How to choose where to live in London.

So you have decided to move to London

Every year people make the life-changing decision to move to London.  After the first burst of optimism and excitement, some soon realise that choosing where to live in London can be very confusing, bewildering and time-consuming.

I have grown up, lived, worked, studied, shopped and socialised in London for many years. The bad news is that the streets of London are NOT paved with gold.  You are unlikely to find affordable accommodation in the Square Mile where there are thousands of jobs but very few flats and absolutely no houses.  Not everyone can live within walking distance of the well-known theatres, art galleries and museums. Only the lucky few have fantastic shops on their doorstep.

But the good news is that the attractions of London really can be available to everyone no matter where they live.  In this article, I attempt to share my experience and personal opinions to make your move easier.  What you will read below is what I have learned over many decades. These are the tips that work for me.  But everyone is different.  For much more information, check out the reading list and list of useful websites at the end of my article.


A brief summary of points to consider

Things to consider when choosing where to live in London should include:

  • budget.....how much to you have to spend on accommodation?
  • transport....do you have your own wheels or will you be relying on public transport?
  • social life....are you into pubbing and clubbing, or visiting museums, theatres, and cinemas etc?
  • family life....are the family moving with you and will good schools be an essential requirement?
  • location....it is true that London is made up of many villages.  What type of area do you prefer...genteel, bohemian, trendy, modern, historical, young and vibrant?  The list could go on.

See "Location location" and the list of books and websites below for more information about where to live in London.

Brief facts about London

London was originally an area of forests and marshes. Small groups of people lived here 5000 years ago.  But it was in approximately AD50 that the Romans started to establish the city of Londinium.

Greater London now consists of 32 boroughs plus the Square Mile which is also known as the City of London.

The total area of Greater London is 1572 kilometres squared or 607 square miles.

The population is approximately 7,500,000 and this is expected to increase to over 8,000,000 by 2016.

London was the most populated city until it was overtaken by New York in 1925.  It is now the 25th largest city in the world in terms of population.

it is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, alongside Tokyo and Moscow.

There are over 300 languages spoken in London.



Think outside the box

If everybody lived in central London, it would soon sink into the River Thames.  When choosing your location, think outside the box.

Almost every one of the London boroughs has a college, art gallery, museum, theatre and shopping centre. There are some real gems. I'm thinking now of Greenwich Theatre which is substantially cheaper than the theatres a few miles away in Theatreland. For cinemas, consider Surrey Quays and the O2 which both have modern multi-screen cinemas that easily compete with those in Leicester Square.  For shopping, consider Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd's Bush or the Glades in Bromley. You can shop in a warm, bright centre protected from the weather and car fumes.

See my section below called "Location location" for more tips about areas off the beaten track.

Red buses in Oxford Street

London on a budget

If you have shedloads of money you won't have any problems spending it in London. However, most people are on some sort of budget.

I have found that the best things in life really are free.  Just think about parks, libraries, museums and art galleries. They are all free. You can see great free street entertainment in Covent Garden and free music performances in the foyer of the National Theatre on the South Bank.  Join the BBC mailing list and you will receive almost daily invitations to apply for free tickets to watch a wide variety of tv and radio shows being recorded.

When you have settled into an area, take a look at your local Council website.  Many Councils are offering free swimming sessions to families and people over 60.  Some offer free or cheap access to sports facilities at certain times of day.  If joining a gym is your thing, go for it.  But I personally prefer to join all the others who are keeping fit in our parks. The joggers, roller bladers, and cyclists in Greenwich Park couldn't hope for a better view of London while they are keeping fit.

See below for books and websites with more information about living on a budget in London.


Big Ben Tower and Underground sign

Getting around in London

Getting around by public transport is easy. There is an abundance of trains and buses. A top priority on coming to London should be to buy a street atlas and help yourself to the free tube and bus maps available in tourist information centres and libraries. Then investigate the range of travelcards available. It is generally much cheaper to travel if you obtain an Oyster card. See the Transport for London Journey Planner website below for more information.

Getting around by car is also easy. But, in my opinion, by the time you consider high fuel costs, the Congestion Charge, parking fees and the occasional parking ticket, it is not worth the expense. It can often be more economical to hire a taxi or minicab if 2 or more people are going somewhere special and don't want to use public transport. There is information about how to stay safe when choosing a taxi or minicab on the Transport for London website.

Palace Theatre

London social life

London is buzzing. You could spend a lifetime trying to visit every pub, club and restaurant. This article isn't long enough to list them all. The must-read for information about the social scene is the weekly Time Out magazine or the completely free Time Out website.

It is also said that London can be a lonely place. This is especially true if you are new to London and don't like the idea of going into pubs and clubs by yourself.  So what is the solution?  Well, I recently discovered the brilliant "Meetups". There are hundreds of these groups catering for people with a wide variety of interests and hobbies.  Basically, you sign up online when you see a group that appeals to you. You then receive invitations to regular events such as walks and theatre visits to name just two.

See below for books and websites with much more information about the social life in London.

Natural History Museum

Schools, colleges and universities

Some would say that London is the place to come to for education.  Not only is the social life brilliant, but the range of schools, colleges and universities in all parts of London is unrivalled. It is no wonder that students from all over the world choose London for the best years of their life.

If you are moving with your family, the key point to consider is that nurseries, primary and secondary schools usually offer places based on the distance from home to school. The closer you live to a good school, the more chance you have of being offered a place.  Some schools have extra requirements such as religion or selection tests. Generally, schools in the built-up inner city areas have to cope with educating students who live in deprived areas or who may not speak English as their first language.  For this reason, many parents opt for the grammar schools on the outskirts of London such as Bromley, Sutton and Bexley. But a school that suits one child may not be right for another.  It is vital to do your research. Talk to other parents and check out your local Council's website.  I personally found that a school that looks good in a brochure does not necessarily live up to expectations when you see it "in the flesh".  So try to attend the open days.

There is an abundance of colleges and universities in London.  Everyone has heard of London University, but this is actually a collection of colleges on several sites. There is also the University of Greenwich, the London Metropolitan University, Imperial College and many more. The best people to advise on what is right for you are the staff at your current school or the Connexions service which gives advice to students aged 13-19.

See below for books and websites containing more information about schools, colleges and universities in London.

Location location

There has traditionally been a north-south spit in London caused by the River Thames. The many road bridges and tunnels make crossing the river by car or bus relatively easy. For many decades trains used to come to a shuddering halt either side of the river. But things have improved in the last few years. The Docklands Light Railway, the East London Line, and Thameslink join up north and south London effortlessly. South Londoners will make the effort to cross the river for jobs, theatres, museums, and art galleries. Many north Londoners don't see the need to come south unless they want to visit a few gems such as the National Theatre, the London Aquarium and the London Eye.

Whole areas of south London missed out when the vast underground railway network was being built. This is really not a big problem as the number of buses is excellent. It also has the advantage of keeping property prices low. Therefore, you can still buy or rent a property relatively cheaply in areas such as Lewisham, Norwood and Streatham. The same property would cost much more in Islington, Notting Hill or Kensington.

There now follows a list of London areas and their unique selling points:

Barking & Dagenham.......................many Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents

Bexley..............................................leafy area with good schools

Blackheath.......................................village atmosphere

Borough...........................................great market and close to the Square Mile

Brent................................................many Indian and Hindu residents

Brixton..............................................many Jamaican residents

Bromley............................................leafy with good schools and shops

Canary Wharf...................................for financial jobs and shops

City of London (Square Mile)............centre for financial jobs

Dulwich.............................................village atmosphere

Ealing................................................many Indian residents

Edgware............................................many Jewish residents

Enfield...............................................many Italian residents

Golders Green..................................many Jewish residents

Hackney............................................many Jamaican residents

Hampstead........................................village atmosphere

Harlesden..........................................many East African and Caribbean residents

Harrow...............................................many Indian and Hindu residents

Hillingdon...........................................many Indian residents

Hounslow...........................................many Indian residents

Kilburn...............................................many Irish residents

Lewisham..........................................cheap housing, West African residents

Newham............................................Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Muslim

Redbridge.........................................many Indian residents

St. John's Wood................................many Jewish residents

Southwark.........................................many West African residents

Stamford Hill......................................many Jewish residents

Sutton................................................leafy area with good schools

Tooting..............................................many Tamil residents

Tottenham.........................................many Jamaican residents

Tower Hamlets...................................Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Musim residents

Waltham Forest.................................many Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents

Wembley............................................many Tamil residents

Obviously, the groups of people listed above can also be found living in most areas. There are also many Polish and other East European people living throughout London.

The above list is not comprehensive, so apologies if I have omitted anyone.  As always, visit an area to see it for yourself before making the big decision about where to live.  Aim to visit an area at different times of day.  An area that is quiet and civilised during the day can take on a whole new identity at sunset.

The list should not be taken to mean that London is split up into ethnic areas.  On the whole, people in London live together in harmony and racial incidents are rare.

My favourite London quote

I have always thought that the following quote says it all about London:

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."  Samuel Johnson to Boswell, September 20th 1777.

Fun Poll

Why are you moving to London?

See results without voting

Books about London

There are many good books about London.  Here is a small selection of recently published books.

  • 1000 Things To Do In London, ISBN 9781846701764
  • Living And Working In London: A Survival Handbook, ISBN 9781907339318
  • London For Dummies, ISBN 9780470526620
  • London Free & Dirt Cheap, ISBN 9780470683774
  • London With Kids, ISBN 9780470504673
  • Rough Guide to London, ISBN 9781848362789
  • Secret London, ISBN 9781847733153
  • Time Out London, ISBN 9781846701658
  • Top 10 London, ISBN 9781405348317
  • Where To Live In London, ISBN 9781907339134
  • Which London School, ISBN 9781904724780

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