21 Things to Know Before Moving to London
London, the city that always has something going on, remains one of the most popular places to live for people all across the world.
In fact, more than 45,000 American expats call London home, and with its incredible pace of life, things to see and do, plus the fascinating blend of cultures, we can totally understand why.
Westminster Palace and the Elizabeth Tower
1. It rains in London. A lot.
With an average of 156 days of rain a year, London is a far cry from the sun-drenched boulevards of Los Angeles or Miami. And it’s all kinds of rain too, at all points in the calendar.
Don’t be surprised if on a summer’s day you find yourself drenched during a picnic in one of London’s many parks. The upside? When the sun does eventually shine, London comes out to play and you’ll experience a bustle unlike most other cities on Earth.
2. London is one of the world's most linguistically diverse cities
While not quite matching New York City’s astonishing record of 800 languages being spoken, London’s 250 (possibly as high as 300) different dialects still places it high on the list of most languages spoken in a city.
This is down to London’s well-deserved reputation as a properly diverse capital. Financial opportunities, generations of migrants, and the draw of London’s inimitable culture make it a hotspot for people all over the world.
3. The Romans ‘founded' London
Technically speaking, the area of London existed before the Romans arrived, but they definitely laid the groundwork for what it would become today. Called Londinium, the then-tiny settlement quickly grew into the capital of Roman Britain.
You can still see parts of Roman London to this day, including the famous London Wall, which helped keep out marauding Celtic tribes. There’s also the Temple of Mithras in the Bloomberg HQ, which is open to the public.
4. Healthcare in London is great
Healthcare in London remains amongst the world’s best regarded. In terms of access, infrastructure, nurses per capita, and general cost, London ranks third in the world.
London’s residents, like the majority of the UK population, rely upon the world-famous NHS (National Health Service), which provides free medical care at the point of access. This enables anyone from any background to get the medical care they need, without having to break the bank.
However, with free medical care comes lengthy waiting times for some services. The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased this too, with some people waiting months for treatment.
With this in mind, getting medical insurance ahead of your move to London is definitely something to consider. That’s why we’ve partnered with Cigna Global, who provide excellent flexibility on health plans, with multiple levels of cover depending on what you need. Start building a customized plan with Cigna today.
5. The City of London is the smallest city in England
“That’s impossible!” we hear you say, but it’s true! The confusion comes from what we actually consider to be London. Historically, the City of London (covering only 1.1m²) is the area first defined by the Romans, and it wasn’t until the late middle ages that it started to expand beyond the famous London walls.
As settlements on the outskirts grew and slowly became incorporated into the city, the London we understand today took shape. However, technically speaking, everything outside the City of London is actually another city entirely. It might sound confusing, but for a country that drives on the left side of the road, is it all that surprising?
Rainy London street with iconic red phone boxes
6. Some public parks in London sit over mass graves
This is definitely one of the darker glimpses into London’s past, but many of the now-tranquil public parks hold grim secrets. During the Black Death (1347–1353) and the Great Plague of London (1665–1666), the numbers of plague victims became too high to bury in the graveyards.
Instead, huge numbers of bodies had to be piled up in mass graves. A priest would give a quick, somber blessing and then they’d be covered up, eventually becoming a good chunk of the public parks we recognize today.
Quick facts – the devastating fire of London in 1666 likely helped remove the remaining pockets of the plague. Also, the London Underground twists and turns for a reason; when they started digging the Underground, there was a genuine fear of unearthing plague graves (plus, some areas were too dense with human remains to dig through).
7. London is *technically* a forest
One look up in central London and the idea of London being even close to a forest seems laughable. Towering structures of steel and concrete hide this little-known secret. According to the United Nations, any area that’s more than 20% trees is a forest – London sits at 21%. That’s 8.3 million trees for the 8.9 million people living there.
What’s more is that London has committed to adding a further 10% of trees to the existing number by 2050, adding to the capital’s already impressive green credentials. Highlights include Richmond Park, home to various species of deer, and St James’ Park, a spectacular slice of greenery right next to Buckingham Palace.
8. The cost of living in London is high
First off, if you’re coming from New York, settling in London will seem easy enough – the city is 15% cheaper to live in on average (not including rent; it’s up to 27% cheaper on that front).
However, moving from most other parts of the US to London will see your finances hit substantially. Go for a pint of beer in a pub in central London, and you can expect to pay around $8.25. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment there will cost around $2,300 per month, and a meal for two in a mid-range restaurant is typically $85.
When you move to London, you’ll need to convert your dollars into pounds sterling. We recommend using a trusted money service and to save you time, we’ve already done the research. Take a look at our expert ratings and find the best money transfer service today.
Greenwich Park in Autumn
9. The London Underground is the oldest of its kind in the world
In 1863, London had the crazy idea of digging a tunnel between Paddington and Farringdon, using wooden carriages pulled by a steam train. Sure enough, the idea caught on and what we call the Underground expanded rapidly.
Sure, it might be sweltering in the summer (no air con), some lines might be obnoxiously loud (here’s looking at you Northern Line), and rush hour means packing into trains like sardines, but the London Underground is the original. And it certainly deserves credit for that.
10. London’s food scene is incredible
There’s the old cliché about British food being terrible, but one look at the most Michelin-starred cities in the world will give you food for thought. Other than Paris, no other city in Europe has as many Michelin-starred restaurants as London (71 at the time of writing).
What’s more is that cuisine in London is unbelievably diverse, which reflects the city’s multicultural population. Any dish from almost every corner on Earth can be found in some form or other in London.
Certain areas, such as Soho, boast an astonishing array of restaurants to choose from. If street food is more your thing, don’t forget to visit Camden. Also, Borough Market is a real food-lovers paradise, with overflowing market stalls boasting the most incredible ingredients.
11. Black cab drivers here know every single street. Literally.
In a tradition dating back decades, becoming a black cab driver (also known as ‘cabbies’), requires learning ‘the Knowledge’. This means getting to grips with every single street name in London – all 60,000+ of them.
If it sounds difficult, that’s because it is. Undertaking the impressive test requires training for three to five years and it’s certainly not for everyone. Nowadays, with the advent of Uber drivers, Google Maps, etc., applicants for the Knowledge are sadly declining.
Hopefully it will continue, because few things are as impressive as a London black cab driver knowing exactly where to take you without ever looking at a map or phone.
12. London is home to some of the world’s best shopping opportunities
First off, the iconic Oxford Street, a 1.1-mile stretch of shopping heaven. You’ll find a collection of the world’s most famous brands here, many who’ve set up their flagship stores. It’s incredibly busy too, even in spite of the pandemic. An estimated half a million people visit the street every day, amounting to an astonishing 200 million people getting their hit of retail therapy a year.
Next is Harrods, which is easily the world’s most famous department store. Over a million square feet make Harrods the largest store in Britain, and you’d be hard pressed not to find something to buy within its illustrious walls. Even if you don’t, just walking around the store’s seven floors is an experience in itself.
Oxford Street at Christmas time
13. The museums are incredible (and most are free!)
Knowledge fans have a lot to choose from in London. If it’s history you’re after, the British Museum and the Museum of London are must-visit destinations. The former has a collection of over eight million objects, including the Rosetta Stone (which helped us translate Ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphs) and the Sutton Hoo ship burial treasures.
For science and nature, there’s the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, both of which attract millions of visitors every year. Or, for something a little quirky, the Sherlock Holmes Museum is well worth a look.
14. Be prepared to pronounce place names incorrectly
London is filled with places spelled pretty differently to how they actually sound, much to the amusement of the locals! Here’s some of the more famous mispronunciations:
Leicester Square: Pronounced ‘less-ter square’, you’ll often hear tourists calling it either ‘lie-cester’ or ‘lie-chester’ square.
Greenwich: Definitely, under no circumstances is this pronounced ‘green-witch’ – instead, it’s typically pronounced ‘gren-itch’ or for some people, ‘grin-itch’.
Southwark: Another one that’s almost always said incorrectly, with newcomers saying ‘South-wark’, when instead it’s ‘suth-irk’. London sure loves confusing people.
King’s Cross St Pancras: The ‘King’s Cross’ part is easy, but ‘Pancras’ always seems to trip people up, with far too many saying ‘pancreas’.
15. On place names, London has some *ahem* interesting street names
If rude words make you squeamish, London has a fair few street signs sure to make you blush. We’re hesitant to repeat them all here, but some of the best (or worst?) include:
Balls Pond Road
Cold Blow Lane
16. There are pubs in London older than the US
Pub culture is the beating heart of London and, just like much of its history, stretches back hundreds of years. In fact, there are plenty of pubs in the capital that date back to a time before the US even existed.
The George Inn, near London Bridge for instance, has been open in one way or the other since 1585. Old Bill Shakespeare himself would go there for a drink, which makes sense considering it sits right in the shadow of the Globe Theatre. It’s also the capital’s last galleried inn, which means there are standing galleries you can drink in (see below).
The George Inn, photo credit: Ewan Munro from London, UK
17. You can tell when the Queen is in town
Take a visit to Buckingham Palace and look at the flag flying on top. If it’s the UK flag (the Union Jack), then Queen Elizabeth II is either on duty somewhere else, or likely at Sandringham House.
If you see the Royal Standard though, it means she’s staying in London. The Royal Standard is made of four quarterings, representing parts of the UK – England (three lions passant) in the first and fourth quarters, Scotland (a lion rampant) in the second quarter, and Ireland (a harp) in the third quarter.
18. It’s quicker to walk than taking some bus services
London does have traffic issues, we’d be lying if we said otherwise. In some areas though, it almost reaches parody levels, with the number 14 bus service being so slow that it is quite literally quicker to get out and walk.
Traffic has hardly improved in a century either, if we’re going off average traffic speeds. Back before cars and buses were widespread, the average speed of traffic was around 6 miles per hour – that remains the average on a few London roads today (the aforementioned bus crawls at a painful 3–4 miles per hour along part of its route).
19. The football culture is electric
Football (soccer) is a huge part of London’s sporting landscape, with numerous teams all vying for dominance. England’s top football division, the Premier League, has seven clubs from London in it.
Small word of advice: be a bit careful about boasting your support for certain teams in certain areas – while it’s unlikely you’ll get into real trouble, some people do take football rivalries very seriously.
Certain rivalries, such as Arsenal versus Tottenham Hotspur, are amongst the best known. So-called ‘derby days’ are a huge deal for the fans.
20. London is the most vegan-friendly city in Europe
If you’re a vegan, you’ll have no trouble settling into life in London. There are hundreds of vegan-only restaurants in the capital, plus plenty of restaurants offering brilliant vegan options. Some of the best include:
Temple of Seitan, Camden, Hackney, Brixton and King’s Cross – delicious vegan fast food
Eat of Eden, Brixton, Shepherd’s Bush, Clapham and Lewisham – vegan food focusing on Caribbean dishes
Holy Carrot, Knightsbridge – high-quality British cuisine with a vegan twist
21. Big Ben isn’t actually called Big Ben
One of the most popular tourist spots, the clock tower next to the Westminster Palace is actually called the Elizabeth Tower. Instead, it’s the bell inside the tower that’s called Big Ben.
The tower has been under repairs for years, much to the disappointment of visitors. Thankfully, the essential work has been completed and we must say, the new clock face looks spectacular!
Ready to move to London? You can take the next step by completing this short form to get free shipping quotes from trusted experts, who all have the experience necessary to move your belongings safely and securely into your new home.