A Basic Guide to Living in London

londres01
Photo: VisitBritain.com

London: the great jungle of classes, multiculturalism and hundreds of job profiles (and hundreds of expats, of course). We could define the city in a thousand ways, but if anything comes to mind first, it’s the phrase “rent through the roof “. Renting a room or an apartment in the city means giving up your monthly paycheck (sometimes literally). It’s impossible! But let’s be positive. There is one very good thing about London: there is work. There are dozens of job opportunities, although be warned that the main ones (especially if your English is basic) are in the service sector: cleaners, kitchen porters… What can we say?


To help you survive in this jungle dominated by the law of supply and demand, we have prepared you a basic guide to living in London, where we look at different sides of the city: transportation (the London underground – the best), tourism (there is so much to see!), accommodation (no comment – it’s very expensive!), work (a lot of job offers [but we repeat: you have to come with a good level of English] and higher wages than in many other places), leisure (as much as you want!) and education (expensive universities, but very good ones).

Before moving on, remember that we have:

➜ A Definitive Guide to Living in the UK

1. General Information about the City

London is the capital of England and the UK, and the largest city and urban area in Great Britain and across the European Union. Situated on the banks of the River Thames, it is a global centre for arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, media, research, tourism and transport. It is, together with New York, the world’s main financial centre and one of the metropolitan areas with the highest GDP.

London is also a global cultural capital, the most visited city when it comes to the number of international visitors, and has the largest airport system in the world according to passenger traffic. In addition, the 43 universities in the city make up the largest concentration of higher education centers in Europe. People of many cultures who speak more than 300 different languages live together in this multiracial city.

Population: 8,630,000 (total, 2015 data)
London Assembly website: www.london.gov.uk

Other articles about the city:

2. Transportation

dncnh-london-buses-on-whitehall
Photo: DncnH


The best way to get around London is the underground. The lines work wonderfully, allowing you move around the city’s various districts. Colloquially known as ‘The Tube’, it is the world’s oldest and second largest underground. It became operational in 1863 and now has 270 stations. You can check all the available lines on the official website: tfl.gov.uk/tube.

The data we took from our survey about the living situation of Europeans in the UK (2015) has provided us with useful information about living in the capital. The average monthly expense for transport is £100, and the average daily commute is 43 minutes.

standard-tube-map-new

If you have considered going to work by car every day, forget it. Parking near your destination is impossible, and parking in a car park would be very expensive. You will have to leave the car in the suburbs and move around the centre on the underground. We always recommend you take the underground and, occasionally, Uber or a taxi. But not in the way you are used to—with the ‘Gett’ application. Taking a taxi will be cheaper and you can book one in advance for the same price.

  • Get £10 free to use with Uber or Gett
leo-hidalgo-testing-the-cycles
Photo: Leo Hidalgo

Moving about by bike is a very good option for short journeys, even though the traffic can sometimes be ‘a little too much’. If you want to try riding one of the Santander Cycles I recommend you experience a Sunset cycle. The streets are almost deserted, you can move around more easily than usual, and it only costs £2 for 24-hour access if you’re not a member.

As for the airports, you have several to choose from. London is one of the main centres of global air traffic and it also has the largest urban airspace. It has eight airports, but most air traffic goes through six of them. Heathrow Airport (the most expensive one), in Hillingdon, west of the city, is the airport with the most international air traffic in the world and the base of the British Airways airline. The fifth Heathrow terminal opened in March 2008.

The main airport is Heathrow, but among the Spaniards****, the most widely used one is Gatwick Airport, located south of the city in the county of West Sussex. It has similar air traffic, as well as some low budget airlines operating short distance flights. Stansted Airport, northeast of the city, in Essex, is Ryanair’s main UK airport. Luton Airport, in the north, in Bedfordshire, mainly serves low cost and short distance airlines. The London City Airport is the smallest and the most central of all. It’s a centre for business flights and has considerable private jet traffic. Finally, Southend Airport in Essex, east of the city, is a small regional airport for low cost and short distance flights.

Official websites:

Interesting articles:

3. Tourism

gc3bcnter-hentschel-london
Photo: Günter Hentschel

London has four World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London; the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey (including Saint Margaret’s Church); and Greenwich, where the Royal Observatory marks the Greenwich meridian and Greenwich Mean Time. Other famous places in the city are Big Ben, the House of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Harrods, Notting Hill, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower Bridge, Camden Market, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, St. James’s Park and Kensington Gardens.

jacob-surland-deserted-piccadilly-circus
Photo: Jacob Surland

London also has many museums, art galleries, libraries, sporting events and other cultural institutions like the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum, Madame Tussauds, the British Library and the forty theatres in the West End area. Every year about 17 million tourists visit the British capital, which makes it the most visited European city.

We could write an entire book about tourist attractions in London, but we will summarize the most important ones with the help of our articles. Here are the most relevant:

Official London tourism website: visitlondon.com/es

4. Accommodation

When it comes to London, this is the most complicated section of all. Rent in the capital, as we already mentioned, is impossible. Prices have risen so much in recent years that you must have a very good salary to live in the city. If you have an average salary, it will be difficult to save money. The quality of life there is high, and your money will be spent on food, transportation, entertainment and, especially, on accommodation. We’re not exaggerating when we say that there are people living in other cities who travel to London to go to work, because they can’t afford the luxury of paying for a flat or a room there. There are even wilder stories, like this student who decided to move to Poland and travel to London often to attend university classes.

The survey respondents living in London spend an average of £744 per month, between rent and expenses, although the situation changes a lot for those living alone or in pairs and those who share (the majority) their home between three or more people:

  • Alone / pair: £ 890 / month
  • Shared house: £ 526 / month


We recommend that when you land in London you look for a flat in the zone 3 suburbs, and travel to work by tube/train each morning. This is the most inexpensive way to survive in the city, guaranteed. Either that, or come to the city with accommodation already booked from home. Otherwise, it will be impossible to find something that fits your budget. In the following articles we give you some tips on how to find accommodation in the capital:

And this website will help you find a spare room in London: spareroom.co.uk. There are also other equally useful website, such as the 10 we found for you in this article:

5. Work

marc-biarnc3a8s-peak-hour-at-london-bridge-station
Photo: Marc Biarnès

The unemployment rate in Great Britain is only 5.3%, (compared with 22.7% in Spain)****, according to the latest data. In London there is work, of course, but most jobs are in the service and tourism sectors. Of course, there are more skilled positions, but these require a good level of English. If you come with a good educational background but with a basic language level, you won’t manage to be an engineer, teacher or social worker in the capital. Instead, you should aim to work as a waiter, kitchen porter or cleaner. In order not to be in for a disappointment once you’re there, it’s best to go with a decent level of English if possible. Or to improve your language skills there by paying for private classes or attending an English academy. Otherwise, you may find yourself working as a cleaner, like this Spanish actor.

What jobs are more common among the Europeans?

According to the survey we have conducted on more than 2,000 Spanish residents in the UK in 2015, the average salary of a Spaniard in London is £1,470 per month, a figure higher than the one obtained in other English cities. A Spanish person working in their professional field in London could have a salary of up to £1,980, while one that is not working in their sector might get £1,140. That’s the Spaniards we polled rated the labor market in London an 8.1.

The following table shows the most common jobs among immigrants in the UK, indicating monthly income and hours worked:

salarios-espac3b1oles-uk

So if you want to get a specialized job with a good salary, it is best to improve your English. These applications and websites for learning English for free can help you improve your level and thus be able to choose jobs in your field:

  • Websites and Apps for learning English for free

And in this article we explain how to make a good British-style resume:

You will find the rest of the things you need to know in our:

Complete guide to working in the UK

6. Leisure

the-nest-3

What can we say about entertainment in London? There are activities for everyone! Musicals, theatre, comedy, nightlife… London is a city in constant motion. There is a great variety of museums to visit for free. Many musicals have left their mark on the city: from the classic ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ to ‘Les Misérables’, ‘Mamma Mia!’, ‘The Lion King’, ‘Thriller’ and ‘Billy Elliot’. And if you like markets, you have to visit Camden Market and the 20 best London markets.

As you can see, it is impossible to get bored in London! If you have extra money to devote to leisure, the possibilities are limitless. And since you can’t live solely on museums and West End theatres, there are also endless options when it comes to restaurants (especially in the Chinatown district in Soho), shops and nightspots. Here are some suggestions:

If you don’t have money saved for leisure activities, the following article—full of activities to do for free in London—is perfect for you.

  • London for free on a map

7. Studying in London

enzo-cesanelli-imperial-college-london
Photo: Enzo Cesanelli


London is an important city in the world of higher education and research. The 43 universities in the city make up the largest concentration of higher education centres across Europe. Some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world are in London, like the University College of London, Imperial College London and King’s College London. The London School of Economics is considered the world’s leading institution in research and development in social sciences and the London Business School is among the best business schools.

With its 125,000 students, the University of London, which is public, is the largest university with classroom education on the continent. It consists of four colleges and their respective faculties: King’s College, Queen Mary, Royal Holloway and University College.

In the city there are other institutions of higher education, including the University of Brunel, the City University London, Imperial College London, Kingston University, London Metropolitan University, London South Bank University, the University of Middlesex, the University of the Arts London, the University of East London, University of West London and the University of Westminster.

Of all the universities mentioned, three are among Top 50 best UK universities, according to last year’s world ranking prepared. You can check it out here:

  • The best British Universities by World Reputation

If you need more detailed information on education in the UK, you can check our article about the British education system:

  • Explanation of the British Education System

On the other hand, if you wish, you can always choose to do distance learning with The Open University, discussed in this article:

  • The Open University, distance learning in the UK

You will find more information about the universities of London here:

  • The top universities in the UK according to students
  • British Universities and Tuition Fees

8. Extra information:

Do not forget to read the other articles we have prepared on London:

Any suggestions?

If you have any information that you think we could add to this basic guide to London, you can send us your suggestions to theukister@gmail.com. Our whole team hopes this article will be very useful during your stay in the capital.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply