The lowdown on London’s coolest places to live
Guest post by Mike James
It’s well-known that there’s a bitter rivalry between the compass-points of London over which is the most desirable place to live. South and East London have to contend with a rough, gritty reputation, despite being home to a trendy art scene and undergoing significant gentrification in recent years. The well-heeled West End boasts cosmopolitan culture and enduring wealth, although you could argue (and many do) that it’s pretentious and over-priced. Even the relatively quiet parts of North London don’t escape the feud, with residents insisting that it’s family-friendly and intellectual, instead of being dull and long past its best.
Of course, this debate silently wages beneath the surface of London life, through trendy new venues, residential renovation projects and investment into borough services. To outwardly discuss which area is coolest would be definitely be a faux pas and only lead to stereotypes, name-calling and absolutely nobody changing their opinion. Shall we try anyway?
Given that North London really does have very little to offer outside of Zone 1 (at least compared its competition) and that South London – although improving – still has some ways to go before it’s a proper contender, the stand-off really lies between the East and West sides of the city. On the one hand, you’ve got the cool, clean street of Kensington and the bohemian vibe of Notting Hill. On the other… you have the combined forces of the hipsters of Dalston, Hackney and Shoreditch. (If the cool kids are even still hanging out in Shoreditch, that is).
West London: Notting Hill
If all you know about Notting Hill is based on a movie about a lady with a wide smile and a chap with floppy hair, it’s time you had an update – that was twenty years ago.
The pastel houses and private gardens still make it one of London’s prettiest neighbourhoods, but the residents and clientele are of a much more discerning nature than William Thacker and his rag-tag bunch of mates. Swanky designer outlets and Michelin-starred restaurants line the streets, while celebrities like Kate Moss and Damon Albarn continue to spill over from their nearby homes in St John’s Wood and Primrose Hill.
Not only that, but Portobello Road continues to host an incredible set of markets selling vintage wares, antiques and delicious food, bringing all kinds of people flocking from various corners of the city. If that isn’t enough? Don’t forget that Notting Hill hosts the best street party in the UK every year – the Notting Hill Carnival.
Notting Hill is a stunning example of how the class of West London fuses with the eclectic, liberal attitude of other parts of the city, making it hands-down one of the coolest areas in the world. Thinking about moving here? Charm and culture come at a price – roughly 89% higher than the London average. Head to a local estate agent – like Notting Hill based Mountgrange Heritage – for details about different streets and how to get the most for your money.
East London: Hackney
Nestled between the green swathes of Victoria Park, Hackney Downs and London Fields, Hackney town centre feels both urban and suburban at once. It has more than enough incredible dining, drinking and entertainment options to rival its western counterparts, with the added bonus that you don’t need to dress a certain way or know somebody to get in the door.
From high-end eateries like Pidgin and world-class coffees from Square Mile roasters, to the markets offering vintage fabrics, unusual meats and artisan bread, Hackney is the up-and-coming answer to the established hub of Notting Hill. Prove your cool-credentials online with snaps of fern tendrils at Palm Vaults, vegan chicken at the Temple of Seitan or the beer tap line-up at Martello Hall.
West London: Primrose Hill & St John’s Wood
We already mentioned Primrose Hill and St John’s Wood, but it’s worth saying twice. Why else would some of the richest, coolest people in the country decide to make it their permanent home?
Located on the northern edge of Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill offers spectacular views across London and is particularly stunning at sunrise and sunset. St John’s Wood is just around the corner, packed with upmarket boutiques, beautiful family homes and a warm, community feel.
All this sounds nice, but that’s not what you’re here for, is it? Take your cappuccino al fresco and keep an eye out for Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Bill Nighy, Paul McCarney or Keith Richards. It’s a haven for celebrity spotting but, if you do happen to spot your idol, play it cool, yeah?
East London: Dalston
You could argue that the Primrose Hill area is home to the celebrities of yesteryear; they might be household names, but they’re not exactly cutting-edge. If you prefer to party with the Next Big Thing, you’d have better luck hanging out in the vibrant-yet-slightly-grimy clubs and bars of Dalston.
Just a short ride from the trendy (but no longer edgy) area of Old Street and Hoxton Square, Dalston is wilder, younger and somehow even more eccentric than its western rivals. You want to wear Mickey Mouse ears on your commute, or carry your equipment for unicycle hockey through town? Fine. In Dalston, you can be your true self without being judged.
Even better, the prices in Dalston are significantly less than trendy spots in West London. A 2-bed flat will set you back around £450k (instead of £600k or more in Notting Hill) or £1,400 a month in rental (versus somewhere around the £2,000 pcm the other side of town).
Okay, so a light skim over the surface isn’t enough to determine which side of London takes the title for ‘ultimate cool’. To some extent, it depends on whether you like your trendiness laced with designer bags or neon face paint from the night before, and whether you hold ‘90s celebrities in a higher regard than the drag queens and hipsters of tomorrow. Maybe there’s something to be said for moving to Peckham after all?