London is one of the most popular tourist destinations despite the high cost of accommodation and travel and a very unpredictable weather. Hundreds of thousands of tourists travel to London every year to see Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, to listen to the chimes of Big Ben, to explore the unique historical atmosphere and traditions of the Tower and to ride the London Eye. London demonstrates a unique combination of history and modern age. Medieval monuments are found side by side with incredible skyscrapers, and everyone is fine with that. It even generates more interest to the UK’s capital.
London is the largest capital in Europe based on its area. Here you will find a great number of world-class sights that are familiar to everybody because we see them regularly in movies. For example, in Harry Potter or in the latest Mission Impossible.
Listing all tourist attractions here would be a tedious task. To see them all you will need more than just a couple of days or even a week. The best known are the Tower, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, and dozens of museums many of which allow entry free of charge.
What Area is the Best to Stay in London?
Geographically, London is divided into 33 administrative areas: 32 boroughs and London City that is not a part of any borough and has its own unique authorities.
It is important to know that all boroughs in London are divided into six transport zones. The cost of public transportation is based on these zone which means that the more zones you have to cross while travelling the more expensive your journey within the city will be. And when I say expensive, I mean really expensive. All main tourist attractions are located in zones 1 and 2, and it wouldn’t make much sense to choose a hotel beyond these zones. Whatever you save on the accommodation, will be spent on traveling. Not to mention that you will spend much more of valuable time that you could have used for exploring the city.
Now, we cut the number of suitable for accommodation districts by half. The first two zones include such boroughs as the City of London, City of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsey, Hammersmith and Fulham, Lambeth, Camden, Islington, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and a few other boroughs that are probably of no interest for tourists, so we will not discuss them here.
Let’s take a look at hotels in these boroughs.
The City of London
The City of London is a geographical center of the UK’s capital. The City is not one of the boroughs and has some special privileges. For example, it has its own independent police and the lord mayor who represents and supports the businesses in the City of London. The City today is the largest financial center in Europe – the Bank of England and London Stock Exchange are located here.
Here you can also find the Guildhall, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Museum of London, and the Monument to the Great Fire of London. The famous Tower of London is located within walking distance but geographically it belongs to a different district. In the City, you will see many of London’s skyscrapers, for example, St Mary Axe, Heron Tower, and Tower 42.
Most of people coming to London on a business trip choose the City for accommodation because this district is home to offices of many international companies.
There are some really good accommodation options here. I recommend to take a closer look at Motel One London – Tower Hill, Crowne Plaza London – The City, Apex City of London and The Chamberlain. All of them are within a walking distance from the Tower and the Tower Bridge, right in the heart of the City of London. You can reach St. Paul’s Cathedral and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater on foot in just 15-20 minutes.
City of Westminster
City of Westminster, or Westminster, is a part of the historical downtown of London. It is located to the west from the City of London on the left side of the Thames River. This is a very important district for tourists because world famous attractions are located here including the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, and many more.
Actually, Westminster is so huge that it is divided into a few smaller districts, the most famous of which are Soho, Covent Garden and Mayfair (these districts are a part of the area often referred to as West End), as well as districts Paddington and Victoria located near the railway stations with the same name.
Hotels in Westminster are probably the most expensive. It is like staying in a hotel near Red Square in Moscow or Times Square in New York: you are right in the in the thick of things but you pay the price for that. If that is what you want, I recommend the following hotels: The Sanctuary House, Conrad London St. James, Royal Horseguards and St. Ermin's Hotel – Autograph Collection.
The Sanctuary House is located within a 3-minute walk to Westminster Abbey; all other sights are also within an easy reach. Conrad London St. James also boasts a convenient location between Westminster Abbey and St. James’ Park – both attractions can be reached in four minutes, and in ten minutes you can reach Buckingham Palace.
Another interesting option is hotel Royal Horseguards. This five-star hotel is located between the Thames and Trafalgar Square, near the National Gallery and Whitehall Palace. Many rooms have a view of the London Eye. St Ermin's is also located right in the center of Westminster within a walking distance from Buckingham Palace.
Soho is a very vibrant London’s area known as the epicenter of bohemian life. Here you will find many restaurants, pubs, stores, night clubs, and galleries. Many actors, musicians, fashion designers and artists live here. As a result, Soho is always buzzing with excitement and attracts a lot of tourists. I wouldn’t recommend staying here if you are traveling with kids and/or getting a good night sleep is important for you. But if you want to be in the middle of London’s colorful and vibrant night life, this district is a good choice for you.
Here you can take a look at the following accommodation options: The Z Soho, Nadler Soho, Sanctum Soho and a good budget-friendly SoHostel. All of them are located in Soho’s center, and all restaurants, bars, theatres and numerous picture galleries of this quarter are within a walking distance. You can reach Westminster’s center on foot (20–25 minutes) or you can use the metro (all these hotels are located next to the metro stations).
Covent Garden received its name from a market that dates back to the 17th century. Today, it is a popular shopping area with a variety of shops, beautiful buildings, restaurants and pubs and street performers. You can see right away that Covent Garden has a special atmosphere. It is a hive of activity but it is rather creative activity than business affairs. There is a good reason this area is often referred to as the theatre center of London. That’s the place where the Royal Opera House and Drury Lane are located.
The centrally located tourists attractions of Westminster are relatively far away from here (even though tourists are used to covering large distances on foot) but you can easily reach Westminster Abbey by metro in just a few minutes. At the same time, if you choose Covent Garden as the district for your accommodation, you will be away from the main tourist crowd. Additionally, you can see that prices in this area are more affordable (well, as much as affordable can be applied to London).
There are not many hotels here, so I recommend taking a look at apartments Smart City Covent Garden and Covent Garden. They are located just five minutes away from the Covent Garden metro station that will give you a good opportunity to reach most of the city’s attractions. The Royal Opera House and the central square of Covent Garden can be reached within five minutes on foot. If you would rather stay in a hotel, then I recommend Strand Palace Hotel – a comfortable affordable four-star hotel in the close proximity to theatres and shops.
Mayfair is another famous quarter in the City of Westminster. This is an expensive area with luxurious stores and hotels. Many of London’s expensive five-star hotels are located here. If you are used to traveling in style, this district will be a great choice for you.
Paddington can be a great choice both for those who come to see the sights and those who are in London on a business trip. The main advantage of the sub-district is its convenient transport connection. That’s home to the railway station that has given name to the most famous British bear. From here you can go to Oxford, Bristol, and South Wales. But the most important thing is that there is a direct connection to Heathrow airport. Heathrow Express will bring you to the airport or to London’s city center in just 15 minutes.
This London’s district boasts a huge number of hotels for any taste and budget. Budget-friendly options include hotels Darlington, Delmere and Cleveland Square. All of them are located within a five-minute walk to the station, and within a 15-minute metro ride from Westminster’s center and all the main tourist attractions.
Victoria is another sub-district in London located a large railway station. From here trains go in the direction of Dover, Brighton, and Southampton. For tourists, the direct connection with Gatwick airport is of importance. It is a very convenient area for accommodation if you plan to go to the south, south-east or south-west of the UK, or if your flight is to/from Gatwick. In this case you will not have to travel all through London with your luggage. You will just have to take an express train from Victoria station.
It is still the center of the city, and you can easily reach a lot of famous sights on foot. For example, you will need just 15-20 minutes to reach Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park.
Kensington and Chelsea
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea borough is located to the west of the city center and consists of a several districts, including, for example, Kensington, Chelsea, Notting Hill, and others.
The main sights in this borough are Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, the world's most famous department store Harrods, Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum.
Kensington is located at some distance from the city center, so the accommodation costs here are more budget-friendly. This is a very comfortable district to stay in. There are fewer tourists here, a large part of the district is occupied by parks but at the same time there is a convenient and fast connection to the districts with the main tourist attractions. I believe, that is one of the best districts for accommodation based on the value for money factor.
Chelsea is another district in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. There are not that many hotels here because Chelsea is mostly a residential area. It attracts soccer fans – the home stadium of Chelsea soccer club is located here.
The historical district of Notting Hill has become pretty popular after the romantic comedy with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts hit the big screen. The district has a great location near Hyde Park and Holland Park and is a great place for shopping. The famous Portobello market where you can find unique antiques and designer items is located here.
There are not many hotels in Notting Hill but if you are lucky to book a room in one of them you will not be disappointed – for relatively small money you can feel the authentic English atmosphere of this district.
I can recommend such accommodation options as Safestay Holland Park hostel, and hotels Blue Bells, Abbey Court Notting Hill and Portobello. The last one is the most comfortable of all but also the most expensive.
Hammersmith and Fulham
There are no world famous tourist attractions in Hammersmith and Fulham. The advantage of this district is that it is located in transport zone 2 which means that you can easily reach the city center from here. The borough itself is very quiet (apart from the days when soccer matches are played on the home stadium of Fulham soccer club), and the hotel rates are very reasonable.
Good accommodation options here are: ibis London Shepherd's Bush, Shepherd's Bush Boutique Hotel, Holiday Inn Express London – Hammersmith and The Brook Green Hotel. All of them have a convenient location near metro stations.
Lambeth is located on the south bank of the Thames just opposite Westminster Palace. You can easily reach main city sights on foot. This is the district that is often referred to as Waterloo because of Waterloo railway station and the bridge of the same name that connects Lambeth with Westminster. The borough is home to such interesting attractions as Lambeth Palace the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Royal National Theatre and London Eye that many people nowadays call the new symbol of London.
The proximity of Westminster dictates the pricing for local hotels. But high prices are partially compensated by saving time and less travel expenses.
Good options in this borough are Park Plaza Riverbank London, Novotel London Waterloo and Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London. They offer comfortable rooms with views over the Thames, Westminster Palace and Big Ben.
Camden is located to the north from Westminster. Here you will find the British Museum, King’s Cross and St. Pancras railway stations.
Camden made the list of districts convenient for accommodation because of King’s Cross and St. Pancras railway stations located near each other. From St. Pancras you can go to Paris and Brussels. And from King’s Cross you can reach other cities in UK, for example, Edinburgh. That is also the place where platform 9 ¾ is located well known to all Harry Potter fans. Here you can take a photo with a trolley half through the wall of the magical platform (be ready to spend over an hour in line waiting for your turn) and buy souvenirs in the official store of Harry Potter’s franchise.
Camden is convenient for accommodation if you plan to explore more of UK than just the capital. It will save you time and make your stay more comfortable.
Another positive thing about Camden is its popular flea markets where you can buy really interesting and unusual things if you are lucky.
In Camden, or in particular, near Kings Cross station you should take a closer look at such budget-friendly accommodation options as Alhambra and Generator Hostel London. A bit more expensive are Ambassadors Bloomsbury and Megaro Hotel. All of them are located within a walking distance from the railway and metro stations and provide a decent level of comfort and peace.
Usually, tourists don’t consider Islington as a good accommodation option. And how wrong they are! It is located in the central part of the city but there are no tourist attractions here which means no tourist crowds will disturb your peace and you will be able to enjoy the authentic London life. In this borough there are many antiques shops, charming parks and art galleries. As I mentioned, this borough does not usually have many tourists, so accordingly there are not many hotels here. The ones that are located here have very reasonable rates
Southwark is one of the oldest boroughs of the UK’s capital. Together with Westminster and the City of London, Southwark formed the original London. That’s the place where the original Globe Theatre was located. The modern reconstruction was moved just 200 meters away from its original location.
Southwark is connected with the opposite bank of the Thames, and correspondingly with the City of London, by a number of bridges, including the famous Tower Bridge, as well as Millennium Bridge, London Bridge, and Southwark Bridge. The highest building in London and European Union The Shard (309 m) is also located here. Other important sights of this borough are the Imperial War Museum and the renowned Tate Modern Art Gallery.
In this borough I recommend the following accommodation options: ibis London Blackfriars, London City Hotel and Mercure London Bridge. All of them are located within just a few hundred meters from the main attractions in this borough. Plus, you can reach the Tower of London on foot in 20-25 minutes. If you wish, you can walk up to Westminster (around one hour via the most beautiful places in London). But if you aren’t ready to walk that much, you can reach the center of Westminster in 10-15 minutes by metro.
Tower Hamlets, as the name implies, is home to Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress that we all commonly know as the Tower of London. I would say that the Tower is the main attraction in UK’s capital. Nearby you will also see the Tower Bridge that has been mentioned quite a number of times in this article.
Many tourist routes start at the Tower of London. Just long along the Thames in the direction of Westminster and you will see numerous sights, monuments, elegant buildings, theatres, and bridges.
In Tower Hamlets you can find decent hostels and mini-hotels for affordable prices. For example, The Ship Inn, Wombat's City Hostel London and Monopoly Accommodations. If you don’t want to share bathroom I recommend taking a look at the residential hotel Town Hall or The Tower A Guoman Hotel. You should keep in mind that staying in the closest proximity to the most famous sight of London will not be cheap. The reward is though the view at the Tower Bridge or the Tower from your room. But if you have a limited budget, it makes more sense to choose a hotel in a different district.
If you have a connecting flight in London, and you plan to go somewhere else but have a day to explore at least a tiny bit of this magnificent city, it is recommended to choose a hotel near the airport you fly from. It will help you save precious time. Plus, you will not have to travel with your luggage in London metro.
London has four main airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton. All of them are connected to the city with express or normal trains.
Heathrow is the main and the largest airport in United Kingdom and the third busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic. It is no wonder that there are many hotels in the area of Heathrow. I recommend choosing from hotels that offer main services to their guests including transfer to/from the airport, complimentary WiFi and breakfast.
Many hotels in the area meet these criteria but I would recommend choosing the ones with the best price/quality ration – these are chain hotels Holiday Inn London – Heathrow Ariel, Premier Inn London Heathrow Airport, Novotel London Heathrow Airport and Crowne Plaza Heathrow.
Gatwick is the second largest airport in UK. One of the main clients of the airport is the low-cost airline Easy Jet. That explains the large number of travelers from the continental Europe that come to this airport.
Stansted is the third largest airport in London and UK. It mainly focuses on domestic and cargo flights. If you come to this airport or plan to fly from here, I recommend to choose between DeSalis Hotel London Stansted, Holiday Inn Express London Stansted or Hilton London Stansted Airport.
Luton is the least known of London airports but sometimes you can get really cheap tickets with this airport as the final destination, so you should keep it in mind. I recommend paying closer attention to chain hotels here, such as Holiday Inn Express London Luton Airport and Hampton by Hilton Luton Airport.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Hotel in London
London is a huge city with a relatively complicated administrative division: 32 boroughs and the City of London, divided into smaller districts and sub-districts. It is easy to get confused and lost here. To avoid this, you should define the goal of your trip and your budget. If it is a business trip, then choose a hotel in the district/borough where you will be working. This will allow you to save time and money on travel. If you come to London as a tourist, then the budget is your deciding factor. But keep in mind that it is recommended not to stay in hotels beyond the first two transport zones. Whatever you save there you will spend on metro and buses, plus you will be very annoyed because of the lost time.
Even though London has a lot of hotels, the best options are sold out very quickly. So, it is recommended to book well in advance or you will have to spend more on the accommodation than you would like to.
Just like in any other city, the closer to the downtown the more expensive hotels rates are and the higher prices in restaurants and cafes are. You may, of course, choose a hotel in Westminster or on the opposite bank of the Thames with a view at Big Ben but only if your budget is unlimited or if this is a very special trip for you. In all other cases I would recommend staying in boroughs in zone 2 – Kensington, Islington, Camden, and Hammersmith. There are fewer tourists here, prices are affordable, and you can easily reach main tourist attractions by metro.
You should be prepared that budget-friendly hotels, guest houses and hostels often are located in old houses with no lifts and with small rooms. If that is a problem for you, pay closer attention to the feedback left by other tourists on booking websites.
If breakfast is included in your rate, it is more probably continental breakfast and not full English breakfast. As a rule, you have to pay extra for the second option, and it will be more expensive in hotels than in nearby restaurants.
London is an incredible city with rich history and a variety of interesting places. Don’t go for all places at once. Make a list of the most interesting attractions for you and choose a place to stay in the location closest to most of places from your list.