“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” So Dr Samuel Johnson famously said back in 1777. Whether you’re a long-time resident, an occasional visitor, or planning your first trip, England’s capital is a place packed with wonders, quirks, and experiences that can delight even the hardest of souls.
That being said, security in London comes with the same risks and dangers as any other major city on the planet.
Indeed, in 2021, the crime rate in London was 9% worse than the UK average with 87 crimes reported per 1,000 people versus a national average of 79.5 per 1,000.
To enjoy London safely, it is necessary to exercise added vigilance. In this guide, we will cover those areas where the greatest caution is recommended and the steps you can take to ensure your time in the capital is as pleasant as can be.
The trendy, inner northwest London borough is best known for its heritage in fashion, music, bohemian cultures, and its landmarks, including London Zoo, The British Museum, and the famous Camden Market.
However, Camden is densely populated with over a quarter of a million Londoners residing in the borough. A high volume of people, swelled by a constant stream of tourists makes Camden a target for thieves and the 9,301 thefts recorded in 2021 made up the largest proportion of the 29,853 crimes reported overall. With 8,751 violent crimes and 2,784 burglaries also recorded, Camden is a place to enjoy but also to be on guard.
Increasingly gentrified, Hackney is an inner London borough that spans part of the East and North of the city. The borough was boosted by the 2012 Olympics of which it played host and is known for its green spaces, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the renowned Hackney Empire theatre.
Recent developments notwithstanding, Hackney registered almost 4,000 more crimes than Camden in 2021 of which over a quarter (26%) were violent in nature.
The birthplace of heavyweight boxer Frank Bruno, West London’s Hammersmith and Fulham is perhaps better known for its football with Chelsea, Fulham, and Queens Park Rangers all plying their trade in the borough.
Though one of the smaller boroughs, Hammersmith and Fulham is home to over 180,000 residents, meaning the 119 crimes per 1,000 people makes it – pound for pound – one of the most dangerous. Indeed, much like Hackney, over a quarter (26%) of the crimes reported were violent.
Widely regarded to be the most wealthy borough in London, Kensington and Chelsea is home to a raft of celebrities and exceptionally wealthy families. To give you some idea as to the opulence of the area, the average house price is an eye-watering £2,188,257.
Despite having the smallest footprint of all the boroughs, Kensington and Chelsea is home to over 155,000 residents. This combination of population density and high wealth is likely the reason it experiences so much crime. Indeed, more than one in 3 (36%) of reported crimes in the borough are theft and burglary.
As a tourist to Kensington and Chelsea it’s important that the surroundings don’t lure you into letting your guard down and if you live or work there, having professional security in place is essential.
Home to the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, Westminster is the borough that springs to mind when most people think of London. As the place where Queen Elizabeth II resides, you’d be forgiven for thinking Westminster was the safest of all the boroughs. However for the fifth year running, Westminster has recorded more crimes than anywhere else in the capital.
The borough’s enormous popularity with tourists attracts thieves and robbers in sufficient numbers that 40% of crimes committed in Westminster are categorised as theft.
If you’re heading to London as a tourist, it’s highly advisable you approach the trip as you would any other holiday. Make copies of important documents such as passports and tickets to events and ensure they are kept separate from the originals. Try and formulate a plan of where you intend to visit and stick to it as well. Going off the beaten track can be fun but if you’re unfamiliar with the city, you could end up in areas where your safety is more at risk.
Travelling with company and memorising emergency contact numbers is also a good idea. If you’re visiting London on your own or intend to spend time apart from a larger group, always make sure a trusted party knows where you’ll be and what your plans are.
Even for lifelong Londoners, England’s capital is a complex city. Over 8,000 buses circle the roads, covering more than 700 routes. There are 250 tube stations, five airports and this is before you start counting the taxis, minicabs, and even boats. Moreover, all of it services a population that comes in at over 8,500,000 – larger than Scotland and Wales combined.
For the most part, public transport in London is safe but there are a few steps you can take to make sure it’s as safe as can be.
Taxiing around London is great fun, especially in the iconic black cabs, however it’s vital to check that any vehicle you get in is registered. Just like any other major city, London has its fair share of unlicensed taxis and by using one, you could be climbing into a car that is unsafe, uninsured, and with a driver who is either incompetent or dangerous. Your best bet is to book a taxi over the phone or through an official app rather than flag one down.
As pleasant as it is to wander around an historic place with your favourite tunes humming in your ears, it is inadvisable to walk around London while wearing headphones. Even in public spaces like marketplaces or the tube your belongings will be a target for pickpockets. Headphones diminish awareness of your surroundings and those who would take advantage know this all too well.
Between 2016 and 2019, almost 100,000 phones were stolen in just five London boroughs alone with most snatched from their owners as they meandered down the street. Keep your phone secure and have your IMEI number (The International Mobile Equipment Identity) somewhere separate as the police will need it to track its location if it’s taken. Also, if you haven’t already, set your phone up so it can be locked and data wiped remotely to prevent your personal data from being exploited.
Lastly, avoid walking alone in the dark. London has a bustling, energetic nightlife that fills the streets with light of every hue. But not every street. With a wrong turn you could easily find yourself in one of the city’s many dark corners where personal safety becomes less of a guarantee. If in doubt, book a cab. A registered one.
You’ll likely have essential valuables on you when in London such as wallets, handbags, or watches, but try and keep it to these essentials. The likes of tablets and laptops might feel safe in a backpack but a backpack makes you a more appealing target for those with bad intentions.
That said, it may be that you need a particularly valuable item with you, especially if it’s a work visit. If this is the case, ensure that any bag or hold-all you’re carrying is securely attached to you. Thieves prefer to swipe personal property quickly and quietly and if they can see that separating their target from their belongings will likely be frenzied and noisy, they’ll think twice.
Then there’s bum-bags, waist-bags, money-belts, or whatever you want to call them. These are excellent for keeping important documents, cash, and cards, in a place where theft of them is nigh on impossible. Newer versions have also been developed that sit snugly under layers of clothing to keep them fully out of sight.
Staying safe in London can be achieved simply by being vigilant. Today’s pickpockets rarely just rifle through your clothing in the hope of striking gold, they instead set up commotions in order to distract.
If you see an argument or fight breakout or someone approaches you in the street asking if you want to see a magic trick, be wary. There’s every chance that what’s unfolding has been manufactured to lower your guard. There’s even a scam where a person – usually a woman – will theatrically fall into your arms while carrying a baby. The “baby” is in fact a doll, and in the fracas that follows an accomplice will put daylight between you and whatever loose valuables you’re lugging.
As for the tube, exercise your greatest vigilance when the doors open as this is the window of opportunity most often used for ‘snatch and run’ type thefts. The same goes for using cash machines. Beware of anyone standing a little too close when you’re using one and if you’re feeling uneasy, abandon the transaction and draw your money out somewhere else.
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