Whether it’s for its history, its architecture, its pub scene or its crazy fashion, London has been drawing millions of visitors eager to discover what the British capital has to offer. But in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan and spread-out cities, it can be hard to pick the bad apples from the basket.
Our local expert, Marie-Eve Vallières, spills the beans.
More than just a movie set (Notting Hill and Love Actually, for example), this neighbourhood holds some of London’s best architecture (not to mention most expensive real estate) thanks to colourful facades, quaint mews and perfectly symmetric Victorian townhouses. Home to the legendary Portobello Road Market and the famous eponymous carnival, Notting Hill is quirky, lively and fashionable, and is worth more attention that a simple hunt for the bookstore featured in the movie that made the neighbourhood so famous. Gin lovers will find their mecca at the Ginstitute, while movie aficionados will appreciate Eclectic Cinema’s old-timey theatre. Those with a sweet tooth should pay a visit to Biscuiteer. And of course, because of its picturesque strets, Notting Hill is pretty much a photographer’s or Instagrammer’s paradise.
As London’s equivalent of Broadway, Soho is one of the busiest and liveliest neighbourhoods in the city, both at noon and at midnight. The famous West End theatres are all located a few blocks from each other, each more historic than the next. The Ambassadors Theatre, for instance, has been running Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap for over 61 years, and the Queen’s Theatre has been the home of Les Misérables since 1985. Soho encompasses fashionable Covent Garden, gay-oriented Soho Square, Theatreland and its many entertainment venues as well as party-focused Leicester Square — which only means that this is a neighbourhood with a generous offer in terms of restaurants, cafés, pubs and other eateries, many of which offer a pre-theatre set menu.
The birthplace of punk music and all things alternative, Camden has a long standing reputation for not doing things like the others. It is now mostly famous for having been the home of belated Amy Winehouse, the canal-side Camden Locks market, which is filled with trinkets, clothing and exotic food stalls, and the many live music venues loved by underground acts. Because of its unique location along the Regent’s Canal, it is possible to reach Camden via waterbus from Maida Vale, which comes highly recommended by our local expert.
Calling all hipsters! Located east of The City, Shoreditch was once home to penniless factory workers; it has undergone a major rejuvenation over the past decade and is now a thriving area that draws street artists, renowned chefs and start up companies from all over the world. Think pop up shops, indie coffee shops, independent bakeries and converted warehouses. The epitome of this attitude can be found at the newest hotel in town, the Ace Hotel Shoreditch.
Mayfair / Knightsbridge
Budget travellers, look away immediately – for Mayfair and Knightsbridge are not for the frugal beings of this world. Being home to some of London’s most lavish hotels and shops (Harrod’s, Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nichols), this area caters to a more refined crowd with expensive taste. Flanked by two of London’s Royal Parks (Hyde Park and Green Park), these two neighbourhoods are the incarnation of the London dream, and, therefore, home to aplenty celebrities.
Often overlooked in the latter part of the 1900s, Southwark has gone through a renaissance with the construction of Europe’s highest skyscraper, the Shard, which culminates at 800 feet (244 metres) above London. Can you imagine waking up to unobstructed views of London at the Shangri-La Hotel, located on the 35th floor? But more than just a pretty face, Southwark is steeped in history (going as far as the Roman age), thanks to the presence of the oldest continuous public market in the world, Borough Market, as well as the Shakespeare Globe, the OXO Tower, the Tate Modern, London’s City Hall and of course, the picturesque Thames embankment.
The City of London
A mini ecosystem of its own, The City of London is a ceremonial county within London. And although it contains some of the oldest settlements in Great Britain (including the remains of London’s Walls), The City of London is also considered to be the city’s financial district and is consequently filled with oddly-shaped (and aptly named, like the Gherkin or the Cheesegrater) skyscrapers and futuristic-looking highrises. A contrast that truly reflects London’s long heritage but cosmopolitan future! But perhaps what makes The City of London so famous is the presence of both St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London and its eponymous bridge. Additionally, Harry Potter fanatics will be happy to learn that the City of London has strong ties to the movies: Leadenhall Market was used numerous times to represent Diagon Alley and the Millenium Bridge depicted in Harry and the Half-Blood Prince is located just a few steps from St. Paul’s Cathedral.