The Best London Neighborhoods for Every Kind of Traveler

In a city of London’s size, knowing your Hackney from your Hampstead, your Bankside from your Bermondsey, can make all the difference in planning the perfect itinerary.

The Tower Bridge in London as seen from a cobblestone path with old lampposts and a big tree

Whether you’re a history buff or an art lover, there’s an ideal London neighborhood for you.

Photo by Alexey Fedorenko/Shutterstock

Whether you’re coming to London to see the antiquities at the British Museum, shop Oxford Street, or catch the latest star-studded show on the West End, finding the right neighborhood to stay in can make all the difference. Do you want to blend in, drinking at the local pub, picking up groceries at the market, hopping on public transport into central London to sightsee? Or do you want to stay a few minutes’ walk from Big Ben, immersing yourself in the swift-moving city life along the Thames?

We’ve mapped out the city for you, choosing the neighborhoods and boroughs that work best for different types of travelers, from those seeking traces of historic London to those in search of the right now. From culture-filled Soho to off-the-beaten-path Bermondsey, these neighborhoods make for a jolly good introduction to the many faces of this nonstop city.

1. Islington

Best for living like a local
Unlike younger cities, planned from the get-go, grand old London has always felt like an agglomeration of the smaller (often medieval) communities it grew out of. And in many parts of the city, you can still live something akin to village life. Islington is full of those pockets—Highbury, Barnsbury, Tufnell Park—where tree-lined streets and 19th-century townhouses are served by some of the best neighborhood cafés and restaurants in the world.

The tastiest biang biang noodles in the city are at Xi’an Impression on Benwell Road, while Upper Street—between Angel and Highbury Corner—is an ever-changing array of dining delights, like Yotam Ottolenghi’s flagship restaurant. Legendary pubs include the Duke of Cambridge, the country’s first to be certified organic, and you’ll barely need to travel beyond the end of your road for entertainment. The live music scene thrives at Islington Assembly Hall and Union Chapel; historic cinemas include the 111-year-old Screen on the Green; and the 325-seater Almeida is one of the most dynamic and influential studio theaters in London. It’s also a surprisingly great place to see celebrities up close and personal: Recent productions have starred the likes of Paul Mescal, Saoirse Ronan, and Ted Lasso Emmy-nominee Toheeb Jimoh.

Food stalls and pedestrians at a market next to railway arches

One of the best ways to experience Bermondsey is at its food-filled weekend market.

Photo by JuliaST/Shutterstock

2. Bermondsey

Best for beer lovers

Just over the river from Tower Bridge and east of Borough Market in southeast London, Bermondsey is part industrial, part residential. But don’t let the plain warehouses fool you: There’s plenty here for the hungry and thirsty traveler, and it’s an excellent base for exploring London, with Tube links to Waterloo, London Bridge, and Westminster.

Maltby Street Market is probably the most famous highlight in Bermondsey, where stalls sell everything from toasties and duck frites to empanadas and Ethiopian food on weekends. Throughout the week, the adjacent railway arches house the Market’s permanent members, including the Spanish bodega Bar Tozino, a florist, a barber shop, and Malt Craft Beer, which sells beer and cider from across the United Kingdom. The neighborhood’s most lauded restaurant is 40 Maltby Street, which occupies the warehouse of Gergovie Wines and serves unfussy sandwiches (like glazed ham, cheddar, and piccalilli) by day and elegant seasonal British food by night—but be sure to check the hours because it’s not open every day!

For something to drink, head to the Bermondsey Beer Mile, where a smattering of small-scale breweries tucked underneath the railway arches open their doors to serve some of London’s best beers on weekend afternoons. Standouts include Hiver Beers, which makes honey beers and hosts sea chantey nights; the sustainability-focused Bianca Road Brew Co.; and London Beer Factory’s Barrel Project, which is dedicated to barrel-aged beers.

The Grand Staircase at the Raffles London at the OWO features carved alabaster railings and marble banisters.

The new Raffles London at the OWO exudes the grandeur you’d expect in the city’s undisputed seat of power, Westminster.

Courtesy of Raffles London at the OWO

3. Westminster

Best for power brokers

When TV anchors talk about what’s happened in Westminster today, they’re talking politics as much as geography. The place-name has become shorthand for Britain’s seat of government thanks to the neighborhood’s rich history as an epicenter of power. Stand on Whitehall and you can sense its importance in every direction—from the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, to the secret bunkers of Winston Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms, to Banqueting House, where Charles I was the one and only English king to be executed. Nearby, after six years of renovations, Big Ben lost its scaffolding and reopened to the public in July 2023.

Last September, the neighborhood welcomed one of the most exciting new hotels in the past decade, Raffles London at the OWO (aka the Old War Office). With its iconic cupola, this Edwardian baroque landmark is where Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill presided and where MI5 and MI6 were born, and it’s been revitalized after a reported $1.76 billion overhaul and expansion to include a Guerlain Spa and restaurants by Argentinian-born chef Mauro Colagreco. Joining the Raffles in 2025, just down the street, will be the city’s first Waldorf Astoria, which is taking over the grand neoclassical Admiralty Arch, completed in 1912.

Neighboring Mayfair and Piccadilly are the places to immerse yourself in the aristocratic footsteps of its previous inhabitants. Hotels like Claridge’s and the Athenaeum maintain not just their grand facades but also the elegant interiors that have welcomed curious and well-heeled travelers for centuries. The area around St. James’s Park is the perfect place to take yourself back in time. Shop for posh food and wine at Fortnum & Mason (the royal grocer) and Berry Bros. & Rudd (the royal vintner); try on the toppers at Lock & Co, the world’s oldest hat shop; or stop for London’s most powerful martini at Dukes. And to indulge in the most British of institutions, take afternoon tea surrounded by art deco glamour at the Wolseley or the Ritz.

A few cyclists riding down the center of a London street lined with shops, with pedestrians in distance

Streets like Broadway Market in Hackney are lined with independent restaurants that attract diners from around the city.

Photo by Shutterstock/

4. Hackney

Best for foodies
Incorporating hipster hot spots Hoxton, Shoreditch, and Dalston, the borough of Hackney is still the place where new things start in London. And right now that means restaurants. Once scrappy and industrial, the area is now home to a slew of Michelin-starred establishments, including the Clove Club, Lyle’s, Cycene, and Brat, which takes its name from the Old English word for turbot. A whole, charcoal-grilled version of the flat fish, meant for sharing, is a menu staple.

But beyond these high-end dining rooms, chefs are innovating in spectacular ways in all corners of the borough. Take, for instance, Acme Fire Cult, a live-fire restaurant that started as a pandemic-era pop-up in a disused parking lot and now operates out of a back alley in Dalston; sure, there’s meat on the barbecue-heavy menu, but there are also items like smoked beets, coal-roasted leeks, and tandoori celeriac. Over near London Fields, meanwhile, you’ll find the neon-lit vegan Szechuan restaurant Facing Heaven, which serves inventive dishes like chili oil sundaes and haute sandwiches inspired by McDonald’s. The culinary innovation extends to drinking dens like the Bauhaus-inspired A Bar with Shapes for a Name, where the staff wears brightly colored uniforms and batched cocktails are made using lab-style equipment like centrifuges.

The Old Royal Naval College at the bottom of a hill, with skyscrapers in the background

Sir Christopher Wren, who’s best known for his work on St. Paul’s Cathedral, designed the Old Royal Naval College.

Courtesy of Hanlin Sun/Unsplash

5. Greenwich

Best for history buffs

South of the oxbow bend in the River Thames in the East End, Greenwich is a popular day out for visitors to London, but few choose to stay overnight here. Opt to Airbnb in Greenwich and you’ll find some of this neighborhood’s best bits to yourself once the day-trippers have gone home. Britain’s maritime history has its home here in the form of the regal Old Royal Naval College, the National Maritime Museum, and the Cutty Sark clipper—all worth an afternoon exploring if you’re a keen historian. Nearby, go in search of deer in the Royal Park, and spot the Prime Meridian line at the Greenwich Observatory, where there are also regular planetarium shows.

Food and drink here are equally exciting, with the Greenwich Market offering 48 food stalls among handmade arts and crafts, jewelry, and clothes. For a classic British dinner, don’t miss the pie, mash, and jellied eels at Goddards pie shop, which has been open since 1890. One of the joys of Greenwich is the varying public transport at your disposal: If you’re heading into town, take the Uber Boat by Thames Clippers, which travels under Tower Bridge all the way to Westminster, or get a seat upfront and watch the city whiz by you on the Docklands Light Railway.

Outdoor pedestrian arcade of Carnaby Street

Carnaby Street is a charming fashion destination in Soho.

Photo by Andersphoto/Shutterstock

6. Soho

Best for nightlife and culture
For those who come to London eager to embrace everything it has to offer—and happy to be kept up late—there’s nowhere better to start than Soho, the pulsing, boozy district at the very heart of town. A single square mile of independent stores, famous old pubs, and every kind of restaurant crammed into a maze of historic streets and alleyways, Soho feels like London in miniature. Surrounding it are some of Britain’s best-known streets, including a bustling Chinatown and the shopping hot spots of Oxford and Regent streets.

Authors, musicians, artists, and media types have long made this area their second home; book a room at Dean Street Townhouse or the Soho Hotel if you want to encounter them in their natural habitat. Comedy lovers should head straight to the Soho Theatre, which presents multiple shows a night and features some of Britain’s best stand-up, sketch, and theater performers, such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge. For musicals and plays, the bright marquee lights on Shaftesbury Avenue—London’s equivalent of 42nd Street—mark the beginning of one of the world’s great theater districts. The TKTS booth at Leicester Square is the place to buy discount tickets.

This compact neighborhood is also arguably the best place to get a drink in the city, perfect for before or after a show. Standouts include pint-size Bar Termini Soho, an Italian espresso shop by day and cocktail bar by night, known for its martinis and spritzes; the double-decker Swift Soho, which has a walk-in-only upstairs bar and a moodier downstairs bar with cocktails inspired by the team’s world travels; and Noble Rot Soho, one of the city’s most beloved wine bars.

People drinking and hanging around atpicnic tables outside a bar, with a multistory brick building in background

Peckham’s Bussey Building has become a favorite gathering space for creative-minded South Londoners.

Photo by AC Manley/Shutterstock

7. Peckham

Best for creatives
London hipsters have branched out from over-hyped Shoreditch now: Peckham is the real creative scene. This largely residential neighborhood has no world-famous, star attractions, but plenty of community spirit and buckets of culture. Throw in some fantastic places to eat and hole up in a terraced townhouse here for a delicious slice of London life.

The Bussey Building—a multi-level warehouse space—is the cultural hub of Peckham, with its artist studios and galleries, regular live music nights (don’t miss the South London Soul Train if you’re in town on the right night), and yoga on the rooftop. The building butts up against Rye Lane, which you may recognize as the name and setting of an award-winning 2023 indie rom-com that’s something of a South London answer to Notting Hill. Here, you’ll find independent bars and coffee shops next door to African grocers and hair-braiding shops.

Don’t miss sundowners in the summertime at Frank’s—a bar on the roof of a parking lot—and when you get hungry, opt for exceptional Thai tapas at the Begging Bowl.

About 10 peopls sitting on green lawn in park, with skyscrapers in distance

Get lost in tranquil nature with a trip to Hampstead Heath.

Photo by Dinko G. Kyuchukov/Shutterstock

8. Hampstead

Best for outdoorsy types

If you’re keen to visit the Big Smoke but still value your fresh air, Hampstead is a good bet. Stretched across a large hill in the north of the city, Hampstead Heath offers stunning views of its skyline, and the population who live around its edges are probably the luckiest (and most tranquil) of London’s residents, with 790 acres of public green space on their doorstep.

As well as basking in its flora and fauna—ancient trees and hundreds of species of birds, not to mention hedgehogs, foxes, moles, and bats—you can take a swim in its famous ponds (with separate bathing areas for men and women). The Romantic poet John Keats lived nearby (you can visit his home), and these days the heath is a prime location for celebrity spotting. Hampstead village, with its snug little pubs and high-end clothing boutiques, is an artsy, liberal place, and many actors, directors, and musicians can be seen taking their daily constitutionals.

A modern metal pedestrian bridge over River Thames leading to the Tate Modern, an enormous brick building with a tall rectangular tower

The Tate Modern occupies a former power station, and its cavernous interiors—which often include interactive installations—are beloved by art lovers of all ages.

Photo by Kamira/Shutterstock

9. Bankside

Best for families
There are plenty of London suburbs that will happily accommodate your double stroller and sell you an overpriced babyccino: Stoke Newington, Dulwich, and Battersea, to name a few. But if you want to take your kids to see the sights without having to navigate complicated journeys on public transport, how about somewhere closer to the Thames? The 1.5-mile stretch of South Bank between Waterloo and London Bridge is a much-loved walk for tourists and locals alike, showcasing riverside views of the city’s most famous landmarks, from St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Shard. For grown-ups, it’s also where you’ll find some of the city’s best design hotels, including the Bankside Hotel and Sea Containers London, home to the award-winning Lyaness cocktail bar.

It costs nothing to visit the permanent collections at Tate Modern, or its ever-entertaining Turbine Hall installations (giant swings, slides, staircases, and monster spiders have all featured in the past). There are often free performances, festivals, and funfairs happening at the Southbank Centre, or you can go highbrow with an educational tour or play at Shakespeare’s Globe. For something a bit more macabre, check out the Clink Prison Museum and the London Dungeon.

Borough Market offers an endless variety of food stalls, in addition to pilgrimage-worthy brick-and-mortar spots like the elegant Persian restaurant Berenjak and the cult-favorite Padella, where the rotating menu of seasonal pastas is so wildly popular that it has instituted a virtual queue to manage the crowds.

This article originally appeared online in May 2019; it was updated most recently on April 22, 2024, to include current information.

Emma John is a journalist at the Observer newspaper in the United Kingdom, and a contributing writer to AFAR. She lives in London and regularly writes on travel for the Guardian.
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