London neighborhoods
February 5, 2023 2:31 PM   Subscribe

I need help choosing a London neighborhood to stay in. One of my tripmates is a first time world traveler so I want things to be perfect! The ideal neighborhood would be: charming/beautiful/quintessentially London, with lots of informal/unpretentious but good food options, close to a reasonably accessible tube station (some steps are fine but not an excessive amount). And ideally, an easy no-transfer tube ride away from a fun neighborhood where the rock music lover can escape a few nights after everyone else goes to bed (I was thinking Brixton but am open to suggestions).

The budget is not a limiting factor.
posted by acidic to Travel & Transportation around London, England (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest Bloomsbury. Lots of history, near the British museum but not quite as touristy, varied food options because of university population, and the Russell Square tube, while not step free, only has about 20 steps. It's a short bus ride to Camden where there are music venues.
posted by Morpeth at 3:02 PM on February 5 [7 favorites]

Do you want tourist-y places, or places where Londoners live? For the former, probably your best bet for central is Marylebone, Bloomsbury or maybe Kensington (if you want the museums). For the latter, I would suggest Clapham, Camden, Highbury, Islington, Hackney. Informal is easy, unpretentious not always so. Good places for music are usually Camden, Brixton, and probably Dalston or somewhere else near Hackney.
posted by plonkee at 3:05 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]

Can't really caim to be particularly charming nor beautiful, but Tootings Bec or Broadway?
Brixton Victoria line isn't far nor difficult (Stockwell). Also easy to get to Wimbledon, Clapham, Clapham Junction and central London.
posted by Dub at 4:26 PM on February 5

Bloomsbury would be my moderate-budget suggestion, but with fewer budgetary constraints I would consider one of the nicer hotels in Trafalgar Square and get a room with a view of the river. Convenient for National Gallery, some of the other big tourist sites, and for theaters.
posted by praemunire at 4:40 PM on February 5

I stayed in Soho several years ago (just before the pandemic) and really liked it. Tube very accessible. It's definitely a busier area.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:21 PM on February 5

Local here. I would suggest Angel/Islington. It's beautiful, one stop away from Old Street/Shoreditch in one direction, Kings Cross in the other. The architecture is classic Georgian and there's loads of lovely local cafes and shops.

Check out what's on at Scala in Kings X - we've seen loads of awesome bands there from Nine Inch Nails to Lettuce (although it does have stairs). The Lexington Pub on Pentonville Road is also great for a night out. I also suggest the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch

NB. There is no elevator at Angel but it does have an escalator. Every single bus in London is accessible. Check out the TFL (Transport for London) website and they can give you every single station that has step free access from train to street.

Have a wonderful time and if you have any other questions please do ask!
posted by socky_puppy at 1:47 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]

Nthing Bloomsbury—there are a few hotels on Cartwright Gardens, a lovely little half-moon street, and they’re a short walk to the tube. Though yes, if you can splash out, those other suggestions are great. I’d say some spots in Soho though can be crazy crowded and busy, in case you want to avoid that.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 2:04 AM on February 6

I came to suggest Angel/Islington as well.
posted by knapah at 2:47 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]

I also agree with Angel / Islington. The neighbourhood is lovely to walk, great music venues in the area. In addition to the Scala, check what's on at the Union Chapel (folky) and Garage (where I've seen Moldy Peaches, Acid Mothers Temple, and various psych / noise bands)

Kings Cross area is wonderfully vibrant since the massive urban regeneration of the area (Google are building their new headquarters there). Great food options.

Old Street / Shoreditch is the cool place to live and launch your digital startup nowadays. Cool graffiti everywhere, great bars, nice markets, etc.

Nature-wise you can walk along the canal. All the way to Camden Market which is enjoyable. Also check out what bands are playing at the Underworld.

Walking south into the Clerkenwell and the City of London is full of history and impressive modern corporate architecture rubbing shoulders with Roman ruins and centuries-old churches.
posted by snarfois at 3:09 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]

I don't know -- is Angel beautiful? I like it, but I don't think of it as particularly beautiful by London standards though I know it well.

I'd say Bloomsbury for beauty, Shoreditch for cool.
posted by heavenknows at 5:24 AM on February 6

Note that even in otherwise beautiful and spendy areas of London, you only have to turn a corner and you'll be faced with an unglamorous tower block or set of lock-up garages or a temporary soup kitchen. Which isn't to criticise the place - everywhere is quite a mix, but some definitely more than others.

I'm being snobby, but I'd say Shoreditch was "cool" 10 or 15 years ago. Still cooler than anywhere in west London though. I imagine Dalston is cooler, but I'm too old and uncool to known if that's still true, and I wouldn't suggest you stay there.

Personally, I wouldn't stay in Soho, even though I love the place. Great to go out in, but I'd sleep somewhere a little quieter. Fitzrovia, Bloomsbury or parts of Clerkenwell, although you'll mostly need to bus/tube to gigs - not many venues that central any more, apart from, say, 100 Club, Ronnie Scott's and the Barbican.
posted by fabius at 5:53 AM on February 6

Primrose Hill - it’s upscale and pretty and you can walk to Camden or across the park to central London
Victoria Park - more chichi than Dalston but within easy striking distance of east end fun, Columbia road, markets etc.

Shoreditch I would say is not a pleasant place to live or stay, I did for many years but it’s very grimy and noisy. Lots of better places just outside. Angel/Islington has some nice parts but I would say the two mentioned above have more charm
posted by tardigrade at 6:19 AM on February 6

Every area has beautiful and ugly streets, often very near each other, so it's a little difficult to predict what your experience will be if you walk randomly without knowing the area.

One thing that might help: Google Maps colours in light orange "areas of interest" that are primarily made up of shops and restaurants and such, and these tend to be the areas you'd like to walk around in.

There's an interesting article here about how Google generates these AOI, in a comparison with Apple Maps which doesn't have the feature (at the time of the article).

It depends what you want to see, of course. Green spaces and residential areas can also be very pleasant to walk around in. But looking at the orange areas on Google Maps is a pretty good guide, based on my own experiences.
posted by snarfois at 6:33 AM on February 6

My suggestion—which includes a lot of the suggestions above—is to situate yourself along Regents Canal. London is back to being disgustingly crowded, and the canal and associated paths, which still crowded, are a much-approaciated relief valve. Specifically the eastern section from (roughly) Regents Park to the River Lea, there's so much to see and do along it that you could make a very wonderful trip out of just... walking the canal: west (quaint) to east (hip) that includes Regents Park and Primrose Hill, Camden, Kings Cross and the new Coal Drops Yard—Granary Square space (where the Word on the Water floating bookstore is usually moored), an overground stretch through Islington and Angel where the canal is underground in its tunnel, returning to canalside at Duncan Terrace Gardens, Hoxton (and Shoreditch) and Haggerston welcoming you to east London, Boradway Market (which is always worth a wander, connecting up to London Fields), Victoria Park, Mile End Park (and a pint in the park at the Palm Tree). From there you can switch to following the Hertford Union Canal out to where it meets the River Lea, putting you right at the lovely river walks (and floating bars and restaurants like Barge East) and all the other neat stuff around Hackney Wick. There are tube and overground stations easily accessible along that route, including overground at Hackney Wick, Haggerston, and Camden Road, tube at London Fields, Bethnal Green, Mile End, Angel, Kings Cross/St. Pancras, Camden Town. I encourage you to make use of buses, they are so much more useful for little hops than the tube and the upper deck of the double deckers is a visual feast through the city. You don't need a special transit card to use trains, tube, overground, or buses, you can use contactless payments cards and phones. Easy peasy.

For your needs I'd probably suggest finding a place to stay on the west end of that canal route (Primrose Hill, Camden) and using that as your home base. Have a great trip!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:48 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]

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