Guest Post: Best Places for Americans to Live in London – American Expat Areas of London

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Colleen Wagner who works at London Relocation Ltd. – a London agency that specializes in relocating Americans (and anyone) to London. They’ll help you find a place to live, open bank accounts and provide advice on adjusting to life in the UK. Check out their website here. Thanks Colleen!

As an American-owned and operated relocation agency, we field a lot of enquiries from North Americans looking to make the big transatlantic move to the United Kingdom.  A big part of the job is managing expectations, as, for as much as expatriates are seeking change in a new culture, it’s only that natural that they also seek a degree of familiarity with what they already know.  We can’t perform architectural miracles that increase the square-footage and closet space of these predominantly Victorian-era buildings to meet modern American proportions; nonetheless, we can advise on which neighborhoods have a solid American demographic by virtue of other appealing factors.  Generally, American expats dig London’s West side.

Notting Hill

 

Photo by – Danny Robinson

No joking, this neighborhood continues to be a draw for Americans because of the Hugh Grant film of same name.  There is a comfort to coming to Notting Hill from abroad thanks to a ready familiarity with the charms of Portobello Road as it’s portrayed in the movie.  Bedecked in antique shops, fashion boutiques, pubs, cafes, and street stalls overflowing with produce, this colorful strip contains all the quaint appeal that Americans expect from London.

The amenities don’t stop at Portobello, however; indeed, the entire area is dotted with day and night-life amidst quiet residential streets that provide a nice escape from the city-center bustle and is close to green space like Kensington Gardens.  The neighborhood’s Westbourne Grove has been nicknamed “Rodeo Drive” by residents for its posh clothing shops, and, overall, residences are well-maintained to an American standard.

South Kensington


Even more central to London is the neighborhood of South Kensington, an affluent postcode that is home to a substantial American population.  The area bears a similar aesthetic to trendy U.S. neighbourhoods like Lincoln Park in Chicago or New York’s SoHo or Upper West Side and, like Notting Hill, is a cornucopia of shopping and dining.

Gloucester Road is among many venue-lined roads and is home to one particular grocery store that has become a guilty pleasure (if not a staple) for many-an American expat:  Partridges.  For as many American brands (or decent-enough equivalents) that can be found in UK stores, there are many good ol’ standbys that are rare in these here parts, so it’s key to have an oasis of American goods to satisfy that occasional craving for pancakes and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese!  And for more upscale shopping, South Kensington is only a few minutes’ walk from its opulent and pricier neighbor, Knightsbridge, which houses the likes of Harrods.

With the Victoria & Albert and Natural History museums, as well as concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, South Kensington also provides a convenient dosage of British history and culture to immerse expats in their new country.

St. John’s Wood


Perhaps the most blatant draw to St. John’s Wood for Americans is the American School in London (ASL).  The only American school located within the city of London itself, ASL’s American curriculum automatically attracts families relocating from the United States to provide children with continuity in their education.

Regardless if one’s child is not enrolled in ASL or one does not have children at all, the neighborhood has a ready network of Americans (the St. John’s Wood Women’s Club being one resource) and meets a high standard of living.  It is certainly one of the more expensive areas to live (Paul McCartney lives there), with a gorgeous brass-fixtured Tube station and darling cafes and shops to wander around in a safe, quiet, and family-friendly environment.

Perhaps one of the more fun features of SJW is Lord’s cricket ground, the “Home of Cricket.”  American sports enthusiasts can attend a match there and figure out first-hand whether cricket moves more slowly than baseball J

Islington


Now, this is not one of the more obvious choices for Americans, but I would be remiss not to mention Islington as a neighborhood of growing attraction.  It has an edgy, artsy feel, yet could be tagged as “up-and-coming” with increasing gentrification (think Chicago’s Bucktown/Wicker Park or New York’s Greenwich/West Villages).  The Islington /Angel area has a great social scene, commencing immediately along Upper Street just outside of Angel Tube station and ranging from super-casual pub to super-swank club.

In addition to the nightlife, this North London neighborhood’s closer proximity to the city center renders it desirable by expats wanting a shorter commute to work.

Moving to London

Regardless of where you decide to live in London, opportunities to network with other Americans abound.  The expat community is spirited and open-minded, so you’ll be deeply enriched by the global experiences of others who have relocated like yourself.

While this empathy is great (and vital for some), a major part of the expat experience is also to cast off a bit of what you knew at home to take on the new challenges and joys of a different cultural environment.  In this case, don’t worry that living in a popular American neighborhood will mean sheltering yourself from the international community—such couldn’t possibly happen in a city as diverse as London!

Cheers,

Colleen Wagner

London Relocation Ltd.


Comments

  1. avatar says

    Ha, Clare, you hit the nail on the head. It’s very difficult getting Americans out of their comfort zones :)

    And Hannah, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…British pancakes are closer to French crepes in thickness, which isn’t to say they aren’t delicious, just that they aren’t what we know and love. There are some efforts made out there, though, to offer American-style pancakes, just not very prevalent, and the only mixes I’ve seen are the ones imported from the States (God forbid I just make batter by scratch, but it’s the principle of the whole thing!). And another bit-o-trivia related to this topic: “flapjacks” here aren’t pancakes, they’re like thick, brownie-shaped/sized granola bars.

  2. avatarDiane says

    So, the “best” places if you want to throw yourself in with all other Americans. Ok, now I know where NOT to move. ;) Being an Anglophile is trying to find all the British pubs everywhere we go and not seeking out Americans. But who can argue with the West Side?

    • avatarSarah says

      My sentiments exactly. I’m from Chicago, born and raised in Hyde Park. I am NOT looking for replicas of Chicago neighborhoods in London…at all! So all of these places I’ll be sure to stay very very far away from, especially considering that these are the most expensive places also.

      Maybe you could do a guide for those more frugal American Expats looking for lots of diversity, hmm?

      • avatargloria says

        I want to relocate to London England but like the Chicago person I also am frugal. Please help find a nice but not extemely expensive place.

        • avatarMark says

          South of the River is generally cheaper than North of the River for the same distance from the centre of town the only problem being perceived poorer transport links. Have a look at Wandsworth, Clapham, Balham, Kennington, maybe even Camberwell. Clapham & Balham are both on the Tube so they’re easy to get to. Wandsworth has good rail & bus links and Camberwell has good bus links.

          As has been said before South London can be described as edgier than North of the River. Some of us prefer to say livelier. I’ve lived both North & South of the River and currently live in Kennington.

  3. avatarJack says

    Re: St. Johns Wood, you forgot to mention the biggest draw to the area for any American: Panzer’s Deli! Well stocked with many North American cereals, candy, holiday treats, cookies, crackers, ingredients, etc., Panzer’s is one of the best places in London to satisfy your American cravings.

  4. avatarKat says

    As someone who lives in Angel/N1, I think I’d be hardpressed to find someone who thinks of it as “up-and-coming” with the average house price is £500,000 ($720,000). However, I find this to be a good guide! It’s also worth noting that at first I didn’t think I’d miss American things and people when moving to the UK, but I certainly did after a while!

  5. avatar says

    Diane – Ha! I hear ya on that one. You’d think the idea of moving into a new environment would be to embrace other cultures, but it never ceases to surprise how abundant expat networks are here so like can meet like…I suppose there’s security in it, and some folks are more so here for jobs or their spouse’s jobs, so want to recreate home as much as possible, much to the chagrin of the locals :)

    Jack – That’s awesome! I didn’t know about that place, so will spread the word. Thanks!

    Kat – Ouch, that’s London prices, isn’t it…rentals are getting higher in that area as well. I suppose by “up and coming” I meant more in terms of the gentrification–at least based on my Chicagoan perception because it reminds me so much Bucktown back home, but I’m interested to hear more of your take on it as a resident. It’s a cool neighborhood that I haven’t spent enough time in–any recommendations/advice we can pass on to prospects looking into it?

  6. avatarAlexis says

    I find it pretty dismal & unlikely that Americans move to NH based on the movie. Sad if so because it was pretty much whitewashed & the only thing that made it distinguishable was ULine on PB rd by bucks.

    I found Holland Park & St. John to be “posh”…that term gets thrown around quite a bit. NH, not so much. I spose it’s relative to what you’re used to.
    I enjoy the culture though, absolutely luv it! but then when I travel to other countries, I’m looking for that experience.
    I just bring my own popcorn, Equal & Crystal Light….sigh :^(

  7. avatarAndrew says

    No Fulham Broadway? I’m from the US and that’s where I ended up. Right outside Chelsea – just as nice and much more affordable. Tons of young people and easy access to central London.

    • avatar says

      I would rather hear from locals… where should a young 30yr old couple move to? We are not stuck up Americans… the opposite as a matter of fact. I am looking for warm friendly people and my boyfriend is looking for the Ratsa / Reggae scene… any suggestions?

      • avatarClaire says

        Rachel, I’d suggest south east London. I’ve lived there a long time. Perhaps head to Bermondsey, which is slowly becoming more artsy but it’s laid back and great for easy living. It’s very close to the city, but far away enough to feel peaceful. Great cafe and bar scene on Bermondsey street! Plus you’re right in the middle of the edgier East London and South London areas which are great for going out in the reggae/rasta scene.

  8. avatarTessa says

    I’m British but work for an American company in central London. Most of our staff are from the US, and from what I know the majority of them reside south of the river. Wimbledon, Raynes Park, Barnes, Putney. Family orientated towns with independently owned shops and boutiques alongside generic high street chains. Although they’re not that close to central London (about 25 mins by train), and not as trendy as NH or Islington, there are numerous parks and commons, great restaurants, and schools. Wimbledon Village is were the tennis stars live during the tennis tournament in July. Houses in this area are in the millions.

    Rachel: With regards to the rasta/reggae scene, check out this site http://www.universityofdub.com/

  9. avatarClaire says

    This made me laugh – my friend married an American and they immediately moved from Bermondsey to Notting Hill! I also used to walk as a dog walker there; every client was American, all of them in Kensington/Notting Hill. And whenever I walked around I’d hear so many American accents! But then a lot of Americans who move to London do so for work, and why WOULDN’T you choose to live in Notting Hill? Also, you can find common London areas for all nationalities – I’m Australian and I know most of my fellow countrymen head to Clapham and Shepherds Bush when they come to London. Not me though – I’d rather live in the mini-America of Notting Hill… at least there I can understand the appeal! :)

  10. avatarSandra says

    What part of the city would you recommend for a family with three kids? It has to be a bigger place, at least a 4bdr/2bth. We homeschool for now, so don’t care much about quality of local schools and definately don’t need an American school neaby, but we do need a half-day preschool for a 3 y.o. Plus an easy access to kids activities: swimming, gymnastics, chess club, a playground or two. We DO NOT need any American stores, but Russian, Ukrainian or Polish would be nice.

    • avatarAmelie says

      Chiswick, in west London, is a green, affluent, really family-friendly area. Chiswick boasts many shops and restaurants, good schools (both state and private) and quick and easy links both to the West End and Heathrow.

  11. avatarTeri says

    The neighborhoods listed are the most expensive areas! Geez! I lived in Camden town. I’m a poor graduate student and stayed in a nice area in a nice flat in Camden town. Not that expensive, trendy, very centrally located.

    • avatarCynthia Charles says

      Dear Teri,

      I work for Renegade Pictures and we are about to shoot a pilot programme for BBC America. The show will be a rich mix of British History and the Paranormal.

      If you are interested in more information and having a quck chat, please contact me on the numbers below or by email.

      Regards

      Cynthia Charles
      Tel: 020 7449 3293
      07538 466757

  12. avatarAnn says

    My husband, 2-year old son, and I are heading to London for a work assignment. We’re not necessarily interested in finding housing in an expat community, nor are we avoiding it. We are seeking a flat in a safe, kid-friendly neighborhood–green space, conveniently located markets/farmer’s market, etc. . . No car, so walking and tube stations are key. For us, our year plus will be an adventure and one filled with exploration and CULTURE! My husband’s office is located on the West side so travel to and from work is a consideration for him. Thoughts??
    Added bonus: close to some yoga studios and a preschool for our little guy as well.

  13. avatar says

    Hello Everyone,

    I work for Renegade Pictures and about to shoot a pilot show for BBC America. I am desperate for some good American contributors.

    The show will be a rich mix of British History and the Paranormal.

    If anybody is interested, or knows anyone who may be, please contact me asap on the numbers below or by email. I’ll be in the office until late.

    Please note this is not a hoax, please feel free to check out the website for Renegade Pictures. http://www.renegadepictues.co.uk .

    Thank you

    Cynthia Charles
    Tel: 0207 449 3293
    Mobile: 0753 8466757

    • avatar says

      Hello Ms. Charles,
      My name is Richard, and I was wondering if I may ask you a few questions. I am an American who is interested in moving to London. I saw that you are looking for Americans for a pilot. Now, I’m not necessarily interested in being in front of the camera, but i do have some background in set building and grip work. My significant other has a magna cum laude degree in visual communications from The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. What positions are you looking to fill?

      Thanks for your time

  14. avatarJennifer says

    My husband and I have lived in London for 6 years and in that time we’ve had flats in Clapham, Balham, Hampstead, Notting Hill, Marylebone, Ladbroke Grove, and Highgate. We’ve finally decided to buy a home in Wandsworth – super kid-friendly (its been nicknamed Nappy Valley) with the great boutique high street (Northcote road), small Whole Foods in Battersea, and great schools in between two big parks. I would say that if you want a neighborhood feel and can afford a great big rent, Hampstead is the place to go. But it is full of Americans. If you can afford slightly less rent and want a more non-expat feel, south London, especially Wandsworth area, is the way to go….its kind of the like the Brooklyn of London. Richmond is also lovely, but its pretty far out there. For those who have families, avoid the typical “urban hip” spots like Notting Hill and Chelsea/Kensignton. Beautiful areas, but its more Manhattan with skyhigh rents and younger singles.

    • avatarSophie says

      Hi Jennifer,

      I’m moving to London (from nyc) with two young children, and I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed with choosing a neighborhood. It’s so tough to move with kids, so I’m hoping to do it right the first time. Just wanted to thank you for this wonderful review of the Wandsworth area, which sounds like the perfect place for us! Do you by any chance have a realtor recommendation for the area?

  15. avatarJoelma says

    Hi there, I live in Kensington area for 7 years, and I really love. I am Brazilian though, but I love americans, and anything to do with America, can’t live in America just yet because am stuck with a phd in London and can’t really live and work in america… I noticed that there are a lot of Americans in this area… and they seem happy, always with big family playing with thier kids around Holland Park.
    I would love to spend some time there, since I hear good things about Manhattan and someone mentioned Kensington is more expensive, i was wondering if there would be more affordable if I wanted spend six months out there? Thanks

  16. avatarNoor says

    Hi everyone,

    I’m a born and bred london girl and I think I can offer some good advice. All the areas mentioned in the article are SO expensive even by london standards! For young people/students etc I would recommend camden (where I grew up and am still here!) Which is a very edgy and cool area with a very very active night life and music scene (mainly indie/rock music) but its also good because its still close to more posh areas like hampstead and primrose hill. I’d also recommend hackney (east london) which is also edgy cool and cheap to live – good place to live if you’re really into fashion and modern urban art. For families I’d say primrose hill – v pretty, charming, stunning boutiques and cute shops, great resturants and of course the hill itself which offers a stunning view of london. Also hampstead is great for pretty much the same reasons. I’d also recommend highgate and muswell hill which are v family orientated areas. In response to those of you asking about local clubs, yoga places, kids activities you can do etc one of the greatest things about london is that literally ANYWHERE you live you will have access to these kind of things, so I’d find an area you like and I guarentee whatever yoga class etc will be very near you and easily acessed. Generally you might get a bit of culture shock when you come here – we are notoriousely ‘unfriendly’ – I’ll say this in our defence, we are an urban city and we do have problems and londoners are cynical by nature for the most part but I promise if you ever go into a pub you’ll be well looked after and welcomed as one of our own. London is a great place to live and you’ll enjoy it if you love experiencing different cultures as we’re a very diverse city – no place for racists here thank god! Hope that’s been a wee bit helpful x

  17. avatarWhitney says

    What about Canary Wharf? Is this a nice place to live. I’m looking for a place I can escape to in during the summer months until I have to go back to the states from fall until the start of summer. I really want a place with great public transportation, shopping and eateries. Is Canary Wharf a friendly, safe place to live?

  18. avatarkyrsten says

    hey there, im a 25 year old female from toronto canada. Iv been looking into moving to london for some time now, but im trying to find the best area that would suit me. I am a graduate from an art school and i like easy going people and night life. Im not into the whole posh rich scene, but i want to find an area of london that is still someone close to central london. any tips would be great!
    thanks

  19. avatarEd says

    Hello:

    My wife and I have talked (countless times) about moving to London. We get on Google Earth, read online articles, pin point places in every continent and always zoom back in on London. I understand the process is so complicated for Americans since everyone seems to have a not so hard time getting in.

    Can someone point me in the right way to get to planning and make the move? We are not afraid of moving at all, we have traveled all over the world and keep coming back to London (we will be there again in 2wks)

    This is what I need assistance with…

    1. Planning
    2. Permits/Visas
    3. Work opportunities
    4. Flat rental (within London or Surrey)
    5. Moving my home-based consulting biz

    Please advise. Thanks

  20. avatarUrsula Clarke says

    I do believe Americans might be able to get American pancakes in England. However, in England they are called Scotch pancakes. Supermarkets should even have mixes for these. Cafes might serve this kind of pancake too.

  21. avatarAntoinette R. Banks says

    HI Everyone!!

    I currently work for a network that will extend its office in 2013-2014. I have the option of relocating to either London or New York and I chose London! ((hooray!))

    I’m a little nervous, I’ll have a steady job…good income, I know they’ll most likely put the offices in Central London.

    …I’m 25 and a single parent and I’m looking for a good family friendly neighborhood, good schools, activities, and of course good food. Obviously security is a must for me. I’m used to taking care of myself and have lived in some sketchy places, but I really would love to feel some “comfort.” I’m taking the time now to put things in order for my daughter before I make the move…so I would LOVE and welcome your advice.

  22. avatarDenise Thompson says

    IF ONLY!!! (need to win that lottery!) But i would prefer to live outside the heart of London & commute in. Those are pretty pricey, (although my favorite) areas mentioned. Better yet, retiring to Bath would be heaven. sigh…………………………

  23. avatarMissy Morose says

    Im from sweden but have lived in london 8 years . I can really recommend clerkenwell. EC1. Its an amazing diverse area. I have a few american friends at UCL and they love the place. I would say dont assume that london central equals expensive. I was actually able to get my hands on a two bedroom flat that was far cheaper than the outer areas. Best bet is to look based on the age of the building. Flats built in the fifties and sixties are vere cheap and sturdy. While victorian flats are more expensive and take alot of general maintanence.The Barbican is an amazing estate which features cheap and luxury flats and maisonettes. The price in building complex that can vary hugely and you have to look at each individual flat.

  24. avatarNancy F says

    Can you recommend American friendly neighborhoods that are near the Reigate, Surrey area? This would be for a married couple in late 40′s – early 50′s (empty nesters.)
    Thanks so much!

  25. avatarRob Smith says

    London is expensive because of UKs soft policy against financial and political criminals from emerging countries. They pay premium for Queen’s protection and average US expat cannot compete with them. Actually, London is cool to visit, but not so good for living. Quality of life is in people and thanks to many foreigners it is little improved. Without that London would be awful place to live and local people are rather bad neighbours. On the other hand, foreigners add flavor, so some professionals may find right circles to enjoy life. IMO it is not worth paying premium.

  26. avatar says

    First & foremost I’m not making plans to reside in U.K. but if I can ask since I’m Canadian I’m curious to note if that section of London that has a predominant American expat population would also have a sizable population of Canadian expats or is there another section or borough of London that is home to a sizable or significant population of Canadian expats? If need be to point out but the average Canadian accent appears similar to the average American accent and Canadian culture “shares” basic similarities to U.S. culture.

  27. avatar says

    I’m 24, a young professional and moved to London at the start of this year. I’ve lived in Primrose Hill and was going to have the lease extended but the landlord was not too keen on it (they had to do refurbishments plus I live in a basement flat and the ceiling of the living room has started leaking). I now live in St John’s Wood which is right next door to Primrose Hill and near the Primrose Hill park and Regent’s Park (where London Zoo is located).

    Primrose Hill definitely has that urban village feel to it and I very much miss the area however I am really glad that I had a chance to live there! I’m warming up to St John’s Wood but it just doesn’t feel the same however I am looking forward to seeing what this area is like when spring rolls around.

    I’ve already written some tips on sharehousing in london:
    http://generationyexpat.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/tips-on-renting-and-sharehousing-in-london/
    http://generationyexpat.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/choosing-your-suburb-going-with-first-impressions-vs-research/

  28. avatarkhalid says

    I’m a Saudi Arabian and definitely muslim. I used to stay in London for 3 years at a place which I was never thought I would stay at. the place is Golders Green a well known jewish area but wtf it was the safest place in London and jews were so nice so I will never listen to what the media says

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