I have a soft spot for London. I enjoy living a 20 minute train ride away from the city and being able to venture in for a wander through the streets, for a meal or to see one of the daily events that takes place somewhere in its vast sprawl.
But it wasn’t always like that. When we lived a long way from London and I had to come in regularly for business I didn’t have a good word to say about the place. I wasn’t alone. While London usually features in any top cities of the world lists, there are a significant few who despise the city and would avoid it at all costs.
The following 10 criticisms are all statements I’ve found in anti-London rants in blogs, or have heard first hand from people who hate London and who’ve felt unfortunate to have lived in or passed through the city.
1. London is expensive. London can be very expensive, particularly when people come here for work and need to find a decent place to rent on a tight budget. Living further out of the city and relying on public transport (see below) is usually the answer. But is this any different from living in New York, Moscow, Madrid, Sydney, etc. etc. ?
2. The food in London is the worst in the world. This one always makes me laugh. Yes, you can get some inedible dross around London’s tourist hotspots and pay a high price for the privilege. Isn’t it the same in Paris or Rome, the culinary capitals? Dig around in London and you’ll find plenty to dispel the myth of bad British food. And in the right neighbourhoods you can find superb Indian, Vietnamese or Middle Eastern cuisine at bargain prices.
3. London is unfriendly. A common big city trait and in my experience no worse in London than anywhere else. Sure, plenty of people on the Tube have their heads in their papers or locked away in the sounds of their iPod, but make the effort and people will generally be willing to assist visitors who ask for help.
4. People ignore you even if you’re in trouble. Will Londoners look the other way if you’re being mugged? In many cases they probably will. It’s a sad part of big city life that enough people have been attacked, injured or worse when intervening in a robbery that others are reluctant to take the risk of getting involved. It’s not a good thing, but again I suspect is no different to any big city in Europe or North America.
5. The London Underground is terrible. When it works it’s brilliant; you can cross the city quickly and easily, and it is one of the best connected systems in the world. Weekend closures, too many strikes and erratic engineering scheduling does mean that too people get caught out and left scrambling for alternatives. London can certainly improve on this one.
6. London is polluted. After a day in London you will probably find yourself picking black bits of stuff from your nose and from your fingernails. It’s the natural result of a city that packs in millions of residents and many more who come in to work. It’s better than it was and for those who complain I would ask them to name a similar-sized, less-polluted city.
7. London is one big traffic jam. However bad the traffic in central London is now, it has to be better than it would have been without the Congestion Charge. And having struggled for two hours just to reach our hotel in Bangkok and then being told that this was quite normal, I think London does pretty well for traffic given its size. Most streets are designed heavily in favour of buses and cyclists, and these provide both quicker and cheaper methods of getting around the centre than in your own car.
8. No-one speaks English in London. This is of course nonsense, although you are likely to hear dozens of languages in a short walk through the city. For me this is one of London’s greatest assets. It is far more racially integrated as a city than New York for example, with a more diverse population than almost anywhere else.
9. Connections to and from London airports are a joke. Probably most residents would agree here, at least to some extent. Taxi fares from Heathrow to central London are outrageously high, as is the £18 fifteen minute ride on the Heathrow Express. Luton and Gatwick meanwhile are linked to London by a less than reliable rail service which too often leaves people frustrated and angry. London could take a lesson from many of its European neighbours here.
10. London is dangerous. The crime rate in London is relatively low and even more so if you remove the inter-gang related violence that occurs away from any tourist area. Yes, you have to be alert and sensible but doesn’t that advice apply anywhere?
London has its darker sides, its frustrations and its rip-offs; it’s not a utopia by any stretch. But when measured against other major cities in the world it is still worthy of its place near the top of the list as one of the world’s top cities.