What can we say that hasn’t been said before? It’s an amazing city, a truly international city, full of history, culture, spirit and humor. London is a fantastic destination for first time travelers to wet their feet or whet their appetite for international travel. Safe, primarily English speaking but culturally diverse, easy to get around (sort of) and filled to the brim with places to visit and explore, sites to see, things to learn and experience.
Best of all for visitors, there is a long and well-established tradition of holiday rental flats, mews and houses on offer throughout the city. Travelers can expect lovely vacation homes that are clean and safe, with easy, efficient check-in and check-out, and courteous, helpful service if and when it might be needed.
This is a city rich with culture and heritage, from the variety of architecture to the stunning sense of history that is celebrated and honored in the many museums, arts, entertainment and historical buildings. The diversity of the city, though tending toward social stratification along class lines, lends to the deep sense of place as being truly international, and offering absolutely something for everyone:
Sports events, galleries, historic sites, churches, national archives, military memorials, world-famous museums, non-stop stage productions, theater, cinema, culinary arts and fine dining, themed festivals and celebrations, literary arts and history, high fashion houses, high street shopping… you name it, and it can be enjoyed in London.
More than three hundred different languages are spoken in London on a daily basis, and every sub-culture in the city is represented by its own specialty shops, restaurants and fashion stores. London has cultural centers run by and dedicated to its Polish, Kurdish, Chinese, Romanian, Hungarian, Bengali, Jewish, Somali, Hindu, and Irish communities. You are likely to see eyeliner-encrusted goth kids walking along closely with uniformed Asian school children and mums and grandmothers in brightly colored saris, along with enthusiastic tourists stopped to snap a photo, being dodged by the many hurried business people populating London’s financial center.
All of this wonderful stuff, from business to the arts, is all mixed up together in a most swinging, bustling and co-mingled city center and surrounding boroughs.
Winston Churchill purportedly said that “America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language.” It’s funny, because it’s true (and you can read more about this “Brit Speak” in a brief list of terms that leans toward proving his point). It’s also true that one of the great things about travel is discovering the ways that a society or culture is different and the ways in which they are the same as your own.
In London, you’ll notice many things that are just a bit different than you might be used to, and some fun can be had in discovering those differences. Sometimes, though, it helps to come prepared with information about a few things relating to accommodations that, if unknown, might stymie your enjoyment of the place, or cause problems for you while on holiday.
Practical Guide to Staying in London – a brief guide to practical issues and things to consider about traveling to and staying in London. It’s all in the guide books, too. Includes some common references that are likely different enough from home to make a difference during your stay.
Neighborhood Boroughs of London
What we now call London used to be a collection of villages. Someone once told us that it used to take a day to travel by horse and coach from Belgravia to Chelsea. These former villages have grown together over time and now it’s one large city, but the neighborhoods remain their distinctive qualities. This a delight of exploring London.
The City of London:
London, the real London, ancient London, is known as “the City”. It’s the original London. Located on the Thames east of Strand and Holborn, it was a Roman and medieval town that was mostly destroyed by the big fire of 1666. It still has narrow, curving Medieval cobble streets. The Museum of London is a kid friendly, small, and very well-reviewed attraction where you can learn all about the rich history of Londontown.
Knightsbridge, one of the oldest of the former villages, is one of the most “happening” areas in London, partially due to its famed and fabulous shopping (Harrods is right at the corner of the Knightsbridge tube stop, Harvey Nichols not far off, and all the couture you can tolerate, from Chanel to Yves St Laurent, Missoni to Fendi). There are incredible restaurants and gorgeous people walking briskly down the streets. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens border Knightsbridge. Walk across either park to get to Kensington or Mayfair and the West End or to St. James to visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace. See Kensington Palace, hear the ranting at the Speaker’s Forum, go horseback riding, watch the boats on the Serpentine. Beauchamp Place, feeling very much like a village street, heads back toward Belgravia, and is lined with bespoke clothing and furniture shops and restaurants, a most excellent Italian place among them.
Shops, restaurants, attractions galore. Very busy, safe and interesting. Many, many museums, Victoria & Albert, Natural History. Royal Geographical Society next to Albert Hall, Royal College of Music, Imperial College of Science and Technology. Close to Knightsbridge shopping, Kensington and Hyde Park. Delicious farmer’s market on Saturdays. This is a great place to base, with the tube station whisking you off on several lines in multiple directions to all the rest of the city.
The Royal Borough. Royal Palace in Kensington Gardens, great museums. Architecture is mostly Victorian. Go via Hyde Park Corner. Royal Albert Hall, memorial to Prince Albert, then Kensington High Street, center of Kensington. Pubs, some village atmosphere (smaller buildings, old), Quiet, relatively few shops, but what is there is excellent, plenty of restaurants, great museums.
Walking distance from Covent Gardens, West End, theatres. It’s a nice area with students, squares, shops, pubs, bookstores, nice houses. Handy for trains to the north (Euston, St. Pancras and King’s Cross). Colleges of the University of London, busy into the night with tourists and students, many restaurants, plenty of tube stations, the British Museum, the Brunei Gallery, and the British Library. Pretty. Well-known and passionate literary history.
Do you remember the movie? It’s just like that (except the famous bookshop is sadly now closed). This is a bustling village within the city: busy, crowded on Fridays and Saturdays because of the wonderful Portobello Road Market, fun. Wonderful ethnic food here, and a casual international feeling dotting the landscape. The famous Carnival happens here in August each year, with a delicious Afro-Carribean influence, tons of food, great music and wild costumes. The rest of the year Notting Hill offers lots of shops (including a rather Parisian collection of avant garde fashion collections mixed in with the most excellent vintage purveyors), pubs, gastropubs, restaurants, cafes, bistros, rich people, poor people, odd people, young people, busy people, just hanging around people. We like it very much, and have put together an informal neighborhood guide for guests staying in one of the two holiday rental houses we have on Chepstow Road.
South of South Kensington, wealthy, residential, green parks, great shopping on The Kings Road. Exciting, young, restaurants, international and yuppie. The Chelsea Physic Garden and the embankment waterfront are nice neighborhood anchors. Gordon Ramsay, the eponymous restaurant of the infamous and grouchy chef from “Hell’s Kitchen” is here. There is a high concentration of the famous blue plaques in the area, and a high concentration of famous alive people, too. Historic and friendly. Many buses head to Sloane Square (then the Circle Line from there) and into the city as well.
Very chic and high-end. Many of the embassies are here. Margaret Thatcher’s house is here. Elle MacPhearson, Joan Collins and celebrity chef Nigella Lawson also live here (imagine THAT dinner party, for a moment, please). Eaton Square, expensive shopping, very nice parks. Great old pubs tucked away on corners. Terrific Indian restaurants. Close to Sloane Square, Knightsbridge, Victoria station and some of the theaters around there. Not bad for a place named after the bell ringing that used to warn people to stay indoors as the dead were being carted to mass graves in the square during the days of the
One of the best addresses in London, many high-end hotels. Upscale shopping on Bond Street. Lovely mews and high-end shops, restaurants. Historic. Busy.
Trendy, noisy, shops, restaurants, pubs, crowded, fun, near Royal Academy, theaters, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Transport Museum, Theater Museum, Westminster. Fantastic to stroll around, ride around, drive around, but a bit too noisy and bustling to select as a place to base.
Contiguous with the West End, with much in common. Many tourist attractions within 1/4 mile, others are a few stops on the Circle Line.
Trendy, restaurants, pubs, shops, mixed hotel and residential area, tubes at Bayswater and Lancaster Gate, near Hyde Park and Kensington Palace.
Quiet, few shops, good pubs and restaurants, residential, poor tubes, but good buses over the river to most tourist attractions (Westminster). Has 3 South Bank concert halls, the National Theatre, National Film Theatre, the London Eye, ½ mile riverbank walk to the Tate Britain and the Globe theater.
South of Victoria station, hotels, pubs, shops, restaurants. Busy, but enjoys quiet streets. Victoria station is good for in-town tubes and trains to the suburbs. The Tate, Queen’s Carriages and the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, St. James Palace and St. James Park. Walk to the Whitehall area along the Thames. Paddington Station, handy for Heathrow and trains, some rather shabby areas, but not without its charm.
Near the Hogarth roundabout. Charming old English riverside village atmosphere. Row houses, little gardens. Almost unknown to Americans.
St. Katherine’s Docks:
Have a pint at the Dickens Inn. Next to Tower Bridge. Lovely, upscale development – shops, restaurants, condos, the revitalization of the Docklands area. Close to Tower Hill tube stop.
Historic, very beautiful, fine homes, excellent shops and restaurants, many parks. On the Thames. Lovely walks. Close to Kew Gardens. Do visit here.
Again, much of this can be found in the guidebooks, but for our money, here are the