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Where should you live in London? It’s not an easy question to answer – London is huge!
Facts and figures first:
• London is nearly 1,600km2 – twice the size of Berlin and about four times the size of the centre of Paris.
• There are nearly 9 million people living in London – and we can’t all live near the centre! In fact only around 260,000 people live in the centre, where there are mainly shops, offices and restaurants (and the Royal Family of course!) Mostly Londoners live outside the centre and travel into the city.
So where to live? You start by thinking about the travel to your internship in the centre. Here are some handy hints:
1. Study a complete London rail map not just the tube. As well as the underground (tube) there are also other train lines (overground, national rail) – and a journey may be quicker than it looks on the tube. All rail lines accept the Oyster card system. Here’s a link to the whole London travel system and this one has an easier-to-look at tube, Overground and Docklands Light Railway (DLR).
2. If you know where you are going to be working or studying then find the nearest tube or train station. This is your starting point. When you are thinking about where to live, you look at the journey from home to work – bus, tube, train or cycle ride.
3. It’s not realistic to expect to only live on the same tube or train line, and most Londoners change lines at least once. Aim for only one change but be prepared to take two or even three. Be flexible – don’t pick an area just because it’s on the same line as your work station.
There are some other things to know about London as well.
Zones don’t matter!
Many people outside London think of it as divided by the tube zones – but Londoners don’t – ask anyone what zone they live in and they probably won’t know! Zones are only for calculating the cost of travelling in London, not for living. London isn’t a planned city, so it didn’t grow in an orderly fashion from the centre outwards. In the 19th Century London had a small centre with a series of villages around it. Gradually houses were built outwards from the villages and then all joined up together. So some areas were for the rich and some for the poor, and so how close to the centre you are doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good area even today. So a very rich area, say Highgate in the North which only the very wealthy can afford, is in Zone 3, but Archway, which is in Zone 2 is much cheaper as it was a poor area and to some extent still is. Highgate was the original village, and sits on a hill overlooking London, but Archway was where the workers lived, at the bottom of the hill. There are lots of other examples like this all over London, so don’t think you can only live in a particular zone, look at the area.
London is divided by the river!
Londoners think very often in terms of being North or South of the river. On the tube map you can see there are many more stations in the North than in the South, and the Northern stations connect with many more other lines. Mainly people in South London travel by train first and then get onto the tube at mainline stations such as Victoria, London Bridge, Waterloo etc. Northerners can’t understand how Southerners can live like that! And Southerners think North London is ridiculously overpriced and smug.
London is mixed!
In the past West London was richer than the East, where traditionally the poor and immigrants lived. After the 2012 Olympics East London was improved – now anywhere near the centre is expensive. Some eastern areas, such as in the London Borough of Hackney where Shoreditch and Dalston are have become very popular and fashionable. But they are right next to areas like Whitechapel which are still really quite poor, although they are changing.
There are 32 London boroughs
These are administrative areas equivalent to arrondissements in Paris and Kieze in Berlin, plus the City of London (where the banks are). There are 12 Inner London boroughs and 20 Outer ones. They have their own elected council which decides local policy for each area, but there is also a Mayor of London as well. The whole of London is known as Greater London but the inner boroughs are what you probably think of as London and the Outer Boroughs are mainly suburbs. Confusingly some boroughs have the same name as one of the areas inside them, but aren’t the name of every area in the borough. For example the London Borough of Camden covers the famous Camden area, but it also includes part of Covent Garden, as well as Hampstead, Bloomsbury and King’s Cross!
London is also divided into postcodes
Like all cities, London is divided into smaller address areas. Letters and numbers at the end of an address tell you within a few streets where the house is. So for example NW1 is all of London from the Zoo to Camden Lock, NW1 2DB is around the British Library, NW1 2A is around Euston Road near the British Library, and NW1 2AA is a set of ten buildings on Euston Road. Postcodes are a great way to pinpoint an address, just type them in and look online. To get a postcode just type it into the Royal Mail’s postcode finder.
So figuring out your travel is the first step….what next? Of course another major factor is price. The nearer the centre your room the more it will cost. But even within that there are cheaper areas nearer the centre and richer areas further out. Do some research along the stops on the lines that you think you may live on and see which areas are nice and which aren’t. There is information available online, for example here. The areas change quite quickly from one tube or train stop to another so don’t assume that if it’s a good area around one station the next one will be the same.
Once you have found an area you will need to calculate the cost of travelling in each day, and that is where zones do matter. Obviously the further away from the centre the more it costs to get in, and also the longer it will take. An average commute for a Londoner is probably around an hour, so anything shorter than that is good – yes, that’s a bit shocking! But if you think about it you may have to get a bus to a tube station as they aren’t nearby everywhere, and even changing tubes will add on five minutes or so, and then you will have to walk to work from the nearest station etc. It’s just something that Londoners expect, so don’t worry, you will get used to it.
Depending on your budget don’t have unreasonable expectations though, as London is possibly the most expensive city in the world. But wherever you end up you will probably think it’s worth it, as it’s one of the most dynamic and exciting cities in the world so just do some research and have a great time!