Crossposted from Quora.
I lived in New York City for two years, from October 2016 to 2018, before moving to London a few months ago. I also spent substantial time in London prior to moving. Overall, it’s an easy move, as the cities are quite similar in being modern, diverse, cosmopolitan capitals. I am finding London more delightful since I am still new here and I like being an expat, but I do miss the energy of NYC. (Definitely not the endless honking and wailing of sirens, though, I’m glad to be rid of those.)
Particularly given the state of despair of NYC MTA in 2019, one of the most standout features about moving to London is that public transit here works really well. You can get around reliably with Tube and bus, even to the major airports. And you can use contactless to pay —none of that flimsy yellow Metrocard swipe flailing.
For some lines, the Tube comes every minute! It was an adjustment for me to not race to the platform whenever I heard the train coming. In NYC, where I lived off the F, missing a train might mean waiting 10 minutes for the next, so I got used to running at the sound of a train entering the station. In London, people hear the whooshing of the train and continue at their normal speed, completely unbothered. There is good bus coverage of the city as well, especially for areas like Shoreditch which aren’t as connected by Tube. The buses aren’t nearly as convenient as the Tube, since they don’t come as often and can get stuck in traffic, but they are still quite nice and it’s fun to sit at the front of the top deck of the double deckers and feel very British.
As for the airports, Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted are all well served by transit options, both with express trains (Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express, Stansted Express) and other trains, and for Heathrow it’s possible and even quite common to just take the Piccadilly Underground line all the way out.
However, London does feel a bit more sprawled out than NYC, and even with the good transit, it feels like “everything” takes 40+ minutes to get to. For example, I was living in Notting Hill for a month and a half when I first moved, and getting to the Entrepreneur First office in Bermondsey took 40 minutes. Now I’m staying in Aldgate East, which is in the East End, close to Shoreditch, and it still takes 40 minutes to get to Bermondsey. Long commutes seem much more standard in London than in NYC.
Contactless everywhere! I almost never need to pull my wallet out, since I can just use Apple Pay on my phone.
And, restaurants will bring the credit card machine to you, making it easy to split bills, as you can easily tell the server what part of the check you want to pay, tap your card or your phone, and then they move on to the next member of your party.
The only times I’ve really had to deal with cash so far were to pay rent, because it does take a little bit of work to get set up with a UK bank / debit account. As far as that process goes, though, it seems a lot easier here than anywhere else, since UK financial regulations are quite progressive and there are a lot of fintech services, like TransferWise, and challenger banks, like Revolut, Monzo, and N26, that are new and millennial-friendly.
I’ve also needed a UK debit account to pay some subscriptions which require direct debit, e.g. PureGym’s month-to-month payment scheme requires direct debit (though in that case I just gave up and found an alternative gym option), and Soho House membership requires payment from a UK debit account.
Only to a New Yorker would London housing prices seem reasonable, but especially with the weak pound, thanks Brexit, I’ve found housing in London to be quite easy. Not cheap, but definitely more affordable than Manhattan or San Francisco, and easy to find flat shares with sites like SpareRoom. I didn’t end up using a letting agent in London, so I don’t know the whole process, but from watching my friends find housing it doesn’t seem anywhere near as absurd as NYC with all its brokers and 15% broker fees. Yes, I’m still annoyed about those mandatory broker fees and honeypot “no fee” listings on StreetEasy that turned out to be, surprise, brokered places.
There’s really great food in both cities, and a wide variety of it, from cheap to posh and lots of different cuisines.
London has more fast casual places, like Pret, Itsu, Leon, Wagamama, etc., but fewer salad places. I miss sweetgreen and Whole Foods. In general, produce in London doesn’t seem as fresh, but maybe that’s because I’m shopping at Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local instead of Whole Foods.
I haven’t found as many good Chinese food options in London compared to New York. There are some good spots, and within 5 minutes of me now I have a great Xi’an noodle place, Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles, which is like Xi’an Famous Foods in NYC, and a Szechuan restaurant, My Old Place, but they’re quite a bit pricier than their equivalents in New York and there’s nothing like the crop of trendy Chinese shops now in East Village and around town, like Ho Foods for beef noodle soup, 886 for Taiwanese food, and Meet Fresh for Taiwanese desserts.
However, the Indian and South Asian options in London are fantastic. Dishoom is a favorite, of course, and there are dozens of good curry shops and other Indian places on Brick Lane and around the city.
London’s coffee scene has caught up quite a bit in the last few years, and particularly in East End there are a lot of hip coffee shops with good vibes and good coffee. And they have non-dairy milk options! As someone who is lactose-intolerant, I’m very happy about the now-prevalent alternative milks, since even a couple years ago it could be hard to find soy, almond, or oat milk — now they’re everywhere.
However, London does still trail NYC in the very important (to me, anyways!) category of cold brew. I’ve been on a hunt ever since I moved here and discovered, sadly, that there are very few places that serve it, mostly in East End, some in Soho, and even then it’s mostly bottled cold brew. Usually Sandow’s, which I find weak and a bit sour. There’s another brand, Minor Figures, that’s available in some grocery stores, but I also find them underwhelming. There is nothing like Chameleon cold brew here, my favorite in the States and which is sold at Whole Foods. People have told me London is still more into tea than coffee.
Culture and Diversity
Both NYC and London are very culturally vibrant and diverse cities, with lots to recommend in terms of art, theatre, shows, museums, history, and things happening around town. I have found the arts to be more accessible in London, with most museums being free, and very discounted options like £7 gallery tickets for the Proms. I like the concept of returns queues for shows here in London as well; whereas the only way to get tickets to Hamilton in NYC was paying exorbitant prices, I was able to queue for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London and get same day tickets at face value instead of being scalped by re-sellers.
London has a more international mix of people, with a lot more Europeans, Africans, Arabs, and South Asians (and people of that heritage). I’ve enjoyed getting to know and befriend a much more multicultural cohort. One cute thing I’ve found is how people here like to refer to each other by nationality, much more common than back in the States. I also really like being called American, if only because in America I’m so tired of being identified as Asian and not American.
I’m totally in love with London’s parks. NYC mainly has Central Park, which is wonderful if you’re close to it, but I rarely visited it since I lived downtown, and only went running there for races. In London, there are many more of them throughout the city and the green respite from the bustle of the city is such a treasure. They make London a really nice running city, too, with so many options for routes inside the different parks and you can also string together multiple for longer runs.
Please indulge my love affair with Hyde Park in the fall:
London doesn’t have nearly as much of a fitness and workout culture as NYC, but it’s still pretty strong. Not too many of the US brands have made it over here yet, just a handful of Barry’s Bootcamp studios and an Equinox in Kensington, but many equivalent / similar studios. I like 1Rebel, which has cardio + HIIT classes like Barry’s, as well as spin, and Psycle is supposed to be pretty similar to Soul Cycle. Grow Fitness does group rowing classes similar to CITYROW in New York. And there are CrossFit boxes all around town as well.
I used to do ClassPass in New York City, with Blink gym membership as part of my membership, but I’ve cut down my ClassPass usage quite a bit in London. One, because there aren’t as many studios that I like, but more importantly, because there are two Soho Houses with gyms in London, White City House and Shoreditch House. I joined Soho House when I was in NYC, but members clubs are way more of a thing in the UK, and being able to use the fitness facilities at the houses here has been a big boost to my quality of life. I’m sorry for my insufferable bougieness.
“The difference between America and England is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, while the English think 100 miles is a long way.” — Earle Hitchner
Everyone says this, but it’s worth repeating: travel in Europe is incredible. Two hours on a plane can get you anywhere, and Paris is just two hours away on the Eurostar. It’s such a treat to be able to explore so many different countries and cultures on quick weekend trips, and there is so much history in the streets and architecture.
Budget airlines are really popular in Europe. Cheap prices, the tradeoff is just that you have to pay for every possible amenity you might want, including assigned seating. Getting status on an alliance (or multiple alliances) isn’t really a thing.
If you want to coordinate with people back in the States, whether for personal reasons or professional, the time zone differences can be pretty rough. London is +5 hours from NYC, and +8 from SF / LA, which means people back in the States are just getting their day going as the day is ending in the UK. I’m naturally a morning person so having to shift my work hours so much later in the day is not easy. It’s also not good for being social after-hours.
I’m still really amused whenever I pass by a pub and see Londoners standing on the street outside, drinking their beers and pretending like it’s not depressing weather out. There is a lot more pub culture here and it’s kind of a thing for people to go for drinks after work and skip proper dinner.
London has much milder weather than NYC. The summer is not so hot and humid, and the winter doesn’t get so cold, snowy, and slushy. Spring and fall are positively beautiful.
People complain about London being grey and gloomy, and maybe it is a little bit that, and in winter 3:30pm sunset is sad, but it’s really not so bad. Also, in December…
London wins at Christmas. Hands down.