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.
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 â€œRodeo Driveâ€ by residents for its posh clothing shops, and, overall, residences are well-maintained to an American standard.
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 â€œHome of Cricket.â€ American sports enthusiasts can attend a match there and figure out first-hand whether cricket moves more slowly than baseball J
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 â€œup-and-comingâ€ 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 communityâ€”such couldn’t possibly happen in a city as diverse as London!