How to work out where to stay in London without giving yourself a migraine or giving up on your dream to, well, afford to do anything else in life. Born and bred in London and now a professional traveller, here's my guide on finding the best place for you.
Working out where to stay in London can become a puzzle to befuddle the best of us. Even us Londoners.
Location is key, since London's size and complexity means a quick search for "London's city centre" or "downtown" is a fool's mission. Londoners allow themselves at least an hour to reach anywhere for anything important. Whether travelling to London for business or on holiday, no-one wants to spend any more time underground than they need to.
But enough doom and gloom. London is a vibrant, energetic, captivating capital that really does earn its reputation as a city of the world. And it's not hard to find a great place to stay, despite those initial frustrations.
The key is knowing what's most important to you for each particular trip. Is there something you're desperate to see? A conference location you have to reach? A day trip you want to squeeze in somewhere else?
London has enough to fill a lifetime. But let's start one trip at a time.
If you're a first time visitor to London (or in need of a refresh) then check out the sections on how to get around London first as this is mission critical.
After that, I've divided this guide into London neighbourhoods, picking out my top recommendations, tried and tested, for each place.
The London public transport systems is actually pretty good, even though it's something of a national sport to pretend that it isn't. Taxis have their place but inner city traffic can snarl up, even in dedicated taxi lanes, and so it's useful to look at alternatives.
The Tube (the London Underground) is the oldest in the world, and consequently has many historic "quirks." It serves a huge area and those are divided into zones. Zone 1 is central. Zone 2 is reasonably central. And Zones 3-6 are usually residential. If you decide to stay in these zones, make sure it's a conscious decision to experience London like a local, before you spend half your time commuting in and out.
There are many ticket options but the most useful for visitors are either Travelcards or the pay-as-you-go Oyster card.
A Travelcard gives you unlimited travel at any time on bus, Tube, Tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and National Rail services in London. There are different options, such as day cards or group ones.
An Oyster card is a plastic smartcard that you can pre-load with credit so that you can tap in and out as you travel in London on the bus, Tube, Tram, DLR, Overground, TfL Rail and most National Rail services in London. It means you don't have to faff about with paper tickets and it's a cheap way to pay for single journeys.
Top tip: always check the closest tube station before you book. It helps you get your bearings and is often the best way to get around.
London is a city of neighbourhoods that have grown and blended together over a period of more than 2000 years. As a result, local character oozes from every smoke-dusted, ivy covered brick. But the place names can be confusing.
Here's a quick overview, in very rough terms of where to stay in London based on neighbourhoods. Find more detail on the neighbourhoods themselves, and the accommodation options, further on down.
Paddington & Bayswater - Can be a little uninspiring in terms of food and accommodation but very handy for Heathrow and with great connections into London to the West and Wales. Plus, jog through Hyde Park in the morning.
Maida Vale Calm and beautiful waterways a little further out from the hustle and bustle. Easy connections to Paddington.
Bermondsey - Cool, rising are of chic south of the river. Affordable and design oriented.
Covent Garden and Leicester Square - the West End of theatre and a haven for tourists. Easy to walk around, constant street performers - and crowds.
South Kensington and Knightsbridge - well-heeled access to the "Museum District" and Albert Hall. (Although, you'll find museums all across London.)
The City of London isn't the city of London
Wait, what?! Technically speaking, the City of London is the financial heart of Greater London, often referred to as the Square Mile. It has precise historic boundaries, its own government and even a Lord Mayor (that's a different person to the Mayor of London.) Confused? Don't worry about it, it won't make a difference to your trip. It's just an interesting piece of trivia ;-)
Wimbledon - A green escape from the mania of inner city life yet still well connected by underground and overground. Oh yes. And there's some tennis.
Earl's Court - Main exhibition area (other than Excel to the east) and full of residential shift workers (I used to be one.)
Shoreditch - Where the cool hang out. Find a separate collection of boutique hotels in Shoreditch over here.
Greenwich - Maritime history and hills. Definite village vibe with reasonable connections to Waterloo but a little further out than many would like.
Camden Town - Edgy, creative but not unpretentious.
Notting Hill - Antiques and rockstars in quiet leafy streets with white facades. Easy to reach other areas.
Baker Street - Sherlock Holmes memorabilia and Madame Tussauds.
Marble Arch and Oxford Streets - shopping. Busy.
Recommended reading: Unusual Things to do in London
Mayfair and Piccadilly - Glossy, parkside, uber-luxe. Park Lane is one of the most prestigious addresses in London (and Monopoly.)
Westminster - handy for Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Can feel a little soulless after dark.
London Bridge and Southwark - right next to the Shard and Tower Bridge (the famous one) it's a mix of modern glam and ye olde history.
Victoria and Pimlico - a little edgy around the station, it's a buzzing are full of up and coming residents and transport to the south.
Hammersmith - Leafy and respectable with a young, professional vibe. Lots of key entertainment haunts. Quiet away from those.
Given that transport is so key to working out the best place to stay in London, here's a handy overview. Always check the closest Underground Station for your hotel or guest house. From there, you can get anywhere.
London Heathrow Airport feeds into Paddington Station by Heathrow Express or the Piccadilly Line (dark blue) on the Underground.
As a side note, Heathrow is the easiest airport for reaching central London, followed by Gatwick. The others take considerably more time.
Paddington connects to the Cotswolds, the West, Wales and the Southwest Devon and Cornwall.
London Gatwick Airport feeds in to Victoria on the Gatwick Express or other, slower, regional trains. Victoria is on the District, Circle and Victoria Line.
Victoria serves the south, including Brighton and Southampton.
London Stansted Airport feeds into London King's Cross Station. Journeys take around an hour. King's Cross has six excellent Underground connections, including Circle, Piccadilly, Hammersmith and City, Northern, Metropolitan and Victoria.
King's Cross connects London to Cambridge and the Fens, and even to Edinburgh in Scotland.
London Luton Airport feeds into Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon and St Pancras International.
London City is connected via its own DLR station, enabling easy travel to central London. It offers journey times of less than seven minutes to Canning Town or Woolwich Arsenal, and 17 minutes to Stratford International.
Personally, I love a hand-tested recommendation. That's why you'll find my personal London hotel style-file below. But sometimes you have too many criteria to juggle, too many things to sift through.
When that happens, it's good to use a search engine. I have my favourites but, sadly, none are perfect and all seem to stumble with London. Because the city is so big, what looks like a good deal may end up being out in the middle of nowhere. So, always, always, always, check the location first.
If you book through some of the links on this page, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. However, we only ever recommend things we believe in and use ourselves. Some, but not all, of the stays at these places were hosted for review purposes. See the small print below for thrillingly exciting details.
My favourite travel websites for finding somewhere special include:
When other factors are more important, these are the belt and braces sites:
An original Victorian terrace with high ceilings and dizzyingly elegant staircases that embraces bright, contemporary colours. Designed to look good on an instagram feed.
Bare brick and white walls mingle with midnight blue velvet, hot pink cherry blossom and toy-box green while musical notes dance across cushion covers and chunky wooden ampersand figures look down at you from the shelves.
The 111 rooms at the Ampersand have distinct themes, based on the surrounding area, with bedside books like What a Plant Knows and Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History reflecting the botanical slant of the nearby Natural History Museum.
We stayed in Room 311, a luxuriously large room by London standards – and indeed almost anywhere in the world. It’s one of the hotel’s Deluxe Studios with a spacious seating area and screened area for unpacking, clothes storage and somewhere to stash the Nespresso machine.
The chief joy was the king-size bed with its studded headboard that loomed like a character from Alice in Wonderland.
A Games Room, Library and small Wine Room, a small open-plan business area and small gym (which I’ll confess to not having tested.)
Wifi is included throughout and there is parking at the back of the hotel.
Dining at Apero
Tapas has a sketchy reputation in the UK, often with good reason, yet the flavours of Apero’s migas and Iberico ham croquettas made me fall in love with the idea all over again. Plus, they had my favourite Spanish dish: the small green peppers from Padron. Salty, crunchy, marvellous.
Apero doubles as an evening restaurant and breakfast area but the character and design of the place makes both appropriate. Breakfast combines a buffet with a la carte options and is fully stocked with the 2017 staple of avocado and sourdough, with a twist of juicy chorizo, poached eggs, feta and olives.
Apero neatly sidesteps the hotel trap of feeling like an afterthought with its bare-brick walls, white tiles and teal blue studded chairs providing a completely separate feel.
Its location in the basement beneath the Victorian Arches provides cosiness rather than claustrophobia and the judicious use of curtains converts alcoves into snug hideaways.
What I loved
Location – a quick walk to the Natural History Museum, Royal Albert Hall, Hyde Park and Harrods.
Stunning, uplifting lounge area.
Beautiful design linked in to the local area: snippets on natural history everywhere.
What to know
Rooms are quite different in terms of facilities and design, so if you have your heart set on something in particular then double check before you book.
Insider Tip: Take Science Afternoon Tea in the Drawing Room. Sky-blue alcoves with glass domed artefacts, strutting peacock designs, neat teacups and flowers upon flowers everywhere. This provides a refreshing new way to experience an old tradition.
The Conrad London (technically the Conrad London St James Hotel) has all you’d expect from a classical luxury London hotel. Creams, golds, attentive service, fast wifi, in-room coffee units and an impressive concierge.
The Blue Boar Bar, on the other hand, delivers a deliciously devilish look into British politics – and a mean display of British condiments to boot.
See Margaret Thatcher’s beaked nose and brash handbag dominate over proceedings. Watch Bo-Jo’s blonde fop-mop flop around. Look out for Churchill, Cameron, the gloss-eyed Blair and the brooding Brown.
What I Loved
What To Know
Look out for the cartoon pig coasters, saying that “this is a safe seat” and the wall-fitted bell that used to ring to tell the occupants that it was time to go back to the House of Commons.
The London Bridge Hotel lives next to London’s record breaking The Shard and is only a hop, skip and a jump away from London Bridge
London Bridge Hotel is a comfortable, stylish independent four star boutique hotel decked out in plums, scarlet, jet black and white. While not the most luxurious property in London, it does excel within its four star bracket. Staff are knowledgeable, helpful and polite and rooms are clean, cool and well-equipped with flat-screen TVs and complimentary wifi. It’s a short walk from the well-connected London Bridge station, as well as a flotilla of international restaurants and plenty of chances for sightseeing.
The Quarter Bar & Lounge serve great mid-week cocktails.
What I loved
The London Bridge Fizz cocktail at the Quarter Bar – fresh raspberries and blackberries soaked in the warmth of cherry brandy and crème de mure, topped with Prosecco
The location: so close to the resplendent Tower Bridge and so convenient for accessing central London
The history found buried below: Roman remains in one of the most modern cities on earth.
Things to know
Because of its location, the week nights are the busiest in the bar. So if it’s atmosphere you’re after, that’s the best time to visit. If it’s peace and quiet – paradoxically – try the weekend.
Rooms are on the small side - but a travel cot still fits in!
Top tip: Try the Macaroon Cocktail – which takes cognac-caramelised raspberries and throws them together with Gran Marnier and Prosecco.
The name put me off, I'll confess, as I thought it was a hostel. But it's not.
It's a modern, on-trend blend between a sterile self-catered apartment and a design-led boutique hotel.
Rooms involve full kitchens and there's a laundry and garden on site. Most importantly, there's a soul alive and kicking here, which is missing in so many places.
"Home is a feeling," is the motto and that includes the herb garden you're encouraged to use, the local community guides and the yoga mat stashed away for communal use.
Check-in is electronic (you won't find reception staff here) but that means you don't need to faff about meeting someone with keys, the downside of so many B&Bs, Air BnB or other self-catered arrangements.
Importantly, for converted houses in London, there is also a lift.
What I loved
Spirit and soul - the encouragement to explore the local neighbourhood and interact with other residents was a tonic in London.
Design - sparse brick and reclaimed furniture made cosy with throws and little touches.
Flexibility - great for people with additional needs, like families or long term business travellers or those with dietary restrictions. Easy laundry options for those on a long term jaunt.
What to know
Hammersmith is not in Central London but it's an easy walk to the tube and an easy 20 minute journey from there.
Insider tip: head into the garden to pick your own herbs. Rustle up a dinner in your own room while the sun sets through the cherry blossom.
The name was a pleasure, the stay a joy. Yes, so the name won me over with its sense of romance, but I simply didn’t care.
The moment I hauled my aching body into the bare brick corridor, I felt my troubles soothe. My creativity return.
Hipster cool with plenty of quirky decor that makes you feel more fashionable just by looking at it. Expect sweet jars, bare brick walls, shabby-chic turquoise tables and retro telephones that may make you realise just how old you really are…
Only 10 rooms, each decorated in a unique bright white with splashes of colour style. Bare wood floors, white tiled bathrooms with vintage bath fittings, open plan wardrobes and radios from the days before TV had been invented. Although, there are TVs. And, of course, wifi…
An easy five minute walk from Victoria Station (the entrance hub from London Gatwick Airport) yet within easy reach of the more fashionable Kensington, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and Westminster Abbey.
What I loved
Design – gets the creative juices flowing!
Brunch - the linked restaurant is tasty, fun and offers an intriguing insight into the goings on in London.
What to know
Rooms are quite different in terms of facilities and design so if you have your heart set on something in particular then double check before you book. Building layout includes narrow corridors and lots of stairs.
Insider info: Breakfast has become an event in its own right in Pimlico and if you stay quiet over your coffee and avocado in the morning you’ll overhear all kind of it crowd gossip and political insider dealings.
In a quiet street in a great big city, The Arch Hotel London goes about its business.
Bursting with flowers, plush sofas and eye-catching art, it’s a boutique hotel that’s paid attention to design without losing its focus on the hospitality that matters. It’s five star luxury that’s independently owned.
There are 82 rooms spread over four floors and the decor is different in each.
There’s the Welbeck suite, where a four poster bed sits plumped up with pillows and the double-ended bath seems primed for a long soak, with a TV screen overlooking the bubbles and a bath pillow already in place.
The Martini Library combines vintage maps with modern art. The bar, meanwhile, pulls off an energetic vibe beneath a glowing bouquet of bare lightbulbs, with chiffon curtained booths for those after a little more privacy.
Restaurant Hunter 486, caters for all hour travellers: burgers and bar snacks live among the steak tartare and venison, and wines come by the bottle as well as by the glass.
And the staff are passionate about cocktails. If you manage to leave without having one, I’ll be more than impressed!
What I loved
Location – a quick walk to Oxford Street, Hyde Park and Marble Arch. Easily within Zone 1 for all major London attractions
Cosy library and reading room
Great set up for meetings or semi-private dinners
Great for business or romantic getaways
What to know
Rooms are quite different in terms of facilities and design so if you have your heart set on something in particular then double check before you book.
Insider info: the staff love their cocktails. And are keen to invent one just for you...
Disclosure: I've visited London many, many times. Some stays in this post were hosted and some were not. One things for sure, all are worth sharing with you!
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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