Real Life in London: 7 Things You’ll Need to Be OK With To Love Living Here

updated Nov 16, 2022
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(Image credit: Eleanor Büsing)

Years ago, I wrote a post about surviving and thriving in London, and it’s one of my favorite pieces I’ve written for Apartment Therapy. I occasionally get emails from readers who’ve read it and are considering moving to London, want to meet up when they’re in town visiting, or just want to chat about the city. As an expat who’ll take any opportunity to talk up her adopted home, I love this.

This month marks my own “Londonversary”; to celebrate —and help out anyone thinking of moving to the city — I canvassed my friends, from born-and-bred Londoners to long-term expats and recent arrivals, for thoughts on living here. Here are 7 things to consider before making the leap across the pond. London might be right for you if…

(Image credit: Eleanor Büsing)

You Can Embrace the London Commute

First things first: London is a beast of a city. It sprawls and swallows up once-distinct villages in its wake. Divided into six concentric “zones” like a bullseye, most of the city’s action is in Zones 1 and 2, but I only know a few people lucky enough to live a stroll from their office.

Most of my friends, like me, are Zone 3 dwellers, and others have moved even further afield in the quest for peace (or affordable mortgages). But as long as you have a relatively straightforward commute (to me, 50 minutes with only one change trumps 35 with a bus, train, and tube combo), a book, and some music to listen to, you’ll be fine.

Commuting by bike is increasingly popular and is another option for the athletic (and fearless).

(Image credit: Eleanor Büsing)

You Work Hard… But Not Too Hard

Think of the UK, particularly in regards to working, as being the halfway point between North America and continental Europe. My US-dwelling friends work ridiculous hours and seem to be involved in some kind of exhausting who-has-the-most-demanding-job game, while those in Europe are sent home at 5 and given a talking-to if they haven’t exercised their right to holiday recently.

Here, you’ll work as hard as you want to: I’m happy to work late for a deadline, but I’m equally likely to decamp to the pub with my co-workers as soon as possible, rather than working all hours just to be seen at my desk. The old “work hard, party hard” feels particularly apt in this town.

(Image credit: Eleanor Büsing)

You Can Share Your Living Space

I’ll admit this is entirely finance-dependent, and some singles can afford to live independently. But in this city, it’s totally normal for people to flatshare well into their 30s and beyond. It’s not the total drag you might think it is: flatmates become friends and an ersatz family, someone with whom to watch the Great British Bake Off and re-hash the details of your most recent Tinder date.

(Image credit: Eleanor Büsing)

You’re Chill with Online Dating

Speaking of Tinder, if you’re looking for love in London, online is the way to go. I can count on one hand the number of couples I know who met in “normal” ways (i.e. at a bar, through friends, etc), but the ones who hooked up via a site or app? Legion.

In fact, British people didn’t really date as others might know it before this technology. They met and coupled up somehow, but the notion of meeting someone new, asking them out and sharing a potentially-awkward drink or meal was considered amusingly American. It was only really with the advent of online dating that Britain got on board with the ritual.

While it’s perfectly possible to meet the love of your life in the local pub, it’s not exactly likely in this city. So take a deep breath and fire up your smartphone— everyone else is doing it.

(Image credit: Eleanor Büsing)

You’re Willing to Work for Friendship

Meeting romantic partners in London isn’t the only challenge; the same can be said about platonic relationships. Naturally, expats flock to each other, but befriending the locals is a long game. Londoners don’t seem overly friendly at first, and you can hardly blame them: in a city that’s so transient for so many, investing time in a friendship with someone who’s just here for a year of fun before going back home isn’t exactly the smartest move.

It’s taken me years, but I can proudly say that my friend group includes legitimate Londoners, Brits from further afield, and expats of every description. My best advice is to be social with your colleagues, work on your existing connections (friends of friends become friends), and say yes to everything you’re invited to during the first few months.

(Image credit: Eleanor Büsing)

You’re Looking for a Launchpad

I firmly believe that London is the best place to live for exploring Europe and beyond; with four airports and the Eurotunnel, the world is your oyster. You can be in Paris in a little over two hours by train, Reykjavik in three by air, and Marrakech in under four. There’s a lot of competition between travel providers as well, which is great if you’re looking for a deal.

(Image credit: Eleanor Büsing)

You Don’t Suffer from SAD

Look, can we just not talk about the weather? It can really suck; that’s true. It can also be beautiful! As my mum always says about weather in Britain: if you don’t like it, wait five minutes.

As someone who hates extreme heat and cold equally, I’m happiest in our mild, albeit slightly damp, climate. But if you think endless grey days and persistent winter drizzle will get you down, maybe think about living elsewhere.

Have you ever considered the expat life? Share your stories about London and beyond below!

Re-edited from a post originally published 8.19.2015 – TW