South of Oxford Street, Soho is jam-packed with exuberant restaurants, café-bars and clubs. The spicy smells of Peking duck waft out over the ceremonial arches of Chinatown. To the north-east is Bloomsbury, a district of 18th-century garden squares ringed by handsome terraces, many converted into convenient central London hotels. Bloomsbury’s star attraction is the British Museum, exhibiting one of the world’s finest collections of ancient treasures. The appealing stores opposite sell fading maps and antique books.
West of Soho is Mayfair, whose glamorous reputation is well deserved. It’s home to many of the most luxurious hotels in London and a stay can mean tea at The Ritz and shopping at the Queen’s grocer Fortnum & Mason. To Mayfair’s north, Marylebone is lower key but still decidedly upmarket. Dip in and out of smart specialist stores like The Conran Shop and Edwardian gem Daunt Books with its oak-panelled galleries. Orderly Regent’s Park is nearby, and Paddington Station (for the Heathrow Express) in hotel-rich Bayswater is to the west.
To the west of central London and just south of Hyde Park, refined Kensington is home to cultural giants like the Royal Albert Hall and the family-friendly Natural History Museum. Knightsbridge’s high-end department stores Harrods and Harvey Nichols are just down the road. Stretching south to the river with London hotels in redbrick townhouses, Chelsea is assured and sophisticated. Michelin-starred chefs like Gordon Ramsay hide their flagship restaurants down discreet residential streets.
Big Ben chimes over Westminster’s neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament where Britain’s politicians squabble like children at Prime Minister’s Questions. Trains from Gatwick Airport arrive at nearby Victoria Station. If you fancy staying in the Queen’s back yard look for a London hotel in the surrounding residential streets – Buckingham Palace and St James’s Park are just up the road. Art lovers can catch a shuttle boat painted with Damian Hirst spots from Tate Britain past the London Eye to Tate Modern on the south bank of the river.
East of central London lie districts like Clerkenwell and Shoreditch, where Londoners head to eat, drink and rub shoulders with up-and-coming artists and designers. Financial district The City can be an interesting choice of where to stay in London, where gleaming modern buildings tower over fragments of the Roman and medieval city. Victorian Spitalfields Market has been given a facelift, while along nearby Brick Lane fashionistas mix with the Bangladeshi community.