the main character of any story, but as a visitor to this ancient land you owe it to yourself to look beyond the confines of the capital. The United Kingdom is composed of four constituent nations knotted together by a long history of turmoil and strife, and each and every corner of it has its own unique character and beauty. So when you are able to get out of London for a day or two or three, do it!
No need to travel far or wide or at great expense. Since I arrived in the UK, I have had the opportunity to visit Brighton, St Albans, Canterbury, Cambridge and Oxford. Still on my list of places to visit are York, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow. My own adventures have been confined to the southern part of England because, as a parent, I am largely limited by that fragile window that exists where a small child is perfectly content to look out a car window before boredom sets in and the child erupts into a terrifying rage. So each of the places I have listed I have been able to visit in a single day by car or more conveniently by train. You should as well, because as much as each of these has an underlying beauty, they are more than just quaint tourist towns or commuter communities. They are each a piece of the greater whole of the UK and have their own regional flavour and character. They will also let you experience aspects of the UK that London doesn’t quite allow for. For example, in Canterbury the wife and I were treated to a fantastic meal in a beautiful restraint built into what was once the city’s defensive walls. We paid a significantly lower price for this than we otherwise would have had to if we had eaten this meal in London.
The cost of living and thus prices are just lower in these smaller communities, but don’t let that be the only reason they draw you. For me, the siren song of history is always the main driver for any excursion. Each of these communities has its own unique history and the evidence of that remains in both its character and local colour. Brighton, for instance, is a combination of Regency and Victorian grandeur. St Albans has expansive Roman ruins now contained within a public park, but one can see where the citizens of the township migrated from the Roman town up onto the hill where the church became the fortified centre of their community. Oxford and Cambridge have absolute grandeur befitting the birthplaces of liberal education and the aforementioned Canterbury is in some ways a city in amber where one can easily see modernity fade away, replaced by the early modern people that once called it home.
I still have much further to travel. I want to visit York and see what once was the greatest city in Northern England. Stand on Glasgow docks where my own ancestors once stood before taking a ship to America’s far offshores. In conclusion, I will say it is very much worth it to take advantage not just of London’s proximity to other great cities but the ease with which one can travel across the UK to visit as much of it as you are able.