Posted: 2/25/2019 | February 25th, 2019
I’ve always liked London, but when I visited last year something in me just clicked—and poof! I finally saw the light and came to love it.
London has a million things to do to keep you busy a lifetime over. With its amazing architecture, world-class art museums, tons of historical sites, and unique shopping experiences, what’s not to love?
What’s not to love about a city where the pubs are so small everyone just stands on the street with their pint glass?!
And from its beautiful gardens to the excitement of Piccadilly Circus, there’s just an energy that can’t be beat.
But London is huge, containing more than 8 million people and 48 neighborhoods stretching over 607 square miles.
I mean it’s HUGE.
Any city that warrants a “I survived the subway” T-shirt usually is. Stay in the wrong neighborhood and you’ll spend hours on “the tube.”
So which are the best neighborhoods and places to stay when you visit London?
That depends on a lot of things (especially what your idea of fun is).
Each neighborhood has its own charm.
So I’ll break down the best neighborhoods and accommodations in London (for travelers, according to me):
The City of London
This is technically the center of London (sometimes called “The Square Mile”), and it’s where the Romans set up a small military outpost named Londinium in 43 CE. You can still see evidence of the Romans here, including the crumbling wall on Tower Hill. Now, the area a financial district. There are several good markets here like Whitecross Street, with its large number of international food vendors; the Sunday Upmarket in the Old Truman Brewery for handmade crafts and clothing; and Leather Lane for a more traditional mix of everything from leather to tropical flowers. I like the history, quiet, and central location of this neighborhood.
Best Places to Stay in The City
- BUDGET: YHA London St Paul’s – Opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral, this was once the school for the cathedral’s choirboys (you can actually still see some of their graffiti on the walls). There’s no kitchen on-site, but there is a small restaurant and bar. It’s not a party hostel, as families often stay here. So it’s ideal for a good night’s sleep.
- MID-RANGE: Citadines Barbican London – Renovated in 2017, this hotel is comfortable, affordable, and close to the Barbican tube stop.. There are some really great restaurants nearby, like Tinseltown and Workshop Coffee, but there is also a small Sourced Market in the hotel for when you need to grab something to eat on the run.
- LUXURY: Counting House – The Counting House is actually an iconic English pub with 15 large luxury rooms above it with the most comfortable beds you’ll ever sleep in (Egyptian cotton sheets!). Some rooms come with living rooms. A free hearty breakfast is included. This is a very traditional, posh British hotel!
If you have come to London to soak up British history or to indulge your love for all things royal, this is the neighborhood to be. Kensington is where London’s Museum Quarter is, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum. It’s really close to Hyde Park and the regal Kensington Gardens. I love to stroll the neighborhood and gaze at the mansion-lined streets. It’s quiet, quant, and classically British.
Best Places to Stay in Kensington/South Kensington
- BUDGET: Astor Hyde Park – This hostel is in a quiet neighborhood right off Hyde Park, and within walking distance to the Natural History and the Victoria & Albert Museums. There’s a great social vibe, and the friendly hotel staff will help you arrange tours and activities. Plus the £1 breakfast can’t be beat! I love the old wooden décor — you feel more like you’re in a home than a hostel. The dorms are huge and there’s plenty of room to sprawl out. Try to avoid the rooms on the upper floors, though, as the hostel has no elevator.
- MID-RANGE: London Lodge Hotel – You can book single rooms in this bright Victorian townhouse, while the executive rooms have more floor space and larger bathrooms. The rooms are each uniquely decorated to make them feel more like a home with colorful patterned wallpaper and carpeting, and vintage furniture.
- LUXURY: The Ampersand Hotel – The Ampersand is a luxury boutique hotel next to the South Kensington station. Each beautiful room has a different theme, like music or astronomy, and if you’re staying on the top floor, you get a great view over London. They do a posh afternoon tea in the drawing rooms and you can play ping-pong in the games room.
Mayfair is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in London. Located between Hyde Park and the West End, it’s home to numerous five-star hotels, classy art galleries, and ultra-expensive shops but quiet at night. If you’re looking to stay in one of the city’s fancier and more beautiful neighborhoods, this is it!
Best Places to Stay in Mayfair
- BUDGET: Mermaid Suite Hotel – There are no hostels in this neighborhood, but the Mermaid Suite Hotel on Oxford Street is one of the best affordable options. You’ll get a private room with an en suite bathroom, satellite TV, and tea and coffee. There’s also a free continental breakfast.
- MID-RANGE: Mayfair Guesthouse – Although all the rooms in this guesthouse are private and spacious (some have balconies), most of them come with shared bathrooms. It’s a really good value property for this part of town.
- LUXURY: The Beaumont Hotel – Walking into the lobby is like stepping back into time. The walnut-paneled walls are covered in original classic paintings and photography, and all the rooms are art deco style with king-sized beds. The marble bathroom floors are heated. Take advantage of the sauna, steam room, fitness center, and hammam. If you’re going to treat yourself to dinner, try the fresh lobster at the Colony Grill. Or you can pretend it’s the 1920s and order a strong whiskey cocktail in the low light of Jimmy’s Bar.
Soho is one of London’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The former red-light district, Soho is home to hundreds of restaurants, pubs, stores, all-night coffee shops, and theaters. It’s eclectic and exciting, and London’s artistic community thrives here. I love Soho at night when the pubs here spill onto the street with folks having a pint after work. You’re a twenty minute walk from a lot of the main attractions (especially the theaters of the West End). This is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city.
Best Places to Stay in Soho
- BUDGET: SoHostel – This large hostel (I kept getting lost in the hallways) has a rooftop “tiki”-style bar, nightly drink specials, quiz nights, live music, and karaoke. It also has a big common space with a restaurant with cheap food (like £5 pizzas) and beer. The beds are comfy, and the showers super clean. It’s one of the best hostels in London. If you book directly with them, they often have special rates.
- MID-RANGE: Mimi’s Hotel Soho – Mimi’s is a newer hotel, and its affordability is based on its tiny rooms. They come in “tiny,” “mini,” cozy,” and “lux,” but even the lux rooms are pretty small. On the other hand, there’s floor heating, specially filtered water, and really nice marble bathrooms. The hotel’s on-street bar, Henson’s, gets really busy at night.
- LUXURY: The Soho Hotel – No two guestrooms are the same at the Soho Hotel; they’re also enormous and most have floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s a well-equipped gym and even a personal trainer on-site, but if you’d rather take a book to the cozy library and read, you can do that too. There are tons of restaurants, bars, cafés, and theaters surrounding the hotel, and Oxford and Regent Streets are both just a quick walk away.
Covent Garden is just east of Soho. This is the theater district and is also known for its historic indoor market and throngs of tourists. There are plenty of street performers and lots of shopping opportunities. But it’s also a quirky neighborhood with cobblestone streets, cool shops, restaurants, and a historic square. It’s also very central.
Best Places to Stay in Covent Garden
- BUDGET: Astor Museum Inn – Like the Astor Hyde Park, the dorms rooms here are pretty basic, but they aren’t overpriced, are clean, and there’s a cozy lounge and kitchen. Free dinners are also offered frequently. It’s not as quaint as the Hyde Park branch, but it is a better location.
- MID-RANGE: Strand Palace Hotel – This hotel has been around since the early 1900s, and all its rooms are built around six inner courtyards. If you want a quiet space, ask for a room overlooking the interior. There are single-room options too, if you’re traveling solo and don’t mind a small space.
- LUXURY: Fielding Hotel – The Fielding Hotel is named for author Henry Fielding, and in keeping with the period, the building has a lot of 19th-century charm. The rooms are tiny, but they come equipped with large TVs and tea and coffee facilities, and some even have claw-foot bathtubs. The hotel is located across from the Royal Opera House and just five minutes from the famous Covent Garden Market.
This artsy, hip neighborhood in East London is an up and coming neighborhood filled with outdoor markets, vintage clothing stores, bars, and restaurants, and it’s one of the best nightlife districts in town. The abundance of street art contrasts old industrial warehouses and dimly lit streets. Thanks to the immigrant influence here, you’re never too far from a döner kebab or a plate of Peruvian ceviche.
Best Places to Stay in Shoreditch/Spitalfields
- BUDGET: The Dictionary – The hostel itself has a great rooftop terrace, a bar for drinks, and free breakfast. There’s a big kitchen in case you want to cook too. The rooms are bare, but they’re spacious, and kept clean, and the beds are fairly comfortable.
- MID-RANGE: Brick Lane Hotel – This offers basic but very clean accommodations, including single, double, and triple rooms with en suite bathrooms. Each room has a tea and coffee station and a desk. There are only eight rooms total, so you’ll get to know your hosts quite well. The onsite Sheraz Bangla Lounge serves cheap curry and is a local neighborhood favorite, so be sure to eat here at least once!
- LUXURY: The Curtain – Every nook of this hotel has some sort of quirky design touch, whether it’s contemporary artwork or a wall-mounted stag. The rooms are spacious and come with exposed brick walls, nice seating areas, and rainfall showers. There’s a small rooftop pool, and the fitness center has daily yoga and cycling classes.
These two neighboring areas are especially popular with backpackers and young Londoners. King’s Cross has a lot of hostels, and the canal banks are full of warehouses that have been transformed into restaurants and bars. Camden has always been a hot spot for the alternative crowd. Like Shoreditch, it has a lot of vintage and unusual shops (like Cyberdog, the futuristic glow-in-the-dark shop that’s also part rave). The waterside Camden Lock Market is quite famous, and you’ll definitely find some treasures here.
Best Places to Stay in King’s Cross/Camden
- BUDGET: Generator – This is Generator’s first hostel (it’s now a huge chain spread all over Europe), and it’s housed in an old police station. You can’t go wrong with this chain. Like most of their hostels, Generator London has lots of modern, upscale fixtures, a huge common area, a bar, and a restaurant (no common kitchen though). The beds are plush, but there are not many charging outlets, so you’ll have to fight for space. It’s a short walk from Regents Park, Covent Garden, and the British Museum.
- MID-RANGE: Ambassadors Bloomsbury – The rooms here are simple here. The hotel makes really good use of its space. The beds are excellent, there are blackout curtains, and the showers have strong water pressure. The hotel does a simple afternoon tea too.
- LUXURY: Great Northern Hotel – This luxury boutique hotel has been around since the 1850s. Each floor also has a pantry where you can get free snacks and treats, like home-cooked cakes, and plenty of tea and coffee. The rooms have high ceilings, walnut furniture, giant walk-in showers, and beds you’ll never want to leave.
Chelsea has a reputation as London’s most fashionable neighborhood. There are also some very picturesque hidden squares you can find with a little exploration, and the colorful buildings make for great photography. It’s located on the Thames, and Albert Bridge (reputably one of the “most romantic bridges in the world”) has beautiful views over London. Chelsea is pretty residential, but there are lots of galleries and shopping options!
Best Places to Stay in Chelsea
- BUDGET: Acacia Hostel – The rooms are small and they don’t have much character, but there are no more than six beds in each dorm. There’s a well-equipped communal kitchen but you’ll get free continental breakfast. It’s quiet, clean, and the Chelsea Football Stadium is a short walk away.
- MID-RANGE: Chelsea House Hotel – This 150-year-old Victorian hotel has maintained a lot of its original charm and makes for a relaxed stay right near Earl’s Court. The rooms are pretty dull, without any kind of artwork or design touches, but they’re comfortable and tidy. There’s also a free continental breakfast buffet.
- LUXURY: Blakes Hotel – Each room is different: some have four-poster beds, or enormous chandeliers, or antique furniture. The bathrooms have heated floors and soaker bathtubs. It can be a little dark for some people — there are a lot of blacks and grays — but overall it has a romantic vibe. If the weather is nice you have to get a cocktail in The Courtyard garden – there’s a ton of graffiti art and even an installation of a giant zebra.
This historic district on the south bank of the Thames has a lot going for it. Tourists flock to the neighborhood, as it is home to the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. There are several food markets, but Borough Market is the best, especially for foodies. You can’t miss London’s tallest, most modern building, the Shard. Make sure to take a walk along the river, as it’s a scenic route that affords great views of the city skyline. You can cross back and forth the Thames via the Tower, Millennium, or London Bridges.
Best Places to Stay in Southwark
- BUDGET: St. Christopher’s Inn at the Village – This hostel chain has eight London locations, but I like the Village venue the best — especially for being so near the Borough Market (an absolute haven for foodies). It’s also a short walk to the London Eye and Tower Bridge. This is a pretty big party place, with an outdoor terrace and a ton of social events to get you well acquainted with your fellow travelers, like regular beer pong nights and musical performances. It’s the first hostel in London to have cozy pod-style beds. They are actually super comfortable and provided one of the best sleeps I had in the city!
- MID-RANGE: The Bridge Hotel – Near London South Bank University and the Tate Modern, the Bridge Hotel has a ton of value for money. The beds are big, the linens are soft, and the shower pressure is super strong. During the week, you can access the Fitness First gym. The hotel’s classic English pub is a really nice spot to hang out, especially when there are small musical acts.
- LUXURY: H10 London Waterloo – The rooms here are bright and airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows and tons of natural light. There’s a lot of extra space, and the beds are really comfortable. Watching the sun go down from the rooftop Waterloo Sky Bar is a must-do, especially with a drink in hand. From here you can look out over the skyline and see the London Eye turning lazily in the distance.
This is a really unique neighborhood, with cobblestone streets, Victorian townhouses, and plenty of quaint charm. You’ll find shop after shop with walls lined with antiques, as well as street food vendors, mom-and-pop shops, and small cafés and pubs that serve up some delicious grub. Notting Hill is really stylish! Each Saturday, it hosts the country’s largest antiques market, Portobello Road Market.
Best Places to Stay in Notting Hill
- BUDGET: Hostel One Notting Hill – This hostel is awesome. Guests get a free homemade dinner each night and can join in on organized activities (including drinking games). It’s a very social hostel with friendly staff and a good vibe. The rooms are a bit cramped and pillows a bit flat, but the vibe more than makes up for the beds! There are two locations (the other one is in Camden).
- MID-RANGE: Notting Hill Hotel – Located on a calm, tree-lined street right by the Pembridge Square garden, this is a nice boutique retreat from the city. The rooms are clean and come with your usual hotel amenities, but they’re a little colorless. The staff here are also super friendly and helpful. There is a common room and a library, and you can rent bicycles from reception.
- LUXURY: Portobello Hotel – You’ll wake up to the best breakfast ever: tea, coffee, cereal, pastries, meats, cheeses, fresh fruit…you name it! Some rooms have extra character, like round beds with feather toppers, or mattresses so high you need a set of stairs to climb in. Plus the staff brings a flask of hot chocolate to your room every night.
For a long time, Clapham was a rundown suburb of London but, in recent years, Clapham has turned into one of those up-and-coming districts with a constantly improving list of restaurants, nightclubs, music venues, specialty shops, and more. It’s now one of the hip places to live in the city, thanks in part to the cheap rent there! And, when the sun is out, head to the Clapham Common and join the other Londoners hanging out or picnicking on the grass.
Best Places to Stay in Clapham
- BUDGET: PubLove The Crown – The main part of this hostel is actually its popular local pub that draws people from all over the neighborhood. The entire building was refurbished in 2018, so it’s a clean, fresh accommodation to lay your head after you have a few drinks at the bar. Each bed comes with individual sockets and security screens. You get discounts for food and drink as a guest.
- MID-RANGE: The Gateway Hotel – Located two minutes from the South Clapham metro spot (and also near the Clapham Common), The Gateway Hotel offers basic accommodations in all its en suite rooms. Desks and coffee/tea are provided in your room. It’s a small hotel with just 20 rooms.
- LUXURY: The Windmill on the Common – The Windmill is awesome. It’s housed in a 500-year-old British pub, with 42 individually designed boutique rooms. It’s also right on the Clapham Common. There’s a super cozy lounge with large sofas, a roaring fireplace, and even a friendly Bernese Mountain dog named Max. If you’re here on a Sunday, try their famous roast.
Paddington is a hub for independent markets and boutique shops, and there’s a café on every corner. Spend an afternoon strolling along Praed Street and you’ll have your souvenir shopping done in no time. There are also unlimited sidewalk menu boards advertising meal specials day and night. Plus, you can wander the streets and take in the classic Georgian architecture.
Best Places to Stay in Paddington
- BUDGET: The Pride of Paddington – The Pride of Paddington has both private rooms and dorms with up to eight beds, including female-only dorms. The rooms and bathrooms are clean and tidy, but they lack a lot of personality, and there is no communal kitchen. You get a free English breakfast with your stay, and discounted deals on other food and drinks.
- MID-RANGE: Europa House Hotel – This is a family-run bed-and-breakfast that has been around since the ’70s. For a budget hotel, the beds are incredibly comfortable and luxurious. There’s not much decoration in these rooms, but they’re clean, and tea and coffee are provided.
- LUXURY: Royal Lancaster London – Every room in this luxury hotel overlooks the London skyline or Hyde Park. The most “basic” rooms have smart TVs, USB hubs, sofas, and a work area. You also get all the fun free stuff, like plush slippers and bathrobes, vanity kits, and mineral water.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of London neighborhoods. These are just my favorites. No matter where you stay, you’re sure to find the city an excellent destination. There’s so much — including lots of free museums and attractions — that you’ll never run out of things to do. Take it easy, pace yourself, and make sure you get to know each neighborhood.
Book Your Trip to London: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines, because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com, as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use it all the time.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use — and I think they will help you too!
Looking for more information on visiting London?
Check out my in-depth destination guide to London with more tips on what to see and do, costs, ways to save, and much, much more!
Photo credits: 4, 5, 8, 11, 12