London neighborhoods for tourists
February 15, 2006 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Question about where to stay in London, and the character of different neighborhoods.

In the reading I've done, I haven't been able to get a good sense of the boundaries and character of the different areas of London--especially in the context of where to stay. I'm not so much interested in particular hotels as the part of London in which it would be best to stay. Some notes about us and our trip:
  • My first time, my travel partner's second time
  • Four nights
  • Would prefer a regular hotel, as opposed to a rented flat
  • We will not rent a car, and will probably not go further than the Tube will take us
  • We will being doing some first-timer stuff, like Tate Modern, Shakespeare Globe, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge, taking in a West End show, et cetera
  • What we really enjoy most about visiting a new city is walking around, enjoying the architecture and "feel" of different neighborhoods--although we do not necessarily need to stay in the most architecturally interesting place; convenience is more important
  • We are pretty laid back, no need to be in party central
  • Budget: US $100-$200 per night.
We appreciate any advice you can give. I'll be around if anyone has further questions.
posted by deadfather to Travel & Transportation around London, England (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Greenwich would probably be a good place for you.

It's a reasonably cosy, coffee-cultureish place a few miles out, but it has a tube station (well a Docklands Light Railway station to be precise, but it all hooks up) and it has a lot of sedate, "sensible" attractions like the Greenwich Observatory, the Cutty Sark (a big ye olde boat), and the gorgeous Greenwich Park. Greenwich is a great place to walk around, and it's only thirty minutes max from anywhere interesting in London.
posted by wackybrit at 9:35 AM on February 15, 2006

Most of the cheesy (and cheaper) tourist hotels are around the Bayswater / Queensway area. The area itself isn't actually bad per se, but it feels spectacularly commercial and isn't a particularly warm experience. I think you might prefer to avoid this area. Your best bet is probably to base yourself around the broader soho area if you can - particularly if you can find somewhere north of Oxford Street that seems nice and isn't too expensive, Bloomsbury perhaps. Should put you in easy walking range of lots of interesting stuff without feeling like you're in a tourist cattle trap.
posted by bifter at 9:40 AM on February 15, 2006

Some nice places in Clerkenwell, like the Zetter, and others. Very central, easy to walk to a bunch of attractions and transportation links elsewhere.
Otherwise consider Greenwich, Borough maybe even Primrose Hill/Belsize Park.
posted by cushie at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2006

Another vote for Bloomsbury. These places aren't super nice, but they are in your price range and will be comfortable to sleep/shower in (I've stayed there and put my parents there):

You'll be able to walk to just about everything and there is a tube and lots of buses right there.

My parents found it really easy and they are NOT city people.
posted by k8t at 10:15 AM on February 15, 2006

Just stay out of the Bayswater/ Queensway / Paddington and Kings cross rat holes. You should stay where local tourists would stay. I often take a family room at a Travelodge. My choices in order would be (1) Covent Garden (2)Islington. Or look for the Ibis London City (an Accor Hotel) very near the arty areas in the east-end. Another chain I use is Premier Inn. The best for you are County Hall just by the London Eye, Southark just near Tate Modern. All the above are motel style. Clean, modern, & functional. They are somewhat charmless but who cares you are only planning to sleep there. The rates vary a lot depending on when you book, can you cancel, and big discounts for weekends. Expect GBP40~80.Between you and me, see what rate you can get at Sofitel St James London. It is a fantastic hotel but charges only double motel. If you can afford it stay there but don't tell anyone about it.
posted by priorpark17 at 10:32 AM on February 15, 2006

Three of the tourist spots you mention (the Globe, the Tate Modern, Tower Bridge) are in roughly the same part of London... broadly described as Southwark/ Borough. There is actually a fairly decent Premier Travel Inn right there in a quite delightful cobbled area - it will cost you around £80 a night, which is in your budget. From that chain you could also look at County Hall and Tower Bridge, though I can't vouch for those as I can the Southwark location.

While I'm at it, Travelodge is running a promotion whereby some rooms on some nights are £10 or £26 if you book them in advance. Of their hotels the Farringdon, High Holborn, Covent Garden ones will be most suited to your locations but Liverpool Street, Islington, King's Cross could be okay too.

In terms of general areas I second the recommendation for Bloomsbury, as there is a high concentration of hotels in that area and it is centrally located (particularly good for the British Museum). The quality of accommodation is not particularly high, however, and though you may find somewhere with "charm", I doubt you'll find anything of much greater quality than one of the aforementioned chains.

Borough is an up-and-coming area with fewer hotels but close proximity to your location. The Bayswater / Lancaster Gate area also has a number of tourist hotels but gives an unfair reflection of the Londoner's London.

Lovely though Clerkenwell is, the Zetter would not be within your budget.

You probably want to be near a tube, which somewhat rules out Greenwich (Greenwich is on the Docklands Light Railway but still quite a journey from the centre of London.)
posted by skylar at 10:39 AM on February 15, 2006

My aunt and uncle (and their two teenage daughters) stayed at the Edward Lear house (Oxford St) and loved it.

Edward Lear -- artist, limerick writer, etc. -- I think he wrote "The Owl and the Pusscat," among others...

28/30 Seymour Street, Marble Arch
London W1H 7JB
Tel: Int. Code + 44 (0)20 7402 5401
Fax: Int Code + 44 (0)20 7706 3766
posted by mdiskin at 10:40 AM on February 15, 2006

I stayed at the Grange in Holborn 6 years ago. I don't recall it being too expensive - but it was really nice. And walking distance to Covent Garden, St. Pauls, the British Museum. The Tube was just a block away too.
posted by delladlux at 11:05 AM on February 15, 2006

I can give you a rough idea of certain neighbourhoods.

The West End

The tourist heart of London includes Picadilly, Leicester Square, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Covent Garden.
Safe, Busy, and expensive.


Quite a nice area around Russel Sqaure, Euston and Kings Cross. Has lots of old buildings and theatres. Easy walk into the West End.

Avoid the area north of Kings Cross, it has a reputation as a place to pick up prostitutes - although it has cleaned itself up over the past few years. Still quite industrial though and not the prettiest part of central London.

Kensington & Chelsea

Very expensive residential area in West London that includes Knightsbridge, Notting Hill, South Kensington, Earls Court, Bayswater and Fulham (just).
Nice area, but quite a distance away from the West End (20 mins on Tube - 45mins on the bus).
Earls Court and Bayswater have lots of cheap hotels, but they can be quite run down and Bed and Breakfast like. If you know the area you can find some good bargains but if not then you could end up with a crappy rundown place.

Victoria and Belgravia

Again, a bit like Earls Court in terms of hotels, but a slightly better location - within walking distance to Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park.

The Southeast and Greenwich

I have no experience with hotels in this area, however I would avoid staying in areas such as Bermonsey, Southwark, Kennington, Lewisham and Stockwell. They are not part of tourist London and can be a bit rough.

Greenwich is a nice area but it is a long way from the West End. Also its new and modern - a bit like America - if you want to see what London is all about , I wouldn't recommend Greenwich.
posted by xoe26 at 1:58 PM on February 15, 2006

Greenwich is new and modern? Care to clarify that? Greenwich has some of the oldest stuff in London.
posted by influx at 3:44 PM on February 15, 2006

OK, I'm generalising a little bit. I should have really said the Docklands.
posted by xoe26 at 4:12 PM on February 15, 2006

I would contend that Bermondsey and Southwark are very much on the tourist trail (being well located for Borough Market - voted London's hottest attraction by some publications - London Bridge London Dungeon, Hays Galleria, the Globe, Vinopolis etc).

Just make sure you don't end up in Elephant & Castle, or Stockwell, or certainly Lewisham which is indeed a bit further out. Greenwich is not on the tube line, as I mentioned in my post, but Greenwich does have a delightful English village feel and of course the Cutty Sark, Meridian line, Observatory and Naval Museum.
posted by skylar at 10:25 PM on February 15, 2006

I haven't been there, but the Edward Lear Hotel has good prices and looks very nice - and is in walking distance (maybe 1/2 hour?) of the West End attractions (Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery). I will definitely keep it in mind should I need a hotel in London.

The tube is great, of course, but one of the best ways to see London as a tourist is by the river ferry. It runs from Westminster Bridge (beside the Houses of Parliament) up to Kew Gardens, and down river to the Tower of London and on to Greenwich. You get a great view of the city from the Thames. It's only about L3.50 with a tube ticket, and definitely worth it for the river view.

I've only been to London for about three days (all in short day trips), so I'm still very first timer about the place, but there are some really interesting things to discover if you get off the beaten track a little. We took the boat from Westminster to the Tower, but decided not to pay for the Tower (it's expensive, so you'll want to give yourself a few hours to do it right - my husband said at least 2-3). But we discovered a fascinating old Church beside the tower, All Hallows by the Tower. It's the official church for the Port, and has memorials to sailors; it was bombed in the war (there are some powerful photographs showing the devastation), but still has some Anglo-Saxon elements. It's also the church from which Samuel Pepys watched the fire of London. And, of course free to visit.

Similarly, right beside Westminster Abbey is the parish church from the area. It's late medieval or sixteenth century, and one side has stained glass windows (Tudor?). But the other has windows made after the Blitz, in response to it. It's remarkable to see. (Also free).

Walking from the Tower to St Paul's, we once came across a small parish church which was designed by Christopher Wren (also the architech of St Paul's). It was billed as the one of the most well-proportioned small spaces in the world (it was unfortunately, closed when we passed - it's open 9-4 - but being Wren, I would believe them). I don't remember which street this was on or its name - this page lists 3 Wren churches, as well as many other historic churches. This page lists medieval churches specifically (though in many cases they have been rebuilt, though the foundation was medieval). They don't like Wren very much, but I think his work is amazing.

Sorry, that's a lot, and you probably aren't as interested in historic buildings. I just wanted to give an example of what you can find by just walking around London from one place to another.
posted by jb at 6:16 AM on February 16, 2006

Sorry - to clarify:

We walked around the west end (Bloomsbury down to Westminster - great area for seeing and doing things), then took the ferry to the Tower, and walked back through the City to St Pauls.

Many of the interesting things to see and do are in Bloomsbury, Westminster, and on the south bank of the River (especially directly across the Millennium Bridge from St Paul's - the Globe and Tate Modern are there)- it would probably be best to try to get a hotel near these areas if possible. The City itself is very busy and very business oriented, with some nice things tucked into back streets, but mostly big buildings and busy roads. It's convenient, but perhaps not as nice to stay in.
posted by jb at 6:20 AM on February 16, 2006

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