An expat’s guide to living in south London, UK

By Julie Louring Eriksen

Julie Louring Eriksen moved to London from Fensmark in Denmark in 2018 to study European politics at King’s College London. She lives in Streatham Hill in the south of the city.

Living close to Brixton, I have almost everything I need within reach, whether that is a supermarket, library or pubs with karaoke nights. It is a happy medium of being close enough to central London, via the Victoria underground railway line, while still far enough out to offer some peace and quiet.

The area around Brixton has an interesting history that touches on progress — Electric Avenue was the first market street in the capital to be lit with electricity — and immigration. It also has The Ritzy, one of the oldest cinemas in England.

The Ritzy in Brixton, one of England’s earliest cinemas

The quality of life might be slightly better in Denmark, at least for students — you do not have to worry about tuition fees and you get a state grant to help with living expenses. Housing is cheaper too, and the air quality is much better.

Despite this, living in London presents opportunities. Coming from a small town, I was baffled by all the events and possibilities here, as well as the fact that most shops are open after 6pm.

I like to get out and experience the city, from getting lost during a night out in central London to a slow walk through the Sunday market next to Brixton station, where you can find a bit of everything. I also like taking pictures of old buildings such as Lambeth Town Hall.

I find yoga and running great for de-stressing and have been running in many parks in London, though one I like near me is Streatham Common.

Streatham Common, an open space to run and de-stress

Streatham Hill has many restaurants and cafés. When I am studying and need a change of scene, I go to Batch & Co Coffee in Streatham Hill. It helps me focus and I like the peaceful atmosphere there.

Pastries and more to go with the coffee at Batch & Co

I recommend immersing yourself in British culture. You will never learn the finer distinctions of British humour and sarcasm if you do not allow yourself to be stupid and ask questions. I constantly ask friends about words, odd expressions or cultural references. I keep a list on my phone of different slang words and their meaning.

Also, work on understanding Scottish accents: if you have to phone up about National Insurance or a student loan, for example, it will most likely be a happy, fast-speaking Scot on the line. It took me hours of watching Scottish TV programmes before I stopped embarrassing myself.

If I miss home, there is a strong Scandinavian community in London. It is incredibly supportive and social, and you can always find people to meet up with.

A taste of back home at ScandiKitchen

ScandiKitchen near Oxford Circus in central London has a lot of Scandinavian foods and its open sandwiches are a godsend. The Danish YWCA hosts a Christmas market every year where I stock up on imported but overpriced comfort food. And there is the Nordic Bar if you are in need of some Viking vibes.

My advice for other young expats is that it is OK not to feel great about making the move to London all the time. I remember almost crying because I had dived headfirst into the move and had arrived with nothing. It was scary and not particularly Instagramable, but that is OK — the feeling is usually temporary.

What do you wish you had known before you moved?

How small, old and shabby the affordable flats are, and how quickly you grow accustomed to jaywalking, tall buildings and kicking away pigeons.

Also, that I would be split in two: the Londoner who never wants to leave and the Danish small-town girl who longs for silence and a walk in the woods. I never really appreciated living close to nature when I grew up but now look forward to it when I go back. After a few weeks, though, I would miss the hustle and bustle of London.

Electric Avenue, Brixton, so named for its pioneering street lighting

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Photographs: Alamy; Dreamstime; Getty Images


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