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Figuring out the best areas to stay in London without having been yourself feels like trying to pick a spot at random and hoping for the best (well, sometimes, that’s exactly what you’re doing!).
If you’ve already chosen where you’re staying and know what hotel in London you’ll find yourself in, use the following information as more of a neighborhood guide to London with the reassurance that everyone in London is great.
And I’m not just saying that.
As a tourist, there is nowhere you could stay that isn’t safe, doesn’t have its own charm, or doesn’t have easy access to the attractions!
London is just built for visitors!
Hey! Sidenote! Planning on visiting the UK or moving to the UK?
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Before you keep reading, I just wanted to make sure you know about my expert 7-day London itinerary that includes all of the iconic attractions plus off-the-beaten path activities and restaurants, as well as step-by-step walking and public transportation directions!
It can be stressful spending so much money on a London trip and not knowing if you’re fitting everything in or making the most of your time.
To help you out, I’ve taken my 10 years of London experience (starting as a visitor and then as a resident) to make sure that you have the ultimate step-by-step itinerary that will make sure you see the real London.
And, hey, if you’re not coming for exactly 7 days or already have some plans, don’t worry, as it’s editable so you can mix around the days, incorporate your own ideas, or pick and choose which days to follow.
As we metaphorically walk through the different areas of London to help show you where to stay in London, make notes of what kinds of things you’re looking for in the area you stay in London.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is no one “central” spot in London – all of Zone 1 on the Tube Map is considered central London and each area is closer to certain famous landmarks in London.
Unlike some cities, London isn’t divided into just “downtown” and then everywhere else.
This is why it can be so hard to choose the best area to stay in London – what do you want to be near, is the question!
1. Covent Garden
From the Royal Opera House to high end shopping to the West End to live entertainment and awesome pubs and restaurants, Covent Garden pretty much has it all.
This is one of my top choices to recommend to visitors staying in London due to how central it is and how much it has going on, while also having a bit of culture and charm to it.
Most of the more iconic London attractions are in neighboring Westminster and St. James, but Covent Garden has tons of London plays, Covent Garden itself which is a cool shopping, eating, and entertainment square, and you’ve also got one of my favorite museums, the London Transport Museum.
And in just a short walk, you can get from Covent Garden to major sights like Trafalgar Square and Big Ben, so what’s not to love?
Good for: Theatre gurus, those wanting to be in the heart of central London activities, travelers happy to be among other tourists in an area that also has a lot of charm
2. Westminster and St. James
The Westminster and St. James’ districts are what you think of when you think of London.
We’re talking Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament – the works.
This is obviously an area that you will explore extensively during your time in London, so for those history buffs who anticipate not wanting to leave, you could consider staying here.
This would be a good place to stay if you only had 24 hours in London and really wanted to be near all of the postcard-worthy sites to pack it all in.
I wouldn’t recommend this as my top area to stay in London because of the sheer amount of tourists, which means that many of the restaurants in this area are either highly priced or tourist traps.
If you’re using it as a base and being mindful of where you go and not just eating at the first place around the corner, this can be a great area for an iconic London adventure.
You’re also going to often encounter more protests and events in this area blocking car and foot traffic, as this is the center of the UK government.
Good for: People on shorter trips to London who just want to be walking distance from the absolute top sights
3. Kensington and Chelsea
Considered some of the fanciest (and most expensive to live in) boroughs of London, Kensington and Chelsea are both great areas to stay in London.
The safety is top notch (all of London is safe, but at its height in Kensington and Chelsea) and it’s home to lots of expats and families.
You’ve also got Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, and three of London’s best museums in this area: the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, and Victoria and Albert Museum.
Good for: Families, anyone new to city travel, travelers who prefer a bit of quiet in the evenings and not loud nightlife
4. East End
Head to London’s East End (areas like Shoreditch and Hackney) if you’re on a budget or want easy access to some hipster vibes and nightlife.
This is a popular area of town for start-ups, artists, students and those wanting a bit of a grittier experience than prim and proper London.
Increasingly, as the hipsters move in, this area is becoming increasingly expensive and certainly isn’t “grotty” or run down – it’s just hip, cool, and got plenty more street art than the other neighborhoods in London!
Good for: Students, young couples, groups of friends, travelers interested in nightlife
5. Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia
Another one of my all-time favorite areas to recommend to visitors is Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia.
These are adjacent to each other and exist just north of Oxford Street, in between Oxford Street and King’s Cross Station.
This is a huge student area with the University of London dorms and universities spread out throughout, as well as lots of literary history.
In this area, you’re central enough to easy make your way around the rest of London (not to mention the British Museum is in Bloomsbury, a huge draw), but it doesn’t feel quite so heaving with tourists as other parts of the city.
There is something really charming and residential feeling about some of the streets in this area at times, which is a nice way to feel like you’re getting to see the “real” London.
Good for: Families, couples, literary lovers
6. The City
Known as “the City,” the City of London is actually just one square mile, and you’ll fit it and surrounding areas near Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
It’s the financial district, popular with businessmen in suits during the day and pretty empty in the evenings and on the weekends in low seasons once the workers have gone home, but it can be a great place to stay for easy access to some popular attractions and overall upscale and gorgeous surroundings.
Here, you’re walking distance from St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, the Museum of London, London skyscrapers like the Gherkin and the Shard and many other points of interest.
Good for: couples, history lovers who will appreciate being in the area where London began!
You are also just across the bridge, quite literally, from Westminster and Big Ben.
If you want to be super central and wake up to the Thames every morning, the Southbank area can be a good option.
It’s not my favorite part of London, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it – I just think it’s touristy and so want you to know that going in.
It’s a great space to hang out and very popular.
Good for: families with plans to do the Aquarium and London Eye, people wanting a cheaper place to stay than Westminster while still being close
London’s Soho stretches from Oxford Circus Station to Piccadilly Circus Station and includes lots of restaurants, culture, bars, pubs, theatre, and more.
It’s super central, with a concentration of a lot of the central London nightlife, and you’ve got the shopping on Oxford Street within walking distance as well as the lights and sounds of Piccadilly Circus.
As far as actual London attractions in this area, Soho is pretty much the attraction in and of itself!
Good for: couples, those looking for nightlife, students, shopaholics
Marylebone isn’t always thrown out there as a great place for visitors to stay, but I think it deserves a mention.
This area is bordered by Regent’s Park (my favorite) to the North and Oxford Street to the South and within it you’ve got Baker Street (Sherlock Holmes, anyone), quirky galleries like the Wallace Collection, gorgeous architecture, London’s top medical street known as Harley Street, and cool pubs and restaurants.
It’s in central London with easy transport links, it feels a bit more open and spacious than some areas of central London, and the draw of staying near Regent’s Park can’t be overlooked.
You’ve got the London Zoo, gorgeous views from the park’s Primrose Hill, and manicured gardens and a wonderful lake that you can row on that help put this park at the top of my London list.
Good for: families, couples
Where Not to Stay in London
As I’ve mentioned in my London safety guide, London is very safe and there is no where that is categorically “dangerous” as it were.
However, general visitor advice is that the closer into Zone 1 on the tube you are, the better.
There are surrounding areas like Greenwich that are great to stay in, but the further out you go, the more residential the areas become and the more diverse the safety stats.
I wouldn’t recommend visitors to stay in Camberwell or Peckham in South London, and in fact, much South of the river past Southwark and Waterloo isn’t the best place to stay for visitors either.