As Londoners already know, this is the greatest city in the world. It isn’t close, more like a country mile.
This is a statement, not a question, before anyone has any bright ideas of trying to persuade me otherwise, but hey, give it a go if you must. I won’t have it any other way though. Anyone that really knows, knows.
The calling of The Big Apple, The City That Never Sleeps, is intense. NYC is celebrated by their own in a way London isn’t. But that shouldn’t come as any surprise, not really, should it? Not when given America’s, and American’s, elephantine capacity for self-promotion.
As much as I do like New York, it’s just that, I like it. it’s nothing special. Not once you’ve lived in London. Before I go on to explain why London is so incredibly far ahead of New York (that it isn’t even funny), the reason for this post is that I have seen London and New York vying for top stop in many “Greatest City in the World” lists, which is suggestive that this is a close run thing.
Both cities are seen global centres for culture, arts, sport, nightlife, finance, business, entertainment much more. Before I continue, and if it wasn’t already bleedingly obvious, I must admit, I am a Londoner, and proud (biased? – Yes of course).
It also is true that both cities are neck and neck in many aspects. Both have a stirring and vibrant nightlife, and the largest array of dining options. Both have huge arts and fashion industries. New York has Broadway, London has the West End. New York has Wall Street, London has the City. Both have exceptional art galleries and museums.
Some rankings of interest:
- GaWC ranks NYC and London as the only two Alpha++ cities.
- Global City Lab of the Global Top 500 Cities ranks NYC and London #1 and #2.
- Resonance Consultancy World’s Best Cities ranks London #1 and NYC #3.
HOWEVER for New York to beat London
However for New York to beat London, it would need to be everything it is now, plus do the following:
- Import the politics of Washington DC
- Import the parks of Copenhagen, San Francisco and Madrid together
- Import the palaces of Paris
- Import the history of Berlin
- Rev up it’s nightlife and festivals a notch or two
- Somehow become the home of global sport
- And much more.
Let me explain in more detail.
For a city with the “city that doesn’t sleep” moniker, NYC seems pretty sleepy in the early hours in comparison to London.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with the British drinking and pub culture. The British have a different relationship with drinking than the Americans do. We just drink more, we just go out more, and we just do it more often. That’s just the British way. To be fair, it’s not just Britain, it’s a lot of Europe too.
Sixteen. This may come as a surprise to any Americans reading this article, but 16 is the age Brits are legally allowed to consume alcohol. This includes drinking in bars and pubs, as long as the drinks are bought by an adult. By 18 we have the keys drinks cabinet. But that’s just officially, plenty of us start much earlier, obviously under the careful supervision of our loving parents. This is very different to NYC where you cannot consume alcohol until the tender age of 21.
As a European capital city, London attracts many people from across Europe to work and study, with many of these people coming from countries that also have a strong drinking culture. This is especially true of Northern and Eastern European countries like Germany, Denmark, Poland and others. Add these people from these countries to a country and a city that already loves a bevvy, and you have London’s drinking culture.
This all translates to a more vibrant nightlife scene in London. This isn’t isolated to the bars and clubs in and around central London. The British pub culture means almost wherever you are in London, you’ll have great pubs and bars close by. A lot of these stay open late over the weekend and become makeshift party havens and mini nightclubs. You don’t necessarily have to get to central London to have a great night out, it’s usually just a short walk away from wherever you are (unless you’re really far out in Zone 5 and beyond).
East Village and Williamsburg in NYC, are the only districts or neighbourhoods that have the energy and vibrancy that can be said to be in any way comparable to those of London. However, these seem small when compared to the never-ending sprawling nightlife of the West End in London. East Village and Williamsburg are more easily compared to neighbourhoods and districts outside of central London (defined as Zone 1 for this article) like Shoreditch, Camden or Brixton in terms of size and scale.
London’s West End is essentially a combination of all of the following: Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Mayfair, Leicester Square, Covent Garden and St James. The nightlife in London sprawls across all these almost continuously. This is an absolutely huge area and I haven’t seen another place in the world that comes close in terms of size to the sprawling nightlife of the West End. The City of London – as explained earlier is the financial district, referred to as the Square Mile, and is the oldest part of London and maintains its own sovereignty and laws – and its surrounding areas are also very vibrant in their own right. If you put both of these together, the West End and the City of London, you essentially cover most of central London’s nightlife.
NYC, however, is the home of the speakeasy, and NYC still has many of these lovely drinking holes across the city. Secondly, more of NYC’s bars and clubs stay open a little later than those in London on average. And finally, although London has an unbelievable range of cocktail bars, there is something to be said about NYC’s cocktail bars that makes them stand out, especially given the glorious views of the city skyline you get from a lot of them.
Overall, London’s nightlife is just far greater in size and scale, including drinking holes, partying venues, and revellers, in a country with a strong drinking culture, all whilst being similar to New York in terms of diversity of options.
To put it another way, and to absolutely hammer the point across, if you were to half London’s nightlife, NYC would only then be comparable to London.
Global sports include football, tennis, cricket, athletics, rugby, basketball, boxing, horse racing, hockey (with its variations), baseball, table tennis and volleyball. This is based on a combination of worldwide popularity and participation rates.
It won’t surprise you, I hope, to find that most of these games originate from Britain. Football, tennis, cricket, rugby, boxing, hockey (not all variations) and table tennis, in their modern forms, all originate from Britain. The only exceptions are athletics, baseball, basketball, volleyball and horse racing. Athletics has been around for millennia and the Olympics were played in ancient Greece. Baseball and basketball originate from the US, and volleyball has its roots in South America.
First, let’s talk about football, as in real football, as in the Beautiful Game. You know, the one where you play with a ball and with your feet, hence the name football… The English Premier League is the most watched league in the world, of any sport and has over 3 billion viewers a year. Five of the twenty teams of the EPL are based in London, of which the most successful are Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea. London also has Wembley Stadium “The Home of Football”, hosting international and domestic cup games and competitions. England national home team matches and international tournaments are also held here.
Wimbledon in London is the world’s most prestigious title in tennis, and although the US Open is held annually in Queens In New York, Wimbledon has to be the closest thing to the home of tennis, especially since the modern game started in Britain (though an earlier version of tennis was played in France which had far more complex rules).
Horse racing, although an ancient practice generally, in it’s more modern form, originates from Britain. London is home to some of the biggest events in the country and the world, including races at Ascot, Kempton, Sandown and Royal Windsor.
Twickenham is as close to the home of Rugby as you’ll find again, but I’m sure the Kiwis, Aussies and South Africans will have something to say about that. However with rugby’s roots in England, Twickenham and London could quite easily be considered the home of Rugby, or at least on par with other rugby capitals across the world, from France to New Zealand. In any case, it is hardly played in New York and so there is no comparison.
London’s love affair with the Olympics and athletics dates back over a century. London is the only city in the world to have hosted the modern Olympics three times, in 2012, 1948 and 1908. London has also hosted Commonwealth Games and World Championships on several occasions. New York, again, doesn’t compare having never hosted any of these tournaments and doesn’t have the facilities or the infrastructure.
Boxing is another English sport. The modern pugilistic art of boxing developed under the Queensbury Rules in 19th-century Britain. Of course, our ancestors have been fighting since before the dawn of humanity, and games of fist-only fighting have been around for as long as the written word. Although Maddison Square Gardens in New York was home to the biggest fights for a few decades, around the 70s/80s/90s, London and Las Vegas now host far more of the biggest fights in the world. Many of the biggest names in boxing come from Britain, not least Tyson Fury and some of the biggest fights happen on home soil and especially in London’s O2, Wembley Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with some fights having an attendance of just shy of 100,000.
NYC isn’t the sporting capital of the US, let alone the world. New York is known more for baseball than anything else. NYC-based teams have not dominated their domestic leagues in basketball, American football, ice hockey or real football (I refuse to call it soccer) in decades or even generations.
Cricket is most popular in South Asia and the most watched league is in India. With cricket being developed in England, England remains one of the top cricket destinations in the world. Cricket is still very popular in rural England and Lord’s in London remains one of the best Cricket grounds in the world.
There is no home of global sport, but if you had to choose, it would have to be London, given all of the above. New York doesn’t come close in this respect. There isn’t another city in the world that hosts as many large sporting events.
NYC’s largest markets are Grand Bazaar, Chelsea Flea Market, Union Square Green Market and Queens Night Market. If you were to take these 5 largest markets in NYC, they’d comfortably fit inside London’s largest market, Camden Market, with plenty of room to spare.
Parks and Nature
Again, there really is no comparison here. Even if you were to reduce London to just eight Royal Parks and pit them against all of New York’s, London would still be a clear winner.
London has the most parks and green spaces of any comparable city in the world. London has over 3,000 parks and green spaces, covering 35,000 acres, and these makeup approximately 40% of the total area of London.
The only park in New York’s Central Park is the only park comparable to the Royal Parks of London, as lovely as Prospect Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park and others in NYC are. The likes of Richmond Park (2,500 acres) and Bushy Park (1,000 acres) in London are much larger than Central Park (850 acres) in size. Much like Central Park, many of London’s parks, especially the Royal Parks, are much more than just parks, housing zoos, gardens, botanical gardens, observatories, art installations, restaurants and bars, sporting facilities and much more.
Many of the Royal Parks of London have Royal Palaces overlooking them, just as Buckingham Palace overlooks Green Park and St James Park, or Hampton Court Palace overlooks Bushy Park. However, to be fair, the views of the NYC city skyline, visible from parts of Central Park, are also magnificent.
The eight Royal Parks of London do not even include many of London’s most famous and celebrated parks, like Kew Gardens, Victoria Park, Hampstead Heath, and Battersea Park. This is all before I’ve spoken about some of London’s most famous parks including the likes of Hyde Park, Regents Parks, Primrose Hill and Kensington Gardens.
London also has an extensive system of canals, docks and quays, built over centuries. Although many were initially built for transportation during the industrial revolution, this system is now mainly used for recreational purposes like boating, kayaking, fishing etc. The canal system and its footpaths feel almost like a subterranean world, away from the hectic pace of the city. The footpaths are used by pedestrians and cyclists to get around, many preferring to use these as opposed to the roads with their traffic and population. London’s river banks, quays, canals and docks are littered with waterside pubs, restaurants, and cafes, which are usually quieter and more peaceful in nature.
Music and Festivals
London is the greenest city in the world of comparable size (see Parks section above). With plenty of large parks, there are plenty of places to hold music festivals in London across the summer. NYC does do music festivals in places like Randall’s Island Park, Flushing Meadows, and sometimes has small stages in Central Park. however, these are comparatively small compared to the music festivals in London.
Over the summer period, there seems to be a music festival every weekend in London. London’s Notting Hill Carnival attracts two million visitors a year and has over 40 music stages, making it the biggest carnival and street party outside of South America. Music festivals are held in many of London’s large parks over summer, from Hyde Park in West London to Victoria Park in East London, and to Richmond Park and Greenwich Park South of the river. British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park alone attracts about 500,000 visitors over 3 weekends every year.
A notable mention must be made of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and West Indian Day Parade, with both parades attracting over a million visitors regularly.
Arts, Fashion and Culture
With both London and NYC being members of the “Big 4” fashion capitals of the world, it is hard to really discern which capital has more influence. Both cities are home to some of the biggest brands and fashion houses. NYC, in my opinion, is the better place to shop with prices being a little cheaper generally.
With regards to museums and galleries, both London and NYC have some of the best on the planet. Some of the highlights of the two cities include Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, Museum of Modern Art and Tate Modern.
When it comes to performing arts, London and NYC are again to close to call. London’s West End is the largest theatre district in the world, however, Broadway is not far off. Both London and NYC have a vibrant fringe theatre and performing arts scene outside their main theatre districts. London has a bigger stand up comedy circuit, and both have large performing arts festivals (however accolade of the largest performing arts festival is Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival).
With the “Mother of Parliaments”, London continues to be at the centre of global politics. The British Empire, at its most influential, controlled about 30% of the global population. At its height, the decisions made in London influenced the world, and it was the most influential city, for a period, that has ever existed. Today London still sits at the heart of British politics and the institutions of the political system are mainly based in London, including obviously the Palace of Westminster with its Big Ben.
New York, although influential on the global stage, is not the capital of the US, and doesn’t compare to London in terms of political institutions, influence or history.
You’d have to go places like Greece, Italy and Egypt to find cities and places with more history and stories to tell than London. New York doesn’t even move the needle in this respect. London has a written history dating over 2,000 years, whereas New York has only been around a matter of few centuries. For a large period of that, it was a colony of Britain and under the political control of London.
An interesting example includes the history and sovereignty of the City of London, London’s main financial district. The City of London is only about a square mile, and is located centrally near Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. It is the ancient core of the city, dating back to the Roman period in Britain. Due to the quirks of history, the City of London, with its special status, is sovereign, and has its own government, laws, police force. The King is only allowed to enter with the permission of the Mayor of the City of London.
From the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey, and from the House of Parliament to the London Dungeons, London’s incredible history, seemingly always conspicuous, bears down upon and influences the daily lives of its population.
I was tempted to include this in the History section, but it deserves its own. Now we know New York doesn’t have much in terms of history and neither does it have any castles or palaces, so it’s a little unfair, and London wins before we even start. However the highlights of London’s 11 palaces and castles are Windsor Castle, Palace of Westminster, Tower of London, and of course Buckingham Palace. A quick search for the palaces of London will fill you in.
Apart from possibly Paris, which you might argue is on par, there isn’t another city that has palaces and castles that are equal to or better than London’s. However, Beijing does have the Forbidden City, which because of its sheer scale, could be a contender.
NYC has more students studying in the city, whilst London has better universities.
New York has 600,000 university students, to London’s 400,00 students. This makes them the top two cities in the world. With regard to well-regarded and highly-ranked universities, New York only has two notable universities in Columbia University and New York University. London, however, has at least five or six: Imperial College London, University College London, Kings College London, London School of Economics, University of Arts London, Queen Mary and the Royal College of Art.
London also has the top two arts and design universities in the world, the Royal College of Art and the University of Arts London. NYC’s The New School does rank third behind the two London universities though.
It is true that Princeton is only about a 90 mins drive away from Manhattan, but then the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge are only about 60 mins from London.
I’ll be slightly kind to NYC and call this a draw as New York does have more students overall in the city. For NYC to beat London as a university town though, it would need to add a few top-end Ivy League standard universities.
NYC wins in terms of weather in my opinion. New York also has better, more distinguished seasons. The summers are in London (June to September) are lovely, however they are short-lived and not as warm as New York’s summers.
Recreation and local sport
London obviously has far more space than NYC and so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that London has far more sporting facilities than NYC for locals to enjoys in additions to the parks mentioned previously. Both cities has a huge array of gymnasiums to choose from, but London also has a extensive network of public / state owned and private sports and leisure centres which have an abundance of facilities including swimming pools, tennis courts, football pitches, athletics tracks and much more. In addition many of London’s docks and quays have sailing clubs, boating and water sports facilities. Golf is also played in the city, but the larger golf clubs and parks are in either in the outskirts of London or outside the urban area. Cycling is also at an all-time high in London with huge investments made in London in the past 20 years
People and Culture
Both cities are incredibly open, tolerant and diverse.
Depending on how you measure diversity, NYC and London may well be the two most diverse cities in the world, and if not, they would most certainly be in the conversation and competing for that spot. This would be true if we were considering diversity on the basis of ethnic diversity, cultural diversity, neurodiversity, religious diversity, sexual-orientated diversity, diversity in regards to aptitude and talent, and probably any other spectrum you could identify. This rich diversity is due to the tolerance and openness of people and institutions of both cities, which therefore attracts people of all kinds and backgrounds.
In addition to the openness and the tolerance you can find in both cities, the people in both cities are generally younger than their national averages, outward-looking, innovative in their mindsets, and have some of the most productive populations in the world. You may find small cultural differences in behaviours in these cities, but these mostly stem from American and British culture. However the cultural differences of the two cities are far smaller than those when comparing the two countries of Britain and America. However differences, although slight, stemming from the countries cultures, may include American’s being slightly more direct and open, whilst Londoner’s may skew slightly to being more polite and reserved. However, since with both cities having large populations of people being foreign-born, with huge culturally diverse, the culture you may be exposed in either city really depends on many factors. In addition it is important to have a good appreciation of a variety of cultures and thinking. Because of their respective geography, London has more European migrants, whereas NYC has more migrants from the Americas.
A development to note is that cannabis was legalised in NYC about 2 years ago, and licences are expected to be issued to retailers to dispense cannabis in 2023. This demonstrates NYC continually becoming more liberal. The US’s federal political system enables individual states to diverge on laws making them suitable their respective populations, whereas London doesn’t have this capability as the UK does not operate in a federalised political system.
This is a very broad generalisation, and not absolutely true across all states, but America is generally culturally more conservative and economically more liberal than Britain. Britain is the opposite, being generally culturally more liberal and economically moderate (as is a lot of Western Europe) . For example, and as already mentioned, Brits can consume alcohol from the age of 16 whereas it’s 21 in the US. The US’s history, including in a large part of the 20th century, shows a legacy of implementing laws more draconian in nature, which extended to censorship of speech, drugs and alcohol (for example prohibition in the 1920’s and 1930’s). Given this legacy is should therefore not be surprising the British attitude to drinking, drugs, speech and profanity to be more relaxed overall.