London can be so many things: Chaotic, cosmopolitan, exciting and at times a little overwhelming, yet still, after seeing so many amazing places, I stand by it when I say that London still has to be my favourite city. I’ve spent hours walking around but every time I visit I stumble across something new. There are enough restaurants that you could bankrupt yourself a million times over, enough clubs and bars that you never need go to the same place twice, there are so many museums and galleries that you could spend weeks wandering around by yourself and there are more parks, shops, landmarks then any other city that I’ve been to.
But what is it actually like to live in London? I spend three months living up there last year and while at times it was a little too chaotic, a little too loud and way too overwhelming, I definitely plan to move back.
London is ridiculously expensive to live in. There’s no sugar-coating it. However it can be done. While living in a Chelsea penthouse may take some time, flat shares are a good way to get into the city. Have a look on gumtree, spare room.co.uk or room buddies.co.uk, particularly if you are looking to find flat-mates. The further out from the centre, the cheaper the accommodation is going to be. A good compromise is around Camden, still very central but tends to have cheaper property prices than other popular areas.
London has more competition than anywhere else for jobs, but it also has way more opportunities too. Whether you’re looking for a job shop, or a career, persistence pays off, and just because you’re in the city, doesn’t mean that the old-fashioned approach of handing out CVs doesn’t work either. There’s also plenty of unpaid internships available which may relate to your career so it’s always worth balancing one of these alongside another job that gives you some cash.
The one delusion I seemed to be under when I moved to London was that I would be eating out in all the amazing restaurants and cafes on a daily basis. London is expensive enough without bankrupting yourself on food. However it’s a shame to not treat yourself occasionally. Save money by buying foods from the supermarket, where prices are comparable to anywhere else in the UK, and cook your own meals. If you go in the evenings before the shop closes, food tends to be reduced. Plan to treat yourself to a nice meal out or coffee date out maybe once a week. Also take advantage of the many cheaper, grab and go sandwich places or markets. I lived in Southwark near Borough market and my weekly treat was popping by and picking up some bread at the weekend.
Bars and clubs
There are a lot of myths surrounding London’s club scene. Before I went I was told to expect at least £20 club entry, even more expensive drinks and strict dress codes. I found the complete opposite. Many nights out in London, particularly in the week have free entry, with many offering cheap drinks deals also. While there are plenty of exclusive clubs with strict rules, there’s an equal number, if not more low-key ones. Area’s like Camden and elephant and castle are good for cheap nights out. I also really love zoo bar, in Lecister Square and Bar Rumba, by Tottenham Court Road, which were both free entry when I went. Also remember if you’re living up in London, then you get to save money by pre drinking.
The other thing that saved me so much money in the evenings in London were the night buses. While at home in Brighton, i’m reliant on a £10 taxi or a long walk home, in London, night buses run regularly all across the city, costing just £1.50 for multiple journeys in an hour. These can be paid for via contactless, so you don’t even need to worry about not having cash on you. The other godsend is the tube. I’ve been on the metro in Paris, New york, Barcelona and Athens, but the London underground wins, hands down everytime. It’s clean, efficient and after a few weeks you’ll have the underground map imprinted in your brain. Tubes run roughly every three minutes and go all over the city. A single journey costs £2.40 and this also includes any buses you get within the hour. If you’re living up in London then it’s worth looking at getting an oyster card for the tube, which can save money.
Apps are also a must for getting around in London. City mapper app is a life saver. Simply plug-in your start and your end destination into this free app and it will tell you the best way to get there, be it bus, tube, walking or taxi, along with how long it will take and how much it will cost you. You can also plug in locations like work or home which is really useful.
There is so much to do in London and so much of it is completely free. While if visiting for the first time you may want to go inside historic landmarks like Buckingham palace, the London eye and The tower of London, there are so many other things to see and do, that give you a more authentic London experience.
Galleries and museums
The National Portrait Gallery, The Saatchi Gallery and The Tate Modern are some of my favourites but there are so many individual galleries and museums dotted about all over london. While all will hold some exhibitions that you have to pay for, most of these are free. Look online on websites like timeout for pop up exhibitions and galleries that are less known. One of my favourite ones was a free Jeff koons exhibition at Newport Street Gallery, and I honestly could spend hours wandering around the Tate Modern.
Speaking of which, one of my favorite London viewpoints is located at the top of the Tate Modern. Free to get up to, bar a long walk, or an even longer wait in the lift, is an amazing view of South London, including the shard which beats bankrupting yourself by going to the top of that instead. A couple of other viewpoint spots that I love in London are Hampstead Heath and Primrose hill. Both of these are parks so are great places to bring some food and watch the sunset.
For fancy occasions
These can be expensive but London has some amazing rooftop bars with spectacular views. The sky garden, which I’ve still not managed to visit, offers 360 degree views, drinks and food from 155 metres up. Entrance to this is free but there is a limited number of daily tickets which you have to book a slot for.
Galvin at Windows
One of the most extravagant things I’ve done in London is having a drink at Galvin at Windows. Located at the top of The Hilton, Park Lane, Galvin offers incredible city views, and it feels so luxurious. Probably best not to make it a daily habit though.
Franks Cafe, Peckham
You may have seen Instagram of this place, because of it’s photo-ready bright pink stairwell but Franks Cafe is a great low-key place to grab a beer and watch the sunset in South London.
There are plenty of markets to wander around in London, especially at the weekend. Camden market, Borough and The Southbank centre market are some of my favourites. The best part is that most of these offer food freebies. Twenty free cubes of brownie? Yes please.
My step app loves me when I’m in London. I think I had to eat about three times more when I lived there because it is a city that’s just so easy to walk around. While the city itself if massive, the centre is actually very compact. I walked from central south London to Camden in the central north, quite a few times and it took an hour.
if you’ve just moved up then walking around London will give you a mental map of the city that you just won’t get if you’re on the tube. Soho, Southwark, Chelsea, Piccadilly circus, there are so many places to visit. A couple of achievable walks are Southwark to Covent Garden, Piccadilly to Chelsea and Buckingham palace to Leicester Square.
London has eight royal parks alone, aswell as loads of other smaller parks across the city. These are great places to sit in summer and read or go for a jog or walk in winter. Entrance to the parks is free and they make a nice respite from the bustling city. For some of the larger parks like Hyde Park, a good option is renting a city bike to get around. These can be rented from docking stations all over London, many of which are located at the park entrances. The fist 30 minutes of any journey is free, after that it’s £2 every 30 minutes. Just remember to dock your bike back in.
If you’re moving to London, then you’ll never need to watch Netflix again. This is because London is the metropolis for the theatre. Les Miserables, phantom of the opera and Wicked are broadway classics and make sure to see the many smaller, individual productions that are run in smaller theatres. You can pay hundreds for tickets but if you’re living up in London then you have the flexibility to get cheap last-minute tickets. Look online at last minute.co.uk, cheaptheatreticket.com and love theatre.com for cheap tickets for as little as £20.