London vs New York – Which City is Best?

London vs New York – Which City is Best?

I’ve lived in both cities. Really depends on what you want. New York is a city that you immediately fall for. London is an affection that grows steadily on you over time.

New York is more fast-paced and far more dense. It’s more obvious exactly what is open late until 4 a.m. and what isn’t. The city has an energy that stretches the limits of how long you think it is possible for a human being to be awake.

Public transportation is very, very cheap and it’s fast to get from one side of the city to the other. On average, if you were to pick a random restaurant, I think the food is better.

London is more like a collection of villages that have grown into each other over 1,000 years. It’s lower density and I believe it takes longer to get from one side of the city to another. The Tube only runs until 12:30 or 1 a.m.

(But the really edgy part of London — Hackney & Dalston — is only a short bus ride or maybe even walking distance from the financial center if you’re liberal about what you consider its boundaries.

Dragon Age Inquisition worth playing
Dragon Age Inquisition worth playing

London vs New York – Which City is Best?

Lower Manhattan, while extraordinarily fun to live in, is over-commercialized. The unique little shops and curiosities that made it an unusual place to live increasingly feel more like a vestige of the past to be there. Chains are kinda taking over.)

I personally think the artistic culture is far less commercial and much more innovative in London than New York. The Arts Council supports all kinds of local, eccentric and home-grown projects.

Fashion is quirkier and more original. Alexander McQueen, I think, could have really only come from the U.K. and Central St. Martins. New York’s designers and artists think about what will sell. London’s artists think about what is conceptually new, even if it is difficult and considered unattractive now.

London is also a more international city than New York. (I say this somewhat controversially). While about one-third of Londoners and New Yorkers are foreign born, America encourages more of a hyphenated sense of identity. People are Mexican-American, or Ethopian-American, or Chinese-American.

In that sense, while New York may be international, the U.S.’s comparatively prohibitive immigration policies mean people try to stay in the country for a longer period of time and become more assimilated than they do in London, where dozens of other countries are literally an hour’s flight away.

London vs New York – Which City is Best?

Travel, of course, is a major plus in London. You can you get away for ~$100 to Andalusia, Morocco, Turkey, Berlin, Milan, Rome, etc. Travel is deeply ingrained into the culture and Londoners now legally have five weeks of holiday a year.

London’s food culture is improving, but you really have to know where to go and when. Over the past several years, Brits have come to embrace and elevate their own cuisine and local produce. I love the different mix of international cuisines there too.

Growing up in California meant I considered Italian, Mexican and Chinese to be the great trinity of foreign cuisine. In Britain, chicken tikka masala and the Turkish kebab rule. Sunday roasts also seem to be the functional equivalent of the Manhattan brunch.

One of my favorite things to do in London was get lost in the Sunday markets — Broadway Market, Upmarket, Borough Market, Brixton — really, any of them.

There are hundreds of stands where you can find the best hog roast, cheese brought in overnight from France, nduja from Calabria, octopus balls, banh mi, spanakopita, curry, Ghanaian stew, bizarre T-shirts or whatever.

London vs New York – Which City is Best?

If you want to stay out very, very late, you also have to know where to go. Most places close down around 1 or so. The drinking culture is also far more onerous on your liver. A week of Manhattan drinking is more distributed.

It might involve cocktails and wine on several nights, with some extra drinking on weekends. A week of London drinking and the culture of buying rounds — where everyone is expected to buy a round of drinks for everyone else — means you end up drinking WAY more than you should.

If I went out drinking with a group of eight people, all eight people would end up buying drinks for everyone else. And then I would buy eight drinks for everyone (which is way more than I would ever pay for in the U.S. being a small-ish woman).

If you’re American, it’s much easier to find a social circle in New York. Americans are just much more open to loose and sudden friendships. With Brits, you have to know them for at least a couple months until they feel really comfortable with you.

You can apply this same line of thinking to dating — except when Londoners go on the lash, which is probably the only time some Brits feel truly comfortable with themselves.

(Just teasing!) In New York, the upside and the downside of dating is the paradox of choice. Enough said there. There are entire TV shows, movies and books devoted to this problem.

London vs New York – Which City is Best?

Almost every New Yorker will tell you that they love the city and would have a hard time living anywhere else in the world. Virtually no Londoner will tell you the same thing about London.

They will moan about the weather and reminisce about their holiday in Phuket, Ibiza, etc. Don’t mistake this for misery (most of the time).

Brits and Americans just have different ways of expressing themselves. Londoners find our flagrant use of “Amazing!” “Awesome!” and “Love!” as tiring and insincere as we find their lack of eye contact and smiling (amongst strangers) cold and dispassionate.

Also, talking about what your job is or asking the requisite “What do you do in the city?” question immediately is a faux pas in London.

The vulgarity of that question also probably has a little to do with how Britain is a class-based society where a person’s stature in life should be readily apparent through their accent, demeanor and dress to other Brits. This isn’t the case in the U.S.

so Americans tend to probe more, especially in New York, where a person’s career is a major — if not the most important — part of their identity. Then of course, there’s the cliche that Americans live to work, while continental Europeans work to live. The British tend to be somewhere in between those extremes.

London vs New York – Which City is Best?

In Britain, frivolous banter is a high art. Talking about nothing can be a way to probe a person’s intelligence, wit and creativity.

I can’t really compare costs at this point since the pound is so weak. When I lived in London, GBP-USD ranged from ~$1.40 to $2.10. When the pound was hovering near its peak, the daily costs of living were extraordinarily high, but rent took up a comparatively smaller share of my monthly income than it did in New York.

Health care is also free (er, nationalized) in the U.K. I can’t speak for older people who are likely to have more serious health problems, but for a younger person in good health, this was awesome.

Not have to stress about what’s covered and what’s not, figure out who is a provider and who is not, be shocked by unanticipated co-pays that were not listed in the original health plan marketing material, be sent random $200 or 300 bills for a routine annual when your doctor for whatever reason can’t bill your health insurance provider, have expensive, unnecessary tests or consultations pushed upon you, worry when you’re in between jobs, or re-figure everything out again when you change jobs or your company gets acquired.

London vs New York – Which City is Best?

Both are among the greatest cities in the world, financial powerhouses, centers of fashion, entertainment, media and academic excellence. As far as quality of life is concerned, however (and assuming affordability is not a problem), London is ahead of New York.

For me, the equation for this is relatively straightforward. As of the late 2010s, London has pretty much all of the positives of New York without most of its negatives. It offers the same convenience, entertainment, dining and shopping without the burden of crumbling infrastructure, substandard sanitation and anti-social behavior.

Central London’s hubs manage to convey the pulse and excitement of the densified areas of Manhattan without resorting to its chaos and excess. Above all, the city marries this urban experience to layers of culture and history that US cities can only fantasize of.

London is inexorably on the rise as a global city, even in its tumultuous transition to a new economic paradigm. This is something we were assured would be impossible by economic models which underestimated the city’s axiological advantages.

In contrast, New York has suffered intractable problems since Lehman Brothers imploded in 2008. Though domestic direct investments and real estate have been enjoying a boom, the municipal and state governments are still coping with strangulated services (the MTA, DSNY, NYCHA all struggling with funding) and ongoing ablation of the middle class.

London vs New York – Which City is Best
London vs New York – Which City is Best

Two points need to be clarified before a city-versus-city comparison of this kind.

1. London is currently changing at a frightening pace. A survey of the horizon shows a panorama of construction cranes and new high-rise developments. Public spaces everywhere are being renovated. Given the pace of change, it is likely that many of the points raised in this answer will be outdated within 3 or 4 years after posting or updating. This also means that care has to be taken when weighing anecdotes based on visits more than a decade ago.

2. Central London, the metropolitan area’s equivalent of Manhattan, is similar in aesthetic and density to areas such as the Flatiron District, SoHo and Central Park East. However,

because this zone is nestled among vast conurbations and not delineated by natural geographic features or high-rise clusters, people often draw upon a wider dispersal of experience in London. This means that they sometimes, unfairly, compare areas as far out as inner London and the suburbs with the high-rise hubs of Manhattan.

To avoid skews such as this, my answer will compare Manhattan specifically with Central London. That is not to disparage the idea that there is more to New York than Manhattan (likewise for Central London and Greater London), but comparing the outer boroughs is a much more lengthy and complex subject probably deserving of its own topic.

Neighborhood and Area Equivalents

The West End – Midtown West

City of London – Financial District

Knightsbridge – Flatiron District

Fitzrovia/Bloomsbury – Greenwich Village

Chelsea – SoHo

Victoria – TriBeCa

Kensington/Belgravia – Upper East Side

Mayfair/Marylebone – Upper West Side

Camden Town – East Village

Shoreditch – Lower East Side

South Bank – Brooklyn Promenade

Regent Street – Prime Fifth Avenue

Bond Street – Madison Avenue

Oxford Street – West 34th Street

Trafalgar Square – Times Square

Covent Garden/Somerset House – Lincoln Center

Exhibition Road – Museum Mile

O2 Arena – Madison Square Garden

Royal Albert Hall – Carnegie Hall

Dragon Age Inquisition worth playing

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