I've lived, worked and studied in London a few times over the years, and the iconic sights are always worth re-visiting. If you're traveling to London for the first time, here’s a short list of neighborhoods to help orient you. Remember London is a big town, and even with this cheat sheet you’ll need to pace yourself. My favorite spot in London on a Sunday is still Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, so I recommend adding that to your list too!
Best Neighborhood to Stay for First Timer: Covent Garden/Leicester Square/Soho
This area offers a range of hotels and is very popular with visitors because it’s so easy to see London on foot. It’s made up of little streets lined with restaurants, bars and shops, some of them completely pedestrian. It’s very central, right in the heart of London’s West End. Here you’ll find Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery, and you can easily walk to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Cathedral - a 15-minute walk southwest from Leicester Square. Buckingham Palace is another 15-minute walk west of Westminster – through St. James’ Park. The famous British Museum is just a 20-minute walk north of Covent Garden. One of my personal favorite places in London is the Seven Dials section of this neighborhood!
Most Romantic Neighborhood: Mayfair, Marylebone, or South Kensington
If you want to romance your significant other in London, it’s a tough call between staying in Mayfair, Marylebone, or South Kensington. Mayfair is Old World wealth and charm, with renowned 5-star properties such as The Ritz and The Connaught Hotel plus some of London’s most celebrated restaurants. In South Kensington, you can opt for luxury hotels that fringe Hyde Park, while Marylebone has a hip vibe, excellent boutique hotels, and less formal dining.
Best Neighborhood for a Local Vibe: Camden
It’s hard to get more “local” than Camden, and the graffiti-tagged, gritty streets still resist gentrification. Despite Camden Market and the tour narrowboats on Regent’s Canal, this is 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 community with excellent curry houses, Bangladeshi cafes and sari shops.
Best Neighborhood for Nightlife: Soho
The best area in London for nightlife is in Soho. The neighborhood is a lively mix of trendy cocktail bars (many of which also have 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 the East End, with its legendary dance clubs.
Best Neighborhood for Food and Restaurant Variety: 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 five-minute walk to Chinatown and Soho, 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 also great for street food while out and about, busy exploring London.
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