Where the best area to stay in London may be is ultimately down to you. Deciding on the best neighbourhood to stay in London can be bewildering, especially if you’re planning your first visit there. It’s a vast, diverse metropolis with so many attractions and sights to see. It doesn’t really have a single centre as such, as American cities have a ‘downtown’ area – it’s more of an agglomeration of different villages that have gradually been absorbed into the city. And these areas vary greatly in what they have to offer.

It all depends on what you want to see, your interests, your budget for your trip, and how prepared and able you are to walk. And that includes up flights of stairs.

Wherever you stay, whatever you plan to see, you’ll be making some journeys around London. You may want to stay very close to the sights in central London, or be happier to travel back and forth from somewhere a little further out.

We’ll give you a breakdown of everything you need to consider when choosing where to stay in London. We’ve broken it down into thirteen suggested areas to stay in London, and given some background information on each, including what there is to see there, what dining options are in the area, what attractions are nearby, what transport connections are like from points of arrival (whether by air, rail or coach) and onward to the main sights of London.

For reference, we refer throughout to ‘central London’. By this we mean the following areas, starting in the west, this includes Kensington and Paddington, both of which border Hyde Park, the West End, Victoria, Westminster, Covent Garden, Bloomsbury and King’s Cross, the City of London and the East End, all of which are to the north of the river Thames. The one area we have covered to the south of the river, South Bank, Bankside and Southwark, is also part of Central London.

We also refer to ‘the city’ and ‘the City’. When we refer to ‘the city’, we are referring

to London as a whole. When we mention ‘the City’ we are referring to the City of London, the so-called ‘Square Mile’ where many of London’s financial institutions are concentrated, as well as major sights like St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London.

 

Where to stay in London – What to Consider

Getting into London from your airport London is served by five airports. Most of the intercontinental and long-haul flights arrive at Heathrow (LHR) or Gatwick (LGW), while flights from Europe and the rest of the UK arrive at Luton (LLA), Stansted (STN) or City (LCY) airports as well as Heathrow and Gatwick.

Heathrow is 15 miles to the west and both Heathrow Express (fast, expensive) and Tube (slow, cheaper) connect it with Central London. London City airport receives trains on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) which are only a Otherwise all airports have both rail and coach / bus connections to Central London, with Victoria the best-served destination for the latter.

You’ll need an Oyster card. It’s the smart travel card everyone uses to get around London. You swipe it at the beginning and end of each journey, and regularly keep it topped up with funds to keep on travelling. It’s valid on all Tube, bus and river bus routes. For further information, click here.

Travelling around London takes time. Sometimes a lot of time. This is a metropolis 25 miles across from west to east, and around 20 miles north to south. The Tube is the underground train service, the metro or subway equivalent. Travelling above ground – which for tourists means the bus – is often slow because there is often a lot of traffic. Even a cross-city journey on the Tube can take well over an hour. Some transfers between lines at Tube stations can take 15 to 20 minutes and entail a long walk – King’s Cross St Pancras is one to watch for this.

Consider the bus The Tube is generally considerably quicker than the bus, but the bus is very useful in areas not covered by the Tube. Also, the bus is often quicker than some Tube journeys across Central London, especially when transfers to different lines are involved.

Staying near public transport Getting around London can take long enough at the best of times, so it’s essential that you’re close to good connections to the parts of the city that you’d like to see. So you either need to be close to a Tube station or bus route, otherwise much of your time is going to be taken up getting around. Also remember if you can walk, it can often be quicker to walk short distances then using public transport. Some tube stations are very close together especially in the centre. So by the time you get down to the platform and back up at the other end you can often walk the short distance and is a great way to see London. I love nothing more than walking the back streets of London and this is often where you will find your best little discoveries, such as a great pub or place to eat.

Proximity to main sights You’ll want to spend most of your precious time visiting what you have come to see, as opposed to getting there and back. So when researching accommodation, check typical journey times from the nearest station or stop to where you’d like to go.

 

Victoria & Westminster

Highlights

  • Great if you’re interested in royal London and want to be close to the sights
  • Excellent transport connections
  • Accommodation from deluxe to budget

For many, Victoria is the first place they set foot in London. It’s one of the most convenient gateways to central London, with Victoria Coach Station the terminus for coaches from all over the UK and continental Europe and services from three of London’s four airports – Gatwick, Luton and Stansted. It is also the departure point for many sightseeing day trips to destinations outside London such as Windsor Castle and Canterbury. Victoria railway station is another point of arrival from the airports, with Gatwick Express trains calling there. It’s also the gateway for trains from Kent and Sussex, the two counties to the south and east between London and the English Channel. The adjacent Tube station is on the Victoria line, just four stops from Euston and the north of central London, and the Circle and District lines, with connections all around the heart of London where the majority of visitors will spend most of their time. The hop-on-hop-off bus tours all stop close to Victoria station, and lots of free walking tours depart from the area. The number 11 bus which runs from the corner of Buckingham Palace Road and Grosvenor Gardens, across the street from Victoria station, is another useful quick link to Westminster and on to Trafalgar Square along the route described below.

Victoria borders the districts of Belgravia to the north and Pimlico to the south, and St James’s, which lies between Victoria Street and St James’s Park. It is very close to the heart of royal London, and many of the city’s famous traditional iconic sights. Many coaches approaching Victoria pass the precincts of Buckingham Palace, which is only a ten-minute walk from Victoria Station. A few minutes along Victoria Street, you come to the twin towers of Westminster Abbey, where most royal coronations and many royal weddings and funerals take place.

Beyond here, Parliament Square is dominated by the Houses of Parliament, with roads branching off to Westminster Bridge and Whitehall, home to many UK government ministries, continuing to Horseguards’ Parade, where visitors can see the famous Changing of the Lifeguard ceremony up close at 11.00 each morning (10.00 on Sundays). This is possibly the best place to get up close to the royal ceremony and pageantry for which London is so well-known. It’s normally easier to get a good vantage point here than the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace which takes place at the same time. Trafalgar Square, one of the city’s main tourist hubs and home to Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery, is a short walk further up Whitehall.

It’s a ten to fifteen-minute walk from the parade ground at Horseguards to Buckingham Palace, either through beautiful St James’s Park, one of several Royal Parks around the city, or along the ceremonial processional road, The Mall.

Unsurprisingly there are some deluxe top end options around Whitehall and Victoria Street, but the area around Victoria station and Belgravia are also a good hunting ground if you’re looking for two- or three-star accommodation, but as some of them are in older buildings, there may be some stair climbing involved.

 

West End

Highlights

  • Great for a base for those who wish to be in the middle of theatre land or go on a shopping expedition
  • Fantastic dining options at all budgets within walking distance
  • Most options are deluxe and expensive – relatively few budget options
  • Awkward for arrivals from airports at present – this will improve after Crossrail opens in 2018

The boundaries of the ‘West End’ are quite loosely defined – some would include certain areas which others wouldn’t. So for the purposes of this article, we’re going with the main theatre district around Shaftesbury Avenue, neighbouring Soho and the busiest shopping street, Oxford Street. We also include Piccadilly Circus and the street Piccadilly which runs off it, and the areas either side of Oxford Street, Mayfair and Marylebone, continuing as far as Marble Arch and Park Lane. We’ve kept Covent Garden and its neighbour the Strand separate.

The West End is where many visitors spend most of their money. Oxford Street, home to many of the UK’s flagship stores, attracts millions of shoppers every year, as does Regent Street, which intersects with it.

If you’re not shopping in the West End, there’s a good chance you’ll be looking to catch a show at one of the many theatres which are spread out across the area. Shaftesbury Avenue has always had a good concentration of theatres, and also has a huge choice of places to eat in Chinatown (to the south) and Soho (to the north). Otherwise, Leicester Square is the cinema capital of the UK, where the red carpets are rolled out for the big premieres.

At the end of Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Circus is one of the hubs where crowds seem to congregate, mainly to sit below the famous Eros statue and watch the ever-changing adverts on the giant screen overlooking the square. From here, the street Piccadilly passes the traditional Burlington Arcade of shops, the Royal Academy of Arts and the deluxe Ritz Hotel on the corner of Green Park.

Mayfair is the area north of Piccadilly, extending to Oxford Street. It’s a traditionally wealthy area, full of upmarket boutiques and, most famously, the exclusive tailors of Savile Row. Its western edge is Park Lane, with its exclusive hotels looking across the road to Hyde Park.

Marylebone is one of our favourite London areas to explore. Once you’re away from the bustle of Oxford Street, there are lots of discoveries to be made, like the Golden Eagle pub with its traditional piano singalongs to Daunt Books on the High Street, a mecca for travel book lovers. Its other main street, Baker Street, is home to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in the building below the fictitious detective’s address at 221B. One of London’s biggest attractions, Madame Tussauds waxworks, is around the corner on Marylebone Road.

Much of the West End’s accommodation tends to be in the expensive to deluxe bracket, with relatively few moderate and budget options, except possibly in Marylebone and Soho.

Connections from the major airports are not as good as other areas – at the time of writing (October 2017) you’ll have to make at least one onward connection from the main central London points of arrival, unless you opt to take a taxi.

However, this will change with the opening of Crossrail in late 2018 – there will be stations at Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road, along the middle and east end of the street. Bond Street will make Mayfair easier to reach, while Tottenham Court Road is right on Soho’s doorstep. The one thing that won’t change is that Oxford Street will remain a traffic-clogged bottleneck where the going is perennially slow.

 

Covent Garden & The Strand

Highlights 

  • Great location only 10-minute walk from Trafalgar Square
  • Some walking involved as no buses run in Covent Garden
  • Brilliant for eating out, nightlife and shopping
  • In heart of Theatreland
  • Other sights easily reached by Tube or bus

 

Covent Garden has always felt distinct from much of the rest of London because of the relative lack of traffic on its roads. Its core around the famous Market is pedestrianised, as are several other pockets. As the streets are mostly narrow, no buses run along them, so you’ll need to walk to get around the area. It is one of the best areas to stay in London because its central position puts it within walking distance of many of the main sights.

Covent Garden’s main attraction is its covered market and surrounding piazza, always busy with people browsing the many shops or watching buskers and performing artists. As well as seeing a performance at the Royal Opera House, which backs onto the square, it’s possible to go on a tour taking you behind the scenes.

Some of the best-known theatres are in or around the edge of Covent Garden, including the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane and St Martin’s Theatre, which has had a continuous run of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap for over 60 years. Otherwise, many of the best West End theatres are only a few minutes’ walk away with several in Cambridge Circus, Shaftesbury Avenue and Soho. The area is full of great places to eat, and many places offer pre-theatre early evening specials which are well worth looking out for. It also has some great pubs, including the Lamb & Flag in a courtyard just off the Strand, a survival from the 17th century.

Covent Garden’s proximity to so many of the main sights is what really makes it stand out as one of the best places to stay in London. Trafalgar Square and Whitehall are just a few minutes away on foot, as is the Thames.

Most of the Covent Garden hotels tend to be at the luxurious end of the scale, but there are also one or two budget options in the area, but these tend to sell out some way in advance.

Covent Garden is very accessible by public transport. Covent Garden Tube station has had a major refit in the last few years, with full lift access to the platforms restored. It’s on the corner of Long Acre and James Street, no more than two minutes’ walk from the piazza, covered market and Royal Opera House. It’s on the Piccadilly Line, so is directly accessible from Heathrow. Leicester Square and Charing Cross Tube stations – both on the Northern line – are also very close. Buses also skirt the fringes of Covent Garden – along Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road to the east, the Strand to the south, Kingsway to the east and High Holborn to the north.

The Strand runs off Trafalgar Square along the southern edge of Covent Garden, with several side streets leading into the area. The Strand and its continuation, Aldwych, is home to several luxury hotels, including the famous Savoy and Waldorf Astoria. It is also home to Somerset House, which houses the Courtauld Gallery and its amazing Impressionist collection, and in winter it plays host to one of the best open air ice rinks in London, in a stunning setting in a vast neoclassical courtyard.

Bloomsbury, King’s Cross and around

Highlights

  • Bloomsbury a quieter area than the West End, but very close by
  • Main attraction is the British Museum
  • Budget hotels concentrated around King’s Cross and Euston stations
  • St Pancras is the Eurostar terminal, with trains arriving from (and departing to) Paris and continental Europe

Bloomsbury is one of the quieter areas of Central London, between busy Euston Road to the north and the far northern fringes of Covent Garden and Soho to the south. Its most obvious draw is the outstanding British Museum, but it’s also worth exploring for its fine squares, among them the grand Georgian Bedford Square, halfway along Gower Street. The western part of the district is dominated by the University of London. Bloomsbury has a wealth of historic connections, commemorated in the many blue plaques recording where and when famous residents lived there, including Charles Darwin and Virginia Woolf. There are also fascinating museums to visit, including the Charles Dickens Museum, the Cartoon Museum and the Foundling Museum.

Bloomsbury is well-connected, with several Tube stations along Euston Road close by, as well as plenty of bus routes. The one Tube station within Bloomsbury is Russell Square, on the Piccadilly Line, which has direct connections with Heathrow airport. When Crossrail opens in late 2018, the southern part of Bloomsbury is going to be better connected, with Tottenham Court Road station only a few minutes’ walk from the British Museum, with good bus connections via the street of the same

name.

Euston Road runs along the northern part of Bloomsbury, and there are five Tube stations in just over a mile (2km), plus two mainline railway stations and the city’s Eurostar terminal concentrated within half that distance. Starting from the east, King’s Cross is the London gateway for the East Coast Main Line, with trains from Scotland and the north-east of England, not to mention a photo opportunity for Harry Potter fans at the Platform 9¾ sign. Next door is the splendid St Pancras International station, arrival point of Eurostar services from continental Europe. Euston is a short walk further along the road, a few blocks beyond the British Library. Euston is the arrival point for trains on the West Coast Main Line, and the capital’s main link to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. Euston is right across the street from University College London and the heart of Bloomsbury. A short walk further along Euston Road takes you to Warren Street Tube on the corner of Tottenham Court Road. Beyond here you’re into Fitzrovia, another well-connected area that’s quieter than other parts of central London.

The area around King’s Cross has been spruced up considerably in recent years, but it’s still not the most pleasant part of town late at night. There is a relative concentration of budget chain hotels in the area to the south and east of King’s Cross, and if you book in advance, you can get some great London hotel offers here. There are also some around Euston, well-placed either for the sights of central London or the short hop up the road to Camden Town and its markets. Another option during the summer months is university accommodation – some of the halls of residence are usually opened up to guests, usually at bargain rates.

At the other end of the scale, the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is the luxury choice in the area, an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic architecture restored to its former glory.

Bloomsbury a quieter area than the West End, but very close by

Main attraction is the British Museum

Budget hotels concentrated around King’s Cross and Euston stations

St Pancras is the Eurostar terminal, with trains arriving from (and departing to) Paris and continental Europe

City of London

Highlights

  • Great for history buffs
  • Fantastic nightlife and eating out in nearby Shoreditch and Brick Lane
  • Quieter on weekends – when prices drop considerably
  • Great if you’re flying in to Stansted or City Airport

The City of London is a fascinating place to explore and a great one to base yourself. It has three of the great icons of the city, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral, and much more besides. There are some remains of Roman Londinium, including some of the city wall close to the Tower, and a few medieval survivals, but much of the City was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 – Christopher Wren built over twenty churches as well as St Paul’s. The Inns of Court, off Fleet Street in the west of the City, are also worth seeking out for a glimpse of legal London, an oasis of quiet very different from the rest of the city.

And then there is the matter of City of London – together with nearby Canary Wharf – being one of the world’s leading financial centres. As a result the skyline has sprouted buildings in all kinds of shapes, from vegetables (the Gherkin) to household appliances (the Cheese Grater) to telephone handsets (the Walkie Talkie) and the mixture of new and old, and the buzz of busyness all around, makes it an intriguing place to visit and base yourself.

The City is also well-placed for nightlife, with regular arts, theatre and music events on at the Barbican Centre, and many great pubs open during the week. The bars, pubs and restaurants of Shoreditch are only a couple of bus stops up the road from Liverpool Street station, while Spitalfields and Brick Lane are a ten-minute walk away.

Once the City’s offices empty for the weekend, it becomes much quieter, and many shops and pubs remain closed over the weekend, lending it a bit of a ghost town feel. The good news with this is that hotel rates often drop on weekends. The budget chains have a large presence in the area, and there are plenty of more luxurious options too.

The main transport hub of the City is Liverpool Street, which is the arrival point of the train from Stansted Airport in Essex. It is also on the Circle, Central, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City Tube lines, so reaching it from the west of the city is pretty easy. It will also be on Crossrail’s Elizabeth Line, so this journey will become easier from Heathrow Airport and all points on the way.

Otherwise, if you’re travelling in from Victoria and you’re not pushed for time, why not take the scenic route on the number 11 bus, which passes Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square, continuing up Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, then the Strand, before crossing the City, passing Fleet Street and St Paul’s Cathedral en route to Liverpool Street.

 

 

Paddington

Highlights

  • Short distance to West End, Kensington or Notting Hill
  • Easiest and quickest option if you’re flying into Heathrow – you can get the Heathrow express directly to Paddington in 15 minutes
  • Few sights of note in immediate area

There are few obvious sights to see in the immediate vicinity of Paddington station, the arrival point for trains from the west of England and Wales, as well as terminus for the Heathrow Express. It’s in the north-west corner of Central London, However it’s within walking distance (around fifteen minutes) of diverse attractions such as the canal hub of Little Venice, Hyde Park, the Middle Eastern restaurants of Edgware Road, while the heart of Notting Hill is only a short hop by Tube or bus.

Paddington’s strength as a place to stay is its excellent connections, both to

international points of arrival and onward throughout London. As well as the Heathrow Express, it is also the destination for coaches from Luton and Stansted airports. As for within London, it is located on the Circle and District lines, while the Bakerloo line makes the journey to the West End and onto Waterloo in double quick time: you’re no more than half an hour from most of the main sights in central London, and in London terms, that is very good.

When Crossrail’s Elizabeth Line opens in late 2018, Paddington will be even better connected – you’ll no longer need to change at Baker Street for Bond Street or Tottenham Court Road, so the likes of Oxford Street, Soho and Bloomsbury will be a lot quicker to reach than they currently are.

Paddington has plenty of accommodation options, from budget to upmarket, chain to character, including a rock’n’roll hotel. Bayswater (just to the west) and Marylebone are also very good options but more expensive options.

 

Kensington & Chelsea

Highlights

  • Kensington a family favourite with the Museums and Hyde Park close by
  • Budget options in west of area towards Earls Court
  • Chelsea has mostly luxury options
  • Chelsea rich in historical associations, including art, fashion and music
  • Much of Chelsea some distance (10-15 minute walk) from Tube stops

Kensington and Chelsea are two of the wealthiest areas in London, and within easy reach of Victoria and the western part of central London.

Kensington extends from the west side of Hyde Park and Holland Park in the north to Earls Court in the west and Chelsea to the south – the latter borders a scenic stretch of the river Thames, including the Albert Bridge, one of the most beautiful in the city. It reaches as far as Sloane Square and Belgravia, close to Victoria, one of London’s main arrival points.

The main draw in South Kensington is undoubtedly its cluster of three outstanding museums – The Natural History Museum, its next-door neighbour the Science Museum and, across the street, the Victoria & Albert Museum, often referred to as the V&A, which is devoted to design and applied arts. Most areas of all three are free – you may have to pay for entry to some special exhibitions – making the area a great place to base yourself if you’ve got kids with you.

Further north, the western half of Hyde Park, which also goes by the name of Kensington Gardens, is a great place to walk, and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground is within easy reach. Kensington Palace, one of Diana’s former residences, and the Royal Albert Hall – one of the UK’s most iconic concert venues – are all close by.

Accommodation in Kensington tends to be expensive, but for location it’s well worth it. South Kensington Tube station is ideally situated on the Piccadilly, Circle and

District lines. The Piccadilly runs all the way to Heathrow Airport, and in to the heart of the West End, while the Circle and District lines provide a quick link to Victoria, Westminster and the City.

Chelsea extends from South Kensington down to the Thames, and across to the borders of Belgravia. It’s one of the wealthiest areas of London, though typically of the city parts of it around the World’s End estate are in stark contrast to this. It is an area rich in sights and historical associations.

Chelsea’s main thoroughfare is the King’s Road, and it’s dominated by fashion boutiques, deli cafes and restaurants. It’s named after the 17th century King James II, who used to ride his coach and horses along the route. In the late 19th century the area was frequented by artists and writers, and in the 1950s Mary Quant opened her Bazaar there. Although little trace remains now amid the gentrification, King’s Road had a strong association with the Swinging Sixties, and there followed places like the ‘psychedelic boutique’ Granny Takes A Trip and, in the 1970s, the SEX boutique at number 430 which was one of the focal points of London’s nascent punk scene. It was owned by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, and it was here that the punk look of the mid- to late 1970s was developed and one of its most famous bands, the Sex Pistols, was formed. The shop on the premises, now known as World’s End, is still owned by Westwood.

The area has sights as diverse as the Saatchi Art Gallery, the beautiful Chelsea Physic Garden and, close to the river, the National Army Museum and, next door, the Royal Hospital, home to the famous Chelsea Pensioners. It’s also worth exploring Cheyne Walk, a street running parallel to the Thames, which is one of the most exclusive in the country with an amazingly rich list of former residents. The Chelsea Old Church and the Albert Bridge, possibly the most beautiful in London, are close by. Those of a certain football persuasion will also make a beeline for Stamford Bridge, Chelsea FC’s stadium, which actually lies slightly outside the district off Fulham Road.

Most Chelsea accommodation is in the luxury and high end bracket, with some of the best options in beautiful old townhouses of the main streets. It’s not really budget territory, but with a bit of advance planning it’s possible to seek out some three- and four-star bargains. There are more budget options as you head further west – and away from central London – towards Fulham and Earls Court.

Getting to central London from Chelsea is fairly easy, but it’s not very well-served by the Tube network. The station at Sloane Square, in the east of the district, is on the Circle and District line, only three stops from Westminster Tube. Other than this, the best bet if you prefer the Tube is to walk the ten minutes or so to South Kensington or Gloucester Road Tube stops. Chelsea has excellent bus connections including the number 11 which runs from Fulham Broadway to Liverpool Street.

 

East End

Highlights 

  • Ideal if you’re arriving at City Airport or Stansted
  • Amazing nightlife and eating out
  • Good connections, close to Liverpool Street and City
  • Sights quite thinly spread out to the east of Brick Lane
  • Good budget options

There’s general agreement about where London’s East End starts – it is to the north of the river Thames, traditionally it’s the Roman and medieval walls in the east of the City, with Tower Bridge seen as the river boundary – but no clear consensus on where it actually ends. The Oxford English Dictionary states that its eastern boundary is the river Lea, to the east of Canary Wharf and the docklands, now including the Olympic Park in Stratford. However, for the purposes of the article we’re sticking to the historic East End, the earliest expansions beyond the City walls, including the area immediately to the east and north of Liverpool Street station, including Shoreditch, Hoxton, Brick Lane, Bethnal Green and Whitechapel. It’s an area where budget and bargain accommodation is most prevalent.

The East End has a rich history, hosting four different waves of immigrants down the centuries – French Huguenots, Irish, Jews from Eastern Europe and most recently Bangladeshis. These areas were traditionally very poor, but this has long since changed. Shoreditch – a short distance up Bishopsgate from Liverpool Street – has been one of the hippest, most fashionable areas in London, a result of regeneration, which started with artists moving into cheap warehouse studios and accommodation. Tech start-ups have continued to power the area’s rise. It’s now home to several art galleries, cafes and restaurants, not to mention some boutique hotels and some of Londons best bars and clubs. The main draw for Shoreditch and Hoxton is undoubtedly its nightlife, but anyone with an interest in the history of interior design should also seek out the wonderful Geffrye Museum next to Hoxton station.

Spitalfields, a short walk to the east of Liverpool Street, is home to the redeveloped Spitalfields Market and nearby Brick Lane, the unofficial curry capital of the UK with some fantastic south Asian restaurants. It’s also worth visiting for its nightlife, street markets, street food and street food. Near the corner with Bethnal Green Road, the Brick Lane Beigel Bake has been serving long snaking queues of customers for generations. Brick Lane also has some brilliant street art. Just beyond the northern end of the street, which peters out into a housing estate, is the Columbia Road Flower Market, which turns this East End street into a riot of colour. Back on the busiest stretch of Brick Lane

At the other end of Brick Lane, Whitechapel’s main draw is the Whitechapel Art Gallery, which hosts contemporary art exhibitions. I’ve found it a convenient area to stay overnight a few times, won the District and Hammersmith & City lines. This is set to improve in late 2018 when it will have a station on Crossrail’s Elizabeth Line, making it a much easier journey if you’re travelling from Heathrow and the west. It’s also very convenient if you’re arriving from Stansted, with Liverpool Street a few

stops away on the Tube.

Bethnal Green, to the north of Whitechapel and east of Brick Lane, is a handy option if you’re on a budget. As well as having Brick Lane on its doorstep, it has the fascinating V&A Museum of Childhood, with great exhibitions on toys, dolls’ houses and much more, with plenty of opportunity for interaction if you have kids with you. The Ragged School Museum in nearby Mile End gives a very different insight into childhood, with restored classrooms in a school run for destitute children, which provided them with food and clothing as well as education.

Apart from Shoreditch, the one exception to the budget rule in the East End is around Canary Wharf, where hotels geared towards the expense account business traveller predominate. Staying in the East End, you can count on being up to half an hour from Liverpool Street and the City, the same from City Airport and up to an hour from the other side of central London.

 

Southwark, Bankside & South Bank

Highlights

  • Convenience for less than in prime areas across the river
  • South Bank arts complex at one end of area
  • Borough Market and surrounding area great for eating out and nightlife
  • Great sights to see all along the Thames
  • Easy connections to sights across the river

This area extends from landmark Tower Bridge in the east, along the south bank of the Thames, taking in a huge range of essential sights, continuing past the South Bank arts centre and London Eye to Lambeth Bridge.

Starting in the east, the main draws on the southern side of the river are the colossal Shard, which towers 1,000 feet above London Bridge, and nearby Borough Market and the many bars, pubs and restaurants in the surrounding streets. Southwark Cathedral, next to Borough Market, is one of London’s loveliest churches, is well worth half an hour or so of your time. As you head west towards Bankside you pass two re-creations of wonders of the 16th century – a replica of the Golden Hinde sailing ship and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which is at its most atmospheric during performances. Soon afterwards you reach the behemoth art gallery that is Tate Modern, impressively housed in the former Bankside power station. The Millennium Bridge leads from here to the City, directly facing St Paul’s Cathedral across the river.

Further along, the South Bank arts complex, which includes the wonderful Royal Festival Hall, always has plenty of events. Waterloo Station, the busiest in the UK, is a couple of streets back from the river. At the South Bank, you’re in the shadow of the London Eye, the ferris wheel providing some of the best views of the city. Beyond Westminster Bridge, the walk south along Albert Embankment looking across the river to the Houses of Parliament is one of the most evocative in Europe, if not the world.

Many of the hotels on the south side of the river are moderately-priced chains, though there are also some five-star establishments. Transport links and proximity to main sights is excellent. The area around Waterloo is especially convenient – it’s only a short distance across the river to Westminster and some of the principal sights, and it’s also a good base if you intend to explore some of the more interesting parts of south London such as Brixton.

 

North London – Camden

  • Best areas to stay are away from Camden High Street
  • Ideal if you’re staying for a gig locally or in nearby Kentish Town
  • Also good if you’re going to London Zoo
  • Quick connections by Tube or bus to Central London

As you move away from Central London towards the suburbs, you tend to find more and more budget options including rentals. Camden Town is one of the most popular destinations in the whole city, with visitors drawn to the Camden markets, the shops along Camden High Street, the huge array of street food and the many music venues in the area. It has long been the nearest thing the UK has to an alternative or underground ‘capital’, from the time the Electric Ballroom used to put on punk gigs in the 1970s. It has been the heart of a number of ‘scenes’ since, the Britpop one of the mid-1990s the best-known of these. The Roundhouse, a former railway engine house, a few stops up from Camden Lock Market on Chalk Farm Road, is the best of the current music venues in the area, and indeed the city.

The main streets aren’t the most attractive places to stay, but the side streets and area towards nearby Regent’s Park and London Zoo, and north towards Primrose Hill, are a much more pleasant proposition.

Getting into central London can be very quick from Camden Town on the Tube – it’s only seven stops down to Charing Cross Tube, next to Trafalgar Square. The number 29 bus is slower, but you get to see a lot more.

 

Hampstead

If you’re thinking about a long-term stay of a few weeks or more, it may be worth considering a stay further away from central London, experiencing something vastly different – a taste of life in one of London’s many villages.

Hampstead Heath is the biggest expanse of greenery and countryside in London, a mixture of open fields, hills, viewpoints and woodland, with two of the best of London’s villages at either end – Hampstead, to the south-west, and Highgate to the north and east.

Hampstead has always attracted literary and artistic figures – Romantic poet John

Keats and painter John Constable lived there at different times in the 19th century, and it’s possible to visit both of their homes, at Keats House and 40 Well Walk respectively. It also has some fascinating diverse architectural sights, from a Queen Anne (early 18th century) house to the 20th century modernist 2 Willow Road, home of Hungarian architect Erno Goldfinger.

Hampstead village’s main street is lovely, full of pubs, cafes, restaurants and shops, and has more of a country than city feel.

Highgate

Highlights

  • Great for a taste of London village life
  • Not recommended for first-time visitors looking to see the sights – both are too far out of town
  • Good if you’re staying for a week or even a few

Highgate village, on the other side of the Heath, is a pleasant bucolic spot with some great pubs and cafes along the high street. Just down the hill from there is Highgate Cemetery, one of the best known in the UK. It’s divided into two, East and West, and you can explore the former by yourself. Its most famous resident is Karl Marx, but the main attraction is wandering through the evocative cemetery, much of which is shaded by trees. Over the other side of Highgate Hill, accessible via the road to Muswell Hill, Highgate Woods is an enchanting place, one we have explored many times.

Both villages have good connections with central London, via different branches of the Northern line (Highgate’s station is down the hill from the village, close to Highgate Woods), and Hampstead Heath station connects with Hackney and the East End in one direction and Richmond in the other, via the London Overground line. Both are also well served by buses – the 24 runs from Hampstead Heath station to Trafalgar Square, Victoria and Pimlico.

 

Greenwich

Across London, beyond the City, the financial district of Canary Wharf and the River Thames, lies another village option, Greenwich. Sited on the river opposite the towers of the financial powerhouse of Canary Wharf, Greenwich is packed with sights which could easily take a couple of days of your time.

It is home to the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House, and across Romney Road, Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College. Behind the Maritime Museum is Greenwich Park, one of the finest in London: climb to the Royal Observatory for spectacular views over the ensemble of buildings below and the backdrop of Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers. The beautiful 19th century tea clipper, the Cutty Sark, dominates the riverfront.

The village of Greenwich has many places to eat and drink, and plenty of shopping options along the Main street, Greenwich High Road.

Greenwich

Across London, beyond the City, the financial district of Canary Wharf and the River Thames, lies another village option, Greenwich. Sited on the river opposite the towers of the financial powerhouse of Canary Wharf, Greenwich is packed with sights which could easily take a couple of days of your time.

It is home to the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House, and across Romney Road, Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College. Behind the Maritime Museum is Greenwich Park, one of the finest in London: climb to the Royal Observatory for spectacular views over the ensemble of buildings below and the backdrop of Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers. The beautiful 19th century tea clipper, the Cutty Sark, dominates the riverfront.

The village of Greenwich has many places to eat and drink, and plenty of shopping options along the Main street, Greenwich High Road.