Where to Stay in London: 14 Best Areas & Neighborhoods
The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben – no vacation in the UK’s capital city is complete without a visit to these iconic London attractions. But trust me – there’s so much more to London. Like a gutsy, flamboyant, and endlessly generous mad old aunt, London will shock and delight you, while welcoming you with open arms.
Of course, visitors to London will want to dive into the city’s history, with its rich mix of castles and palaces, unrivaled pageantry, as well as crimes, and scandals that shook the world. Then there’s the excitement of London’s West End to sample. And so much of the London experience is on the house. You can see sights, enjoy world-class museums such as the British Museum and the National Gallery, and watch age-old ceremonies like the Changing of the Guard, for free.
If you’re planning a stay in London, it’s hard to know which are the best neighborhoods to visit, or which are the best areas to stay in. There’s just so much to do in London, and so many sides to the city’s addictive personality.
Whether you’re craving world-famous monuments, rowdy nightlife, dainty afternoon teas, iconic live music venues, quirky stores, Michelin-starred cuisine, funky street food, or blissful open spaces, London has it all.
So to help with your planning, let me talk you through the best London attractions and some top London neighborhoods. Discover where your bucket-list items are located, what each area has to offer, and what are the best places to stay in London.
Regarding which, I’ll briefly direct your attention to our very favorite London accommodations:
TL;DR Best London Hotels and Accommodations
You’ll want to pick a location to match your vacation tastes and itinerary, so this at-a-glance guide to some of the best London neighborhoods should point you in the right direction.
- Best area for first-timers – Westminster
- Best area for budget travelers – Greenwich
- Best area for luxury travelers -Mayfair
- Best area for families – Marylebone
- Best area for safety – Kensington
- Best area for nightlife – Soho
- Best area for touristy fun – South Bank
- Best area for easy access – Covent Garden
- Best area for young people – Camden Town
- Best area for hipsters – Shoreditch & Spitalfields
- Best area for culture vultures – Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia
- Best area for history buffs – City of London
- Best area for urban adventures – Docklands
- Best area for theater – Islington
PRO TIP: You can take some of the hassle out of sightseeing in London by fixing yourself up with a tourist pass, such as The London Pass. To make the most of your pass, research carefully, and aim to use it 2 or 3 times a day. That way you’re sure to save money as well as time.
But if you’re wanting to focus on museums and art galleries, a pass may not be for you, as many London museums are free. Now come here and let mad old aunty London give you a great big hug!
Where to Stay in London
1. Westminster: Best Area for First-Timers
Westminster is where you’ll find the highest concentration of London must-sees. So this central location should top your list if this is your first visit to London – and keep your camera handy. A good place to start is Trafalgar Square. There’s a special buzz to the Square from all the holiday-makers and sightseers, though at certain times you’ll also see rallies or demonstrations.
Up the Trafalgar Square steps, you’ll find the National Gallery, while round the corner there’s the National Portrait Gallery – both free. The area’s rich in pubs, but I highly recommend a visit to the fabulous old Admiralty pub. Here you can tuck into some Great British Yorkshire puddings, Cornish pasties, and Marmite roasted potatoes.
A stroll down Whitehall past the imposing government buildings and the gates to Downing Street brings you face-to-face with Big Ben. Across Westminster Bridge Road is the Palace of Westminster – and you’ll need to book in advance for a Houses of Parliament tour. Tickets are limited, and you can expect some tough security checks, but entry is free and the setting is spectacular.
Turn around and you’ll see the Gothic majesty of Westminster Abbey, where English and British monarchs have been crowned since 1066. For another impressive church, take a detour down Victoria Street (or get the Tube to Victoria Station) to Westminster Cathedral. Entry to the main building is free, but splash a few pounds and you’ll get sensational 360º views of central London from the campanile.
Not far from Westminster Abbey are Birdcage Walk and the delightful St James’s Park. Within easy walking distance are the Churchill War Rooms, Britain’s nerve center during WW2 which can be seen as part of this exclusive private tour.
And you’re only minutes away from the tree-lined royal avenue, The Mall, which leads you to the flamboyant Victoria Memorial, just in front of Buckingham Palace. The best time to stroll down here is on a Sunday or public holiday when it’s closed to traffic.
If you time your visit to the Palace for a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday at 11 am, you’ll see the famous Changing of the Guard ceremony – for free. Check the Buckingham Palace website to see when the State Rooms are open, or book an organized Buckingham Palace tour, such as this one which includes a royal London guided walk, or this one where you can marvel at the sumptuous royal carriages at Buckingham Palace’s Royal Mews.
Try to fit in a visit to Horse Guards, an 18th Century building next to Horse Guards Parade. Here you’ll see the lavishly-dressed sentry guards, mounted or on foot, and all impressively deadpan in the face of camera-waving tourists. If you’re visiting London in June you can see the Trooping the Colour rehearsals and the big parade on the King’s Birthday.
A walk down Millbank will give great views of the River Thames and the London Eye – and you’ll find yourself at another cozy traditional pub, the supposedly haunted Morpeth Arms. And right next door is the world-famous Tate Britain art museum – another fabulous free London attraction.
There are tons of London attractions in Westminster, all within easy walking distance of each other. You can even take a riverboat from Westminster Millennium Pier to Hampton Court Palace. Here are Westminster’s must-sees:
- Trafalgar Square
- National Gallery
- Big Ben
- Houses of Parliament
- Westminster Abbey
- St James’s Park
- Buckingham Palace
- Changing of the Guard
- Horseguards and the Household Cavalry Museum
Even if you’re based elsewhere, try to have a day in the Westminster area. But this is one of the best places to stay in London to feel right at the heart of things, even though accommodation tends to be on the pricier side. Our recommendations are as follows:
2. Greenwich – Best Area for Budget Travelers
As with any major city, the most touristy London places tend to be the priciest. One of the best places to stay in London if you’re watching your budget is Greenwich (pronounced GREN-itch). This village-y area in southeast London has good transportation links but is far enough away from the main tourist trail to have a more relaxed, authentic feel, with prices to match.
And while transport to central London will cost, you’re free to choose whether or not to partake – after all, Greenwich itself is stuffed with historical landmarks and fun attractions. For example, you may well recognize the Old Royal Naval College. This stunning architectural masterpiece features in numerous movies, including Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises.
First, check out the historic Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site. Freebies here include the Royal Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House art museum, and, a short walk away, lovely Greenwich Park.
This is the home of the Royal Observatory and Greenwich Mean Time, and you can actually stand on the official 0º longitude line. And keep your camera out at One Tree Hill, where you’ll get superb views of the City of London.
There are two Cutty Sarks you might enjoy visiting. One is the famous 19th Century Cutty Sark sailing ship, now a maritime museum. The other is a great old riverside pub, famous for its Great British fish and chips.
Another wonderful free attraction is the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park, a tranquil area of urban wetland next to the River Thames. If you need more of a buzz, head to the O2.
This entertainment venue is packed with fun stuff – trampolining, skydiving, and even climbing over the O2’s roof. There’s also a Mama Mia dining experience and a Boom Battle Bar. Oh, and loads of shopping.
Greenwich town center is also great for shopping, with its markets, independent stores, and retail parks. There’s also the quirky Fan Museum, open Wednesday – Saturday. As well as the elegant displays, look out for some lovely jewelry in the museum’s shop.
If you feel the need to head north of the Thames to central London, there are several ways to do it. You can use a Visitor’s Oyster travel ticket on many of these rides (see FAQs), so it needn’t cost too much.
North Greenwich Station is on the Jubilee Tube (subway) line, which has stations at Waterloo, Westminster, and Baker Street. The 188 bus goes right into the heart of London.
There are Docklands Light Railway services from Greenwich to Bank, in the City of London. And Thameslink trains run from Greenwich to London Bridge Station.
In addition, there are loads of cruises from Greenwich to central London, including an Uber Boat calling at 23 piers along the River Thames. There’s also the IFS Cloud Cable Car which takes you to the Royal Docks in East London.
Whether you’re staying in Greenwich, or just coming for the day, here are its best bits:
- Royal Maritime Museum
- Queen’s House
- Old Royal Naval College
- Greenwich Park
- Royal Observatory
- Cutty Sark
- Greenwich Market
- Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park
Greenwich is one of the best places to stay in London on a budget. It has all the amenities and attractions you could want, as well as a friendly – and pocket-friendly – vibe. Here are our accommodation recommendations:
See Related: Fun Nicknames for London
3. Mayfair – Best Area for Luxury Travelers
North of Green Park, and to the west of Hyde Park, is Mayfair. If you check the London Monopoly board, you’ll find that Mayfair is the costliest property, and this says it all. One of the world’s most expensive districts, Mayfair is where to stay in London for a feeling of ultimate luxuriousness.
As well as its luxury hotels, Mayfair is also known for its seriously upscale shopping. A must-see is the beautiful Burlington Arcade with its top-hatted Beadles in Regency-style uniforms.
Dating back to 1819, this was London’s first shopping mall and is where to come for deluxe items such as Manolo Blahnik shoes, cashmere, and vintage watches. You can make the most of this retail wonderland with a guided shopping tour.
There’s more high-end shopping on Bond Street and Savile Row and Shepherd Market, a historic square full of independent stores and chic eateries. Or treat yourself to afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason.
And with Michelin stars sprinkled over it like fairy dust, Mayfair is full of fine dining opportunities. At restaurants like Hide, Le Gavroche, and Pollen Street Social, you’ll luxuriate in the surroundings as much as the cuisine.
It’s not all eating and shopping, though. There’s the Royal Academy of Arts – try to come for its legendary Summer Exhibition in July and August.
There are more art treasures at the 18th Century Apsley House, with the official address “Number 1, London”. And for those of a more scientific turn of mind, there’s the Faraday Museum at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. And after a hard day’s shopping or sightseeing you can take the weight off your Jimmy Choos at elegant Grosvenor Square, leafy Berkley Square, or the Brown Hart terraced garden.
Mayfair is where London’s rich and famous spend their downtime. You can see where Jimi Hendrix hung out at the Handel & Hendrix in London Museum. And find out more about Rich People Behaving Badly on this gossipy guided tour!
Mayfair is the best place in London to indulge in a little luxury. Here are your Mayfair musts:
- Burlington Arcade
- Shepherd Market
- Afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason or The Ritz
- Royal Academy of Arts
- Apsley House
- Faraday Museum
- Handel & Hendrix Museum
- Grosvenor Square
Mayfair’s central location is handy, being close to Hyde Park, Oxford Street, and the West End. Accommodation here comes with a luxury price tag, though, so for true “budget” accommodations, look elsewhere. The area is quite literally ritzy, counting The Ritz amongst its many luxury hotels. Other high-end hotels include The Connaught and The Dorchester, both featuring Michelin-starred restaurants.
You might want to consider nearby Piccadilly or Paddington, just north of Hyde Park, for some comparatively cheap hotels. But for the full Mayfair experience, here are the best accommodations in the area:
4. Marylebone – Best Area for Families
The Marylebone district is one of the best areas to stay in London if you want a diverse range of activities on your doorstep. For this reason, it’s a great place to stay if you’re visiting London with kids. In fact, this area in the north part of central London has something to suit every taste, if you’re prepared to do a little exploring.
Just a short walk north of Marylebone is Regent’s Park, which is worth a visit wherever you’re based. Here you’ll find the wonderful London Zoo, as well as an open-air theatre, a boating lake, and four kids’ playgrounds. Don’t miss the view from the top of Primrose Hill, a great spot for a picnic.
And Marylebone is pretty handy for Hyde Park, too – use the entrance near Marble Arch. Look out for the Hyde Park Playground, the Buckhill Playground, and the junior tennis courts. And next door in Kensington Gardens there’s the Gorilla Circus trapeze school.
Also north of Marylebone is Lord’s Cricket Ground, the home of cricket and the world’s oldest sporting museum. And a tour of Abbey Road will take you to the world-famous recording studios where you can make like a Beatle and walk across the iconic Abbey Road zebra crossing.
You can get even closer to your favorite stars – in wax form, that is – at Madame Tussauds. Lines for the original Madame Tussauds are always huge, so buy a Tussauds ticket ahead of time, or one as part of a multi-attraction ticket bundle. A few minutes walk away is another fabulous attraction, the Sherlock Holmes Museum at the great detective’s home, 221b Baker Street.
Fans should also check out his famous London film locations on a Sherlock Holmes movie walking tour. Or you can go in style and learn about Sherlock, James Bond, and the Beatles too, in this black cab tour.
And for a more genteel day out, visit the superlative Wallace Collection. This exhibition of exquisite fine arts is yet another of London’s free-of-charge treats.
Marylebone has tons to offer hardened shoppers. Oxford Street, Britain’s most famous shopping street, is full of well-known names.
There’s also the UK’s only physical Disney store, plus the world-famous Selfridges department store. And when you’ve shopped yourself silly, there’s Oxford Street’s Twist Museum of Illusions to blow your mind even further.
Check out Marylebone High Street for fashionable artisanal stores and cafes. The cozy brunch spot 31 Below is popular with dog walkers, while cat fans will adore the Kitten Lounge at Java Whiskers Marylebone cat cafe in Great Portland Street.
Apart from being one of my favorite historical railway stations in London, Marylebone is also on the same line as world-famous Wembley Stadium and is the gateway to Bicester Shopping Village in beautiful Oxfordshire. Trains from Marylebone Station set off for this luxury retail outlet every half-hour. If you choose an organized Bicester Village shopping trip you can get 10% off store prices.
There’s plenty in the Marylebone area to keep every member of the family happy. Here are the Marylebone must-sees:
- London Zoo
- Regent’s Park
- Abbey Road crossing
- Madame Tussauds
- Sherlock Holmes Museum
- Oxford Street shopping
- Twist Museum of Illusions
- Wallace Collection art museum
Marylebone is a great place to stay in London for families, especially if you’re visiting for the first time. Here are our favorite Marylebone accommodations:
See Related: Most Beautiful Villages in England to Visit
5. Kensington and Chelsea – Best Area for Safety
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is an area cradling the southwest corner of Hyde Park. As its fancy name suggests, it has a stylish affluence that goes hand-in-hand with feelings of safety. Though there’s plenty to see and do, the Kensington and Chelsea area is the best place to stay in London for a relaxed vacation with a touch of class.
A top royal connection is Kensington Palace, once the home of Princess Diana and still a royal residence. There are loads of tours available, some with afternoon tea at the palace. It’s right next to Hyde Park, where you can swim, cycle, enjoy the gardens, and, on Sunday mornings, hear people sound off at Speakers’ Corner.
South Kensington is most famous for its Museum Quarter. The Victoria and Albert Museum (aka the V&A Art Museum), the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum – all within walking distance of South Kensington Station – are world-class institutions that are free to visit. Even better, they all have classy cafes and wonderful souvenir shops.
Just down the road is Knightsbridge and the shopper’s paradise, Harrods. With its million square feet of floor space and green-uniformed door people, Harrods is a must for first-time visitors to London.
And I urge you to seek out the Grenadier pub, a short walk away in Wilton Row. This former army barracks dedicated to the Grenadier Guards does a mean Bloody Mary.
Head down to Chelsea and you’ll find the National Army Museum, another great free London attraction. And only a brief walk away is Chelsea Royal Hospital, home of the famous red-coated Chelsea Pensioners, all veterans of the British Armed Forces.
For those in need of a shopping spree, there’s the ever-trendy King’s Road and the hyper-sophisticated Sloane Square. Or why not explore Chelsea through the medium of patisserie?
If you’ve seen the movie Notting Hill, you’ll know what to expect in this northern part of Kensington. And yes, the bright-painted Victorian houses, funky bistros, and stylish antique shops of Notting Hill are just as appealing off-screen.
If you’re OK with crowds, come on a Saturday to experience the excitement and fabulous street food of Portobello Road Market. The Road Market brings hundreds of vendors peddling antiques, fashion, and lots of food.
As well as being the best neighborhood for museums, Kensington is one of the best areas to stay in London if you’re looking to de-stress and enjoy the moment. Amongst its many attractions, these are the must-sees:
- Kensington Palace & Gardens
- Hyde Park
- Victoria & Albert Museum
- Science Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Royal Albert Hall
- King’s Road
- Portobello Road Market
Kensington is a great place to base yourself to enjoy all the amenities and stylish attractions of West London. Be aware, though, that you may be spending significant amounts of time traveling if you intend to hang out in the East End of London.
On the other hand, if you fancy a day trip out to see Windsor, Stonehenge, or Bath you’re on the right side of town. If you want to make the most of Kensington’s serene vibes, check out our favorite Kensington accommodations:
See Related: How to Take a Day Trip from London to Stonehenge
6. Soho – Best Area for Nightlife
There was. atime when London’s Soho was known only for its rather risqué character. This former red-light district is now the focal point for central London nightlife, with any and every kind of entertainment on offer. So if you’re a fan of the bright lights, Soho is for you.
This is where you’ll find London’s West End – the heart of theater in the capital. Many theaters are clustered around Shaftesbury Avenue, and this is where to head for long-running favorites such as Les Miserables and Wicked along with newer shows, like multi-award winning musical Operation Mincemeat.
Film buffs are catered for too, with both chain movie theaters and the Prince Charles Cinema (who are keeping the name despite Charles’ ascension), famous for its singalong presentations and all-night movie marathons. Why not check out Theatreland with a silent disco tour?
London has a thriving LGBTQIA+ community, and Soho’s reputation as London’s gay village is as old as the hills. One of its oldest gay bars, Admiral Duncan, merits a stopover for its hilarious drag cabaret.
For a more modern vibe, look out for the award-winning Ku Group of bars and clubs, or the superbly kitsch Friendly Society. Or discover more about Soho’s LGBTQ+ history on a customizable tour.
Soho is also the home of London’s Chinatown. These half-a-dozen streets, decorated with red lanterns, are packed with Asian restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries, bubble tea cafes, and souvenir shops. Try to visit in January/February for London’s Chinese New Year celebrations, the biggest outside Asia.
In fact, you can eat your way around the world in Soho, thanks to the huge range of cuisines on offer. Three restaurants regularly cropping up on “best of Soho” lists are Bao for Taiwanese food, Blacklock for steaks, and Barrafina for tapas.
Soho is packed with great pubs, too. Don’t miss the mind-scrambling combination of neon graffiti, cocktails, and consoles at the arcade bar NQ64 Soho. And for some late-night jazz try Trisha’s or the legendary Ronnie Scott’s.
Another must-visit London attraction is Carnaby Street. For decades the epicenter of edgy London culture, this has showcased countless fashion, music, and sex icons and is home to some ultra-cool shops. And if you’re in London at Christmas, don’t miss Carnaby Street’s always stunning light installation.
A short walk away is Leicester Square, a must-visit place in London for all kinds of fun stuff. Kids (OK, adults too) will love the LEGO store and M&M’S London. There are also bars, restaurants, cinemas, and a casino.
Try the Jungle Cave for an immersive jungle dining experience, complete with lizards climbing the walls and a jaguar lounging in a tree overhead (Not real, I hasten to add.)
Soho’s also where to find one of the best Harry Potter things to do in London. This is the amazing Harry Potter-themed exhibition and shop at The House of MinaLima. Get your Hogwarts goodies here!
Soho is where to stay in London if you want to revel in some vibrant nightlife. But there’s plenty to do in the daytime, too. Here are Soho’s musts:
- Theatreland – take in a show
- Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club
- Carnaby Street
- LEGO store, Mosaic Maker
- M&M’S London
- House of MinaLima
- Museum of Youth Culture
A stay in Soho means you’re right next to London’s West End and Covent Garden, as well as being close to Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Oxford Circus Tube (subway) stations. Here are our favorite Soho accommodations:
7. South Bank – Best Area for Touristy Fun
For centuries, Londoners have been crossing the Thames to have fun in the South Bank area. This strip of riverside across from Westminster and the City of London is still full of great opportunities for R & R. The South Bank is one of the best places to stay in London if you want to be close to loads of exciting attractions.
One of the most popular is the London Eye. The 30-minute rotation by each of the 32 pods gives stunning 360º views of the city.
Long enough for a proposal? Find out with the Cupid’s Pod option. For the best London Eye value, book off-peak tickets in advance. Or why not double up with a Thames sightseeing cruise?
A short walk away is The London Dungeon, an interactive show dedicated to London’s gory past. Nearby you’ll find the Sea Life Centre. Again, booking online in advance gets you the cheapest tickets.
There’s also the opportunity to see behind the scenes or have a state-of-the-art VR underwater experience. And all of these venues also offer money-saving multi-attraction bundles.
Follow the river northeast and you’ll come to the Southbank Centre, the UK’s largest arts center, and home to two iconic live music venues. A few minutes away is the National Theatre. If you can’t fit in a show at one of these venues, at least visit their shops, which are full of unique and classy gifts.
Further along Bankside is another London must-see – Tate Modern. Admission is free, and there’s no need to book. Head to Level 3 for Tate Draw, where your own digital drawing can be projected onto the wall or even turned into a t-shirt.
Although “the Bard” was born in Warwickshire, London was Shakespeare’s real stomping ground. Just a few minutes’ walk from the Millennium Bridge takes you to Shakespeare’s Globe. This is a stunning reconstruction of the 1599 wooden theater Shakespeare wrote for and acted in.
Keep going and you’ll come to another fabulous replica, this time of a 16th Century sailing ship, The Golden Hinde. For something more modern, there’s the museum ship HMS Belfast, a retired 1930s Royal Navy light cruiser that saw action during World War II.
Not far away is another great place for panoramic London views – The Shard, the UK’s tallest building. You can enjoy the view in comfort in one of The Shard’s seven bars and restaurants, or head to the open-air Level 72 Skydeck.
And for more great views while you dine, try the Oxo Tower Restaurant. Finally, don’t miss the foodie heaven of Borough Market, open every day except Monday. Saturdays are the busiest, but they’re also where you’ll find the best selection.
The South Bank area is crammed with fun activities as well as providing some top London sightseeing. Here are the area’s absolute must-see attractions:
- London Eye
- London Dungeon
- HMS Belfast
- Sea Life Centre
- Southbank Centre
- Tate Modern
- Shakespeare’s Globe
- The Shard’s Level 72 Skydeck
- Borough Market
Staying in the South Bank area means you’ll be near some must-visit places in London. You’ll also be just across the Thames from some other great London neighborhoods. Here are our South Bank accommodation recommendations:
See Related: 2 Days in London Itinerary: a top trip you’ll want to copy
8. Covent Garden – Best Area for Easy Access
With the City of London to the east and London’s West End to – you guessed it – the west, Covent Garden is just sooo central. If you don’t mind a bit of a walk, a stay here means you can access tons of top London attractions without spending a penny on transport. For example, Big Ben, Oxford Street, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Tate Modern are all less than 25 minutes’ walk away.
What Covent Garden is most famous for, though, is its beautiful piazza and 19th Century market buildings, stuffed with chic and quirky cafes and stores. There are also some great markets here, selling candy, crafts, jewelry, handbags, and other desirable gifts. For antiques, visit Covent Garden’s Jubilee Market on a Monday.
There’s more stylish shopping in the narrow streets around historic Seven Dials. In particular, check out Short’s Gardens. This is where you’ll find the award-winning cheese shop Neal’s Yard Dairy across the street from Pick & Cheese, the world’s first cheese conveyor belt restaurant (and fortuitously next door to COW Vintage clothes shop!).
Behind Covent Garden Piazza is St Paul’s Church, the “Actors’ Church”. The piazza and the church steps often play host to street entertainers, and you’ll also find plenty of famous theaters nearby.
As well as the Novello and the Lyceum, there’s the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, actually on Catherine Street. Drury Lane is where you’ll find the Top Secret Comedy Club, a no-frills venue hosting big names at affordable prices.
There’s also St Martin’s Theatre – the home of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap since 1954 – and last, but very much not least, the magnificent Royal Opera House – try their guided tours. And for a pre-show drink, I’d recommend the 17th Century Nell of Old Drury, though there are a ton of great old pubs in the area.
Another superb attraction in Covent Garden is the London Transport Museum. Under-18s go free, and if you visit after 2 pm, a couple of pounds are shaved off the adult ticket price. Bow Street Police Museum and the Art Deco splendor of Freemasons’ Hall are also well worth a look.
And if you head down to Carting Street across the Strand, you’ll get a glimpse into London’s less savory side, with its only surviving sewer gas lamp. It’s said that guests from the nearby Savoy Hotel have helped to keep it lit!
A walk around Covent Garden will reveal plenty of pleasant surprises – a new gelato shop seems to pop up every week – but here are the places to aim for:
- Covent Garden Market and Piazza
- Actors’ Church steps for street theatre
- Seven Dials shopping
- The Mousetrap at St Martin’s Theatre
- Royal Opera House
- London Transport Museum
- Freemasons’ Hall
- Carting Street sewer gas lamp
Covent Garden is the best place to stay if you want good access to attractions on all sides of central London. Many bucket-list locations are walkable, and Covent Garden, Leicester Square, and Tottenham Court Road Tube stations are handy. Here are the accommodations we recommend:
9. Camden Town – Best Area for Young People
If you’re an individual of more mature years, I’m not going to suggest you avoid Camden Town. After all, it’s a fascinating corner of London with lots to offer. It’s just that young people seem to have a special affinity with Camden.
Here is where the term “alternative” often crops up in descriptions of stores, attractions, and activities. So if you’re young or young at heart, Camden should speak to you.
Camden Market is the area’s best-known attraction. Actually, there are multiple markets, the most famous being Camden Lock and The Stables. Among the 1000+ shops and stalls, you’ll find a mind-boggling range of clothes, gifts, souvenirs, and activities – some exquisite, some tacky, some downright bizarre.
Top spots include Japan Craft for anime and manga, Rock ’n’ Roll Soldiers for music, Cyberdog for day-glo rave gear (a light-up LED faux-fur gilet, anybody?), and for Lara Croft wannabes, the Tomb Raider Live Experience.
You’ll need to allow several hours to take in all the markets, and the advice is always to come hungry. There are dozens of food stalls and cafes, serving every kind of regular food.
There are also some interesting mash-ups – Yorkshire burritos or fried ice cream, for example. And Camden’s not short of great pubs; a good way to sample some of the best is on an organized pub crawl.
Camden Town is also home to some hot live music venues. Check out the Spiritual Bar, or Camden Assembly’s club nights, or try a Jack Daniels burger alongside the music at The Camden Club. The Fiddler’s Elbow hosts gigs every night, while at the Roundhouse, Camden’s most famous venue, there are poetry slams, comedy, and drama as well as music.
Art lovers won’t want to miss the Zabludowicz Collection of contemporary art (admission free) or the fabulous Camden Open Air Art Gallery. For street art – some by Banksy? – visit Oval Road and Hawley Mews. Not far away you’ll see the statue of one-time Camden resident Amy Winehouse.
And with the Regent’s Canal running through Camden, there are plenty of fun water-based activities around. Both regular waterbuses and specialty cruises run from Camden Lock to Little Venice in the summer months, some calling at London Zoo. There’s also the chance to go paddleboarding.
Camden has an energy like no other. Try to head out here at least once when you’re visiting London; the best Tube (subway) stations are Camden Town and Chalk Farm. Here are Camden’s top attractions:
- Shopping in Camden Market
- Street food
- Live music at the Spiritual Bar or the Fiddler’s Elbow
- Zabludowicz Collection
- Cruise on Regent’s Canal
- Amy Winehouse statue
- Jewish Museum London
Camden is the best place to stay in London for young people and students – or those wanting to relive their student days. Here are our recommendations:
See Related: A Long Weekend Cruising on England’s Grand Union Canal
10. Shoreditch & Spitalfields – Best for Hipsters
Inner-city renewal, urban revitalization, hipsterfication – these terms are regularly attached to the Shoreditch and Spitalfields districts of London’s East End. So these are some of the best places to stay in London if you enjoy a cutting-edge, hipster vibe and some eclectic eats.
For a start, the area is blessed with some excellent eateries. Especially recommended are the Michelin-starred Clove Club at Shoreditch Town Hall, the stylishly rough-hewn Smokestak, and the simple but elegant Rochelle Canteen.
There’s a host of buzzy bars, pubs, and clubs, too. To tap into the local vibe, try the whimsical Ninetyeight bar, the petite Everafter bar, or the award-winning Swift bar. And the name says it all: the Pride of Spitalfields showcases good old East End pub values.
Head here too if you love markets. One of the most famous is Brick Lane, with its huge indoor and outdoor weekend markets. As Brick Lane is in the heart of Britain’s Bangladeshi community, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to superb Asian cuisine.
There’s also Columbia Road Flower Market, Petticoat Lane clothing market, Old Spitalfields Market, and, only a short walk away, Spitalfields Market, which goes so far as to promise something for everyone!
Shoreditch is also the best neighborhood in London for street art. A guided tour of Shoreditch’s street art scene will hunt out the very best, though you can’t miss some spectacular art if you explore the streets yourself, for example Hanbury Street, Princelet Street, and Whitby Street.
Other wildly diverse attractions in Shoreditch and Spitalfields include the Autograph Gallery’s thought-provoking photography collection, the Museum of the Home, Spitalfields City Farm, and the immersive Van Gogh London exhibition. And if you want that little bit extra from your cocktail bar, head to Shoreditch Balls for cocktails+mini-golf, or Ballie Ballerson for cocktails+a ball pool!
Cat lovers shouldn’t miss London’s first cat cafe, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium on Bethnal Green Road. And it’s worth knowing that travelers with pets are guaranteed a pet-friendly stay at all cheap-and-cheerful Premier Inn hotels in London.
In addition, two local hotels, the One Hundred Shoreditch and Mama Shelter London – Shoreditch, have good track records when it comes to hosting pets.
There’s more to Shoreditch and Spitalfields than just hot nightspots and cool art. Here are the star attractions:
- Edgy-yet-sophisticated dining
- Brick Lane Market
- Petticoat Lane Market
- Columbia Road Flower Market
- Tour of the street art
- Autograph Gallery
- Museum of the Home
- Van Gogh London
- Ballie Ballerson
The Shoreditch and Spitalfields area is where to stay in London if you want to be based in London’s hipsterville. Here are our recommendations:
See Related: Fascinating United Kingdom Nicknames to Know
11. Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia – Best for Culture Vultures
Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia are side-by-side districts sandwiched between Kings Cross and Marylebone, and just north of Covent Garden. This is where to stay in London if you’re interested in culture and literature, thanks to all of the area’s bookish connections.
Bloomsbury is where you’ll find one of the great London attractions – the British Museum. Two thousand years of history are on display, including Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta Stone, and the Elgin Marbles.
Allow at least a couple of hours to explore; this British Museum floor plan will help. There are also many British Museum guided tours like this one available. And as with many major London museums, entry is free, and you can rely on high-quality refreshments and souvenirs.
To the east of Bloomsbury, you’ll find Charles Dickens’s old home. The house feels as though Dickens has just popped out for a moment, being crammed with his personal effects, including his razors and even his lemon squeezer. If you’re a fan, you could try one of the Charles Dickens walking tours available.
For younger readers, a must-visit place in London is the Harry Potter shop at Kings Cross Station, as well as Platform 9¾, where there’s a luggage trolley stuck in the wall. To see the Hogwarts Express, you’ll need to take a Harry Potter tour from central London to Warner Bros. Studios, where you can also walk down Diagon Alley and drink butterbeer.
Any book lover will relish a visit to The British Library, the UK’s national library. Its Treasures Gallery is free to enter and holds some fascinating objects, including Shakespeare’s First Folio and Jane Austen’s writing desk. There’s also a shop selling unique book-themed gifts.
There are several interesting museums in the area. You’ll find the Cartoon Museum and Pollock’s Toy Museum in Fitzrovia, while just east of Bloomsbury are the Foundling Museum and the very family-friendly Postal Museum.
Both Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia (named after the Fitzroy Tavern) were home to famous literary figures, including Charles Darwin, George Bernard Shaw, and Virginia Woolf. A fun activity for book lovers is to hunt the famous Blue Plaques set into the buildings where celebrated figures lived or worked.
This area is rich in listed buildings, so a stroll down these historic streets will reveal plenty of hidden gems. One of these is the Fitzrovia Chapel, a stunning 19th Century jewel of a building that’s open for private reflection every Wednesday.
And finally, if you like board games, you’ll love Monopoly Lifesized, where you compete on a 45’ x 45’ board. Follow the game with a bite at the Top Hat Restaurant & Bar. Alternatively pop into Dylan Thomas’s old local, the Wheatsheaf, just a short walk away.
Exploring the elegant streets of Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia will help you channel your highbrow side. Here are the area’s must-sees:
- British Museum
- Charles Dickens Museum
- Harry Potter shop and Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross Station
- British Library
- Cartoon Museum
- Pollocks Toy Museum
- Fitzrovia Chapel
- Monopoly Lifesized
- Performances at Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art)
A stay in Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia will give good access to some inspiring London attractions but will also be handy for Marylebone, Soho, and Covent Garden. Here are our recommendations:
12. City of London – Best Area for History Buffs
Wherever you go in central London you’ll see traces of the past. But to really go back in time you need to immerse yourself in the ancient City of London.
The Square Mile, as it’s sometimes called, is the very best place to stay in London to appreciate its often bumpy history. And you’ll know you’re in the City of London if you’ve passed one of the 14 dragon boundary markers.
Look hard and you’ll see signs of the Roman occupation nearly 2,000 years ago. In Lower Thames Street you can see remnants of a Roman house – book here.
And under the magnificent 15th Century Guildhall is London’s only Roman amphitheater. Entry is free and with a Guildhall general ticket you’ll also get admission to the art gallery.
The mighty Tower of London, one of London’s best attractions, dates back to the 11th Century. In its time it’s been both a royal residence and a place of execution. You can see the block where prisoners laid their heads before the chop and some of the graffiti they left behind.
Regular entry tickets let you see the Bloody Tower, the White Tower, and the Crown Jewels, while skip-the-line tours come with your very own Beefeater. Or pick this VIP tour that includes the 700-year-old Ceremony of the Keys.
The 1666 Great Fire of London swept away most of the medieval city but there are some dogged survivors. Check out London’s oldest church, All Hallows by the Tower, and the City’s oldest house, 41-42 Cloth Fair, built in 1614.
One amazing legacy of the fire was Christopher Wren’s Baroque masterpiece St Paul’s Cathedral. Entry tickets include access to the main church and two galleries. And a behind-the-scenes Triforium tour lets you see the staircase used in the Harry Potter movies.
A few minutes’ walk down Fleet Street is the legendary pub Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (a personal favorite), rebuilt after the fire. And don’t miss Pudding Lane, where the fire started.
Here you’ll find the Monument to the Great Fire where, for a few pounds, you can climb the 311 steps. It’s windy at the top, but the views of the City’s streets and alleys are well worth it.
Another London must-see is Tower Bridge. There are more great views from its two walkways – one with a glass floor. There are plenty of chances for touring Tower Bridge, or you can sail under it on this cruise!
To immerse yourself in the gory side of Victorian London, head to the Jack the Ripper Museum. For a gentler experience visit Postman’s Park, with its poignant Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice. And for some elegant City shopping and dining, visit the 1844 Royal Exchange, behind St Paul’s Cathedral.
Then come right up to date with a visit to the brutalist architecture of the Barbican arts center, or the Walkie-Talkie Building’s Sky Garden – London’s highest public garden.
The City of London’s narrow streets are stuffed with historical gems, including dozens of amazing pubs. Here’s what you mustn’t miss:
- The Tower of London
- All Hallows by the Tower (and next door St Dunstan in the East for its picturesque ruins)
- St Paul’s Cathedral
- The Monument
- A City pub (for example Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese or the Art Nouveau treasure the Blackfriar)
- Tower Bridge
- Postman’s Park
- The Barbican (and check out its conservatory garden)
- The Sky Garden
Staying in the City of London will give you ample opportunity to explore London’s history. You’ll also be handy for Covent Garden, the South Bank, and Spitalfields. Here are our recommendations:
See Related: Most Beautiful Places in the United Kingdom
13. Docklands – Best Area for Urban Adventures
From working docks to urban wasteland to cutting-edge business center – the Docklands area in East London has seen some dramatic changes. Thanks to its comprehensive facelift, Docklands is now one of the best places to stay in London for travelers looking for adventures in a dynamic urban setting.
The focal point in Docklands is Canary Wharf, home to London’s second-highest building, One Canada Square. In fact, if you like a skyscraper, you’ve come to the right place – Canary Wharf has five out of the UK’s top ten highest buildings. And among the gleaming offices and apartments, visitors can enjoy the views from some great rooftop bars.
Try Floor 39 at Bōkan, perched on top of the world’s highest Novotel, for stunning views of the Shard and the River Thames. And to feel right at the heart of the Canary Wharf buzz, visit Big Easy’s terrace bar. Canary Wharf is also full of ravishing eateries, but two that come highly recommended are M Canary Wharf – book a table in one of their cool dining pods – and Chai Ki for modern Indian cuisine.
When you’ve finished shopping in one of Canary Wharf’s five malls, try the psychedelic mini-golf at Montgomery Square. And don’t miss the zinging colors of Crossrail’s Adams Plaza Bridge, aka the Star Wars Tunnel. Or just relax in the beautiful Crossrail Place Roof Garden just a short walk away.
To enjoy the dazzling Docklands cityscape in comfort, take a Thames jazz cruise. And for the craziest – or perhaps most comfortable – way to see Canary Wharf, take a Hot Tub Tour of Docklands. Bring your swimwear!
For a break from all the high-rise intensity, head south to the Isle of Dogs. Here you’ll find the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre where you can go kayaking, windsurfing, or open-water swimming.
Alternatively, connect with nature at Mudshute City Park and Farm. And within easy walking distance of Mudshute is the strangely creepy Greenwich Foot Tunnel which takes you under the Thames to the heart of old Greenwich.
Craving a Europe mini-break? Aim for London City Airport which has flights to Amsterdam, Zurich, plus 30 more destinations. The airport’s just a 15-minute drive from Canary Wharf or a 30-minute ride on public transport – you can use your Oyster Card (see FAQs). Or for a more low-key flight, take the Cloud Cable Car from the Royal Docks to the Greenwich Peninsula.
For a taste of old Docklands, visit the Museum of London Docklands, another fabulous free attraction. The museum is based in a 19th Century warehouse, and as well as learning about the old docks and the slave trade, you’ll see a mummified cat and rat.
And for a taste of some sensational and cheap fresh fish don’t miss Billingsgate Market, the UK’s biggest indoor fish market. You’ll need to wrap up as it’s always chilly – and make sure to wear non-slip shoes. And be aware that some traders don’t have card readers, so bring cash. Even if you don’t come away with a big bag of shrimp and oysters, head to the cafe for one of the legendary scallop and bacon baps.
Docklands is a buzzy and exciting place, with lots to do. Here are the best bits:
- Canary Wharf shopping, wining, and dining
- Adams Plaza Bridge
- Crossrail Place Roof Garden
- Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre
- Mudshute Park and Farm
- Greenwich Foot Tunnel
- Cloud Cable Car
- Museum of London Docklands
- Billingsgate Market
You’ll find some of London’s best modern hotels in Docklands. And basing yourself here means you’re handy for the City of London and Greenwich via the Docklands Light Railway. Here are our accommodation recommendations:
See Related: Best Beaches in the United Kingdom to Visit
14. Islington – Best Area for Theater
If you’re a fan of the performing arts, but shrink from the crowds and sometimes crazy prices of the West End venues, head over to trendy Islington, northwest of Kings Cross. The area, sometimes known as “Little Theatreland” thanks to its plethora of theatre pubs and clubs, is one of the best places to stay in London for some must-see theatrical performances.
The multi-award-winning Almeida Theatre in its elegant Georgian home has a great program of access productions – check these here. And the Pleasance Theatre, one of Time Out Magazine’s Best Fringe Theater Venues, offers plays, comedy, dance, and family shows.
The King’s Head Theatre is one of the oldest pub theaters in London and showcases musicals, opera, and drag as well as plays, while the Old Red Lion Theatre is noted for showcasing new talent – often before the West End snaps it up. And these two venues have the considerable benefit of a fabulous old pub on site.
In fact, the bijou Hope Theatre’s home, the Hope & Anchor pub, is also famous for hosting up-and-coming punk and rock bands such as U2, The Police, and The Ramones in the 70s and 80s. Other live music venues in Islington include the Gothic church vibe of Union Chapel and the warehouse grime of Electrowerkz, home of Slimelight Goth nights.
For comedy, try the Hen and Chickens Theatre Bar, the Camden Head, Noel Road Comedy Club, or the cozy Angel Comedy at the Bill Murray.
Islington is also well-provided with movie theaters. As well as two chain cinemas, there’s also the Everyman Screen on the Green, located on Islington Green. Not only does it run special seasons and cult film screenings, but it also has a full menu – including hand-made pizzas and cocktails – that you can order from your seat.
Islington Green’s a great place to hang out even if you’re not coming for a movie, especially on a fine summer evening. Customers from the numerous pubs, bars, and restaurants close by spill out onto the sidewalks making the area feel like a huge party. Highly recommended is Noci, for its simple but delicious homemade pasta.
Nearby Camden Passage is also worth seeking out. This cute pedestrianized alleyway is home to chic eateries, stores, and antique shops, as well as the Moosey art gallery.
If you want to grab some fresh air, head over to the Regent’s Canal towpath. Take a brief detour and you’ll see the beautiful Packington Street mosaic at Canalside Square.
And if you’re visiting London with kids, they’ll enjoy the nearby Waterside Adventure Playground. Not to mention Islington’s kids-only theater, the Little Angel.
You’ll find some high-quality fringe and alternative theater in Islington. Make sure you get to enjoy its other attractions, too:
- A performance or two at a pub theater
- Stand-up comedy club
- A movie at Screen on the Green
- Live music at Electrowerkz or Union Chapel
- Shopping in Camden Passage
- Regent’s Canal Towpath trail
- Little Angel Children’s Theatre
Islington isn’t overflowing with hotels, but if you stay here you’ll be in fringe heaven. You’ll also be handy for Kings Cross and Bloomsbury. Here are our recommended accommodations:
What is the best area to stay in London for first-time visitors?
Westminster is the best place to stay in London for first-timers. It’s full of top attractions like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. It’s also not too far from other must-see places like the London Eye, Tate Modern, the West End, and the British Museum.
As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to stay close to the river to be close to the largest number of famous landmarks and attractions.
What is the best place to stay in London with kids?
Marylebone is a great choice if you’re visiting London with kids. It’s close to London Zoo, Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, Madame Tussauds, and other fun stuff.
Or if you’re planning to visit lots of great museums, pick Kensington. As well as being home to the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, it’s also handy for Hyde Park.
What’s the best area for nightlife in London?
You’ll be sure of a great night out in Soho. As well as loads of West End theaters, it’s full of atmospheric pubs, clubs, and restaurants.
For more of a hipster vibe, head to the pubs, clubs, and nightspots of Shoreditch. For a fabulous range of live music, try Camden Town. And for Off-West-End theater, head to Islington.
How can I get around London easily?
One of the best ways to get around London is by Tube, otherwise known as London Underground. This extensive subway system is a lot cheaper than taking cabs.
Consider getting a Visitor Oyster Card before setting off. These plastic smartcards can be used on all Tube lines as well as on buses and on the Docklands Light Railway, and will keep your transportation costs down.
You apply online for your Visitor Oyster Card and it’s sent to your home address, anywhere in the world. This means you can use it as soon as you set foot off the plane.
You can also buy Travelcards for one day, a week, or a month. These can be used on all public transportation systems in London. A one-week Travelcard gives you seven days’ travel for the price of five.
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