Bloomsbury and King’s Cross
Dominated by the British Museum and London University, and famed for its literary connections, Bloomsbury is London’s most learned quarter. With its formal Georgian squares it has an unhurried, easy-going vibe.
To the north, around King’s Cross, an exciting new city district is emerging, where squares, restaurants and galleries are being sculpted out of the industrial landscape that once characterized the area.
Hip Victorian railway hotel: Great Northern Hotel. This lovely hotel has a vaguely deco feel, and all the 91 boutique rooms have style; the smallest, called “couchettes”, evoke the romance of a train sleeper.
Old-fashioned charm: Ridgemount Hotel. This friendly and popular family-owned B&B is faded but clean, and offers a variety of rooms; family rooms sleep up to five.
British Museum © Claudio Divizia/Shutterstock
Situated slightly uphill from the City, Clerkenwell is a typical London mix of Georgian and Victorian townhouses, housing estates, old warehouses, loft conversions and art studios.
It remains off the conventional tourist trail, but since the 1990s, it has established itself as one of the city’s most vibrant and fashionable areas, with a host of shops, cafés, restaurants and pubs bustling with activity during the week.
A charming bolthole: The Rookery. This rambling Georgian townhouse is all panelled walls, flagstoned floors and creaky timeworn floorboards. Rooms offer faded baroque glam, with antique fittings and superb bathrooms.
Affordable style: Zetter Hotel & Zetter Townhouse. This 59-room hotel, in a stylishly converted warehouse has simple, colourful and bold rooms; the Zetter Townhouse opposite is, if anything, even more whimsical in style.
Converted warehouse in Clerkenwell © Eugene Regis/Shutterstock
Just as the traditional image of the old “East End” conjured romantic notions of togetherness and community, today’s east London is more about the people than the urban fabric, much of which is functional and industrial.
The area has a self-perpetuating buzz, with creative goings-on in warehouses, art previews, edgy nightlife and a never ending stream of word-of-mouth soft openings.
Sleek and chic: Boundary Hotel. A Conran creation, this Shoreditch hotel offers twelve rooms and suites, each themed on different art or design styles; there’s also a stunning rooftop bar.
Boutique guesthouse: Rose and Crown Guesthouse. Superbly placed above a splendid neighbourhood pub opposite Clissold Park, on a lively street lined with quirky shops, restaurants and bars, the boutique rooms here are chic and luxurious.
Brick Lane, East London © S J Francis/Shutterstock
The South Bank and Southwark
The South Bank holds some of London’s most popular tourist attractions, including the London Eye and, further south, the impressive Imperial War Museum. The wide, traffic-free path by the river makes it a pleasure to explore by foot, and there are often events and festivals going on.
Heading on to Southwark, further east, you’ll come to the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the soaring Shard. As the streets become more residential moving southeast, attractions become largely epicurean: Borough market is the biggest draw for gourmets, but Bermondsey and Maltby streets are both de rigueur destinations for foodies in the know.
Budget minimalism: Tune. The minimal rooms and down-to-earth pricing policy have made this hotel a budget favourite. By doing away with niceties like tables, chairs and closets, prices stay low and you simply opt to pay for extras, including towels.
Modern design: Citizen M Bankside. Though the high-design concept may jar – guests are “citizens” and staff are “ambassadors” – this is a good option, with 192 small rooms with a modern, pod-like design, touch tablet room controls and big beds. The public spaces tick all the lifestyle mag choices – eames chairs, original artworks, coffee-table books.
The London Eye and South Bank © Lukasz Pajor/Shutterstock
Kensington and Chelsea
As well as being home to London’s top museums – the V&A, Natural History and Science museums – South Kensington includes some of the world’s most expensive slices of real estate. This is the heartland of London’s wealthiest families and also the stamping ground of the international rich and famous.
Chelsea, to the south, was once at the forefront of “Swinging London”, with the likes of David Bailey, Mick Jagger and George Best hanging here in the 1960s. Today, however, it’s far from cutting edge and has become a byword for posh London, though some of its residents like to think of themselves as a cut above the purely moneyed types of Kensington.
Contemporary value: Nadler Kensington. Excellent-value modern accommodation near Earls Court, with no fussy extras.
Bohemian luxury: Main House. You get total privacy in this guesthouse, which manages to be both homely and a tad bohemian. The suites (one with two bedrooms) are huge, covering a whole floor each.
Natural History Museum © Pajor Pawel/Shutterstock
This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All recommendations are editorially independent and taken from The Rough Guide to London. Top image: Big Ben and Westminster © Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock.