Updated: January 17, 2017
Where Should I Stay in London?
There is no universal “best” neighbourhood to stay in London, since sights are spread out, there’s no “downtown” as such, and much depends on your interests and budget. Some neighborhoods are more central and convenient than others, given that you’ll either be walking or using public transport to reach the attractions.
The West End (Covent Garden, Soho, Leicester Square, Oxford Street, Mayfair) is a very central district with most of London’s theatres, top art galleries, excellent, varied dining for all budgets and much of London’s nightlife. 4- and 5-star hotels dominate, with some midrange bargains. Easy to walk around and handy public transport connections to other parts of London.
Just north of the West End, Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia are also centrally located, walkable to West End, with lots of bookshops, quiet streets, and the British Museum as the star attraction. Wide range of accommodation, cheaper than the neighboring West End. King’s Cross, with its train stations, is north of Fitzrovia. It’s low on sights, but has excellent transport links to other parts of London, to Heathrow and Gatwick airports and to France and Belgium via the Eurostar. Mostly inexpensive guesthouses and chain hotels.
Victoria, just south of Westminster and St James’s and on the fringes of the West End, has excellent transport links to Gatwick airport, and accommodations ranging from cheapies to pricey hotels.
Kensington is southwest of the West End. It’s on the Piccadilly line, useful for reaching both central London and Heathrow airport. Plus, it has several star attractions and while the area has numerous 5-star hotels, there is something for all budgets.
South Bank and Bank Side are across the Thames from the West End. Numerous attractions here, and London Bridge is handy for Gatwick airport. Some boutique hotels here as well as chains. City of London is good for sights, with some budget chain hotels and weekend bargains at pricier ones. Camden and the East End – bargain accommodations but less convenient for sightseeing.
The Best Places To Stay in London
- Best Neighborhood for Sightseeing: South Bank and Bankside
When it comes to sightseeing, South Bank and Bankside are excellent for access to big attractions – London Eye, Tate Modern, the Shard – and the City of London also has its share of popular sights, but both have few places to stay. South Kensington is great for museums and shopping; hotels tend to be pricey. Covent Garden and Soho are good all-rounders due to their proximity to the river, Westminster and other top sights, and ample accommodations are a boon.
- Best Neighborhood for Nightlife: Soho
The best area in London for nightlife is Soho. The neighbourhood is a good mix of trendy cocktail bars (many of which also do great food, traditional English pubs, theatres, and basement clubs with DJ nights, including a number of gay venues. There are only a few hotels in Soho, slightly set back from the action. Other good areas for nightlife include Camden with its live music venues and East End, with its legendary clubs.
- Best Neighborhood for Food and Restaurants: Covent Garden
Some of London’s best eating is done around Covent Garden. The dense cluster of streets is packed with restaurants ranging from inexpensive Indian, Mexican and Brazilian mini-chains to upscale fine dining and traditional pubs serving excellent local food. Covent Garden is a 5 min walk to Chinatown and also Soho, jam-packed with artisan coffee shops and global offerings. Hotels around Hyde Park offer London’s best Michelin-starred dining. Camden, the East End and King’s Cross are great for street food.
- Best Neighbourhood for Families: South Kensington and Marylebone
South Kensington is one of the best places to stay in London for families. The neighbourhood is relatively quiet, and there are two stellar museums with plenty of interactive exhibits for all ages. Just to the north is Hyde Park, with its playgrounds and the family-friendly Winter Wonderland during the colder months. Marylebone is another good option, within easy reach of both Hyde Park, London Zoo in Regent’s Park and Madame Tussauds – popular with older children.
- Best Neighborhood to Stay for First Timer: Covent Garden
If it’s your first time in London, then Covent Garden is the best neighborhood to base yourself. It’s centrally located, has a great dining and theatre scene and is within easy walking distance of numerous big attractions, such as the National Gallery, Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. There are excellent public transport connections to other parts of London and it’s easy to take a boat along the Thames to reach other places of interest. Accommodation for all budgets, too.
- Most Romantic Neighborhood: Mayfair, Marylebone, or South Kensington
If you want to romance your significant other in London, it’s hard a tough call between staying in Mayfair, Marylebone, or South Kensington. Mayfair is Old World wealth and charm, with renowned 5-star hotels such as The Ritz and the Connaught, and some of London’s most celebrated restaurants, including La Gavroche and Corrigan’s Mayfair. In South Kensington you can opt for the 5-star hotels that fringe Hyde Park, while Marylebone has a hip vibe, some excellent boutique hotels and less formal dining.
- Best Neighborhood for a Local Vibe: Camden
It’s hard to get more ‘local’ then Camden. The graffiti-tagged, gritty streets still resist gentrification and, Camden Market and the tour narrowboats on Regent’s Canal aside, this is still a working class neighbourhood. Stop by Barfly, Underworld or another local pub and you might catch the next big thing in alternative rock. In the East End, Brick Lane is ‘Banglatown’; like other parts of east London, it retains a strong immigrant feel, with curry houses, Bangladeshi cafes and sari shops.
- Safest Areas of the City
London’s safest neighbourhoods tend to be the most affluent ones. Mayfair, South Kensington, Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Chelsea – all these are largely safe to walk around any time of day. Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia are also very safe, but standard precautions apply at night. Covent Garden is generally fine but things can get lively late on weekend nights.
- Unsafe Areas of the City
Parts of the East End, such as Hackney and Shoreditch, can be sketchy at night. While the King’s Cross area has been rejuvenated, the area around the train station is still grotty and it’s best not to wander around late at night. Camden is fine during the day, but has a reputation for robberies and assaults outside daylight hours. The Soho and Leicester Square area can also get rough late at night and Hyde Park is best avoided after dark.
The Best Neighborhoods in London for Tourists
Kensington, Belgravia & Chelsea
Bordered by the vast Hyde Park to the north and Green Park to the east, these three moneyed neighborhoods are known for the their trio of superb museums, a couple of excellent contemporary art galleries and London’s most upmarket department and lifestyle stores: Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Nearby Kensington Palace is a heavyweight attraction, and if you’re serious about fashion, Elizabeth Street in Belgravia is lined with powerhouse designer outlets. The dining scene includes some of London’s finest restaurants.
Westminster & St James
Sandwiched between the River Thames, Mayfair, Belgravia and Soho, Westminster is Britain’s seat of power. Restaurants and accommodations here are few, but London’s biggest attractions are concentrated in this central part of the city, including the Houses of Parliament, three of London’s top art galleries, and Trafalgar Square. There’s a strong royal connection as well: Buckingham Palace in St James’s Park in Her Majesty’s home and office, while Westminster Abbey is the coronation and burial place of British monarchy.
Camden Town & Primrose Hill
Grungy and rough around the edges, Camden Town nestles in the northeast reaches of Regent’s Park, near London Zoo. It’s centred on the sprawling Camden Market – four adjoining markets selling anything from vintage clothing and records to art and gourmet street food. The birthplace of British rock music, Camden has a young, studenty vibe, numerous live music venues and lively pubs, while Primrose Hill, just to the west, is a celeb hangout with artisan coffee shops, gastropubs and chic stores.
The most visited part of London is at the heart of the capital’s Theatreland, with shows and musicals forming the best part of the neighbourhood’s entertainment. Covent Garden’s central feature is its cobbled piazza and restored 19th century market, with its quirky and increasingly high end shops and a supporting cast of buskers and other street entertainment. There are plenty of restaurant bars, cafes and pubs in the surrounding tangle of streets and several major attractions lie within easy walking distance.
Soho & Leicester Square
Bars, clubs and a diverse clutch of restaurants are the hallmarks of Soho, London’s liveliest nightlife area and former red light district. Centrally located and as easy walk away from the river and several major attractions, Soho is also the heart of London’s gay scene and one of the best parts of London for independent designers and record stores. Soho is bordered to the south by the small, bustling Chinatown and touristy Leicester Square, famous for its movie premieres.
Studded with London’s iconic skyscrapers, the financial heart of the city has a 2000-year-old history. This is where the Romans originally founded Londinium, and no other part of London packs so many heavyweight attractions into so small a space as the Square Mile. Besides Roman ruins, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London, there are also the city’s finest small museums in Holborn and fantastic dining in Clerkenwell. The City bustles with professionals on weekdays and is eerily quiet on weekends.
Oxford Street, Marylebone & Mayfair
Lined with high street fashion outlets, centrally-located Oxford Street bisects two distinguished neighbourhoods. To the north is fashionable Marylebone, attracting moneyed Londoners with its designer shops and upmarket eateries, while the waxworks of Madame Tussauds, just south of Regent’s Park, panders to crowds of visitors. South of Oxford Street, Mayfair oozes class and wealth, its grid of tree-lined streets dotted with 5-star hotels, antique shops and the finest menswear outlets in town along its famous shopping street, Saville Row.
East of The City, the East End used to have a bad reputation, with its Victorian slums, Jack the Ripper stalking the streets, and the squalor surrounding London’s docks and heavily industrialised neighbourhoods. The East End retains its immigrant neighbourhoods and lively ethnic vibe. Must-visits include Spitalfields Market and the excellent restaurants surrounding it, the Whitechapel Gallery, the Brick Lane street market and vintage fashion shops, the designer shops of Shoreditch and Hoxton’s frenetic nightlife.
The South Bank, Bankside & Greenwich
The Thames is London’s lifeblood and many of the city’s attractions are concentrated along the promenade that stretches along the river’s south bank in central London – from historic theatres and the country’s top contemporary art gallery to the London Eye and the Shard skyscraper. Boats along the Thames give easy access to attractions in other parts of London, including Greenwich, further east – a UNESCO World Heritage collections of museums. Dining includes some standout street food and London’s loftiest restaurants.
Bloomsbury, Kings Cross & Fitzrovia
The bookish and offbeat neighbourhoods of Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia are just north of Oxford Street. Bloomsbury is centred around the British Museum – the UK’s best – which is surrounded by a buzzy grid of streets filled with cafes and restaurants. Just west of Bloomsbury is trendy Fitzrovia – short on sights but with lively pubs and bars frequented by young professionals. To the north is the regenerated King’s Cross, with the international rail hub of St Pancras, some excellent street food and the British Library.