Help me move to London
July 6, 2011 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving to London! Help me figure out where to live and how I'm going to get to work and back. Especially curious about commuting by bike.

I got a 6-month contract job starting in October (yay!). I have only been to London as a tourist and never left the city center. I need advice about what neighborhoods I should look for and what to expect on the commute. Work is in the Shepherd's Bush area which is on the Central and Hammersmith & City tube lines.

Neighborhood wise I would like to live somewhere with a lot of energy and character -- music and art and creativity and interesting people. Though I favour a relaxed vibe over prestige. Mission District in San Francisco, if that helps. Hipstery I guess though it stings to admit it. A good friend lives in Hackney and says the east is where I want to be, though of course it's changing rapidly. I keep reading about Shoreditch online but it kind of sounds like it's super-famous and fashionable now and I'm not too interested in that kind of scene and paying a premium to be part of it. Places with cheaper rents are better, though mostly because such neighborhoods tend to be more interesting to me. I don't want to throw money away but I can afford to pay above the bare minimum.

Anyway somewhere in "the east" sounds great, except that area is under-served by the tube. However the same friend says the bike commute would be 30 minutes. I would love to bike to work as I could get my exercise and see the city every day instead of an underground tunnel. I'm an avid cyclist in Vancouver and ride 45 minutes each way a few times a week over some fairly hilly terrain. I have heard that cycling in London is pretty good and the terrain is flat. How flat? How's the weather in winter? I can handle rain. If I lived in the east would it really only be 30 min each way? And how are the bike lanes, traffic, road conditions, etc? Do you think it would be great, or okay, or tolerable, or miserable if I had to do this every day?

I'm also pondering getting an electric bike, or maybe a scooter or vespa or something, if I can find one used at a reasonable price, as this might give me more mobility. Good idea? I have heard about the congestion charge in London but I assume it only applies to cars. Oh and I bet theft is a big problem for bikes right? Maybe for scooters too?

What if I want to take transit from the east? Are there buses I might take, instead of relying on the tube? How would that work? How reliable are the buses, and how packed are they in rush hour? So packed that you often can't get on?

What areas of "the east" should I look at? And what other neighborhoods might I consider that might be closer to work?

And finally, I am told I should look for a place on gumtree and that most rooms are available immediately. I will arrive in London probably on October 5 or 6 and start work on the following Monday the 10th. Is it realistic to find a room in the 3 or 4 days I will have before starting work? Any tips about this?

Whew. Thanks.
posted by PercussivePaul to Travel & Transportation around London, England (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Look at Bethnal Green. Hipstery, east-central, and a straight shot on the Central line to Shepherd's Bush.

London buses are great. Pretty packed in rush hour, depending where you're going, but frequent enough that it tends not to matter. I commute daily by bus from south London to central and have no issues.

I'll let someone who knows more than me about cycling and moving countries weigh in on that.
posted by corvine at 11:16 AM on July 6, 2011

You may find this bicycle journey planner useful.

As for buses, the TFL journey planner is great, and lets you search just by buses if you wish. The journey time estimates are usually pretty good. And yes, buses are great.

I agree, Bethnal Green would probably suit you. Brixton has the right vibe, but may be a little too far, and about half the bicycle commute will be actively unpleasant. Parts of Dalston might also work for you, but may require more hunting around and familiarisation with city areas than you have time for.

Winter weather: it's miserable, not extreme. This means days of light cold rain, perpetually overcast skies, chill winds.

It's possible to find a room in 3-4 days, but you'll have to work at it. Do look at estate agents in the area as well, especially if you're short on time. There is a lot of chaff on Gumtree.
posted by tavegyl at 11:39 AM on July 6, 2011

I'd certainly recommend bicycling, especially if you end up living in the East End.

London's bicycling culture has been growing stronger over the past few years, helped along by a mayor keenly aware of the PR opportunities afforded by his own bicycle. It's certainly not a world-class bicycling city, but it's become a reasonably good place to be on two wheels. These days there's a fair amount of awareness of and tolerance for bicyclists among motorists, but you still need to ride as though everybody wants to kill you. Traffic is dense, especially during commute hours, but manageable.

Dedicated bicycle lanes are the exception, not the rule. You'll spend a lot of time riding (legally) in bus lanes. A handful of "cycle superhighways" (excuse me: "Barclays Cycle Superhighways") have recently opened between certain inner suburbs and the centre, but in reality these are little more than existing bicycle/bus lanes painted a particularly fetching shade of blue. The terrain is indeed pretty flat (I feel this generalisation is safe, as you won't be living in Highgate); I commute 30 minutes each way and the steepest grade I climb is London Bridge.

Weather conditions range from great (today) to borderline miserable (cold, rainy, windy winter day). London will rarely throw anything at you that can't be handled with appropriate kit. Do prepare for the possibility of rain on any given day; 08:00 and 17:00 can look like completely different seasons.

Theft is a major problem. Leaving a bicycle outside overnight is out of the question, no matter how well secured. I deal with this by riding a Brompton folding bicycle which easily stows indoors, but they're not particularly cheap. If your bicycle is nice, consider insurance. (I recommend ETA.)

If you don't already have a motorcycle licence from your home country, you will need to get a British provisional licence and complete a one-day CBT course before you can ride a scooter. Electric bicycles have no such requirement.
posted by wo is me at 1:07 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Using that bicycle planner, 30min from the east end seems very optimistic. It's telling me almost an hour. The Central Line from Bethnal Green supposedly takes half an hour according to the trip planner, but my friend estimated "an hour during peak". What's realistic here? An hour commute each way is a lot less bearable than 30 min.

I got in touch with my friend again just now and he floated Battersea and Clapham as other alternatives to think about. Any opinions on these?
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:45 PM on July 6, 2011

"East End" is too broad an umbrella to be able to give a pat answer, but for comparison my 7.5 km ride (through zones 1 and 2) consistently averages 25 minutes. The TfL Journey Planner (it'll do cycle-only routes if you ask) thinks it should take 31 minutes. The LCC route planner says 36 minutes when set to "quick" and "fastest". I am not athletic. (There's a certain minimum level of fitness you unavoidably attain when bicycling ten miles per weekday. I am that fit.)

I like Battersea - I used to live there - but it's not especially "hipstery". Clapham, less so. Both have some decent places to hang out of an evening (and Clapham Junction, which is actually in Battersea, has some great restaurants and shops), but nothing like the Shoreditch scene. Obviously, both are hugely better placed geographically for a commute to Shepherd's Bush.
posted by wo is me at 2:27 PM on July 6, 2011

I lived in South London (Herne Hill, it's between Brixton and Dulwich and it's very nice) and commuted the six miles into Farringdon every day by bike for two years. It took me about 35-45 minutes in the morning, mostly on back roads, and slightly longer on the way back due to hills.

Bike commuting in London is waaay easier than it used to be due to weight of numbers (the new 'Boris Bikes' have almost certainly helped in this regard) but I'd still recommend plotting a route that focuses on side roads or chains together parks and off-road paths.

Honestly, commuting through central London on a bike every morning East to West from Bethnal Green or thereabouts is likely to be very polluted, loud, dicy and exhausting. I would consider looking at Shepherd's Bush itself (reasonably costed, especially in a shared flat), Hammersmith, Chiswick, perhaps Battersea across the river. All would put you within a good, relatively less busy and comfortable cycle commuting distance.

If you give us an idea of your housing budget people can probably give you more precise recommendations. I've not lived in London for over a year now, but living in Zone 2 in a shared flat was about £300-400 a month, and you could get a studio on your own for £700-800. Add anywhere from 30-70% to those prices for Zone 1 and trendiness factor.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:27 PM on July 6, 2011

Bike's a great way to get round London. There's a lot of traffic, but it moves fairly slowly and few people are actively out to kill you, most are just careless. There are a lot of bikes on the roads these days, so most drivers are used to them. Just beware of lorries.

East to west is what? 6 or 7 miles? half an hour to 45 minutes I reckon. I do a 6.5 mile commute in about 35 minutes and I'm not the fastest by any stretch of the imagination. And that's stopping at red lights, of which there are an awful lot.

The city is very flat apart from a few places (Hampstead/Highgate in the north and a few places in the wilds of south London), but even then the highest spot is only 400ft or so, though that does become a pain in the arse at the end of every day. Fun in the mornings though.

It's perfectly feasible to cycle all year round. Winters are just dark and damp. There were a couple of days last winter when I didn't because there was (for London) a lot of snow on the ground. But it rarely gets much below freezing, and you soon warm up. It can get wet at any time of year though. Oddly, the heaviest downpours seem to come in the summer, when they can get positively tropical.

I'm a confirmed north Londoner, so can't comment on the rest of the city with that much authority. I am also alarmgly old and boring, so have no idea of what 'hip' even is any more, never mind where you'd find it. Camden?
posted by ComfySofa at 2:46 PM on July 6, 2011

Dalston. Verrry trendy. Not yet quite as super famous and fashionable as Shoreditch, but they are all moving up there. There is an overground line that runs direct from Dalston Kingsland station to Shepherd's Bush, takes about 40 minutes and has just finished being upgraded with new shiny air conditioned trains. If you were to cycle to work from there, you could do so along the Regent's Canal for most of it.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:56 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh and finding a decent house share can be really tough. If your only here for 6 months, you could find your whole time spent dealing with house drama. Try and get a good place sorted from the start. Word of mouth is the best, but needs luck that someone has a room free when you are looking. If you have friends here already, get them to put the word out to see if they know anyone who knows anyone. And ask your workplace if they could put a note out to staff asking the same thing.

Failing that, try Gumtree or Moveflat. No matter what story they try to tell you, do not give anyone any money without seeing the room first. You might be able to find somewhere to move in in 3 -4 days, I think you would definitely manage to do it within a fortnight, if you can put yourself up in a hostel or something when you get here.

Apart from the Overground, Dalston isn't on the tube (they'll try and tell you that that is the underground, it really isn't). You will use buses more there than if you live in any other part of London. They do get crowded, but this is London. There are a lot of people here.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:11 PM on July 6, 2011

Oh one more thing, and it might not happen, but just in case. Your arrival coincides with the start of the uni term. It might be tempting to move into a house full of students. Students don't pay Council Tax, as a worker, you will get dinged for it all.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:32 PM on July 6, 2011

Some miscellaneous ejaculations:

- If you're working in Shepherd's Bush and want to live somewhere cool/arty/culturally vibrant, you're going to have to commute a bit. Rule out Clapham and certainly Shepherd's Bush.

- Definitely check out Bethnal Green. It is modestly priced and (unusually) on a great tube line. It's fairly early-Mike-Leigh-movie bleak, all 70s concrete and urban decay. Thank you Luftwaffe.

- Dalston is also great and you can apparently get the new Overground to SheBu. But, yes, there is no tube at Dalston and the buses at craptastic and it seems like an eternity to even get back from Liverpool Street Station (let alone the West End).

- Neither of the above are as lively as Shoreditch, Hoxton, Spitalfields, Brick Lane (Liverpool St Station or Aldgate East tube). These would be my first choice, if you can afford them.

- Definitely check out Brixton (and Herne Hill), the East London of the South, and even more awesome now thanks to the rejuvenated markets. Less oppressively hip.

- However, finding the perfect suburb in advance is a bit moot. As other posters have indicated, while there are thousands of flatshares available at any one time, it can be very tricky finding the right combination of great house with great people available at the right price and, crucially, available at a time you want to move in and for exactly the right term. Consider moving sort of one suburb out from the hip suburbs -- eg Ripperologists' favourites, Aldgate East and Whitechapel.
posted by dontjumplarry at 3:56 PM on July 6, 2011

If you're working in Shepherd's Bush and want to live somewhere cool/arty/culturally vibrant, you're going to have to commute a bit.

I definitely wouldn't choose to cross town twice a day just for faux-artiness. Ladbroke Grove is ethnically and culturally diverse, with good indie shops, great bars and clubs, nice street markets, and within walking distance of Shepherd's Bush. East London is more hipstery, but no more authentic, and a giant hassle in terms of transport and decent shops. There's a wide range of housing stock suitable for most budgets.
posted by roofus at 4:21 PM on July 6, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the help so far. My friend in Hackney has already put the word out but we'll see if he comes up with anything. I know finding a place can be a crapshoot but it is helpful to have all this information so I know how to filter things. In particular I didn't know you could take the overground direct from Dalston or Hackney to Shepherd's Bush so that is good to know -- it makes these areas seem within reach, commute-wise. (40 minutes ride, according to their trip planner. not too bad.)
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:41 PM on July 6, 2011

I'm moving to London this fall, too, so while I don't have too much to add, I do appreciate the answers.

In addition to gumtree, you might want to check out Sabbatical Homes, or sites with similar short-term rental options, if you're going to be there <1>
Good luck!
posted by bluestocking at 7:16 PM on July 6, 2011

I spent 8 months working in Sheppard's Bush on ex-pat last Winter-Summer. Your not working for BPP are you?

Anyhow, I liked the bike idea for a while, but then I realized I most likely get killed. I bike to work in Chicago. London. . different story entirely.

I looked hard at places in Clapham and Brixton to save loot. Then realized if I had money to burn from a housing allowance, I may live closer to the city center. You're only going to live in London once (maybe), don't spend half the time on a train . .

I really wouldn't get too wrapped up in living the perfect neighborhood for you, I would assume you'll do a ton of exploring and getting around central London is pretty easy on bike/tube/bus. Find a neighborhood that works for your commute and embrace it.

There is overground from Clapham to the Bush as well.

I ended up on the South Bank near Waterloo and loved loved loved it. No trendsetters/hipsters . . but great culture. . a bit south you can dip into The Cut, great food/cafe/entertainment.

posted by patrad at 8:17 PM on July 6, 2011

Ex cycle commuter here - if you can live close to where you work, much London happiness will ensue. Find a place in Notting Hill/Ladbroke Grove and cycle/tube/bus/walk to hip-land.

London is surprisingly small and if you don't need to travel at rush hour, and you don't because you live close to your work, the public transport is great.
posted by quiet at 6:45 PM on July 16, 2011

I lived in London for years and lived all over London. Because of moving around and looking for flat mates or finding them through various links and coincidence, I wasn't always able to plan which area I would live. As as result I've lived or worked in many parts of London including:
Belsize Park
Harrow on the Hill
Camden/Kentish Town
High Barnet

They were all ok - well Eltham, Kidbrooke and High Barnet I'd certainly give a miss. But seriously you find great locals where ever you end up plonking yourself.

Yes, Hackney and Dalston are the hipster places to hang out but personally I was a big fan of Camden and Battersea. Camden because it was central and hooked me up with so many interesting options. I liked that I could travel 10 minutes and have so many different types of neighbourhoods at hand - hipster to high class all within a few blocks. You also don't need to worry about hitting pockets of not so great areas when you stay more central - when you start heading out East you still have a patchwork of gentrified and not so much areas. You're a guy so maybe that's not such a big deal for you. When you live on the north side of the river transportation links are easier - even with all the changes and upgrades to London transit I remain steadfast that staying on the north side of the river is easier.

Having said that I lived right across the street from Clapham Junction for years and it was a great place to be with super rail links into Waterloo. The down side was that it was difficult to travel west to east across the south of London and your commute always included a change - train to at least one tube or bus.

I settled in London as a fluke with no friends when I landed but met many straight away and always ran into people that I had traveled with previously.

If you are working in the Shepards Bush area then the only consideration I'd say is to figure how much of your life your are willing to give up commuting. Do you really want to make that east to west trek everyday?

I am just checking the date on this and guessing you are in London by now - where did you pick?

Have fun - best city ever!!!
posted by YukonQuirm at 8:33 PM on September 29, 2011

Response by poster: An update is due. I wound up in an unlikely place that no-one mentioned - Manor House, near Finsbury Park, in a converted warehouse. It seems there is a whole scene around here of youngish folk living in converted warehouses. I stumbled across it on gumtree quite by accident. It was probably the tenth place I viewed, and I saw a few I would have taken that went to other people, and a lot that were pretty depressing, but this one is super-rad. Bethnal Green was my favourite neighborhood of the ones I saw and would have been the first choice, I think. Convenience via tube, central, comfy friendly vibe, it was just right, but none of the places I saw fell into place. Dalston would have worked too but nothing came up there. I've been hanging out in Dalston for a while and it is definitely super trendy, to the point where it is "over", so they say, with the neighborhood haunts overrun on weekend nights by out-of-towners who have heard that Dalston is cool. They are even making a reality show about creatives in Dalston to show off the lifestyle, so I hear. Totally over.

For a while I was second-guessing Manor House because it's not Camden or Dalston or Shoreditch or even Islington which is where Things happen and all the Stuff is. But having been to a few pretty epic warehouse parties nearby I am enjoying it now, and having sort of figured this town out by bike I can be at my friend's place in Dalston in maybe 12 minutes, and I can get almost anywhere in 20 or 30. But one of the best parts, which is surprising me a bit, is that I enjoy the relative quiet up here, and the fact that I can go to the loud busy places but leave them behind. Being up north a bit I can bike to work relatively safely and quickly by skirting the city (55 minutes or so, compared to 50 if I take the tube, including all the walking) and I don't think it would be possible to do it from Bethnal Green where I would have to cut straight through the middle. Central London is just too mad, too stressful and dangerous to do it all but occasionally.

So yeah things are good! Thanks for your help in this thread way back when.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:08 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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