A visitor's guide to London's boroughs
A London area guide for visitors: from the neighbourhoods to visit to the areas to stay
If you’re visiting London and wondering which area to stay in, read on. From the borough with the best vintage markets to the neighbourhoods serving the best cup of coffee, we’ve broken down the city area-by-area to help you decide where to set up camp.
Best for: historical monuments, quaint shops and pubs
Cutty Sark, Greenwich
Perched on the banks of the Thames in the south east of the city, Greenwich is a treasure trove of London history – particularly maritime – all of which can be learnt about from a wander around its many monuments and museums. You won’t be able to miss Cutty Sark, a restored 19th-century tea clipper-turned-museum right on the river’s edge. But visit also the National Maritime Museum to learn about Britain’s seafaring past, and the Old Royal Naval College to gaze up at its beautiful painted ceiling.
Stroll through Greenwich Park, a Grade I listed site and one of London’s eight Royal Parks. Climb the steep hill to the summit and you’ll find the Royal Observatory, the very site where Greenwich Mean Time was first set. Inside, you can learn all about astrology through shows in the planetarium. Next, wander through Greenwich Market – a myriad of stalls selling everything from hotdogs to homeware – and duck into the charming Red Door Cafe for a cup of tea and superlative slice of cake.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
If it’s drinks you’re after, Greenwich is spoilt for traditional pubs (try the Gipsy Moth for views of Cutty Sark), while wine lovers should head to the cobbled vaults of Davy’s Wine Merchants. Nightlife here is limited, but Greenwich is the ideal place to stay if you’ve come to London to catch a concert at the O2 Arena, the largest indoor music venue in London where some of the biggest names on the planet perform. Restaurant wise, Greenwich is overrun with chains. Pubs are your best bet if you’re after a distinctly British meal, or try Goddards: a traditional pie and mash shop which has been in business since 1890.
Where to stay: The Pilot, 68 River Way, Greenwich, London SE10 0BE
Soho and the West End
Best for: theatre, eclectic dining, London’s LGBTQ scene
London’s West End has been home to the city’s theatre district since the early 1800s. Today, roughly 40 venues offer nightly performances of the biggest and best shows in London – from long-running musicals to exciting new work from the most prominent writers of the moment. Stay in this part of town and revel in the luxury of a short walk back to your lodges post-play.
The West End spills into Soho, the beating heart of London’s LGBTQ scene. Head to Old Compton Street and its neighbouring roads for some of the best gay clubs in the city, from G-A-Y bar to The Yard and Village.
Hoppers restaurant, Soho
Another big pull of Soho is its culinary scene, which takes influences from every far-flung corner of the world. Here, you’ll find a melting pot of London’s finest restaurants. Our favourites include Sri Lankan joint Hoppers (from consistently good JKS restaurant group); the original branch of Peruvian restaurant Ceviche; and top notch tapas mini-chain Barrafina, where you’ll always find a queue pouring out its door. Beyond them, take a punt on practically any independent restaurant on Greek Street, Frith Street or Dean Street and you’re likely to find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Where to stay: Ham Yard Hotel, 1 Ham Yard, Soho, London W1D 7DT (or Soho House, if you’re a member)
Kensington and Chelsea
Best for: designer shops, museums and galleries, and celebrity spotting
The Royal Albert Hall
For those after a more upmarket London experience, look to the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, with its leafy, polished streets and abundance of swish hotels. From here, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), Natural History Museum and Science Museum are all close by. As is the historic Royal Albert Hall, one of the country’s most prominent concert venues, and one of London’s hidden secrets: the mosaic-adorned Leighton House museum.
Kensington and Chelsea are places to see and be seen. Rub shoulders with the city’s most stylish and glamorous while shopping on the King’s Road – known for its designer stores and boutiques – and pull up a seat at Chelsea institution Bluebird for a bite of something tasty with a side of people watching.
Spend an afternoon mooching around Kensington Palace and Gardens – once the home of royals including Queen Victoria – or take a break from hectic London life in the botanical haven of Chelsea Physic Garden. Wander up to the nearby Saatchi Gallery, which specialises in contemporary art, and finally, if you’re not yet cultured out, end your day at the Royal Court theatre, where some of the most exciting new work is shown.
Where to stay: Firmdale hotel, 18 Thurloe Place, Kensington, London SW7 2SP
Best for: independent record stores, markets and nightlife
Don’t be put off by Camden’s grungy facade. Once the most hip area of the city (it’s since passed on the baton to the likes of Hackney, Dalston and Peckham), rock bands, punks and party-loving students are among those who have laid claim on the area. It was famously home to the late singer Amy Winehouse and remains a mecca for her heartbroken fans (visit Camden Square, home to the singer when she died, and Stables Market, where a bronze statue was erected in her honour).
Wander through Camden Market, keeping an eye out for vintage steals, and take your time sifting through boxes in the many independent record stores which line the streets. Only a decade or so ago, hungry visitors would be lucky to find themselves tucking into anything other than GMO-smothered chicken feet here. Thankfully, an influx of impressive street food traders have since descended, bringing with them first-rate dishes from around the world: from New York-style salt beef sandwiches to Vietnamese noodles, Venezualan hot pockets and authentic Portugese pastel de nata.
For a breath of fresh air, hire a city bike and cycle along barge-lined Regent’s Canal, or take a walk up nearby Primrose Hill, from where you can enjoy panoramic views of the London skyline. Call in at the Lock Tavern, a pub with a large rooftop garden that regularly holds gigs and DJ nights. From there, head to one of Camden’s many clubs or music venues: the Jazz Cafe, Roundhouse, Electric Ballroom and KOKO (a theatre-turned-club) are among the best.
Where to stay: York & Albany, 127-129 Parkway, London NW1 7PS
Best for: vintage shops, Instagrammable streets and celebrity spotting
With its pastel-coloured houses, buzzing Portobello Road market, and broad array of independent shops and cafes, it’s hard not to love Notting Hill. The neighbourhood is regularly featured in films – most famously Richard Curtis’s 1999 film of the same name – because it really does capture quaint London life. Tour the sites ‘as seen on screen’ and re-enact being a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.
It’s also home to the vibrant Notting Hill Carnival, held on the last weekend of August every year. Visit then and you'll see the streets brought to life by Carribean bands, DJs and the colourful parade of feathered dancers, while stalls selling rum punch and jerk-spiced food line every corner.
Farm Girl in Notting Hill
Beyond Carnival, Notting Hill is home to a rising wellness-orientated food scene. Whether you think it fad or fact, a trip here isn't complete without joining the willowy, Sweaty Betty-clad believers in tucking into a turmeric-heavy menu at the likes of Redemption, Farm Girl and Farmacy. For a more substantial meal somewhere you won’t forget, try Greek restaurant Mazi, its sister site Suzi Tros or Gold - three of our local favourites.
Where to stay: White City House, Television Centre, 101 Wood Lane, White City, London W12 7FR
Shoreditch and Bethnal Green
Best for: Street art, independent fashion labels, world-class restaurants
Work by street artist Camille Walala
Only a few years ago, Shoreditch was the cool place to be seen in London. Having shrugged off its rough, East End past, knick-knack stores became trendy coffee shops, old boozers became hipster pubs and Prets became, er, Veggie Prets (well one did, anyway). Today, cynics will tell you Shoretich is passed it. That the genuinely edgy, arty crowd have moved further out while Instagram-loving try-hards have taken over. Really, it looks much the same. And you’ll want to be wearing your most fashion-forward clobber while wafting between the independent boutiques, concept stores and coffee shops that line the streets.
Interested in street art? Shoreditch is the place to see it at its best. Camille Walala is among the well-known artists whose colourful work brandishes the walls here. Take a free East End Graffiti and Street Art tour to tick off the most prominent works.
On Sunday, get up early and walk to nearby Bethnal Green for the weekly Columbia Road Flower Market. Once you’ve found your bloom of choice, duck into one of the many independent cafes lining road for coffee – or head back to Shoreditch for a superlative cup at Ozone Coffee, Allpress Espresso Bar or The Attendant.
Ozone Coffee, Shoreditch
Shoreditch is also the place to be if you’re a foodie. Only two of London’s restaurants made it onto the World’s 50 Best list this year and both of them – The Clove Club and Lyle’s – are in Shoreditch. But they’re not the only restaurants worth visiting in these parts. Try Gloria, the first London opening from Paris’s Big Mamma group, for an Italian feast in a glam-yet-raucous setting; Andina for Peruvian cuisine in modern, airy surroundings, or Brick Lane for a traditional Indian curry. Bars are at their best here, too. Head to new favourite Tayer and Elementary if you’re a true cocktail connoisseur; Night Jar or Callooh Callay for decent drinks in an atmospheric setting; or Queen of Hoxton and Golden Bee to join a crowd of 20-somethings in partying the night away on a rooftop.
Where to Stay: The Curtain, 5 Curtain Road, Hackney, London EC2A 3PT
London Bridge and Borough
Best for: bakeries, sky-high views, markets
The biggest pulls of staying around London Bridge and Borough are the markets, and casual food and drink scene. Borough Market is on everybody’s checklist when they visit London – and for good reason. The capital’s oldest food market, it’s been around in one form or another for roughly 1,000 years. The airy, covered market is open every day bar Sunday and houses stalls serving everything from fruit and veg to cheese and freshly baked bread (look to Bread Ahead for the best). There’s also a seemingly endless number of traders serving hot food; expect to find forks with taster-sized bites being waved in your face by those jostling for your business.
Suss out the queue at Monmouth Coffee (perched on the edge of Borough Market), which serves one of the best and most notorious cups in London, and if your need for caffeine can’t wait that long, pop across to nearby Bermondsey Street where The Watch House or, frankly, any one of its independent coffee shops will have you covered.
Beer fans should head next to the Bermondsey Beer Mile – yep, a mile-long stretch (in fact longer) of independent brewers serving brews in makeshift bars beneath the railway arches. While if it’s a Saturday, another brilliant market can be found on Malty Street. For dinner, head back to London Bridge, where joining the queue for London’s most popular pasta parlous Padella is practically a right of passage.
A stay in this part of the city also puts you in excellent proximity to some of London’s best cultural institutions. Walk along the South Bank and you’ll soon come across Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, the British Film Institute (BFI), the National Theatre, Southbank Centre and Tate Modern. Skip the tourist-trap London Eye and instead enjoy panoramic views of the city with a cocktail in your hand at the top of the Shard.
Where to stay: Sea containers (formerly Mondrian), 20 Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PD
Hackney, Dalston and Stoke Newington
Best for: up-and-coming restaurants, edgy events, inner-city green space
Brunswick East in Dalston
You’ll find similar scenes in Hackney, Dalston and Stoke Newington. These zone 2 areas which neighbour one another are the embodiment of ‘up and coming’, with their hip coffee shops, vegan eateries, artists’ studios and achingly cool music nights. For outdoorsy fun, head to London Fields Lido (a mercifully heated pool), Victoria Park or Hackney City Farm (a great option if you’re with little ones). Or go for a walk or cycle along Regent’s Canal, accessible from Hackney.
Regent's Canal, Hackney
Fine dining for a fair price can be found at small plate restaurants including Bright and Pidgin (the common theme seems to be one-syllable names). While on Broadway Market, you’ll be able to pick up a decent loaf of bread plus cakes, pastries, homeware and more. In the evening, head to Dalston to sip at some of the best cocktail bars in the city – two of the best being Hacha and Three Sheets. If you’re still standing, head to Kingsland Road to dance the night away. A more chilled evening can be found in leafy Stoke Newington, which boasts brilliant pubs including The Axe, and a branch of Pizzeria Da Michele, an Italian-born chain believed to serve the best pizzas in the world (yes, really).
Where to stay: Town Hall Hotel and Apartments, 8 Patriot Square, London E2 9NF
Battersea, Clapham and Balham
Best for: Yummy mummy vibes, brunch spots and living like a local
If you’re looking to stay in a neighbourhood that captures authentic London life – albeit of the yummy mummy variety – look south of the river to Battersea and Clapham in zone 2, or Balham (just south of Clapham) in zone 3. Here, bustling cafes serving brunch neighbour pocket-friendly boutiques and charity shops where, particularly in Balham, you can pick up some serious steals.
Food at The Dairy, Clapham
Begin your day at the new Battersea Power Station development, where you can do all the usual exercise classes, from spin to yoga. Then head over to Balham for brunch (our favourite is served at Milk) and a spot of shopping. Make your way back up to Clapham and spend some time relaxing on the common, if the weather is nice. For dinner, look to the Dairy or its offshoot sister site Counter Culture for seasonal British food at its best, or cute neighbouring restaurant Minnow. Scurry back to your lodges before the 'lads night out' crowd descends on the area in search of a party. (Unless, that is, you want to join them.)
Where to stay: The Windmill, Windmill Drive, London SW4 9DE
Brixton and Peckham
Best for: nightlife, Caribbean food, markets
For a taste of multicultural London life south of the river, set up camp in Brixton or nearby Peckham. Both zone 2 neighbourhoods have a large British-Caribbean population, meaning these are the areas to head for the best jerk food in the city and club nights of the dub or reggae variety.
Brixton was once the home of musical legend David Bowie. Check out the mural in his honour and, if you’re a die-hard fan, book yourself on a Musical Walking Tour. Wander through Brixton Village and Market Row, where several hugely popular restaurant chains – Franco Manca and Honest burger among them – opened their first branch. If it’s early in the day, we recommend Senzala Creperie, while later visitors should look to Salon for wine and sumptuous small plates.
If the weather’s nice, take a walk through hilly Brockwell Park, and if it’s really nice, go for a swim in the lido. Head next to the Ritzy cinema, famous for its bright red awnings (and part of the Picturehouse group), or catch a film on a budget at Peckham Plex – where tickers are just £4.99. If in Peckham, move on to Frank’s Cafe or the Bussey Building – both a stone’s throw from the Plex – for rooftop cocktails in makeshift venues where you’ll find yourself surrounded by the cool crowd. For dinner, look to Artusi for homemade pasta, the Begging Bowl for experimental Thai or Levan, for trustworthy seasonal cuisine.
If in Brixton, book dinner at Naughty Piglets on Brixton Water Lane or either Roe or Smoke & Salt in Pop Brixton – a collection of containers housing some of the most innovative food and drink in the city. The small plate dishes at each will amount to one of the best meals you’ll have in London, and will be reasonably priced, too.
Where to stay: Check out the offering on Airbnb