Missing France? Move to London!

Map South Ken - My French Life™are you a francophile on the lookout for all things French? Or someone craving a taste of la belle vie after having recently returned from France? London could be the next best place to be!

With the French consulate estimating that there are currently 400 000 French expats in London, it is no surprise that ‘Paris-on-Thames’ is being dubbed as France’s sixth largest city.

The French trend for relocating to the UK has taken hold in the British capital, and a Gallic influence is becoming increasingly apparent in everything from gastronomy, culture and fashion, to the imminent fling with cycling.

An official French home away from home

Institut Français - Selina Sykes - My French Life™Bien sûr, the French have congregated in South Kensington, one of London’s most chic and cultured areas.

Among the squares of Victorian stuccoed homes, gracious terraces and elegant mews houses lies a bustling hub of Gallic cool sandwiched between Compton Road and Old Brompton Road.

With the presence of the Institut Français, the Lycée Charles de Gaulle and the Ambassade de France, the area has become a prime spot for London’s burgeoning French community.

All things French in ‘Frog Valley’

Whilst strolling in South Ken’s French quarter, you will immediately feel as though you have entered little France. The presence of a strong café culture creates a real Parisian buzz on the streets, while quaint eateries and independent shops maintain a tangible sense of community.

The newsstands are stacked with ‘Le Monde and ‘Le Figaro’ and the streets are lightly scented with the wafting smell of fresh baguettes. French mamans on the school run are pestered for a goûter while chic twentysomethings enjoy a coffee and cigarette on a terrasse.

It is hard to hear an English voice on Bute Street – otherwise known as ‘Frog Alley’ – which is dotted with French cafés, patisseries, grocers and bookshops.

Selina Sykes - My French Life™Selina Sykes - My French Life™

For mouth-watering patisseries I’d recommend Cigale and Bonne Bouche. The croissants and pains aux chocolat are the real deal, though you’ll be spoilt for choice with the selection of tarts and desserts. If you’re having a hard time choosing, why not opt for a selection of petit fours including mini macarons, tarlettes and millefeuilles?

After eating your fill of pastries, wander down to Librarie La Page for the latest issue of ‘Elle’ and The French Bookshop for a copy of Proust or Sartre.

A French retreat without the Eurostar fare

Francophiles will love eavesdropping in on conversations drifting from cafés, rummaging through shelves of French classics in a librarie, tucking into the perfect crêpe at Crémerie Crêperie or catching an art-house flick at the Ciné Lumière.

Selina Sykes - My French Life™

What’s more, this is the perfect place to brush up on your conversation skills – don’t look shell-shocked when greeted with a “bonjour”!

I love that I am often addressed in French here. The fact that people don’t revert to English when they realise I am not a francophone is a real compliment.  In fact, a lot of the French seem genuinely happy that there are some Londoners trying to master their mother tongue.

One conversation with a girl working in Librarie La Page ended in a lengthy discussion about Paris versus London. Young Frenchies love London; its audacious fashion, innovative creativity, unique atmosphere and tolerance.

She put me rather on the spot when by asking me to choose between the two cities. Although it was not the first time I had been asked, I always struggle to give a straightforward answer.

Paris is without doubt superior in visual splendour, and is where I made my Parisian dream a reality. However, London will always be my hometown and has a certain truc that I cannot quite put my finger on.

So, South Kensington has become my half-way house, offering the best of both worlds.

What are your favourite places to find France in London? Share your suggestions in the comments box below, or join the conversation on Twitter – @maviefrancaise.

Image credits:
1. Map of South Kensignton, via Pinterest.
2-5. By Selina Sykes.

About the Contributor

Selina Sykes

After having spent an Erasmus year in Paris, I have well and truly fallen under France’s mysterious spell. I am a graduate in French and History hoping to channel my love for French language and culture into a future career in journalism. Mes coups de cœur for Paris and all things French can be found in my blog.

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  1. Kirsten (KT) Trengove Oct 17, 2013 at 4:48 AM - Reply

    Terrific timing – I recently moved to London from Melbourne. I live and work in N1 and encounter quite a few French people here, and hear French on the street a lot. I look forward to reading more of your articles, Selina, and really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog.

  2. Selina Sykes Oct 17, 2013 at 4:53 AM - Reply

    That’s great to hear. I come from the west and the French are certainly making their presence known in my area too! Thank you very much, hope you enjoy what’s to come!

  3. Sandra E Brown Oct 17, 2013 at 2:39 PM - Reply

    Thank you for this article Selina. Before I go to Paris next year, I’m spending two weeks in London. I need to have at least one back-up plan for my Paris goal due to my disability needs, and London is it. I had planned to use those two weeks to scout out options. While I will pursue Paris to my breath runs out, I’m happy to read that my back-up plan would still give me a piece of France. I’ve been to London twice but not South Kensington. I’ll be sure to check it out!

  4. Selina Sykes Oct 17, 2013 at 6:24 PM - Reply

    I’m glad to hear that Sandra. I have to agree that London and the tube are far more accessible than the Parisian metro. Hope you enjoy your stay in my two favourite cities!

    • Sandra E Brown Oct 17, 2013 at 7:56 PM - Reply

      Oh the non-access of Paris! That is a story itself. I do love London. So pretty and so vast. So clean and modern. Paris however gives me challenges every single day and that is why I go there. Life, mostly, should always be an amazing story telling opportunity. You write very well Selina. It is a delight to both read your articles and learn from you.

  5. Selina Sykes Oct 17, 2013 at 8:24 PM - Reply

    Paris could definitely do with some modernisation on that part – lugging my suitcase from Gare du Nord to the metro was challenging enough, I cannot imagine what it is like for people with disabilities. I love the cleanliness of tube – something I appreciate so much being back despite the delays! The metro is due a big multi-million clean up though! I am glad to hear that the challenges of the French capital don’t stop you from discovering such a beautiful city Sandra. Thank you very much – I love writing them so its great to hear that you enjoy reading them!

  6. Esme Wakefield Oct 20, 2013 at 5:15 AM - Reply

    Great article Selina – I enjoy the look on my French friends’ faces when I say “France is the 6th French city!”
    I wonder what French people think of the cost of daily life in London compared to France (and Paris)? Surely living in France is cheaper, with the abundance of markets, boulangeries and rent?

  7. Selina Sykes Oct 20, 2013 at 10:01 PM - Reply

    Thanks Esme! The two cities are certainly expensive. Travel is one thing which is so much cheaper in Paris than London – I feel like my oyster card is bankrupting me every time I’m home! What I also find amazing is the bakeries obviously! You can always be guaranteed to get a delicious freshly baked baguette for not much money, whereas a good bakery is something of a find in London!

    • Alex Mottershead Oct 21, 2013 at 1:18 AM - Reply

      Great article Selina.
      I live over in N1 so South Ken is a bit of a trek for me but I love it for my French fix! I try and go to the Institut Français quite a lot as well.
      People say that London is really lots of little villages – I think that’s probably true. There seems to be a bit of a French village feel in Holbon – I often hear their heavily accented English on my commute to work!

  8. Selina Sykes Oct 21, 2013 at 1:47 AM - Reply

    Thanks Alex. I am from west London so South Ken is not far for me at all – I love going there whenever I’m missing Paris!

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