West’s most multifaceted district, Bayswater is a pleasing mix of once grand mansions, architecturally significant palaces and great places to eat and drink. It is an extremely convenient location, close to trendy Notting Hill and High Street Kensington, and will make your adventures around London easy to plan. Queensway is Bayswater’s backbone and is one big, noisy conservation area. The street is full of good Middle Eastern cafes and Chinese restaurants. To the south, just opposite the memorabilia-filled Diana café in Bayswater Road lies Kensington Gardens and the excellent playground built to the memory of the late princess of Wales.
Like Mayfair, it gets its blueblood from the aristocratic Grosvenor Family who still owns much of it. The area has never been anything other than posh. Row upon row of glorious period houses and pristine squares make up the majority of the area, but there are also a number of extremely exclusive shops, restaurants and attractive pubs. Sandwiched between many of the grand houses you can find charming cobbled mews containing smaller residences. Around Elisabeth Street, toward Ebury Street and the sloaney end of Pimlico road, are shops of luxury. Belgravia is, on the whole, fairly quiet and a delight to stroll around on a sunny afternoon.
After the rush of West End it’s a relief to turn into the well-ordered streets and squares (Bedford and Tavistock squares are much-admired) of Bloomsbury. It’s a proudly cultural area (celebrated in October’s Bloomsbury Festival) and has long been a retreat for literati (like Eliot, Dickens and Virginia Woolf). While the British Museum is a visitor magnet, with Norman Foster’s magnificent light-filled Great Court, most of Bloomsbury’s charm lies in browsing the bookshops and art supply shop around the British Museum or wandering along the elegant colonnade of nearby Sicilian Avenue. Another delight is boutique-lined Lamb’s Conduit Street, also home to the much-loved Lamb pub! At the end of the road, Coram’s Fields is a seven-acre child’s paradise with playgrounds and a pet’s corner; adults are banned, unless accompanied by a child.
Camden is still very alternative. To be revolutionary here you need to wear a suit and have a nine to five job. Famed for its musical links and markets, Camden Town is a clash of alternative culture and commercialism. The nightlife scene here has always been cool. A new wave of British pop has taken up residence at the Hawley Arms pub. Up and coming bands still take to the stage at the Barfly. Check the Camden Crawl, which remains an annual institution. To the east is the much sought-after residential area of Primrose Hill, which has attracted numerous successful literati and artists over the years. Primrose Hill commands a superb view of central London from its modest summit. Browse the bookshops, galleries and enjoy the restaurants on Regent’s Park Road or walk along the canal to Regent’s Park with a stop to the Engineer for a nice pint in the garden. Deep down, every Camden resident still prides themselves on being a little bit hip.
London’s docks were fundamental to the long prosperity of the empire. Isle of Dogs is the geographical and ideological heart of the new Docklands, which reaches its apotheosis in Canary Wharf. The exact origin of the name “Isle of Dogs” remains uncertain: the poplar theory is that Henry VIII kept his hunting dog here. Relatively little remains of the past and the Isle is now a futuristic metropolis. As a financial hub, Docklands is now at least as important as the City itself. After 20 years after building began on the site of the disused West India Quay, Canary Wharf is a busy part of the city – a hub for business but also a popular place to live with some of the tallest and coolest building in the city. Easily connected to the West End and Greenwich it represents an excellent alternative to your accommodation in the capital. Docklands is packed with really good restaurants and many have waterfront settings like Royal China and the Gaucho Grill. The Gun gastro pub is recommended and overlooks the Thames too.
This fancy neighbourhood is divided by King’s road, originally Charles II’s private route from St James’s Palace, this now acts as the catwalk for Chelsea’s smartest men and women. Chelsea is the perfect place for an upmarket staying in town. The village certainly lives up to its illustrious name, with charming properties, elegant shopping and green spaces. High-end designers and private galleries are concentrated toward the Sloane Square end of King’s road and on the luxurious Sloan Street, home of the most glam houses in the world. A lovely delicatessen market runs very Saturday Morning next to the Duke of York Piazza. You will also enjoy the smallest street, like Walton Street, Beauchamp Place or Pont Street as they capture Chelsea’s charming character and the quintessence of the modern-traditional English design more than anywhere else in the capital.
The City is where London began. In his Square Mile (as the City is referred to) you will find precious leftovers of London’s early days: four-fifth of the area burnt in the great Fire in 1666. London’s two most famous sights, the Tower and St. Paul’s, are here and look glorious seen from the water at Tower Bridge or from the top of the Monument. One of the joys of the City is the population flow that ensures it never stays the same. By day it’s mobbed by half million office workers, cycle couriers, white van driver and police officers. With the massive focus on office space, amenities such as parks and children’s play are in short supply, though the city is home to over 150 small city gardens, and there is always the river to enjoy. What’s more, the architecture is the most fascinating in London, with the modern (Gherkin and Lloyds) sitting alongside the beautiful ancient (St. Bartholomew- the- Great is the London’s oldest parish church). Around the Old Truman Brewery in Bricklane the streets are full with young and trendy people enjoying the café’ and drinking society. Local tips: around the edges of Smithfield market are several lat night/early morning café’, bars, serving clubbers (try Ferrari’s in 8 West Smithfield). See a film or go for a concert at the first-rate Barbican Centre.
Holborn’s most distinctive feature is the atmospheric Inns of Court whose alleys and open spaces provide an urban oasis. East of the Inns, Fleet Street remains synonymous with the British press. The pocket of Clerkenwell is very central and since the 1980 has been transformed into a trendy corner of the capital, full of nice pubs and cosy restaurants. Close by you will find Exmouth Market: a food market bustling with an eclectic mix of producers, farmers and local artisans who return every Friday and Saturday. Clerkenwell's talented designers and artists also have the chance to show off their creations. The vicinity with Covent Garden and the City offers the guests the best of both world and an ideal location to experience the many different attractions in the city.
Though high on every tourist’s visiting agenda, Covent Garden is more than an entertainment centre. The area is synonymous with the Royal Opera House, hosts daily alfresco entertainment on its central piazza, and has one of London’s most popular museums. What started out in the 17th century as London’s first luxury neighbourhood is still a highly desirable place to live, work and shop. Based around the Piazza – London’s oldest planned square – the area had been for years a market centre for fruit, flowers and vegetables. When the flower market closed in the 70s Covent Garden has since become one of the London’s major attractions and a magnet for foreign visitors. Alongside some of the trendiest clothes shops, café and restaurant in London (particularly on Long Acre, Neal Street and Floral Street), a few tiny pockets of 1970s “alternative” culture survive. Most visitors are happy enough simply to wander around watching the street life, having coffee and doing a bit of shopping.
It always seems to offer more than you expect and an hour visit to the Greenwich Park always turns into a day. The superb Royal Observatory is the spectacular don’t miss, The Weller Astronomy Galleries and the Time Galleries provide enough free entertainment for families. Shows at the Planetarium provide affordable alternatives. The National Maritime Museum is also for free and perfect to kids. Greenwich Park also includes a boating lake, a children’s play area, flower gardens, a deer enclosure and one of the finest view of London. Back in the village you can wonder around the twisting streets on and off Greenwich Church Street and its second-hand bookshops, independent boutiques and covered market. Greenwich is well served by the DLR, the old Greenwich Foot Tunnel from the Isle of Dog (Canary Wharf) and our favourite boat trips by Thames Clipper.
Home to many great theatres, museums and a wonderful farmer's market (every Thursdays) you will never be lost for things to do in Hammersmith. In addition to the cinema and pubs of King Street, leisure activity also takes place along Hammersmith's pedestrianised riverside, home to a number of pubs, rowing clubs and the riverside park of Furnival Gardens. Hammersmith also has a large municipal park called Ravenscourt Park located to the west of the centre.
First fashionable for its spa waters in the 18th century; Hampstead has long been London’s most gorgeous hilltop hideaway. It resisted the Victorian expansion of the city by conserving Hampstead Heath, a wonderful high open countryside and by preserving its rural character. It is quite simply the most beautiful spot of greenery in London with bucolic scenery. The steeply inclined High Street, lined with trendy clothes shops and arty café’, has not lost its charm, though the most appealing area is the network of alleys, steps and streets north of the tube. Christchurch, east of Heath St, is particularly delightful, a warren of winding lanes with raised pavements, old houses and charming atmosphere. Freud settled here, in Maresfield Gardens after fleeing Vienna and his home now is a museum. The Heath is of course one of the area’s biggest asset. It contains three open-air swimming ponds and a fully equipped kids’ playground. Local tips: Everyman Cinema in Hampstead is a real treat – enjoy the luxury as you order drinks from your seat.
Islington now is one of the liveliest and trendiest districts in the capital. For those who can afford them, its terraces houses offer elegant living close to the City and Central London. The finest aspect of Islington is its rich residue of wonderful Georgian streets and squares. The earliest examples, like Cloudesley Square and Myddelton Square, are in plain Georgian style with early neo-Gothic churches as their centrepieces. On the other hand, the main drag is Upper Street: the place is packed with pubs, cafes, designers’ bars and shops, and alternative theatres. For entertainment, there are more pub-theatre in Islington than anywhere else, from the oldest establishments King’s Head to the Almeida, one of the London’s leading theatres. All of this makes Islington one of the best areas of north London in the evening - a kind of off-West End. Camden Passage Market is a row elegant antiques shops and stalls open on Saturdays and Wednesdays. On the other side of Upper Street, you will find Chapel Street Market instead, selling cheap clothes, fresh fruit and vegetables and it is a salutary reminder of Islington’s working-class roots. East of Angel tube station, Regency-era Canonbury Square was once home to George Orwell. One of the handsome town houses in this square now contains the Collection of Modern Italian Art, with exciting works of the early Italian Futurist and a lovely garden café’ for your deserved break.
Increasingly hip and groovy Marylebone is central and characterised by graceful Georgian squares and bustling High Sts. This is a much quieter option than the dynamic Soho and yet still within walking distance of the attractions in the West End. Now everyone enjoys the Marylebone Village and it is one of best neighbourhoods to stay. Compared to the brashness and the crowds of Oxford Street Marylebone’s back streets are a pleasure to discover, especially the village-like quarter around Marylebone High Street with its small shops and café, independent venues (a pleasant contrast to the big stores on nearby Oxford Street). Bell Street is one of the more interesting hereabouts, with its art gallery (the Lisson) and its second hand bookshops. The other gem is Church Street, which has a weekend market but is otherwise almost completely given over to antique shops.
Mayfair in the West End of the city is London's most exclusive district and in many ways an amazing place to live, work and visit. Named after the fortnight long May Fair that took place there, Mayfair is a fashionable district that includes the most important retail shopping activity in the United Kingdom. Bordered by the weighty arteries of Piccadilly, Park Lane and Oxford Street, Mayfair posh squares and streets seem by turns quite and imperious. Try the historic Guinea pub, a delightfully unpretentious drinking den on the north-east corner of Bruton Place or Guy Ritchie’s pub The Punchbowl in Farm Street for a beer in style. Shepherd Market is Mayfair’s real-life bit, still dealing in the pleasures of life. West of Park Lane is the wonderful space of Hyde Park. Here you will find Speaker’s corner and the Serpentine Gallery, host of adventurous modern art and architecture. Mayfair is truly a microcosm - all life is here from all over the world. Yet with its beautiful squares and parks to rest in, it also remains a peaceful haven in the centre of the great city of London.
Now swanky Notting Hill was for many years the bad boy of the boroughs, full of vice and crime comparable to that of Soho. Now it is the borough’s most cosmopolitan district with a strong African-Caribbean community who initiated and still run the Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s largest street festival, which takes place every August Bank Holiday weekend. Emerging from the first time at Notting Hill tube station you might think what all the fuss is about. The trafficked Notting Hill Gate is not particularly attractive with no attractive shops or café’. But once you are off the main road toward Portobello market, the appeal of the area is clear enough with rows of imposing white stucco houses, myriad of garden squares and its fashionable Westbourne Grove. It is a lovely place to spend your days in the capital feeling the vibe of trendy crowd in the neighbourhood. Local Tip: try to walk all the way down from Portobello to Golborne Road. The market becomes more real and relaxed plus you can enjoy a rice cake and coffee at our favourite OPorto cafe.
Soho gives you the best and worst of London: a nightlife that has attracted writers and visitors of every sexual persuasion, a lively fruit and vegetables market and the colour and the atmosphere of Chinatown. Between Regent Street and Oxford Street Soho remains very much the heart of London and of the capital’s most diverse and characterful area. Conventional sights are few, yet it is great for strolling around, with probably more street life than anywhere in the city – whatever hour you wander through there is always something going on. Soho’s nightlife continues to be the prime attraction, either heading to the cinemas in Leicester Square, or to enjoy a few drinks in the latest trendy bars or to grab a bite at the innumerable café’ and restaurants, ranging from the inexpensive Chinese places to the exclusive Michelin-starred restaurants in the backstreets. The attraction remains the unique mix of people who walk through Soho. There is nowhere in the city where such diverse slices of London come face to face with each other. Take it all in, and enjoy.
South Bank has historically been and still it is a place of entertainment, fun and artistic expression. It is a vibrant cultural quarter with the Shakespeare Globe (rebuilt with English accuracy), the Tate Modern (opened in the former power station), Borough Market, the London Eye and the London aquarium and finally the matinee antique market of Bermondsey. Borough Market attracts gourmet and authentic food merchants all packed below the railway bridge selling everything from organic cakes and bread to Spanish ham from acorn-fed pigs – a real treat for all the five senses. Close to the City and linked by tube with the other city’s attractions it’s a top location for your time in London. A fantastic stroll along the river Thames will capture your imagination and your heart forever.
Between Kensington High Street and Cromwell road rest South Kensington, a distinctively elegant part of the capital. It is a museum mile with the triumvirate of world famous (and free) museums: the V&A, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum (with a beautiful ice rink between November and January). The surrounding area is now one of the most fashionable in town. Besides the aristocratic mansions and the presence of royalty in Kensington Palace, the village of Kensington contains in its quieter backstreet some hidden gems to be discovered like Holland Park and Leighton House, the perfect Victorian artist’s pad. Besides the Whole Foods Market store, which represents a temple of organica, Kensington Church Street provides a taste of more traditional Kensington with its selection of pricier boutique and antique shops. Holland Park is one of London’s wildest parks with squirrel and peacocks roaming about, a beautiful Japanese garden, a summer open-air opera season and a multi-level adventure playground for the kids.
St Johns Wood
Westminster is the centre of political power and most of its interesting places are linked with monarchy, parliament and the Church of England. The area is a remarkable spectacle, a picture of rare architectural cohesion and an awesome display of power. Enjoy strolling between Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square; connecting the two public squares is Whitehall, where you could derive huge pleasure from photographing yourselves with Household Cavalry Troopers. This is a land of politicians with Downing Street close by. Going west from here, gorgeous St. James’s Park famed for its pelicans is far prettier than Green Park, which provides a pleasant walk to a seat of privilege (rather than power): Buckingham Palace. Still, with its proximity to Soho, West End, Knightsbridge and Chelsea, Westminster makes a great home for any visits and its sights are unbeatable.