London is an amazing city, but it can often be quite overwhelming to first-time visitors. It’s a sprawling city, with diverse neighborhoods scattered all over the place that can be difficult to navigate if you don’t know what you’re looking for. To help out new visitors to London, we’ve put together a brief guide to some of the most popular or significant neighborhoods in London to visit, with a few suggestions on things to see and do in those areas.
South of the Thames (South Bank/Southwark)
One of the most happening spots in the city, the neighborhood South of the Thames is bustling with people day and night. Come here for top attractions, museums, shops, restaurants, and much more. Check out our post that features some of the more popular South Bank London attractions.
Things to Do South of the Thames
- Take in a show at the Southbank Centre.
- Shop the amazing Borough Market for your perfect souvenir.
- Take the kids to Shrek’s Adventure to see their favorite characters brought to life.
- Take a themed walking tour of the city that focuses on pop culture icons like the Doctor or 007.
- Scare yourself silly at the London Dungeon.
- Marvel at the wide variety of marine life at the SEA LIFE Aquarium.
- Ride to the top of the one and only Coca-Cola London Eye.
City of London
The financial heart of the city, the area technically known as the City of London is anchored by the Bank of England, the Mansion House, and the Royal Exchange. Come here to see where all the movers and shakers work.
Things to Do in the City of London
- See a show at the popular Barbican Centre.
- Visit the elegant house of Dr. Samuel Johnson, one of England’s best-beloved writers.
- Roam the rich expanses of the Museum of London, with over 7,000 inspiring and astonishing objects to look at.
- Visit the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral for a tour of some of the most significant church architecture in the country.
- Crane your neck to look up the simply named Monument, which commemorates the Great Fire of 1666.
Pronounced “Marr-le-bone,” this happening upscale neighborhood filled with homes, shops, attractions, and more.
Things to Do in Marylebone
- “Meet” your favorite celebs from David Beckham to the Queen herself at the original Madame Tussauds.
- Explore the weird and wacky world of Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
- Fans of the new BBC drama Sherlock will want to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum to learn more about the inspiration and sources for this pop culture icon.
- Visit one of the best art galleries in the country at the Wallace Collection, with one of the most impressive collections of Old Master paintings in the entire world.
- Cheese lovers should stop by La Fromagerie for a delightful section of their favorite fare.
Spanning 410 acres, this former royal hunting ground is today home to many top outdoors attractions, including gorgeous gardens, playful parks, and intriguing museums.
Things to Do in Regent’s Park
- Meet the animals at the London Zoo, home to some of your favorite critters from around the globe.
- Explore the exhibits and artifacts at the Jewish Museum, which explores the unique history of Judaism and Jewish culture in England.
- Take the kids to the Primrose Hill Playground for a rollicking good time.
- Enjoy a Shakespeare play at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.
- Wander through Queen Mary’s Gardens, an unmatched collection of 400 different varieties of rose among 30,000 individual specimens.
These two adjacent neighborhoods are lively and filled with tons of cultural events and activities, not least of which is the annual Notting Hill Carnival, a famed celebration of Caribbean culture in Britain.
Things to Do in Notting Hill / Bayswater
- Hop aboard a rental bike and tour this neighborhood (and the whole city!) at your own pace and direction.
- For another wonderful park option, the immensely popular Hyde Park is located in this area.
- Those interested in contemporary art should head to Graffik, an amazing collection of exhibits honoring modern street art.
- Kensington Gardens represent another wonderful botanical option for the nature lovers.
- Snap a photo of the Peter Pan statue.
- Shop the historic Portobello Road for unique souvenir options.
Located east from Charing Cross, this shopping district boasts a ton of history and culture with several modern shopping and entertainment options alongside traditional architecture.
Things to Do in Covent Garden
- Take a city bus tour (that you can actually pick up in many of these neighborhoods) for a chance to explore it all.
- Spring for a show at the Royal Opera House to see Britain’s most talented performers.
- For the art lovers, Courtauld Gallery offers more master works of art to enjoy.
- Americans will value the chance to visit Benjamin Franklin’s House, to see where this inventor and statesman lived before the Revolutionary War.
- See an avant garde performance or classic show at the Donmar Warehouse.
This artsy area is the legacy of the famous Bloomsbury Group – including greats like Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster – and is today still a thriving artistic and literary community.
Things to Do in Bloomsbury
- Head a few blocks north to the world famous British Library, an unparalleled research resource and a fun place to tour.
- Visit the British Museum for a chance to explore one of the country’s top collections of art and artifacts (including Ancient Egyptian artifacts).
- Lit lovers won’t want to miss the Charles Dickens House, where this popular nineteenth-century author wrote Oliver Twist.
- Explore the bizarre and singular world of Sir John Soane, whose house has been preserved exactly has he left it for generations to marvel at his ingenuity.
Greenwich is probably most famous as the site of the Royal Observatory, which calculates the official time observed by the entire planet. But it’s also filled with other attractions from museums to historic ships. A visit here is worth the short trip out east from Central London.
Things to Do in Greenwich
- Antique lover? You must stop by the Clock Tower Antiques Market for your next great find.
- Visit the Cutty Sark, a speedy nineteenth-century clipper ship which is today preserved as a museum.
- If you liked the idea of the historic ship, then the National Maritime Museum is another great destination for you.
- The Royal Observatory is definitely a must – where else can you stand on the Prime Meridian AND see the calculations at work?
London’s wealthiest neighborhood, Knightsbridge is home to major shopping venues and tiny boutiques, all selling the top names in fashion and design. Come here with a hefty budget if you want to purchase anything. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with some active window-shopping!
Things to Do in Knightsbridge
- The big highlights of Knightsbridge are the two iconic stores, Harrods and Harvey Nichols.
- You can also enjoy a tasty meal at one of the many amazing (and predictably pricey) restaurants in the area.