What It’s Like to Live in London

I never foresaw myself living in London, and it has certainly never been somewhere that I’ve particularly loved. In fact, I used to just associate it with all of my public transportation nightmares — lugging a suitcase across a crowded city, enduring motion sickness on a hot subway, having no idea where I’m going whilst being in the dreamlike state of just getting off an 11 hour flight.

So how did I end up here?

After spending a couple years of my twenties living the slow-paced life of an expat in Spain (in the best possible way), I knew it was time for me to get back into the thick of it; I wanted to feel the buzz of a city that never sleeps, see new things, and kickstart my career. So London it was, although I made the transition somewhat hesitantly. Luckily, I have now settled comfortably in this city that is as weird and wonderful as it is harsh and frustrating.

In fact, that dichotomy has become the reason that I have warmed to it so much.

What is it like to live in London? At this time in my life, the pros outweigh the cons, otherwise I would be on a quick flight out of here. After living here for a few years, here is my view on the biggest pros and cons.

Pros of Living in London

It teaches you to be savvy

I credit apartment-hunting in London to making me the confident navigator of cities that I am today. The necessity of taking the subway, overground trains, and buses to different corners of the city has made me really efficient on public transportation and much less intimidated by unfamiliar places. Now, when I’m with people who aren’t used to navigating big cities, I see my former self in them — intimidated and overwhelmed. I feel so much more at ease whenever I’m in a new city, and as someone who grew up in the suburbs never using public transportation, I see this as a big accomplishment.

It is extremely diverse

I never knew diversity until I lived in London. You are constantly surrounded by different languages (there are over 300 spoken here), and you can find Portuguese, Indian, Chinese, Italian, and Bangladeshi neighborhoods. I admire how native Londoners can navigate this all with ease, and contrary to the United States’ melting pot, which seems to encourage assimilation, I love how the different cultural groups here proudly retain their roots. I have the privilege of living within North London’s enormous Turkish community.

You can be completely independent

I can go anywhere, do anything, and get anything here. If I want Korean food, I can find it. If I’d like to get a flight to Bali, I can get it. If I want to go see some Monets or Van Goghs, I can find them. There is a freedom in knowing that whatever you’d like is at your fingertips.

It has great jobs

No need to elaborate here. The job pool in London is endless.

You’re likely to see friends

Some of my best friends live in London for the above reasons — London attracts many vibrant, talented people. A surprising amount of people pass through the city, too, so I have been able to catch up with many friends and family who are either visiting or stopping by.

Cons of Living in London

The reliance on public transportation can be miserable

There is no hell like the Tube on a hot summer’s day. But even when the temperature is tolerable, there is still a degree of anxiety that comes with any trip on the Underground, and a large chunk of your time and money is dedicated just to getting around.

There are so. many. people.

When you step outside of the city, you become aware of just how many bodies you push past on a daily basis. Every day I am avoiding cigarette smoke, squeezing onto trains, and generally keeping my wits about me to make sure I don’t get bowled over by the more experienced commuters. You get used to a degree of rudeness (exemplified by the time I fell on some stairs in the Underground and literally no one stopped to check if I was okay).

The pollution and noise is relentless

I can’t compare how bad the pollution is compared to other cities, but I will say that for me, it has come as a big adjustment. When I wash my face at night, I am removing soot and grime. I am breathing car exhaust whenever I leave my apartment. And the noise — as someone whose biggest pest peeve is revving car and motorcycle engines, I really do wonder sometimes why I’m here.

High cost of living does not mean good quality of life

Sadly, unless you have a high paying job, it is difficult to have a good quality of life in London. I’m lucky enough to be comfortable, but it takes a good level of money to really be able to live a healthy, stress-free lifestyle here. It still kills me when I think about the amount of money I spend every week just to get to and from work, which is a miserable process in itself.

I have always said that London is not a city that I’m enamored with; I found charm in every corner of Seville, and I was blown away by the magic of Paris. However, living here has taught me that you can still find value in the place that you live despite its shortfalls, and I’ve developed a sense of pride in being able to make my way in a city that is as relentless as it is welcoming.

My advice for anyone moving to London is to embrace the overwhelming nature of the city, all of its flaws and all of its opportunities, and find your own corners and neighborhoods that make you happy. I resent taking the Tube, but when I end up at the National Gallery, I am filled with gratefulness. I despised living in East London, but I now take a great sense of pride from my new neighborhood in North London.

And like anywhere that I live, I know it won’t be permanent, so I’m determined to embrace it for all that it is before I move on.

Hayley is an American expat and freelance writer who has been living in Europe since 2010. Check out her website rouge-rojo-red.com for more of her work.

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