Good London neighborhoods to stay and eat in for someone traveling alone?
March 20, 2012 3:55 AM   Subscribe

Visiting London for the first time, alone - Have any recommendations as to where to stay or eat comfortably?

Hello, hello! I'm a twenty-something female who's not skittish about traveling alone, but being clearly non-native and walking/eating by myself has sadly invited unwanted attention in the past. Can you help me discover comfortable places/good neighborhoods to stay in and some recommendations for food? I just don't want to stick out like a sore thumb, really; I know I can't avoid unwanted attention entirely, but there have to be better places than others, right?

Thanks in advance :)

[Aside: I'm coming in on the TGV on either Friday or Saturday, and open to meeting up with folks if anyone's interested!]
posted by xiadagio to Travel & Transportation around London, England (26 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I felt very comfortable walking, shopping, and eating alone in Camden Town. Masala Zone is pretty great.
posted by neushoorn at 4:06 AM on March 20, 2012


I am also a twenty-something female who does most things by herself, and I would say you'd basically be OK in central London at most times of the day or night.

Endsleigh Court are comfortable and nice serviced apartments in Bloomsbury, which I think is a really good place for a tourist - it's near to the British Museum, lots of shops and restaurants, and a number of tube lines (Euston, Kings Cross, Russell Square) which will take you anywhere you need to go. It's a busy, picturesque and pretty place with a lot of literary history behind it and the home of University College London, SOAS and Birkbeck so it has a nice student-y vibe and some great second-hand bookshops. It's basically pretty safe (apart from the area just around Kings Cross which can get dodgy late at night) although of course you would need to watch out for pickpockets etc as in most places. I don't think you will stick out like a sore thumb at all being by yourself. I go most places myself and never get any unwanted attention.

Time Out and the various London restaurant blogs (this one's my favourite) should have plenty of recommendations for good places to eat. I wouldn't worry about eating alone. I have done that a fair few times and never felt particularly awkward.

If you do stay in Bloomsbury, I have to recommend Chilli Cool, an unassuming little Szechuan place - absolutely delicious food, if you like it spicy.

Have a great time, wherever you choose to stay!
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:09 AM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh and also!

being clearly non-native

This won't matter in London, especially not the central parts where there are lots of tourists and students. :)
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:18 AM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


For a proper breakfast try the Regency Café
posted by exois at 4:27 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Agreed with Ziggy500 in that central London is swarming with tourists all year round. I know, I lived in Bloomsbury. The top languages being Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese. Hearing English would sometimes be rare. It can sometimes be hard to find someone who is not a tourist. On top of that, even the residents of central London are an extremely diverse crowd.

Just stay in the touristy heart which does include Bloomsbury and I guarantee you won't stick out. I don't know what your budget is but you can usually reliably get fresh sandwiches to go at places like Marks & Spencer or Pret a Manger.
posted by vacapinta at 4:35 AM on March 20, 2012


If you're into somewhat Spartan places to stay I recommend the Penn Club in Russell Square. A great location, plus, although you can stay as private as you like, they also have tables for people who want to chat at breakfast and a meeting point for people who want to go out to dinner in a group. It's a great location and a great place to talk to interesting people on your own terms.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:43 AM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you can afford it, this is definitely the best place to stay in London right now. It also has two amazing restaurants; the cheaper one, The Corner Room, is unmissable - the kind of food you remember all your life, for mid-range prices. It's literally just up the road from Columbia Road flower market and Brick Lane market, both on Sunday and both simply delightful. It's on the Central line so getting into the West End etc is really easy. It's just up the road from the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood which is an overlooked gem of a museum.

Also, eat at Jen Cafe in Chinatown, which is just on a corner in Newport Place. It's laid-back and cheap and I've never been there with anyone who didn't love it. The dumplings are the best and they have an astonishing drinks menu which, while undoubtedly containing some concoctions that Were Not Meant To Be (coffee/tea/hot coca-cola mixture? really?) also has a very good selection of teas and other non-alcoholic beverages.

London is the best place in the world to be on your own because the standoffishness of the English temperament combines with the whatever-goesness of being in a big cosmopolitan city and so everyone just ignores each other all the time. You would have to go massively out of your way to attract any attention for anything.
posted by Acheman at 5:11 AM on March 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Holy wow, thanks for all the suggestions! This is getting super exciting.

- I'm arriving Friday eve and leaving Sunday eve, sadly - It's a weekend getaway from Paris/work. Hearing some English and Japanese would be quite welcome right now, haha.

- No particular budget that I'm sticking to, just going to enjoy :)

- Speaking of money: Does anyone know if I'll be able to use my French carte bancaire (it's a chip-and-pin Visa) or are magnetic stripe US credit cards better? I'm ashamed to say I still don't understand the prevalence of certain card technologies in Europe... (safe to say I'll be bringing lots of GBP just in case)

- I love me some good ol' tourist traps but am more likely to venture beyond them as well. The problem seems to be that I don't often look like a tourist and blend in just enough for folks to feel right coming up to me, but stick out enough and am usually solo; thus, I become an interesting target? Couple that with not knowing and walking through the wrong place and you get the problem? (Not sure, just a theory obviously.) It's something that happens in American and European cities, regardless of whether I speak the language or not :/

Thank you all again! Looking all of these up right now :)
posted by xiadagio at 5:28 AM on March 20, 2012


Does anyone know if I'll be able to use my French carte bancaire (it's a chip-and-pin Visa) or are magnetic stripe US credit cards better?

Chip and pin all the way. Its pretty much a European standard and that includes the UK.
posted by vacapinta at 5:33 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a 40-something woman who was in London last year on my own (and I"m going again this year). I actually stayed in one of the Youth Hostels - the Central London one was pretty well-located (I ended up being able to walk to a lot of places I wanted to get to), and was clean and decent; and the staff even coped well when I accidentally locked my keys in my locker 1 hour before I had to leave for the airport. (Yeah. I was dumb.)

Regent Park is a lovely place for a walk; if you go up to the north side of the park, you can then walk along the canal to Camden Market. Then go for a canal boat ride back.

I was actually pretty surprised how walkable London is - my first day, I was there to see a play, and decided to walk from my hotel down Charing Cross Road to the theater (it seemed walkable) -- and gave myself an hour. It took me about 20 minutes. So then I kept walking a little bit further, and after about ten minutes I was already at Trafalgar Square (which I thought would be another half hours' walk). I think I only ended up using the Tube about three times.

Final heads-up -- I had trouble with my debit card in a couple places; the self-ticket kiosk in the Tube wouldn't accept it, and the cheapo ATMs-in-the-corner-shops wouldn't either. Someone told me that they'd heard there was some kind of coding conflict between American-issued debit cards and some of these machines; I would probably have to use my ATM card at a proper bank ATM, and my actual proper credit card if I needed to charge something. It was annoying, but turned out to be true (I got cash just fine at a bank's ATM). So be aware of so you don't do what I did and have a jet-lagged freakout in a Tube station because fuck my bank card isn't working and i only have ten pounds on me holy crap.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:37 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


And on preview - yeah, seconding the advice against the US bankcard, as my tale illustrates. There are issues.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:38 AM on March 20, 2012


I was in London last month with only magnetic-strip debit, ATM, and credit cards. After the initial panic I found that most of the nicer ATMs and even some of the self-pay kiosks in tube stations have a little graphic on them illustrating which kinds of cards they accept. I also found some banks would have both chip & pin only AND magnetic-strip reading ATMs, but you had to make sure you used the right one. It was a minor inconvenience, but dealable. If you have a chip & pin card you should be all set.

And seconding the comments about not standing out. It's a very big city with tons of tourists and immigrants. Nobody gives a crap. If you can stand crowds, I highly recommend a visit to the giant, sprawling, gorgeous Borough Market.
posted by mneekadon at 6:24 AM on March 20, 2012


Seconding Prȇt à Manger, excellent fresh sandwiches!
posted by Tom-B at 6:33 AM on March 20, 2012


If you can stand crowds, I highly recommend a visit to the giant, sprawling, gorgeous Borough Market.

I came in to recommend exactly this. Saturdays at Borough are one of my favorite memories (go early or late to avoid the crowds but it's totally worth it). Be sure to check out the Neal's Yard Dairy around the corner, too. It's one of the world's great cheese shops. (I used to work there, full disclosure.)
posted by gauche at 6:47 AM on March 20, 2012


Go to Borough on a Thursday and you can avoid it being too crowded.
posted by laukf at 8:08 AM on March 20, 2012


If you don't want to look like a tourist, carry a carrier bag from a local supermarket. Even if your race marks you out as an incomer (not really applicable in cosmopolitan London) you still look like a resident incomer.
posted by Idcoytco at 8:57 AM on March 20, 2012


I'm a 20-something female who spent nearly two months in London last summer. While I wasn't technically traveling alone (I was there to visit my then-boyfriend and staying with him), I spent most days out wandering around by myself while he was at work.

I found London to be very lone-female friendly. I'm really good at the whole pay attention to your surroundings thing (which is good, because petty street thefts seem to be really bad in London--I saw a bike theft, a couple bag-snatchings, an attempted pickpocketing, and heard about the aftermath of many more in my short time there--so watch out), and that alone was pretty much all I needed.

I totally understand your concern about unwanted attention, which tends to happen a LOT as a 20-something female out doing stuff alone in the US, but I didn't experience any of that while I was over there. No catcalls, no "hey, whatcha reading," no attempts at groping on transit. I got the occasional inquisitive talky guy, but at no point did I ever feel unsafe.

I think I also really stuck out as a(n American) tourist. I speak loudly, I wear sneakers with pretty much everything, I get lost ALL THE TIME and am not afraid of stopping someone on the street to ask for directions, etc. It was never an issue. That said, the 20-something femaleness will work in your favor when you're lost. I found many Londoners to be (how should I put this) unhelpful a lot of the time in helping a wayward tourist. I had the best luck asking elderly women, men standing drinking outside of pubs, and folks who appear to be immigrants whenever I needed help with something. YMMV.

Before I left, I asked my own AskMe about stuff to do. I got lots of great answers.

I'd also like to just chime in and say that I found Borough Market extremely overrated. Maybe you won't. But if I were only in London for a weekend, I wouldn't want to waste my time there. Again, YMMV.

Also, I got something to eat at Pret nearly every day. Pret is great if you need to sit someplace and eat while trying to figure out where to go next, but also great if you want to grab something to eat while walking.

posted by phunniemee at 9:19 AM on March 20, 2012


If you're into fish and chips, I'm told that the Seashell at 49-51 Lisson Grove, NW1 is the best. I certainly thought it was very good, although the portions were enormous (think, 4x10x25cm).

When I visit someplace new I also go into a few grocery stores and just buy anything that catches my fancy. I've found some foods that were remarkably good, and almost none that were regrettably bad.

And, yes, I think wandering around with a Tesco's bag does make you look a little less like a tourist, although I got the impression that London saw enough tourists that being a tourist is not a problem. Notice how the pedestrian crossings are painted with instructions for which way to look for oncoming traffic: that's not there for the locals!
posted by d. z. wang at 9:30 AM on March 20, 2012


After perusing many many AskMes, I think I've decided to go on two walking tours to start: One for foodies and one for a general run down of the big spots in Westminster/West End. Once I figure out what I dig, I'll wander about on my own :) Strongly considering Borough Market, but perhaps it'll be covered by the foodie tour? Let's hope I get to kill two birds with one stone.

Pret is great if you need to sit someplace and eat while trying to figure out where to go next, but also great if you want to grab something to eat while walking.

People in London eat while walking? THAT's going to be a culture shock! Thank you for the other tidbits as well, phunniemee!

I got the impression that London saw enough tourists that being a tourist is not a problem.

Yes! Precisely what I'd like to do: Hiding in plain sight among "the tourists". I don't know why, but I'm constantly approached by people (tourists and locals alike) whether for directions or awkward catcalls or coffee requests. My boyfriend thinks it's endearing that I'm approachable, but it's somehow been amplified since I moved to Europe and so has the unwanted attention as well. Hence, attempting to avoid the bad areas at least.
posted by xiadagio at 10:05 AM on March 20, 2012


People in London eat while walking? THAT's going to be a culture shock! Thank you for the other tidbits as well, phunniemee!

Hmm...it's very possible that only I eat while walking. I don't pay a whole lot of attention. (Probably because I'm too busy cramming my face.)
posted by phunniemee at 10:14 AM on March 20, 2012


Nthing that you'll probably be fine. I spent six months in London last year (studying abroad) and I think I was catcalled... twice? And chatted up by a drunk guy on the tube once? And I walked all over on my own. My impression of British culture is that generally, men don't so much as make eye contact with women unless they're drunk and at a bar or club. I had way more unwanted attention in two months I spent in Austin, TX than the entire time I spent in London.

Also seconding that London is crazy walkable. The tube is great for getting a longer distance in a shortish amount of time, but if you're staying anywhere central you can probably walk anywhere you want to go, and there's stuff to see anywhere you are. Some of my favorite London experiences were setting out to walk somewhere, getting slightly turned around, discovering interesting buildings and little parks and generally enjoying the journey as much as the destination. Almost every bus shelter has a little map of the area on it, as do the Barclays bike stands, which is very helpful when you get turned around as much as I do.
posted by MadamM at 10:52 AM on March 20, 2012


If you are going to walk around London, this is a great resource to use.

As an American, for the love of sweet Jesus, think twice about walking round in white sneakers, a safe choice of trousers and some windproof jacket unless you want to flag loud and clear you're not from around here.

London has many hidden treasures. It's worth getting a book like this.

If you want one hot tip: get yourself a tube map, a bus map and an oyster card the moment you get here.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:32 PM on March 20, 2012


I can support the suggestion of Bloomsbury as a good place to stay, and my hotel for all my London stays has been the Ridgemount Hotel in Gower St. It's family-run and they are very helpful with suggestions of places to visit and how to get there. It's also about three minutes' walk from the British Museum and from the nearest Tube station. The only issue you'll encounter is that the single rooms, if that's what you book, are tiny. All the rooms are fairly basic - just bed, wardrobe, telly - but it's clean and the windows are double glazed which keeps the street noise out.

I wasn't travelling alone, but I was out in the evenings alone several times and didn't feel unsafe at all. The only crime-related incident we encountered was an unsuccessful attempt to sneak a purse out of a handbag - just make sure you keep everything zipped up tight.

And yes, walk walk walk. My most magical London day ever was the very first day I was there, when we did little but walk around all the areas we'd heard and read about for years, soaking up the atmosphere and the omg-I'm-in-London vibe. There are little interesting quirks and shops and blue plaques and buildings all over the place.
posted by andraste at 2:41 PM on March 20, 2012


For maps: Already have them on my mobile! The Labs section in the Maps app on ICS allows you to cache 10 sq. miles for offline viewing and also preserves metro stops and any saved places you have. And of course, it works in conjunction with the GPS even while disconnected from the network. I highly recommend this method for any Android users.

As an American, for the love of sweet Jesus, think twice about walking round in white sneakers, a safe choice of trousers and some windproof jacket unless you want to flag loud and clear you're not from around here.

I'm Japanese and I live in Paris - I walk to my supermarket in heels. You cannot get away with lousy dress in this city, nor in Tokyo!

Last time I'm going to mention this, but my problem is not that I look like a tourist (rather, I'm getting mistaken for the exact opposite). I'm expecting to walk and wander a lot, so I'm trying instead to root out the situation in certain areas beforehand and avoid the very worst of unwanted attention, if any, regardless of dress.
posted by xiadagio at 3:22 PM on March 20, 2012


Er.. OK. I don't wear white sneakers because they hurt my teeth when I take my foot out.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:42 PM on March 21, 2012


Last time I'm going to mention this, but my problem is not that I look like a tourist (rather, I'm getting mistaken for the exact opposite). I'm expecting to walk and wander a lot, so I'm trying instead to root out the situation in certain areas beforehand and avoid the very worst of unwanted attention, if any, regardless of dress.


Maybe the reason that people are giving you advice about not "looking like a tourist" is because you said you didn't want to "stick out". Can you explain what you did mean by "sticking out"?

If all you mean is, you're trying to discourage people from asking you for directions and such because they think you DO live in London -- then, heh, maybe you should be trying TO look like a tourist on purpose. (grin)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:47 PM on March 21, 2012


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