Living In London: Is It Worth The Cost?

Living in a capital city comes with big advantages, but you do pay for them dearly. Is life in London right for you? Read our London guide to find out.

Living in London
The iconic Tower Bridge, London

As the capital of both England and the United Kingdom, the home of the British Royal Family, and some of the most globally recognised landmarks, it’s no surprise as to why London has long been popular with both domestic and global visitors for years. 

This bustling multicultural hub has more sights, attractions, opportunities, and things to do than most places in the UK let alone larger parts of Europe – which makes the idea of living in London very appealing. 

However, is this enough to justify joining the ranks of the nearly 9 million people that currently live there? 

Let’s find out. 

Is London a good place to live?

The most honest answer we can give here is that it depends on who you ask. London is such a large city, with so many different and diverse neighbourhoods, that it’s hard to get a consistent answer.

Living in London
The red phone box is one of the most iconic symbols of Britain, and London has the majority of them.

That being said, given the number of opportunities available and the countless amount of things to do and see, it’s safe to say that London is a great place to live – it simply isn’t for everyone. 

London basically has it all.

Arts and culture, amazing job opportunities, diverse neighbourhoods, sports and entertainment, history, huge green parks, and a well-connected transport system – essentially everything you could want from a major city.

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If you want to get technical, it even has a beach… kind of. Along the River Thames, there are a few sandy patches that you can get to although we don’t recommend you choose this as the spot for your summer vacation. 

Furthermore, it offers ease of access to the rest of the world, with 6 total international airports as well train connections to mainland Europe. So if you get tired of life here – and you can afford it – you can get to almost anywhere in the world you wish.

This is likely why London is one of the most multicultural cities on Earth, with over a third of its population being born overseas. It’s regarded as a melting pot, where people can come from anywhere and be who they want to be. 

It’s also much greener than most major cities, with roughly 40% of the city being made up of parkland.

However, should you have a taste for something more metropolitan, there is an untold number of bars and pubs of all shapes and sizes, a thriving arts and theatre scene (it is home to the UK’s answer to Broadway – the West End), many free museums, and many other cultural events and activities. 

London’s biggest draw is variety, and with so much to offer, it can definitely be a great place to live. However, life in London does come with a price tag. 

Is living in London worth it? 

One of the largest factors in life in London is cost.

Although it is not the most expensive city in the world to live in (it barely scrapes into the top 20), you will certainly notice the cost of living should you live here. This is one of the major trade-offs: the cost of living for the range of opportunity.

Living in London
Probably the world’s most famous clock.

Many Londoners work hard in order to play hard, which is a huge part of the lifestyle here.

If you’re able to manage a decent salary, you’ll be able to live comfortably and enjoy at least some of the many things London has to offer.

Those on lower incomes will have a different but an equally enjoyable experience when in London. The luxuries and activities enjoyed will simply be different. 

The other major factor that will determine your quality of life here is where you live.

London has a number of amazing boroughs (the name for an area in London) that offer a different lifestyle. However, they, like everything else, are subject to the rules of supply and demand. Many of these areas are more popular and therefore decent housing is more expensive. 

On the other hand, there are a number of areas that are more affordable but don’t offer much, so you’ll find yourself travelling regularly to other parts of the city. The trick is to find a good balance wherever you choose to live.

If you can justify the sheer amount of things to do, and the many creative and professional opportunities against the cost of living, you will find London worth it. 

Provided that you’re happy to get through the winter of course! 

The pros and cons of living in London

Like any major city, there are pros and cons of life in London. Here are the biggest ones to consider. 

Living in London: The Queens Arms pub
Queen’s Gate Mews in South Kensington, South West London, where properties sell at an overall average price of £1,860,000.

The pros of living in London

1. Activities on offer

It’s no secret, there is simply a crazy amount of things to do in London. You’ll find it very hard to be bored in this city. 

2. The parks

London has some truly stunning parks on offer for you to explore, making it easy to get in touch with nature and escape the concrete jungle. There is even a Zoo located near the city centre. 

3. Job opportunities and salaries

The UK is one of the top countries that offer opportunities and high incomes to professional expats. These opportunities are mostly concentrated in London.

The job market in London is massive and offers plenty of opportunities in virtually every industry. This is one of the biggest draws of London – many of the worlds largest businesses have offices here as well as many other exciting new companies and startups.

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Plus, the job market is very competitive, and the salaries in many industries reflect this. So if a career and a good income are your priorities, living in London is a good idea.

4. Good choice of transport to move around the city

This covers a number of areas (pun intended). To get around the city, there is the Underground, as well as regular bus services and overground trains.

Living in London: the West End
The Lyceum Theatre, home of the hugely popular and successful Lion King musical in London’s West End district.

You can get almost anywhere you need to faster than you would by car.

These connections extend to other areas of the UK and overseas as well. London is a great base for travellers thanks to its international airports and other travel options. 

5. History and culture

Thanks to its history, and multicultural nature, London offers its residents a rare blend of stunning historical monuments and architecture as well as access to cuisine and events from most cultures on Earth.

Sometimes travelling from one borough to another can feel like you’ve gone to a different city. This is one of the key factors that make London truly unique as a city. 

The cons of living in London

1. London is not cheap!

It’s no secret that London can be an expensive city to live in.

However, if you’re smart with your money and choices, you can live reasonably comfortably on a smaller salary.

Living in London
St James Park, the oldest of the Royal parks in London, is located in the centre of the city just next to Buckingham Palace.

This may come with a few sacrifices, such as living further away from transport links, living in areas that aren’t as popular and choosing accommodation that isn’t as nice as more expensive options. 

Entertainment costs can add up too, meaning you may need to be selective when you’re trying new places – all depending on your budget of course.  

2. Travelling within London is expensive

Although transport is well connected and often running 24 hours, it is not without its faults.

The underground costs add up (more than two trips a day can cost roughly £7 a day within certain zones), it can get hot (not all lines have air conditioning), and can be very busy during rush hour.

Service is normally reliable, however, delays can occur (you’ll become familiar with the phrase ‘signal failure’). Buses can also be affected by heavy traffic and the winter weather can affect overground train lines. 

3. Travelling to the regions can be extortionate

However, the biggest surprise is when it comes to regions outside of London.

Getting to these areas can be very expensive. So much so, that it is often cheaper to purchase flights to Europe than book a return journey on some English train lines. This may feel like an odd joke that everyone else is in on, but sadly this is not the case. 

4. London rental market: fast and furious

The London rental market is highly competitive, and expensive thanks to the high demand. Good properties get snapped very quickly, sometimes the very moment they appear on a property website. So if you do see something you like, you need to move quickly.

Living in London
Chalcot Square in Primrose Hill in the Camden district, London

The high demand has led to the standards of some properties slipping and making it harder to find somewhere to live in highly desirable areas.

This demand also drives the prices up – especially in popular areas. So make sure you can afford what you see before contacting the agent. Most people are forced to make compromises on location, property size, sharing with others, and other factors. 

How expensive is living in London

Much has been said about the cost of living in London – including in this post. So, how much does it really cost to live in the UK’s capital? Let’s find out! 

For starters, the average monthly rent across London is £2219 (from the beginning of 2021). However, this will vary depending on where you choose to live and the property size.

Monthly utilities average roughly £187 per month, which includes gas, electricity, water etc.

Council Tax varies depending on the area in which you live. 

An average meal at an inexpensive restaurant or typical pub averages around £13-£15. 

A pint (473ml) of beer averages around £5.20. You will find that you can pay a different price for the same beer depending on where you are. For a cocktail in a club, you can expect to pay around £11. 

Groceries: in the supermarket, a litre of milk costs around £0.95, a loaf of white bread roughly costs £1, and on average you’ll pay £2.20 for 12 eggs. 

A typical one way trip on the Underground costs £2.80.

A standard journey on a TFL (transport for London bus) will cost £1.50, depending on the distance travelled.

A monthly pass for the Underground will cost £160. 

What salary do I need to live in London?

The London living wage is currently £10.85 per hour and the average salary in the UK is roughly £31,000. The salary you need will vary depending on the lifestyle you hope to lead.

Living in London
Quiet streets of Clapham, London.

Many Londoners will suggest you need a salary of £40,000 plus to live comfortably. However, you will find that some people live on salaries of as little as £19,000 (typical in hospitality jobs and other casual roles). 

Our advice is to do your research on the industry you hope to enter and find the average salary. Next, do some research on where you’d like to live. This will be the best place to start. 

Where to live in London

One of the best things about London is the diversity of lifestyles on offer. So with this in mind, here are some of the top places to live based on how you may wish to live. 

1. For nature lovers – Teddington

Teddington was recently named 2021’s best place to live in by the Sunday Times.

Living in London: Teddington
Boats moored up on the River Thames in Teddington, London.

Although looking at a map, it appears to be a fair way from the city centre, to many, this is part of the appeal. You can access the city without feeling like you’re stuck there.

Here you’ll find many independent shops, dogs galore, and Bushy Park (famed for its resident deer) just a stone’s throw away. Teddington is charming and ideal for families and those seeking space from the rat race. 

2. For the ‘iconic London’ feeling – Primrose Hill

Primrose Hill is full of pastel-coloured, regency terrace houses that resemble the set of a Wes Anderson film. In the network of quiet backstreets, you’ll find quaint bakeries, pubs, and cafes.

It’s also home to the hill of its namesake, which offers breathtaking panoramic views of London. 

3. For multicultural experiences – Brixton and Clapham

Although two separate locations, these neighbouring south London areas offer a unique take on life in the big city.

Stepping out from Brixton station, you’ll be hit by the energy of the place instantly. The sights, the sounds, the smells (we’re talking about food).

Brixton has a real community feel, and it has shed the less than ideal reputation it once had. Like its neighbour, Clapham, Brixton is very popular with young people and offers a wide variety of clubs, pubs, eateries and more. 

Clapham differs slightly in that it benefits from the massive park named Clapham Common and is generally greener and has more space, making it popular with families too. Both are well connected by transport links. 

4. For something central – Marylebone

First things first, it is pronounced ‘Mar-le-bone’. This will save you from some jokes and awkward exchanges.

Living in London
Marylebone decorated for Christmas

This central London location offers some quiet whilst being in the heart of the action. Here you can wander terraced streets, enjoy the charming high street and even take the short walk to Oxford Street, right in the heart of London.

This of course will come at a cost, but for some, this may be the only way you wish to enjoy this city! 

5. For the young and young at heart – Shoreditch

The once industrial area of East London has been transformed into a street art covered hub for all things new, artistic, and creative. Here you’ll find truly unique bars, clubs, and shops.

Hackney and Hoxton are also nearby, where you’ll find green spaces, canals with beautiful houseboats, and regular markets. 

London areas to avoid

As with any major city, there are certain areas you may wish to avoid as they aren’t as safe as others. Despite what you may have heard, London is a generally safe city and was ranked the 14th safest city in the world. However, here are some areas you may want to avoid: 

In terms of crime/safety, the following were named as the most dangerous areas of London in 2021; Croydon, Newham, and Tower Hamlets. 

Other areas worth avoiding, for this reason, are Haringey, Peckham, Lewisham, Kensal Rise, Harlesden, and Hackney. Some of these places can be great to visit, but perhaps not the best to live in. 

Areas that are improving are Brixton, Wembley, and Camden, as they become increasingly popular with young people and gradually become more gentrified. There will be certain parts within these areas that would be better avoided.

As a general rule of thumb, living in London large council estates is not a good idea as they tend to be further away from transport links. On this note, do your research on the links available to you to get around the city. The further you get away from the city centre, the less connected you will be – especially areas further east and further south. 

Final thoughts on living in London

One of the most famous quotes about life in London comes from Samuel Johnson, and goes like this: 

Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford

Samuel Johnson

It’s hard to fault London in the sense that it really has it all – but all doesn’t always mean good.

If you’re seeking a place that offers a world of opportunity, living in London may be the right thing for you. However, if you’re not someone who loves the idea of living in the big city – perhaps you may need to take a moment to decide if London is the best place for you. 

Jack Griffiths

Jack is an Australian freelancer now based in London who has been living the expat life for over three years now. Whist in the UK, Jack has travelled across Europe, Asia and the U.S.A. So far his favourite destination has been Malta.

He writes for Expatra alongside a number of other clients and his own creative pursuits. Hoping to continue living and working abroad, Jack hopes to live and work in Spain, Italy and South America in the future.

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