We have a tough task ahead of us, friends. We’re about to compare two of the world’s leading cities. They are as similar as they are dissimilar. Both offer award-winning dining, shopping, and sightseeing delights.
Perhaps the biggest contrast between the two is their history and tradition. London was founded in 50 AD by the Romans. Since then, we’ve gone on to see the monarchy evolve and urbanites take over. New York City, by contrast, is lightyears away where Manhattan took root in 1624.
Bringing it back to the modern day, though, each city will offer you vibrancy and a stack of memories to remember. There’s truly no place like New York City. The bright lights, the fashion, the sparkling sunsets against a world of skyscrapers - many other cities pale in comparison to what New York has to offer. Meanwhile, London stands stoic and proud across the pond, rich in history and traditions - also a sight to behold. So, London vs. New York… who do you think will take home the prize? Let’s take a stroll through each and see which one comes out on top.
Mind if we get the money issues out of the way first? Truth be told, both of these cities have a bad rap for being expensive. While that’s mostly true, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And we’re going to discuss those ways.
Personally, I’m less than inclined to stay in a hostel in “off the beaten path” cities. But, in big cities like New York and London, you can find beautiful little oases. That’s one way to save. We’re also going to talk flying off-season because, let’s face it, in vibrant cities like these, there’s really no “bad” time to go.
London has a reputation for being an expensive city to visit and live in. In my humble opinion, the only way to travel is off-season. According to Fodor’s, London’s off-season is November through May. That leaves you with some nice options: an early December trip when London is bedecked in Christmas lights or an early May trip when the lights of spring start to flicker.
Since London is such a metropolitan area, you can protect your budget by considering a stay at a hostel. (Some of them come in an $20 per night!) What you sacrifice in privacy you regain in pocket change. Otherwise, a thorough Airbnb search will open up a slew of options. Honestly, I found a long list of single rooms for rent under $75! Remember to set your filter to Superhost (so you only get the best of the best) and include your price range.
Then, it’s time to budget your meals. Set aside $150 for your daily meals. Of course, you can trim that down by skipping breakfast or lunch and splurging on dinner. But, what you don’t spend on food, you can reserve for trinkets. Either way, $150 is a nice price point.
Before you arrive in London, it’s wise to make a list of the attractions you’d like to visit. There are plenty of free attractions, including garden walks (and even the National Portrait Gallery) but things like the Tower of London come with a price tag. Outlining this portion of your trip will allow you to see how much you need to save on that end.
As for transportation, the London subway system (the London Underground or the tube) is up there with Manhattan’s subway system and the Paris Metro. It’s smart; it’s affordable; it’ll never leave you stranded. Your best bet will be a day pass, coming in at about $16. There’s no escaping the British pound; it’s more costly than the Euro and the American dollar. So, don’t forget to factor that in as you round out your budget.
Central City Flat/private roomLondon, United Kingdom
In a city that never sleeps, it’s difficult to nail down the off-season. Plus, there’s really no “bad” time to be there. Christmas is magical. Spring in Central Park is meditative. As for the fall, well, there’s a reason they host New York Fashion week in the fall; the city is transformative. Summer is a little less appealing. You’re sweaty; it’s congested. Still, that doesn’t stop anybody from making the most of those rooftop bars and glowing city sunsets. The slow season is short (if it exists at all). You might catch some good deals between January and March (as long as you get out of there before St. Patrick’s Day).
Like London, you’re going to find hostels here that are shockingly clean and affordable enough to allow you to splurge on an afternoon at Bloomingdales with the money you save. The same goes for Airbnbs. There are plenty of people looking to offset the exorbitant NYC rent prices with a room for rent. You just want to make sure you don’t wind up in Queens or the end of Brooklyn. If you’re going to New York, stay in New York. That’s going to hurt your budget a little bit, but you can still come in under $100.
Really, on any trip, the $150/day for meals is a fair price point. You can get away with the same amount in Manhattan. Best of all, you can simply do a NY bagel and coffee for breakfast, stretching your budget into that silk scarf at Saks Fifth Avenue or a steak dinner at Peter Luger’s.
Do the same with your list of attractions. Like the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building is worth a gander. But, much of New York City’s glory is found in simple strolls around town. Walk up and down 5th Avenue. Stroll through Central Park as you ponder how a quiet oasis can exist amidst the New York City bustle. Peek inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th. All of this is free!
Finally, a NYC subway pass is extremely affordable. It’s called a Metro Card and it’ll get you everywhere, from New York to Brooklyn, from the east side to the west side. Honestly, when I go back to New York, I buy the 7-Day Unlimited Pass for $32 and never have to worry about a thing. It’s my favorite way to go.
While we lost a few points on our budget in London due to the exchange rate, New York City has to get docked, too, because you really want to splurge on accommodations in Manhattan over Queens or any of the other boroughs. Given that, we’re going to have to call this one a tie.
UPPER WEST SIDE ZEN CASITA CLOSE TO COLUMBIA UNI!New York, United States
Alright. We had to slog through the budgetary items first. Unfortunately, no trip can exist without a little clink in your pocket. If you’ve set aside a few paychecks and skimped on the local nights out on the town, you’re ready to book your flights and pack your bags! Let’s talk about what you need to pack.
London (like my beloved Ireland) can have pretty unpredictable weather. There are two things you’ll want to pack (and carry with you every day). The first is an umbrella. The second is a pair of sunglasses. Now, you’re ready to weather whatever comes your way.
Next, let’s talk extremes. London’s hottest month is usually August, coming in around 90 F (30 C). Its coldest month tends to be January, clocking in at 30 F (-1 C). But, you don’t tend to see a lot of snow in London, unlike New York.
Truthfully, you can get away with a smart coat, pants, a pair of boots plus a pair of walking shoes, and call it a day. Both of these “extreme” months occur during the busy season, so you’ll want to avoid them anyway. Pick a nice spring week or even a pre-Christmas weekend and you’ll neither sweat through your tees nor freeze through your mittens.
New York 6/10
Now, here’s a city with meteorological mood swings. New York City’s summers are brutally hot because of that dang humidity and its winters are colder than cold mostly because of the wind tunnel the tall buildings create.
July and August become super humid and sometimes that extends into early September. As for the coldest months, January and February top the charts and, again, sometimes that extends into March. Trouble is, those are the months from our slow season but, again, in New York, it’s difficult to say they truly have a slow season. So, don’t let that deter you.
There’s still a lot of post-Christmas hubbub going on in January. If you’re brave enough, pack your down jacket, scarf, gloves, and hat, and brave the colder temps. Maybe you’ll have the joy of seeing this precious gem of a city coated in snow while you’re there. Given the weather extremes, we had to give this category to London for being a milder maiden.
People tend to worry over crime in London and New York. But, if you play your cards right and do most of your touring in the day, pickpocketing isn’t a huge concern in these bustling cities.
Forego the backpack for a crossbody purse. Keep your wallet in your front pocket, not your back pocket. “Try” not to look like a tourist by looking up all the time. Pretend like you’re walking with purpose. Pack your street smarts and you’ll be just fine. Let’s take a look at the best neighborhoods in each big city.
London is a little more spread out than downtown NYC. The first place I like to stroll is London’s West End. This is where you’ll find all sorts of picture-perfect spots, including Covent Garden, Soho, and Leicester Square.
You’ve also got your art galleries and wonderful little bistros to quiet down the noise and savor every secret. Stick around because Soho is also the place to be if you’re looking for a little nightlife action.
From the West End, you can walk up to Bloomsbury, where you’ll find great little bookshops and tranquil streets. You might as well go and snap a pic or two of Kensington Palace from here. It’s southwest of the West End, using the Piccadilly line.
Then, you might cross the famous Thames River and make your way to South Bank. There, you’ll wonder up at the show-stopping London Bridge and consider taking a spin on the London Eye.
Parts of the East End are slightly less reputable, especially Hackney and Shoreditch. And, as for Soho, think of it like any other “party central” part of town. It can be reputable during the daylight and naughty during the nighttime. So, play your cards right and don’t plan to walk home from Soho in the dead of night.
New York 9/10
Honestly, I’ve never felt unsafe in New York. Maybe that’s because I grew up just outside the Bronx. But, I’m going to try to be unbiased here. The first place I like to tool around is Midtown. If you walk 5th Avenue, from about the mid 20s to the upper 70s, you’re going to enjoy an expansive tour.
The Empire State Building (and Lord + Taylor) are down in the 20s. All the hotspots like Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Center, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral extend from the 40s upward. Not long after that, you’re going to find yourself turning left into Central Park.
In the evening, you can grab a drink in the plethora of rooftop bars on the West Side, overlooking The Hudson River and a glorious sunset. Or, you can head downtown to SoHo, Greenwich Village, or Alphabet City for an amazing dinner, a stopover at a wine bar, and perhaps some good ol’ fashioned dancing.
Rudy Giuliani cleaned up Manhattan big time when he was mayor. I’d say the only secret to safety in the evening is, if you’re unfamiliar with the subway system, don’t chance it. Queue up your Uber while you’re paying the check, hop right in, and scoot on home.
4. Food & Drink
In the London vs. New York battle, these are two cities where you’ll never want to stop wining and dining. There’s a dish for every tastebud and a setting for every soul. Great lunch and dinner spots are nice to plan into your daily schedule because it allows you to recharge, post an Insta-worthy pic, and check in with loved ones. Here are some of the top picks in each metropolitan platter.
If you’re like me, you’re going to gravitate toward the West End. While you’re in Covent Garden, check out The Barbary. I know it’s not “cool” to eat an early dinner but that’s pretty much the only way to get into this delectable delight. Go out of your comfort zone here and savor their naan bread and charred octopus. Honestly, there’s not a bad item on their menu. If you can’t foresee an early dinner and you’re here after six, check out the nearby Neal’s Yard. It’s a twinkling, hidden courtyard with a wonderful Mediterranean menu.
Since Soho is where it’s at come evening light, another great stop is Kiln. My top pick is the Burmese short-rib curry. Also in Soho is Hoppers. Now, we’re talking Sri Lankan food where you’ll want to order lots of small plates and take your time. The ambiance in Hoppers is enough to teleport you straight to Sri Lanka; you’ll want to savor that.
If you’re wrapping up your day in South Bank, step into Padella. We’re talking pasta the likes of Naples. They have every shape, size, and style of noodle. I hate to sound cliché, but they’ve made pasta an art form. When you’re here, you simply must try their pappardelle with eight-hour beef shin ragu.
New York 10/10
There’s something about the sushi scene in New York that’s hard to beat. Since all that Midtown walking is sure to work up your appetite, let’s stop at Sushi Ginza Onodera first. There’s not a bad sushi roll or sashimi plate in the joint. I was surprised to learn their omakase selections are flown in daily from Tokyo! You’ll definitely want to stop and refuel here.
Then, if you’re dipping into lower Manhattan for a little action, see if you can slip into NoMad. This is a little hoity-toity but well worth every cent. We’re talking foie gras, truffles, roasted chicken, and dry-aged jalapeno duck. Out of all that, though, their roasted chicken is the menu-topper. Sip on a cocktail, indulge in a glass of Chateauneuf Du Pape, and be glad you saved your food budget for this spot.
Of course, if you’re in New York, you can’t leave without a slice of pizza. Honestly, dip into any ol’ pizza joint in town and enjoy your slice and stroll. But, like the sushi scene, we need to discuss the steakhouse scene. Peter Luger’s is world-renowned (out in Williamsburg, Brooklyn). Del Frisco’s is another one (over on 6th Avenue). Smith & Wollensky is well-worth sinking your teeth into (on 3rd). But, I’m kind of a fan of Keens in Chelsea. Their porterhouse is worth every ounce of meat, wait-time, and coin. Also, it has a really spectacular feel with all the dark woods and, not one, but two fireplaces.
5. Sightseeing & Shopping
It’s hard to narrow down two cities dense with art, class, fine dining, and storied shops. But, since we have a budget to maintain, it’s best to stick to that list of top sights to see. We’ve already covered a fair amount, but let’s highlight a few more.
As for shopping… The best way to do that is put on your ballet flats and pull out your tote. What’s likely to happen is, as you stroll, you’ll be beckoned into shop after shop. A trinket here, a lithograph there, and you’ll be weighted down with memorabilia in no time at all. Let’s take one final stroll through the most noteworthy areas to satiate your shopping needs.
If you’re in London, how can you leave without a tour of Buckingham Palace? Stroll through the Queen’s staterooms and marvel at the decadence of the world’s most famous palace. Tickets are surprisingly affordable, starting around $30. The trick here is that there are limited months open for touring: mid-July to mid-September.
Then, you’ve got the Tower of London. We’re talking 900 years of history with tales to tell about a royal palace, a prison, and a jewel house. One of my favorite rooms is the medieval king’s bedchamber.
Knowing the West End is where it’s at, you might want to slip into Hampton Court Palace. It’s located in southwest London and a wonderful place to wander around, snap colorful pics, and wonder at the intricate detail of the palace.
Finally, Westminster Abbey is worth a tour. Its stained glass is resplendent, sparkling over centuries-old tombs and memorials. Seventeen royals are buried there and sixteen royal weddings have been hosted there. It’s a nice place to unplug and feel like a small part of history.
Where to spend your money? Everywhere! Just for the fun of it, we have to start in Knightsbridge, where the decadent Harrods stands tall and proud. If you’re here for a little pre-Christmas adventure, Harrods is sure to look like one of the crown jewels, inside and out. Then, you can window shop along the nearby Sloane Street for a few more high-end fashion designers.
Returning to our beloved West End, you’ll want to visit Neal Street in Covent Garden. You’re sure to pick up a one-of-a-kind outfit there. There’s also Floral Street and Monmouth Street. Oh, and don’t forget the number one site: Covent Garden Market. This is where I lose all my money. And all I do is stroll, stroll, and stroll some more. Loaded with art galleries and bespoke shops, I forget my bank account WILL reach zero dollars if I’m not careful!
New York 9/10
As for New York, we’ve already touched upon the Empire State Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Central Park. Some of the other photo-worthy hot spots include a walk across The Brooklyn Bridge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue, and the High Line down in Chelsea. The High Line is so intriguing because the architects took an abandoned stretch of railroad tracks and turned into a lush oasis!
I would suggest picking up a few snacks from the Chelsea Market (an old building chock full of food vendors) and then stroll through the High Line until you find a nice seat with a view. New York is like Paris. It’s a place to put on your comfy shoes and wander. Start in Midtown. Walk up to Central Park, then hop on a subway headed for downtown delights in Chelsea, SoHo, and Alphabet City.
In New York, there are two ways to approach shopping. I like to window shop up and down 5th Avenue because I’m not likely to afford a Chanel bag from Saks or a ring from Tiffany & Co. When I’m ready to spend, I head down to SoHo. This is where you’ll find all the bespoke shops with one-of-a-kind trinkets (as well as all the name brands). But, when you’re down around SoHo and Chelsea, you’re likely to find a nice piece of art or a unique pair of earrings to return home with.
And the winner is...
Wow. New York won by one point (unintentionally). But, is there really a winner when you’re comparing two flawless diamonds? Rather, it might come down to a matter of taste; do you want the pink diamond or the yellow diamond?
In my mind, London is the pink diamond. It’s demure; it’s steeped in history; it’s a gateway to the rest of Europe. New York, however, is that bright, shining yellow diamond. It’s vibrant; it truly never sleeps; it’s a spectacle for the eyes that will never leave your soul.
Whichever one you choose, give yourself five months or so to save up a healthy budget and then soak it all in. Maybe I’ll meet you on the streets of New York someday! Until then, I wish you the safest of travels and the happiest of memories.
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