Visitors to London may have heard of Oxford Street and Soho, the South Bank and the City, but, as with any sprawling city with a large population, there’s way more to it than that.
To help you choose where you want to spend your time, we’ve pulled together this neighborhood guide. Whether you’re looking for the best area for art and culture or where to go for a great family day out, here’s what you need to know about London’s best neighborhoods.
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Piccadilly Circus is a hub of activity, with many shops and nightlife options © Lukasz Pajor / Shutterstock
The West End: Soho, Covent Garden and around
Best area for entertainment and shopping
The West End is a larger region made up of lots of neighborhoods, including Soho, Covent Garden, Chinatown, Theatreland, Bloomsbury and Westminster. It encompasses many of London’s most iconic locations, buildings and museums, notably Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the British Museum.
If your budget allows, this is where you should stay to have all the must-sees and -dos within walking distance, but you’ll likely be paying “through the nose,” as Londoners might say, for that luxurious convenience. Allow up to a half-day for each of the big museums (the British Museum and the National Gallery), and at least a couple of hours for places like Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace (the latter only open in summer).
The West End is also a center for entertainment, packed with theaters, nightclubs, bars and restaurants, with great spots to while away an evening throughout Soho and Covent Garden. Shoppers will want to head to Oxford and Regent Streets for high-street brands, Covent Garden for market stalls and boutiques, and Soho for specialist and independent stores.
Home to the Tate Modern, the South Bank is a cultural hub © vladimir zakharov / Getty Images
The South Bank
Best neighborhood for art and culture
The South Bank, the stretch along the riverside between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge, is a cultural hub and must-visit area for art lovers, theater-goers and architecture buffs. This popular area is home to performance spaces such as Shakespeare’s Globe and the Southbank Centre (Europe’s largest arts venue), as well as gallery giant Tate Modern.
If you’re looking for family entertainment, you’ll find the London Dungeon, Sea Life London Aquarium and London Eye all grouped together near Westminster Bridge. There are bars and restaurants throughout the neighborhood, but for a true foodie experience, you’ll want to choose something from one of the fresh-food stalls at Borough Market or the less-crowded Maltby Street Market, which is in a quieter residential area beyond London Bridge.
Once a cheap alternative to the central accommodation options north of the Thames, the South Bank has seen prices rise to match those found across the river. But if you’re an arts-and-culture kind of person, this is the area for you, especially given that it’s a short, pleasant walk across one of the many stunning bridges to enter the City proper.
The Natural History Museum covers everything to do with nature © Mark Chilvers / Lonely Planet
Kensington and Hyde Park
Best area for museums
Well-groomed Kensington is among London’s handsomest neighborhoods. It has three fine museums: the V&A offers decorative arts; the Natural History Museum covers everything to do with nature; and the Science Museum takes you on an interactive exploration of materials, space and time.
This is in addition to excellent dining and shopping, lovely parks and grand period architecture. You could easily spend a day at each one of the museums before heading off to explore the superb shopping in Knightsbridge, where you will find Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Make time, too, for one of London’s greatest parks: Hyde Park and the adjoining Kensington Gardens, with tree-lined avenues, rose gardens, a boating lake and graceful parkland.
Like everywhere else near central London, accommodation prices won’t be kind to your wallet here, but then you can boast that you’ve got the Queen for a neighbor. Well served by London’s public transport, this is the city’s museum district and therefore a much quieter option to the center of town, which is just a mere 10 minutes on the Underground.
City of London
Best neighborhood for London’s history
For its small size, the City of London – also known as the Square Mile – punches well above its weight for must-see attractions. This neighborhood is home to the Tower of London, Museum of London and St Paul’s Cathedral – you could easily spend half a day at each, learning all about the city’s often-gruesome history. For astonishing (and free) views across London, book advance tickets to the Sky Garden, an indoor garden on the 43rd floor of a building known as the Walkie Talkie due to its curved top.
Very few people actually live in the City, meaning it’s much emptier in the evenings and on weekends, allowing for people-free exploration of its alleyways and Christopher Wren–designed churches. But that also means fewer accommodation options, and those that are here tend to be pricey. This is probably the best-connected neighborhood in the whole of London, however, so what you’re really paying for is convenience and surprisingly quiet evenings right in the heart of one of the world’s noisiest cities.
Find an eclectic mix of goods at the iconic Portobello Road Market © giorgiogalano / Getty Images
Notting Hill and West London
Best area for antique markets
This part of west London has many superb restaurants and a lot of decent (but expensive) accommodation options. It’s home to the iconic Portobello Road Market, which sells an eclectic mix of fashion, trinkets, antiques and street food, and the Design Museum, where the history of modern design is covered in a lavish gallery.
The neighborhood is marginally cheaper to stay in than central London, which is only a five-minute Tube ride away. But there’s plenty of reason to linger here. There are grand mansions, imposing churches and charming canals, making this a lovely place for a wander. Find vibrant nightlife in Notting Hill and Shepherd’s Bush.
Shoreditch, Hoxton and Spitalfields
Best neighborhood for nightlife
Packed with a variety of drinking and dancing venues, including cocktail bars, subterranean nightspots, converted warehouses and clubs, the areas of Shoreditch, Hoxton and Spitalfields toward the east are historic city-fringe neighborhoods best known for nightlife.
Probably offering the best rates for accommodation within earshot of central London, the east’s hipsterville is well connected and convenient, but expect the evenings to be noisy and the streets to be busy. During the day, explore the area’s boutiques, vintage shops, markets and cafes, and stroll Brick Lane, which bears witness to London’s long history of migration, as well as being one of the city’s best spots to see street art.
The East End
Best area for contemporary art
The East End is vast, with no specific boundaries, but is generally accepted to include the neighborhoods of Dalston, Hackney, Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, Stepney, Mile End and Bow. The groundbreaking Whitechapel Gallery, a favorite of art students, is a major sight in the area and has displayed modern and contemporary works since 1901.
One of the best ways to explore this part of London is to take a bike along Regent’s Canal at the bottom of Broadway Market. You can follow the waterway to Docklands, or branch east at Victoria Park, following the Hertford Union Canal to Hackney Wick and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Visit on a Sunday to appreciate the wonders of Columbia Road Flower Market.
The further east you head, the quieter it gets and the better the rates for accommodation. Out here, the journey time into central London will begin to creep up, but the Tube and Overground links are good, so it’s a worthwhile compromise.
Canary Wharf is the city’s financial district © Sven Hansche / Shutterstock
Docklands and Canary Wharf
Best neighborhood for contrasting architecture
Docklands is made up of the area on the north side of the river from Wapping through to Royal Victoria Docks, including Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs. This is home to the ultramodern tower blocks of Canary Wharf, which contrast with the converted warehouse buildings that date from the early 1800s.
Discover the city’s maritime past at the Museum of London Docklands and visit Trinity Buoy Wharf, an arty area where you’ll find London’s only lighthouse. A cable car offering impressive views over the river and surrounding docklands connects Royal Victoria Dock to the O2 on the Greenwich Peninsula, the other side of the Thames.
Conveniently linked to the heart of London by the Docklands Light Railway, the Docklands is a quiet neighborhood favored by families wanting to base themselves away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
Regent’s Canal connects neighborhoods in north London © asiastock / Shutterstock
North London: Regent’s Park, Camden and King’s Cross
Best area for a scenic walk
North London is a big place – you could spend a week exploring its parks, checking out the sights, lounging in gastropubs and sampling the nightlife. Camden Market has an intoxicating energy, and King’s Cross has been transformed into a super-cool new spot with markets, fountains and public squares. For open spaces, head to Regent’s Park and then connect each of these areas with a scenic stroll or bike ride along Regent’s Canal.
There’s a pleasant, laid-back feel to most of North London, and staying here is popular with those wanting to be close to the international entry point at King’s Cross, where naturally the accommodation prices are much higher. Hotels around the bustling markets of Camden can also fetch high prices.
Learn about space and time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park © mkos83 / Shutterstock
Greenwich and Deptford
Best neighborhood for a family day out
The neighborhood of Greenwich (pronounced “gren-itch”) offers everything a visitor might want on a day out in London: there’s a food market, an antique market, grand architecture, history galore, plenty of pubs, several museums and a vast park to keep any little people happy. This is all located around a lively center right next to the Thames.
Head up the hill in Greenwich Park to the Royal Observatory, where you can learn about space and time, as well as enjoy the views of Canary Wharf on the other side of the river. There are incredible murals in the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, a beautiful complex of buildings designed by Christopher Wren. Lovers of British maritime history will want to spend time browsing the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark clipper ship. Nearby Deptford offers independent shops and craft breweries.
As the furthest east of all the neighborhoods and a largely residential spot, Greenwich is definitely one of the quietest, and accommodation should be more reasonably priced, but the paucity of options means that’s often not the case. A convenient water taxi and the Docklands Light Railway ensure Greenwich and Deptford are nevertheless well connected to central London.
There’s vibrant nightlife through South London’s suburban neighborhoods © Mark Chilvers / Lonely Planet
South London: Brixton, Peckham, Tooting and Dulwich
Best area for suburban community
South London includes Vauxhall, Battersea, Clapham, Brixton, Tooting, Peckham and Dulwich, to name a few. Short of some superb parks, the comically named Horniman Museum and the world’s first purpose-built public art gallery, there aren’t many sights this far south of the river. Instead, you’ll find leafy suburban neighborhoods offering vibrant nightlife, charming village vibes and a strong sense of community.
Brixton’s large Afro-Caribbean population is reflected in its food stalls and cafes, as is the Indian influence in Tooting. Head to a rooftop bar in Peckham, or join locals over beers in Clapham’s many pubs and bars.
Staying in South London offers a very real glimpse of what it’s actually like to live in London for most people – busy, gritty and with the poorest transport connections of all the neighborhoods listed here. If you’re willing to tolerate the extra 10 to 15 minutes to get into town, this will easily be the most reasonably priced place to stay.
The gardens of Hampton Court are worth the journey to the southwest © PlusONE / Shutterstock
Beyond the city: Richmond, Kew and Hampton Court
Best neighborhood for Tudor history
The leafy neighborhoods of Richmond, Kew and Hampton Court to the southwest don’t entirely feel like London – probably because they officially belong to Surrey. However, these areas are only a short train ride away and are definitely worth the journey from the city. The distance should mean hotel prices are lower, but this is “posh” suburban London, so if you’re not careful, you’ll be paying central prices but with the added bonus of a steep daily train fare to get to all the central action.
Here you can get lost in the beauties of Kew Gardens, deer-spot in Richmond Park and explore the Tudor architecture and maze of Hampton Court Palace. When you’re done, head to the Thames riverside, which is lined with historic pubs.