A Guide to The Best London Districts
These are the less-travelled areas to explore on your next trip to London.
Whether you’re in London for the first time or have visited on countless previous occasions, you’re sure to have the West End or the inner city on your itinerary. But let Plum Guide take you a little further out of the centre to explore some of the best London districts, where you’ll find interesting places to eat and drink, sprawling parks, and of course, a plethora of characterful pubs. To really get to know a city, it’s essential to go off the beaten track, and these village-like neighbourhoods, each with their own personality, will take you to the heart of the English capital.
One of the prettiest neighbourhoods in London, Hampstead has long been an affluent area of the city, with countless artists, writers and academics having called it home. Key figures who have lived here include John Constable, Sigmund Freud, DH Lawrence and, more recently, Richard Burton.
However, it also has a distinctly village-like atmosphere, with a well-preserved historic high street that’s seemingly always busy with people. Dip into the pedestrianised Flask Walk, where you’ll find antiques stores, flower shops and a treasure trove of rare and secondhand books.
But it’s along the backroads that you’ll uncover Hampstead’s real charm, admiring its beautiful red-brick Edwardian homes. On one of these streets, you’ll find the cosy Holly Bush pub, which is the perfect place to escape from a rainy London day (do follow our England packing list to avoid getting caught out by the capital’s weather). From here, make your way to Hampstead Heath, and lose yourself in the huge, ancient park. The heath boasts incredible views over London, rivalling those of nearby Primrose Hill. and is home to the Hampstead Ponds, where hardy Londoners go for morning dips right through the winter. Look out for famous residents exercising or walking their dogs among the woods and fields – or become a temporary resident yourself by booking a stay in this gorgeous Hampstead home.
Right next to Hampstead lies another of the city’s most endearing neighbourhoods, Highgate. The area is characterised by impressive Georgian architecture and is centred around Highgate Village – so-named as Highgate remained a village outside London until the late-Victorian era.
The eastern edge of Hampstead Heath is technically in Highgate, and includes one of its most magical parts, Kenwood House. This former stately home has featured in numerous films, and has wonderful views of Hampstead Heath stretching out below.
However, you might be surprised to hear that the highlight of Highgate is its cemetery, where ivy snakes its way around Gothic tombs and impressive carved-stone graves. It became a fashionable burial place in the Victorian era, so look out for the graves of famous residents Karl Marx, Lucian Freud and George Eliot.
Numerous creative agencies call Clerkenwell home – and so can you, with a stay at Plum Guide pad Cucumber Tonic – but it’s also one of the best London districts to wander round on foot, thanks to its many garden squares and interesting historical sights.
Walk down St John’s Street, which boasts some of the best restaurants in London, and continue onto St John’s Lane, where you might be surprised to stumble across St John’s Gate. This imposing historic gateway was built in 1504 and once stood as the entrance to Clerkenwell Priory, the headquarters of the monastic Order of St John.
Just a few minutes’ walk away is Smithfield Market, a meat market which dates back to the tenth century. Now housed in a striking Victorian building, it is the only market in London to have been in continuous use since the medieval period.
As if that weren’t enough, there are some fantastic historic pubs in the area too, including The Eagle, famously London’s first gastropub, and Ye Olde Mitre, which is listed on the National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors. For something more upmarket to eat, pop into the atmospheric British-Italian restaurant, Luca.
On the bank holiday weekend of August each year, Notting Hill turns into a raucous open-air street festival, with millions of people flooding the neighbourhood to celebrate Caribbean culture in the capital. But the rest of the year, the fashionable West London suburb is best known for its candy-coloured streets and popular market.
Time your trip to Notting Hill to coincide with Portobello Road Market. On Saturdays, the street fills up with hundreds of stalls, becoming the world’s largest antiques market. Once you’ve finished eyeing up secondhand clothes, vintage toys and rare books, stop for a bite to eat at one of the independent restaurants and cafes hiding behind the stalls.
Delve into Notting Hill’s backstreets to admire its iconic townhouses. Some of the most colourful terraces are Denbigh Terrace, Colville Terrace, Elgin Terrace and Lancaster Road, and you’ll come across quiet mews too. Lucky for you, we have a selection of gorgeous homes in Notting Hill – we're particularly fond of this rather impressive house.
As well as Notting Hill, West London has many excellent neighbourhoods to explore, so while you’re here you may want to go a little further west to visit the residential areas of Fulham, Richmond, Wimbledon and the home of England’s national football team, Wembley (there's plenty of places to stay in Wembley if you're that much of a die hard football fan).
Within walking distance of the Thames, London Bridge and Borough Market, its central location makes Bermondsey one of the best London districts to base your stay in the capital – especially when you're staying somewhere like this playful pad.
The area's namesake Bermondsey Street is a delight to walk along thanks to its colourful cafes and independent restaurants, whose tables spill out onto the street. Try the typically French Casse-Croûte, with its red-chequered tablecloths, or Pique-Nique, a charming restaurant housed in a bungalow in Tanner Street Park.
At the weekend, Maltby Street’s railway arches are transformed into a busy market street, where you’ll find yourself weaving between steaming stalls of hot food and a hotchpotch of crowded, mismatched tables. Bermondsey is also a great place to sample locally produced alcohol, with distilleries such as Little Bird Gin, plus cideries and breweries nearby.
And it’s not just food that you’ll find here, as there’s a branch of the White Cube Gallery, a leading contemporary art space, in the neighbourhood too.
Enjoyed Plum Guide's take on the best London districts? There's plenty more travel recommendations and beautiful homes where that came from. Whether you're a tennis fan looking for somewhere to stay near Wimbledon or you just want a unique spot to call home while in the capital, you're bound to find something you'll love when browsing Plum Guide's professionally vetted properties in London.