Wondering where to stay in London for first-time visitors? Whether you want to hang out with the East London hipsters or spend your days strolling through the capital's green spaces, we've whittled down our favourite places to stay and play in the capital.
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Where to stay in London [2020 Guide For First Time Visitors] - Contents
West End (Covent Garden, Soho, Leicester Square, Oxford Street, City of London)
Encompassing many of London's poshest neighbourhoods, best eateries and entertainment, the West End should be a London novice's first port of call. Yes, accommodation in the area can be a little pricey, but it's well worth it to be on the doorstep of some of London's most sought after attractions.
Coined 'Theatreland,' the West End has the largest concentration of performing arts venues in the world, attracting visitors, and even performers, from all around the globe. And with 40 theatres showing everything from musicals and comedies to small-scale plays and lavish operas, there's something for everything.
For those who are more into Haute Couture than High School Musical, the high-end boutiques and glitzy department stores on Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street provide some of the best shopping in the world. When you've worked up an appetite, you won't have to venture far to get your fix, with michelin-starred eateries, relaxed restaurants and street food options on almost every corner. If it's asian cuisine that you're craving, Chinatown is just the ticket. The lanes around Gerrard Street in London's Soho are crammed with over 80 restaurants serving authentic asian dishes from Sichuanese to Dim Sum and Burmese.
While the West End is very walkable, all the major hotspots, including Oxford Circus, Covent Garden, Piccadilly and Leicester Square, are well connected with tube stations, buses and bicycle hire docks.
Top Things to do in the West End
- Catch a West End Show. Wicked, the Lion King, Les Miserables and the Book of Mormon are just a few of the big-name performances on offer.
- Taste your way around Chinatown. Try the hand-wrapped dumplings at Jen Cafe, Cantonese classics at Four Seasons and the hawker street Malaysian dishes at Rasa Sayang.
- Hit the shops on world-famous Oxford Street; home to more than 300 shops selling everything from big-name brands to designer labels. Be sure to stop off at the glitzy Selfridges department store.
- Browse the British Museum which houses a huge collection of world art and artefacts. Other popular museums and galleries include the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts.
- Party 'til dawn in stylish Soho. Whether you're thirsty for a craft-cocktail, a low-key dive bar, or a traditional British boozer, Soho promises an eventful night out. For cocktails, head to Dirty Martinis in Covent Garden or for late night jazz, Ronnie Scotts is a cosy den with romantic cabaret.
- Visit Buckingham Palace. On the edge of the West End, the palace has served as the official London residence of the British royal family since the 19th century. Tours of the palace interior are only available in summer from late June to late September, but it's well worth a visit outside of these months to experience the changing of the guards.
Where to stay in the West End
South London (South Bank, Greenwich, Brixton, Peckham, Wimbledon)
The strollable stretch of the Thames River between Westminster and Tower Bridge is packed full of big-ticket attractions including the London Eye, Tate Modern, Borough Market and the Shard.
Further south, Londoners seek solace from the hustle and bustle of the capital with a healthy dose of posh parks and commons. In fact, the eight greenest boroughs all lie south of the river. Wimbledon Park needs no introduction thanks to its world-famous tennis courts, while Clapham Common, located in a busy urban area, is one of the most popular parks in South London and attracts a younger crowd. In the south east, leafy Greenwich may feel like a retreat from the city, but there's plenty to do here including the famous market, museums and the nearby O2 arena.
Once a Del Boy drab, Peckham has transformed itself into an edgy, creative hub with independent art galleries, rooftop bars and small-scale cinemas. Just west of Peckham, Brixton shares a similar story. Once considered rough and ready, this trendy neighbourhood has become a go-to haunt for foodies, artists, and clubbers alike. Shoppers and foodies flock to Brixton village, lined with 100 independent boutiques, restaurants and food stalls, while Brixton's famous music venues draw in the late night crowds.
Things to do in South London
- Open 7 days a week, Greenwich Market is one of London's best markets for quirky gifts, antiques and delicious street food.
- Tuck into mouth-watering cuisine from all over the world at Brixton Village Market, open every day from eight until late.
- Explore Peckham's thriving art scene and grab a drink at the famous Frank's Café - a Campari bar on an empty car park rooftop.
- Pack up a picnic and head to Cannizaro ParK, tucked away behind a country house on Wimbledon Common, and one of South London's best kept secrets.
Where to stay in South London
North London (Kings Cross, Islington, Camden, Hampstead Heath)
North London includes some of the capital's most desirable and eclectic neighbourhoods that tend to attract the creative crowds.
Islington, Camden and Hampstead are relatively central neighbourhoods. Camden Town has cleaned up somewhat since its days of seedy bars and underground raves. While it's held on to its alternative vibe, today Camden is abuzz with famous markets, big-player music venues and vintage shops that sit alongside its famous canals.
Just North of Camden, Hampstead is considered one of the most charming and affluent boroughs in London and is often frequented by liberals, writers, artists and celebrities. This gorgeous hilltop hideaway is most famous for its stunning heath, but also has plenty of cool cafes, upmarket shops and historic buildings to keep you busy.
In the north east, Islington is a mecca for London's liberals, journalists, writers and artists, with a thriving fringe theatre scene and heaps of restaurants and bars.
North London is served by great transport links, with the northern and piccadilly tube lines reaching most towns, and three major train stations - Kings Cross, Euston and St Pancras - making it easy to travel to airports and other cities within the UK. If you're looking for an edgy vibe and a modestly priced hotel, north London is an excellent choice.
Top Things to do in North London
- Visit the world-famous London Zoo, occupying 36 acres and home to 750 different species.
- Wander the tree-lined pathways of Regent's Park, taking in its elegant flower beds and pretty Rose Gardens. Here, you can hire a boat, visit the Open Air Theatre and kick back and listen to the soulful sounds of jazz at the park's summer jazz concerts.
- Walk from Little Venice to Camden along the Regent's Canal.
- If you're a Beatlemaniac, be sure to stop by the famous Abbey Road Crossing, which is now Grade II listed.
- Cool Camden Market is the spot to pick up anything alternative, handmade, retro, antique and completely off-the-wall.
- For spectacular views of the London skyline, head to Hampstead Heath, a peaceful expanse of countryside that's perfect for picnics and sports, thanks to its athletics track and swimming ponds.
- If you're a footie fan, don't leave north London without visiting the world-famous Emirates Stadium - Arsenal's home football ground.
Where to stay in North London
East London (Shoreditch, Hackney, Dalston, Canary Wharf)
East London is a cultural melting pot that tells a tale of regentrification and new life. Spanning from edgy Shoreditch to the iconic skyline of Canary Wharf, London's east has become one of the trendiest residences in the capital.
Over the past decade, the areas of Shoreditch, Hackney, Hoxton, Dalston and Clapton have been transformed into hipster hangouts packed with weird and wonderful vintage shops, old school record stores, food markets, pop up restaurants and trendy boozers. Street artists have left a trail of art through Shoreditch, while Brick Lane is lined with curry houses serving the best vindaloo outside of India.
But, it's not all urban. East London has its fair share of green spaces too, with London Fields and Victoria Park being the two most popular. During the summer months, the parks fill up with people having picnics, playing sports or catching a moment's peace with a good book.
Further south, the financial district of Canary Wharf affords and enviable position on the north bank of the Thames. These once derelict docks have become one of London's most desirable districts, thanks to a host of glitzy department stores, posh eateries, and high-end riverside hotels and apartments popping up throughout the area.
The expansion of the overground network has meant vastly improved transport links all over East London.
Top Things to do in East London:
- Hunt for a bargain within the bric-a-brac of Brick Lane's markets before refuelling at one of the many pop up food stalls. The area is also famous for its curry houses, such as Aladin Brick Lane.
- Saturdays in East London are for filling up on delicious street food at Broadway Market, which you'll find at the foot of London Fields. British classics like fish and chips, devilish treats, health foods, tapas, Italian, and other international dishes, are all on the menu.
- Browse the coolest retro rails in the capital at Beyond Retro - an east London institute in Shoreditch that stocks vintage clothes from charity shops and recycling companies.
- Tired of taking the tube? Float across London on the Emirates Air Line - a cable car that runs from Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks.
- Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the former London Games 2012 arena has been transformed into a huge multi-use venue. Here, you can enjoy the UK's largest urban beach, swim in the aquatics centre, cycle the world's fastest velodrome track or check out the view from the Orbit.
- Shop for seasonal blooms at Columbia Road Flower Market, which overflows with bucketfuls of beautiful flowers every Sunday.
Where to stay in East London
West London (Notting Hill, Kensington and Chelsea)
'West is best' goes the old London saying, and there are certainly more than enough reasons to believe this.
Traditionally the home of the capital's rich and famous, wealthy West London is high up on most travellers wish list. Hailed as the Royal Boroughs, Kensington and South Kensington will woo you with their rich history, trio of museums, designer boutiques, manicured gardens and, of course, the regal Kensington Palace. Two miles north, Notting Hill paints a pretty picture, with pastel-coloured Victorian townhouses framed by cherry-blossom trees, and streets brimming with fashionable boutiques, restaurants and bars.
Located just north of the river, and home to the iconic Kings Road, Chelsea boasts one of the most prestigious postcodes in the UK. Kings Road has been a shopping mecca for “It Girls” and socialites for decades, but you'll also find swanky eateries, posh gastro pubs and the Saatchi Gallery.
With some of London's most elite and expensive real estate, plush places to stay are not hard to come across. But, if you're looking for something a little more modest, neighbourhoods like Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith provide a more affordable option and are still very well connected to central London.
Things to do in West London
- Start your visit on South Kensington's Museum Mile, where West London's trio of museums - The Science Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum - are conveniently situated next to each other.
- Stroll along Chelsea's King's Road; shop the high end boutiques; delve into its leafy squares; and join London's socialites at the Bluebird for brunch.
- Visit Portobello Road Market, held every Saturday, and packed with hundreds of stalls selling antiques, bric-a-brac, clothes, shoes and food.
- Retrace the steps of the royals at Kensington Palace, the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka Wills and Kate).
Where to stay in West London
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