London Travel Guide

England  #1 in Best Spring Vacations
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London Area Map

Neighborhoods

The actual City of London is only one square mile in size and comprises the city's financial district. But the area that has become known as London is massive, measuring at around 610 square miles and comprising 33 boroughs, as well as a number of neighborhoods within those. Despite the city's tremendous size, London's main attractions are concentrated in central London or along the River Thames and are accessible by public transportation.

Accessible via the St. Paul's and Mansion House tube stops.

The City, which is centrally located along the Thames, is rich with history. Although the Roman conquerors founded the town of Londinium here centuries ago, the Great Fire in 1666 destroyed much of the area, leaving few artifacts behind, if any remaining architecture. World War II and IRA bombings also made their mark on this area, but Sir Christopher Wren's 17th-century St. Paul's Cathedral survived. You'll also find the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange and Lloyd's of London here. In this general area, travelers can also wander onto Fleet Street, where newspapers used to rule the roost.

Accessible via the Aldgate East and Liverpool Street tube stops.

East of The City in the Tower Hamlets Borough is an area known as East End. The elusive Jack the Ripper carried out his ghastly deeds in the East End's dark streets just as Charles Dickens characters roamed them. Though it may not be teeming with tourist attractions, don't write off the East End as a waste of precious sightseeing time. This area of London boasts a rich history, architectural gems and a bustling (if gritty) cultural scene. It's also where Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is located. Travel guides say not to miss Brick Lane's Indian cuisine, as well as the hip Shoreditch and Spitalfields neighborhoods for their vibrant markets, and the eclectic clientele they attract.

Accessible via the Farringdon and Barbican tube stops.

This Islington borough neighborhood, located north of the City, hosts some of London's hottest nightlife, from a multitude of pubs to the popular Fabric club. It is also a foodie hot spot. Clerkenwell is not only home to multiple Michelin-starred restaurants, but it hosts the Smithfield Market, a mammoth meat market that features animal carcasses abound (and as such might be unsettling for some).

Accessible via the Covent Garden tube stop.

Located west of the City in the Royal Borough of Westminster, Covent Garden is a part of London's "Theatre District." (Note that the term "West End" refers to the genre of Broadway-esque, musical-type theaters in London, as well as the compilation of neighborhoods – Covent Garden, Soho, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus – which house theaters.) Covent Garden also has an assemblage of lively pubs, restaurants and lots of shops for pre- or post-show amusement. And for people-watching, Covent Garden's piazza offers a worthy setting since it crawls with street performers, from magicians to mimes.

Accessible via the Leicester Square tube stop.

Leicester Square – a cobblestone pedestrian square that's filled with cinemas and nightclubs – is the hub of London's West End Theatre District. It's here that you can find the Official Half Price Ticket Booth (TKTS), from which savvy travelers can purchase discounted tickets. Beware of other fake half-price ticket vendors. A couple blocks north of Leicester Square, Chinatown bursts with dozens of eateries and a bright ambiance, lit by the many hanging Chinese lanterns.

Accessible via the Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus and Picadilly Circus tube stop.

Just north of Leicester Square, Soho used to be London's red-light district. Now, its streets are filled with theaters, bars, restaurants and countless boutiques. If you're of the party-going crowd, look to book a budget hotel or hostel in Soho. But keep in mind, although the red-light district of Soho's past isn't what it once was, there are certain parts of the neighborhood, particularly near upper Berwick Street, that are teeming with shops not appropriate for children. If you're traveling with a family and don't want to skip on a trip to the trendy neighborhood, it's best to keep near Carnaby Street, or enter the neighborhood through Piccadilly Circus.

Accessible via the Piccadilly Circus tube stop.

Likened to New York City's Times Square, Piccadilly Circus is a crowded, flashing carnival of a place that caters to tourists. Many travelers choose to book rooms here or other West End neighborhoods, but costs can be steep. 

Accessible via the Hyde Park Corner, Victoria and St. James's Park tube stops.

Britain's royalty, law-makers, houses of worship and works of art all converge in the Westminster borough. The works of Botticelli and Van Gogh sit in the National Gallery, located right off London's midpoint, Trafalgar Square. From Trafalgar Square, you can meander down Whitehall to the steps of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. But if you stroll a different way – down The Mall – you'll arrive at the gates of Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II's primary residence. You can also watch the stately Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

Accessible via the Hampstead Heath, the Regent's Park and Baker Street tube stops.

North of London's West End lies a more serene and green London. Regent's Park is a grassy knoll, hemmed in by Marylebone Road to the south and the London Zoo to the north. At the southwestern tip you'll find the park's boating lake, the Open Air Theater and a block off lies the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Just north, Primrose Hill offers a sweeping view of London, as the adjoining park serves as an ideal place to eat a picnic, fly a kite or to read under the shade of a tree. Hampstead Heath, a nearly 800-acre park located 2 miles north, features playgrounds, a jogging track, woodlands, grassy hills and ponds.

The Regent's Park area also brims with shopping. South of Regent's Park lies Marylebone High Street, which offers lots of great shops and restaurants. East of North Regents Park is Camden, a gritty yet colorful neighborhood filled with cool bars and the vast Camden Market, which houses vendors selling a variety of fashion and antiques, as well as delectable food.

Accessible via High Street Kensington and South Kensington tube stops (Kensington and Chelsea); Accessible via the Notting Hill Gate, Holland Park and the Ladbroke Grove tube stops (Notting Hill). 

Kensington is as posh as they come. This is the archetypal London of white row houses, cobblestone streets, secret gardens and yes, even a palace. Kensington Palace, the residence of the late Princess Diana, rises elegantly off the formal Kensington Gardens – which connect with the larger Hyde Park. Although Kensington Palace isn't as opulent as Buckingham Palace, it's still a favorite among many tourists because it housed the beloved princess of Wales, among many other British royals. Today, the palace showcases pieces like Queen Victoria's wedding dress and Queen Mary II's private relaxation rooms. Also in the area are the Victoria and Albert Museum (more commonly referred to as the V&A); the Royal Albert Hall, a luxurious performing arts venue; and the Albert Memorial, all named in honor of Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert.

Chelsea, just south of Kensington along the Thames, used to house a couple of King Henry's wives and Queen Elizabeth I, when she was still a princess. But in the 19th century, the neighborhood started sheltering a different sort of British royalty – the Beatles once lived here, and so did the Rolling Stones.

Farther northwest is the Notting Hill neighborhood – the setting for the Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts romantic comedy in a film by the same name – which is home to the world-famous Portobello Road Market.

For the most part, you'll find upscale accommodations in these neighborhoods; this side of London belongs to the well-heeled. However, there are a number of budget accommodation options clustered around the area.

Accessible via the London Bridge and Southwark tube stops.

South Bank tucks into the southern side of the Thames, right across from the Westminster Bridge. Here, you'll find the colossal Ferris wheel that is the London Eye. For more panoramic views, head to the South Bank's Oxo Tower. Neighboring South Bank to the east is Southwark, home to Shakespeare's Globe theater and the factory-cum-museum Tate Modern. Foodies should consider a visit to nearby Butler's Wharf or Borough Market for a British and international fare.

Should you desire to explore beyond the confines of London, England affords a number of excursions and attractions within a few hour's drive. Mysterious Stonehenge sits less than two hours away, as does William Shakespeare's home, Stratford-upon-Avon. The royal residence, Windsor Castle, is only about 23 miles west of London. If you're a fan of the famed foursome, you might want to daytrip out to Liverpool to tour The Beatles Story museum, which is about four hours away on the northern coast. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge – both in towns by the same name – provide amusing and educating daytrips. If you don't want to leave London but feel the need to get out of the city for a day, or even a few hours, take the suburban train to the quaint neighborhood of Richmond. Sitting along the River Thames, Richmond feels more like a town but doesn't skimp on amenities whatsoever. Waterfront eateries and bars abound, as well as a bustling high street and teahouses tucked away in cobblestone alleys. If you're looking to do more than just eat, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew are there and the majestic Hampton Court Palace, which was once the home of the royal family during King Henry VIII's time, is located in the nearby neighborhood of Kingston-Upon-Thames.

Explore More of London

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