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Life in the big smoke

A guide to different London areas

London can feel a bit intimidating at first, especially if you’re trying to figure out where to live by looking at a map; all those different areas, the river snaking through the middle, odd names like Penge, Shoreditch and Hounslow. It might feel like a lot to take in, which is why I suggest you break it down a little.

If you don’t know the city, look at where you’re going to work or study and then find something within a thirty minute to an hour commute away. Look at the tube lines or bus routes on TFL and take it from there.

Many people who’re not that acquainted with London wonder if it’s a safe city. On the whole it is, but like any metropolis it has problems. Most areas are safe, although there can be pockets of poverty and crime in even the most affluent of neighbourhoods. Unless you happen to be involved with the London underworld or join a criminal gang chances are you might not even notice any of this.

Stay safe by exercising some common sense, don’t walk into a dark park or alleyway on your own at night. Turn around if a street makes you feel unsafe. Don’t flash expensive electronics or cash in busy tourist areas, where you’re most likely to meet a pick pocket. And finally if you’re concerned about a neighbourhood you’re considering moving to google it, look up crime stats online and find out what people are saying in forums. Then take that with a pinch of salt as these normally makes it sound worse than things really are.

London Fields East London

East

Shoreditch/Hoxton
Also known as hipster central. What you’ll find here are expensive flats, plenty of bars, nice cafes and good transport links. For cheaper options look for apartments in some of the larger housing estates in Hoxton and around Old Street. It might still be possible to get a bargain. You will probably end up sharing a flat with people who work in PR, media or run a tech start-up. Rents vary, but the average is around £200/week for a room in a shared flat.

Dalston
Just up the road from Shoreditch and not very different from its southern neighbour. An area that used to be affordable and popular only a few years ago, but is now one of the more sought after locations in Hackney (which itself is becoming one of London’s more attractive neighbourhoods). The area has a vibrant nightlife, with plenty of popular bars and clubs. Expect to pay £800+/month for a room in a shared flat.

Clapton/Homerton
East of Shoreditch and Dalston, which means it’s a bit rougher and also a bit cheaper. Not on the tube network, but plenty of buses and trains go through the area. Clapton is the new up and coming hip area. You’ll find expensive bars serving biodynamic wine, cycle shops and the occasional cheap flat share. £600+/month for a room in a shared flat.

Bow/Mile End
A bit further east on the central line and therefore slightly cheaper. Even though there are a lot of new Londoners/students/young professionals moving in there is also a settled community, which means there are fewer trendy pubs and cafes (although the area is gentrifying rapidly), and perhaps more of a sense of a community. Around £700/month for a room in a shared flat.

Bethnal Green/Whitechapel
The old East End, now quite an Asian area in London with the oldest mosque in the UK. It used to be a good bet for cheap accommodation, but is getting more expensive as the transport links are good and it’s close to London’s finance district. Lots of new developments are springing up in the area. Around £200/week for a room in a shared flat.

Leytonstone
Still a bit rough around the edges, but the next line of gentrification. One of the places to go for people who’ve been pushed out of Hackney and other slightly more central areas because of ever increasing rents. East of Stratford, i.e. on the other side of the Olympic park. Around £150/week for a room in a shared flat.

Forest Gate
Not too different from Leytonstone. Another so called up-and-coming area where you can still rent a room for around £150/week or £550/month.

Camden Lock North London

North

Islington/Angel
Expensive, pretty and central. Rents are around £1000/month and up. Plenty of upper-middle class professional types, actors and celebrities live here. Used to be known as a hotspot for up and coming, red wine swilling Labour politicians in the 90s.

Crouch End
Similar to Angel. Lots of arty types and actors started moving to the area in the 1990s, it’s slowly become even more upmarket since. Everyone who talks about the area seems to love it, but they have probably lived there for 10+ years and lost their interest in the rest of London. Around £700+/month for a room in a shared flat.

Camden
Very busy party area, lots of students move here because Camden is one of the few London places they’ve heard about. Lots of 20-year-olds and old punks. £200+/week for a room in a shared flat.

Stoke Newington/Finsbury Park
Artsy and trendy middle-class area with OK transport links. Rents are lower than in Islington, but rising all the time. Good shops and bars, a nice community vibe. Close to Stamford Hill that has a very settled Hasidic jewish community. Around £250/week for a room in a shared flat.

Walthamstow
Slightly further away, on the Victoria line which whizzes you into central London in no time. A world of its own with lots of pretty streets full of quaint terraced houses. The great exodus of Hackney is moving here as well. Rents vary, but rooms in shared flats can go for £500+/month.

Other areas
Other areas to look at in North London are Belsize Park (suburban and more expensive), Highgate (further away, but pretty), Holloway and Archway (good transport links, not super expensive), Kentish Town (laid back, arty) and Manor House (cool warehouses, good kebab shops). Muswell Hill and Alexandra Park are both slightly quieter and family friendly areas with great views of the London skyline.

West

Notting Hill
Very expensive unless you happen to be lucky and stumble across a random leftover from the mid-90s when this area was still affordable. After “that movie” (as the film is known in the area) the neighbourhood was flooded with wealthy Americans, Russians and investors from the Middle East. Expect to pay £250+/week for a room in a flatshare. Most people in the area are 40+ and wealthy. If that’s your type of crowd it might not be such a bad place to hang out.

Shepherd’s Bush
Slightly less expensive than Notting Hill, but with the same vibe. More Australians and Swedes. The tube station sits next to Westfield shopping centre, one of the largest shopping centres in Europe. Not bad if that’s your cup of tea. Rents are around £200/week in a flatshare.

Chelsea and Kensington
Best to avoid unless you happen to have millions in your (or your parents) bank account or are looking to hang out with people who do. Expensive. Posh. And also turning into a ghost town as many flats in the area have been bought by wealthy foreigners who only spend a couple of weekends a year in London. Kensington is the sort of place where you pay £6 for a coffee.

Earls Court
A nice and expensive area going through a huge redevelopment as the Earls Court exhibition centre is being torn down and turned into flats. Has lovely houses, wide streets and a slightly suburban feel. Rent a room in a shared flat from around £300/week.

Other areas
Fulham, Putney and Richmond are also popular areas in West London. All are on the expensive side, but safe, comfortable and popular with upper middle class people with good jobs who’ve lived in London for a while. Close to Heathrow which is good if you travel a lot, but not so great if you’re not keen on airplanes flying over your house every other minute.

Cycling in south London

South

Clapham
Around ten years ago this was were many new Londoners landed, the area was popular with Swedes, Kiwis and Australians. Rents have gone up as the area has become more desirable. A room in a flatshare in Clapham can now set you back between £150 and £200/week, which isn’t bad compared to other areas in the city. It’s on the northern line, which according to popular myth isn’t great to commute on because it gets very cramped and busy.

Camberwell
A cute and artistic neighbourhood close to Goldsmiths university, plenty of students live here (if they can afford it) and former students from the university have settled in the area. Rents a room in a shared flat from around £600+/month.

Peckham
Camberwell’s scruffier younger sister, used to be a bit rough, but is also going through a gentrification process. Plenty of good pubs, organic shops, third waves cafés and print studios can be found in the area. Throw a stick and you’ll find an opening night for a gallery or a DJ on a roof top. Rooms in shared flats go for £500+/month.

Brixton
Used to be known for riots, now famous for its music venues, clubs, arty residents and all around cool vibe. Has its own pound (the Brixton pound) to encourage residents to shop locally. It’s quickly becoming more and more gentrified. On the Victoria line, which means a quick commute to central London. A room in a shared flat goes for around £700+/month.

Dulwich
The Stoke Newington (see above) of south London, trendy, leafy, nice looking houses attracting nice people with healthy bank balances. Rent for a room in a shared flat from £700/month.

Herne Hill
Like Dulwich it’s suburban and a hot spot for yummy mummies. Close to Brockwell Park, but slightly scruffier than its neighbours. On the train network, but no tube. A room in a shared flat costs around 600+/month.

Crystal Palace
The area got its name from The Crystal Palace, a glass structure that once hosted the Great Exhbition in 1851, which was unfortunately destroyed by a fire in 1936. The area is full of lovely leafy streets with houses that look like they came straight out of an Addams family film. It’s hilly and some bits look out over the London skyline. The suburban dream for Londoners with families who want to escape the city. Not cheap, but not unaffordable either. A nice community feel. Rooms in shared flats go for around £650+/month.

Woolwich
Still a bit rough around the edges, but up and coming because of its affordability. Home to the largest single-site studio providers in the UK (disclaimer: it’s where I work) and therefore attracting artists and creatives. The transport links are still a bit iffy, but that will change in 2018 when the new Elizabeth line opens. Nearby Shooter’s Hill and Plumstead are lovely, affordable and leafy suburbs, but again not great if you need to commute in to central London every day.

Other areas
Vauxhall and Battersea on the south west side of the city are also popular residential areas. Battersea is going through a lot of regeneration with luxury flats being built in the old iconic power station. Vauxhall is known for its Portuguese community and for being a popular spot for some all-night warehouse clubbing.

Greenwich on the other side of town is leafy and slightly more suburban. Blackheath is another popular and slightly quieter area of London, with a nice high street, a family friendly vibe and a large green space (Blackheath itself) looking out over central London. Lewisham is cheaper but still slightly lacking in good transport links. Croydon is a suburban city in the southern parts of London where rents are cheaper. Living there might not be ideal if you spend a lot of time in zone 1.

Photos by: Evelyn Paris, Rob Bye, Clem Onojeghuo, Arvydas Venckus and Bluebel.