I've lived in Notting Hill, a neighborhood in west London, on and off for the past three years.
Films like "Notting Hill" and "Love Actually" have made the area a hub for tourists and movie fans.
From packed Portobello Market to colorful mews, living here is different from the movies.
I know a thing or two about the reality of living in Notting Hill because I first moved to the neighborhood three years ago.
I first moved to Notting Hill, a neighborhood in west London, in 2019 after graduating from college in the US. Though I'd grown up in the UK, this was my first-ever experience of living in central London.
But like many others, I was already pretty familiar with Notting Hill before I spent my first day living here. It's a filming location in several of my favorite rom-coms, which meant that I had a very romanticized expectation of what it would be like to live in Notting Hill.
Naturally, this view has changed over the years — here's why.
My first impressions of the neighborhood came from two famous rom-coms: "Love Actually" and "Notting Hill."
I'm not ashamed to admit that my first introduction to the neighborhood came from watching two movies: "Notting Hill," a 1999 movie starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, and "Love Actually," a 2003 Christmas rom-com where Keira Knightley's character lives in a pretty pink house in the area.
In both films, Notting Hill is painted to be this quirky, sanitized, almost fantasy world where anything can happen. Hollywood movie stars and book shop owners can fall madly in love and a guy can confess his love for his best friend's wife with zero consequences.
The reality is quite different.
Portobello Road is a Notting Hill must-visit, but it's often overcrowded at the weekends.
Nothing screams Notting Hill more than Portobello Road, a street where one of the busiest markets in all of London is held every weekend. On Saturdays and Sundays, the road is often packed wall-to-wall with tourists and London locals alike looking for good deals and great shopping.
But while the buzz of the market is a fun experience, it does get overwhelming when you live here full time. I'd much prefer walking the street on weekdays when there are fewer people around. Though there aren't as many stalls open, it does mean I'm not constantly bumping into others while simply trying to visit my local grocery store.
Just like in "Notting Hill," access to private gardens is strictly for residents — but unlike in the movie, I wouldn't risk hopping these pointed fences.
In the movie "Notting Hill," Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant's characters famously sneak into one of the private gardens for a romantic moment where they share their first kiss.
But doing so in real life would probably cause more trouble than it's worth as the spikes on the fences are super pointy.
As a local, I honestly don't really notice these gardens anymore. Since the only people who have key access are those who live around them, it's not worth stopping by for the mere attempt to look in from the outside.
The travel book shop owned by Hugh Grant's character in "Notting Hill" doesn't actually sell any books.
Sadly, the travel book shop Hugh Grant's character owns in "Notting Hill" is little more than a souvenir shop in real life. Until Tuesday, I'd never bothered to step inside because it's often crowded with tourists taking photographs.
But having a peek inside, I'm sure the visit is an experience any real diehard fans would find disappointing. Instead of books, the shop sells kitschy souvenir items such as graphic t-shirts for £12.99, or around $16, or teapots for £14.99, or around $18.40. And there's definitely no Hugh Grant lookalike working there – trust me, I've checked.
However, the real bookshop that inspired the film is just a short walk away.
Luckily for "Notting Hill" fans, the romance of the movie is somewhat kept alive by the fact that the real store that inspired the travel bookshop remains open a street away — and, yes, it actually sells books.
While the literary content isn't strictly travel-related, the shop has made its relation to the movie clear in a plaque placed outside by the door, which reads: "The Travel Book Co featured in the film Notting Hill was inspired by a bookshop established on this site in 1981. The original interior and shopfront remain today."
Tourists often line up to take photos in front of the house with the "big blue door" where Hugh Grant's character lived in the movie – a thing locals don't love.
I can't quite count the number of times I've had to awkwardly interrupt tourist photoshoots in front of the big blue door where Grant's character is shown to live in "Notting Hill" but it's definitely more than 10.
In any case, the residents of this street are likely not the biggest fans of the home being such a tourist attraction.
While it's not clear if the residents had anything to do with the writing, indications of local sentiment toward tourists who stop to take photos in front of the blue door include words written in black pen outside, which read "tourists are sheep," and "tourists suck."
Speaking of famous homes, the pink house where Keira Knightley's character lives in "Love Actually" is another place frequented by tourists, much to the reported dismay of the owner.
However, now that I've lived here a bit longer, I'm much more empathetic to the frustrations of the homeowners who have to deal with influencers and tourists stopping by to take photographs outside.
In 2020, the owner of the house told Manchester Evening News that she even had people walking into her home "thinking it's some sort of theme park" and called the whole situation "intrusive."
"Love Actually" also makes it seem realistic that a young couple could afford to live in a Notting Hill mews that costs millions of dollars.
Keira Knightley may have been 18 when she starred in "Love Actually," but I think it's safe to assume her character was supposed in her mid-twenties.
Even back in 2003, when the film was released, the idea that a newly-married couple in their mid-twenties could afford to live alone in this part of Notting Hill was a bit of a stretch. The last time the house was on the market was 2007, when it sold for over £1 million, or $1.2 million, and its current valuation is more than double at £2.66 million, or $3.25 million, according to The Move Market.
Like a lot of neighborhoods in London, Notting Hill has experienced its fair share of gentrification, which means living here is costly. Across the area, house prices are up 4% from the previous year, with a staggering overall average price of £1.95 million, or $2.38 million, online real estate company Rightmove reports.
Gentrification also means that a number of well-known businesses have cropped up in the area in the past few years that don't necessarily fit with the romantic version of Notting Hill.
Don't get me wrong, Notting Hill is still very much a place packed with independent retailers and vintage shops. And I'm pretty sure it's these businesses that keep attracting tourists.
That said, I can't help but notice that big-name brands like Soul Cycle, Five Guys, and Poke House have begun popping up across the neighborhood in recent years. Although these businesses do cater to a fair few locals such as myself, they don't fit in with the romanticized 1999 version of the neighborhood presented in "Notting Hill" that I'm sure tourists are looking for when they visit.
Movies also tend to sanitize reality — when you live in Notting Hill, you often spot reminders of the 2017 Grenfell fire tragedy, which killed 72 people.
But even so, the green heart graffiti and calls for justice for those who died in the fire show that the Notting Hill area isn't the overly sanitized neighborhood it's shown to be in rom-coms. There is a history to this place that is both rich and painful at the same time.
Tourists should know the proximity the neighborhood has to the tragedy and look out for the artwork around the neighborhood that serves as a reminder of everyone who lost their lives that day.
From what I've experienced in three years, Notting Hill is a neighborhood like any other — but I still think it's a magical place.
After living here for the most part of three years, I can safely conclude that Notting Hill is a neighborhood like most others. There's trash on the streets, graffiti on the walls, tension between local vendors and big business, and much more.
So yes, it's far from the idealized version of the neighborhood depicted in the movies. While it's not as pretty around the edges, it's still a magical place to live.
It's also still my favorite spot in London after all these years, which means I can't really blame tourists for wanting to visit and take as many photographs as they possibly can – I'll put my hands up to say I'd probably do the same if I didn't live here.
Read the original article on Insider