There’s no hiding it, London is by a large degree the most expensive city in the UK. But, like some of the most expensive boroughs in London, it doesn’t deter people from wanting to live there, to be part of it, to be nestled in the streets that are paved with gold, or so we’re told.
Aside from the anomalies, it is West London that hits the top of the postcode list for the most sort after areas of London to live. So why there, who are the creatures that inhabit this coveted land and what West London neighbourhood will be the best fit for you.
Is West London the best place to live in London?
From its infancy and throughout London’s history, it has been the ruling classes that settled in the west of the city whilst the merchants and urchins were grouped down river, to the east. It was largely the victory of the Victorians who shuffled up this east and west disparity through the emergence of the middle classes who began to shimmy towards the larger mansions of the hoity-toity in the West.
But those crafty Victorians didn’t stop there, perhaps their biggest influence was upon installing a network of sewers that took ‘The Great Stink’ out of the Thames, freeing up the air in the east of the city making it a much more agreeable place to live. Since then, the west, like the east, has altered in character: casting off its stiff white collar and over the years, becoming more colourful and diverse.
However, its historical beginnings are still seen and felt within the building blocks of its architecture. The west continues to brim with ‘old money’ and its neighbourhoods reflect this in their schools and socials, crumpets and council, recreations and restaurants, parks and privies. But within the orange are many segments and each ‘W’ postcode has its own distinct character and feel.
The London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
K&C as the locals call it – and although part of the same borough, the ‘curly c’ and the ‘kicking k’ have some differences.
Kensington is bigger geographically and is therefore split into South Kensington, Kensington and North Kensington. Chelsea, being smaller, feels a little more ‘exclusive’ and epitomises the West London attitude quite succinctly; from what was once the bohemian epicentre of the 60s and 70s has transformed into this sleek neighbourhood of social elites, both young and old.
The chic boutiques and high end stores of the King’s Road and Sloane Square draw in the fashionistas and celebrities, the cultural seekers have the Royal Court Theatre, Cadogan Hall and the Saatchi Gallery to peruse and for those culinary fans, there’s always something new and exciting to try among the more established Michelin Starred restaurants.
There is no compromise for the hedonistic nightlifers either, what with the famous clubs of Raffles and JuJu, or take your pick from the live music venues to entertain oneself with. But Chelsea is not just about going out; the residential streets and squares are little oases of tree lined calm and tranquillity.
Many buildings have not been divided into flats and still remain houses for the very rich. There are, however, some streets towards the west of the borough that are a more affordable, such as Edith Grove, Radcliffe Gardens and Finborough Road but be ready to swap tranquillity for noisy roads and being a little farther from the better transport.
Alternatively, head a little farther out to Earls Court where the pavements aren’t so polished, the smell of fast food fills the air and West London charm does start to change character but transport links are no longer a concern and you can still find plenty of mid-range amenities and beautiful quiet residential streets.
Kensington High Street runs right through its centre and, along with Kensington Church Street, they provide most of the boroughs comforts and services to its residents. Not deferring from its name, Kensington’s shops are certainly more ‘High Street’ than Chelsea’s but the proximity to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park may well out trump it on the ‘things to do’ quota, what with it being the biggest open space in central London that can surely offer something for everyone.
Although not as vibrant as some of its neighbours, it still has some great food and nightlife with the Kensington Roof Gardens being it’s most well known. And its residential streets are, on the whole, pretty perfect. To the south of Kensington High Street you’re likely to find impeccably cared for polished brass and red brick mansion blocks. To the north, Victorian and Edwardian homes and conversions. There is no area ‘more affordable’ in Kensington as aside from its border with The Cromwell Road to its south, it’s surrounded by other neighbourhoods that are quite simply, just as desirable.
Not so much mansion blocks but stucco fronted mansion houses that surround the well-manicured park that gives this neighbourhood its name. These large Victorian homes shelter the likes of Posh and Becks, Richard Branson and a great deal more of the super elite and famous, with around 65% of the residents not born in the UK, the area is one of the most multicultural and richest places in the city.
It is one of the only areas in central London that you’ll find detached property and private gardens (supposed to terraced houses and residents only communal gardens of other affluent neighbourhoods), which gives the rare luxury of privacy to those who need, and can afford it.
The shops cater to this demographic neatly with some of the best butchers, bakers and candlestick makers in town who know you by name and caringly wrap your purchases in brown paper bags and string, adding a touch of village into this inner city life.
Aside from a stroll down the shops on and around Holland Park Avenue or a tipple in Ladbroke Arms and a delightful meal in one of the fine eateries, there’s not much more to do then head to the park and hang out with the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and the resident peacocks. So you fancy being part of this upper social echelon and can’t stretch your purse strings that far? – head to W14, which straddles both Holland Park and Hammersmith and is considerably more affordable.
Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush
Both are similar in character, they claim fantastic transport links and affordable west London living. These are the neighbourhoods described by estate agents as ‘up and coming’ and ‘great for investment’ as although parts have become gentrified, the main thoroughfares are a tad rundown and host probably too many fried chicken and kebab joints.
There are, however, some absolute location gems around the leafy Hammersmith Grove, where fancy wine bars boast relaxed outdoor seating and you’ll get a twitch of the lip or friendly eye contact from passing residents – that’s a big gesture for London.
Head back towards Holland Park but stop before you get to the noise and fumes of Holland Road – here, nestled between the two other busy routes of Hammersmith Road and Shepherd’s Bush Road is a largely overlooked ‘Bermuda’ triangle of Brook Green where the little streets and one way exits are sure to get the accidental visitor lost. The reason that this leafy, quiet and truly “village feel” neighbourhood is so unknown is because its residents are sworn to secrecy and also, OK mainly, because everyone always goes around it, not through it – this is its charm.
This area is named after its village green, Brook Green, and its streets are peppered with warm and friendly newsagents, cafes and pubs, namely the Queen’s Head that quietly boasts one of the largest and prettiest beer gardens in the city. The buildings are distinctly Victorian and harp back to their glory days of when they were once the cities light district, not the sordid kind but an actual zone of light manufactures and stores selling the produce of the factories.
Old signs can still be spotted on the sides of building and, if you didn’t know its history, you’d not be mistaken to think Shepherd’s Bush Road has a bit of an unusual fetish for lighting shops. Those that live in this neighbourhood are smitten with it, and although Brook Green doesn’t have the discount price tag of surrounding Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush, it’s a damn sight more reasonable than it’s easterly neighbours in Holland Park, just one zebra crossing away.
Many may say it’s the jewel in the westerly crown and they wouldn’t be wrong. Notting Hill has something for all those city lovers as here you’ll find everyone and anyone from each background and walk of life, giving it the most distinctive of character that isn’t easy to put your finger on and cannot be summed up in just a few words.
The streets to the north of Holland Park Avenue and to the east and west of Ladbroke Grove are mainly pristine Victorian terraces and stucco fronted crescents painted in spring pastels and adorned by weeping wisteria. Head a few streets to the west, through the Victorian workers’ cottages and out into Notting Dale where the shadow of Grenfell Towers casts a grey dust over its smaller neighbouring counterparts.
Similarly, head under the A40/Westway to the northern end of Ladbroke Grove and the juxtaposition continues through the clean tree lined streets, grand Victorian homes, fancy delicatessens, 20th century social housing and fast food takeaways.
The eclectic variety revives itself once again upon the Portobello Road where one can purchase an old grandfather clock from the antique market traders, or how about a newly crocheted Rasta hat from the arts and crafts stalls to wear while you munch down on your Caribbean influenced Boom Burger, or lets be radical and indulge yourself in a little taste from España at the La Bodega or R. Garcia and Sons next door. Or maybe you’re not into that international cuisine and you’d rather a Bloody Mary and a movie at The Electric, or would you rather something more upmarket and head to Ledbury Road for some amuse bouche, truffle mackerel and petit fours?
Then off to Westbourne Grove to walk under the pink blossom trees whilst you window shop the high-end boutiques before nipping up to Notting Hill Gate for some discounted bargains and the best pizza in town. The fun never stops! Top tip, north end of Portobello and Golborne Road – it’s Westbourne Grove 10 years ago.
To the north of Ladbroke Grove and over the Harrow Road the architecture changes so quickly you’ll hardly believe you’re just a moments walk from what you’ll refer to as ‘town’. In Kensal rise you’ll find a residential mecca of small Victorian terraced cottages, houses and even pretty 1930s estates with little suburban newsagents and amenities, you may even see some young children playing out on their bikes.
Kensal Rise is on the up and is attracting many families from ‘town’ who are looking for a front door to call their own and a space to park their car outside their front door. It’s also becoming rather popular with young professionals who are finding it easier to get onto the property market ‘up-here’ and the proximity to trendy Notting Hill to the south and also Maida Vale to north east make it a no brainer for many. The fashionable and arty pub/bar/nightclub ‘Paradise By Way of Kensal Rise’ may add something to its attraction also.
Located to the west of Chelsea and bordering the river Thames, Fulham is probably most well known to out of towners for its football club, however, it’s more than likely the well dressed fashionistas and family friendly homes that give Fulham its real livable identity. Unless passing through or going to watch a footy match, it is likely that if you don’t already live in Fulham, you may never actually go to Fulham.
It’s not that it isn’t nice; in fact it’s lovely! But, aside from some rather great interior design shops, there isn’t anything there you can’t necessarily find elsewhere. If you do take a trip, check out Fulham Palace for an historical treat. The only other notable attraction is Hurlingham Club however; you’ll have to plan that in advance, as there is a 15 year waiting list to swing a tennis racket in this exclusive sports club.
Although not a No 1. destination to visit, it really is up there as somewhere to live. The schools are great, the pubs are fantastic, the parks clean and tended, there is a riverside to wander! The south of Fulham is higher in price and desirability than the north which borders on the slightly shiftier end of Hammersmith – where bargains can be had. And beware; road congestion around North End Road can have you stationary in your car for a rather long time, even by M25 standards. Public transport links are quite plentiful, however, the District Line does enjoy a few failures now and again – just don’t expect it to be on time a lot.
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