Best Place to Live in the UK > London > North vs South Debate

If you’re thinking about moving to London then you’ll have plenty of questions to answer. What job are you going to be doing? Will you live with friends or family? How will you construct a night-out when a single G&T costs £7.99? But the most important thing to decide before you pack your bag and follow in Dick Whittington’s size-14 footsteps is: will you live north of the river, or south?

If you found coming down on the right side of the fence hard, then no way are you ready for coming down on the right side of the river.

Who would have thought that the diminutive Thames – a far cry from the world’s great rivers – could inspire such territorial angst and passion. But territorial they are, the natives of North and South London. Forever twisting the facts to prove their side of the river is better. Or cooler. Or more cultural.

But, if you’re moving to London, you’ve probably got some more pressing questions:

  • Which part of London has cheaper rent?
  • Which has the most green space?
  • Which has the top boozers?
  • Which is best for shopping?
  • Which part of London is safest?

We look at these questions and more – 12 in total – and see how North London and South London respectively measure up. Whichever side of the river you end up on, people will ask questions. The least you can do is to have some answers when, inevitably. you go over the river.

1. Best Places to Live in London: the Food

If on Monday you fancy some Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Tuesday Venezuelan Arepas and on the weekend a nice South Indian curry to cure the hangover, there are some neighbourhoods that have all these restaurants just a stone throw away.

Why is it so easy? Because living in London places you slap bang in the middle of one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. If you like eating out, you want to make sure you move to an area of London where your favourite cuisines are on offer. So, what side of the river is best for food lovers? And who has the best variety?

As far as street food goes, South London is awash with markets to choose from. SCFoodMarket, Maltby Street Market and Druid Street Market, for example.

Brixton, Brockley and Greenwich Markets all offer fresh cuisine from all over the country – and the world. South London is also home to Borough Market – the largest, oldest and most famous food market in London. And there’s not just delicious street food on offer. In the vicinity of Borough Market, you will find bars, pubs and sit-in restaurants too.

If it’s authentic Afro-Caribbean and African cuisines you’re after, South London is well covered – just head over to Peckham or Brixton (and many other spots as well).

Elephant & Castle is an important hub for the Latin American community, so if you’re after simple, traditional and unpretentious tacos, burritos and quesadillas, Elephant and Castle might just be the best place in London. It’s also seen the arrival of a sit-in Italian artisan market called Mercato Metropolitano.

Yet despite all of this, North London just manages to steal the top spot for food. It is home to Chinatown – which is a city within the city dedicated exclusively to one of the nation’s favourite foreign foods. Here are some other culinary highlights from North London:

  • Incomparable Bangladeshi food on Brick Lane, aka Curry Mile, and around Bethnal Green
  • If it’s Turkish food you’re out for, take a look at Haringey
  • Edgware Road is a home away from home for Lebanese food and also Persian… and Egyptian… and even Pakistani…
  • You will find London’s very own ‘Little Italy’ here in Soho (just down the road from buzzmove headquarters!)

And, if you want all of them on one big paper plate? Well, get thee to Camden or Portobello Market!

So, for sheer choice and authenticity, this one has to go to the North:

Running Score: 1 – 0 to North London

2. Which Side of the River Has the Best Football Teams?

Do you agree with this quote from the late Liverpool manager Bill Shankly:

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

If so, you’ll want to know which is the best place to live in London for the ardent football-lover… Annie Collen from Metro claims all you need to do is ask yourself where the home of English football is. And it’s Wembley, right, in North London. And the most successful team in London is Arsenal… again in the North. In fact, this world-famous team even moved from Woolwich in the South to make a new home on the far shore of the Thames.

So, does this make North London the best place for football-lovers moving to London? Mandy Mazliah, also from Metro disagrees:

Crystal Palace might be [the South’s] only Premier League Football Team but they’re reputed to have the best atmosphere in the country.”

Winners come and go. Flashy stadiums rise and fall. But atmosphere – that feeling you can’t quite put your finger on – outlasts time. Biggest isn’t always best, nor is it about having the most trophies, or the most cashola.

For this reason – for atmosphere – the best side of the river for football is … the south.

Running Score: 1 – 1 Tie

3. Where Are the Best Places in London for Green Space

Did you know that 1/3 of London is green space? Go on, admit it. You didn’t, did you? But despite this stat, for many of those living in London, green space can seem quite hard to come by. But one green space in London is as different from the next as Kermit is from Shrek.

Hampstead Heath in North London has a very different character to the highly manicured Royal Parks found elsewhere. Above all, it’s big, varied and sprawling. But, if we’re prepared to go a bit more to west as we pass south over the Thames, we find something on a much larger scale.

Richmond Park is by a long way London’s largest Royal Park, covering a huge 2,500 acres. From its highest points, you can get a clear view of St Paul’s Cathedral, 12 miles away.

Running Score: 2 – 1 to South London

4. Where’s the Best Place to Live in London for Booze?

Imagine living in London and having to travel to the other side of the city just to go your idea of a decent pub. Yup, it’s just as painful as it sounds. So don’t get caught out. Pin down what you’re after from a night out and you’re bound to have plenty of areas to choose from. Even if it’s weird!

If you’re after the quintessential pub – “a proper boozer” – in the words of the London Economic, then South London is for you. Take, for example, The Prince of Wales in Kennington, a “beautifully-preserved Georgian gem.”

But South London isn’t just traditional. It also offers up a huge range of alternative bars. Like Peckham Springs, “Part-gallery, part-bar…inspired by Del Boy’s infamous back-garden water business, in the shadow of Peckham Rye Station.”

The pubs and bars may be dotted around and hard to spot compared to North London, but they’re impressive once you find them. Tooting’s Tram and Social is a great example of this: a converted tram shed that “incorporates a cavernous, chandelier-lit main bar and a smaller mezzanine, filled with decorative quirks and televisions for football viewing”.

Despite all this, North London still wins through its sheer abundance of boozers (ahem – pubs, bars and clubs). On a night out, you can choose from a huge variety of music venues. In Camden alone we have the iconic Roundhouse and the grungy Barfly, the glam Koko, the cool Jazz Cafe and the folktastic Cecil Sharp House.

Running Score: 2 – 2 tie, as North London claws on back

5. Which Has Less Crime: North or South London

Plot twist: crime in the capital is a lot lower than you think. So just because you’re moving to London doesn’t mean you need karate lessons.

Although rising knife and gun crime hits the headlines, Metropolitan Police stats confirm that, overall, crime in London is much lower than five years ago. Nevertheless, you still want to know where’s safest. According to Timeout:

South wins! Forget the south London scare stories. Posher neighbours make for nickable cars and laptops”.

I know, we were surprised too! We’re going with Timeout and awarding this one to South London.

Running Score: 3 – 2 with South London back on top

6. Best for School Results: North or South London?

If we look at the percentage of primary schools with above average results, then, according to Evening Standard, North London is top of the class.

“Kensington and Chelsea topped the list of local authorities in the capital with 70 per cent of pupils getting the required level in reading, writing and maths.”

Also, the Telegraph reports that The Henrietta Barnett School in North London has the top GCSE results in all of the UK. And, if we’re referring to the best state schools in terms of how many famous names they’ve raised, the Evening Standard sees North London as the undoubted winner.

The North has cultivated such distinguished voices such as Amy Winehouse and Rod Stewart. Distinctive faces like supermodel Lily Cole. Loveable comedians such as Omid Djalili. The list goes on.

Running Score: 3 – 3 with North London back on top

7. Where are the Cheapest Places to Live in London?

Anya Wasserman from The Tab says South is better if you want a house with a backyard, open space and all rooms with double beds. One can easily have enough left over in the month to still pay for bills.” 

So, as you might have guessed, rent is cheaper in the South. Well… it is. But that advantage is fast disappearing. According to Joe Dempsey from Newsshopper:

“London’s “last affordable pocket” is disappearing as rent prices in the south east are rising the fastest out of anywhere in the capital”.

According to figures released by SpareRoom, while the cheapest rent you can get in London is still in the South East, it has still risen by 2 percent – in comparison to the average London room rent falling by 1 percent.

For time being though, this one still goes to the south.

Running Score: 4 – 3 to South London

8. Best Places in London for Transport Links?

London has one of the most comprehensive transport systems in the world. But that doesn’t mean much if where you live isn’t close to a ‘good’ transport link.

Although South London has 62.5% more railway stations, Matt Hutchinson from SpareRoom reckons that:

“…most people in London want to live near a tube line rather than a train station. Tubes are more frequent, tend to run later and can carry you around the centre of town far better than trains.”

On top of the whopping 12 tube stations per borough, (compared to just 3 per borough in the South), North London also has more than four times the number of Boris bikes than the lands south of the river.

Let’s face it: once you pass Elephant and Castle you’re probably going to be walking or taking the bus.

Running Score: 4 – 4 tie

9. Oldest, Coolest, Most Innovative Architecture

Over ¾ of London’s 21 “coolest” works of architecture are North of the river, says Chloe Pantazi in Business Insider.

Like what? For starters, there’s King’s Cross Station’s giant modernistic web structure overarching the train terminal. Then there’s the “walkie talkie” (20 Fenchurch Street), “cheese grater” (Leadenhall Building), the aptly named “gherkin” and the futuristic-looking Lloyd’s Building in the City of London.

But South London boasts plenty of post-war brutalist architecture. The South Bank Centre, Royal Festival Hall, IBM, British Film Institute and Tate Modern would all be at home on a Pink Floyd album cover.

In the end though, we have to give the point to North London if not for anything other than the range of architectural styles and periods it’s home to.

Running Score: 5 – 4 to North London

10. Best Places to Live in London – For Shopoholics

We’ve looked at where’s best for the alcoholics (#4, a round that went to North London). Now it’s time for inveterate shoppers to take centre stage.

Annie Cullen from Life Death Prizes thinks the North should get this particular rosette because they have great variety.

“Camden Lock is the fourth most visited attraction in London, so obviously lots of people agree that north is best. Then there’s Portobello further west and Spitalfields further east (but all north of ol’ Father Thames)”.

The most interesting shopping centres are also all in the North. Westfield in Stratford beats Elephant and Castle any day. So is that it, then?

South London punches above its weight in markets and independent shops and antique stalls. Brixton, Brockley and Greenwich all offer fresh produce and delicious cuisines. And the best part? There’s also plenty of opportunity to browse clothing, jewellery, homeware, art and music in their markets.

Bermondsey Square is another South London Market that does it all. It has developed as a classy enclave of bars and arty hangouts. There’s also plenty of savvy spots to browse vintage homeware, furniture and jewellery.

Bric-à-brac is back – so this one’s going to South London!

South London is creeping back, but…

Running Score: 5 – 5 tie

11. Which Part of London Has Best Access to the Countryside?

Now we’ve been discussing for a while the best places to live in London with respect to all manner of, well, urban criteria. But sometimes you just want to escape the concrete jungle. Sometimes you just want to run across a field of wheat.

So, where are the prospects of quick and cheap country day-trip the rosiest – North London or South London?

In the North, St Pancras, Paddington and Liverpool Street Stations all have great links to countryside in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Essex. However, most journeys that are worth taking can take well over an hour.

But if you want to see 3,000 ‘wild’ ponies wandering through the forest then head to the New Forest from Waterloo. You won’t need more than an hour and it’s only £20 for a return.

Or, from London Bridge Station, you can get to Anne Boleyn’s childhood home in just under an hour. You could check out Hever Castle (it has a lake!). This too will only set you back ~£20 for a return.

40 minutes from Waterloo at only £12 return, you can visit Runnymede National Trust in Surrey. For those readers not hot on their constitutional history, this is where King John sealed the big, bad Magna Carta back in 1215.

So, for price and proximity, the South takes this round. And if you want to learn more about what this part of the world has to offer, have a read of our Best Places to Live in the UK Guide: South East.

Running Score: 6 – 5 with South London moving back in front

12. London’s Hidden Gems…

‘It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London.’ 
– Sherlock Holmes

Unlike Sherlock, most native Londoners don’t often get to experience half of what it has to offer. This is a real shame because the best places to live in London are the best places precisely because of the fantastic treasures they conceal. Here’s a quick round up:

Hidden Gems of North London

  • Camden Passage: “regular street antiques market, boutique shops, antique shops, independent coffee houses and restaurants… plus, it’s a mecca for chocolate lovers”
  • From the top of Primrose Hill: admire great views of central London (and beyond, on a clear day)
  • Dip into Hampstead ponds?
  • Experience a late-night trip to the London Zoo
  • Ascend the Shard, the EU’s tallest building
  • Box Park in Shoreditch
  • Buckingham Palace (obviously!)
  • The mime artistry on offer, at all times of day and night, at Leicester Square

Hidden Gems of South London

  • Find out what the containers are hiding at Pop Brixton
  • Go birdwatching at London Wetland Centre
  • Celebrate the seasons at Kew Gardens
  • Discover a hidden garden in Brockwell Park
  • Watch the tennis at Wimbledon
  • Brixton beach – yes, they have cocktails
  • The painted hall in Greenwich
  • The Vaults in Waterloo

This one goes to North London, giving us our final score:

Final score: 6-6 – it’s a tie!

So where is the best place to live in London? After weighing up all points discussed in this article – food and drink, football, green space, music, crime, education, rent, transport, architecture, shopping, access to the country and hidden gems – the winner is … no one!

What we have proven of course is that the perception that North London is better is misguided. Indeed, Amol Rajan from Metro rightly identifies that:

“The idea that everyone in north London is a snob who looks down on south London is wrong. They’re not snobs. They just look down on south London. Literally so, because north London is on much higher land.”

Hopefully this article helps you towards a shortlist tailored just to you of the best places to live in London. And no two people are the same when it comes to living in the Big Smoke.

Want more green space, proximate wild ponies and cheaper rents? South London is the place for you.

Want a greater selection of food options, better transport links and cooler architecture? Vote Team North London!

In the end, the choice is yours. Choose wisely…


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