Since the central area of the city is extremely large, it’s a good idea to think carefully about where to stay in London. You should consider your sightseeing and travelling priorities and the sort of atmosphere you prefer, as well as the obvious budget considerations. Most of the centre is reasonably safe, but note that streets very close to major train stations – particularly King’s Cross – can be seedy at night.
In terms of public transport, London is composed of concentric circles: Zone 1 being the central area, Zone 2 encompassing areas just outside the centre like Camden, and Zones 3-6, although containing several interesting sights, being too far removed for normal tourist accommodation. You will save a lot of time and money on public transport if you stay centrally.
Within the central zone, London’s hotels and B&Bs are not spread evenly, but are concentrated in particular areas. Here is our run-down of some of the principal and most convenient hotel areas, along with links for finding and booking accommodation.
Paddington and Bayswater
The Paddington area, around the station of the same name, is convenient for those travelling to or from Heathrow (using the speedy Heathrow Express) or the west of England (trains depart from Paddington for Bath, Oxford, the Cotswolds, Devon and Cornwall). The area is well-connected for the bus and the tube. Although there is little to see on foot in the immediate vicinity of the station, a few minutes on the bus will bring you to Marble Arch, Oxford Street and the rest of London’s sights. Paddington is a good area for finding affordable accommodation, although hotels here are rarely glamorous.
Bayswater is to the west of Paddington, and is a faded residential area filled with cheaper hotels. Many of these are rather shabby, but your money will go further if you stay around here.
West End – Soho and Bloomsbury – Holborn and Covent Garden
This area stretching across the centre of London, west to east, is the city’s heart. Hotels tend to be expensive; some of them are in the luxury price bracket. It’s not such a convenient area for travelling outside London, but for seeing the city itself it’s ideal. You should be prepared for noise and crowds.
Mayfair, the area bordered by Regent Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane, commands the highest rents on the Monopoly board, and is still an expensive and exclusive neighbourhood. The high-street bustle of Oxford Street gives way to elegant streets lined with designer shops, smart hotels and prohibitively-expensive offices. Hyde Park is a huge green space to the west of Park Lane, and many London tourist attractions are a short walk, or a brief bus-ride away.
Soho and Bloomsbury: Soho, the network of narrow roads south of Oxford Street, is a lively night-time area of restaurants, sleazy red-light establishments, drinking-dens and fashionable nightclubs. It’s not the place to stay if you value a calm atmosphere, but it is very convenient for shopping, theatres and nightlife. By contrast, Bloomsbury, to the east, is one of the quieter areas of central London. Famous for its literary connections, the neighbourhood is home to the British Museum.
Holborn and Covent Garden – This area, bordered by King’s Cross, the Thames and Farringdon Road, lies between Theatreland and the City of London (the business centre), and includes the popular markets and shops of Covent Garden.
South Kensington and Chelsea
South Kensington – This is a good, quieter area to stay in, with plenty of hotels for those who prefer a more restrained atmosphere or want to spend a lot of time in the museums nearby. Included in this area are the King’s Road, Chelsea, the Royal Albert Hall, the V&A and the Natural History Museum.
Victoria Station and Pimlico
Between Westminster and Chelsea, the Victoria Station and Pimlico area is not particularly attractive or appealing, but it’s a fairly practical location, especially for the budget traveller. There are some cheap hotel and B&B accommodation options, and it’s only a short distance from more interesting places, such as Buckingham Palace and Westminster. Coaches from Victoria Coach Station serve destinations all over the UK (including airports), and trains from the railway station run to Gatwick, Brighton and other southern destinations.