Where the best area to stay in London may be is ultimately down to you. Choosing the best neighborhood to stay in London can be bewildering, especially if you’re planning your first visit there. It’s a vast, diverse metropolis, and some of the best areas to stay in London are in the central area, but there are also some great places to stay in the suburbs.
It all depends on what sights in London you’d like to see, your interests, and your budget for your trip and London accommodation. When deciding where to stay in London, you should also consider your fitness and whether or not you’re prepared to walk much, as you can end up doing a lot of walking in London. You may be travelling with kids, in which case you need to think about what might be the best area to stay in London for family would be.
Wherever you stay, whatever you plan to see, you can expect to be doing a fair bit of travelling 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’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, 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: 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 use the capital C instead we are referring specifically to the City of London, the so-called ‘Square Mile’ where many of London’s financial institutions are concentrated, as well as major London sights such as St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London.
- 1 Best areas to stay in London – Getting around London
Best areas to stay in London – Getting around London
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 only take half an hour to Central London.
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 travel 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.
Getting around London takes time
Sometimes a lot of time. This is a metropolis 25 miles (40 km) across from west to east, and around 20 miles (32 km) 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 of the worst for this.
Consider the bus
The Tube is generally considerably quicker than the bus, but the bus is very useful in the many 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. You also see so much more if you’re travelling by bus in London, especially on central routes like the number 11.
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 than 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
- Great if you’re interested in royal London and want to be close to the sights
- The heart of iconic London, with Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace
- Fantastic central location
- Excellent transport connections from Victoria
- Good range of budget hotels in London Victoria
For many, Victoria is the first place they set foot in London. It’s one of the most convenient places to arrive in 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.
If you’re arriving at Gatwick Airport, you can catch the Gatwick Express to London Victoria station in less than an hour. 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 Tube station downstairs is on the Circle and District lines, with connections all around central London where the majority of visitors will spend most of their time. It’s also on the Victoria line, just four stops from Euston and north London in one direction, with Pimlico and the Tate Britain art gallery in the other.
The hop-on-hop-off London bus tours all stop close to Victoria station, and many 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. It is also the departure point for many sightseeing day tours from London to destinations such as Windsor Castle, Bath and Canterbury.
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 best-known sights to see in London. Many coaches approaching Victoria pass the precincts of Buckingham Palace, which is only a ten-minute walk from Victoria Station. After a ten-minute walk 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, you’re right in the middle of iconic London. Parliament Square is dominated by the Houses of Parliament, with a row of red telephone boxes on one side and the London Eye peeking over rooftops from across the river Thames . Turn left here up 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, you’ll find some of the best luxury London hotels in the area, including The Royal Horseguards off Whitehall and Victoria Street, not to mention some of the best fine dining in London, with Roux at Parliament Square. On the other hand, there’s a cluster of cheap hotels near Victoria station, especially around Warwick Way, just two blocks from the station. If you’re looking for 2-star hotels in London, this is a great place to start. However, it’s worth remembering that some cheaper London Victoria hotels are in older buildings, and not all will have lifts, so it’s worth checking with them beforehand.
The West End
- Great for a base for those who wish to be in close to shows on West End
- With over 50 theatres and many music venues and cinemas, the West End is one of the best areas for entertainment in the world
- Oxford Street and Regent Street among the best shopping areas in London
- Fantastic dining options at all budgets within walking distance
- Most options are deluxe and expensive – though there are a few budget options
- Awkward for arrivals from airports at present – but this will improve greatly 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. Piccadilly has Fortnum & Mason department store, a long-standing royal favourite, and the traditional Burlington Arcade of boutique shops.
The other main draw is the multitude of London West End shows at the many theatres in the area. You can book tickets to West End shows in advance or on the day, depending on demand and availability – the Tkts booth on Leicester Square is the place to go for last-minute bargains. 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.
Soho has always been one of our favourite areas to explore and is full of great eating options and cafes like Maison Bertaux and Bar Italia, and it also has several music venues, including the legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Bar. It’s also close to Foyles, one of the best London bookshops, on Charing Cross Road, which every bibliophile visiting the city should go out of their way to see.
At the end of Shaftesbury Avenue, there aren’t a great many things to do at Piccadilly Circus other than join the crowds, who 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 Royal Academy of Arts and the deluxe Ritz Hotel on the corner of Green Park. The Wolseley is one of the best places to eat in London, on the south side of Piccadilly.
Mayfair is the area between Piccadilly and Oxford Street. It’s traditionally one of the richest areas in London, full of upmarket boutiques and, most famously, the tailors of Savile Row. You’ll find several of the best 5 star hotels in London in the area including Claridge’s and the Connaught, Some of the hotels on Park Lane, including the Dorchester are also among the most exclusive in London, with Hyde Park just across the road.
If you’re on a budget, the West End is not the most obvious place to go looking for affordable hotels in London, but even here there are a few moderate and budget options. There are some mid-range hotels close to the BBC headquarters and Fitzrovia, and you’ll also find some of the best-located hostels in London, including the YHA on Oxford Street and SoHostel in nearby – you guessed it – Soho.
At the time of writing (January 2018), connections from the major airports are not as good as other areas – 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 Oxford 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
- Great location only 10-minute walk from Trafalgar Square
- Some walking involved as no buses run in Covent Garden
- Covent Garden Market and the Royal Opera House the highlights
- 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 many of the streets are 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. Trafalgar Square and Whitehall are just a few minutes away on foot, as is the Thames.
The main things to do in Covent Garden are concentrated around its piazza and covered market, which is always busy with people browsing the many shops or watching buskers and performing artists. As well as seeing a performance there, it’s also possible to go on Royal Opera House tours taking you behind the scenes.
The other main attraction on the corner of the piazza is the London Transport Museum. Its interactive exhibits and array of historic London vehicles make it one of the best museums for kids in London, in my view.
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. The Ivy is one of the big names in the area, and we also recommend Rossodisera on Monmouth Street, which serves dishes from the Le Marche region of Italy, and Clos Maggiore, one of the best French restaurants in London that we’ve found. 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 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.
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, including a Travelodge, but these tend to sell out some way in advance.
The Strand runs off Trafalgar Square along the southern edge of Covent Garden, with several side streets leading into the area. There are several luxury hotels on the Strand and its continuation, Aldwych, including the famous Savoy and Waldorf Astoria. One of the newer five star London hotels, ME London, is also located on The Strand, and its Radio Rooftop Bar has some great London skyline views. The Strand 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
- Bloomsbury a much quieter area than the West End, but very close by
- London’s main academic area
- Main attraction is the British Museum
- Good selection of budget hotels in London King’s Cross and around Euston
- Good range of Central London student accommodation outside term time
- St Pancras is the Eurostar terminal, with trains arriving from (and departing to) Paris and continental Europe
There are plenty of things to do in Bloomsbury, which 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, where you’ll find most of the hotels in Bloomsbury. 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. It also features prominently on any literary London tour, having been home to Charles Dickens 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 (not all on the same line) 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, and Platform 9¾ is one of the most popular Harry Potter sights in London. Next door is the splendid St Pancras International station, arrival point of Eurostar services from Paris and 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 Station has been spruced up considerably in recent years, and is the most fruitful area to go looking for cheap London accommodation. As well as the King’s Cross budget hotels, there are also three King’s Cross hostels all within a short walk of the station, including a branch of the YHA.
The biggest concentration of budget chain hotels in London and is along Euston Road, south from King’s Cross down Gray’s Inn Road and along KIng’s Cross Road towards Farringdon. If you book far enough in advance, you can get some of the best deals for hotels in London in this area. 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.
It’s also possible to stay in London student accommodation outside term time, and Bloomsbury is one of the best areas of London for this as it has several large halls of residence. This University of London summer accommodation is available from mid-June to mid-September – the rooms are open to guests the same day the students leave.
The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is one of the best luxury hotels in London, an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic architecture restored to its former glory.
City of London
- Great for history buffs
- The location of many of the top sights in London
- St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Tower Bridge all here
- Some great historic pubs – but many only open Monday to Frisay
- 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 one of the best areas in London to stay in and 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 the 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) – the Gherkin in particular has become one of the most iconic buildings in London. The mixture of new and old, and the buzz of busyness all around, makes it an intriguing place to visit and explore.
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.
During the week, when the offices are full, most City of London accommodation tends to be more expensive, with business account travellers filling up the 4- and 5-star hotels in the area. 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, and if you take advantage of this you can get some of the best hotel deals in London.
The budget chains also have a strong presence in the City, with several hotels near London Liverpool Street station worth considering. There is also a youth hostel very close to St Paul’s Cathedral, housed in one of the more unusual places to stay in London – a former school for choirboys, no less.
Liverpool Street is the main transport hub of the City of London and it’s where the train arrives 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 & Marylebone
- 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
- Close to Hyde Park but few other sights in what is largely a residential area
- Excellent connections to the rest of Central London, especially via the Circle and District lines on the Tube
- Good range of Paddington hotels covering most budgets
There are few obvious things to do near Paddington station, the arrival point for trains from the west of England, Wales, and the Heathrow Express. Kids and fans of the lovable marmalade-eating bear can go to platform one to see the statue of Paddington Bear at Paddington Station – you might need to get a platform ticket, which is straightforward enough.
Paddington is located in the north-west corner of Central London, within walking distance (around fifteen minutes) of diverse attractions such as the canal hub of Little Venice, Hyde Park and 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 top sights of 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.
There is a wide choice of hotels near Paddington station, from budget to upmarket, and from chain hotels to some of the most unique places to stay in London including a rock’n’roll hotel. The Hilton London Paddington is as convenient as it gets, backing right onto the station. There are also plenty of places to eat near Paddington station, Bayswater (just to the west) is worth considering if you’re looking for Hyde Park London accommodation, generally a little more expensive than around Paddington but considerably less than at Park Lane.
Marylebone is situated on the other side of Edgware Road from Paddington, and immediately to the north of Oxford Street. There are more things to do in Marylebone than around Paddington, but not as many accommodation options. The highlight of the south of the area is Marylebone High Street, which has some great cafes and one of the best travel bookshops you’ll find anywhere, Daunt Books.
It’s not far from there to Baker Street and the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B, and one of the most beautiful parts of the Regent’s Park is just around the corner from there. Madame Tussauds waxworks museum is one of the must see London sights for many visitors, and it’s close to Baker Street Tube station. Further north, cricket aficionados will head for Lord’s Cricket Ground, while Beatles fans seek out the famous Abbey Road zebra crossing outside the studios of the same name.
Marylebone has some of the best hotels in London, including the five-star Landmark London Hotel opposite the station and several other five- and four-star options. You’ll also find some London budget chain hotels including Travelodge and Z in the district.
Kensington & Chelsea
- Kensington a firm family favourite with the Museums and Hyde Park close by
- Most hotels in Chelsea towards the luxury end of the scale
- Chelsea rich in historical associations, including art, fashion and music
- Much of Chelsea some distance (10-15 minute walk) from Tube stops
- Cheap hotels in Earls Court London, to the west
Kensington and Chelsea are two of the most expensive 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 one of the best places to stay in London with a family.
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.
Most accommodation in Kensington tends to be expensive. Budget hotels in Kensington are few and far between, but the Meininger Hotel London Hyde Park is a great choice, whether for families, backpackers (there are dorm rooms) and solo travellers. It’s also directly across the road from the Natural History Museum.
As for getting around, South Kensington Tube station is ideally situated on the Piccadilly and Circle & District lines. The Piccadilly line also runs all the way to Heathrow Airport, and in to Covent Garden and Central London, while the Circle & 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 the Royal Hospital, home to the famous Chelsea Pensioners. It’s also worth exploring Cheyne Walk, a street running parallel to the Thames, 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 boutique bracket, with some of the best options in beautiful old townhouses of the main streets. It’s not really budget territory, but there are one or two three- and four-star bargains to be found. There are more budget choices as you head further west – and away from central London – around Fulham Broadway and the generally cheaper Earls Court hotels.
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.
London East End
- Ideal if you’re arriving at City Airport or Stansted
- One of the best areas for London nightlife, especially the clubs around Shoreditch
- Good connections, close to Liverpool Street station and the City of London
- Sights quite thinly spread out to the east of Brick Lane
- Many London East End hotels are in the budget bracket
There’s general agreement about where London’s East End starts – to the north of the river Thames, traditionally at the Roman and medieval walls in the east of the City, with Tower Bridge 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.
London East End history is rich and varied. It has hosted four different waves of immigrants down the centuries – French Huguenots, Irish, Ashkenazi 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 become 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, restaurants, not to mention boutique Shoreditch hotels including The Hoxton and some of London’s 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 the many curry houses in Brick Lane, the unofficial curry capital of the UK. It’s also worth visiting for its nightlife, street markets 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 in a housing estate, is the Columbia Road Flower Market, one of the most popular London East End markets, which turns this East End street into a riot of colour every Sunday morning. There are only a couple of hotels in Brick Lane itself, a branch of hub by Premier Inn about halfway down and Arbor, at the Whitechapel end.
Whitechapel’s main draw is the Whitechapel Art Gallery, which hosts some great regular contemporary art exhibitions. I’ve found it a convenient area to stay overnight a few times, as it’s on 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 one of the most convenient places to stay in east London and 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
Need to know…
- Great sights to see all along the river, from the London Eye at one end to the Shard at the other
- Most places tend to work out a bit cheaper than similar hotels across the river
- A lot of chain hotels in the budget and moderate price ranges
- South Bank arts complex at one end of area
- Borough Market and surrounding area great for eating out and nightlife
- 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, and 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 in London South Bank are moderately-priced chains, though there are also a few five-star establishments, including Mondrian at Sea Containers, next door to the Oxo Tower Wharf. The Shangri-La at the Shard occupies floors 34 to 52 of the iconic skyscraper, and the luxury comes with some of the best views of London.
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, or attractions including the Imperial War Museum.
- Has always been one of the cool areas in London
- Ideal if you’re staying for a gig locally or in nearby Chalk Farm or Kentish Town
- Camden Market is hugely popular, especially at weekends
- Quick connections by Tube or bus to Central London
- Not family-friendly
As you move away from Central London towards the suburbs, you tend to find prices gradually falling, and you’re heading towards budget territory here, with several cheap hotels in Camden Town. It is one of the most popular tourist areas in London, 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. We’ve often stayed on one of the side streets off Camden Road – this is perfect if you’re looking to rent north London accommodation through Airbnb or the Plum Guide.
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 a good deal slower, but you get to see a lot more.
Hampstead & Highgate
Ideal for the London village experience
Both at opposite ends of Hampstead Heath, the largest green space in London
Several north London hotels in and around Hampstead, but none around Highgate
Both good for London long term accommodation through Airbnb or Wimdu
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.
Both villages have very good connections to Central London. Hampstead is on the Edgware branch of the Northern Line, while Highgate is on the High Barnet branch, a short walk down the hill from the village. Hampstead is also well served by the number 24 bus, which runs all the way in to Trafalgar Square via Camden Town.
Highgate village, on the other side of the Heath, is one of the most pleasant residential areas in London, a 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.
There are more hotels in Hampstead to choose from than Highgate. If you’re looking for 3 star London hotels, there are several in and around Hampstead village, as well as a couple of 4-stars and B&Bs. Highgate village doesn’t have any hotels – the nearest is down Highgate Hill close to Archway, and there are also places to stay in Muswell Hill, a mile down the hill.
Great alternative base for London
Quick access to Central London via the DLR and River Bus
Good budget range of hotels if you’re looking for bargain hotels in London
Ideal if you’re attending a concert at the O2 (the former Millennium Dome)
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.
There are several chain hotels in and around Greenwich, including a Novotel, Ibis and Travelodge, but most Greenwich accommodation is smaller scale, with a good selection of B&Bs in the village and beyond. The one five-star hotel in Greenwich is the InterContinental London – The O2 which is next door to the concert and event venue.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.