This year will be my tenth year living in London. I fell in love with the city as a child and always dreamed I’d come and live here as an adult. But when I first moved here, the reality was in a lot of ways very different to the dream and I won’t lie, I struggled for a time. You see, when you visit here, it’s all wildly exciting and you spend your days doing activities that you’ve planned, shopping, eating out . . . you visit the palace and you go on the London eye . . . all the typical tourist spots. You imagine that if you move here, life will always be like that. But you forget to factor in the daily struggles of life. Work, money, the weekly food shop. Not only have you those things to orchestrate, but when you move somewhere new you have other mountains to climb, like establishing friendships, work connections . . . a general support network. And without those things all life’s daily struggles get that little bit harder.
To make it in London, you need to become a Londoner . . . drop the tourist regime altogether. Discover London in a way that only a Londoner can. It’s magical. There’s so much to London that those tourist types don’t know about. Come join us. And don’t give up. London can be a very daunting place when you first get here and I think it takes easily a year to really establish yourself . . . so don’t go anywhere until you’ve given it your very best shot. And see below for my top ten tips to success.
1. Drop the Tube as your Sole Method of Transport
The tube is great for lots of reasons, but to be honest, it’s a bit dark and smelly and can feel quite unfriendly. If you travel around all day every day on there, it’s going to get depressing. The tube is not the only way to get around in London. The city has fantastic overground trains and buses. Some of the best and unknown areas are served by these and if you only ever travel by tube you’ll never discover them. You’ll see much more of London using them too, get to know your way around quicker and feel at home faster.
2. Practice proper Tube Etiquette
If you do have to use the tube. There are rules that need to be followed. Nobody likes a row to start their day, and these situations can be easily avoided by following a few simple steps. When using the escalator you stand on the right and walk on the left. During rush hour, walk off the escalator. Standing for the last few steps brings the whole thing crashing to a halt within seconds. Do not make eye contact or be unnecessarily friendly to anybody else on the tube . . . you’ll only make them uncomfortable.
3. Get an Oyster Card
Everyone that lives in London has an Oyster card. There’s a deposit of £5 for them and you can get them at any tube station ticket desk. You top up your card with credit in shops and tube stations, then you can tap in at tube gates and on buses. There are set prices for individual journeys depending on how far you travel or how many journeys you make and your card automatically caps at a travel card price, saving you money. This is much cheaper than paying for an individual ride, every single time.
4. Live Close to Work
Travel advice is important as you won’t get by in London without it . . . but having said all that. Do choose to live somewhere close to where you work. It seems an obvious thing. Lots of newcomers think that transport is so good around here that there’s really no need to live close to the office, therefore they choose to live in a leafy suburb an easy hour away . . . and that’s without delays. Believe me, even the tiniest of commutes is going to irritate you very shortly. You’ll end up moving again, and who needs that stress?
5. Air Conditioning is a must!
For both work and home, air conditioning in London is an absolute necessity. It is extra stifling here. It’s just so busy. More busy that you can imagine. And all those extra people, cars, buses, trains, electrical equipment and so on and so forth . . . really do make a difference to the heat levels. A working day in an office here is actually impossible to get through without air con. Don’t go and work anywhere without it.
6. Prepare to get Fat!
This city is delicious . . . totally and completely. From fantastic fusion in Soho to an authentic Indian curry in Brick Lane, London has absolutely everything that your tummy could ever desire. There’s also an amazing farmer’s market scene and tasty pop ups everywhere. So please, do get stuck in. It’s so worth the extra pounds!
7. Get a Dog
Aside from the company your dog will give you in those lonely first few months, walking your dog in London’s many parks is a fail safe way to meet the locals and make new friends. It also gets you out into the fresh air and lets you enjoy the greenery which you otherwise might miss. London is totally dog friendly. Pets are allowed on most forms of public transport as well as in most pubs, some restaurants and even quite a few workplaces.
8. Get Some Sun
Truly glorious days are few and far between around here, so make sure that when they come, you make the most of them. Ditch your prior engagements (except for work of course!) for a day of fun in the sun. Over a third of this city is covered in public green space where you can legally drink. So grab some friends and go do that.
9. Get Some Culture
In London, the museums and galleries are not just for tourists, as in most other large cities. Here, they’re packed full of locals. Most of the permanent exhibitions are free, so it’s a fun filled and inexpensive day or night out. Night, you say? Yes. For me, the real draw are the late opening that happen usually a couple of times a month. Imagine meandering through the National Portrait Gallery on a Friday night, glass of wine in your hand. Or going with friends to the Science Museum, having a beer and doing experiments (fun for all ages!) until you just can’t stop giggling.
Diana Vreeland once said that ‘the best thing about London is Paris’. And frankly I agree. But your best thing about London could be Ibiza, Copenhagen, Berlin, Rome, the south of France . . . anywhere you like really! London has 4 airports and the Eurostar. Europe is just on our doorstep. Relish that fact, and knowing that you still have a fantastic city to come home to.