Answers from Our Experts (5)
I’m certainly biased in that the bar’s in Angel and the lab is in Angel. But Holland Park is lovely. It’s lovely to go over there, especially when the opera is on in the late summer, and you can kind of sit up in the park and listen to that.
Almost every area in London has something to recommend it. Whether that's an unusual arts venue, traditional boozer or old-fashioned street market, there are hidden gems all over the place, even in the sorts of neighbourhoods that don't usually make it into the guidebooks. It's often worth venturing off the beaten track.
That said, there are a handful of areas that all visitors to London should experience. Here are they.
The West End offers galleries, theatres, restaurants, bars and boutiques galore. Visit the big touristy spots (Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Oxford Street) if you haven't done so before, but make time to lose yourself in the backstreets too. Lesser known places like Berwick Street Market, Cecil Court, with its antiquarian bookshops, and the bars and restaurants of Charlotte Street all have a unique flavour.
It's often said that London is a city of villages – there's no better place to get a sense of this phenomenon than in Primrose Hill. Independent shops, bars and cafés line the charming high street, while regency-era townhouses overlook the park that gives the area its name. The views from the top of the hill are spectacular.
Not only is this area home to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, it's got Kensington Gardens right on its doorstep. This is the prettiest part of Hyde Park and a great place to while away an afternoon: stroll through the Italian Gardens, pop in see some world-class contemporary art at the Serpentine Gallery and admire the iconic statue of Peter Pan to the west of the Long Water.
This neighbourhood has changed a lot in the last two decades, going from scuzzy through arty and trendy to become one of the city's most popular spots for nightlife on the one hand and shopping on the other. Some bemoan the inevitable loss of character that accompanies such an evolution, citing in particular the arrival of various retail and restaurant chains, but there's still plenty to love about this buzzy area. Don't miss Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane for vintage and independent shops and Hoxton Square for bars and cafés.
Over recent decades, London’s central neighborhoods have lost many of their differences. Soho is no longer a den of iniquity (at least, not usually); Bloomsbury is no longer the meeting place of London’s greatest intellects. One exception is Mayfair: among the haute couture boutiques and luxe hotels, you can still find streets like Shepherd Market, which has a cobbler and a florist and traditional London pubs.
To enjoy a “real neighborhood” you now have to head a little out of town. Hampstead, in north London, still has a real village feel. Walking on its vast Heath—from where you can enjoy some of the best London panoramas—it’s hard to imagine you are in a city at all. Both Romantic poet John Keats and father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud were Hampstead residents, and both former homes are preserved for visitors.
Chelsea is another area with a long literary and artistic heritage. It is now extremely upscale, but hasn’t entirely lost the spirit of the Pre-Raphaelites (who met here) and Thomas Carlyle (whose former home is open to the public). London Walks, one of London’s best walks providers, runs a weekly Chelsea walk.
London has often been called a city of "villages" and there are certainly different characteristics to the different neighbourhoods. But these are hard to define, and the best neighbourhoods will be a matter of personal preference.
In the centre of town you'll find the West End is the epicentre of London life. Everyone comes here — for food, for the theatre, for work, for shopping, for everything — and you will find people from all walks of life and all parts of the world. You're certain to spend a lot of your time here.
To the west, Kensington and Chelsea have a genteel air and some of the city's best shopping, bars and restaurants. This is a place to stroll and savour and is far less frenetic than the West End.
To the east, Shoreditch and Hoxton are where the cool kids hang out. Here you'll find a more edgy vibe, with grungier bars and more cutting-edge restaurants. This is the place to come for art and street culture.
To the north, head to Hampstead for open spaces and greenery around the Heath. This is a rich enclave and home to many of the British media's big names. Large houses and parkland abound.
To the south, Clapham is a young neighbourhood, packed with recent graduates and newcomers to London who tend to live in large houses en masse. The nightlife here is fairly mainstream but not many tourists get out this far so it can be a good option for dinner and drinks away from the West End.
It's hard to define London's 'best' neighborhoods, but there are certainly different areas for different interests.
If you're a history buff, head for Highgate to find lots of Georgian houses, some great historic pubs, and a fascinating, celebrity-crammed cemetery. For art lovers, try Dulwich for the country's first public picture gallery, the lovely art deco Brockwell Lido and outdoor movie screenings in the park. For nature lovers, it's hard to beat Richmond, home to Europe's largest urban park – complete with herds of roaming Red and Fallow deer – and a lovely village green that hosts regular games of cricket. And for shoppaholics, you can't beat upmarket Kensington and Chelsea, with destinations like Sloane Square, Kings Road and Harrods offering the best in designer fashion, jewellery, antiques and art.
Finally, if you simply wish to tick off the bucketlist, head to central Westminster. This is where you'll find the Houses of Parliament (and Big Ben), the London Eye, 10 Downing Street, Tate Britain, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade, and, of course, Westminster Abbey.