Where to Live in London
For most expats, moving to London is an exciting prospect—one of the most popular postings for singles, couples and families. But it’s a huge city and if you don’t know it, how do you know where in London you might want to live? Of course, there are the practical considerations such as convenience for work and schools, the size of property you need to accommodate your family and your budget. But even within those constraints, London offers a wide choice of locations and property styles. If you feel a little out of your depths, read our overview of London villages, with reasons to choose each, to see which might suit you.
According to Samuel Johnson, when you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life. London is a world city—host to the Olympics in 2012, home to Europe’s most important financial hub, a centre for culture and the arts, with more than 2,000 years of history woven through its fabric. Here you can see some of the world’s most exciting architecture, eat in the most innovative restaurants, hear world-class performers, whatever your taste in music or drama, and hear more than 300 languages spoken as you walk down the street.
Covent Garden and Soho (W1, WC1)
These two historic areas are home to London’s creative industries – advertising, marketing, film companies and graphic design. Together they form the gastronomic heart of London.
• Named after the old fruit and vegetable market at its centre, Covent Garden offers high culture and eclectic shopping.
• Both areas feature beautiful Georgian conversions, urban warehouse living and luxurious new-build apartments.
• A Covent Garden day: breakfast at the Savoy, a Reubens sandwich for lunch at Mishkins New York deli and early evening cocktails on the terrace of the Royal Opera House.
• A night out in Soho: Hungarian goulash at the Gay Hussar followed by a jazz set at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s.
Westminster, St James’s Park, Victoria and Pimlico (SW1)
South of the Royal Parks and to the west of the Houses of Parliament, this large central area is mainly residential.
• It’s characterised by wide streets of Victorian wedding cake villas and Georgian townhouses.
• Its proximity to the seat of power and numerous government departments means that not only will you have the Queen as your neighbour, you could end up living next door to an MP.
• An afternoon in Pimlico: see the latest exhibition at Tate Britain, then stroll along Millbank for gorgeous river views.
Certainly one of London’s smartest villages, it lives up to its top-dog position on the Monopoly board.
• This is the place for chic, statement apartments and grand townhouses, as long as your budget is elastic.
• Most of Mayfair falls within the Grosvenor Estate, the historic landholdings of the Duke of Westminster.
• This is where you’ll find London’s most exclusive garden squares—Hanover, Grosvenor and Berkeley Squares.
Notting Hill and Westbourne Grove (W11)
Immortalised in the eponymous Richard Curtis film, gentrification hit Notting Hill in a big way in the 80s and 90s. However, Westbourne Grove still retains some gritty urban edges.
• Thespians and media moguls rub shoulders with trust fund kids in Notting Hill—in other words, the rents are steep.
• Westbourne Grove is a multicultural melting pot, with a fabulous range of independent shops and restaurants offering cuisine from all over the world.
• West London living: leave your apartment in the iconic Trellick Tower, designed by Erno Goldfinger, to dance in the streets at the Notting Hill Carnival—the largest street celebration in Europe.
This is Central London’s secret village—a checkerboard of Georgian streets and mews, dissected by the uber-cool Marylebone High Street.
• Much of the area is part of the Howard de Walden Estate, one of London’s great family property holdings, dating from in 1715.
• Harley Street is the epicentre of London’s private medical sector, while Wigmore Street is home to Wigmore Hall, one of London’s premier classical music venues.
• Marylebone is rock star territory—even Madonna used to live here. Rub shoulders with them at Gunmakers, a traditional pub on Aybrook Street.
Smart, cosmopolitan and cultural, Kensington attracts international expats and tourists in equal number.
• Home to London’s museum quarter—the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Ismaili Centre stand cheek by jowl on Exhibition Road.
• Kensington Palace houses royalty, while nearby ‘Billionaire’s Row’ is home to oligarchs and industrialists. But you’ll find cheaper accommodation in the north of the borough.
• Kensington nights: catch the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall or in Hyde Park, or catch a late night opening at one of the museums.
The epicentre of the Swinging Sixties still holds its allure for the smart set.
• The King’s Road was once London’s main artery of cool, and still draws the tourists with its eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and bars—Vivian Westwood and Malcolm McLaren had their first shop here.
• Property is expensive—smart Georgian townhouses, bijou mews and luxurious new apartments—but a cheaper option might be a houseboat on Chelsea Embankment.
• Flower power—once a year in May the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea are transformed to host the world’s most famous flower show.
Quiet, super-smart and refined, Belgravia is one of London’s wealthiest enclaves and is part of the Grosvenor Estate.
• West of Buckingham Palace and south of Knightsbridge, the large Victorian villas were traditionally the London houses of the landed gentry. Today they are more likely to be owned by super-rich expats.
• The area is noted for its garden squares, Belgrave Square, Eton Square, Chester Square, Wilton Crescent and Lowndes Square.
• Famous residents include Mozart, Vivien Leigh, Ian Fleming, Lady Thatcher and Lady Rosamund Painswick, sister of Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey!
Holland Park (W14)
Between Kensington High Street and Holland Park Avenue, this network of quiet streets was originally the grounds of a Jacobean mansion called Holland House.
• Vast white stucco villas and one of London’s prettiest parks have long attracted the rich and famous to live here.
• Once a museum about Britain’s territory overseas, the Commonwealth Institute will become the new home of the Design Museum in 2016.
• A day in Holland Park—eat a gourmet lunch in the Belvedere Restaurant in the heart of the park, explore the two Japanese gardens and watch Shakespeare at the open-air theatre.
St John’s Wood (NW8)
The first part of London in which the Victorians built spacious villas rather than tightly-packed terrace housing, St John’s Wood has retained its cachet and continues to be one of London’s most exclusive residential areas.
• Housing here is a mix of large Victorian mansions and swanky modern apartments.
• St John’s Wood is home to the London Central Mosque, capable of holding 5,000 worshippers.
• The area is also something of a Mecca for cricket fans—Lords Cricket Ground is here, the home of the MCC and the self-proclaimed home of cricket.
Maida Vale (W9)
To the west of St John’s Wood lies Maida Vale, London’s answer to Venice.
• Little Venice includes the Paddington Basin, and the junction of the Grand Central Canal and Regent’s Canal. This is the place to look if you fancy living in a houseboat.
• The area is characterised by tree-lined avenues, Victorian and Edwardian villas, mews and mansion blocks.
• Fun for families—taking the waterbus from Little Venice to London Zoo.
Islington (N1, N5, N7)
The site of springs which supplied the City of London with water, Islington was one of the first parts of London to be subject to gentrification, and is now restored to its former Victorian grandeur.
• Formerly a small village, Islington experienced the Victorian building boom that accompanied the expansion of the railways.
• Good connections to the City and the West End, combined with an availability of family-size Georgian and Victorian houses ensure its continued popularity.
• An Islington Saturday—shopping for antiques in Camden Passage, a drink at the King’s Head and then live music at the O2 Academy.
With more millionaires within its boundaries than any other part of the UK, you might think Hampstead unaffordable—but like all parts of London, there’s plenty of variety and West Hampstead, bordering Kilburn, is less expensive.
• Look out for splendid Victorian villas, some of which are single homes and some of which have been converted into luxurious apartments. The Bishops Avenue is supposedly the wealthiest street in the UK.
• The area has a long association with the liberal arts, and continues to be popular with actors, musicians, writers and intellectuals.
• The great outdoors—Hampstead Heath is London’s largest ancient parkland. Come here for spectacular views over the City, open air swimming and outdoor concerts.
Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill (NW1)
Just north of the West End, Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill are smart, convenient and desirable places to live.
• Bordering the park itself, the beautiful terraces of houses designed by John Nash include the American Ambassador‘s residence.
• North of the park, the Victorian streets of Primrose Hill are somewhat more affordable.
• Regent’s Park hosts London Zoo, the world’s oldest scientific zoo which is home to nearly 20,000 animals.
Chiswick is family territory, with leafy streets of Victorian terraces and Edwardian villas. It has a bustling high street, great restaurants and is well positioned for getting into the centre of London and out to Heathrow.
• Bedford Park was London’s first garden suburb, with highly-sought after Queen Anne houses by the architect Richard Norman Shaw.
• South of the A4, the Grove Park area of Chiswick is quieter, with a good mix of houses, mansion blocks and apartments—including smart riverside properties.
• On Sunday afternoon, stroll through the grounds of Chiswick House, a notable neo-Palladian villa with interiors by William Kent. Then enjoy tea at the modernist Chiswick House Café, which won the RIBA award of London Building of the Year.
Richmond (TW9, TW10)
Home in its time to more than 15 kings and queens of England, Richmond continues to offer some of London’s smartest addresses.
• There’s plenty to recommend it—river frontage, smart shops and restaurants, a theatre, good schools, low crime rate—no wonder it scores highly in quality of living surveys.
• Richmond offers a wide choice of property—from veritable mansions to Victorian, Georgian and Edwardian houses to a good variety of apartments, both purpose built and conversions.
• Three times the size of New York’s Central Park, Richmond Park was originally a royal hunting ground and is still home to herds of deer.
Hammersmith and Fulham (W6, SW6)
West London’s inner suburbs can seem busy and crowded, but they offer excellent transport links and more affordable housing options than the smarter central districts.
• Beyond Hammersmith’s bustling commercial centre, its quiet residential streets offer large Victorian houses converted into apartments, modern flats and elegant terrace rows.
• Fulham has become known as Nappy Valley—its small Victorian houses make perfect starter homes for young families.
• Want to be entertained? Try Hammersmith’s Lyric Theatre, the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo for concerts or comedy, or the Riverside Studios for avant garde drama.
Green open spaces and water-based activities on the Thames characterise this friendly and affluent suburb of south-west London.
• For the traditionalist, Putney offers plenty of choice in terms of Victorian and Edwardian housing stock.
• However, for something a bit different take a look at the riverfront, where a wealth of commercial buildings are being redeveloped into luxury apartments.
• Once a year Putney becomes the frenzied focus of rowing fever, as the starting point for the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race.
Dulwich (SE21, SE22)
With easy access to the City and beautiful architecture, Dulwich is south London’s smartest suburb.
• After sustaining extensive bomb damage during the War, Dulwich’s stock of Victorian and Georgian cottages was added to with a range of exciting post-war architectural gems, both houses and apartments.
• Dulwich is particularly family friendly, boasting some of London’s top schools, including Dulwich College and the James Allen Girls School.
• East Dulwich features the Edward Alleyn Estate, developed by Sir Charles Barry—the architect who designed the Houses of Parliament.
Greenwich & Blackheath (SE10, SE3)
Lying on the prime meridian may have secured Greenwich’s place in the history books, but the area has plenty more to recommend it.
• Greenwich has a strong maritime history and the collection of buildings making up the Royal Naval College has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
• As well as a wealth of Georgian and Victorian housing, the area features some innovative 1960s Span houses, particularly on the Cator Estate.
• London’s history is still alive here—visit the Naval College, the Greenwich Royal Observatory, the Cutty Sark, a restored tea clipper, Blackheath, which was once a plague burial ground and, more up to date, the O2, a vast entertainment centre that hosted Olympic events.
Possibly London’s greenest suburb, with a common, several parks and a multitude of golf courses—not to mention the perfectly manicured grass courts of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
• The focus of the area is Wimbledon Village, with its characterful Georgian high street lined with enticing cafes, chic boutiques and gastro pubs.
• There’s a wide range of properties available, from typical Victorian and Georgian terraces, to 1930s and 50s semis and contemporary luxury apartments.
• Wimbledon Common encompasses 1,140 acres of open parkland, woods, golf courses, ponds, running and riding tracks—it’s what weekends were made for.
Clapham, Battersea & Wandsworth (SW4, SW11, SW18)
Gentrified in the 80s, these south London suburbs have seen their worth steadily rise—not least for their convenience for the City. Now, with the new American Embassy due to open in 2016 at Nine Elms, the area’s having another burst of development.
• Battersea Power Station is currently being developed into a new residential and commercial quarter—certainly one of London’s most exciting new projects.
• Property already available includes Victorian terraces, glorious Edwardian mansion blocks overlooking Battersea Park and smart new apartment blocks on the river.
• Clapham Junction is Europe’s busiest railway station—you can catch a train to almost anywhere from here!
Shoreditch, Bethnal Green & Whitechapel (E1, E2)
Once associated with the likes of Jack the Ripper and the Kray twins, Shoreditch, Bethnal Green and Whitechapel are now swarming with city whiz kids and media hipsters—currently the trendiest places to live in London.
• Not only is this part of London super convenient for the City, it has its own thriving commercial hub, giving rise to a new nickname for Old Street—Silicon Roundabout.
• There’s a good mix of interesting property around here—from Georgian townhouses to Victorian warehouse conversions to modern and not-so-modern apartment blocks.
• Sunday in the East End—go market hopping from Spitalfields to Brick Lane to Columbia Road to Petticoat Lane.
Once the trading hub of the British Empire, London’s Victorian docklands have reinvented themselves to become a hub of global finance—making the area one of the most exciting and dynamic parts of London.
• This is a place for young urban professionals rather than families—most of the properties are warehouse conversions or stunning new luxury apartments.
• Transport links are good, with the Jubilee Line and the Docklands Light Railway running through, and they’re set to get even better with the opening of Crossrail in 2018.
• Step back in time—the Museum of London Docklands inhabits a Georgian warehouse and traces the area’s extraordinary trading history.