1. Governance
January 6, 2023

An entirely unofficial ranking of every London borough

Who wins in the World Cup of London boroughs?

By Jonn Elledge

I’ve decided to do my own ranking of London boroughs. Only I wouldn’t bother with fiddly little things like democracy or speaking to their councils. I would do it properly, by just writing down my opinions and then ignoring all arguments to the contrary.

And so, I did.

London boroughs
People looking at the map welcoming visitors to the City of London, possibly wondering how it ranks in London’s best boroughs. (Photo by Alena Veasey/Shutterstock)

33. Sutton

No human being not literally from Sutton has ever successfully remembered that Sutton exists and isn’t just part of Merton or Croydon. Voted for Brexit. Should be abolished for its own good; it clearly can’t handle existence.

32. Bexley

No human being not literally from Bexley has ever remembered Bexley either. Also voted Brexit. Crap trains. No reason to visit. Not quite on the bottom because Erith has a pier I guess? Anyway: nice views of the Rainham marshes on the other side of the river, and making Rainham look pretty is quite an achievement, so.

31. Hillingdon

Also Brexit. Sent Boris Johnson to Parliament. Has a massive great airport in it. No other features I can recall. And does Ruislip need that many tube stations?

30. Brent

Not sure how this ended up so low on the preference revealer – it’s fine, but meh, I guess? Lots of big roads and rail junctions and industrial parks and an out-of-town shopping centre that doesn’t look that big anymore and which also, it turns, is actually in Barnet

29. Bromley

Quite nice, if you like that sort of thing, which obviously I don’t. Lovely park behind the town centre, with some surprisingly dramatic landscape – plus Beckenham Place Park is great, which would gain it points if it weren’t for the slightly awkward fact that it’s across the boundary in Lewisham. Loses points for a) hating London, and not wanting to be in it, and b) being literally half empty yet building almost literally no homes.

28. Havering

The MOST Brexit-y borough – honestly, like 70% or something – and also white-est which isn’t a coincidence. But I can’t hate it as a) I’m from there b) at least it has a personality, unlike Bexley. A good place to get drunk if you’re 18.

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27. Kensington & Chelsea

A deeply unpleasant council that hates both poor people and cyclists. Absolutely loaded, yet not nearly as nice as it thinks it is. Chelsea hasn’t been cool in 50 years. “Royal borough” my arse: worst borough in inner London.

26. Barking & Dagenham

Depressing. Brexit. A post-industrial town dropped on the edge of East London. Some nice old bits by the ruins of Barking Abbey and Dagenham Village, but some god-awful industrial riverside and nowhere you’d really choose to go. Not sure why it didn’t rank lower – sympathy vote? I was born in it which helps.

25. Hammersmith & Fulham

Curate’s egg. King Street is the worst place on earth plus west London is awful, but lots of nice riverside pubs, and it looks better because it’s standing next to Kensington & Chelsea. That said, those riverside pubs can only be reached by finding your way across what is, in effect, a motorway, which isn’t great, so even if you really want riverside west London you have better options. It’s not great, is my point.

24. Wandsworth

We’re into the realm of boroughs I have no view about whatsoever, sorry. Good commons, nice houses, no reason to visit, fine I guess?

23. Ealing

Some good country parks and Ealing Town Centre is kind of sweet (plus, the Autons invaded it that time), and the common is nice and has some really nice houses on it, plus Southall… That’s all I can remember about Ealing.

22. Enfield

Fine? Bumped up the list by the existence of Trent Park and the New River walk but frankly, for such a big borough there’s not a lot going on.

21. Hounslow

The stupidest shape of any London borough – seven miles long, sometimes less than one mile wide. Chiswick is the only bit of London that looks like Richard Curtis thinks it does. It’s fine. 

20. Merton

A great one to walk through (the commons, the big houses, the massive pubs) but I have no other views on it than that and often forget it exists, even though the world’s biggest tennis contest takes place in it every year.

19. Newham

Land of my fathers. Gets points for building a lot of houses, its net-zero plans and having a scenic walk on top of London’s biggest sewer. Oh, and there’s a Doctor Who-themed shop on Barking Road, so.

18. Barnet

Gets even more for building a lot of houses while also being quite suburban and Tory. One of the better outer London boroughs. Home to the oldest tree in London, too. It’s in Totteridge.

17. Kingston-upon-Thames

Not sure how this ended up ranked so high. Possibly because of a) a nice riverside walk and b) Chessington World of Adventures. Also c) looks like London’s giving Surrey the finger, which is cool. Surbiton sounds like somewhere made up to be in a sitcom.

16. Harrow

Another slightly baffling placement – Harrow-on-the-Hill is gorgeous, even if Harrow town centre kind of isn’t. The only borough not to change its boundaries in 1965, so well done Harrow I guess? Anyway, it’s all boring ‘30s semis with one nice bit in the middle.

15. Lewisham

I absolutely cannot think of a single thing to say about Lewisham. There’s a big cat on Catford shopping centre, that’s cool. Blackheath is pretty? And, so it turns out, a lovely big park, formerly a golf course, which I’d credited to Bromley is actually here.

14. The City of London

A lot of lovely skyscrapers you got there. Be a shame if someone was to build houses in one of them, wouldn’t it?

13. Croydon

To be fair, actually one of the better outer London boroughs. It has trams. It’s massive! It goes on so far that it takes a whole day to walk across. London in microcosm. It’s good, it just doesn’t deserve to win.

12. Greenwich

Cool things about Greenwich: the town centre, the riverside, the park, the meridian, the Cutty Sark, Eltham Palace, the way Woolwich feels like the two versions of east London are at war on the street plan, a lot of green space. Not bad, bit suburban. Fine.

11. Waltham Forest

Leyton is cool, Walthamstow was cool but is now cliched, Chingford is suburban and rubbish but has Epping Forest and great views looking west so gets points for that. If you want to live in outer London you could do worse and probably will.

10. Richmond-upon-Thames

The only borough to cross the river. Okay, a lot of awful people live here, but it’s the best stretch of riverside in London and for that alone it’s going to rank well.

9. Haringey

Between Tottenham and Wood Green and Highgate you’ve got everything you need to have the complete London experience without actually going to proper London. Anyway, that’s convenient, isn’t it?

8. Redbridge

My favourite outer borough by far, because of Epping Forest and Wanstead, a nice village-y bit which used to have wild cows in it. Plus, conveniently reached via the Central Line. Growing up in Romford, Ilford looked almost exotic.

7. Westminster

The council have been awful, obviously, but so much of Proper London, like Soho and the theatres and galleries, is here that it sort of ranks well by default. Oxford Street is still hell, though.

6. Lambeth

Several of the best pubs I know are in Lambeth, plus the BFI bar, and the associated stretch of the South Bank, and Vauxhall and Brixton. Loses points for its culpability for Clapham, though.

5. Southwark

Bankside! Borough Market! The pubs of SE1! The Tate Modern! London Bridge regeneration. The Old Kent Road, which I left in 2006, and which has still not managed even a hint of gentrification! It’s a good borough.

4. Tower Hamlets

Come on, the East End is just wicked: the food and drinking options alone mean it deserves to be near the top of this list. Plus, it’s doing more than its fair share to solve London’s housing crisis. All that, and riverside pubs, too. It’s great, though not without its flaws.

3. Islington

I know I’m a cliche but I’m an absolute sucker for Islington: Clerkenwell Green and Upper Street and Highbury Fields and the Holloway Road. Not quite enough parks but honestly it’s the best of London, all laid out in one, compact area. (It’s also the smallest borough.) I lived there 12 years, and I’d probably still live there now, if life hadn’t intervened. It’s probably my personal favourite, but I’m not sure I can actually claim it’s the best.

2. Camden

Gets points for range. Hampstead Heath. Bloomsbury. St Pancras station. Camden Town, a place where nobody aged over 17 has ever felt comfortable in the history of the universe. If you had to live your life in only one London borough you could do a lot worse than Camden, but it’s not quite the top because it’s a bit too far west for my tastes.

1. Hackney

Has everything – good pubs and hipster bits and nice parks and wild green space and gorgeous streets. Runs the gamut, culturally and economically.

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