Living in London
The accommodation available in the sprawling metropolis of London is diverse. In fact, you are spoilt for choice, from small and cheap family-run hotels and B&BS to expensive, ultra-chic, star-filled hotels such as those found on a Monopoly board.
When you first look at London you will notice row after row of Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian and modern terraced structures which have been converted to flats, bedsits, offices and hotels. Throughout the city, the buildings are mostly four or five levels consisting of a basement, ground floor and two or three more floors. As you venture further into Greater London you will encounter state-run housing estates and quaint, semi-detached and detached two-storey cottages and bungalows. Each has certain charms that distinguish British accommodation from the rest of the world.
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 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. It can be hard to find accommodation on par with what you’re accustomed to at home, so if this is what you want–be prepared to pay for it.
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.
One of the cheapest and easiest short-term accommodation options is to stay in a hostel. Accommodation in hostels is mostly dormitory-style where you may have 4, 6, 8 or maybe more beds in one room. Most hostels also have a small number of double and family rooms available. Here, you will be able to familiarise yourself with London or where ever you are, make friends 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 for one to two weeks for your initial stay, this is because by the time you have recovered from jet lag and done some sight seeing the one to two weeks will almost be up and then you will need to find a longer term place to stay. I have used and recommend Hostel World to book your hostel through. See the link on this page.
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; it also makes your stay cheaper–be prepared to wait for your turn. You may even have to drop £1 coins in a metre for a five-to-ten-minute shower. This probably sounds absurd to us who have only ever had private facilities, but it is quite common in London, throughout the UK and in some European countries.
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. A Continental breakfast consists of rolls, toast or croissants with tea or coffee. B&Bs are easily found as there are many signs visible for them as you travel around.
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 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 nearby.
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.
Here is a rough guide to Greater London areas where you might want to live:
South-West London areas
The south-west areas are divided by the Thames and are either north or south of the river. Many travellers’ find flats north of the river in suburbs like Earl’s Court, Gloucester Road, West Kensington and Baron’s Court. These places are close to the city for work, are serviced by Tubes and buses and have loads of shops. Earl’s Court is synonymous with Australasian travellers and in the 1980s it was the mecca for the gay scene.
Suburbs such as South Kensington, Belgravia, Sloane Square, Knightsbridge and Chelsea are prestigious areas in which to live and are full of the rich and famous. The area alone means you will pay extra for the privilege of living there. The places are becoming over-run with bedsits, as everyone wants to have an exclusive address.
Many travellers move further out of the city to popular areas like Putney, Wimbledon and Richmond. Richmond is on the Thames and has many pubs and restaurants. In summer, people sit outside to watch the river traffic go by. Several employment agencies are also located in the Wimbledon and Richmond areas, which are well serviced by the Tube, trains and buses.
Brixton is a popular area to the south of the Thames. I was advised against going to Brixton because of the riots in the 1980s, but a lot of young people are moving into and around Brixton as it has became more affordable for singles investing in property and young couples setting up their first home. As a result of this, many restaurants and amenities have opened up in the area. Both the Tube and trains service it. It is also a popular gay area, due to the number of gay night spots.
Other south London areas like Battersea, Greenwich, Clapham, Streatham, Tooting, Wandsworth and Croydon are also popular with travellers. These areas are well serviced by trains and are known to be ‘greener’ than other areas.
West London areas
Many travellers live around the hip and trendy Paddington, Bayswater, Queensway and Notting Hill Gate areas in rented accommodation. They are well serviced by the Tube and buses and Queensway has a large variety of shops, including the Whiteley Centre. Travellers have also moved out to Shepherd’s Bush, Hammersmith, Acton and Ealing as accommodation is cheaper. A few Aussie pubs are also located in the west London area.
East London areas
The east offers some of the lowest rents in London, which is good news, but some of the poorest areas of London are in this area as well. Some places have loft and warehouse developments available due to their industrial history especially around Mile End, Bow and Shoreditch, all of which were notorious areas for crooks such as the Krays. Gay pubs were first established in the East End of London so this area is good if you want a gay social life. Hackney is known as the lesbian capital and is popular with travellers due to the low rents.
The Docklands area has undergone a facelift and a lot of business people have moved in. There are some lovely rooms with views of the Thames. The area is well serviced transport and is in easy reach of the city centre for work purposes.
North London areas
Popular areas to set up house in north London include in and around Camden, where the markets are situated. The area is quite an artistic colony with many writers, painters, musicians, etc., living there. It has some good clubs and pubs and loads of eateries. It is also served by the Tube and buses.
Other areas include Highbury, Islington and King’s Cross. All three areas are serviced by the Tube and buses.
Hampstead Heath is also a popular area as it is hilly and green and offers home-style accommodation. As with the areas around Chelsea, this area is home to the wealthy and you will need a few pounds yourself if you want to live here.
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, 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.
Setting up a flat
Now if you have walked your feet to the bone and could not find a place to share you may consider setting up a flat and looking for flatmates. Ensure you read the contract and know what you are up for. Have an inventory and utensils check list performed so you cannot be blamed for any breakages. You will need to contact the services, ie. Electricity, gas, water, etc to connect and also if you want a TV apply for a licence. You may also want a telephone line but most use their mobile phones. Also you will need to contact your local council to be registered for the Council Tax. This is a tax to cover Council services. It is wise to do this as one of the first things you do as the Council will chase you for the tax if you don’t pay it.
Good places to start your search for accommodation are online and by picking up a newspaper when you arrive in London.
For extensive information on short and long-term accommodation purchase a copy of our ebook LiveWork&Play in London & the UK now.