We wanted to make it very easy to understand. This London city guide includes the best areas for first time visitors, families and couples.
We even included a big map with all neighborhoods and handpicked hotels for couples, families and friends.
(This guide us always up to date, last update August 2019)
But, let’s go to the most important question first. After, we will explain the answer in detail:
Question: Where to stay in London for a first-time visit?
Answer: Central London (Zone 1-2)
Why do I recommend to stay in Central London?
Sticking to Central London for a first-time visit makes it easy to get to know the transport links and move around the city quickly and painless.
Our recommended areas (as well as the top sights) are highlighted in this map below:
- Shoreditch (in purple)
- West End (in blue)
- Mayfair (in red)
Please note: those are not the exact district borders. I just tried to simplify this information.
Why these areas?
As well as being central areas of London, these are extremely easy to access via the main train stations and airports.
In this article, we wanted to give you all the information you need for your London trip whether you stay in London 3 days, 5 days, or more.
We cover many things, from the best locations to what to see in London.
Skip to your interest point or keep reading to be fully prepared for your London trip:
- Where to stay in London?
- Top London sights
- Things to do in London
- London neighborhood Guide
- Safest area to stay in London
- How to move around
1. Best areas and handpicked hotels for …
As mentioned, the city center of London is the perfect place for the first-time visitor.
I also understand that different travel styles match different needs.
You will notice some areas are excluded or added to the previous recommendation depending on what kind of traveler you are. It is not the same going with the family than partying with friends, right?
Also, I would like to include an amazing Airbnb discount to your first stay.
Let’s see which are the best areas to stay in London depending on which way you are traveling and my handpicked hotels.
Continue scrolling or pick your travel type on the menu:
London is almost always a noisy city – whether its traffic or party-goers there’s always a bit of background noise – however there are areas of the London that suit a family stay.
Also you need an area that is easily accessible and close by to family-friendly attractions.
Therefore, the answer to where to stay in London for families is primarily West London.
However, we have also found some excellent options below:
- West End
This map shows you the areas, recommended for families:
Handpicked London places to stay for families
It is very important to be flexible and comfortable while traveling with a family group. That is why the best option would be to look centrally located hotels offering great quality service.
Within a few minutes of the family favorite Natural History Museum and Science Museum, The Ampersand Hotel has a large selection of family rooms that include:
- complimentary cots and extra beds,
- small kitchenettes,
- free soft drinks,
- children’s toiletries and bathrobes,
- activity packs
The hotel also offers discounted family menus including a kids Sci-Fi (science) afternoon tea! Have a look at the photo below. You see the beautiful, tent with the bed on the left for the little ones.
This is our definite answer to where to stay in London with kids!
St. James Hotel and Club
The St. James Hotel also offers a ‘kids stay for free’ deal for a minimum of two nights as well as a dedicated children’s concierge service whilst being in a fantastic location and providing a luxurious stay for the parents.
It is very close to the Buckingham palace, approximately 5 minute walk.
In a walking distance, you have:
- Big Ben,
- London Eye, and
- Victoria Station
The inner garden of the hotel is additional benefit, great to sit there and have a glass of wine in the evening.
The Kensington Hotel
Each of The Doyle Collection’s hotels in London are simply beautiful but The Kensington Hotel is perhaps the most romantic.
Set in a 19th century West London townhouse, the hotel combines grand decor with a vibrant atmosphere with plenty of corners to cozy up in.
Rooms are beautifully furnished and the hotel restaurant offers one of the best afternoon teas in the city.
Gir Lion Lodge, London Zoo
For a London hotel with a difference, treat the family to Gir Lion Lodge where guests can sleep over at London Zoo.
Yes, you can overnight at the London zoo!
As well as after-hours tours, a two-course dinner and free zoo entry, families will wake in the land of the lions to the sound of the big cats’ roar!
London can be an extremely romantic city, perfect for a couple’s city break.
There isn’t particularly one set area of London more suited to couples. Below is a selection of hotels best suited to a romantic getaway, each offering a cozy night’s stay.
This map shows you the areas and hotels, recommended for couples:
Handpicked accommodations for couples
When traveling as a couple it is very important to spend time together.
Look for a more intimate accommodation.
That is why staying at hotels during your trip is perfect. You won’t have to worry about cleaning or cooking… just enjoying your time in London!
Shangri-La at The Shard
What could be more romantic than waking up to one of the best views the city has to offer?
Stay at the Shangri-La Hotel at the top of London’s tallest building and you’ll be treated to sunrises, sunsets and a night’s sleep above the clouds.
Rooms come with skyline panoramas (book an iconic view room for the famous bathtub view) whilst the 52nd floor Gong Bar and infinity pool are not to be missed.
Minutes from the design hub of Clerkenwell and Farringdon, The Rookery is a romantic hideaway in an era gone by.
Dark wooden furnishings, open fires and four-poster beds make you feel that you’ve stepped back in time at this boutique hotel.
The Blackbird Hotel
A flawless pub hotel in Central London made with great care, taste and creativity.
The quirkiness and small scale of The Blackbird are a welcome difference from the usual chain and business hotel.
That is why it is a great option for couples willing to visit the city.
Rooms are not very spacious but big enough to have a comfortable stay. The room comes with some free supplies in the fridge.
Blackbird is located nearby Earls court road.
You will find in a walking distance:
- Natural History Museum
- Albert Museum
- Royal Albert Hall
- Olympia Exhibition Centre
- Stanford Bridge
Despite the busy area, the nights are quiet. Ideal for visiting the city!
Grab a bite to eat in the restaurant or a drink at the bar. Of course, WiFi is free.
Tip: make sure you take the breakfast at the hotel (which is included with the room rate) at least one day.
They offer a generous breakfast selection including:
- fruit cereals,
- pastries and
- fruit juice
As well as hot menu and hot drinks.
1.3 Luxury Traveler
London is jam-packed with some of the world’s best restaurants, designer shops and luxury hotels from boutique properties hidden down a narrow street, to renowned 5* names.
So where to stay in London for the luxury traveler?
Most areas of the city have a handful of impressive hotels but you’ll more likely find traditional luxury in the following districts:
- Kensington and Chelsea
This map shows you the areas, recommended for the luxury traveler:
Handpicked accommodations for luxury traveler
Luxury in London means not only a stunning hotel but many services that will make you feel great.
High-end restaurants, swimming pools, and concierges that will help you take a cab, plan your day or suggest great restaurants in the city.
When you think of the most luxurious hotel, nothing quite springs to mind like London’s Claridges Hotel.
The famous residence has been home to everyone from royals to A listers for over 150 years and its glamour never goes out of style.
Located in the heart of Mayfair its famous British service is a must for the luxury traveler.
For a West End location, luxury travelers are invited to The Langham, a London icon on Regent Street.
The truly British hotel is famous for its beauty as well as a collection of opulent dining options including Roux at the Landau.
Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square
The Four Season’s Ten Trinity Square, the most recent London opening, is located in the heart of the City, overlooking main attractions:
- Tower Bridge,
- Shakespeare’s Globe and the
- Tower of London
The magnificent building is as classic inside, with an impressive lobby that speaks elegance.
With contemporary design and luxurious fabrics and furnishings, Number Sixteen is a top choice for the luxury traveler who wants to stay central in London.
It is located in quiet street, yet maximum 2 minutes from a metro stop.
The attention to every detail is impeccable: from common areas designed for lingering, to RikRak linen spray to support restful sleep.
They do have a restaurant and a lovely garden are lovely with great food.
1.4 Design Lover
With various districts for architecture, art and culture, London is a hub for design both old and new.
Personally, I love a great design-led hostel. It can be anything from Hipster to Boutique Hotel. Below I share with you my favorite design hotels in London too.
Over the years different areas of the city have grown in terms of hotel openings and popularity.
Therefore the best places to stay for design travellers are:
- The City
This map shows you the areas, recommended for the design-led traveler:
Handpicked accommodations for the design traveler
Yet again, I admit it, I love design hotels. I have looked all over the place, and tested several central design hotels in London. Here’s the verdict.
One of East London’s newest residencies, The Curtain is a characterful hotel not dissimilar to those of New York and New Orleans.
The dark, woody interiors are met by indoor gardens as well as a private members-only club and rooftop pool.
Southern vibes come into play at Red Rooster, a vibrant chicken and waffles restaurant.
Possibly London’s best boutique hotel, Zetter Townhouse is located in Clerkenwell, one of the city’s most thriving design districts.
Eccentricity is Zetter’s vibe – you’ll find bizarre decor around every corner as well as cocktail bars and games rooms.
The hip Ace Hotel in the heart of Shoreditch attracts many trendy travelers.
Complete with co-working spaces, an underground comedy club, sauna and extremely popular restaurant Hoi Polloi, it’s a firm favorite among designers.
Groups can have an abundance of fun in London – as well as there being plenty of bars and restaurants to hang out in, there’s so much to do for stag dos, families, friends and parties.
Whilst there isn’t a particular area of London best suited for groups to stay in, there are some recommended hotels perfect for over 4 people near the best areas to stay in London:
- West End
This map shows you the areas, recommended for groups:
Handpicked accommodations for groups
Apartments work always best for groups, as they need flexibility and space. I mention also some hotels for those groups seeking more individual spaces.
Suitable for both long and short stay, the Wilde Aparthotel is perfect for groups located in the centre of Covent Garden.
Inspired by Oscar Wilde, the hotel rooms and apartments are simply stylish and are walking distance from many London attractions.
For groups who want a home away from home, head to one of Ravensbourne House, a self-catering apartment located very near central London.
It is a one bedroom apartment that can cater up to 6 adults.
There is a kitchen with a microwave and a fridge, a washing machine and a bathroom with air dryer.
Hyde Park is just 10 minutes walk from Ravensbourne House and there is a metro stop very near the apartment.
Novotel London West
If you want the hotel experience than the Novotel brand is a great choice for groups.
The Novotel London West hotel located next to Hammersmith station offers personalized service for bookings of 10 or more rooms including private dining and even your own entrance!
London is a city that can easily be explored by a solo traveler!
Wander around a museum, picnic in the park or shop til you drop – there’s plenty to do.
For hostels we share our top recommendations below for “budget traveler” but if you want a single room in one of London’s cool hotels, we recommend three of our favorites below.
This map shows our favorite areas to stay when travelling alone to London.
Handpicked accommodations for solo travelers
Traveling solo does not mean feeling solo. You can enjoy your time in your room and join tours, visit museums or meet up with more people on a bar.
Looking to find friends easily and cheap rooms? Then here you have the 3 best hostels in London.
If you prefer a more intimate room here are the hotels I suggest.
The Hoxton, Holborn
The hip Hoxton hotel brand is perfect for a solo traveler. We recommend the Holborn location minutes from the West End, which offers ‘shoebox’ rooms perfect for short stays and solo trips.
As well as a guaranteed good night’s sleep, The Hoxton include a free breakfast bag with each stay, supermarket price drinks and free WiFi.
Z Hotel Gloucester Palace
Spread over 6 townhouses in Marylebone, the Gloucester Palace Z Hotel is a favorite for solo travelers.
The cozy rooms are super stylish and excellent value.
In the heart of the West End, the Strand Palace offers single rooms for each category.
The 4 Star Hotel also offers an onsite gym, restaurants and complimentary Wi-Fi.
1.7 Nightlife-seeking traveler
The capital city is famous for its nightlife from top DJ’s to underground bars and all-night raves.
If you want to stay in the heart of the nightlife areas, we recommended the following districts:
Located in Central London in between Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road and Leicester Square, Soho is packed with bars and clubs.
Streets such as Old Compton Street and Wardour Street were the original destinations for gay nightlife and so many clubs are now aimed at gay culture including the famous G-A-Y.
Expect creative, theatrical cocktails, themed bars and dancing all night in Shoreditch.
Located South of the River Thames, Brixton attracts and edgy young crowd who like to party into the early hours.
The Prince of Wales is a multi floor club with a terrace month perfect for summer nights.
Handpicked accommodations for nightlife-seeking travelers
If you are going to party, you will need some time to recover.
Not having to worry to inform about your plans, or what time you have to get up, the best option is to get a room at a cool hotel or a party hostel.
For nightlife with a side of luxury, there’s no better place to stay than the cool party hotel, The Ned, located in heart of the City of London.
The 5 Star Hotel has its own members club as well as 9 restaurants and an indoor spa to relax in the next day!
The Dictionary Hostel
For a late night in Shoreditch, sleepover at The Dictionary Hostel in the midst of East London’s nightlife scene.
As well as its key location, the hostel has its own events, games rooms, bar crawls and discounts on London attractions.
One of London’s most fabulous party locations is Radio Rooftop, the 360 degree rooftop bar atop the ME London Hotel.
For those who want to party into the early hours, book a room at this fabulous Strand location.
1.8 Budget Traveler
London isn’t just for the rich and famous – there is plenty of free activities and budget attractions as well as plenty of cool hotels and hostels to stay in.
Like many cities, the further out of the center you stay, the less you’ll pay so areas such as:
- Walthamstow, and
However if you’re keen on staying in Zone 1-2, we recommend some options below:
Handpicked accommodations for budget travelers
I also have a few on my own recommendations. Here are the best places to stay in London on a budget.
Z Hotel Soho
The Z Hotel brand pride themselves on affordable luxury and that’s why we think the Soho location is a perfect pick.
In the middle of the city, this hotel is a characterful hotel with compact stylish rooms minutes from the West End.
Located by Kings Cross, the favorite backpacker hostel Clink78 is great value and set in an incredible old courthouse where The Clash band once stood trial!
Clink78 is one of the best budget places to stay in London.
Their own onsite club, the Clash Bar, is a popular pick and the rooms even have old prison features.
In the vibrant East London neighborhood of Dalston, the Luxury Inn is a highly rated bed and breakfast with family-run service and historical charm.
It is a great place to stay in London for a family on budget.
Self-service breakfast, a help-yourself kitchen and courtyard garden make you feel right at home.
2. Top Sights (and their locations)
There are so many things to do in London for every kind of traveler.
As well as the famous sights such as Buckingham Palace and the London Eye, there’s plenty of hidden gems and classic favorites. We share here our top 10 sights not to miss!
Top 10 sights in London
The top ten sights in London are:
- The tower of London
- A West End Show
- an Afternoon tea
- Brick Lane and Shoreditch
- Hyde Park
- St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Sky Garden
- Borough Market
- Natural History Museum
More great sights to see in London are:
- The National Gallery
- Tate Modern
- Shakespeare’s Globe
- Westminster Abbey
- The London Dungeon
- Trafalgar Square
- Big Ben
- Oxford Street
- The View from the Shard
You see, the major sights in London are dotted all around the city. It is almost impossible to visit all these sights just by walking.
Good news, getting around London is very easy. Below we talk about moving around London.
2.1 The Tower of London
You can’t come to London without a trip to the famous Tower of London.
As well as exploring the royal fortress, make sure to book a tour of the Tower Bridge where you can walk over the adrenaline racing glass walkway and watch the bridge open for passing ships.
2.2 A West End Show
You can’t go wrong without seeing a West End show in London.
There are so many to choose from and whilst it might be daunting looking at tickets, we promise it’s easy to book!
If you want a bargain and are happy to wait till the last minute, head to Leicester Square in the morning and queue at the TKTs box, or download the TodayTix app for a chance to win £20 rush tickets.
As well as seasonal shows, all-time favorites are:
- Mouse Trap
- Les Miserables
- The Lion King
2.3 Afternoon Tea
For a truly British experience, drink tea and eat cake at one of London’s best afternoon teas.
You’ll find it on every corner in cafes and hotels however for those who want to feel rather royal there’s nothing like afternoon tea at Claridges Hotel.
For extra glamour, choose the champagne tea – just book in advance!
2.4 Brick Lane and Shoreditch
Whilst there’s endless things to do in central London, we highly recommend going east to explore Shoreditch, the hip and happening neighborhood of London.
As well as being a favourite destination for restaurants and bars, Brick Lane is famous for its vintage shopping, tasty curries and graffiti culture –
you might even spot a Banksy piece on your visit!
2.5 A Picnic in Hyde Park
There are so many large parks to choose from in London:
- Victoria Park for East London markets
- Holland Park for West London’s peacocks
- Japanese gardens
- St James’s Park for the famous pelicans
But if you want a classic London experience, we recommend taking a picnic to Hyde Park, London’s biggest green space.
Go on a sunny day for a walk, relax and even canoe around the lake – although get there early to avoid long queues!
Why not rent a bike and cycle around?
2.6 St Paul’s Cathedral
Don’t miss one of London’s most beautiful buildings – St Paul’s Cathedral.
As striking as it is on the outside, save time to go inside too either on a self-tour or by attending one of many events held at the Cathedral.
If you are visiting in the winter season, we highly recommend booking to see a Christmas concert, a truly festive experience.
Tickets are booked for free online and released at 10am on various days – check online to make sure you don’t miss out.
If you want a full visit for the Paul’s cathedral ( including a panoramic view from the Dome) with no queues, then the skip the line ticket will be your friend.
2.7 Sky Garden
One of our favorite free attractions is London’s Sky Garden, an indoor paradise on the top of the 20 Fenchurch Street building in the City.
We recommend booking your free tickets online about 1 month before your trip to ensure entry although walk-ins are sometimes allowed.
Or if you wish to combine your visit with a meal or drink, simply book a table at one of the garden’s restaurants or bars.
It’s also worth going at sunrise or sunset for even more of a beautiful view!
The River Thames is what brings London together, so come rain or shine it’s worth a visit.
The best place to start is at Southbank where you’ll find:
- the National Theatre,
- a summer/winter market,
- Somerset House,
- the London Eye and
- various riverside restaurants
On a sunny day, walk east past Shakespeare’s Globe and onto Tower Bridge.
2.9 Borough Market
Foodies won’t want to miss a visit to a market and whilst there are plenty to choose from nothing quite beats Borough Market.
You’ll find everything from fresh oysters to burgers and beer among the home of London produce.
Visit Wednesday – Saturday to make sure each stall is open and be prepared to queue for favourite dishes such as pasta from Padella.
2.10 The Kensington Museums
London is home to hundreds of museums covering everything from cartoons to zoology, but nothing quite beats the Kensington collection.
Start at the Natural History Museum where you’ll see Hope the whale among hundreds of other creatures, before having fun in the Science Museum and then checking out an exhibition at the V&A.
Make sure to get there early, especially on a weekend, and check out what’s on
There’s plenty of exhibitions!
Of course there is plenty more to see in London than the above.
Here you have our favorite things to do in London that you should not miss.
3. Things to do in London
Of course London is plenty of things to do, but if you are looking for some alternative things, here is our fav list:
3.1 A Junkyard Gallery
Explore the neon treasure trove at God’s Own Junkyard, a gallery in Walthamstow with its own Rolling Stone’s Cafe.
Important: There is an entrance free.
3.2 Flower market
Buy cheap flowers and plants at Columbia Road Flower Market, taking place on a Sunday (go later between 2-4pm for discounts and a quieter crowd).
For families, crossover Hackney Road to the City Farm where you can feed the ducks, donkeys and sheep!
3.3 Enter to Harry Potter’s world
Or at leat pose at Platform 9 and ¾ at Kings Cross Station.
Better yet, take the train from Euston Station to Watford to visit the Warner Brothers’ Studio Tour.
3.4 Walk over Greenwich
Walk over the O2 Arena in Greenwich where you’ll see 360 degree views over the City.
It can also be done at sunset and twilight for a twinkling climb.
3.5 Visit the Magnificent Seven
London’s collection of famous cemeteries that are surprisingly more beautiful than spook.
Don’t miss the Highgate Cemetery where Karl Marx can be found.
3.6 Go back to Childhood
Explore Pollock’s Toy Museum in Fitzrovia, a quirky gallery that contains six tiny rooms packed with vintage board games, dolls, the world’s oldest teddy and a 4,000 year old mouse!
3.7 Mooch around The House of Minalima
House of Minalima is a graphic design print shop created by the artists behind the design for the Harry Potter movies.
You have a free exhibition space with Harry potter themed rooms, framed prints and actual props of the paper art from Harry Potter.
You can even grab a limited edition!
3.8 Discover London’s Graffiti
The only legal graffiti in London is Leake Street, a tunnel running under Waterloo Station which is an ever-changing canvas.
Nevertheless, remember there are more Graffiti around the city which are worth to spot, including a Bansky.
3.9 Find the seven noses of Soho
A collection of sculpted noses stuck on random streets and walls in Soho originally for an artist’s project.
3.10 Join a Hip Society
Have a cocktail at The Last Tuesday Society, a museum/bar in Hackney complete with the strangest collection of curiosities including a lion in a top hat and two-headed lamb.
4. London Neighborhood guide (to understand the differences)
So when it comes to the question on where to stay in London, the areas place a big role. In this section we walk you through the different neighborhoods in London.
This will give you a pretty good idea on what’s the best choice for you.
London is primarily divided into the North, South, West and East, each with their own style.
Within these areas are then the different zones which are shown on the London Underground.
Zone 1 and 2 being central London – and key neighborhoods which are detailed below.
We already revealed the best neighborhoods to stay in London during your trip, but here we wanted to go in detail to the rest of the section so you can have a better understanding of the city.
Just as a reminder here you have our recommended areas on the map (with the Top sights of London):
- West End
Please note: those are not the exact district borders. I just tried to simplify this information.
But let’s check all the other quarters in London.
4.1 East London
East London is regarded as the more artistic, young and hipster area of London.
Here you’ll find famous graffiti from the likes of Banksy, vintage shopping, quirky cafes and boutique stores.
The most popular areas are Shoreditch, Liverpool Street and Hackney which have great places to see including:
- Spitalfields Market,
- Victoria Park,
- Brick Lane and
4.2 West London
Opposite to the East, the West of London is seen as more opulent with big terrace houses, fancy hotels and lots of green space.
Kensington and Chelsea are where you’ll find the museums, the Saatchi Gallery and Hyde Park whilst Notting Hill is home to the famous carnival and plenty of boutique shops.
Closer to the river, Hammersmith and Putney are also lovely areas to explore with plenty of riverside pubs for a Sunday lunch.
4.3 North London
North London varies in style, from the rock and roll streets of Camden to the beautiful Regents Park.
Here is where Euston and Kings Cross meet whilst London Zoo and Camden Market are popular attractions.
Highbury and Islington is a great area for bars and nightlife, whilst further North, Hampstead and Alexandra Palace offer lovely parks and events throughout the year.
4.4 South London
Similarly the South offers something for everyone from below the river.
Most popular is Brixton which is home to a large Caribbean population, offering a young and fun nightlife with lots of festivals and clubs.
Clapham is also a favourite among many for its bars and pubs, whilst Greenwich is more family friendly – don’t miss Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory.
More central is Waterloo and London Bridge where you can explore the sights along the River Thames including the London Eye and Tower Bridge.
4.5 The West End
The centre of London, known as the West End, covers areas such as Soho, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Charing Cross.
This is where the most popular attractions are including:
- the National Portrait Gallery,
- Covent Garden Market,
- Regent Street shopping and the
- West End theatres.
There is plenty to do here with restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs around every corner for every budget.
5. Safest area to stay in London
London is predominantly a safe place to visit and stay, but like all big cities there are pickpockets to watch out for.
Some basic tips to avoid being pick-pocketed:
1. Don’t keep anything valuable in your backpack.
2. Limit what you carry.
3. Put locks on your zippers.
4. Don’t put anything in the back pocket.
5. Keep bags in front of you when on public transit.
6. Do not leave your belongings unattended.
The safest places to stay in London are predominantly the more affluent areas:
Of course these are also the more expensive areas and busy neighborhoods in North and East London are also safe to stay in.
Here you have the hand-picked accommodations in the safest areas in London:
6. Traveling around London
Traveling around London by public transport is particularly easy once you get to grips with the Underground Map.
The underground is split into a variety of lines, the main ones being:
- Circle Lines
Each has its own colour and shows how each station can connect to another.
You can also pay for travel in London with a contact-less card so there is no need to buy an Oyster card or travel card which can often be more expensive.
You can also travel by bus, black cab taxi or even Uber.
Looking for something convenient and easy to move around the main city sights?
Then the hop-on hop-off bus will be your best
To check how to move around the app Citymapper comes highly recommended.
Type in your destination and it will show a variety of ways to get there complete with journey time and cost.
It’s also worth noting that children under 11 years old travel free in the city.
7. Summary Where to stay in London
Do you have questions? Doubts?
Please please please drop me a comment below or directly an email here.
In fact, your questions help me to make this article better. So I help you to help me.
Therefore, bother me!
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