Luvvies, as actors are sometimes termed in the English popular press, like to band together. It’s the understandable response of a creative and, perhaps, emotional group to inherent English reserve, which can make London a lonely place for the stranger.
Where in the best neighborhoods in London you choose to band – and bond – with fellow-thespians will, clearly, depend on your budget. I’ve put my selections in ascending order of cost, but that doesn’t necessarily correspond to a like ascent in either attraction or satisfaction.
It’s crucial to note that London’s 32 boroughs each offer wide variety, with little of the homogeneity that often characterises American urban districts. Imagine Compton, Carmel, and Crestwood Hills, all within a square mile.
Also, beware the linguistic nonchalance of agents: their ‘Kensington’ could turn out to be Earl’s Court or West Brompton, and a wasted afternoon for you.
Nonetheless, I’ve eschewed truly dreadful locations, no matter how cheap: I don’t wish to steer aspiring new London arrivals to depression or self-harm. I’m also assuming you’re single and in your twenties, cost-sensitive, inured to minor hardship, but also keen to have fun.
Top 9 Best Neighborhoods in London for Actors
THE OUTER LIMITS
Not surprisingly for a great metropolis such as London, the further you live from the centre, the cheaper the living. That needs to be balanced against the greater cost of your commute to work or study, but there are acceptable compromises to be found, or you could cycle.
Just to be sure, I’ve ignored any areas more than 30 minutes by Underground (‘tube’) from Piccadilly Circus, the hub of London’s West End and the gateway to its theatre district.
Feel free to click on the neighborhood title to be taken to Google Maps if you want to see where exactly it is.
This West London district offers plenty of variety and has excellent transport links. Its proximity to the now-abandoned BBC Television Centre once made it a favourite home for newbie actors, and many still like its convenience.
The western end of the district is nicest, with pleasant residential streets and large houses suitable for sharing. The area around Shepherd’s Bush Green is nastier, with smaller houses, while over it looms the monstrous Westfield shopping centre (mall).
Some might feel a sizeable Australian population makes ‘the Bush’ unrepresentative of the London experience, but few parts of this multiracial and international city offer that.
Three tube lines service the area (under 30 minutes to Piccadilly Circus), along with several bus routes, including night buses. Road links are especially good, with both north-south and east-west arteries close by.
Restaurants and cafés along Uxbridge Road and Goldhawk Road comprise a wide range, from greasy-spoon diners to some genuine treats. There’s a big supermarket across from the main tube station, while the open-air market offers an eye-assault of multicultural tat, as well as the occasional bargain.
There are lots of pubs and night-life is active in Shepherd’s Bush, although a bit feral in places. Unusually for a London borough, there are no parks, but Ravenscourt Park is not too far to walk.
Apartments: Rents start from around £140 ($213)/week for a decent furnished room in a house or flat (apartment), with shared facilities. That should include all bills and taxes and it’s cheap for an area within fairly easy reach of the city centre.
I’m breaking a key rule (this area is nearly 40 minutes from Piccadilly Circus by tube), but included this south-west London district because of its summer theatre and music festivals, for which some have named it ‘Colliewood’ (beware English irony; it isn’t remotely like Tinseltown). The festivals, which run for two months in summer, offer aspiring actors an opportunity to get noticed.
The previously drab borough is undergoing extensive redevelopment, importantly including Colliers Wood Tower, very visible, and once voted London’s ugliest building. Its overhaul is due for completion in mid-2016, by which time the whole area should be much improved in both amenities and aesthetics. As it is, there are several green spaces, including walks along the River Wandle.
There’s a good selection of shops, including a large shopping centre, as well as restaurants, cafés, and pubs. However, don’t expect a vibrant night-life in Colliers Wood.
Apartments: Rents for shared flats, or a room in a house with shared facilities, both furnished, start at about £160 ($243)/week, including all bills and council tax, the local-government levy for rubbish (garbage) collection, street maintenance, lighting, and policing.
The hub of Caribbean culture in London, this formerly edgy, even dangerous, south London district is rapidly becoming gentrified as young professionals move further from areas, such as Battersea or Clapham, no longer affordable to them. It’s not pretty, but it’s upbeat, eccentric, and full of creative types, including actors.
It’s not all urban clamour; award-winning Milkwood Community Park offers a wildlife trail, as well as an amphitheatre for festivals and events in summer.
Most of the major retail chains are represented on the High Street, but the real Brixton experience is to be found in its market, where Caribbean, Asian, and European cultures jostle together, offering entertaining eye-candy and, sometimes, good bargains (rip-offs, too: take care).
Transport links to the city centre are excellent, with a tube time to Piccadilly Circus of under 25 minutes. Buses are also plentiful, including night-buses.
Apartments: Rents for shared flats and houses start at around £170 ($258)/week, including utility bills, but not council tax. However, I’ve seen a self-contained studio flat (single combined sleeping/living space with its own kitchen and separate bathroom/toilet) for £180 ($274)/week, so online research could unearth a place of your own at reasonable cost by London standards.
Best of the rest of THE OUTER LIMITS
Other best neighborhoods in London that are affordable-ish and are worth a look include:
- Acton (a bit rough)
- Bethnal Green
- Stratford (don’t confuse it with Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, over 100 miles away)
- Whitechapel (artsy)
This group is more solidly middle-class, but, as noted in my introduction, most best neighborhoods in London house a mix of educational and occupational backgrounds, so generalisations can be misleading.
4. Maida Vale
Not far north of the West End (only 20 minutes from Piccadilly Circus), this leafy residential district offers tranquility and charm. Public and private housing sit cheek-by-jowl, making for an eclectic mix of residents, but also implying you need to look carefully to find good value.
Because of its proximity to the BBC’s main London recording studios, the area of Little Venice, next to a pretty canal, has long been a favoured locale for working actors.
Regent’s Park, one of London’s best, is close by, as is Abbey Road, with its historic recording studio and iconic zebra (pedestrian) crossing; take a selfie with friends in a Beatles pose.
It’s a quiet district, however, with no night-life to speak of apart from the usual pubs, of which there are a number of good ones.
Transport links are excellent, whether by tube or bus, and it’s also close to main roads leading out of the city. Paddington mainline railway station is two stops away on the tube.
Shopping is good. While the main supermarket chains are only represented by small outlets, there are lots of local stores and specialists of every kind, and there’s a big Tesco in Edgeware Road, just a few minutes away on foot.
Apartments: Rents for shared houses, flats, or the occasional self-contained studio flat, start at about £170 ($258)/week, but that’s for streets bordering Maida Vale, not actually within it. Even so, they are nicer than Brixton, if not quite as cool. Add at least £20 ($31)/week, and up, for the heartland. These prices include utilities and council tax, but only for shared accommodation, not self-contained units.
Few of the best neighborhoods in London offer such varied ambience as Islington. Some parts verge on squalid, some are being upgraded as affluent owners move in, and some are already very fashionable. All sorts live there, including theatre, TV, and film people. It’s busy and rather noisy, but convenient, well-serviced, and lively.
Angel is the smartest area, while City Road, Upper Street, and Essex Road offer as varied a shopping or entertainment experience as you’ll find anywhere in London. Pubs, cinemas, and small theatres are all within easy walking distance.
One drawback is a shortage of parks; Islington has the lowest ratio of open spaces to built-up areas of any London borough. However, Highbury Fields is good for joggers and has public tennis courts, while Finsbury Park is pleasant and only a short walk away. You can also walk along the canal towpath to Regent’s Park.
Football (soccer) fans are well-served: Premier Division Arsenal FC, the ‘Gunners’, has its home ground in Islington.
Transport links are excellent, with several tube stations (about 25 minutes to Piccadilly Circus, but also up to 35 minutes, depending on where you alight), lots of buses, including night-buses. It can be just a couple of tube stops to reach King’s Cross, one of London’s principal tube and mainline rail hubs. Islington is also en route to the A1, the country’s main north-south arterial road.
Apartments: Rents are all over the place, as one might expect in so large and varied an area, but don’t expect to pay much below £180 ($274)/ week for a room in a shared house or flat or for a small studio flat, with the same inclusions and exclusions already noted.
6. The Borough
Borough, as it’s usually called, is part of Southwark, close to Lambeth and London Bridge, and is often thrown in with all three in conversation. It’s far the trendiest of my three middling selections, so is becoming very popular and, in parts, expensive.
It’s famous for its market, one of London’s oldest and a haven for foodies; for the Shard (Britain’s tallest building, with a viewing gallery near the top); for its popular acting schools (Shakespeare’s Globe, the Young Vic, the Old Vic); and for the Tate Modern art gallery.
The area is also one of London’s greenest (in the traditional sense), with a reported 130 parks and open spaces, of which the largest is Southwark Park.
The environs of the market are dense with restaurants of every hue, and there are lots of pubs and cafés. Altogether, with the River Thames also close at hand for breezy walks, you could have a terrific time, day or night, and never leave the place.
Transport links are plentiful, both for tube and bus, while Waterloo and London Bridge mainline stations are nearby to take you out of town, should you need or wish. The tube ride to Piccadilly Circus takes 20-25 minutes, less from the northern edge of Borough.
Apartments: Furnished rooms for rent in shared flats or houses start at around £200 ($305)/ week, including bills and council tax, but you’ll be lucky to get much at that price. If your budget stretches closer to £250 ($380), you should find a good supply of modern, well-equipped, flats in the medium-rise developments that have mushroomed across the district over the past decade.
Best of the rest of MEDIUM COOL
Other middling locations worth scouting include:
- Holloway (said to be up-and-coming)
- Cricklewood (leafy but somewhat distant)
- Paddington (convenient but hotel-ridden)
- Canary Wharf (modern, well-resourced, soulless)
My top choices feature value more than prime locations or exclusivity. If you want those characteristics, even one of them, prices are in another league entirely.
The epitome of middle-class London, Fulham is one of the best neighborhoods in London – it’s varied, charming, quirky, and, well, comfortable. You won’t find many surprises here, but also nothing that upsets.
While young professionals are the backbone of the community, it’s also home to artists, actors, and writers, although many of those seem likely to swap creative uncertainty for the steady job their country-dwelling parents constantly nag them to take.
But for the anciently unreliable District Line, the tube might reach Piccadilly Circus in the claimed 25 minutes, but it could well be 45; it might not arrive at all. Better to take a number 14 bus, a London favourite, which starts in Putney and winds through Chelsea, Knightsbridge, and Hyde Park Corner, before crawling along traffic-jammed Piccadilly and turning into the heart of Soho. It’s slow but enthralling.
Shopping is reasonable for a mainly residential area, with small grocery retailers dotted along the main streets. Fulham Broadway has a good-sized shopping centre, offering most things needed to eat and live. For a more down-market experience, wander through North End Road’s eclectic range of shops and market stalls.
The Broadway has a selection of reasonably-priced eateries and there are pubs, good, bad, and mediocre, all across the area. Otherwise, night-life is almost non-existent.
Parks are mainly at the edges of the district, but Bishops Park is a small gem, bordered by the River Thames. Joggers have the run of riverside paths.
Apartments: Rents go from about £200 ($305)/week for furnished rooms in flats and houses, with studio flats at similar levels, subject to the usual exclusions and inclusions. If you elect to pay your share of the bills, you can get better deals, but you’ll be hostage to the punctiliousness, or otherwise, of your co-dwellers when payments are due.
Convenient and varied, with a strong middle-eastern flavour, you’ll either love or loathe this quasi-upmarket district. It offers handsome Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses (row-houses), with views of Hyde Park, backed by endless and duller versions, and roaring commercial thoroughfares.
The park is, arguably, the main attraction and, when combined with Kensington Gardens, is claimed to be the world’s largest city-centre green space. Everything happens there: football, tennis, swimming, dog-walking, horse-riding, rock concerts, Speakers’ Corner, celebrity-spotting; the list never ends.
Transport links are peerless, with the tube whisking you to Piccadilly Circus in 20-25 minutes, while buses are frequent, including night buses. Adjacent Paddington has a big mainline rail station.
Shopping is good, with large and small supermarkets spliced with a variety of specialists serving the area’s multinational residents. It’s a short walk to Notting Hill, with a cinema, wine-bars, and pubs, and, beyond them, the huddle of Portobello Road’s famous antiques market. In the opposite direction, you can walk to Oxford Street, London’s main mass-market shopping thoroughfare, in about 20 minutes.
Apartments: It’s not that expensive, but you must look diligently; there’s a lot of really nasty stuff. A decent furnished room in a shared house or flat, including bills and tax, rents for £200 ($305)/ week and up, but you’re unlikely to find a self-contained studio for under £250 ($380).
Not only one of the best neighborhoods in London, but also one of the most well-known. Soho is London’s night-life centre and is slowly shedding its red-light character as Tinder, Grindr, and other adult casual-encounter websites bleed the resident professionals of their trade. They’re still there, however, as are the peep-shows and strip-joints, but most exude an end-of-days aura.
In their stead has come a blast of pubs, clubs, bars, takeaways, and restaurants of every description and price-point. Some, like Ronnie Scott’s jazz club and the 100 Club, launchpad for dozens of legendary British rock bands, have been there for decades, but many more are relative newcomers.
The streets throb with people and megawatt bass-lines until the early hours. Make sure your room has double-glazing.
Access to Piccadilly Circus and theatreland? You’re pretty much there already, and there are plenty of tube stations and buses at hand to take you elsewhere.
Shops are plentiful, especially supermarkets and specialists, and most stay open late. In normal hours, you can find just about anything you need within easy walking distance.
If it’s all too much, a 15-minute walk along Piccadilly will land you in spacious Green Park, with beautiful St James’s Park just below it, next to Buckingham Palace, the Mall (it rhymes with ‘pal’, not ‘awl’), and Horse Guards Parade. You could say all of tourist London is at your feet.
Apartments: Rents run from £350 ($530)/week for a pleasant, furnished, and well-equipped studio flat, but that excludes utilities and tax.
Best of the rest of ALMOST FAMOUS
Unless you move into the very top bracket, there’s not much else that competes with these selections of best neighborhoods in London listed above, but you might look at:
- St John’s Wood (very fine, but dull, dull, dull)
- Camden (hip, noisy, overrated)
- South Kensington (lots of charm, but smug and pricey)
- Chelsea (ditto, but even more so)
There are many opinions of best neighborhoods in London that are great places to live for actors and other creatives. As a former resident who’s now relieved to be out of it and relaxing in the verdant charm of the Cotswolds, I’ve been as objective as I can in this overview.
My best advice is to listen to no-one, because generalising about so varied a city as London is unhelpful; just get out there and look for yourself. These links below should get you started.
- A quick overview from City A.M.
- RightMove’s comprehensive database of rentals
- LondonDrum’s city compendium, good on transport
Some helpful tips on renting apartments in London:
Did you find this overview of best neighborhoods in London helpful? Did we miss anything? Please let us know in the comments below.