Planning a trip to London can be challenging, especially when it comes to finding a place to stay. With many neighborhoods to choose from, each offering something different, looking for accommodation in London can be terrifying. When I lived in London for many years I got to live in almost every corner of the city. Now I can tell you what each area offers.
Best Areas to Stay in London
There is no universal ‘best’ neighborhood to stay in London since all sights are spread out. There’s also no downtown as such, and much depends on your interests and budget. London is generally a safe place, no matter where you stay. There’s no such thing as a ‘no-go’ zone in London.
Getting to Know Different Districts of London
The first issue with London is that districts aren’t always named the same everywhere. It’s easy to get oriented in Paris, where districts (arrondissement) are numbered, but London is divided in a different way. Officially, the city of London is a small part of London you expect (marked white on the map below). Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, London Eye or any other iconic landmarks aren’t even part of it.
The City is now only a tiny part of the metropolis of London, though it remains a notable part of central London. Administratively, it forms one of the 33 local authority districts of Greater London; however, the City of London is not a London borough, a status reserved for the other 32 districts (including London’s only other city, the City of Westminster).
Colloquial districts of London
You might want to ask where is the West End area, as you’ve probably heard about it. West End is actually not an official geographical or municipal definition, but a term used colloquially by Londoners. Therefore the exact constituent parts are up for debate.
Depending on the person, the ‘zones’ of London can be divided differently and hold different names. Further on, I’ll be referring to the most used names of the districts and the closest major tube stations nearby.
How to Get Around London
Before we delve too deeply into descriptions of different areas, let’s introduce you to the transport system. Don’t get intimidated by London tube map – it’s easier to navigate than it looks like and it’s perfectly safe. Here are a few things you should know:
- Hotel shuttles from airports are rare. Taxi or Uber from the airport is insanely expensive. I don’t recommend taking private transportation unless you arrive exhausted in the middle of the night.
- London has a great public transport system. It’s safe and usually works great (and it if doesn’t there’s always a replacement bus right away). But, not all tube stations have elevators and you might have to drag your suitcase up the stairs.
- You have to buy an oyster card (a refillable transport card) in order to use the buses and tube now. Unless you have a touch card from a UK bank. You can buy these for £5 in multiple tube stations or the airport.
Where to Stay in London
The West End (Covent Garden, Soho, Leicester Square, Oxford Street)
A vibrant district full of theaters, shops, pubs, clubs, landmarks and shopping opportunities.
- Covent Garden/Soho – Where all the nightlife is happening. During the day Covent Garden has live music, performers, and markets.
- Theaters – Buy tickets here
- Oxford Street Shopping – Most shopping you could want in London
Busy commuter area with a Royal feel.
- Buckingham Palace
- St James’s Park & Hyde Park
Sensational public attractions and spectacular people watching along the banks of the Thames.
- London Eye
- London Aquarium
- London Dungeon
- Big Ben & Parliament
- Westminster Abbey
- Borough Market
- Globe Theatre
- Southbank Centre
- The Shard
City of London
Busy suited streets of a location that’s full of rich history.
- Tower of London
- St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Tate Modern
History is etched into the stones of this neighborhood.
- Big Ben & Houses of Parliament
- Buckingham Palace
- Westminster Abbey
- St. James’ Park
Paddington, Bayswater & Marylebone & Maida Vale
These swanky London neighborhoods feel less crowded despite the central location.
- Sherlock Holmes Museum
- Little Venice
- Madame Tussauds
Notting Hill & Hammersmith
Quaint streets and rustic townhomes earn this west London neighborhood its cinematic credentials.
- Portobello Road Market
- Hyde Park
Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia
College district with many gardens. Where history, creativity, and the latest trends form a unique cultural fusion.
- British Museum – Where the mummies are. One of the free museum of London.
- UCL – One of the major colleges in London.
- British Library
Hyde Park (Chelsea, Kensington, Knightsbridge)
This stylish central London neighborhood works hard, plays hard, and shops hard. Elegance permeates the air.
- Harrods – The luxurious shopping mall.
- Victoria & Albert Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Kensington Palace – Where William & Kate live.
- London Zoo
- Winter Wonderland (during the winter)
King’s Cross & Camden Town
The alternative, underground music venues, and street markets challenge the norm.
- Camden Market
- Platform 9 3/4
- Highgate Cemetery
- The Stables Market
East London (Shoreditch, Brick Lane)
A creative haven for artists and designers.
Timeless architecture combined with a quiet but elegant atmosphere.
- Greenwich Village
- O2 Area
- Royal Observatory
- The Maritime Museum
Don’t even think about it, unless you’re going to London for an event hosted in Wimbledon or Royal Ascot. It’s too far from everything.
- Best Neighborhood for Sightseeing: South Bank
- Best Neighborhood for Nightlife: Soho & Camden
- Best Neighbourhood for Families: Victoria & Marylebone
- Best Neighborhood to Stay for First Timer: Covent Garden
- Most Romantic Neighborhood: Notting Hill & South Kensington
- Best Neighborhood for a Local Vibe: Camden & Shoreditch
- Best Neighbourhood for Ethnic Food: Anywhere in East London.
Other things to note about London
Make sure what room are you booking at the hotel. Smaller hotels and guesthouses often have shared bathrooms, unless the room is listed as ‘en suite’.
London might seem expensive at first, but if you drink during happy hour, look for discount codes, and use other money saving tricks, it can be affordable.
Nightlife starts and ends early in London, or anywhere in the UK really. Pubs and bars usually close at 11 PM (10 PM on Sundays) while the food is usually served until 9-9:30 PM. If you’re planning on going out leave early. Many posher nightclubs require registration online, so make sure you get on that guest list before heading to a fancy place.
Arrange your travel insurance
Don’t forget to arrange a health insurance before heading to London. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to avoid unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!
Do you have any questions about London neighborhoods? Are you thinking of staying in some areas I haven’t listed here? Let me know in the comments below!