Historic, sprawling, sleepless: London is a wonderful place to visit. Monuments from the capital’s glorious past are everywhere, while you’ll also find cultural and culinary delights from right across the globe. In other words, it really is the archetypal buzzing metropolis.
Accommodation in London, however, is expensive. Compared with most European cities, you pay top dollar in every category from the cheapest hostel to the swankiest five-star.
Start planning your trip with our guide to the best area to stay in London, taken from the latest Rough Guide.
Whitehall and Westminster
The monuments and buildings in Westminster include some of London’s most famous landmarks – Nelson’s Column, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Plus two of the city’s top permanent art collections: the National Gallery and Tate Britain and its finest architectural set piece, Trafalgar Square.
This is one of the easiest parts of London to walk round, but for the most part there are only a few shops or cafés, few residential areas and little commercial life.
Boutique design: . This boutique guesthouse offers relaxed luxury and location-shoot style in its ten rooms – all exposed brick, bare wood, cool prints and quirky vintage furnishings.
Family guesthouse: . This family-owned mid-terrace Victorian guesthouse on a quiet street is a good budget option, with amiable staff, clean, comfy (and quite pink) rooms, and a small garden.
St James’s and Mayfair
Even today in St James’s, regal residences overlook nearby Green Park and the stately avenue of The Mall; gentlemen’s clubs cluster along Pall Mall and St James’s Street; and jacket-and-tie restaurants and expense-account shops line St James’s and Jermyn Street.
Shops, offices, embassies and hotels outnumber aristocratic pieds-à-terre in Mayfair nowadays, and Piccadilly may not be the fashionable promenade it once was, but the the social cachet of the area has also remained much the same.
Intimate chic: . This boutique hotel opposite the Royal Mews has thirty impeccable rooms – lots of black, white and dark wood – and a cosy lounge with endless complimentary snacks.
Georgian elegance: . A spruce, friendly guesthouse in a Georgian terrace. The twenty rooms vary but all are tasteful, with stylish touches, and there’s a guest sitting room.
Soho and Fitzrovia
Soho is very much the heart of the West End. Long London’s red-light district, its narrow streets have an unorthodox and slightly raffish air that’s unique to the city centre.
London’s artistic cliques still gather here and the media, film and advertising industries have a strong presence. The area’s most recent transformation has seen it become London’s most high-profile gay quarter, especially around Old Compton Street, and home an ever-growing selection of excellent restaurants.
Fitzrovia, the quieter Soho spillover, north of Oxford Street also has innumerable bars, cafés and restaurants.
Character and faded charm: . An early eighteenth-century building hiding romantic en-suite rooms, quirkily decorated with period furniture and old books; there’s also a small library, with real fire, and an honesty bar.
Members-club cool: . One of a set of hotels owned by trendy Soho House – staff can be a little too cool for some – this 1730s beauty is in a fabulous location with luxurious rooms.
Covent Garden has come full circle: what started out in the seventeenth-century as London’s first luxury neighbourhood is once more an aspirational place to live, work and shop.
Boosted by buskers and street entertainers, the piazza is now one of London’s major tourist attractions, and the streets to the north – in particular, Long Acre, Neal Street and Floral Street – are home to fashionable clothes and shoe shops.
It’s an undeniably lively place to stay, and perfect if your top priorities are a central location and wandering around watching the street life, sipping coffee and a bit of shopping.
Affordable cool: . This hip hotel in a brutalist building has 174 rooms, all good-looking and comfortable, with soothing colours and retro styling, including Roberts radios and vintage paperbacks.
Friendly and welcoming: On a pedestrianized court behind the Royal Opera House, this hotel is delightfully quiet for central london, and clean and good value for this location.
Bloomsbury and King’s Cross
Dominated by the British Museum and London University, and famed for its literary connections, Bloomsbury is London’s most learned quarter. With its formal Georgian squares it has an unhurried, easy-going vibe.
To the north, around King’s Cross, an exciting new city district is emerging, where squares, restaurants and galleries are being sculpted out of the industrial landscape that once characterized the area.
Hip Victorian railway hotel: . This lovely hotel has a vaguely deco feel, and all the 91 boutique rooms have style; the smallest, called “couchettes”, evoke the romance of a train sleeper.
Old-fashioned charm: . This friendly and popular family-owned B&B is faded but clean, and offers a variety of rooms; family rooms sleep up to five.
Situated slightly uphill from the City, Clerkenwell is a typical London mix of Georgian and Victorian townhouses, housing estates, old warehouses, loft conversions and art studios.
It remains off the conventional tourist trail, but since the 1990s, it has established itself as one of the city’s most vibrant and fashionable areas, with a host of shops, cafés, restaurants and pubs bustling with activity during the week.
A charming bolthole: . This rambling Georgian townhouse is all panelled walls, flagstoned floors and creaky timeworn floorboards. Rooms offer faded baroque glam, with antique fittings and superb bathrooms.
Affordable style: & . This 59-room hotel, in a stylishly converted warehouse has simple, colourful and bold rooms; the Zetter Townhouse opposite is, if anything, even more whimsical in style.
Image by on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Just as the traditional image of the old “East End” conjured romantic notions of togetherness and community, today’s east London is more about the people than the urban fabric, much of which is functional and industrial.
The area has a self-perpetuating buzz, with creative goings-on in warehouses, art previews, edgy nightlife and a never ending stream of word-of-mouth soft openings.
Sleek and chic: . A Conran creation, this Shoreditch hotel offers twelve rooms and suites, each themed on different art or design styles; there’s also a stunning rooftop bar.
Boutique guesthouse: . Superbly placed above a splendid neighbourhood pub opposite Clissold Park, on a lively street lined with quirky shops, restaurants and bars, the boutique rooms here are chic and luxurious.
The South Bank and Southwark
The South Bank holds some of London’s most popular tourist attractions, including the London Eye and, further south, the impressive Imperial War Museum. The wide, traffic-free path by the river makes it a pleasure to explore by foot, and there are often events and festivals going on.
Heading on to Southwark, further east, you’ll come to the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the soaring Shard. As the streets become more residential moving southeast, attractions become largely epicurean: Borough market is the biggest draw for gourmets, but Bermondsey and Maltby streets are both de rigueur destinations for foodies in the know.
Budget minimalism: . The minimal rooms and down-to-earth pricing policy have made this hotel a budget favourite. By doing away with niceties like tables, chairs and closets, prices stay low and you simply opt to pay for extras, including towels.
Modern design: . Though the high-design concept may jar – guests are “citizens” and staff are “ambassadors” – this is a good option, with 192 small rooms with a modern, pod-like design, touch tablet room controls and big beds. The public spaces tick all the lifestyle mag choices – eames chairs, original artworks, coffee-table books.
Kensington and Chelsea
As well as being home to London’s top museums – the V&A, Natural History and Science museums – South Kensington includes some of the world’s most expensive slices of real estate. This is the heartland of London’s wealthiest families and also the stamping ground of the international rich and famous.
Chelsea, to the south, was once at the forefront of “Swinging London”, with the likes of David Bailey, Mick Jagger and George Best hanging here in the 1960s. Today, however, it’s far from cutting edge and has become a byword for posh London, though some of its residents like to think of themselves as a cut above the purely moneyed types of Kensington.
Contemporary value: . Excellent-value modern accommodation near Earls Court, with no fussy extras.
Bohemian luxury: . You get total privacy in this guesthouse, which manages to be both homely and a tad bohemian. The suites (one with two bedrooms) are huge, covering a whole floor each.
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