Updated: September 13, 2016
Tips and recommendations
- Booking.com – The best site for booking hotels in London.
- Get Your Guide – The best site for booking tours in London.
- The best neighborhoods in London for first time visitors are Mayfair, Marylebone, Piccadilly, Soho, and Covent Garden – all are central, safe, and have easy access to restaurants and attractions.
- The best airport hotels in London are the Hilton (direct access to Heathrow) and the Hampton (direct access to Gatwick)
- When is the best time to visit London? Depending on your interests London can be a great year-round destination. Museums and galleries are quiet in the winter months while parks and markets are best from May until September.
15 Best Luxury Hotels in London
- Shangri-La at the Shard
Hotel phone: +44 20 7234 8000
Occupying the 34th to 52nd floors of the Shard, London’s iconic jagged-topped skyscraper designed by Renzo Piano, the Shangri-La is London’s highest hotel. The floor-to-ceiling windows in the rooms, restaurant, bar, and the gym and Infinity Skypool on the 52nd floor offer unparalleled panoramic views of the city. Decorated in tones cream, grey and blue and livened up with contemporary art, the rooms contain king-sized beds, binoculars and espresso makers. Marble bathrooms are equipped with Washlet toilets and Acqua di Parma toiletries, and while all 17 suits come with personal butler service, the Shangri-La Suite also features its own Jacuzzi. Asian specialities features heavily on the menu of TĪNG, the in-house restaurant, with guests given the option to pick ingredients of their choice at nearby Borough Market, while LÁNG deli serves home-made chocolates and signature cakes. The GŎNG bar on the 52nd floor serves classic English afternoon tea and makes an excellent place for a sundowner. Its signature drinks include the Yuzu Martini and Rosemary Bubbles.
Nearby Restaurants: Oblix (great views, meat lovers, dress code) • Hutong (lofty views, contemporary Northern Chinese, smart casual)
- The Connaught – Mayfair
Hotel phone: +44 20 7499 7070
The hub of Mayfair from 1815 onwards, and a short walk from designer stores, the Connaught is where English charm and historical heritage meet modernity. The grand dark wood staircase, personal butlers and sumptuous, traditional rooms designed by Guy Oliver all hark back to the days when the hotel’s guests included French president Charles de Gaulle. By contrast, the rooms in the new wing are bright, contemporary and somewhat oriental in design; bathroom features include Japanese Toto heated toilet seats. Families are accommodated in interconnecting rooms, with homemade treats for kids, child-friendly menu, a selection of children’s books and the twice-daily, family-only swimming sessions at the Aman Spa swimming pool. The celebrated in-house dining options include the two Michelin-starred Hélène Darroze which serves some of the best French cuisine in London underneath two works by Damien Hurst. Guests pick up to nine key ingredients and let the chef surprise them. Traditional afternoon tea is served in the light-filled conservatory. The Connaught Bar, named Best Bar in the World in 2015 and famous for its signature Connaught Martini, runs cocktail masterclasses, overseen by award-winning mixologist Agostino Perrone.
Nearby restaurants: Scott’s (fine dining, seafood-heavy, champagne bar, smart casual) • The Square (2 star Michelin, contemporary European, extensive wine list, relaxed ambiance).
- Soho Hotel – Soho
Hotel phone: +44 20 7292 6100
Tucked away in a cul-de-sac, this boutique hotel is right in the heart of Soho, with excellent dining and nightlife right on its doorstep but soundproofed against the street noise. The entire hotel is permeated with bright colours and quirky, playful touches that the interior designer and co-owner Kit Kemp is known for, from the bold mural behind the bar and the oil can arrangement in the restaurant to the Botero cat sculpture in the lobby. All rooms were individually designed by Ms Kemp, and feature bright, eye-catching wallpaper, a signature mannequin in each room and a striped umbrella in each wardrobe. Some rooms are interconnected to accommodate families. Bathrooms have free-standing tubs, his-and-hers sinks and Rik Rak toiletries. Guests can relax in the library or in the sculpture-strewn drawing room, complete with a 24-hour honesty bar. A full-scale gym, massage treatments and manicures can be done in-house. The Refuel restaurant serves contemporary European dishes and there’s a separate children’s menu.
Nearby restaurants: Princi (Milanese artesan bakery, wood-fired pizzas, relaxed, casual ambience) • Quo Vadis (classic British food with French influences, seafood and game, romantic dining, smart casual).
- Mondrian London at Sea Containers – Southbank
Hotel phone: +44 20 3747 1000
With stellar views of the Thames, Mondrian sits on the pedestrian riverside path, a few minutes’ walk from the London Eye, Borough Market, Globe Theatre and Tate Modern. Nautical touches, from the copper-clad ‘ship’s hull’ that encompasses the reception, to the lobby sculpture of a chain link, are meant to convey 1920 cruise ship glamour and to pay homage to the Sea Containers shipping company – the original occupants of the building. Designed by American architect Warren Platner in the 1970s, the hotel was completed by British designer Tom Dixon and embodies both cultures. Crimson accents and copper lighting features contrast with the neutral tones and sleek design of the understated, luxurious rooms. Each room is decked out with custom-designed furniture, including the signature chairs designed by Dixon and Platner. Bathrooms feature rain showers, Malin + Goetz toiletries and movie-star-dressing-room lights alongside the mirrors. Guests can sample innovative pre-mixed cocktails by award-winning mixologist Mr Lyan at the Dandelyan Bar and observe chefs at work in the open kitchen of Sea Containers restaurant that specialises in seasonal British and American dishes. The glass-enclosed Rumpus Room rooftop bar has an unobstructed view of London’s landmarks and Wednesday is live jazz night. Children are made to feel welcome with push-scooters, kids’ menu and a cast-iron swing in the lobby.
Nearby resturants: OXO Tower Restaurant (iconic location, modern British cuisine with global influences, afternoon tea) • Skylon (modern European, river views, trendy cocktail bar, split between brasserie and fine dining restaurant).
- ME by Melia – West End
Hotel phone: +44 207 395 3400
Sleek, monochromatic ME is just three years old and sits right in the midst of West End action – minutes away from theatres and Covent Garden. Its dark, subtly lit corridors and stylish rooms, decorated in neutral tones, provide welcome respite from the outside bustle. All rooms come with integrated digital media hubs, and contemporary bathrooms with rain showers. ME’s most striking feature is the hollow black marble pyramid that cuts through the heart of the hotel and houses the reception area. You can peek down into the pyramid from the Rooftop Radio Bar, renowned for its cocktails, its outdoor terrace overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the London Eye. DJs play evening sets at the bar from Wednesday to Sunday. Atmospherically-lit STK is ME’s in-house dining option, specialising in steaks from the UK and the US. Inside ME’s lobby, metal “radio wave” structures pay homage to the hotel building, Marconi House – the former headquarters of the BBC from which the first radio broadcast was made in 1922.
Nearby restaurants: The Delaunay (grand European café, Viennese-style afternoon tea, friendly atmosphere),• ROKA Aldwych (contemporary Japanese, rustic dining room, open-grill kitchen, relaxed ambience).
- The Rookery
Hotel phone: +44 20 7336 0931
Inside three of the last remaining 18th century Georgian houses on Peter’s Lane in bustling Clerkenwell, with its medieval lanes and excellent dining, the Rookery is an intimate boutique hotel that has replaced the thief-and-whore-filled slums that the area was once famous for. Staying here is like staying in your own luxurious, labyrinthine Georgian home, complete with reclaimed wood panelling, antique furniture, four-posters beds and statues in the bathrooms. All rooms are named after Londoners who once lived here. Both the Dr Theophilus Garencières and the Sir Walter de Manny junior suites feature vintage rolltop baths, throne toilets and walk-in showers with Ren toiletries. The grandest feature of the Rook’s Nest two-storey penthouse suite is the ornate bed, flanked with gilded blackamoors. To wash, guests step into the vast Victorian bathing machine on a raised plinth. Part of the top floor used to be the servants’ quarters, and the rooms are snug and atmospheric, with low ceilings and skylights. Particularly popular with female travellers and couples, this is a quiet retreat where guests read by the roaring fire in the Conservatory and help themselves to drinks at the honesty bar. No elevator.
Nearby restaurants: St John (innovative British dining, meat-heavy, ‘nose to tail dining’ concept, relaxed atmosphere) • The Fable (fairytale decor, seasonal British all-day menu, creative cocktails).
- The Ritz London
Hotel phone: +44 20 7493 8181
From the splendour of its Long Gallery, hung with rococo mirrors and chandeliers, to the liveried doormen, the Ritz has been a byword for old-world luxury since 1906. Overlooking Green Park and near Buckingham Palace, the Ritz has played host to countless VIPs, from numerous royals, movie stars and politicians to Noel Coward. Winston Churchill and Eisenhower met in the Maria Antoinette Suite during WWII to discuss strategy and recently, an episode of “Downton Abbey” was shot in the Ritz Restaurant. Conceived by London- and Paris-based designers, the high-ceilinged rooms are decorated in classic Louis XVI style, in subtle pink, blue, yellow and peach, the picture of opulence completed with ornate antique furnishings and heavy silk drapes. The three Signature Suites come with butler service. Melding frescoed, marbled opulence with haute cuisine, the Ritz Restaurant recreates classic French dishes using the best of British seasonal produce, while the art deco Rivoli bar is an intimate gathering place for cocktails. Non-guests and guests alike indulge in “Tea at the Ritz” every afternoon tea at the elegant, greenery-festooned Palm Court to the accompaniment of the resident pianist who used to play with Frank Sinatra. Dress code throughout.
Nearby restaurants: Le Caprice (legendary Art Deco setting, contemporary European bistro, elegant yet casual atmosphere) • Franco’s (upscale Italian dining, pre-theatre menus, smart casual, booking essential).
- The Savoy
Hotel phone: +44 20 7836 4343
In the heart of West End, the Savoy is the grand dame of London hotels, its roster of past guests including Monet and Laurence Olivier. Once you make your way past feline-shaped topiary and the top-hatted doormen, you are immediately met by the hotel staff and whisked off to your room; there is no reception. Reflecting the Savoy’s historical influences, the rooms are either English Edwardian or Art Deco in design, though both come with thoroughly modern bathrooms and rain showers. Guests staying in the suites are waited on by butlers. Family vacation packages, amenities for kids and adjoining rooms are some of the family-friendly features. Fine dining is very much part of the Savoy experience. Choose between Gordon Ramsey’s Savoy Grill for classic British cuisine with French touches (dress code), a roast dinner at Simpson’s-on-the-Strand or seafood creations at the informal Kaspar Bar and Grill, amidst Art Deco surroundings. The Savoy is one of the best places in London to enjoy afternoon tea. The hotel’s bars are equally illustrious: the legendary American Bar is London’s oldest and renowned for its cocktails, while the Beaufort Bar is dominated with the icicle-like Lalique-style bar that serves original liquid creations. In the lobby you can spot the sculpture of Kaspar the cat, who stands in as the 14th guest to ward off bad luck if a dinner party only has 13 guests.
Nearby restaurants: Fernandez & Wells (Spanish-style food-and-wine bar, tapas, meat-heavy, good value, intimate and friendly atmosphere) • Rules (18th century restaurant with Old World decor, classic British dishes, game-heavy, refined ambience).
- Claridge’s – Mayfair
Hotel phone: +44 20 7629 8860
For over 150 years, Claridge’s has defined London’s luxury experience, its elegant art deco interior playing host to royals, actors and other VIPs. In the rooms, hand-selected furniture, signature prints and sumptuous fabrics abound, along with high-tech features such as iPod docking stations. The service is discreet and attentive. Those staying in either the regular suites, individually designed by the likes of David Linley (the Queen’s grandson) and Diane von Furstenberg, are waited on by butlers. At Michelin-starred Fera, celebrated chef Simon Rogan prepares innovative takes on British cuisine that makes the most of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Guests are encouraged to wander into the kitchen to watch the chefs at work or even to dine there. If you want to learn to carve a leg of lamb or make traditional British puddings, you can take part in specially arranged masterclasses. Afternoon tea in the sumptuous Grand Foyer is a highlight for guests and non-guests alike. Claridge’s Bar is the place to sample vintage champagnes and some of the world’s best wines, while the art deco Fumoir is a dark, seductive space to retreat to for a signature cocktail, such as the Black Pearl.
Nearby Restaurants: Umu (2 Michelin stars, high-end Japanese dining, ingredient-driven dishes, reservations essential) • Browns (British brasserie, locally sourced ingredients, popular afternoon tea, casual setting).
- W – Leicester
Hotel phone: +44 20 7758 1000
Right by London’s Chinatown, Soho nightlife and the red carpet of Leicester Square’s movie premieres, American import W manages to be both futuristic and retro at the same time. Its glass façade is ultra-modern, the reception is all chrome and mirrorballs, with curved furniture and padded walls in the common spaces. Its rooms are true to the hotel’s ‘studio style’ concept, meaning the entrance to the bedrooms in the Wonderful, Spectacular and Fabulous rooms lies through open-plan bathrooms (with powerful monsoon showers) and the central island plays the role of washbasin, shelving and desk at the same time. Cool Corner rooms are the exception, their separate peek-a-boo showers complete with spyhole slits, while suite guests benefit from private steam rooms. Capturing the party vibe of this part of town, the Extreme Wow Suite comes with its own DJ station vinyl collection and revolving chesterfield sofa, as well as a Jacuzzi, while the Screening Suite is equipped with its own private cinema. The white, cocoon-like Away spa combines Chinese and Japanese relaxation treatments with signature facials by Su-Man. Anarch-Tea at the Lounge is a fun take on afternoon tea that pays homage to 40 years of punk with its bold cake designs. The Lounge is also the place to fuel up on cocktails before hitting the dance floor at the on-site Room 913 nightclub.
Nearby Restaurants: Manchurian Legends (northern Chinese dishes, award-winning lamb skewers, busy, casual setting) • The Palomar (creative Middle Eastern/Mediterranean cuisine, open kitchen, playful decor and ambience).
- St Pancras Renaissance
Hotel phone: +44 20 7841 3540
A London landmark in every possible way, St Pancras Renaissance is a hotel that’s both historic and new. It has arisen from the ashes of the 19th century Midland Grand, a Victorian railway hotel whose imposing red brick Gothic Revival façade blends effortlessly with that of the St Pancras International railway station. Gone out of business in 1933, the English Heritage building served as a backdrop in Harry Potter movies and a Spice Girls’ video before reopening as the Renaissance in 2011. Beautifully restored, it retains many of its original features – from replica carpets and wallpaper to the cathedral-like cupola ceiling above the grand staircase and original furnishings in the high-ceilinged rooms and signature suites of the historic wing. There’s a new wing also with business-style rooms. Bathrooms come equipped with rain showers; suites have free-standing tubs. On the ground floor, the Hansom Lounge that doubles as the reception is a glassed-over section of the original Victorian street where hansoms used to pull up to the train station. The Booking Office restaurant that serves classic British dishes and Victorian punchbowl drinks still retains the original ticket windows. The hotel’s most notable dining experience is the Gilbert Scott (dress code), with the best of British cooking recreated by Chantelle Nicholson. Guests are offered complimentary historic tours of the hotel and masterclasses such as paring cured meats and beers. A range of Journeys treatments is offered at the hotel spa and there’s an indoor pool.
Nearby restaurants: Mi + Me (signature deli sandwiches, locally-sourced ingredients, craft beers, trendy, busy) • Plum and Spilt Milk (grand old railway restaurant ambience, classic British dishes, ingredient-driven menu).
- Montague on the Gardens
Hotel phone: +44 20 7637 1001
Just around the corner from the British Museum, this Georgian townhouse encloses a luxurious boutique hotel. From the lounge with its ceiling frescoes and chandeliers to the individually decorated rooms and suites, the decor is old-world opulence blended with contemporary touches. Brightly patterned wallpaper, luxurious wall fabrics and hand-crafted furniture decorate the snug rooms. The grandest is the two-room Guv’nor Suite, with its own conservatory and copper bath. Afternoon tea is served in the sunny conservatory, while the smart casual Blue Door Bistro serves mainly Mediterranean dishes. Also on site, the Garden Grill transforms into a beach bar in summer, complete with palm trees and real sand; in the winter it retains a ski lodge ambience. Other seasonal perks include tennis viewings in the conservatory accompanied by champagne cocktails during Wimbledon. The Cigar Terrace offers comfortable seating and vintage cigars for connoisseurs; cigar dinners (five-course tasting menu accompanied by cigar tastings) are arranged on request. Pets and families welcome.
Nearby restaurants: Great Court Restaurant (seasonal British cuisine inside British Museum, afternoon tea, elegant ambience) • Abeno (inexpensive, authentic Japanese food, okonomiayaki speciality, casual and popular).
- The Dorchester
Hotel phone: +44 20 7629 8888
At an exclusive Park Lane address, overlooking Hyde Park, the opulently classical Dorchester has been attracting royalty, Hollywood actors and political leaders such as Eisenhower since it opened in 1931. Marble pillars prop up the grand Promenade lobby; guests gather here for afternoon tea to the accompaniment of a resident pianist. The spacious, elegant rooms are decorated in neutral tones, with hand-picked antique furniture and specially commissioned fabrics. The suites have recently been revamped by designer Alexandra Champalimaud, using fabrics by the likes of Coles and Son and signed prints by Prince Charles. Sizeable white marble bathrooms with powerful rain showers are said to have the deepest baths in London. The most illustrious in-house dining option is Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester – the only restaurant in London with three Michelin stars and fine takes on French classics on the menu. Live jazz complements Cantonese food at the art deco China Tang, while in the spite of the Scottish theme, The Grill serves solidly British classics. Tipples at The Bar include wines that span the world, plenty of Scottish whiskies and an impressive range of cocktails. The futuristic Dorchester Spa in the basement rejuvenates guests with signature facials by Carol Joy London and anti-ageing techniques by La Prairie.
Nearby restaurants: Nobu (legendary high-end Japanese dining, dress code, reservations essential) • Cut at 45 Park Lane (high-end, modern American steakhouse, legendary chef, superb wine list).
- Chiltern Firehouse
Hotel phone: +44 20 7073 7676
All red brick arches and crenellations, the Chiltern Firehouse was the most talked about London hotel to have opened in 2014 and instantly became a celeb haunt. The 1890 Victorian firehouse has had a new wing added by American hotelier André Balzacs of Chateau Marmont. Inside there are just 26 exclusive rooms, lofts and open-plan suites. Each is individually designed in retro style, comfortable without over-the-top ostentatiousness, and each guest is looked after by a personal assistant. All room have working fireplaces and spacious marble-floored bathrooms; suites come with freestanding tubs. There is no dress code, as guests are encouraged to ‘feel at home’. The open kitchen at the namesake restaurant is overseen by Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendez who is responsible for inventive reimagining of European and American classics. All the restaurant tables are a little different in size and look; this is a place to be seen as much as to dine. Beneath the restaurant is whimsical smoking terrace; restaurant guests are welcome to linger here with drinks. The Ladder Shed, the space where firemen used to keep their ladders, has been turned into an attractive bar, strewn with custom-made wicker chairs and comfy banquettes. Guests are welcome to get behind the decks and spin some records and bartenders mix signature cocktails behind the pink marble bar. Unlike the restaurant, the Ladder Shed is, officially, only for hotel residents and their friends.
Nearby restaurants: Reubens (Kosher cafeteria, deli and restaurant, hearty meaty fare, sandwiches, casual vibe) • Royal China Club (high-end Cantonese mini-chain, imaginative dim sum, refined ambience).
- The Landmark
Hotel phone: +44 20 7631 8000
A grand late 19th century hotel, the Landmark was originally designed for a smooth transition for well-heeled travellers of the “Golden Age of Steam” straight from Marylebone station to their spacious, elegant rooms. The façade is imposing red brick Gothic Revival, and the location is an easy walk away from Madame Tussaud’s and the boutiques of Marylebone and Mayfair. The tastefully appointed rooms and suites are among the largest in London, with classic cream and duck-egg-blue decor, king-sized beds, heavy silk drapes and huge flat-screen TVs. The bathrooms come equipped with his and hers sinks and deep bathtubs. The suites are distinguished by their classic Victorian features, white Italian marble bathrooms and contemporary touches – from Nespresso machines to iHome systems. Of the hotel’s dining venues, the Winter Garden is particularly striking. Inside the soaring 8-storey glass-roofed atrium filled with palm trees, it serves breakfast, afternoon tea and British dishes with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, while the elevated Gazebo is where guests gather for Sunday champagne brunches. With its oak panelling, enormous mirrors and an extensive wine library, twotwentytwo restaurant and bar is more formal and the menu is classic European. Hidden at the back of the hotel is the intimate Mirror Bar, famous for its cocktails and fine champagnes. In the basement, guests can make use of the large swimming pool (with daily children’s hours), Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and a well-equipped gym, or else duck into the treatment rooms for a range of massages and facials.
Nearby Restaurants: Opso (creative Greek-inspired food, small dishes, stylish, trendy) • Fischer’s (classic Austrian dishes, old-world Vienna vibe, meat lovers, cakes, friendly atmosphere).
Hotels in Mayfair, Marylebone, & Piccadilly
Mayfair is one of London’s most exclusive neighbourhoods (and the most expensive place to land on the original Monopoly boards). Old-world grandeur is present in the beautiful buildings, even though the headquarters of MI5 – the British secret service – have now moved on from Curzon Street. Edwardian townhouses line Mayfair’s streets and surround its landmark squares – Grosvenor Square, dominated by the US embassy, and Berkeley Square, flanked by original 18th century terraced houses. Mayfair’s most famous shopping street, Savile Row, is where discerning, well-heeled clients come to get their suits cut at the likes of Henry Poole & Co, who once outfitted Charles Dickens. This is a focal area for British designers: Henry Poole’s neighbour is Alexander McQueen’s designer wear, while Paul Smith, Browns and Stella McCartney boutiques flourish in surrounding streets. You’re steps away from Smythson (fine stationary), Grays in the Mews (antiques) and Berry Bros (Britain’s oldest wine merchant) cater to a cosmopolitan, demanding clientele. Along busy Piccadilly road, Mayfair’s southern border, Burlington Arcade (Britain’s first shopping arcade) is every bit as grand as in the 1820s, patrolled by ‘beadles’ in top hats and featuring high end food shops, fragrance houses and Italian leatherwear. Further east, Bond Street is lined with high street heavyweights. North of Mayfair, newly fashionable ‘Marylebone village’ attracts both moneyed Londoners and visitors: the latter come to visit Madame Tussaud’s and the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, the former – for the independent boutiques and upmarket delicatessens such as La Fromagerie along Marylebone Lane.
The Best Hotels in Mayfair, Marylebone, & Piccadilly
- Chiltern Firehouse (intimate, buzzy boutique hotel inside historic building, close to shopping)
- The Landmark (grand Victorian hotel, family-friendly, near attractions)
- Claridge’s (majestic Art Deco/Victorian hotel, excellent dining, close to Mayfair shopping)
- Dorchester (old-world opulence, state-of-the-art mod cons, superb dining)
- The Ritz (standard-setting luxury hotel, sumptuous 18th-century-style rooms, near Buckingham Palace)
- Meat Liquor (hearty Deep South food and cult status burgers, dark, graffiti’d interior, loud music, queues)
- Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill (historic restaurant with classic decor, simple, impeccable fish and shellfish dishes)
- Dinings (innovative Japanese tapas and sushi, stark basement setting, relaxed vibe)
- Le Gavroche (2 Michelin stars, French haute cuisine by Michel Roux Jr, reserve months in advance)
- Corrigan’s Mayfair (romantic atmosphere, innovative British dishes using seasonal ingredients, dress code)
Best Restaurants in Mayfair, Marylebone & Piccadilly
Stretching along the south bank of the Thames, the two-mile pedestrian walk between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge is an almost non-stop procession of attractions, from historical to post-millennial. The gentrification of the area began in the 1950s to boost public moral after WWII but the South Bank really came into its own in the 21st century with the arrival of several iconic cultural attractions. If you have kids, start at the western end, where they can be entertained by torture, death and disease at the London Dungeon and sea creatures at the London Aquarium. Next up, the London Eye offers great views of the city on a clear day. Further along, the contemporary art powerhouse, Tate Modern, is flanked by the tiny Bankside Gallery and the rebuilt Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; many of the Bard’s plays were first staged in the original. A food market dating back to the 13th century, Borough Market attracts discerning foodies from all over London and this is also where many London chefs seek out fresh ingredients for their kitchens. Busiest between Wednesday and Saturday, it has an extensive array of exotic street food stalls – your best bet for lunch. Towering above Borough Market is the jagged glass edifice of the Shard, London’s highest skyscraper. Pay for the incredible views from the observation deck on the 72nd floor or enjoy slightly less lofty views from Gŏng bar on the 52nd floor for the price of a beer on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.
Best Hotels in South Bank
- Mondrian London at Sea Containers (riverside views, minimalist rooms, contemporary design, terrific bars)
- Shangri-La at the Shard (superb skyscraper views, contemporary rooms, family-friendly, excellent dining)
- Park Plaza at Westminster Bridge (contemporary, design-led hotel, sleek room, close to attractions)
- London Marriott Hotel Country Hall (superb riverside location, close to attractions, modern decor, family-friendly)
- citizenM London Bankside (affordable, futuristic chic, compact rooms, tablet-controlled amenities)
Best Restaurants in South Bank
- Restaurant Story (Michelin-starred Tom Sellers restaurant, playful menu of British seasonal produce, reservations essential)
- Union Street Café (industrial-meets-classic decor, daily changing Italian menu, dainty portions)
- Borough Market (gourmet food stalls – from Lebanese meze to Indian to Scandinavian, great for lunch Wed-Sat)
- Aqua Shard (Modern British cuisine, elegant surroundings, stellar skyscraper views, bookings essential)
- M. Manze (London’s oldest pie shop, menu dominated by pies and mash, busy, family-friendly)
Soho & Leicester Square
Oxford Street, Charing Cross Road, Shaftesbury Avenue and Regent Street form a rectangle around the dense grid of tiny streets that make up Soho. For a long time, Soho has had a sinful reputation as the city’s red light district and as a haven for the unconventional: the bulk of London’s gay bars and clubs are still based here. ‘Ladies of the night’ and seedy sex shops are largely gone, replaced by London’s highest concentration of bars, clubs, restaurants specialising in diverse cuisines and offbeat independent shops selling vinyl. Many restaurants are clustered around the leafy Soho Square and Greek Street that leads up to it, while Wardour Street plays host to TV production companies. Just south of Shaftesbury Avenue and its grand Victorian theatres is the small, busy Chinatown, centred around Gerrard and Lisle Streets, its speciality Asian grocery stores catering to chefs and savvy foodies. Many of its restaurants cater squarely to the visiting tourist contingent, however, there are a few exceptions for those in search of authentic Cantonese and Sichuan cooking. Bordering Chinatown to the south is Leicester Square, once one of London’s most exclusive addresses and now home to several cinemas. Movie premieres take place at the Odeon Leicester Square; around the corner, Odeon Panton Street attracts film buffs with classics and cult hits. Head south along Charing Cross Road and join art lovers at the National Gallery, or mingle with the crowds, the pigeons and the buskers in front of Nelson’s Column on Trafalgar Square.
Best Hotels in Soho & Leicester Square
- Soho Hotel (edgy contemporary hotel, bright colours, family-friendly, near restaurants and nightlife)
- Ham Yard Hotel (colourful, unique design, friendly service, families welcome, near restaurants)
- W (retro, monochromatic decor, party hotel, close to nightlife)
- Hazlitt’s (18th century flamboyance meets contemporary luxury, near restaurants and nightlife)
- Z Hotel Soho (compact boutique hotel inside townhouses, luxurious fittings, close to nightlife)
Best Restaurants in Soho & Leicester Square
- Ceviche Soho (trendy Peruvian eatery, ceviche and anticuchos (skewers) a speciality, buzzy and fun)
- Patara (high-end Thai dining, excellent service, dinner reservations)
- Ember Yard (Basque-style grill and Spanish/Italian tapas bar, seasonal ingredients, great for pre-theatre meals)
- Bao (Taiwanese street-stall-turned-restaurant, bao buns, sliders and other small dishes, lively atmosphere, queues)
Covent Garden & The Strand
Covent Garden is a great neighbourhood to base yourself as a first-time visitor to London. It is particularly popular with tourists and reviled by some locals in equal measure for the proliferation of high street chains and the buskers along Bow Street. Its centrepiece is the cobbled Covent Garden Piazza, featuring a restored 19th century market in place of the fruit and vegetable wholesale market that was here for almost three hundred years. The covered market is filled with increasingly high-end boutiques such as Fred Perry and Burberry Brit and a clutch of independent shops selling offbeat jewelry, clothing and arty gifts. Ignoring the crowds of strolling tourists, locals seeks out independent shops indicative of Covent Garden’s disappearing quirky character. Neal’s Yard Dairy in Neal’s Yard has long been a purveyor of cheeses by UK’s small, independent producers, Stanford’s on Long Acre is London’s top travel bookstore, and Vintage Showroom stocks vintage menswear. The increase in luxury brands is showing itself in Covent Garden’s dining scene, with the likes of the Ivy Market Grill and Terroirs competing with mini-chains such as Dishoom and Wahaca. Part of West End and the hub of London’s cultural life, Covent Garden is overlooked by the Royal Opera House, and the surrounding streets are dotted with theatres, from the edgy Donmar Warehouse to the more mainstream Shaftesbury Theatre. Retaining some of its genteel charm and grandeur from centuries past, the Strand runs along Covent Garden’s southern boundary, parallel to the river. It may no longer be ‘the finest street in Europe’, but its western end is lined with several legendary luxury hotels, as well as the neoclassical Somerset House, home to many London Fashion Week events.
Best Hotels in Covent Garden & the Strand
- The Savoy (glitzy old-world opulence, terrific dining, families welcome, close to theatres)
- ME by Melia (minimalist, monochromatic, high-tech rooms, rooftop bar, close to restaurants, theatres)
- Covent Garden Hotel (contemporary, colourful, laid-back ambience, private cinema, close to dining and theatres)
- One Aldwych (historic hotel, thoroughly modern rooms, popular with theatre-goers and London Fashion Week)
- St Martin’s Lane Hotel (trendy, design-led hotel, minimalist rooms, excellent on-site dining)
Best Restaurants Covent Garden & the Strand
- Flesh & Buns (industrial-chic basement, upmarket take on Taiwanese hirata buns, rock soundrack, young, trendy)
- Lima Floral (imaginative Peruvian haute cuisine, excellent cocktails, relaxed ambience)
- J Sheekey (old-fashioned glamour, fish- and seafood-heavy, great for pre-theatre dining)
- Terroirs (rustic French dining in basement, casual wine bar with sharing plates, buzzy, hip)
- Homeslice Pizza (huge wood-fired pizzas with imaginative toppings, trendy decor, families welcome)
The gleaming iconic corporate towers, such as the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater and the Walkie Talkie, mark the spot where the Romans founded Londinium 2000 years ago. Stretching from Clerkenwell and Holdborn in the west to Tower Hill and Aldgate in the east, the City is a compressed into a compact area known as the Square Mile. Its streets busy with commuting bankers, traders and lawyers on weekdays, London’s frenetic business district is packed with sights, from medieval churches to the Tower of London. To appreciate the City properly, take a walk around Holborn’s excellent small museums, or head to Clerkenwell, a fashionable locale with a post-industrial feel, to browse the boutiques, food stalls and excellent restaurants around the colourful Exmouth Market. Once synonymous with the printing press, Fleet Street is no longer the home of daily newspapers, though it features some fine art deco buildings from its heyday. It leads towards St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the capital’s most symbolic buildings. South of St Paul’s the pedestrian Millennium Bridge leads across the river to Southbank, while to the east of the cathedral is the immense, Jean-Nouvel-designed One New Change shopping mall, its restaurants popular with the business set. The seven streets that meet above Bank tube station mark the symbolic heart of the City, fringed by the Bank of England, the Royal Exchange and Mansion House, Lord Mayor of London’s residence. Nearby, the Tower of London showcases the Crown Jewels and recreates the lives of British kings and queens.
Best Hotels in the City
- Rookery (intimate boutique hotel, antique furnishings, romantic, close to restaurants)
- Malmaison (design-led, contemporary boutique hotel, close to East End nightlife)
- Andaz Liverpool Street (grand, revamped railway hotel, simple, stylish rooms, good in-house dining)
- Threadneedles (former-bank-turned-boutique-hotel, contemporary rooms, excellent restaurant, close to landmarks)
- Zetter (boutique hotel inside Victorian warehouse, quirky decor, state-of-the-art tech, close to Exmouth Market)
Best Restaurants in the City
- Foxlow (retro-themed, upmarket steakhouse, impeccably sourced steaks, friendly service)
- Moro (Mediterranean cooking with African twist, post-industrial decor inside Exmouth Market, boisterous atmosphere)
- Sweetings (classic seafood restaurant popular with business set, top-notch service, ideal for lunch)
- Duck & Waffle (40th floor views from Heron Tower, small plates of British and European dishes with global touches, 24-hour service)
- 1 Lombard Street (grand brasserie with Neoclassical interior, meat- and fish-heavy modern European dishes)
South Kensington, Knightsbridge, & Chelsea
It’s hard to imagine another compact part of London as crammed with attractions as South Kensington. Three world-class museums line Exhibition Road: Victoria & Albert, Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. Nearby is the Royal Albert Hall that hosts anything from rock concert to motor shows. South Kensington is bordered to the north by the vast Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park – vast green spaces popular with strolling locals, skaters and bikers. In the depths of Hyde Park, the Serpentine Gallery hosts contemporary art exhibitions and the park itself has been a traditional venue for protests. Knightsbridge, flanking South Kensington to the east, is where moneyed Londoners shop at the parade of pricey boutiques – Prada, Gucci, Harvey Nichols – that line Sloane Street and where most of London’s embassies cluster along wide, tree-lined avenues. While the legendary Harrods department store on Brompton Road is often overrun with browsing tourists, the fine food halls can be pleasure to browse during quieter times and its art gallery is often overlooked. Further south, Chelsea was once synonymous with the Swinging Sixties and immortalised by the punk movement, but today it’s an exclusive residential area, with grand red brick houses lining the cobbled streets, best known for the annual Chelsea Flower Show. Stroll the pedestrian enclave of shops and restaurants at the Duke of York Square, browse the modern art at the Saatchi Gallery or take a stroll along Cale Street or the Chelsea Farmers’ Market on neighbouring Sydney Street for a glance at independent boutiques.
Best Hotels in South Kensington, Knightsbridge & Chelsea
- Number 16 (quiet hideaway, light, colourful, individually-designed rooms, romantic)
- The Ampersand Hotel (museum-oriented boutique hotel, excellent in-house dining, children welcome, close to museums)
- Mandarin Oriental (Far-Eastern-themed, old-world luxury, iconic in-house restaurant, close to shopping and Hyde Park)
- The Berkeley (historic, elegant hotel, Hyde Park views, superb in-house restaurant, rooftop pool, close to designer shops)
- Sydney House Chelsea (intimate 4-star hotel inside townhouses, compact, bright rooms, close to museums and restaurants)
Best Restaurants in South Kensington, Knightsbridge & Chelsea
- Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (2 star Michelin molecular gastronomy, Top 10 restaurants in the world 2015, advance reservations essential)
- Zuma (ingredient-driven contemporary Japanese cuisine, stylish decor, buzzy and hip)
- Marcus at The Berkeley (2 star Michelin, romantic, old-world ambience, intelligent British food)
- Koffmann’s (classic French dishes by legendary Pierre Koffman, posh but not stuffy, excellent lunch bargains)
- Hawksmoor (elegant Art Deco interior, superb steaks, imaginative cocktails, relaxed and friendly vibe)
Fifteen Things To Know About Staying in London
- Avoid travelling on the tube or buses during rush hour (7.30am-9.30am and 4.30-6.30pm), as they get extremely crowded.
- Buying an Oyster Card to use on the tube, buses and some boats saves you money (and time). They are sold at train and tube stations. Contactless bank cards and credit cards (the ones you swipe) can be used in the same way as Oyster Cards, to touch in and out of public transport, and this gets you the same rates. The Oyster Card has a slight edge because the former can be loaded with a 7-day Travelcard, whereas with contactless cards, you just get a set rate for daily unlimited travel.
- Many of London’s top museums and galleries (British Museum, Tate Modern, National Gallery and many more) are free, though donations are requested. The British Museum, Tate Modern and others often hold worthwhile special exhibitions; these do require paid entry. Public museums are open every day; private museums tend to be closed one day a week, typically on Mondays. Last entry to museums/attractions is typically 30 minutes or an hour before closing time.
- If you’re looking to do a considerable amount of sightseeing, it’s worth getting the London Pass (www.londonpass.com) that gets you free entry to attractions such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle), free tours, discounts at select restaurants and more. The 1 day pass is not worth it, but anything from 3 days onwards is worthwhile; just bear in mind that the attractions are quite spread-out.
- With popular attractions such as Westminster Abbey, Madame Tussaud’s, or the Natural History Museum, you’ll never be entirely free of crowds, but it really pays to get there early – a little before opening time if you can. Also, with the London Eye, London Dungeon, Madame Tussaud’s and London Aquarium, multi-attraction tickets purchased online get you discounts.
- Night revellers will want to stay in the Covent Garden/Soho/Leicester Square area, since Soho has the biggest concentration of cocktail bars, cellar bars, pubs and gay bars/clubs. More refined pubs are found around the West End in general, while in the East End, Shoreditch, Whitechapel and Brick Lane are the nightlife hotspots.
- Official black cabs with a lit-up taxi sign (to show that they’re available) can be hailed in most places; stick out your arm when the taxi’s approaching. Cabbies have to know every street and landmark in London, so you just need to give them the name of the hotel/theatre. Black cabs tend to be expensive; Uber is a much cheaper alternative if you’ve got the app, but Uber drivers are not as knowledgeable.
- Carnaby Street/Oxford Street/Regent St is best for high street fashions and quirky independent designers; there are boutique hotels, luxury hotels and business hotels in nearby Covent Garden/Leicester Square area. Mayfair, Kensington and Knightsbridge is where you’ll find haute couture and London’s finest tailoring (Saville Row); many of London’s 5-star hotels are found there.
- Free wi-fi is ubiquitous across London. The vast majority of hotels, restaurants and bars offer it. All major cell phone networks offer free wi-fi on the London Underground; if you’re visiting from abroad, you can purchase a London Underground wi-fi pass for £2 per day.
- There are many hotels around Heathrow and Gatwick International Airports, but staying there is only recommended if you have an early flight to catch, as you’re pretty much confined to the hotel for meal options, with noise from planes taking off between 5.30am and 11pm. Trains run from St Pancras train station to Gatwick; the best hotels in the area include the St Pancras Renaissance (www.stpancraslondon.com), Hotel Megaro (www.hotelmegaro.co.uk) and Great Northern Hotel (www.gnhlondon.com). The Heathrow Express train from Paddington is the quickest way to reach Heathrow Airport. Best hotels nearby include the Royal Park Hotel (www.theroyalpark.com), Metropolis London Hyde Park (www.metropolishydepark.co.uk), and the less expensive Stylotel (www.stylotel.com).
- If you’re interested in catching one of London’s many theatre shows and musicals, check out www.londontheatre.co.uk or www.whatsonstage.com. For discounted tickets, check the websites of individual theatres and visit the TKTS office in Leicester Square.
- Covent Garden, Leicester Square, and Soho are all part of London’s West End, where you’ll find most theatres. West End is also within easy reach of the River Thames and many of London’s big attractions, and has a good range of accommodation (luxury to budget) and a huge range of restaurants and pubs.
- You can save money by making lunch your biggest meal of the day, as even exclusive restaurants tend to have lunchtime deals. Many fine dining places in the West End also offer a discounted pre-theatre menu, served from 5.30pm.
- It’s well worth taking a boat tour of the Thames; that way you pass through London’s diverse neighbourhoods – from Westminster to Greenwich – and get to see many of London’s iconic buildings in one fell swoop: Big Ben, the London Eye, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf.
- A 27% VAT charge (Value Added Tax) is automatically added to goods and services in the UK. In restaurants, it’s common to tip 10-12.5%; in many high-end establishments it’s added to the bottom of the bill. A small tip to taxi drivers and bellhops is appropriate, but no one tips bar staff. To get a VAT refund when leaving the UK, get a VAT 407 form from the retailer (only department stores and retailers used to dealing with foreigners offer this) and show the form, your receipts and the goods to customs officials at the airport.