London Neighborhood Guide
London, or what is considered within the larger London area is a huge collection of neighborhoods that can grossly be divided into the West End, East End, South Bank, The City, and a very loosely defined Central London.
What is considered the heart of London, West End is probably what you are thinking of when you want to get the quintessential London experience - with a little of bit of this and that ranging from the historic and country-like to the gritty and punky.
Bordered by Euston Road on the north, Woburn Place on the east, New Oxford Street on the south and Tottenham Court Road on the west, Bloomsbury is known as the region of free expression and liberal thinking. Home to liberal writers like Virginia Woolf, the region is home to Russell Square and is most commonly visited for the British Museum.
This is where you will find the popular oddly designed London landmark that juts out from the ground - the BT Tower. Once home to legendary writers and artists like George Bernard Shaw, James McNeil Whistler, Ezra Pound, and George Orwell, Fitzrovia is now home to many shopping, dining and drinking destinations - minus the maddening crowds of Oxford Street, particularly along Charlotte Street.
Covent Garden & The Strand
Formerly a fruit, flower and vegetable market, the Covent Garden is now a popular shopping and tourist neighborhood with some of the hottest fashion centres and boutiques. Seven Dials and Neal Street is home to with some of the hippest cafes and restaurants outside of Soho. The Piazza, site of the original Covent Garden market anchors the region, which is also frequented by culture and theater lovers visiting the Royal Opera House and Donmar Warehouse. Not surprisingly, London’s theater district starts here. The Strand, which forms its southern border, runs parallel to river Thames and houses the Somerset House and Savoy hotel.
Follow the Strand eastward and you will reach Fleet Street, erstwhile newspaper district of London, and the meeting point of which marks the start of London city. Towards the north of Fleet Street, lies Holborn where you will find the city’s legal system working out of the Inns of Court.
Lined with boutiques and retail shops, Oxford Street is London’s busiest commercial streets that sports some of the biggest retail chains in fashion. Marylebone is also where you can click photos with celebrities from all over the world - or at least their life like wax statues at Madame Tussauds, or walk down Baker Street of Sherlock Holmes fame.
London’s stretch of exclusive mansions and residences of the super rich, Mayfair is also where you will find the most luxurious hotels and ritzy shops. Even though it is flanked by some of the busiest streets, the residential neighborhood is surprisingly free of crowds and traffic, and is a beautiful place to stroll around.
The entertainment heart of London, Soho is a mixed bag of high and low living. Popular for its sex shops, burlesque shows, and thriving nightlife, Soho also houses some of London’s hottest Michelin star restaurants. Nearby is London’s version of Chinatown, essentially a street, line some great restaurants serving authentic food.
Welcome to the royal neighborhood. St. James is south of the Piccadilly and where you will find the history of traditional London. With the Queen’s official residence, the Buckingham Palace to one corner, the St. James Palace to another and the residence of Prince Charles, the Clarence House also nearby, this neighborhood is a tourist favorite.
Or ‘The Square Mile’, located along the river Thames is the financial center of London and has historic significance as it is here where London began. The City is an interesting place where you can find a medley of London’s rich historic past and now famous modern developments that have become a part of the city’s skyline. It is here that you will find the centuries old but still stunning St. Paul’s Cathedral and the magnificent Tower of London, as well as the iconic Tower Bridge which is probably the most well-recognized London landmark. You can soak in more history (more than 2,000 years worth in fact) at the Museum of London located nearby. The City has seen several new developments, the most famous in the near past being the Lloyd’s of London Building the curved glass structure rising into the sky - the Swiss Re Tower or more famously known as The Gherkin.
The rebel child of London neighborhoods - home to Camden Market and Abbey Road Studios of The Beatles fame, Camden is where you will find the most vibrant of localites, meeting up to keep with cultural trends and evolutions. The place is crowded and loud, and is best to hit up if you’re looking for a party.
Chelsea, that begins at Sloane Square is one of the most stylish and fashionable neighborhoods of London - so much so that here is where the term ‘Sloane Ranger’, used to describe upper class people who led distinctive posh lifestyles) originated. Residents, the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Mick Jagger have lived here among other notable writers, artists, and famous faces. The major boulevard King’s Road, which is a celeb favorite for shopping comes alive on Saturdays, when you can attend an exotic farmer’s market at Saatchi Gallery to pick up artisanal cheese, chocolates and international food.
Located to the west of The City, Clerkenwell is oft deserted on weekends, but the area has seen its fair share of happening days in the past, Originally the location of medieval religious orders and churches, Clerkenwell was also the centre of the industrial revolution in its time and later seen political movements (Lenin worked here editing Iskra). The area has a couple of good restaurants but isn’t as flamboyant or trendy as its neighbors.
Made popular by pop culture history (of Dickens and Jack The Ripper fame), East End is a gentrified collection of districts slowly rising to up to be the trendiest spots in London. Art galleries like White Cube, living house museum Dennis Sever’s House, Hoxton Square, and the many hip restaurants on Shoreditch, are all good sights worth visiting in this neighborhood.
An afternoon visit to Greenwich in Southeast London to click a picture at the prime meridian (zero longitude) is a tourist favorite. The port also offers visitors a chance to go to the National Maritime Museum and shop for quirky souvenirs.
If you’d like to spend a day learning and be enlightened, then head to Exhibition Road, a street in South Kensington which is lined with some of the best museums of the world. It is amazing how well constructed the street is considering there are around 11 million pedestrians walking in and out of the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert (or V&A) Museums, and the parks like Holland Park and the Kyoto Peace Garden nearby.
A barely there venue which is a confluence of Piccadilly, Regent Street, and Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Circus is reminiscent of Times Square with its running tickers and neon lights.
Notting Hill is an ethnically diverse neighborhood and some very fashionable, chic places to hang out. It’s claim to fame apart from the namesake movie is the Portobello Market during weekends selling fresh produce, vintage clothing and food stalls.
The south of Thames from Covent Garden has not had a great past but in recent years, it has been transformed into one of leading hotspots. The Thames Path takes you from the London Eye to Greenwich, but before you head out there’s plenty to see in South Bank like National Theatre, Southbank Centre, Tate Modern, and HMS Belfast, and of course, nothing like the view of beautifully lit Houses of Parliament and Big Ben from this side of town.