Living in London
The accommodation available in the sprawling metropolis of London is diverse. In fact, you are spoilt for choice, from hostels to small and cheap family-run hotels and B&BS to expensive, ultra-chic, star-filled hotels such as those found on a Monopoly board.
If you are one of the lucky ones who has a bed or even a floor to sleep on when you arrive, you’re off to a very good start; finding somewhere to live can be one of the most daunting tasks you will ever have to tackle while on a working holiday in London. Short-term accommodation in the form of hostels and B&Bs are abundant, but long-term accommodation is another matter. It can be hard to find somewhere liveable, suitable and within your budget.
Short-term London accommodation
If you are only making a whirlwind visit through the city or need a place to establish yourself, then a hostel or cheap B&B will be ideal. I recommend booking for at least 2 weeks because by the time you are recovered from jet lag, done some sightseeing and got your bearing a week will almost be up.
One of the cheapest and easiest short-term accommodation options is to stay in a hostel. Accommodation is mostly dormitory-style where you may have 4, 6, 8 or maybe more beds in one room however, many now also offer double, twin and family rooms. A hostel will allow you to familiarise yourself with London or where ever you are, possibly make friends with like-minded travellers and decide whether or not to make a more private and long-term housing arrangement. Some hostels offer long-term stays for those struggling to find a flat or house to share. I would recommend you book advance to ensure you have a spot for your arrival. I have stayed in hostels many times and recommend Hostel World.
Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs)
Bed & Breakfasts can vary greatly in their size, comfort and price. In the smaller B&Bs it’s common to share bathroom facilities, which does make your stay cheaper. B&Bs usually include either English or Continental breakfast. An English breakfast consists of bacon, sausages, eggs, baked beans and toast with tea or coffee while a Continental breakfast consists of rolls, toast or croissants with tea or coffee.
Long-term London accommodation
Looking for long-term accommodation in London can be a full-time occupation. Before you start to look, you need a rough idea about the area you would like to live in and what it has to offer. Before you sign on the dotted line, see how far it is from public transport as you don’t want a long walk each day to the train or bus stop, plus you want to know it is safe if you’re coming home late at night. See if the area has a night bus. The Tube stops running at 1am and there is nothing worse than being forced to take an expensive cab ride home. Make sure the place you find is near a Tube line, rail or serviced by a bus stop. Check what zone your accommodation lies in. The further out you are the cheaper your rent might be but you will have higher travel expenses and longer travel time. Have a look at what services are available to you. Are there grocery stores nearby, carrying groceries a long way can be a nightmare. Are there eateries and other services such as laundrettes.
You could use the Circle Line on a Tube map as a rough boundary to help you decide where to live. While all the residences within this area are expensive, they are close to everything. If you leave this area and begin travelling into the suburbs, the accommodation will not necessarily be cheaper, but you will have a better chance of finding your own room in a more homely establishment. Remember though, moving out to the suburbs means your travelling expenses will increase (that is if you are working in the city). It is wise to find a place serviced by more than one Tube line or bus route and which is close to the Tube station(s) or bus stop(s).
When flats and houses are advertised for rent the post code is often used to indicate the location. There are many roads with the same name (Princes Road, for instance, is in N18, SE20, SW14 and also W13) so it is imperative you know in which area your place is located.
When you are arranging to view possible residences try and see all those located in a particular area in one trip, otherwise you will find yourself traipsing from one side of town to the other. This can be very time consuming and it just makes my feet ache thinking about it. As you can see from the following postcode area map of Greater London, the areas are divided into: SW South-West London, W West London, WC West City, EC East City, E East London, N North London, NW North-West London, SE South-East London.
Most long-term accommodation will be located in bedsits, flats or houses, usually with landlords and real estate agents requiring four to six weeks deposit (bond) and one month’s rent in advance before you move in. For example, a two-bedroom flat at £200 per week could cost £1600-£2,000 to move into.
A guide to the various areas to live, including Aussie and Kiwi enclaves can be found in our ebook LiveWork&Play in London & the UK.
Flat and house sharing
Renting a flat or house from scratch can be expensive and distressing. Once you have found a place you are responsible for a hefty deposit, connecting the utilities, council tax and organising a TV licence. An attractive accommodation option is for travellers to move into an established flat or house share as all the annoying bureaucratic stuff has already been done.
There is a lot of competition for decent rooms in flat and house shares, so be prepared for an interview. The people in the flat will want to make sure you are compatible to live with and you, of course, will want to check the same. The interview can be quite daunting for people who have never flatted (shared a flat) before.
Some accommodation ads specify room shares. This means the room has twin beds and you will probably be sharing with someone of the same sex unless you don’t mind sharing with the opposite sex; because this works out cheaper, it could allow you to live closer to the centre of the city. If you do decide to share a room, who isn’t a friend you are travelling with, ask the person if he/she has a girl/boyfriend as you don’t want to be relegated to sleeping in the lounge room. Maybe you wouldn’t consider sharing a room but living in London can mean surviving in London. When it comes to money you will want to save all your pounds for travelling so sharing a room has its advantages.
Sharing a flat can lead to a communal existence. If you have heard stories of 10 people living in a three-bedroom flat, believe it; rumours are true. Many travellers do this as it works out cheaper. You need to be easy-going to live like this because you won’t have much privacy, but the social life should be great.
Good places to start your search for accommodation are online and by picking up a newspaper when you arrive in London.
You will find extensive information on short and long-term accommodation in our ebook LiveWork&Play in London & the UK.