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London and its surrounding area spans an amazing amount of space. That doesn’t mean that as a tourist you will, or should, visit all of it. Some parts are, of course, better than others. Some are filled with many tourist attractions and some have none at all.
Even central London is huge on its own and you’d be hard pushed to see it all, or to visit every one of the Capital’s attractions. Luckily, the London Transport network is pretty amazing and tourists can reach anywhere they need to go on the underground, the big red buses, or on Boris’ Bicycles; all with the help of a trusty Oyster Card.
Each area of London has a reputation for different things and most locals are pretty loyal to their area.
In the Thick of It
Central London consists of Soho, the capital’s main entertainment district; Chinatown, where London’s far-Asian communities live, work, and play; Oxford Street which is, of course, world famous for shopping and celeb-spotting; Leicester Square, also known as Theatre-land; Covent Garden, home to the London Transport Museum, and the best place to spot street-performers; and Trafalgar Square, where you’ll find the famous lions and the National Portrait Gallery.
West London is the London that you’ll often see in the movies, probably because parts of it are often used as a set for English films. Most of West London is affluent, welcoming, and has plenty to see. Any visitor will find their way to Kensington for four of London’s most prestigious museums; the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert, the Science Museum, and the Geological Museum. Notting Hill area is where the film by the same name was based; it’s now home to many British celebs, and has always been home to the famous Portobello Road antiques market. Sloane Square and Chelsea show of the England of the rich and richer. The area, including the King’s Road is top-notch for shopping; Harrods and Harvey Nicks are both in nearby Knightsbridge and its where you’ll find Saatchi & Saatchi gallery.
North by North-West
Up in the north of London there are some really vibrant areas too see. Highbury & Islington is where north Londoners go when they want a night out but want to avoid the centre of London. Likewise for Hampstead; by day it has the Heath with an swimming lake, and a handful of heritage museums, and by night it’s a hive of activity when the pretty pub beer gardens are filled. It’s not all posh pubs and grub in North London though; Camden is pretty much a destination in its own right and has an absolutely thriving music scene. Just a tiny hop north from central London is Euston, also known as King’s Cross. It’s where you arrive if you come to London from Europe by train on the Eurostar.
There’s something very tangible and exciting about East London. Not only is it the site for London’ 2012 Olympics, it’s also the centre of London’s creative scene. Hackney Wick, right opposite the Olympic site has the highest concentration of studios in the world. Shoreditch & Dalston are London’s answer to the Upper East Side; it’s all warehouse apartments, guerrilla shops, all night parties, roof bars, and tight jeans. For more family orientated fun, or for a relaxing day off partying, Greenwich Village sets out pretty streets, the National Maritime Museum, and Cutty Sark.
The Deep South
Until fairly recently south London was a bit of a no-man’s land. Now, there’s plenty to see south of the river. Brixton, at the end of the Victoria Line, has seen the biggest changes. It’s once trashed market is now a magnificent cultural centre where you’ll find the best patties, jerk chicken, and saltfish in London. Camberwell and New Cross have become popular with young families; there’s tone of museums to see and loads of outdoor space for picnics and playing. Lambeth is proper London; it’s were Pearly Kings and Queens famously took part in the Lambeth Walk.
Far and Wide
If you’re London trip is longer than a few days you might have time to get out of the Old Smoke and see a little bit of the real England. A trip to the seaside at Brighton, or Eastbourne is less than an hour on the train. The ancient university towns of Oxford and Cambridge are also just a short hop away.