London vs. Toronto: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

#1 – London is huge!

To say that London is massive would be an understatement. London is a city of 32 boroughs, where each borough is defined as an administrative division. My (less boring) definition of a borough is a distinctive area with its own demographic, cultural and geographic characteristics. A borough is akin to a village, so in that sense, London is made up of 32 distinct villages. 

London’s unique system of boroughs is why there is simply no such thing as a downtown London. You see, each borough in London has its own High Street complete with shops, pubs, restaurants, banks, post offices etc. And, because of London’s massive population, every borough feels packed, or at least, comfortably full. You never truly feel like you’re in a quiet part of town, because there are so many people. No matter where you go, it’s busy!

Let’s do some myth busting. In Toronto, I’ve seen many professionals who work, play and live within the same 5 km radius. For instance, if you’re a Big 4 Accountant, you may work near Adelaide, live at King & Spadina, and then venture to Ossington on a Sunday for brunch. And you’re definitely hitting up King West for nightlife on a Friday night (along with every other 22 year old who had the same idea).

Generally, I’ve seen that most people in Toronto work, play and live in the same area: downtown. And, if you and your friends live downtown, you’re all probably within a 30-minute walk. Granted, this is different if you’re living in the suburbs, commuting in.

When I moved to London, I assumed that I’d have a similar arrangement. I thought I’d be able to walk to my workplace, walk to my friends’ place, and then stroll over to trendy restaurants and bars. The reality is that everything is quite far apart!

For example, right now, I live in Marylebone, but my closest friends are spread across North, East and South London. So, I live in Marylebone, work in the city (approx 35 mins on the tube) and I play in either Clapham, Shoreditch or Soho (the three areas where young people ‘go out’). 

Check out the image below. Green dots are where my friends live, and the yellow dot is where I live. 

My parents, having spent decades living in both the UK and Canada, claim that Toronto is also a city of neighbourhoods (ex: High Park, Rosedale, Beaches, Danforth etc.) But, more or less, most Torontonions have seen a lot of Toronto. 

In London, people are a lot more…territorial about their areas. If you live in posh west London, you may never set foot in Hackney or Haggerston, the gentrified area of the east. And if you’re a die-hard south Londoner, you might go years without seeing Marylebone! 

Many of the places I’ve explored in London were places that my parents had never visited, despite spending 15+ years in London. Isn’t that crazy? People tend to pick the areas they like and gravitate towards, and then they more or less stick there. 

That’s exactly why everybody’s experience of London will be very different. In Toronto, I feel like everybody agrees that Wilbur Mexicana is the best place to go for Mexican and Pai is great for Thai food. I think it’d be quite difficult to get Londoners to agree on the best spots for Indian, gelato, or brunch. There are just SO many, and that’s owing to London’s massive size and density.

#2 – Toronto grows with people, whereas people tend to outgrow London.

I am fiercely loyal to Toronto. I love everything it has to offer, and have felt the city grow with me. I’ve taken the TTC to the Eaton Centre as a pre-teen, and hopped on the same train lines to see friends on weekends when we’re all working professionals. No matter what life-stage I’m in, I feel Toronto will continue to grow with me. I don’t think I’d ever get tired of it. In fact, every new ‘lifestage’ I’m in, it feels like there is something new to experience. A different Toronto to experience. Toronto is sustainable, as you go through each of those life stages. It has something, regardless of what you’re looking for. 

London, on the other hand, is just so busy and expensive, that it does tire people out pretty quickly. I’d say London is a great place to spend your 20s or your early 30s, but past that age, it can feel really hectic. A lot of people who I’ve met are much happier living outside of central London – where they have wider roads, bigger houses, larger gardens and generally less busy-ness all the time. They’re fed up with London – fed up with the tube, the costs, the constant rush-rush-rush. 

Toronto is a place that can grow with you. But London is a place that you might actually outgrow, as your life priorities change. 

bus showing 501 Neville Park route
The 501 Queen line is the longest track in North America, and a line where I have many fond memories of travelling to work, getting to Queen West or commuting back to Etobicoke.

#3 – London is far more expensive (which is why quality of life is better in Toronto).

It wouldn’t be a brutally honest comparison of London and Toronto if we didn’t talk about money. London is bloody expensive, with all of the dollar (or pound) signs on those restaurants on google maps.

Side note: In terms of groceries, London is actually cheaper than Toronto. But if you enjoy eating and drinking out, London is very expensive. 

I wouldn’t waste money in London at bad restaurants, on ordinary days, or when alone. As one of my friends puts it, London is the best city to feel poor in. At least the parks are free! 

By that token, I feel like the quality of life in London is not as good as in Toronto. Meaning, if I earned the same amount of money in Toronto, I’d be able to do things I enjoy like eating out and sipping lattes at nice cafes more frequently than over here. I do feel like a princess when I can go back to Toronto and pay bills without batting an eye because I know that it’s in dollars, and not pounds! 

Seriously, I’m not joking. There have been situations where a friend and I accidentally end up at a 4 ££££ restaurant, and we were forced to leave after the appetizers because we couldn’t bear spending what was on the menu. All because we accidentally went to the wrong restaurant!

Beyond eating out, the quality of housing isn’t the same either. Since London is an older, denser, more closely packed city, the quality of housing is not up to Canadian standards. If you’re from the GTA, you’re used to large houses and big driveways, and that’s just not something you can easily get in London. 

If you’re looking to get value for your money, you’ll probably find it in Toronto, not in London.

brown and white heart shaped cappuccino
One of my favourite cafes in London is Boxcar. But at £3 minimum for a latte, going there is a premium and (infrequent) experience. It is a breezy 8 minute walk from my place, which is nice!

#4 – Londoners enjoy life more than Torontonians. 

Ok, we need some good news. You must have heard that Europeans work to live instead of North Americans, where people live to work. This statement also applies to Toronto and London. 

In London, there is a greater emphasis on work & life balance, for starters. It simply isn’t the norm to work from 8 am to 10 pm and on weekends (as far as I’ve seen, in the marketing field, anyway).

There is also greater focus on generating social connections at work. Going to the pub after work is common, even on a miserable Monday evening. People are far less corporate here and more focused on relationships, and actually caring about one another. 

There’s a great example I can use here to illustrate this point. In my first job in Canada, our marketing team each created a “Get to know you” slide deck with our personal info, hobbies, and leadership/working/communication style. We had a meeting designed to ‘get to know each other’ and present our slides. 

When I presented this idea to one of my colleagues in London, he laughed. He suggested that this was a very American way of doing things, and that in the UK, we go for a drink after work. That’s how you get to know each other. Not gonna lie, I like the British approach more. 

Aside from that, I have observed that Londoners generally enjoy the pleasantries of life more often. They take longer and more frequent vacations. They are committed to being outside, in parks, or going for a cycle. And they love to eat delicious food, drink great beer or cocktails and enjoy a premium coffee. It’s a good life and Londoners know how to enjoy it (even if we are low-key ignoring the pending doom of Brexit).

SIGHTSEEING IN LONDON - THINGS TO DO - Travel Monkey
It’s very common to see huge crowds of people outside pubs (and if you work here, it won’t be long before your colleagues suggest that you grab a drink after work). After all, nobody drives home!

#5 – London can feel lonelier than Toronto.

When I first moved to London, many young professionals would tell me that London is an easy city to feel lonely in. I had wondered what they meant, but now I understand. 

One of the reasons London feels more lonely than Toronto is because it is a transient city. It’s a global destination for travel, study abroad, professional ambitions and world-class education. So, as a result, the population of ‘young people’ in London is dynamic and ever-evolving. Friends and romantic relationships come and go, because, well, people come and go

For many people, London represents a chapter in their life but not the whole story. It’s an exciting time, but short-term only. And even for people born in the UK, it’s far too busy and expensive for anybody to consider truly settling down in central London. 

It’s difficult to build a life in a place where people are coming and going all the time. London is a phase in everybody’s life but never the long-term ambition. 

Toronto, in contrast, seems a lot more concrete. I know that the majority of my friends will be there for a long time. Most of us will have a chance to live and/or work downtown at some point. More or less, I know that if I invest in my Toronto relationships, they will be there for decades and beyond.

I don’t know if I can say the same for my experience in London.

Baker Street train station
In London, normal loneliness is amplified by the fact that you’re surrounded by tons of people wherever you go, particularly on your commute, yet you can still feel like you’re on your own.

#6 – London offers more experiences than Toronto (if that’s what you want)

London is a city of experiences, and there is always something to do. I remember a night where I went to a comedy show on a Monday night and it was packed, and I was thinking – how are so many people out in London on a Monday night? 

London is a city that can offer rich experiences to someone who is looking for them. There’s theatre, markets, michelin-star restaurants, prison-themed bars and everything in between. My mum used to tell me that even if you ate at a new restaurant every day in London, you still wouldn’t be able to try them all – because new ones are always opening! Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that Time Out is London’s version of BlogTO. 

That being said, I think the value of new experiences is something that skews towards extroverts. A friend and I were chatting about how we don’t really need to be in a city with the world’s best restaurants and bars. 80% is good enough, 100% depends on how much you value that particular thing. And if you can be happy with 80%, then I’m not sure if living in London is worth the stress (or, at least, the rent…). I mean, how different is avocado toast whether I eat it here or in Toronto?

neon sign reading bar cocktails dreams disco party
A sign presumably leading to the underground dance floor of a cocktail club in Covent Garden

The Verdict

So, heading to the hard questions that people ask me. Do you see yourself staying in London long term? 

The answer is no (or at least, probably not). 

I think London is excellent for young, single, working professionals. It’s a great place to pursue your professional ambitions, enjoy new experiences, date, and generally grow into yourself. 

But for my own personal reasons, and some of the reasons in this blog post, I can’t justify settling down here instead of back home. (Look, I even called Toronto, “back home” without realizing it).

Toronto is where I have my family and friends. Even if London is amazing, I don’t like the idea of only seeing my family two to three times a year.

Beyond the relationships, the cost of living and quality of life seems like a bad deal. Life in London is more expensive, and I feel like I can actually afford better experiences in Toronto. Unless my income changes dramatically, I feel I can enjoy more experiences in Toronto.

I am happy to be living in London right now and for the next few years. I’m someone who likes to keep options open, so I might still end up making London my home, if things change. But, my gut is telling me that London will be a chapter in my life that will be a great read but might not carry through to the epilogue. 

The moral of the story: cherish every city you live in.

I’m here to maximize my time in London, no matter the duration. And if you’re looking to move to London (or Toronto), then give me a shout.

person going down to subway station

6 thoughts on “London vs. Toronto: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

  1. Very good points! I’m from toronto too and I agree that once I settle down, I’d probably choose Toronto over London but more for practical reasons such as money and being close to family. But the point about not really meeting someone who’s gonna stay in London, it’s debatable. Majority of the friends I made have been living in London all their lives and have no plans of leaving any time soon so I guess it depends on who you meet.

    But if I wasn’t Canadian and had no ties to Canada, I’d choose London any day. Toronto just isn’t even close to what London has in terms of activities, sights, to truly global class infrastructure. I dread the thought of taking the go train and the ttc, or worse… Driving on the DVP or the 401 again. I think Toronto will get there eventually, but even people hyping up how cool Parkdale/Dundas west area is, it’s still so trying hard and doesn’t come off as natural as Hackney, Brixton or heck even Deptford.

    One thing I think Toronto is way better though is quality and value of food. I could never justify paying £50 for 12 pieces of sushi that tastes like the ayce sushi we get back at home.

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    1. Hi Mtichell! Thanks for sharing your thoughts – super interesting to hear this perspective from another Canadian in London 😉 I think you’re right about the ties to Canada. Things would certainly be different if I was moving to Toronto and starting from scratch. And yes, agree that Toronto still has a long way to go before it becomes as cool as the parts of London you mentioned. Oh, and I too DREAD the combination of the TTC, 401, and Gardiner!

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