It’s a debate that constantly swirls around amongst the well-travelled. Which city is better; New York with its bright yellow taxis and big screen fame? Or London, with its historic buildings and British pomp and pageantry on display at every corner?
The UK is famed as much for grey, drizzly skies as it is for tea and scones – but the more temperate climate means it never gets as cold as New York, which regularly sees snowfall, ice, and negative temperatures. London stays fairly mild (by European standards anyway) and is often cloudy, but the rain is actually far less than you’d imagine – only 106 days per year on average, which is less than a third of the year. New York does have a warmer summer though, and there’s definitely something magical about beautiful winter snow.
Winner: New York
Both New York and London have working public transport systems; they might call it ‘the subway’ on one side of the pond and ‘the tube’ on the other, but the underground network makes it far easier to get around, especially on those particularly bracing winter days. The only problem? Construction and delays? But there’s always a taxi or Uber if your tube or subway plans fall through. It’s a bit harder to calculate your fare in London, though it does cap out at a certain point, so for a full day or two of travelling, it probably doesn’t matter.
Whether you’re a West End or Broadway person, there’s no denying that culture, arts, and tourist attractions abound in both New York and London.
The English capital certainly doesn’t lack must-see sites, and the best part is that a good amount of them are free to enter. When it comes to museums and exhibitions, London pulls ahead of its American rival with nearly double the museums. The Natural History Museum is one of the best in the world and is free to enter, while the American counterpart costs around R320.
Locationwise, they've both got a lot going for them. New York's Natural History Museum is right next to Central Park whereas the British offering is just up the road from Hyde Park in Kensington, one of the grandest areas of London. The same goes for the Tate Modern versus the Museum of Modern Art – although Tate Modern is free while the pricing is quite steep at MOMA. Generally, culture and history is more accessible in London than NYC.
Both cities offer theatre performances that are world-renowned and will leave you feeling enthralled, but Broadway has an edge when it comes to the big stars. On the same note, New York arguably offers the more highly acclaimed stages for ballet, opera, and music too.
Finally, you have to take into account all the many historical buildings of London. Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge…the list goes on. Naturally, London would have the edge here as it’s just been around for so much longer than New York.
Both cities offer foodies an incredible choice of dining options, including grab and go bites inspired by street food, as well as casual restaurants and fine dining spots. There’s also a huge variety of styles on offer in both cities, inspired by the various cultures of those who have settled there – in London, this might lean more towards Sri Lankan or Indian cuisine whereas in New York you’ll find some of the best delis in the world.
Must-tries in London include a good pub lunch or dinner, and a good fish and chips with plenty of vinegar. Must tries when in New York centre more around New York pizza, pastrami bagels and a hotdog to beat all hotdogs.
While London arguably offers more diversity, New York affords you the luxury of eating at 2am, 10pm…whenever you want, really! Plus, there’s a bigger range of foods across multiple price points; meaning that budget or mid-range eats are easier to find.
Winner: New York, by the skin of its teeth
There’s no doubt that both London and NYC are expensive on a South African budget. While the cost of living in London is higher in terms of food and drinks, you might pay more in New York for a hotel room, especially if you want to be near major sights such as Time Square.
South Africans also need to take into account the cost of flights. Johannesburg to London is a popular route, and there are even options from Cape Town and Durban nowadays. There’s also often specials on flights to London, meaning that a few times a year you can normally grab a flight for R7 000 or under if you keep your eyes peeled. The travel time to New York is much greater and the flights are heavier on the pocket. The tiebreaker? London has many more free attractions, and the tube tends to work out cheaper than the subway over a few days.
Either way, you’ll have to be mindful of your budget in either of these cities. They’re totally worth it though!
Winner: London, just.
Overall, London just pips New York to the post in our faceoff between these two giants. If you’re planning a trip though, either (or both) of these cities will provide a truly memorable holiday experience. You really can’t go wrong whichever one you choose. In fact, the hardest part will be deciding where to go.