Think London’s West End is the equivalent of staying in Times Square? Think again.
The first time I visited London, even with experience as a quote “Big Fish” with stints in New York and my adopted hometown of L.A., I was overwhelmed. Bustling, with far and wide stretches and what seemed like a laundry list of must-see attractions, haunts, and storied locales, where was I to even begin? To make matters even more dizzying, where was I to stay? There’s a million plus gorgeous hotels spread across the city, and even more popping up in ever-trendy neighborhoods like Brixton, Shoreditch, and Spitalfields.
Staying in Central London, let alone the tourist-fueled West End, seemed like a nightmare. I thought, “that’d be the equivalent of staying in Times Square.” But as it turns out, staying in the lively and whimsically playground-like hub is the best way to experience the city. The West End puts you in “Quintessential London” with a plethora of hotels (at a range of price points), a fun atmosphere, and no shortage of pubs, cocktail bars, and other unique dining experiences—and let’s not forget the world-class, award-winning theater. Still not convinced? Allow me to elaborate.
Ahem, You Are a Tourist—Don’t Be Scared to Own It
In the wise words of Hugh Grant in Love, Actually, Britain has brought us “Shakespeare, Sean Connery, and Harry Potter.” Isn’t that why you’re there? The cultural touchstones and unique British iconography are part of what makes London so exciting, eternal, and, well…London! So, do the “touristy” stuff while you’re in town! Embrace it! And if you stay in the West End, you’ll be at the epicenter for this kind of fare.
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Want to play Queen for a day–literally? Make your way to Fortnum and Mason, the Queen’s favorite shop for tea and all its accouterments. The historic building will have you feeling like a kid in a candy store, as it’s home to a variety of teas and sweets, with entire floors devoted to the art of the afternoon cuppa. It also holds a luxury shopping floor, grocer, and the must experience located on its top floor, afternoon tea. Truly there might be no better afternoon spent than toggling between cups of fine teas, prosecco, cucumber sandwiches, and a cake trolley that wizzes around just for your enjoyment. It’s a must.
For other touristy (yet delightful) activities, I recommend strolling through nearby Soho, Chinatown, and Covent Garden shops. After all, wandering in London is an activity in itself.
Related: The Best Things to Do in London
Who Said London Doesn’t Have Good Food?
Whoever said London doesn’t have good food isn’t looking hard enough. Sure, the relative blandness of British cuisine abounds in the city. But! Once you realize the city does specific cuisines (erm, anything not particularly British), you’re in for a treat. The diverse ethnic makeup of the city means there’s no shortage of incredible Asian, African, and Western European flavors across many diasporas.
We’ve got guides specifically for Asian and Black-Owned flavors across the city but were particularly struck by these West-End adjacent spots during our last visit.
We know we just ragged on local London cuisine, but Apricity’s stunning and thoughtful take on classic flavors is not to be missed. A circular restaurant (a.k.a. the most progressive take on no-waste cuisine–down the decor), you’ll chomp on buttery beef tongue in a savory broth alongside tender gnudi and a scallop dish that, simply put, is an elevated, absolutely gorgeous take on a BLT. Acclaimed chef Chantelle Nicholson’s restaurant feels cozy and inviting and makes the perfect meal before you make the 20-minute jaunt to nearby theaters.
We also love the restaurants at Kingly Court, another diverse and warm example of London’s popular dining hall scene, an easy 10-minute walk from the West End. Nibble on global flavors from Greece to American comfort, to East Asia, and beyond in this three-story, vibrant food hall. It’s situated on bustling Carnaby Street, which has no shortage of bars, restaurants, shops, and excellent people-watching.
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Finally, in nearby Covent Garden, we delighted in the whimsy and wow factor of Italian spot Ave Mario. Enter what feels like an Italian Willy Wonka, complete with Instagrammable decor and an audacious use of color, and enjoy rustic, classic Italian cuisine. Ave Mario pulls off the near impossible, OTT, “scene-y” decor, while having actually delicious food. (Don’t forget to check out the bathroom where you may have a Soprano character or two waiting for you.)
Take in the Spectacle of West End’s Theater
When staying in the West End, going to a show is a must. Walk outside your hotel door, and you’ll be thrust into the melodic chaos of this district. London’s West End theater scene has long been hailed as the across-the-pond equivalent to New York City’s Broadway theater district, with no shortage of iconic, long-running plays like Les Misérables, A+ list star turns (Amy Adams is currently starring in The Glass Menagerie), and newbie sensations like 2:22 A Ghost Story(Lily Allen made her West End debut in the stage sensation last year.)
I caught the most recent iteration of the show, now in its second run, with an incredible cast, including Tom Felton (Potterheads, get your bras ready.) It honestly was a thrilling and exciting story that kept me on the edge of my seat, and the Criterion Theater’s small, cozy environment made things feel intimate and all the more riveting. Also currently running are productions of Mamma Mia!, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the lauded Jerusalem starring Oscar-winner Mark Rylance.
Want more London via West End? Use these itinerary add-ons to win over any kind of tourist.
Where to Go If You’re a History Buff
Want to hit all of London’s must-see landmarks in one fell swoop? Just Uber a boat! Seriously. You can hop on Uber Boat by Thames Clippers and go for a ride on the Thames for under 20 pounds. There you’ll glide by landmarks like Tower Bridge, the MI6 building, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament while getting fun photos. Reserve tickets in advance, in-app. Opt for a fun excursion on one of Skuna’s hot tub boats in chillier months! After your ride on the Thames, you can hop off and explore The British Museum, National Gallery, and Barbican Centre nearby. There’s zero shortage of exciting museums and arts experiences in the surrounding area.
Dive Into London’s Diverse Food Scene
Hop on the tube outside of Zone 1 (neighborhoods in central London) to Zone 2 or even Zone 3, and you’ll be thrust into foodie wonderlands with a broad range of exciting and diverse cuisines. Into Afro-Caribbean food? Try heading to Brixton for food halls like Brixton Market, specializing in regional Caribbean flavors. Or devote an entire evening to Camden and its unique and very cool restaurants like The Cheese Bar (exactly what you’d think) or local fav Alexander the Great. Staying in the West End means you’re just a short walk to the Piccadilly Circus line, where you can simply tap with Apple or Google pay in lieu of an Oyster card and whiz yourself to one of these exciting dining destinations.
Walk in the Footsteps of Your Favorite British Characters
Harry Potter, Bridget Jones, and James Bond are all wildly popular characters with one thing in common: they’re all Londoners. With so many iconic films and TV shows filmed in London, there’s plenty of sightseeing to be done surrounding film and TV favorites. You could create your own tour and bop about based on your beloved characters or do official tours from companies like Brit Movie Tours, which have tours surrounding London-based rom-coms, Doctor Who, and Peaky Blinders. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet your own Mark Darcy in the process? Cheers!
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What is the most central area to stay in London? ›
Covent Garden: The Most Central Place to Stay in London for First Time Visitors. What makes Covent Garden the best area to stay in London for first time visitors? One of the most central places to stay in London is Covent Garden. For that reason, it's a great neighborhood in London for tourists.Where should I stay in London to walk everywhere? ›
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.Is Chelsea London a good place to stay? ›
Chelsea – Best Area to Stay in London for Fashion and Shopping. The Chelsea area is a perfect place to stay in London especially if you love to shop and take in some fine dining. Known as the fashion capital of London, Chelsea has a charm all to its own.Where do rich live in London? ›
As well as the many wealthy Georgian homes, Mayfair is also home to the world-famous tailor district of Savile Row. New Bond Street is Mayfair's premier shopping district, housing some of the most luxurious shops and outlets.
SAFEST BOROUGHS IN 2021:
Richmond and Twickenham have been considered as the safest boroughs in 2021. Richmond is the safest place to live in the capital. It is a calm, welcoming village with beautiful riverside café's, shops, pubs, 100 parks and 140 hectares of Metropolitan Green Belt area.
1. Chelsea - 140 sales of £5 million-plus properties between 2020 and 2022. Strong domestic demand has made Chelsea London's most expensive area, exclusive research for The National conducted by Savills Research has found.Is Covent Garden a good place to stay? ›
Covent Garden is home to endless pubs, museums, restaurants, markets, and shops, and a majority of the famous West End theaters are also located in this neighborhood. The central location of Holborn and Covent Garden is perfect for first-time visitors hoping to make the most of their time in London.Is it safe to walk in London at night? ›
Safety. London is a big city and pretty safe overall – use your common sense when you're gallivanting around at night as you would in any other destination. We're not going to give you warning after warning about how to stay safe because we don't really think they're helpful or necessary.How many days in London is enough? ›
A solo trip to London can be an amazing way to see the city, and I would recommend planning for at least 4-5 days to really get a feel for everything.What is the nicest London borough? ›
Where is the hipster part of London? ›
If you want to see a side of London that is far from Westminster, Big Ben and the tourist hubs, a place that is authentically underground and has inspired decades of British music, look no further than Shoreditch.Where do most creatives live in London? ›
- Shoreditch. From artists and bohemians, to hipsters and hippies….no subculture goes uncovered in this artsy area. ...
- Camden. ...
- Notting Hill. ...
- Hackney. ...
- Clerkenwell. ...
- Fitzrovia. ...
- South Bank. ...
It's so easy to walk as a tourist in London, especially as most of the cities main tourist sites less than a half-hour walk between each other. Instead of getting the tube between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, walk through the backstreets of Chinatown.Is Paddington area safe? ›
An iconic train station, affluent population, and plenty to do. Paddington has a high violent crime rate and a high property crime rate for London.Is Kensington a nice area of London? ›
Is Kensington a nice area of London? Kensington in London is one of the best places in London. The quiet neighborhood makes it a perfect place for families to stay. Hyde Park & Winter Wonderland, where families enjoy their time, are Just to the north.Is Chelsea London posh? ›
What Are the Traditionally Posh Areas in London? Knightsbridge, the City of Westminster, and Chelsea are traditionally posh areas of London.What is the Chelsea neighborhood in London like? ›
Affluent, sophisticated and easy on the eye, Chelsea is a pretty area of London near to Hyde Park, South Kensington and Knightsbridge. It's widely known as one of London's safest and most desirable places to live.How far is it from London to Chelsea? ›
Distance between Chelsea and London is 836 kilometers (519 miles). Driving distance from Chelsea to London is 961 kilometers (597 miles).Where do celebrities live in UK? ›
Knightsbridge is popular among London's celebrities for one reason and one reason only: Number One Hyde Park. This address is known to be the most expensive piece of private real estate in the UK, and each flat costs approximately $11,000 per square foot.Where do upper middle class live in London? ›
Fulham and Putney
With its picturesque Victorian houses and proximity to the King's Road and Chelsea, Fulham is a desirable suburb popular with middle-class families as well as young professionals. Putney is just south of Fulham, over the river, and is popular with Australians, New Zealanders and South African expats.
What side of London is posh? ›
West London is typically seen as the more posh side of the city, while East London is known for being a bit more gritty.Is West London safest? ›
Much of West London is considered to be a very safe place to live. Richmond is the London area with the lowest crime rate of all, according to police figures. Meanwhile, Westminster is often cited as the London borough with the highest overall crime rate.What is the poorest part of London? ›
Poorest Borough in London
The boroughs with the highest number of people residing in poverty are Tower Hamlets (39%), Newham (37%) and Hackney (36%).
A solo trip to London can be an amazing way to see the city, and I would recommend planning for at least 4-5 days to really get a feel for everything.Is Covent Garden a good place to stay? ›
Covent Garden is the best area to stay in London, especially if you're visiting for the first time, it has many attractions, it offers easy access to transport and you'll find some of the best hotels like Covent Garden Hotel, Firmdale Hotels.How do you get around in London? ›
Trams have the same fares as buses.
- London Overground.
- TfL Rail.
- London Trams.
Bloomsbury is one of the most central areas for inexpensive accommodation in London. It's within walking distance of the West End, but has a sedate atmosphere and is surprisingly quiet, especially at night.What is the best month to go to London? ›
The best time to visit London is March through May when the temperatures are mild and the city's parks are green and blooming. However, late spring – along with summer – is also prime tourist season, and hotel and flight prices reflect the surge.
Do you tip in London? ›
Typically, people tip around 10-15% in London, except for when using taxis or public transport, where a smaller tip is frequently accepted. Tour guides do not need to be tipped, but this is up to the customer to decide. Some restaurants add an automatic tip to your bill.Is it better to visit London or Paris? ›
Paris is a great city to explore during the day, but when it comes to nightlife in Paris and partying, London wins it hands down whether it's variety, atmosphere, location, and price. Sure, there are night Seine cruises and fun Parisian cabarets, but these attractions are mainly for tourists.Is it safe to walk in London at night? ›
Safety. London is a big city and pretty safe overall – use your common sense when you're gallivanting around at night as you would in any other destination. We're not going to give you warning after warning about how to stay safe because we don't really think they're helpful or necessary.Is Covent Garden a nice part of London? ›
If it's your first time in London, then Covent Garden is the best neighborhood to base yourself. It is centrally located, has a great dining and theatre scene and is within an easy walking distance of numerous big attractions, such as the National Gallery, Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.Is London walkable? ›
London is one of the world's most walkable major cities according to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), in a ranking of around 1000 cities.Is 3 days enough in London? ›
Possible Day Trips from London. If you only have 3 days in London you certainly won't need to leave the city for want of things to do. If this is your first visit, we actually would recommend spending the full 3 days in London as there is so much to see, do, eat, and take in!Are buses still free in London? ›
All buses in London are cash-free.Is it easy to walk around London? ›
The London Outer Orbital Path, or LOOP, almost completely encircles Greater London. Nearly 150 miles are split into 24, bite-sized walks. A 40-mile stretch of easy, level walking on both sides of the river, the path stretches from Hampton Court Palace through the heart of London to East India Dock.Where do intellectuals live in London? ›
Bloomsbury is a district in the West End of London. It is considered a fashionable residential area, and is the location of numerous cultural, intellectual, and educational institutions.Is Bloomsbury London Expensive? ›
There is a range of rooms types and prices available in Bloomsbury. You will find that Bloomsbury is slightly more expensive than equivalent hotels slightly further out from central London.
Is Bloomsbury expensive to live? ›
Bloomsbury, with its stylish and elegant atmosphere and proximity to central London, is a great location to live in London. It's popular with professionals and students who want to live close to work and university. Rental prices in the area range from £260 to £1260 per week. The current average rent is £535 per week.