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October 1, 2010 2:15 AM   Subscribe

Safe places to live in London.

We will be moving to London shortly and we're looking for advice about which area to move to. If i am working in Hampstead and my partner Bloomsbury, what are non-scary, nice places to live that are well connected? Queer-friendly is a big plus.

We currently live in Manchester city centre; we know nothing about London, not even which quarter of the city we want to live in! Commuting is not a problem for us.

Any recommendations? Any warnings?
posted by ArmyOfKittens to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, Hampstead and Bloomsbury are both nice, non-scary, well-connect places to live. They are both on the Northern Live (Bloomsbury is Euston) so I would suggest somewhere near one of those stations. However, I think a more germane question to ask is, where can you afford to live?

Oh, and London doesn't really have good and bad areas, it tends to vary street by street with million pound houses next to estates. Obviously some areas are nicer than others but I think you need to change your mind set about safety. It certainly shouldn't be your number one priority.
posted by ninebelow at 2:26 AM on October 1, 2010

Sorry, by "one of those stations" I meant any station on that branch of the Northern Line (Camden, Chalk Farm, Hampstead, etc). But really cost is the over-riding factor here. Are you renting or buying? What is your budget?
posted by ninebelow at 2:29 AM on October 1, 2010

What ninebelow says. Most of London is safe and non-scary. I and my wife have rarely felt safer in any other major city, including walking around at night in many places in the East end.

Your question is too broad. Bloomsbury is extremely safe and quiet. I know. I live here. But it is also an extremely expensive place to live and many many other safe neighborhoods that are less expensive. Do you have other criteria?
posted by vacapinta at 2:35 AM on October 1, 2010

Thirding the no real good and bad areas thing. I live in what used to be the East End (Stepney, near Whitechapel). There's a lot of poor and quite a few estates, but I never worry about my safety. Anecdotally, I'm always hearing that Brixton and Peckham can be rough. But I never really go there, so I have no real idea what I'm on about. I suspect the reason that London is so mixed is that house prices are so high that only the very wealthy can afford what were once considered the good areas. The middle classes have been pushed into areas their parents would never have dreamed of living and as a result there's very few really bad places left - at least in zone 1 and 2.

Anyway, a few places places which are nice, not ridiculous and not miles out: Dulwich, Bow, Wapping (if you like flats), Herne Hill, Stoke Newington. Feel free to email me with any more specific Qs - email address on my profile.
posted by rhymer at 2:56 AM on October 1, 2010

Consider Kennington or Oval. On the Northern line (so handy for your work areas), south of the river so a little cheaper and greener, and there are some absolutely massive and beautiful flats available in converted Georgian terraces and mansion blocks. Avoid the estates and it's fine. Clapham is also on the Northern line and is a 'nice place to live' though not so much to my taste. I'd avoid Elephant & Castle.

Full disclosure: I'm a big fan of South London for general niceness, I find the flats available are so much nicer than what you get in North London for the price. I live in Brixton, travel home on the bus from work alone late of an evening regularly, and rarely feel unsafe (I'm female).
posted by corvine at 3:15 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I spent a very happy year in a flat in Kensal Green - which is on the Bakerloo line to Paddington, Oxford Circus and Waterloo/South Bank (friendliest staff at the Tube station), Zone 2, and also on the London Overground to Euston (15 mins) and Hampstead Heath (10mins). Fabulous connections, historical interest (Kensal Green Cemetery), great pubs (e.g. the Masons Arms), a giant Sainsburys on the doorstep, a farmer's market (Salusbury Road), the best Indian restaurant in London (Bawarchi, but you have at least 3 alternatives within moments) and a direct bus (52, or 452) to Notting Hill, Kensington and (52) on to Victoria. Also boasts some great second-hand furniture stores, a great park (Queens Park) for picnics and jogging, a choice of fantastic delis, some of which bake their own bread, one of the best community websites going, its own post office, one of the best independent off licences in the country...

..and, above all, there are plenty of good flats on offer, including garden flats.

I left this place only because I had to move to Scotland, and would move back instantly without having to think about it.
posted by pyotrstolypin at 3:16 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think budget is the consideration here. Given where you are working, you probably want to live somewhere in north London. I'd probably say Golders Green or Hampstead if you could afford it, which are safe areas and would be good for work - though maybe not so great for getting into the centre, you're on the Northern line which is crowded and unreliable.

Can you give us more information about your budget/other requirements?

Anecdotally, I'm always hearing that Brixton and Peckham can be rough. But I never really go there, so I have no real idea what I'm on about.

And again, this depends on where you are. I'm basically in Brixton, on a mostly-quiet side street, full of young professionals and church-going families. (but AoK wouldn't want to live here, it's too far from Hampstead/Bloomsbury)
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:24 AM on October 1, 2010

Camden/Chalk Farm/Belsize Park... on the Northern Line, near Hampstead, near Euston for Bloomsbury and getting back oop north. Can be pretty expensive though, so it depends on your budget. Hampstead or Primrose Hill if you're really loaded.
posted by ComfySofa at 3:30 AM on October 1, 2010

Response by poster: Some really great information here, thanks everyone :)

Budget-wise we're topping out at around about £1000pcm for the moment (small budget for London, I know, but almost twice what we pay up here!), and for the short- to medium-term at least we will be renting. We're coming from a one-bed (with basically no storage space) up here and we'll be shedding a lot of the crap we've built up over the last eight years in the move so somewhere small and cheap is viable. And cosy!

Briefly browsing around I've found one-beds in our price range in several of the areas mentioned.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:48 AM on October 1, 2010

Something else to be aware of is that flats in London go FAST, especially in that price range. I'm looking at the moment (also one-bed in that price range, but in Brixton), and was also looking around six weeks ago, and you have to get in there quick. Try Globrix - it's really useful as you can filter by freshness. Anything put up more than 3 days ago will probably have gone already.
posted by corvine at 4:00 AM on October 1, 2010

There's been some good threads here on neighborhoods in London.

Here's one.

Here's another.
posted by vacapinta at 4:08 AM on October 1, 2010

Here are two useful map based sites that might help you make your decision:
Crime mapping + moveflat.
posted by shoepal at 4:09 AM on October 1, 2010

I can second rhymer upthread about Stepney / Whitechapel. The East End in general is underpriced. Always has been and I don't see it changing too much, as price is relative. As you're no doubt finding out, some of the more central parts of London are priced into the stratosphere, relative to The East End.

But be careful looking just at rent, as you've got council tax and overall living expenses to consider also. Stepney might not be easy on the eyes, but its dirt cheap, one of the cheapest boroughs in London actually.

I've been living in The East End since 2001, and only moved here because 1) it is cheap, and 2) I can walk to work. While you'll be working some distance away, Stepney / Whitechapel has extensive transportation links to other parts of London.

Fairly safe, don't have the data in front of me but anecdotally there seemed to be more crime in Camden Town (where I lived from 1997 to 2001) and thereabouts, more than likely caused by the active street & club scenes. I've also spent a fair amount of time out in Brixton and New Cross and some of the stuff I've seen happening on the streets is straight out of GTA.

I don't rent myself, but coincidentally we've been told by agents that our two bedroom, two story garden flat, about 90 square metres total, would rent for £250 a week, or roughly what you're looking for. If you'd like some guidance on the 'hood; if Mrs Mutant and I can help we certainly will.

Oh yeh once you're here - MEETUP!
posted by Mutant at 4:18 AM on October 1, 2010

Wherever you go, make sure that you are near a tube. You can save a fair bit of money if you live somewhere which doesn't have easy access to the tube, but you'll soon find out that this is a bit of a mistake.

Don't think a train line will serve you well enough. The services will be more infrequent, Sunday's will generally be dire and in some places they can finish by 10:30pm (even on a weekday!).

If you want a book, I recommend the London for Londoners guide which breaks down London into each area, tells you what it is like, the good and the bad bits as well as where to live, eat, shop and party.
posted by mr_silver at 4:53 AM on October 1, 2010

Wherever you go, make sure that you are near a tube. You can save a fair bit of money if you live somewhere which doesn't have easy access to the tube, but you'll soon find out that this is a bit of a mistake.

Disagree! I lived in Stoke Newington/Hackney with not a tube in sight for several years and loved it. It was a 5 minute overland train to Liverpool Street. When I was around Hackney Central I got the bus to work, which meant my travel pass without the tube was much cheaper (this was about 10 years ago, don't know if that's still the case) and it was so much nicer looking out of the bus window than being down in the dark at the start of the day. Also, what mr_silver said about cheaper rent in tube-free areas.

So look at the overall transport offering rather than just the tube map - as you have probably already surmised, that's the key factor in where you live, not safety.

(Also, as this thread would suggest, prepare for the fact that you are going to become obsessed with the subject of travel and transport when you move to London. It's on a par with weather and property prices when it comes to conversation topics).
posted by penguin pie at 5:08 AM on October 1, 2010

Having lived & worked in every corner of London I would strongly, strongly advise that you start off by living somewhere that is fairly easy for you both to get to work and around town in general.

You'll have enough to cope with adjusting to a new city, new friends, new job, new customs etc. without adding to the stress with a new commute. I'm also guessing that you probably haven't had to do much commuting if you've been living in Manchester city centre.

Bear in mind that it can be a false economy to add an hour a day to your commute by living in cheaper accommodation further from work. Also, if you live closer to work alternatives to your regular travel are easier to do. If you lived in, say, Chalk Farm which is in the area halfway between your workplaces, you'd both be able to tube, walk, cycle or bus to work and you wouldn't be stuck if there were any transport problems (strikes, lines closed, weather etc.)

Annoyingly, London rental prices are given per week rather than pcm so you're looking at £230pw.

If you are getting rid of clutter you've got an ideal opportunity to get a place for 6-12 months (if you sign an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) you'll have a break clause after 6 months) and have some time in the city to get used to things so you can make a more informed decision on where you'd like to live. You'll have visited friends around the city, got an idea of living costs, transport and so forth.

Whereabouts in Bloomsbury & Hampstead are the workplaces? The Gospel Oak/Belsize Park side of Hampstead has better transport links than Hampstead Village. West Hampstead is one of the best places in zone 2 for transport. (London travel zones.)

As already mentioned, it's hard to say that certain areas are good/bad as there is such a mix of people & properties. It is a case of see how you feel. If you can get down to London for some 'look around' visits, you'll get a better feel for what you'll like.

Areas I'd suggest would be an arc from Kilburn, through West Hampstead, Belsize Park, Chalk Farm, Kentish Town & Camden Town. However, £230pw is more of a zone 3 price (Golders Green, Muswell Hill, Crouch End etc.) although you might be able to find a bargain. There are places available in zone 2 from £250-60 per week. Is an extra £15-20 each worth it so save, say 5 hours a week travel time? I'd say yes in a flash but then I hated commuting.

The area is great, lots of parkland & easy to get into central London. (Think about night transport too as this affects your budget. Sure you can get a Night Bus with your Oystercard but they can be long journeys if your further out and the alternative is a taxi.) I used to live in Kentish Town & worked in Bloomsbury Square. Two mins to the station, Thameslink train to Kings Cross & 2 stops on the tube. If the train was out (or more likely, I missed it!) I had tube options. Generally <>
Watch out for teaser ads from dodgy lettings agents. Cheap but lovely looking places are always gone by the time you call but 'we've got some other great places in your prices range' (always higher surprisingly...)

One thing I would say is avoid south, west & east London for the time being although you may find your niche there in the long term. Fighting the London Transport system in your first winter is something you need less of.
posted by i_cola at 6:17 AM on October 1, 2010

One thing we found helpful in looking for property in London on a non-investment-banker income is to look for little quirks in the market.

For example, mutant's point about council tax is an excellent one. In theory, council tax should be factored into rent prices, so that a borough with a 10% lower council tax has 10% higher rental prices. In practice, most people forget about council tax when pricing flats, so a place with a 10% lower council tax only has (say) 5% higher rental prices, if that makes sense.

Also, we noticed that people are willing to pay more for a flat if the closest Tube stop is close to the center-- even if the closest tube stop isn't very close. In other words, a flat that's a 10 minute walk from St. John's Wood will cost a lot more than a flat that's a 1-minute walk from West Hampstead, even though the overall commuting time into town is roughly the same.

So, I would definitely recommend you make use of Transport for London's Journeyplanner website. Enter in the address you're starting from and the address you're going to, and it will give you a good rough sense of how long the commute will take. (One tip: if you are a healthy young person with a brisk walking pace, set the walking speed to "fast." By default, it's set to "average," which is an average across all of London's population, including the elderly, people pushing prams, etc.)

Hampstead itself is a beautiful but very pricy neighborhood. Prices go down if you look in West Hampstead (where I live), and go down further if you move west to Kilburn. West Hampstead and Kilburn are both perfectly nice and safe areas.

You'll also find that, generally, flats on the high street go for a significant discount. Obviously they can be noisier, and if you're above a restaurant the smell might get to you. But you will pay a lot less than you would for an equivalent flat that's just one block off the high street.

Regarding queer-friendliness: London is a very cosmopolitan city and I get the sense that it's very queer-friendly in general. If you end up in on a street that is heavily populated by one particular insular community, you might encounter some homophobia, but generally, it's unlikely to be an issue. (I should note, though, that I'm straight, so I can't speak from first-hand experience. But since nobody else has answered that aspect of your question, I thought I'd take a flyer.)

Finally, I nth everybody who said that London has very few truly scary areas. In fact, in my experience, almost everybody who lives in London ends up liking whatever area they land in.
posted by yankeefog at 6:34 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I missed that you said that you don't mind commuting. With that in mind, I wonder if Kensington/Oval might be a good idea, as corvine said.

Several advantages there: you're close to town and to the South Bank. You're only one tube ride from work (though as I said before, it'll be crowded). But also, Kensington is apparently one of the queerest* areas in the country. (There's also Vauxhall, which is nearby, but not so good transport-wise). And it's reasonably safe and so on.

*Though now I think about it, that statistic might have referred specifically to gay men, based on membership of Gaydar or something like that, which isn't exactly what you asked. (I'm sourcing that from an article I saw in the Times a few months ago, so I may not be remembering it 100% right).
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:07 AM on October 1, 2010

I think you mean Kennington, Infinite Jest. And I think this is the article you are refering to.
posted by ninebelow at 7:17 AM on October 1, 2010

Disagree! I lived in Stoke Newington/Hackney with not a tube in sight for several years and loved it. It was a 5 minute overland train to Liverpool Street.

I used to go out with a woman in Stoke Newington and to be honest, I've never really understood the amount of love it gets on Metafilter.

Going back to hers on an evening was a right pain in the backside for the very fact that it doesn't have a tube, the trains were unreliable, didn't go as often as we'd like and stopped running early. In addition, when you did take a bus, it got stuck in traffic and took forever to travel what was really a relatively short distance.

Now to be fair, this was just about 7 years ago, so the situation may have changed. However my experience with Stoke Newington was instrumental in making sure that when I bought a flat, it was within walking distance of not only a tube but a frequent (and late running) train service in and out of zone 1.
posted by mr_silver at 7:56 AM on October 1, 2010

Yes I do ninebelow, thank you for the correction.
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:06 AM on October 1, 2010

I live in Ealing and take the central line to my work, near Bloomsbury. I like Ealing a lot - safe, quiet, has plenty of shops and parks for your days off and has good transport links elsewhere, and will be within your budget. However, many of my co-workers live in Hackney, get the bus down to work and pay about half what I do in travel costs (£1200 for zone 1-3 ticket). I used to share with a lesbian, who has moved in with her girlfriend not far away - she seemed happy although nothing tells me there's a sizeable queer community here.

My boss has been broken into twice in two years. The closest I've come to crime is having a loaf of bread stolen out of my bag two years ago.

What other criteria do you have? Are there hobbies or interests which might come into play?
posted by mippy at 9:27 AM on October 1, 2010

Camden may be worth a look. It's very handy for Bloomsbury and Hampstead, and lively with a lot of young artsy people and a different cultures. Prices can vary a lot, but I would guess that there will be things in your range as there seem to be plenty of just-out-of-studenthood types there.

It's not the option if you're looking for quiet and suburban though, but it doesn't sound like you are.

Btw... I don't know what commuting is like in Manchester. But make sure you know what rush hour tube hell in London is really like before saying "commuting is not a problem". It will make your life in London a lot more pleasant if you have a short and/or uncrowded journey to work.
posted by philipy at 11:31 AM on October 1, 2010

You've probably guessed there is no right answer to this question.

I've lived in 6 or 7 different flats/houses in London and the acid tests I use are:

- Could my wife walk home at night with a laptop?
- Can I commute to work in less than 45 minutes and within one change on the tube?
- Does my neighbourhood have a café/restaurant/pub or two I'd choose to go to?

Some general advice:

Generally speaking, North London [defined as north of the River Thames] is better for tubes, and more expensive. South London has more green spaces (although London is pretty green) and cheaper and is more reliant on the bus network. East is cheaper than West in both South and North London.

Depending on from what and where you change, a switch from one tube to another can be more than 5 minutes. That's 3-4 stops in central London. Worth bearing in mind. Also, the Northern Line was traditionally known as the Misery Line. It can be a bit of a shocker in rush hour.

One of London's quirks is that there is a lot of council (social) housing integrated in areas with quite expensive private housing. But - during the eighties a lot of social housing got sold off. The stuff built in the sixties still looks ugly as sin but don't assume it's grim to live in. That said, high rise council housing is typically still mainly council owned.

You've been given advice on council tax: to nth this advice - it can make a big difference. Westminster and Wandsworth are by far the cheapest areas. London council areas are large and their boundaries non-obvious: I have lived in Westminster council area, which was 5 miles and some distance across town from Westminster tube station.

Specific advice: the call you've got is whether you want one or two bedrooms. If two bedrooms, you're basically looking at an area that is a little more on the borders - zone2/3 on the tube, not quite gentrified. If one, you might find somewhere in West Hampstead or Clapham, both of which would fit the bill. If you can find it at the price it sounds like Bloomsbury or Belsize Park might be ideal fits for you.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:50 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Huge thank yous to everyone who posted here -- this is all really useful information. We'll be viewing flats soonish! :)
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:54 PM on October 2, 2010

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