Everyone should live in a big city at least once in their life.
That used to be my own myopic and biased view, anyway.
I’ve lived in London for thirteen years barring a couple of stints away so I have a decent handle on the pros and cons of big city living in the UK capital.
It’s not for everyone.
Some arrive with big hopes and dreams only to leave within a year disillusioned and their tail firmly between their legs. Others intend to stay for, at most, a year or two and end up never leaving.
London is the world’s greatest city. If you’re considering moving here these are the pros and cons as I see them.
Five reasons to live in London
1. Career advancement
If you’re career-minded, London is one of the best cities in the world to establish yourself, especially if you work in the services, media or creative industries, where many global headquarters are based.
Having London on your CV or resume will benefit you anywhere else in the world. Many ambitious people head to London to advance their career and you’ll often find yourself working with (or for) the best.
2. History, music and culture
London has been a major city since Roman times. For 2,000 years, it has been – and continues to be – a central hub of global trade and commerce.
It’s where some of the world’s most important decisions took place during the rule of the UK’s empire and is the birthplace of modern-day living and civility.
It’s has seen great fires, ruthless pandemics, treason, revolutions, war, bombings, terrorism and much more.
It is the central point of recent cultural revolutions like the Swinging 60s and punk era. Many notable people of history from Vincent van Gogh to Jimi Hendrix made London their home.
It is rich in history, music and culture and you’ll be hardpressed to find another city in the world with as much of it.
3. The opportunity to travel
Paris is a two-hour train ride from London. New York is a seven-hour flight. Berlin, Vienna, Barcelona, Rome, Edinburgh, Dublin, Budapest, Prague and many other historic European cities are all within three-hours flight time from London.
It is served by five major airports flying non-stop to hundreds of worldwide destinations. Heathrow Airport is the second busiest airport in the world by international traffic. Bangkok is 12 hours one way and Rio is 12 hours the other.
Many global or European headquarters of multinational companies are based in the capital providing lots of opportunities for international work-related travel.
Compared to a competing city like New York where travel is mainly domestic, London wins hands down.
4. Experience of global cultures
London is the most ethnically diverse city in the world due to the UK’s history as a global power and its international business focus.
It is home to 8.8 million people who, according to Wikipedia, speak 300 spoken languages. Around 40 percent of Londoners were born outside of the UK.
One staggering fact to know is London is France’s sixth biggest city in terms of population. More French people live in London than Bordeaux, Nantes or Strasbourg.
With the vast number of different cultures, you can experience international cuisines from anywhere in the world.
You’ll meet people from across the globe you otherwise wouldn’t have. Some of which you’ll form friendships with.
5. An abundance of social activities
While London is not a city that never sleeps, it has every type of social (daytime and nocturnal) activity you can imagine.
There are far too many to list here but from bars, clubs, stadiums, attractions, galleries, parks, experiences, tours and not to mention all the tourist activities you only do only when family are visiting, you’re never short of things to do.
If you’re the type who likes to try all the latest leisure activities, including the ridiculous, then London is for you.
Five reasons not to live in London
1. The cost of living
Or, more specifically, the cost of housing.
When it comes to living arrangements in London, expect to pay an exorbitant amount for rent. The rental prices in the capital go from expensive to ridiculously expensive, depending on where you live.
If you’re just starting out and if you’re paying your own way, chances are you’re going to live in a squalor. Not quite a Dickensian slum but, for your money, you can live much better elsewhere in the UK.
London often makes the top ten lists of most expensive cities in the world to live. While the likes of Singapore, Hong Kong and Zurich may be out in the lead, London is not far behind.
If your plan is to move to London and ‘make it’ then you better get that business plan off the ground.
In a city where a garage can go for £550,000, you better get making those seven figures if you want to settle down and raise a family.
2. The high stress
The London Underground during the rush hour commute can destroy your soul before you’ve arrived at work.
If you’ve never experienced it you will wonder in awe and amazement how so-called professionals act while fighting for an inch of space waiting for a train.
I dare you to try the Northern line at Clapham Common on a Tuesday morning around 8:30 am.
Commuting is just one stress, however, and Londoners work longer hours on average in more generally more high-stressful jobs.
If you enjoy the flat-out silence that living in the countryside will provide you, forget about it in London.
Wherever you are and whatever time, there is always some noise in the background. Traffic, people, animals or the general underlying hum of the running of the city.
3. The coldness of people
If you were raised in a place with community spirit and friendliness, you may struggle with the coldness of London.
It’s very likely you’ll never get to know your neighbours, you’ll never strike up a conversation on public transport and slowly but surely you’ll become indoctrinated to never, ever look a stranger in the eye.
Speaking of people, there are too many of them. It’s cramp already without the all-year-round tourists but since London is one of the most visited cities in the world you’ll have to get used to them.
And yet, despite the millions of people who live there and the millions who visit, it can sometimes feel like the loneliest place on earth.
4. The weather
London is a completely different city in the summer. When the sun is shining there is no better city to be in.
The problem is, the UK is an island in the northwestern part of Europe where the climate is not in the least tropical.
For nine months of the year you’ll be cold and out of those nine months, you’ll be wet for six of them.
I jest, of course, and the weather isn’t as bad as it’s often portrayed in film and TV and, thankfully, it doesn’t experience extremes of hot and cold like New York does.
Instead, perhaps the best word to describe London weather is dreary.
If you’re a sun-loving individual then there are better cities to be in.
5. You don’t have to be in London to succeed
Tell a diehard Londoner you’re bored with the city and he’ll quote you Samual Johnson’s, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
What they fail to remember is that Johnson said it in 1777 when the world was a different place altogether.
No longer is it a requirement to live in a city like London to establish a good career. Many other cities in the UK and beyond offer excellent opportunities with better living standards and quality of life.
It’s just that some of us feel at home in big, gritty and anonymous cities.
But maybe not forever.