Where To in London: Essentials

So you’re in London for a while? Good choice! London is the centre of the world, even for this Canadian!

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I lived there for two wonderful years, but they weren’t without their ups and downs. From strange landlords to long commutes on the Underground, there are a lot of things I had to get used to when I first arrived. In fact, it wasn’t until 6 months into my stay that I truly felt settled.

There are so many simple things that I couldn’t do as quickly there, because I didn’t know where to do them! Here are a few essential things I wished I’d known, and where to find them.

Lightbulbs: Try Sainsbury’s. In Vancouver we have a wondrous place called London Drugs (funny enough). It has everything from makeup to food to electronics. It’s where I buy my light bulbs. In London, they don’t have as many of these all-in-one stores. The lightbulbs, for someone going about an average day, are best found at the Sainsbury’s grocery stores. If you’re at a big one, you’ll have tons of choice.

North American Food Brands: Partridges in Chelsea. You’ll probably grow out of your cravings, and I suggest you try, but until you do, visit Partridges for your Pop-Tarts, Fruit Loops, Aunt Jemima, and Nerds. Be prepared to pay the price though. A pack of Oreos will set you back £6.99, and cans of A&W Root Beer go for £1.25.

Laundry Items: Poundland. Spending too much money on these items can really add up, especially if you like to have plenty. I visited Poundland whenever I needed something laundry related, like a clothes hamper, bulk hangers for my expanding wardrobe, clothespins, and washing machine bags for my delicates.

Hairdresser: Headmasters. I spent the first 6 months in London using Groupon deals at various hair salons. Rush Hair Salon, a chain in town, is a good option that uses these online deals. Problem is, they get really expensive very quick if you’re not careful. Not the best for the tight budget you’ll probably have when you’re settling in. By the end of my trip, I’d developed an attachment to Headmasters. I’ve been to four of their salons, one outside of London, and always had a good experience. And they do free fringe trims! My favourite deal is the Me Day Monday where they offer a cut and full head of highlights for £99. Trust me, that’s a steal! www.headmasters.com

Appliances (Iron, Hair Straightener, etc): Argos. This is a funny little store where you look at massive catalogues, write down what you want, purchase it from a touch screen checkout, then wait for them to call your number and hand you the items. All the stuff is in a warehouse behind the counter, so you can’t see it before you purchase. A bit weird, but good for items that you know will be exactly what they say they’ll be. www.argos.co.uk

Bedding and Pillows: Ikea. The only downside to Ikea is they’re all pretty far out of the centre. Buy hey, it’s an adventure! You know you’ll get a discount, and the bedding and pillows that I purchased lasted me a good while. You can also visit department stores like John Lewis if you’re okay to spend a little bit more money for the convenience and luxury.

Cell Phone: Carphone Warehouse. This store is like going to Best Buy in Canada. They’ve got lots of phones, lots of plans, on all the carriers in the UK. I chose a BlackBerry on Orange and paid roughly £22 a month. Mobile phones (as they call them) are so much cheaper over there! I can’t say I’d recommend Orange, even though they’re one of the larger carriers available. I’ve been trying to cancel my plan for four months now (two from Canada!) and it’s been impossible, with every representative telling me something different. I’ve had such a terrible experience with their service in the last few months that I have no problem warning you about it. www.carphonewarehouse.com

Photocopying and Office Supplies: Ryman. Your Staples replacement is Ryman. Go here to pick up new pens and photocopy your CV.

Oyster Card Holders: Outside large train stations. Sure you can drop a pretty penny on a stylish leather Oyster card holder if you really want to. A cheaper option? Go through the big train stations (Waterloo, Clapham Junction, Charing Cross, etc) and there are always people handing out free holders trying to promote a product. Some of them are silly, but some are pretty cute!

Map: London AZ. Everyone owns one of these. Eventually you won’t need it, but while you’re running around to flat viewings and interviews, you’ll want some sort of map. If you’ve got yourself an iPhone at this point, that’s even better. www.az.co.uk

Have something to add? Would love to hear it! If these were helpful, be sure to check out Where To in London: Shopping and Where To in London: Eating.

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