What I’ve learned about London

Photo of a red telephone box in London

In my mind, the transition from Sydneysider to Londoner should’ve been a piece of (tea)cake. πŸ«–πŸ°

Both cities are roughly the same size in terms of commuter belt, but Sydney’s population is half that of London, and appear quite similar at surface level.

But dig a little deeper and you might uncover a culture clash or two! We may share a monarch and language, but life as an Australian expat in London will teach you that football means a very different thing in this corner of the world! ⚽

Weather

Photo of a rainbow above King's Cross Station in London

London is known for its moody grey skies and drizzly weather. This is true to an extent but after living here for a couple of years, I find “moody” is the keyword.

From stifling heat waves to blink-and-you-missed-it flurries of snow, it’s no wonder Londoners resort to drastic measures like swimming in ponds and sunbathing in parks.

Autumn and spring are by far my favourite months in the UK as both seasons boast stunning natural beauty, and they tend to have more stable weather. πŸŒΈπŸ‚

Before signing a lease, make sure your new room or flat has double glazed windows and heating!

Work

Aerial photo of Monument

London a land of opportunity. No matter how niche, there’s a role for everyone in varying degrees of seniority in almost every industry.

Competition is fierce and this can sadly drive down wages, particularly in industries like marketing and events. Finance and tech roles are paid well but be prepared to compete. βš”οΈ

Recruiters are important for getting your CV seen. In London, recruiters form close working relationships with companies and can advocate for you once you’re in their system.

Recruiters are so commonplace that they specialise in different industries (e.g. marketing for not-for-profits), so be prepared to do your homework in approaching the right ones.

Renting and expenses

Photo of houses facing a Hampstead Heath pond

Renting in London is equally, if not more, competitive than job searching. Spareroom is your best bet for finding a room in a flat share, and Rightmove or Zoopla for leasing your own place.

Key considerations

  • Plan your budget around rent, bills and expenses as a whole to avoid any nasty surprises. For instance, council tax and transport fares vary depending on the area
  • Ensure there is central heating (wall mounted heaters) and that potential flatmates are in agreement on usage as electricity costs do tend to go up in winter
  • There are no power sockets in bathrooms, so a mirror in your room is useful for drying your hair
  • Check the TV licence situation. If you don’t plan to use it, make sure you’re able to opt out
  • Areas without a Tube station are generally cheaper. If you can bus, walk or cycle to work then consider living in an area like Crouch End or in South London
  • Hard water, limescale build up and mould are sadly part of the fact of life in London. Keep on top of your cleaning schedule and consider splitting the costs of a cleaner for a deep clean
  • Some flats don’t have living rooms! If you plan to entertain at home or enjoy a sociable living environment, factor this in. πŸ›‹οΈ

Transport

Photo of the Tube roundel at Piccadilly Circus

London transport is world-famous. It gave us colourful Tube lines, red double-decker buses and “Mind The Gap”. πŸš‡

The city is a maze and there’s absolutely no shame being a Londoner for years and relying on navigation apps! The most popular ones are Citymapper, Google Maps and TfL Go.

Transport in London is also notoriously expensive. The Tube (London Underground) fares tend to be the highest, while buses, Overground and cycle hire are much more affordable. And scenic! The front seats on the top deck of the bus offer the best views.

Everyone’s in a rush, so knowing where to walk and stand is important. Walk on the left, and stand on the right of escalators. It’s a bit nonsensical, but you’ll get used to it!

The network is old and particularly susceptible to weather; autumn leaves and snow can cause delays. Having multiple routes available for where you need go is advisable.

Food and eating out

Photo of a Borough Market food stall

Traditional British cuisine can range from warm and hearty, like Sunday roasts and homemade pies, to downright dull i.e. a different sandwich for every day of the week. πŸ₯ͺ

But London’s food scene draws inspiration from all corners of the globe and offers huge variety to impress every foodie and gastronome. Check out my guides on where to find the best Australian brunch and pizzerias in London! 🀀

Some iconic menus to sample in London are Dishoom, Padella, Kanada-Ya, Duck & Waffle, and Nando’s (no kidding). πŸ—

Food markets and food halls are also a great experience all round. My favourites are Seven Dials Market, Brixton Market, Broadway Market, Borough Market, Mercato Metropolitano and Mercato Mayfair.

Eating out (and ordering in) can be an expensive habit. Here’s how you can save without missing out.

Health

Photo of a thank you NHS banner in a tree

While comfort and convenience in terms of food choices may be appealing, it can lead to a phenomenon called the Heathrow injection, so remember to strike a healthy balance. πŸƒ

The NHS (National Heath Service) covers almost all your healthcare needs and is free (once you’ve covered the IHS payment as part of your visa application).

NHS wait times can be long, so if your employer offers membership to private health insurance I recommend opting in. Keep in mind the NHS doesn’t cover all dental, eye and contraception care.

To register with a local GP, you’ll need proof of permanent address (utility or council tax bill or tenancy agreement) but there are walk-in clinics to tide you over until you settle in. 🏠

Socialising

Photo of two girls at an art gallery in London

With so much going on in London, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Once you’ve ticked the main attractions off your list, check TimeOut for what’s coming up. 🎭

While London is full of millions of people, most people experience loneliness. With people coming and going all the time, it can be difficult to make friends. This is especially true as an adult.

Thankfully there are so many options for socialising and meeting new people. Bonding over a common interest like sports and hobbies or joining expat communities are often the best foundation for lasting friendships.

In terms of finding someone special, having so many fish in the sea can be tricky. On the one hand, people don’t feel pressured to settle; on the other hand, they might keep swiping. Being open and upfront about your expectations is the best way to avoid the tedium that is online dating. ❀️


Whether you’re here for a gap year or for the long haul, London will bring you a wealth of life experience. What advice would you give to someone thinking of making the move? πŸ‘‡


More in London

Photo of a squirrel in London in autumn

Fall for London in autumn

London in warm autumnal hues coupled with fun activities and events will make you think twice before swapping hiking boots for slippers. πŸ‚

Avoid the Heathrow injection

Photo of London pub entrance and fish and chips sign

As scary as it sounds, it doesn’t involve anything sharp. πŸ’‰

“Heathrow injection” was coined by Australian and New Zealand expats to describe rapid weight gain when settling in London. This is largely attributed to a busy schedule and over reliance on convenience food. I’m looking at you, Β£3 meal deal.

Pints in the pub, full English breakfast, fish and chips with mushy peas and Sunday roasts are all enticing British icons, but you don’t need to try them all in one week!

Striking a balance is key. Small, simple changes can lead to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle (and weight).

Walk or cycle

Photo of a girl walking in the park

You’ve no doubt heard about London’s iconic Tube network and red double decker buses, but did you know TfL manages the Capital’s cycle hire scheme? You can hire a Santander Cycle from as little as Β£2. 🚲

As quick as the Tube might go, did you know some station changes are quicker to walk? For example, it can take up to 15min to change from the Northern line at Leicester Square to the Piccadilly line at Covent Garden while walking it is just 3min!

Check out some of these walking routes next time you’re exploring Central London.

If walking or cycling isn’t feasible for all of your journey, consider getting off a stop or two early. You might discover a new store or cafe along the way! 🚢🚴

Shop the High Street

Photo of Notting Hill Bookshop entrance

With online shopping overtaking in-store purchases, fears over the “death of the High Street” are growing.

Often it feels like an early Christmas when a parcel arrives with your name on it, but there’s something magical about turning the fabric of a new scarf over in your hands in-store that online shopping can’t recreate.

So next time you feel like browsing online, step out instead and explore your area and support local businesses. It’s the perfect excuse to get some fresh air and hit your daily step target. πŸ‘Ÿ

Meal prep

Photo of homemade salad in a glass jar

With pizza and burger chains, cheap meal deals and an active social life beckoning, it’s no wonder we opt for convenience over cooking and grocery shopping. πŸ₯¦

This unhealthy habit can rack up pounds (both Β£ and extra padding) fast. Aside from high cost of living in London, fast food, pub meals and microwave meals are large in portion size and generally full of hidden nasties like sugary sauces and saturated fats.

Cooking is a great way to save time and money. You could get your weekly groceries and meal prep done on a Sunday afternoon, for example. It also puts you back in control of portion sizes and what healthy contents go into a meal. βš–οΈ

Salads, wraps, rice paper rolls, pasta and sandwiches all travel well and are quick and easy to make. I use Cancer Council’s Healthy Lunch Box for inspiration!

Join a fitness group

From CrossFit to circus, salsa to SUP and more, there’s fun fitness activities happening in every corner of London. πŸ’ͺ

Gym prices are notoriously high, and class passes can be even more expensive. Check your company benefits scheme if you’re eligible for discounts. You might be lucky enough to have an onsite gym!

Meetup and Facebook groups are a great way of finding local groups for running, tennis, football, yoga and more! They’re often cheap if not free, and a great way of meeting people.

Up your Insta game

Photo of Camden Market

London is easily one of the most “Instagrammable” cities in the world. 🀳

From heritage monuments like Tower Bridge and Big Ben to stylish cafes and street art, a photo hotspot is likely just around the corner.

Popular instaworthy locations include Neal’s Yard, Brixton Market, Leadenhall Market, Sky Garden, Brick Lane, Hampstead Village, Portobello Road Market, Kew Gardens and more.

Visit London’s feed is a great source of inspiration!

Curb liquid calories

Photo of a London pub beer garden

London boasts cosy traditional pubs, but there’s a reason a pint or two leaves you feeling full. 🍻

Many alcoholic beverages are calorific and loaded with sugar. Try substituting your next colourful cocktail for gin and slimline tonic, a glass of Prosecco, red wine or a dry white.

Non-alcoholic drinks can be just as bad like bubble tea, frappucinos and soft drinks. The English got it right with a cuppa tea.


Have you experienced Heathrow injection? Share your advice for managing an active, healthy lifestyle in London in the comments! πŸ‘‡


Latest in London

Photo of Oxford's skyline

Day trips from London

There’s nothing quite like strolling along a tree-lined canal or cobblestoned village lanes. πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§

Photo of Tower Bridge and London's skyline

First impressions of London

If expat life feels like home then you’re doing it wrong πŸ˜… This is my ever growing list of culture shocks I’ve experienced since moving to London.

Thrifty London life tips

Photo of a Pret coffee cup at a picnic in London

London is one of the most vibrant, thriving and exciting cities to live in the world. It is also one of the most expensive. πŸ’·

Coming from Sydney, I was confident the high cost of living wouldn’t be painfully obvious. I was mostly wrong.

Steep rent, public transport and bills (some, you’ve definitely never heard of) coupled with generally lower wages takes some getting used to. After your first few pay cycles, you’ll start to work out what you can afford and what’s best to enjoy in moderation.

While you work out your budget, here are some tips for scrimping and scraping without missing out. πŸ‘Œ

Food and groceries

Photo of a London food market stall

Bottomless brunch and covering the next round of drinks can stack up quickly. Fast food is cheap, but you can easily achieve a healthy and sociable lifestyle:

  • Β£3 meal deals are a convenient mid-week lunch or breakfast to go. They typically include a sandwich, bottled drink and packet of crisps
  • Packaged salads and sandwiches at supermarkets are great for healthy convenience, but costs much less if you meal prep at home πŸ§‘β€πŸ³
  • Cafe loyalty cards offer freebies or discounts over time. Following your favourite places on social media is also a great way to spot a giveaway
  • Supermarket prices can vary a lot. Opt for cheaper groceries at Lidl, Aldi, Asda and Morrisons
  • Yellow stickers typically signifies a reduced price item which is perfect for a sandwich or sushi roll to be consumed that day.

Transport

Photo of a Santander Cycles docking station

TfL isn’t a world leading transport authority for no reason, but its coloured Tube service and iconic Black Cabs come at a cost. There’s plenty of ways to get from A to B in the Captial:

  • London Bus and London Overground services are the most affordable options (aside from walking!)
  • Off Peak fares apply outside of rush hour periods, and avoiding Zone 1 when using the Tube is also cheaper
  • The Santander Cycles cycle hire scheme are also affordable and accessible with thousands of docking stations located in zones 1-3 🚲
  • Cycle to Work scheme offers significant discounts on purchasing a bicycle, so it’s worth checking if your employer has one.

Rent and bills

Photo of the view from a London flat

Well, let’s get this one over with like a bandaid: renting in London is ridiculous. Paying up to half your salary for a “cosy” room sharing with random people with varying hygiene standards and noise tolerance levels gets old fast. πŸ™ƒ

While you don’t always get what you pay for, these tips can help ease the pain:

  • Rent is typically cheaper in East London and South London
  • Avoiding Zones 1 and 2, and often depending on the area 3, is a good rule of thumb but bear in mind public transport costs increase the further out you live
  • Living within a 10min walking distance of a Tube station will drive the rent up. Consider moving to an area with good transport connections to Central London or your office via bus, Overground or Docklands Light Railway
  • Not all council taxes are created equal so it’s worth taking into consideration
  • Opt out of paying for a TV licence and avoid doubling up streaming subscriptions. You can split the cost between your flatmates πŸ“Ί
  • Central heating can easily double your bill in the cooler months. Substitute it for warm indoor clothes and a good quality duvet from autumn!

Socialising and sightseeing

Photo of Sky Garden

Enjoying all London has to offer is hugely appealing; while it’s important to treat yourself to a West End show from time to time, there’s plenty of affordable options to keep you entertained:

  • London hosts some of the best museums and galleries in the world, and almost all of them are free to enter
  • Panoramic views of the city are free from Sky Garden and the Viewing Level at Tate Modern
  • Standing tickets are just Β£5 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
  • Pubs and bars often host cheap trivia nights, comedy sessions and theatrical performances
  • London’s many stunning parks are perfect for picnics and outdoor fitness πŸƒ
  • Food markets or food halls are a great location for social gatherings as there’s a variety of options to suit everyone’s tastes and budget
  • Lunch time menus are typically cheaper than dining out in the evening
  • Rush tickets are a great way to bag cheap tickets for live and theatrical performances
  • MeetUp and other online groups offer socialising and free or cheap classes.

Fashion and beauty

Photo of a clothes rack

London is considered a fashion capital of the world. If you’ve ever wandered down Oxford Street and Regent Street, you’ll see why! Fast fashion is the name of the game, but your wardrobe doesn’t need to be at odds with your wallet:

  • Bag a bargain for a good cause at a charity shop
  • Shop sustainably at London’s vintage and retro markets
  • Use an app like Vinted or Depop to find your next secondhand treasure πŸ‘—
  • Student discounts are available at many major retails (and food vendors) so make sure to flash your ID card
  • Get your hair cut for free or coloured for a significant discount with salons like TONI&GUY who need hair models for their apprentices
  • Check Groupon or similar services for beauty package deals to get your nails, waxing and more for less.

Health and fitness

Photo of pedestrians crossing Millennium Bridge

While bottomless brunch beckons, it’s important to balance binging with regular physical activity. Affordable options include:

  • Streaming online workout videos
  • Free trials at gyms and fitness centres are a great excuse to try something new. Barre, anyone?
  • Joining a local fitness group. There’s loads of hiking, yoga and other social groups running cheap or free sessions
  • Cooking at home and freeze portions to have something healthy on hand when hunger strikes
  • Reading my guide for avoiding the Heathrow Injection! πŸ’‰

Holidays and travel

Photo of

European holidays and local trips in the UK are a hugely appealing reason for being located in London. With multiple airports and international rail, it’s also hugely accessible. Here’s how to bag a bargin:

  • Score cheaper airfares by travelling mid-week
  • Shop around for fares, tickets, rooms and rentals online
  • Flights and accommodation are generally cheaper in shoulder seasons (off-peak)
  • Student discounts apply for most airlines and travel packages
  • Learn the basics of a new language via app or a free language exchange.

How to do keep your finances under control in London? Share your hot tips and hacks in the comments below! πŸ‘‡


More in London

Life-changing reads

If you’re a fan of print, you’ll understand the panic mode that hits when you realise you have to abandon your home library when it comes to The Big Move (see below or read more on Instagram).

With an average of 20-something kilos per bag, you quickly realise suitcase space is hot property real estate. That’s when you face the painful process of picking your favourite book child(ren) and sadly part with the rest πŸ“š

A few ways to get around it are to:

  • Convert to an e-reader and bring your digital library anywhere you go
  • Hit up secondhand bookstores once you arrive. I picked up Rubicon by Tom Holland in great condition for just Β£2 at a London charity shop!
  • Ask your family to stuff a bag full of books and goodies from back home during their obligatory visit
  • Scope out pricey shipping options if you can’t live without your 12 volume fantasy saga. Expat Facebook groups are great for recommendations.

Below are some of the titles that I couldn’t bear to part with, and ironically some actually inspired me to move in the first place – like inspirational comets, crashing into my life plan and shifting its trajectory off course β˜„οΈ

β€œA room without books is like a body without a soul.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman Orator

Warning: Reading the following books might change life as you know it! Proceed with caution.

Writing and teen angst

Bitten🐺

Kelley Armstrong, Women of the Otherworld, Horror, Fantasy, 2001

Elena Michaels is the world’s only female werewolf. And she’s tired of it. So she left the Pack and returned to Toronto where she’s trying to live as a human. When the Pack leader calls asking for her help fighting a sudden uprising, she only agrees because she owes him.More info

Before Twilight‘s sparkly vampires infected our lunchtime gossip sessions, I was nose deep this is dark, gritty urban fantasy about werewolf mafia.

The story gets up close and personal, making you shudder with images of gore, and flush red from the abrupt, raunchy sex littered throughout. Armstrong’s writing perfectly blends the supernatural and the adult world, minus the cringey tropes of teen fantasy novels.

After turning the last page, I opened up my Word and immediately started writing my own supernatural saga (because I was such an ‘expert’ by that point). I’d print off every new chapter and bring it to school for my best friends to take home and read. Surprisingly, they enjoyed it and pestered me daily for the next installment. Chuffed that my writing was such a hit in the schoolyard, I decided that being a writer was my calling.

History buff

Mistress of Rome βš”οΈ

Kate Quinn, Empress of Rome, Historical Fiction, 2010

First-century Rome. Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, purchased as a toy for a spiteful heiress. Now she has infuriated her mistress by capturing the attention of Rome’s newest and most savage gladiator. Reinventing herself as a singer for Rome’s aristocrats, Thea unwittingly attracts another admirer: the charismatic Emperor.More info

The story hits the ground running. Quinn brings imperial Rome to the present through her protagonist’s modern voice and hits you with sensory bursts – colour in rich silks, thunderous applause in the Colosseum, the shiver of the Emperor’s breath down your neck, and the smell of gladiator sweat as they fight it out for their lives.

I picked up Mistress of Rome early on in my uni degree. At the time I was indecisive about first year Psychology and looking for ways to avoid stats. Knowing that I’d have to tackle my numerical demons at some point, I jumped into my imagination’s time machine. The world of emperors, gladiators and lavish banquets was so richly immersive I longed to be a part of it.

And so began my second (and third) academic start, bringing me closer to my Serious Writer dreams and ever so much further away from stats. Seeing the Colosseum in person never fails to snatch the breath from my lungs πŸ›οΈ

Culture and cuisine

The Gypsy Tearoom 🍝

Nicky Pellegrino, Fiction, 2007

Raffaella Moretti is by far the most beautiful girl in the southern Italian village of Triento and she is about to marry the only boy she has ever loved. The last thing she expects is to find herself a widow one short year later, down on her hands and knees, scrubbing clean the layers of dirt from a strange house.More info

I don’t subscribe to the motto ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ – something has to entice you to pluck it from the shelf, right? This little teal book caught my eye and the strange title instilled me with the sudden need to know what a ‘gypsy tearoom’ was.

A chapter or two in, and I’ve been a tragic Italophile ever since. Food, language, art, history, culture, romance … what’s not to love?!

Pellegrino depicts Italy in sepia – picturesque towns and traditions passed down over generations, and a calmness that makes you want to curl up on a sunbed and sip spritz on a summer afternoon by the beach. Hmm, maybe I could live there…

Girl power!

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon πŸŒ™ Volume 1

Naoko Takeuchi, Shōjo Japanese Manga, 1992

Usagi Tsukino is a normal girl until she meets Luna, a talking cat, who tells her that she is Sailor Moon who must fight evil and enforce justice, in the name of the Moon and the mysterious Moon Princess. She meets other girls destined to be Sailor Senshi (Sailor Scouts), and together they fight the forces of evil!More info

Sailor Moon combines most things I enjoy – superpowers, strong females, romance, action, mythology, Japanese culture, the list goes on. The series really kicked off my love for visual storytelling, resulting in many trees sacrificed to my endless ink doodling. Good thing now we have tablets!

Confession: This phase actually started with the American 90s anime adaptation Sailor Moon. This ‘phase’ hasn’t exactly ended yet, and it may have inspired a trip to Japan and led to an obscene amount of merch purchases πŸ›οΈ

My interest in the original manga only started amidst the hype surrounding the franchise’s 20th anniversary and the release of the Sailor Moon Crystal anime series. Nostalgia of the fun, quirky show of my childhood came flooding back and I gave the back-to-front illustrated novels a go. After devouring every instalment, plus a few volumes in Spanish and Italian, I went ahead and rewatched the entire series.

Warning: Prepare to have this track stuck in your head all day.

Myths, gods and heroes

The Iliad 🏺

Homer, Epic Poem, 800 or 700 B.C.

The darkest episode in the Trojan War. At its centre is Achilles, the greatest warrior-champion of the Greeks, and his refusal to fight after being humiliated by his leader Agamemnon. But when the Trojan Hector kills Achilles’ close friend Patroclus, he storms back into battle to take revenge knowing this will ensure his own early death. Interwoven with this tragic sequence of events are the conflicts between the Gods on Olympus as they argue over the fate of mortals.More info

Homer. Where to even begin? A timeless epic of Greek and Trojan heroes: honourable Hector, god-like Achilles, beautiful Paris, proud kings, egotistical gods, a hidden trap wooden horse, a decade of war and forbidden love, and ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’.

The Iliad is eternal and enduring. It embodies the Greek heroic tragedy, and would pave the way for countless retellings and interpretations across the ages. The story represents storytelling in its richest form and adapts seamlessly across all mediums: oral, written, audio, visual. In my opinion, its only downfall is the repetitive comparisons of every warrior to a lion. How about a wolf, mountain bear or an eagle to mix things up a bit?

The Iliad is my muse, as my well-thumbed copy can attest.

β€œEvery story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.”

Octavia E. Butler

Honourable mentions πŸ₯ˆ

Okay, so this post sort of became a shopping list.

  • Wonder Woman: Warbringer, Leigh Bardugo, YA Fiction
  • The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller, Historical Fiction
  • Imperium, Robert Harris, Historical Fiction
  • Antony and Cleopatra, Colleen McCullough, Historical Fiction
  • The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux, Gothic Horror
  • DraculaBram Stoker, Gothic Horror
  • The Aeneid, Virgil, Epic Poetry
  • The Odyssey, Homer, Epic Poetry
  • Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, Memoir
  • Lunch in Paris, Elizabeth Bard, Memoir
  • Geisha of Gion, Mineko Iwasaki, Memoir
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, Dystopia
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, Fantasy
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien, Fantasy
  • The Book of Tomorrow, Cecelia Ahern, YA Fiction
  • The Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton, Children’s Fiction
  • Percy Jackson and the Lightning ThiefRick Riordan, YA Fiction
  • Stardust, Neil Gaiman, Fantasy
  • Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen, Fiction
  • Harry Potter: and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling, Fantasy
  • Eragon, Christopher Paolini, Fantasy
  • Magic Knight Rayearth, CLAMP, Shōjo Japanese Manga
  • Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura, Arina Tanemura, Shōjo Japanese Manga
  • W.I.T.C.H, Elisabetta Gnone, Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa, Italian Comic.

β€œIf there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”

Toni Morrison

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