Get us in your inbox

A postcard saying 'I love London'
Image: Time Out / Steve Beech

23 things you should know before moving to London

London newbie? This city will gobble you up and spit you out if you’re not careful. We learnt it the hard way, but you don’t have to. Here is our sort-of expert advice for anyone moving to the capital

Chiara Wilkinson
Edited by
Chiara Wilkinson

I moved to this city in the deep, dark depths of the pandemic. My first flat was, obviously, awful. The landlord was dodgy (shock). It was full of mold. The shower was next to the kitchen and had no door. Still, though, I look back on those days fondly. One rare sunny afternoon we climbed out of my flatmate’s window to sit on the roof, drinking homemade Bloody Marys and blasting the Bad Boy Chiller Crew from a box speaker into the sticky, polluted air of Kingsland Road. We got quite a few glares from passers-by, but also a fair amount of smiles. 

Whether you’re moving here for study, work, family, or another reason, your first months in London will be challenging, but you’ll probably look back on them with such fogged-up rose-tinted glasses it will hardly matter anyway. Use this time to meet as many new people as you can and to make mistakes. Be broke, go to M&M world (don’t actually), get lost on the tube.

That said, there are some things I wish I’d known before coming here. Hindsight is a blessing, as they say. But we’re not gatekeepers, so we asked Time Out staff to share their top tricks and tips for anyone moving to the capital. Some of these folks have been born and bred here. Others are adopted Londoners, like you might well be one day. Listen up, take note, and good luck. 

What you should know before moving to London

Before you do anything, do this
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Before you do anything, do this

‘I wish somebody sat me down and forcibly downloaded Citymapper onto my iPhone 4 the second I set foot onto my university campus, because it might have saved me a few slightly scary walks home from a miscellaneous Zone 4 suburb at 3am. Also, link your 16-25 Railcard to your Oyster. It gets you a third off off-peak travel, and those precious pennies add up to a substantial number of pints.’
Rosie Hewitson
Newsletter and Events Editor, Time Out London
Find your home-from-home comforts
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Find your home-from-home comforts

‘Moving to the Big Smoke from rural west Wales in 2017 was a bit of a learning curve. I cottoned on fast that here, you won’t know your postie’s first name and that you certainly don’t smile at strangers in the street. I was reminded that unlike across the bridge, prescription charges mean that an ill-timed UTI will eat into your pints fund. Wherever you’re from, it helps to find some home comforts – for me, it’s supporting the London Welsh rugby team in Richmond and scoffing Welsh-owned foodie brands like The Vurger Co.’
Jess Phillips
Social Media Editor
Take a hike
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Take a hike

‘It might seem like a massive city, but walking is your friend! If you’re in the middle of town, don’t mess about with the tube, pound the pavements instead and discover that everything is much closer than you think. You can stroll from Camden to Soho in just half an hour (not including pub stops).’
Leonie Cooper
Food and Drink Editor

4. You’ll probably get culture shock – and that’s okay

‘I moved to London from Mansfield (a Midlands mining town), so it’ll come as no surprise that I had quite the culture shock. The most agonising thing I wish I’d known was the Londoner’s propensity to kiss on both cheeks when you greet them, either as a gesture of friendship or professional respect. It took me a lot of near-concussions and quasi-snogs to realise I’d need to loosen up.’
Samantha Willis
Head of Social, North America & UK
Go dancing as much as you can – and learn how to do it cheap
Photograph: farbic / Jake Davis / Khroma Collective

5. Go dancing as much as you can – and learn how to do it cheap

‘You’ll soon learn how to crack the rules of London clubbing. Unlike smaller towns, tickets for many nights here need to be bought days in advance unless you want to spend upwards of £20 on the door – especially for big name DJs, of which there are plenty. Don’t be embarrassed about chancing your luck: message DJs and promoters on Instagram beforehand and see if they have spare guestlist spaces to save cash. And, finally: go out as much as you can. Hangovers get worse with age (really).’

RECOMMENDED: The best 30 nightclubs in London
Chiara Wilkinson
Features Editor, UK
Get all of the sightseeing out of the way early on
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Get all of the sightseeing out of the way early on

‘Do all the touristy things as soon as you arrive. Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, the National Gallery – because after a few months of living here you’ll be too jaded by the thoughts of crowds and tourists to even consider travelling to Zone 1 on a weekend, let alone taking a ‘nice stroll’ down Oxford Street in high summer. You’ll only be a true Londoner when you’ve created a self-imposed safe zone around your chosen borough, featuring an artisan coffee shop, craft beer pub and a ‘good’ Tesco.’

RECOMMENDED: The 50 best attractions in London

Jamie Inglis
Senior Designer NA & UK
Get your fill of culture
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Get your fill of culture

‘This one’s simple: shamelessly and savvily milk every young person’s concession scheme that you can. The BFI, Barbican, Tate, Young/Old Vic, National Theatre, English National Opera... pretty much every top-tier cultural institution in town offers fab discounts for under-25s. Despite being born in London, I came across all this stuff far too late; I’ll never forgive the pandemic for whisking these gorgeous deals away from me. Play your cards right and the day you turn 26, you’ll have seen enough world-leading art in London to fill several lifetimes and saved hundreds – if not thousands – of pounds.’

RECOMMENDED: The best museums in London
Ed Cunningham
News Editor, Time Out UK and Time Out London

8. Take every day as it comes

‘Listen to podcasts on tubes and buses. It makes the time go faster. If you ever cry in public, know that you’re not the only one: it’s a rite of passage. Walk with purpose. Know that all it takes for you to be a Londoner is to act like one. Know, too, that although it might feel lonely, and overwhelming at times, one day you may move out, and you look back with nostalgia on those London memories, when so much opportunity glittered on every street corner. Oh, and one more thing: if you haven’t seen Bill Nighy yet, you will soon.’
Hannah Connolly
Contributor, Social
Get out there and explore
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. Get out there and explore

‘When I moved to London for uni (go Kingston Cougars!), at first, I found the city too big to take in. But my advice is, look up events happening in other parts of the city (there’s something for everything and everyone), invite a friend and just go. The journey may be claustrophobic and stress-inducing and you’ll probably end up wishing the guy next to you on the tube scooched a little more to the left, but hey: that’s the fun of being a Londoner.’

RECOMMENDED: Unusual things to do in London
Mashana Malowa Videographer
There are foxes, like, everywhere
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. There are foxes, like, everywhere

‘I’m not kidding. They’re elusive during the daytime, but just you wait. It could be that you don’t notice one until you’re crawling home in the early hours, after your fourth night out in a row. Or perhaps you'll be startled awake by the sounds of a horrendous new alarm clock — but hold on, you can’t press snooze? It’s because that shrieking is coming from outside.’

Read more: Are London’s foxes getting bolder?
Liv Kelly
Contributing Writer
Be adventurous with your study (or work-from-home) spots
Photograph: Caitlin Doyle

11. Be adventurous with your study (or work-from-home) spots

‘Moving back to London from uni in Brighton, one of the things I thought I’d miss the most was proper good cafés for working. I was relieved to find there are actually really great spots here, so you don’t have to spend all your time in the musky uni library or your equally musky flatshare. I’d recommend the Literary Cafe in Tufnell Park, which has its own bookshelf and plays continuous Classic FM, Music & Beans in Green Lanes which feels like a co-working space in the day (and does a banging börek), as well as the Waterstones Café in Euston which is a little louder but great if you want to, you know, ‘bounce some ideas’.

RECOMMENDED: London’s best cafés and coffee shops
Ella Doyle
Guides Editor

12. Leave your apprehensions at the door

‘London is a melting pot, but don’t be intimidated. Spending time with people different from you is far more interesting and exciting than hanging out with a bunch of the same cookie-cutter people you’ve been around all your life. It might feel scary at first if not everyone is into the same music, fashion, films that your schoolfriends were, but embrace it.’
India Lawrence
Contributing writer
Make the most of the green space
Photograph: Shutterstock

13. Make the most of the green space

‘London is spenny, but it has a secret free gift: parks, and lots of them! Whether you want to take a dip in Hampstead Heath’s ponds, check out the deer at Clissold Park or spot the capital’s young ‘creatives’ in their natural habitat in London Fields, the city is swimming in greenery. You might have to battle through smog to get there, but once you’ve arrived you can smugly unwrap your packed lunch safe in the knowledge that an afternoon basking in the sunshine hasn’t cost you a penny.’

RECOMMENDED: 17 major parks in London
Ella Jinadu SEO Manager
Take every opportunity you can to see live music – even if you’ve never heard of who’s playing
Photograph: Nina Radel

14. Take every opportunity you can to see live music – even if you’ve never heard of who’s playing

‘I moved to London (well, Kingston) from Gloucester in 2015 and have stayed here ever since, shifting from the south to the east by way of various breakups and house shares. As someone who used to obsess over finding new bands, I would say take every opportunity you can get to see live music here. You don’t need to spend a fortune to do it either, venues like The Windmill, Sebright Arms, Moth Club, The Social and The Shacklewell Arms all programme affordable nights with shit-hot up-and-comers. You can get eternal bragging rights for seeing the new Black Midi on the cheap, ‘before they got big’.’

RECOMMENDED: The best live music in London this month
Georgia Evans
Deputy Commercial Editor, Time Out

15. Make the most of what’s on your doorstep

‘I wish someone had told me before starting uni that it’s not all about knowing the technical lingo and having the best equipment to make it as a creative. If you have a good idea that you believe in there’s lots of ways to achieve it without having a healthy bank balance. For example: London has everything you could ever want for a photoshoot, great prop houses, endless locations and lots of skips to rummage through. Be brave, put yourself out there, ask questions and try new things. The worst that can happen is someone will say no or shout at you aggressively.’
Jess Hand Staff Photographer
Bring your own tinnies into this world-famous theatre
Photograph: Shutterstock

16. Bring your own tinnies into this world-famous theatre

‘Even if you snag a bargain ticket to the theatre in London it can be a pretty expensive night out if you then chuck food and drink into the equation. But a glorious and not widely publicised exception is Shakespeare’s Globe, which nods to the egalitarian nature of Elizabethan theatres by allowing you to bring your own food and drink (note: absolutely not glass bottles). Combined with the bargain basement standing price of just £5 and you can pretty much have an afternoon or evening out for a tenner.’
Andrzej Lukowski
Theatre & Dance Editor, UK
Support indie cinemas – they’re comfier, and don’t need to cost a bomb
Photograph: Kam Hus

17. Support indie cinemas – they’re comfier, and don’t need to cost a bomb

‘My first flat was in Brixton, which made The Ritzy my local cinema. Loved the place – I saw ‘The Thin Red Line’ and ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ there, and later had an awkward encounter with the formidable Werner Herzog in the upstairs bar – but I wish I’d known about Mile End’s Genesis too. Cheap-as-chips, comfy and with five screens: it’s London’s best cinema for a young, largely skint newbie.’

RECOMMENDED: The best cinemas in London
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Find joy in the city’s endless free galleries
Photograph: Ben Westoby

18. Find joy in the city’s endless free galleries

‘There are big, broad London life lessons like ‘never take the tube from Covent Garden to Leicester Square you idiot’. But what really matters is becoming aware of the incredible abundance of free galleries in the city. Forget the big places like the Tate and National Gallery, which are great obviously, and lose yourself in the smaller spaces instead. They’re all filled with amazing art, all free. You can spend day after day trawling through the endless galleries of Mayfair and Fitzrovia, places like White Cube, Sadie Coles HQ or Hauser & Wirth, without spending a penny, and without having to elbow tourists out of the way of Monet's Water Lilies.’

RECOMMENDED: The best art exhibitions in London
Eddy Frankel
Art & Culture Editor
Be prepared for London’s Wild West rental market
Photograph: Shutterstock

19. Be prepared for London’s Wild West rental market

‘As someone who grew up in Paris, the prospect of public transportation didn’t bother me too much. But I wish I’d been more prepared for the intensity that comes with flat-hunting. Between rising rent prices, bidding wars and the fact that students are near the bottom of the tenant food chain, it can take months to find a place. Looking back, I wish I’d done more research on which areas to live in; you can find some great deals for cheaper. I finally found a flat with proper heating and a kitchen bigger than a shoebox – which many students cannot say.’
Lucy Sarret

20. It’s fine to enjoy yourself (we promise)

‘People will always tell you London used to be great. You’ll meet older folks, some of them only ever-so-slightly older than yourself, who’ll bore you to tears about the amazing club culture that used to exist and the long-closed restaurants where you could eat a whole roast chicken for one pound. All, sadly, long gone. These people are usually full of shit. They just miss the stuff they used to like, and haven’t bothered to replace any of it. London today is different, yeah. But it’s still full of wild, fun stuff happening every day and night. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.’
Joe Mackertich
Editor, Time Out London
Do your research for a late night bevvy
Photograph: Arthur John Picton

21. Do your research for a late night bevvy

‘In Leeds, where I’m from, it’s easy (far too easy, probably) to amble from bar to bar until you can see dawn breaking. In London you’ll need a plan to stay out late-late, but trust me, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. There might not be a lot of them, but London’s late night spots are some of the most eccentric and fun I’ve ever been to (The Lexington and Bar Italia were faves in my uni days). And always opt for the night bus home, even if it seems like a mission. It’ll give you plenty of stories for the next day and you’ll cement friendships chatting on the long journey that’ll last for the rest of your life.’

Read more: The best late-night pubs and bars in London
Alex Sims
Contributing Writer and Editor
Wherever you’re from, you'll find a taste of home somewhere
Photograph: Charmaine Wong

22. Wherever you’re from, you'll find a taste of home somewhere

‘If you’re missing food from home, you will most probably find a fix in the city (and for cheap as well!). London is a multicultural melting pot, and it is reflected in its fascinating food culture. Missing homemade Malaysian cuisine? There’s a family-owned deli in Brockley – simply named Malaysian Deli – for your mee mamak goreng fix. Missing a mean platter of ceviche pescados? Señor Nestor from Sabor Peruana will get you sorted. Moving from a different country is tough, but the good news is that a taste of home could just be around the corner.’

RECOMMENDED: The best cheap eats in London
Charmaine Wong
Contributor, Time Out Travel

23. You’ll probably never leave

‘I wish I knew how long I’d actually end up staying. I moved here in 2015 with all intentions of doing the London life for a year or two before travelling the world. But like a vacuum, London sucks you in, and almost nine years later I still don’t see myself leaving. Think you’ll only stay for the duration of your degree? Don’t be surprised when you wake up one morning and you’re thirty-one in a Finsbury Park houseshare.’
Grace Beard
Travel Editor
    You may also like
    You may also like