London is one of the most diverse, beautiful, and historical cities to live in. It’s easy to fall in love with the culture, architecture, and endless green space. I was smitten from my first visit, but once I returned again to make London my home, it didn’t take long for the pros and cons of living in such a big city.
Life in a new location is always exciting because everything is well…new. And with London, the honeymoon phase can last for ages because there are endless things to do and places to discover. However, with all its big city vibes, London can be quite draining as well.
More and more people these days are leaving the cities for the suburbs, but there are still lots of reasons why city life is attractive and why London itself can offer you the best of both worlds, in a way.
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Here I list the top pros and cons of living in London. For each pro, you’ll see the equal and opposite cons. This way, you’ll be able to make an informed decision for yourself as to whether London might be your next home.
Most people love it, but then again there are those few that can’t wait to leave the capital. And you probably won’t know which one you are until you’ve spent enough time there to see for yourself, exploring and living in the wide variety of neighbourhoods. Most likely, you’ll have a little bit of both in you. As you go through the list, you’ll see what I mean.
1. Pro: International Travel Hub
Did you know that London actually has six different airports, including the famous Heathrow Airport? With that many to choose from it’s no wonder, you can pretty much hop a flight to any country in the world on the spot. Travelling to most other European countries is a fairly quick jaunt and can be quite cheap, meaning most Londoners tend to travel out of the city quite a bit.
The ease of travel ranks pretty high on the list of pros for a new destination. Being able to get around easily and get back “home” to visit family and friends can be a high priority for most, and London provides that for sure.
Also, all of the UK’s major railways run through the capital, so endless day trips are on the horizon for you. It’s not unusual to take weekend breaks in Prague or to take the 3-hour train ride to Brussels when travel gets a little easier again. Not only are the distances relatively short, but with plenty of budget airlines, you’d be surprised where you can fly for the cost of a dinner out.
2. Con: Border Control
Travel nearly came to a halt in 2020 and is slowly but surely climbing its way back up. London City Airport has restored 75 percent of its 2019 destinations for 2022 and London Heathrow remains in the top ten busiest airports in the world, even today. This means Brits are making international holiday plans for Summer 2022.
There were also Brexit changes that occurred in 2021, such as new European travel rules for UK citizens and a new points-based system for foreign nationals wanting to move to the UK. Brexit has caused more trouble at the border overall.
3. Pro: Excellent Public Transportation
Public transportation in London is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. The city has the famous double-decker buses, the Tube (underground), the DLR (Dockland Light Rail), and London Overground. Together these make up a vast system of connections throughout the city.
This is fantastic because you can live almost anywhere in London and you’ll find you won’t have too much trouble getting around and even out of the city. Why? Because there are a whopping 11 tube lines connecting 270 stations across London. There’s even a District/Circle line that runs on a loop around the most popular neighbourhoods and attractions. It really is incredible. I often think about the person who must have done the planning for it all.
You can even bring your dog on the tube. With all the modes of public transport, you won’t have any trouble getting around.
Look at How to Travel by Train in the UK for more detailed information.
4. Con: Long Commutes, Delays & Overcrowded
Now to the problems with having such an intricate public transportation system. With 8 million people living in London, you can just imagine what rush hour must be like. The Northern, Central, and Jubilee lines can leave you packed in like sardines. It’s not the most fun experience, but it’s the price you pay.
It took me about 3 months in the city to feel really comfortable going out on my own and finding my way around and I’ve always been really good with directions so my discomfort says a lot. Part of this was that I just was not at all used to long commutes to even do things like sightseeing.
From where I live in East London, it’s between an hour to an hour and a half one way to get to central London, depending on the time of day and where I’m going. Factoring in 3 extra hours in my day for public transport was hard to get used to.
This honestly used to leave me feeling completely overwhelmed and exhausted and even kept me from venturing out as much during the first year. But after that, my perspective seemed to shift, my motion sickness lessened and I learned the best ways to entertain myself on my journeys.
TFL (Transport for London) is also expensive and is notorious for having delays and network problems. It’s not uncommon for there to be severe delays on a couple of lines at least a few times a week, even in peak hours. This can be extremely frustrating as you might find yourself re-routing to get home.
5. Pro: Endless Activities
Now to the fun part; how much there is to do, see, explore and experience in London! It’s like nowhere else in the world. With a constant stream of theatre shows, festivals, music gigs, new restaurants opening and a wealth of attractions, you’ll never be bored.
Even though London has a reputation for being expensive, you can experience most of the best things for free! You could be doing something new every day and still not see it all. So if you love variety and exploring new things, London will be a thrill for you.
There are shows for every taste, from musicals to Shakespeare. There are art galleries galore, like the amazing National Gallery. And the markets in London are some of the best in the world. Portobello Road was a frequent spot for me when I first arrived. And everybody is always changing things up, so you can really never be bored.
Even if you want to change things up, you can always hop a train or get in the car and be on the seaside or country village somewhere in no time at all.
Here are some articles to get you started on what London has to offer:
- How to Enjoy a Day in London for £100
- I Followed Lonely Planet London Guide – Here’s What Happened
- 15 Epic Spots for the Best Views of London
- Wonderful Day Trips From London By Train
6. Con: Too Many Choices & Too Much Frustration
As I stated before, it was overwhelming for me to go out in my first year. First, there was the public transportation ordeal and then there were just too many options. I got overloaded because my list of places to see never seemed to end.
While this can seem exciting, it can also cause what I call analysis paralysis. If you get in your head too much about things, you’ll find you’ll be in a state of mental paralysis, making no decisions at all. Choice overload is an actual psychological effect causing overwhelm when we’re presented with too many options.
Where hopping on the tube or the bus at any moment is an option, it’s more likely not to happen if you’re overwhelmed. That’s why I think after my first year, I enjoyed the city so much more because I become more spontaneous than ever. I’ve always been a notorious planner, but with less planning, there’s less pressure.
London can also make you really frustrated and miserable if you’re pining after a lifestyle you might not have at the moment. If you’re wishing you could dine out at nicer restaurants, live in fancier areas, and buy food from upscale markets, but you simply can’t afford it, you can get down and out about your circumstance.
Oh, I’ve been there, and believe me, at first it can be a real deterrent until you realize how happy you can be without those things.
7. Pro: A Foodie’s Paradise
London has 15,000 restaurants so you can rest assured you’ll never go hungry because there’s something for everyone and for all budgets.
From upscale restaurants, street food, and market stalls, every craving you’ve ever had can be fulfilled.
Enjoy Taiwanese, Chinese, and Cantonese food in Chinatown or fish and chips in a traditional English pub. And with 70 Michelin star restaurants, you can splurge on a high-ticket meal or go the opposite and grab a surprisingly good hot dog at a street vendor. There are even restaurants open 24 hours!
Craving Jamaican? We’ve got it. Craving Nepalese? We’ve got it. And London is super vegan and vegetarian friendly with more gluten-free places popping all the time as well.
8. Con: Dining Out is Expensive
Dining out in London is expensive! Yes, there are lower-priced cafes and food stalls, but for a regular medium-range meal and drink out, be prepared to spend about $25-30 per person. And if you’re wanting something a little more up-scale, expect $40+ a plate, with tasting menus going for $100+.
If you’re living in London on a tight budget, then you’ll definitely want to cook more at home and save yourself some special dates nights for dining out.
9. Pro: Tons of Famous Locations
When you first come to London, it’s a must to visit famous locations like the iconic Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye and Hyde Park. But then you can move on places like the pub where Charles Dickens liked to drink and film locations for Harry Potter. With the city’s rich history, there are literally hundreds of famous places for you to check out.
If you’re looking to save a little money on attractions, I have a detailed guide on what to book in advance which will help know when to buy tickets to save money.
10. Con: Crowded with Tourists
You might just consider avoiding central London during the August travel peak as it can be a stressful experience for sure. Being surrounded by multi-cultural tourists can be a pro, but other times it’s definitely a con of the capital. You have to have a lot of patience for slow walkers, people navigating public transit, and the sudden stops for selfie-takers.
London, in general, is a busy, vibrant city, but can be overwhelming with so many people and tourists. Prepare to have your patience and tolerance tested.
11. Pro: Greenspace Galore
I love sharing with people how London consists of 47% green space. This means nearly half of the capital is occupied by parks, natural reserves, gardens or shared spaces. I sometimes refer to the city as a concrete jungle, but in all honesty, it’s not that bad compared to a lot of other major cities.
In the city, you will find little hidden gardens like Postmans Park, St. Dunstan’s, St Paul’s or little squares dotted around. Spread across London you will find a wealth of parks like:
- Richmond – see the deer that live in the park
- Crystal Palace – for the historic dinosaur statues, maze and foundations of Crystal Palace
- Hyde Park – get there in time to watch the pelicans being feed
- Kensington Gardens – stop to see the beautiful gardens and palace
- Hamstead Health – visit the lido during summer for a swim
12. Con: Loads of Litter
When I first moved here, there was a lack of bins dotted around the place and instead of keeping on to the rubbish people would place it on the floor. This is for good reason as bins have been used as a place that people hide things in. You will see a lot of rings that hold clear plastic bags for this reason.
When summer hits, it’s picnic season! I am always surprised by how much people leave litter around the parks or spaces. It feels like it’s a never-ending mess and always left to the park staff to help clean up.
13. Pro: Higher Wages
The increased wages in London started when companies needed to attract and keep staff and to do so they offered higher salaries to be able to do this.
Then with the growth of the financial sector, London became Europe’s financial capital. In some industries, you can make a good wage compared to other parts of the UK. There is a fair amount of high-paying jobs in tech and finance.
Higher wages, it does mean it is more expensive to live in the capital than elsewhere in the UK.
14. Con: Cost of Living
It’s no secret the Cost of Living in London is expensive. High rent tops the list, but restaurants, drinks, haircuts, and clothes can be quite pricey. Add in the cost of public transportation and you really have to watch where you’re money is going.
15. Pro: Charming Character Homes & Flats
London is dripping with character homes and historic period property. All I need to do for fun is walk through some of London’s neighbourhoods and gawk at the architecture. It’s on par with the famous sightseeing attractions.
There are even famous houses like the Apsley House, Chiswick House, and Fenton House that you can visit for a more in-depth look. These are a must for those that go gaga for architecture.
Housing is fairly easy to come by in London as well, with so many different neighbourhoods to choose from. Read my other post on how to Find a Flat in London to get you started!
16. Con: Expensive & Competitive Housing Market
It’s so easy to dream of living in London in a charming character property, with special shops, old pubs, and a tube station just around the corner, but let me stop you there before you get too dreamy. You might be able to find all that, but you’ll be living with several other people and still struggling to make ends meet.
For the highly desirable neighbourhoods, properties often get snatched up within 24 hours of listing, which is quite shocking really, based on the crazy housing prices. Properties in London don’t often reflect the salaries of ordinary people.
17. Pro: NHS Healthcare
Brits don’t realize how great they’ve got it with their health care. You do have to pay for this within your taxes, however, when you enter the doctors they won’t ask you to hand over additional money. In many countries around the world, healthcare means hefty insurance prices, paying out of pocket, or healthcare is just nonexistent.
The National Health Service, or ‘NHS’, is a vital service in the UK. Whether it’s seeing a doctor or getting prescriptions the NHS helps cover a lot of things.
Some of it is subsidised so dental or optical as an example, you will need to pay a flat fee based on the service provided. However free dental care is available to qualifying low-income and elderly residents.
It’s also important to be aware of the NHS surcharge as part of visa applications. It does depend on Visa type, so be sure to research this thoroughly if you are considering moving to England. For a 5-year Ancestry visa this can cost you upwards of £3,000 on top of your visa cost.
18. Con: Long Waits to Get an Appointment
The NHS has been struggling to keep up with the demand and it has only grown since the impacts of 2020/2021. Do expect longer wait times and if this is an issue for you, consider private health care.
I am thankful for all the effort the staff put in! I can only imagine the stress that the demand causes them.
19. Pro: You Can Buy a Car for Cheap
I was shocked when I arrived in London ready to buy a car and saw the prices! You can find a good European car for less than $1000 easily. There’s no way you can do that in the US.
Check out my other posts: Do You Need a Car in London? and How to Exchange a Foreign License for a UK Driver’s License.
20. Con: Petrol Prices are Through the Roof
Petrol prices have always been crazy expensive in the UK, but they have gone up significantly in the past 2 years. I recently calculated I’m paying about $10/gallon at the moment, three times what I would be paying in the States.
I keep my car for my beloved road trips but keep it parked the rest of the time. Luckily I live in a building where I don’t have to pay to park at all and it’s safe, but that’s not always the case elsewhere in London. But yeah, I take public transport for daily activities and save petrol for when I’m going further out.
21. Pro: Very Friendly
Did you know London is consistently rated in the top 5 best cities to live in the world? I’ve found it to be a very friendly place to live, especially considering what a massive city it is. Not only are people genuinely willing to help out with directions, but I’ve even noticed the lack of road rage on the roads here. And cars actually stop for pedestrians! I’m not used to that at all. I find Brits to be a much more patient bunch than Americans for sure.
And did I mention “would you like a cuppa tea?” Positively and delightfully British.
If you’re new to London or are wondering to meet people, then read over how to make friends in London.
23. Con: Nobody Dares Talk on the Tube
This I find very odd. It’s like no one dares to talk to each other on the tube, or even make eye contact for that matter. And if you even try to interact with anyone else it’s immediately labelled as weird. How does this even make sense when during times like peak hours, you’re intimately squished next to someone you’ll never see again?
Other Things to Know Before Moving to London:
- London has more CCTV cameras per square foot than any other place on the planet.
- I still don’t understand it, but there are consistently crazy queues for the cash machines.
- The air pollution isn’t great. Lots of black bits under your nails and in your nose.
- It took me months to realize it never gets fully dark in the city. The light pollution is intense.
- Why must the ugly rubbish bins always be in front of the houses? I mean I know why, but still.
- London’s not known for the best weather, but I find it to be quite delightful most times. I guess it depends where you’re moving here from. I’m grateful to get out of the blustery winters while others miss the sun.
- The UK has an excellent selection of both state and private schools to choose from.
I hope this thorough list of pros and cons for living in London has helped you see the realities of big city life, but I sure hope it has deterred you because London really is a brilliant place to live.
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.