London is the New York of Europe – or New York is the London of America. Either way, these two cities have very different tales, but similar scenes.
I have spent the last two weekends in London visiting friends and attending a whimsical festival, and found myself constantly pointing out things that reminded me of my old hometown.
From a rooftop bar overlooking the signature buildings like the shard, the gherkin and the walkie-talkie, I couldn’t help but draw similarities to the Manhattan skyline. Wandering the derelict avenues of Hackney and London Fields, I was reminded of Bushwick’s abandoned-warehouse conversions and seemingly bleak Brooklyn blocks that are secretly colourful and alive with markets, bars and restaurants.
A lot of the New York Irish who came home after their J-1 graduate visas moved directly to London with a brief pit-stop at home, and I can see why. Dublin is compact, accessible and beautiful in many millions of ways, but London has that same sprawling buzz and bustle of New York that became addictive to a lot of us. Here are some of the similarities that I think draw people from New York to London rather than going home.
1. Going the distance: Living in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, we would gladly travel 90 minutes to the Upper West Side to visit friends, travel 50 minutes on three different subways to work, travel 45 minutes to a club in the West Village – no problem. That was the norm.
Local bars in Bushwick obviously took priority, but it was never considered strange or ridiculous to make the trek to visit another borough. London is similar in that.
I woke up one morning in Brixton and went to a picnic in London Fields, which was an 80 minute journey. People just plan ahead, and have to do so in order to organize anything successfully or be sure to see certain friends.
While waiting for my flight home in Gatwick with friends from my hometown of Waterford, we laughed at the idea of traveling for an hour to go to bar. That would be the equivalent of going to Cork, our neighboring county, for the sake of a pint. It’s just completely unheard of.
Although maybe if we had an underground, things might be a little different.
2. Red tape: The general consensus is that London has none. For Irish people there are no visa requirements, paperwork, lawyers or secret passwords to grant us access. We just book a €40 Ryanair flight and arrive.
There’s also free healthcare thanks to the NHS which is a key bonus. We all had health insurance in the U.S., but as far as I know it just covered extreme cases of accidents or emergencies, and not just a casual bout of illness.
I remember us all discussing that it would be cheaper to fly home and receive healthcare in Ireland than to pay for basic treatments in the U.S. Even a quick consultation with a doctor for a simple case of tonsillitis could set you back a quick $200.
Also, moving to London can be as temporary or as permanent as you like. There’s no time limit on visas running out or needing to be renewed, and you don’t need sponsorship. So, I can see the appeal in how much easier it is to stay there.
3. Far from home: It is also significantly easier to visit home when based in London. Ryanair flights are often incredibly cheap, and it’s just over an hour to fly into Dublin. If anything last-minute were to come up and you needed to be home in a minute’s notice, that’s very doable -- and affordable.
Flights from Dublin to New York when booking in advance tend to start at around the €500 mark for a round-trip, and obviously take substantially longer – not to mention the time-difference.
For us, London is just much more convenient, and doesn’t feel so lonely or so far away. Also, visiting friends in London is not only cheap and easy, but it’s also something that can be done over a weekend. No one is going to fly to New York for the sake of two days.
4. Rent / general expense: Now that I’m living between my parents’ apartment by the ocean, and my boyfriend’s apartment in the city, I have zero intentions of moving out and paying rent ever again. (They are all aware of this as the current situation and have yet to complain – but I know this dream cannot last forever.)
Rent in Dublin is astronomical at the moment, and is almost as expensive as London or New York. Any of us who have moved back are living at home again, and loving it.
For those who moved straight into London, I feel they are used to those sky-high prices and are just adapting much more easily. However, some of the cheapest rooms that my friends are renting are around £850-900 per month, which is close to $1,400.
The thought of that makes me squirm, so I hope mother dearest doesn’t mind me being around for a tad longer.
5. Sunshine: Even though it’s only an hour long flight from Dublin, London’s climate is substantially warmer. Just last weekend I was lathering myself in factor 30 and skulking in the shady shadows, much like my usual summertime behavior in New York last year.
However, this morning in Dublin I put on a coat and scarf. London gets a proper summer but without the scorching heat of New York, and while it is lacking in beaches, oceans and coastlines, it compensates in beautiful parks and – this is the deal breaker – permission to drink alcohol outdoors. You can crack a can of ice-cold cider basically anywhere you like. Picnic with prosecco, chomp with champagne, barbeque with beers and no cop will pull over announcing a fine. Even in Dublin you can’t get away with those kinds of shenanigans.
London is the older, wiser New York. It has been around for a lot longer, has a much more efficient subway system, and seems a lot more sure of itself than the magical chaos of New York.
It is the perfect segway between the far side of the Atlantic and home, and the more time I spend there, the more I understand the appeal.