Writing the blog from my hotel room overlooking Hyde park (see photo above). My first visit to London was in 1998 and I was so excited by the many options to get around such large city. As one of my favorite cities, I’ve visited over a dozen times. The tube, once mastered, is quick and inexpensive. A favorite area of London is probably Covent Garden or Mayfair as I love to meander through the shops and pubs. Here is a quick overview of my assessment of the various London Neighborhoods.
Best Neighborhood in London 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 in London for Nightlife: Soho
The best area in London for nightlife is in Soho. The neighborhood 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 in London 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 Neighborhood in London for Families: South Kensington and Marylebone
South Kensington is one of the best places to stay in London for families. The neighborhood 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 in London 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 is centrally located, has a great dining and theatre scene and is within an 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 in London: Mayfair, Marylebone, or South Kensington
If you want to romance your significant other in London, it’s hardly 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 in London for a Local Vibe: Camden
It’s hard to get more ‘local’ than 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 neighborhood. 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.
Best Neighborhood in London for Walking: Covent Garden/Leicester Square/Soho
The Covent Garden/Leicester Square/Soho area is very popular with visitors on foot – it’s a neighborhood made up of numerous little streets lined with restaurants, bars and shops, some of them completely pedestrian, and there’s little in the way of traffic. It’s very central, right in the heart of London’s West End. You’ll find Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery, and you can easily walk to the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and the London Dungeon (just across the river), Westminster Cathedral – they’re a 15-minute walk southwest from Leicester Square. Buckingham Palace is a 15-minute walk west of Westminster – most of it away from traffic, through St James’ Park. The British Museum is a 20-minute walk north of Covent Garden.
Safest Areas of London in London
London’s safest neighborhoods 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 London
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.
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