London on Your Bucket List? Great Tips for Experiencing the City

The first time I visited London, I was 10 years old and was sure it was the center of the universe.  People were everywhere, and the energy surrounding them and the city in general was infectious (much to my parents’ dismay).  There were many palace guards and tour guides that were happy to see the back of me, let me tell you.  In the intervening years, I’ve been to London for both business and pleasure, and that energy and excitement is always there waiting for me.  From the sublime areas of Mayfair to the quirky nightlife of Soho, there’s something for everyone in this amazing destination.

Of all the major cities in the world, I get requests for planning trips to London most often. Why is this?  Because visiting London can be a bit daunting (even for return visitors), and it always helps to get a little expert advice before taking on Great Britain’s capitol city.  To help get you started, I’ve made a short list of the best “neighborhoods” in the city for different types of experiences during your visit.

Best Neighborhood in London for Sightseeing: South Bank and Bankside

When it comes to sightseeing, South Bank and Bankside are excellent for access to big attractions – London Eye, Tate Modern, the Shard – and the City of London also has its share of popular sights. Accommodations are few and far between though.

Best Neighborhood in London for Nightlife: Soho

The best area in London for nightlife is in Soho. The neighborhood is a good mix of trendy cocktail bars (many of which also do great food, traditional English pubs, theatres, and basement clubs with DJ nights). There are only a few hotels in Soho, slightly set back from the action. Other good areas for nightlife include Camden with its live music venues and East End, with its legendary clubs.

Best Neighborhood in London for Food and Restaurants: Covent Garden

Some of London’s best eating is done around Covent Garden. The dense cluster of streets is packed with restaurants ranging from inexpensive Indian, Mexican and Brazilian mini-chains to upscale fine dining and traditional pubs serving excellent local food. From Covent Garden, it’s only a 5 min walk to Chinatown or Soho which is jam-packed with artisan coffee shops and global offerings. Hotels around Hyde Park offer London’s best Michelin-starred dining. Camden, the East End, and King’s Cross are great for street food.

Best Neighborhood in London for Families: South Kensington and Marylebone

South Kensington is one of the best places to stay in London for families. The neighborhood is relatively quiet, and there are two stellar museums with plenty of interactive exhibits for all ages. Just to the north is Hyde Park, with its playgrounds and the family-friendly Winter Wonderland during the colder months. Marylebone is another good option, within easy reach of both Hyde Park, London Zoo in Regent’s Park and Madame Tussauds – popular with older children.

Most Romantic Neighborhood in London: Mayfair, Marylebone, or South Kensington

If you want to romance your significant other in London, it’s hardly a tough call between staying in Mayfair, Marylebone, or South Kensington. Mayfair is Old World wealth and charm, with renowned 5-star hotels such as The Ritz and the Connaught, and some of London’s most celebrated restaurants, including La Gavroche and Corrigan’s Mayfair. In South Kensington, you can opt for the 5-star hotels that fringe Hyde Park, while Marylebone has a hip vibe, some excellent boutique hotels, and less formal dining.

Best Neighborhood in London for Walking: Covent Garden/Leicester Square/Soho

The Covent Garden/Leicester Square/Soho area is very popular with visitors on foot – it’s a neighborhood made up of numerous little streets lined with restaurants, bars and shops, some of them completely pedestrian, and there’s little in the way of traffic. It’s very central, right in the heart of London’s West End where you’ll find Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery.  Plus, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the London Dungeon (just across the river) and Westminster Cathedral are only a 15-minute walk southwest from Leicester Square. Buckingham Palace is a 15-minute walk west of Westminster – most of it away from traffic, through St James’ Park. The British Museum is a 20-minute walk north of Covent Garden.

Safest Neighborhoods in London

London’s safest neighborhoods tend to be the most affluent ones. Mayfair, South Kensington, Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Chelsea – all these are largely safe to walk around any time of day. Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia are also very safe, but standard precautions apply at night. Covent Garden is generally fine but things can get lively late on weekend nights.

Unsafe Areas of London

Parts of the East End, such as Hackney and Shoreditch, can be sketchy at night. While the King’s Cross area has been rejuvenated, the area around the train station is still grotty and it’s best not to wander around late at night. Camden is fine during the day but has a reputation for robberies and assaults outside daylight hours. The Soho and Leicester Square area can also get rough late at night and Hyde Park is best avoided after dark.

Thinking of visiting this amazing city?  I’d love to help you plan your perfect London experience!  Give me a call at 678-548-6402 or send an email to dori@wandermoretravels.com.

Happy travels!

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