Living in the new business centre of London?

So, I’ve heard that we’re not the only ones who have said “Let’s move to London – maybe it’s best if we live in Canary Wharf because we’ll probably end up working there!”.


A little background.  My partner and I lived in Melbourne’s Docklands area – close to the city, reasonably residential and nice and modern.  We both work in the city in the Finance / Banking / Insurance sector, so it’s not a huge leap to expect we’d continue that trend in London.

We’ve heard all about Canary Wharf and had assumed that most of the large corporates had set up shop there.  After all, there were lots of big buildings covered in glass and what seemed to be a thriving corporate environment.  There are flats nearby (gee, it’s taken months to stop calling them apartments), so we could easily continue our lifestyle of walking to work and progressing our careers.

So… what is it like?

Well, for starters. It turns out that the type of work that we did in Australia was not generally located in Canary Wharf.  Our jobs were fairly senior and involved corporate management.  It turns out that aside from a couple of the large banks, most corporate headquarters are still located in the traditional London areas of the The City, Mayfair, Victoria, etc.

After some months of temping, my partner had settled with a permanent position in the West End of London.  We, of course, had been trying on Canary Wharf for size.  It comes with both good, bad and downright ugly – so permit me to explain below;

It’s not likely that you will actually live in Canary Wharf itself

Canary Wharf is almost like an island.  A segregated and secure estate (there are actually security guards and barricades to monitor who comes and goes if needed) which is pretty much reserved for offices and shops.

There are a handful of apartment buildings on the estate itself (maybe one or two?) but in general, apartments are located slightly outside of the estate itself – being a 5 – 15 minute walk. If you’re rookies like us, you’ll be fooled into the labels of ‘Canary Wharf’ when booking accommodation, but in all likelihood, you’ll be a decent walk away from the action.

We lived in 2 main locations when we first arrived to London – those being Limehouse and Millwall (or Millharbour – haven’t quite figured that out yet).

Limehouse – Surprisingly homely

Limehouse is an area just north of Canary Wharf – adjacent to a ‘basin’ with quaint boats and even an old fashioned loch (you know, those things that allow the river level to match the level on the other side – like a boat elevator).

This area has been regenerated significantly and is now an area of 8 – 10 storey buildings with flats and a few shops and parks.  On first impression – we thought this area was dirty, noisy and a little soulless, but after we got into the groove – it was a great place to base yourself.

We were based on the main road (Commercial Road) which is also a thoroughfare to the City from the East.  It is noisy and dirty, but double glazing in flats actually blocks out the majority of this chaos.

We had a spectacular view to the buildings of The City and captured some spectacular sunsets.

We were a 2 minute walk to the Docklands Light Rail (DLR) which gave us direct access to the heart of The City (Bank station) – opening up most of the other lines of the Underground.

We stayed here for a month to get started – whilst the flat wasn’t the most glamorous, it was as a nice location and walking distance to Canary Wharf.

Millwall – The worst parts of high density living in a city that’s not used to modern high density

We get it – there’s a lot of people in London.  Londoners are used to living in small spaces and have done for centuries, however, recently, more and more glass highrise apartment buildings are popping up.  This is not unlike anywhere else in the world, but, the area south of Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs seems to be the first foray into large scale modern high density development outside of council flats.

I talk of the worst parts of high density living;

  • Complete lack of privacy – flats look directly into neighbours places – and we’re talking being able to see into 30 or so flats directly opposite
  • Internal design – the inside of apartments buildings really do look like hospitals – I’m not sure if this is just confined to this area, but we’ve lived in 3 buildings here and they all look equally clinical
  • Safety – As an Australian, coming to London – there were assumptions that everything here would be world class – I have to say, safety systems and standards here don’t seem to be on par with Australian systems – I won’t dwell too much on this on account of the recent tragedy, but this is clearly visible to me

But having said that, it’s not all bad. The apartments are modern and to a good standard (I will say, they are still not up to the standard that we were used to in Melbourne).  The location is convenient, even with a 15 minute walk from the Canary Wharf tube station.

The verdict…

Canary Wharf is a little confused.  We don’t know who works here, but it’s highly likely that your assumption that you’ll be working here will prove false like ours.

Limehouse is in a great position and doesn’t seem to suffer the same problems that I noted about Millwall, so we’ll probably end up there.

Keep in mind that Canary Wharf is actually pretty far from the places that you’ll probably want to spend most of your time.  15 minutes on the only tube line in / out starts to grate on you after a while and you’ll no doubt spend most of your days changing lines at Green Park like we do.

It’s a safe option for modern convenience, which of course is also expensive.  In time, we’ll feel a bit more comfortable branching out, but we feel like East London is a great fit for us.  Only time will tell.


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