Samuel Johnson's statement that 'when a man is tired of London he is tired of life' is as true as ever (just let's assume he meant to include women in that statement too). A sprawling and multicultural metropolis, London has something to offer everyone. It can be daunting, however, if you've never lived there before, and especially if you're coming from a much smaller place.
Fear not: the best way to think about London is as a collection of lots of small villages or towns, each with its own character and atmosphere. To make it easier for you to decide where to put down roots in the capital, we offer our expert advice on where to live in London. From commuters heading into the city to young families, and from first-time buyers to renters, we have everyone covered.
If you'll be renting in London (at least at first), consult our beginner's guide to renting first; otherwise, don't miss our guide to buying a house or flat.
Wood Green: where to watch in London
Where to live in London that's still affordable, is packed with fantastic, authentic restaurants, has good transport links into town, decent shopping facilities and is becoming an area known for its independent shops, bars and new businesses? Wood Green. Right on the Piccadilly Line, it has good bus routes, too, and is a stone's throw from picturesque Alexandra Palace (the site of a huge park, the newly restored Victorian theatre, concert and exhibition venue, and ice rink). It has good and outstanding schools nearby and the housing stock is mostly Edwardian/Victorian.
Holland Park: best for luxury London living
Want to live in London in a spot that's picture-perfect and more than a little fancy? Forget Mayfair and Chelsea (you've probably heard all about them by now anyway) and turn your attention to the patrician charms of Holland Park. Protected from the bustle of Kensington High Street by the eponymous park, the area sports a very cosy high street with restaurants and cafes, a handful of quality pubs, and a Central Line tube station (perfect for commuting into the City). The properties in Holland Park's quiet residential areas are truly spectacular, so if you have cash to splash, this area should definitely be on your radar.
Lewisham: the best up-and-coming London area
Where to live in London if you want to make a good investment? The less fashionable cousin of Greenwich (for now), Lewisham is up and coming. Its period housing stock is just as pretty, with lots of new housing planned. The biggest problem in this area used to be its poor transport links, but this is set to change with mayor Sadiq Khan's recent commitment to a £3.6 billion plan to include Lewisham in the planned Bakerloo line extension. We especially recommend Catford, which has a reputation for friendliness and trendy pubs.
Hammersmith: best affordable area for renters
Renting in London can be a dispiriting experience, given that the average cost of renting can amount to more than two-thirds of your average income. This doesn't necessarily have to mean that you will need to live in the outer boroughs, though. Hammersmith is half an hour away by London Underground to central London, has lots of decent properties to rent for under £1,500 per month, and is next to the river. The nearby Chiswick High Street, with its myriad of lovely restaurants and bars, is a bonus.
Bromley: best place to live in London for first-time buyers
Choosing where to live in London is never easy; the pressure to find somewhere, anywhere affordable can be so great that it can be tempting to buy the first property that is just within your budget, without doing research into the area. We caution against such an approach. Instead, explore areas that have multiple properties within your budget, and keep revisiting at different times of the day and week.
Bromley is a great place to start, in our opinion. This quiet Greater London borough is the city's largest; it's also quiet and green, and only half an hour away from Charing Cross station by train (which means being able to spend a Friday night in fun Soho, if you wish). And, Bromley has lots of properties for sale under £300,000, making it one of the last few affordable London boroughs for first-time buyers.
Bermondsey: best for commuting into the City/Canary Wharf
Bermondsey is one the trendiest, prettiest central London areas out there, with a delightful gem of a high street full of restaurants and boutique shops. Considering it's a stone's throw from London Bridge, it feels surprisingly secluded and relaxed, almost like a tiny cobblestone village. What makes Bermondsey especially popular among young professionals, however, is its unrivalled transport links to the City of London (a lovely half-hour walk or short cycle) and Canary Wharf, which is a mere 15-minute tube ride away.
Clapham: best for young families
Clapham is so very popular with young Londoners that it has generated plenty of good-natured parodies of its coffee-sipping residents. It's popular for many reasons: glorious Victorian housing; quiet and safe streets; a great provision of cafes and restaurants; Clapham Common, which on a sunny summer's day is a relaxed haven for picnicking families. In fact, young families favour Clapham especially (Northcote Road is unofficially known as 'nappy valley'), since there are tons of great schools in the area (three nurseries, two primaries, and an academy).
Hampstead: best for being near a green space
Hampstead boasts one of the most beautiful green spaces in London – Hampstead Heath, which, unlike many other London parks, has a wilder, woodland-like feel. In fact, even on a busy weekend, you can easily find a spot on the Heath all to yourself. And Hampstead as an area is delightful to live in: we think that the best way to describe it is as a posh area that doesn't feel all that posh, with plenty affordable restaurants and friendly pubs.
Angel/Islington: best for young professionals
Not ready for the quieter, family-oriented areas, but not a party animal, either? Angel wil be your best bet. This central north London area has a truly unique atmosphere: trendy but not hectic, full of young people but with a slower pace of life than, say, Shoreditch. With a gorgeous, tree-lined high street that goes all the way from Angel station (Northern Line) up to Islington station (Victoria Line), Angel is a boon for lovers of independent shops and markets. House prices are steep here, both for renters and buyers, but the properties are stunning, and many come with gardens.
Bow: the best of the East End
If the most important thing to you is a sense of community (regardless of whether you have a family of your own or not), then the East End is hard to beat. Unfortunately, ongoing gentrification has not done wonders for the East End's community spirit, with many areas now more suitable for the affluent Londoner (Shoreditch is the most obvious example). Lovely Bow, on the other hand, still enjoys a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere whatever your background, and boasts the beautiful Victoria Park and the friendly Saturday market in Roman Road.
Richmond: the safest area in London
Concerned about crime rates in the capital? Our take on crime in London is: if you've got common sense and take reasonable precautions, you should be fine most of the time in most places. However, it is undeniable that crime rates vary between areas. Our advice is to check local crime statistics: if the majority of the crimes are opportunistic car thefts and burglaries, it's probably nothing to worry about too much. If an area has high violent crime rates, on the other hand, we'd avoid it if possible. Want to live in the overall safest place? Richmond is your best bet. This prosperous, affluent area by the Thames is pretty safe to walk around at any time of day or night.
Dulwich: the best London area with a village-like feel
We've already said that many areas in London feel like self-contained villages, but Dulwich takes that village-like atmopshere to a whole new level. With its own cinema, park, library, art gallery, and schools, it has virtually everything you need, to the point where you might not feel the need to go into central London unless you have to. Housing is gorgeous (Victorian and Edwardian) but expensive.