I’m kind of using this as a space to create the post I wish I had read before moving to London. Some of it will be applicable if you’re just visiting, too! But I’ve learned a lot in the last 5ish months that will maybe be of some use to a very niche audience. Here we go!
The public transit system here is truly incredible. Download the Citymapper app. It tells you all of the route options you can take to get wherever you’re going, with an estimated amount of time and the arrival times for all the trains/buses. You can also set up a future departure/arrival time if you need to get somewhere by a certain time.
I discovered, after too many instances of climbing staircases carrying two babies and a stroller, that there is a step-free filter. This, in my opinion, is much easier and more reliable than using the TFL step-free tube guide map, because certain stations have lifts but not between all platforms. All of the buses are accessible, but not every tube station has a lift. Some of them are just a few steps but some of them are multiple staircases/escalators that are just not doable with two kids. If you have an older kid who can climb stairs and/or a light stroller that collapses, maybe not as critical to follow.
Our first 7ish weeks here, we lived in an AirBnb up in Brent, near the Kensal Rise station. It was an enormous blessing, in hindsight, that this station had a lift because I took the girls EVERYWHERE on the overground line. I think it’s more important to consider proximity to a station and what lines run through that station than actual distance from your destinations. For example, we’re geographically closer now to the GS’ office than we were at the AirBnb, but he still has to take 2 lines to get to work. It’s not a terrible commute, but you can live further out and as long as you’re close to a well-connected station, it’s easy to get around.
Everything here is equipped with Apple Pay- I literally haven’t taken a credit card anywhere since I’ve been here. If you set up your Express Transit Card on your phone, you can just tap your phone at the entrance/exit of the tube stations. (This is in Settings- Wallet & Apple Pay- Transit Cards). Otherwise you’d just have to do the double tap/Face ID verification. The other perk of setting up the transit card is that it will work even if your phone dies, which is some kind of technology magic that I don’t understand and don’t want to test, but reassures me.
Also on this topic, strollers! Buggies, prams, whatever you want to call them. We brought our Britax stroller because it is incredibly light and folds with one button push, and we have the adapters to click Elsie’s car seat into it. My sister also gave us a McLaren umbrella stroller, so that’s how we got the girls over here. Really nice to have light and easy ones for travel. We took those two to Belgium recently.
However, day to day I prefer something with rubber tires just because it’s smoother. We ended up buying a used Baby Jogger City Select double stroller on Facebook marketplace and I love it. It came with muffs and rain covers and that’s what I have the girls in everyday now. You can configure the seats a ton of different ways and, while it’s bulky and not incredibly easy to fold, it does still get onto a bus. If I know we have to take the train, I put Elsie in the carrier and Greta in a single stroller. Having traveled many other places at this point, I will say London has great sidewalks and curb cuts. Very accessible.
Finding a Flat
The real estate market here is insane in many ways. There are a bunch of different property management companies, and they have individual offices in each neighborhood. So if you’re like us and aren’t entirely sure where you want to live, you will end up talking to 1,000 agents and having a hard time keeping them straight. RightMove is a good site that will show you all the available properties and they have really helpful filters, but what we learned is that often if it’s on RightMove it’s already too late because things move really quickly. So it’s better to get connected with a few agents and have them send you properties once they get the listing but before it goes public.
We found our place through Dexters and honestly had a horrendous experience, but it’s entirely possible that this is specific to the Fulham office, or even specific to our agent (glaring at you, Ollie), and it’s generally unavoidable if that’s the company with the listing.
You also can’t connect with anyone unless you have a UK phone number, because apparently it’s the 1990s and people can’t just be civilized and use email. Moral of the story is, just get a long term AirBnb and look at places once you’re here. Make sure it’s really available long term- we ended up needing to extend ours because everything completely shuts down between Christmas and New Years so we lost a week of seeing any places. It’s worth it to need to “move” twice to ensure that you’re comfortable with the neighborhood and the flat. We looked at places in several different neighborhoods and ultimately settled on Fulham/Parsons Green, and we are super happy here!
Grocery shopping has honestly been the biggest change for me since moving here. Obviously when you don’t have a car, you can only buy as much as you can carry. Because I’m also usually navigating a double stroller and a diaper bag, I go grocery shopping almost every day. I do think we end up with less food waste this way, which is a good thing because everything is so expensive. I’ve tried all different grocery stores here and have just had to face facts that it’s an expensive city and I’m doing the best I can. I do try to get produce at least once a week up at the North End Road Market, which is street vendors and so cheap it’s almost like stealing. It is cash only, though, so I have to remember my change purse when I go there!
The main grocery store chains are Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and Marks & Spencer. I would say the latter two are a bit nicer than the former, and they all have smaller versions that are prevalent in the city (Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s Local, Little Waitrose, and M&S Simply Food). There are also Co-Op stores which are decent. I basically just have a reusable grocery bag on me at all times so that I can run into whatever store we’re passing and grab a few things. It feels less overwhelming to do multiple small shops per week than to try to buy a ton of stuff and carry it home, or take it on transit.
The main delivery app is Deliveroo- works the same as Uber Eats or GrubHub in the states. There is also a grocery delivery service called Gorillas that is insanely fast. I’m talking under 10 minutes to deliver groceries. So I will occasionally use that if I didn’t get a chance to hit the store in the morning and I’m trapped while the girls are napping. Plus they always have promo codes!
Things to Do with Kids
There are a zillion playgrounds in London. There are literally 4 excellent ones within a 10 minute walk of our apartment. Whenever I’ve gone to a different neighborhood I’ve just typed “playground” into Google maps and they all pop up there and we’ll find the closest one for G to blow off some steam on the slide.
There are also a ton of attractions for kids. I should say that maybe there are a ton of attractions for kids in Baltimore, too, but I was never compelled to seek them out because A) I was working and B) COVID. Also, unlike the car, Greta loves the tube and the bus so when we do take public transit I think the journey and the destination are equally appealing to her. This bodes well for us when we want to go to a brewery or some other non-kid focused activity and just tell her it’s a special journey. She now sings an additional verse in The Wheels on the Bus where she says “Greta on the bus says ‘I need to go up top!’ allllll throughhh the townnnn.” (We just did the Emirates Cable Car and the UberBoat, too, so add those to the list of kid-friendly transit options).
Now that I have the girls full time I’m constantly looking for things to do with them to keep us busy, both for their entertainment and my own sanity. If you’re living here, there are a lot of great weekly classes- we love Lucy Sparkles and Tarka, and she plays football (soccer… trying to embrace some British terms) at Little Kickers on Saturdays. Some of these things are really expensive (like $25 for a 45 minute class) but other things are much more affordable. I’ve found a couple of coordinated indoor/outdoor play spaces (i.e. (The 10 O’Clock Club in Gospel Oak and Ray’s Playhouse in Sands End) that are only 2 or 3 bucks for an unlimited amount of time. Still on you to watch your own kid, but it’s a change of scenery and new toys!
Many of the museums are free, but for most you just have to book a time slot in advance. Some of them have designated play areas for kids that need to be booked separately, and occasionally charge a small fee. Recently we’ve done the Natural History Museum, the Royal College of Music Museum (they don’t advertise this but I discovered they have a whole kids room with instruments and coloring pages), and the Army Museum which has a “play base” soft play area.
There are several “city farms” in different neighborhoods which are free to enter and often just ask for a small donation. These are great destinations if your kids are like mine and really enjoy farm animals.
Probably obvious, but the plugs are different here! (Why are they different everywhere?! It’s so annoying). I knew this, so we got a million adapters BUT there are some things that can’t be used even with the adapter, such as my KitchenAid mixer. Really wish I knew that before I included it in the stuff we shipped over here because now it just sits there taunting me all day everyday and I have to use a hand mixer. First world problems, much? So, buy some adapters in advance and don’t pack anything with a motor.
People don’t really drink coffee here the way they do in the US (and not just because it’s a tea place). In Europe in general, all the “coffee” is espresso-based drinks. So if you’re like me and require a “filter coffee” in the AM, you’ll have to order a coffee maker and expect to only drink it at home. Ground coffee or coffee beans are easy to find (I think some people do use a French press) but coffee filters I have to order on Amazon. And coffee creamer is not a thing anywhere- I used to use an almond milk or oat milk creamer for a little sweetness. I did find an Oatly cream that I like but it only comes in tiny boxes so I have to buy them pretty frequently.
The GS and I both got new SIM cards with a British cell service when we moved here. We use EE, but there are a bunch. It’s significantly cheaper here but we did have a tough time setting up a monthly plan because we didn’t have any established credit history in the UK, so I’m actually still on a pay-as-you-go type plan but it’s fine. There’s a grace period (I think it’s 28 days?) where you can still receive messages on your old number, so I had some time to reach out to people and let them know what my new UK number is. There’s a way to port your US number to a Google Voice account, if you’re intent on keeping your US number like I am, because I’ve had it since I was 16. A lot of people here use WhatsApp, too, which I still have affiliated with my US number.
Laundry sucks! Most places have a combination washer/dryer (even in our AirBnb where they had a separate washer and dryer, the quality wasn’t great) and they are very small and it takes about 4 hours to do one load of laundry. Needless to say, I had to abandon cloth diapering when we moved here. I also feel like it’s just a crappy washer so I’ll likely throw out all my clothes when we decide to move back. Until then, I’ll be rocking a rotation of steadily deteriorating athleisure.
Anyone still here? Just in case you are, I want to throw it out there that a lot of people have said “I could never do that!” or “I don’t know how you made that move with little kids!” Here’s the thing- I am not special. Kids are incredibly adaptable, and people rise to the occasion. Was it stressful and overwhelming? Yes. But I just kind of figured it out and made it work. Moving now when they’re little and not in school has been a good decision for us, and even though it makes me sad/blows my mind that they won’t really remember this experience, I’m hoping that it instills some sense of adventure in them! Or, at the very least, that someday they might think the GS and I are pretty cool for making an international move.