Looking back on my first week, I was such a lost duck. I had no idea where to go for shampoo, dorm stuff, or food. I kept googling “British equivalent to Target” in an attempt to find a place to just get a dang blanket, because the heater in my dorm room was out, but had no luck. Thank goodness I made a few friends who were in the same boat as I was, and we just kind of wandered around until we figured it out.
I hated being so confused that first week. It was already overwhelming being in a new country, I felt like such a tourist running around with my eyes glued to my AppleMaps, and I was trying to overcome jet lag all at once. It sucked.
So it’s my hope that this post will save some sad little American from endlessly googling where to get what, so they can just get their blanket and sleep without getting frostbite gosh dangit.
Tesco and Sainsbury’s are pretty similar in terms of what they carry. You’ll find groceries, snacks, laundry detergent, dish detergent, candy, ice cream, etc. Think your run-of-the-mill grocery store in the states.
There are a ton of “Express” stores for these chains around central London, which are just smaller and carry fewer things. They’ll have the basics and work if you’re in a pinch, but if you want to make a substantial grocery run you’ll want a full store.
For Home Items
Primark is the holy grail of cheap shopping in London. They also have clothes, but I’ll talk about that below. Their home section is located on the lower floor next to the mens section, and has just about every basic you might need. Laundry bins, (poor quality) power adapters, towels for 2 pounds, blankets for 4 pounds, throw pillows for 5 pounds, water bottles, sheets, and some small furniture. Think really cheap Target home section, home goods, that type of thing.
Amazon is a great backup. I was just too lazy to walk the 20 minutes to Primark to get a towel, and found one on Amazon (prime!) for 2 pounds. You can get just about anything from here, just make sure you’re using the UK website so you don’t get hit with absurd shipping charges.
For Cheap Clothes
Primark again. Think like a Forever 21 in terms of cheapness of clothes (maybe cheaper). It’s also just as messy (3 or 4 floors depending on the location), but if you’re looking for something the odds are they have it.
I was able to stock up on cheap sweaters, socks, and other basic things that I’ll probably just throw away when I leave here for next to nothing, which was comforting after facing the first blow to my budget upon realizing how expensive London is.
For Toiletries and Drugstore Makeup
Superdrug and Boots are two places where you can get makeup, toiletries, shampoo, toothpaste, a hair dryer… you get the gist. Boots is a little more like a Walgreens, in that it’ll have power adapters, snacks, medicine, etc., while Superdrug is more geared toward only haircare, makeup, etc.
For School Supplies
Ryman is my favorite place for this. I would suggest just bringing notebooks and folders from home, but if you’re like me and totally forget to do that (I have to go to school here?) this place will do the trick. Kind of random, but folders are different here? They just do the porfolio-style folders, no pockets like what I was used to. But notebooks, pens, markers… you’ll find it all here.
This is just a crash course in places to go. Obviously as you’re here longer you’ll come across places you like more than the ones listed above, but the ones I included are places you’ll be able to find all over London, and will likely be within walking distance of you when you get here.
Hopefully this will take one less worry off of your plate, and you’ll get to sleep warmly with some tasty snacks by your bed your first (overwhelming) week in London!