The West End
If you can afford it, staying in the West End is still the quintessential London experience. On your doorstep is a glorious whirl of all that the city stands for -- world-class theatre, historic sights, and shopping that spans the full range from the dirt-cheap to the wallet-batteringly expensive. Of course, all this comes at a price -- don't expect to stay in the West End cheaply, or for your room to be particularly spacious or quiet. But do expect the wild mish-mash of London life right on your doorstep.
Bloomsbury teams quiet, tree-lined streets and Georgian terraces with access to Oxford Street shopping and Theatreland, while near-neighbor Covent Garden is noisier, smarter, and right at the heart of the action. Marylebone is more "villagey" than either, with a mix of high-end hotels and smaller, family-run establishments. If London's just one port of call on a larger trip then consider King's Cross; it's not the prettiest of central locations, but unparalleled transport links to the north of Britain and continental Europe make it a fine base. Turn-of-the-century London -- with all the gentleman's clubs, royal buildings, and gracious hotels you'd expect -- is on show in St. James's (at decidedly 21st-century prices). But for the full-on, 24-hour, everything-on-your-doorstep feeling, it has to be Soho. Just remember to bring your credit card, and earplugs.
There's a good reason why so many hotels are based in West London. Great transport links mean that it only takes minutes to reach the sights and sounds of the West End, but your home from home is in a quieter, leafier, and much more reasonably priced district. And there should be a hotel for every taste. Paddington and Bayswater throng with terraced family-run hotels that don't offer much in the way of glamour, but with Hyde Park on your doorstep and the West End minutes away you won't be home much anyway. Notting Hill is more self-contained, with a mix of upscale boutiques, celeb-rich restaurants, and the clamor of Portobello Road market. Hotels here are more expensive, but also more elegant. Nearby Maida Vale might be West London's prettiest locale. Canals, coffee shops, and calm wide streets make it a great spot for those who relish their peace and quiet. Expect to pay a little more for the privilege.
All of London's classic attractions -- shopping, royal life, and green spaces -- without the frenetic whirl of the West End, make Southwest London a popular choice for first-time visitors. If you're going to splurge on a hotel, Knightsbridge has the smartest -- classic town houses with haute cuisine in the restaurants, Hyde Park for a garden, and Harrods as the local store. Kensington and Chelsea, like Knightsbridge, are heavy on grand Edwardian accommodation, but with less flash, and less expense, than their neighbor. Victoria and Pimlico are cheaper still -- don't expect doormen and drawing rooms here -- but have great transport links. With plenty of smaller hotels and B&Bs, they make a practical sightseer's base. Westminster puts you at the seat of British politics and royal grandeur. It's the place if you want to live like a visiting dignitary, just don't expect to do it on the cheap.
The South Bank
The South Bank is where Londoners and tourists come out to play -- the stretch from Westminster Bridge to London Bridge takes in museums, theatres, and galleries, and is populated with a mix of visitors, street performers, and skateboarders. Hotels are so concentrated north of the Thames that it's easy to forget that the majority of London is south of it, and rooms in prime spots such as Waterloo and the South Bank are closer to the London Eye, Tower Bridge, and that strip of world-class arts venues than most of their West End counterparts.
Time was that hotels in and around the Square Mile were just for businessmen -- they were staid, reassuringly expensive, and internationally bland. There are still plenty of these identikit rooms available for short stays, but the City's hip neighbors -- Shoreditch and Clerkenwell -- have injected some cool into the area. As an added bonus, weekend rates around here can be the closest thing to a bargain you'll find in London.
The story of London in the 21st century has been the eastward drift of its center. As the old East End becomes increasingly gentrified, it's here that the most interesting new hotels are opening. Design hotels, hip crashpads, and historic conversions make this the new hangout for fashion-conscious travelers. Better still, improved transport links mean that all this is just a hop, skip, and a jump from central London.
North & Northwest London
Traditionally this isn't a great part of London for hotels, but Regent's Park is a fine area for mixing green space with easy Tube access to the central action. Hampstead is home to a multitude of tiny, family-run B&Bs for that village vacation feel, just a short hop from the center.
Near the Airports
Out near Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stanstead are the lands of chain hotels. All are fine if not exciting. Unless you have a very early morning flight we don't recommend staying out near any of London's airport as none offer an easy commute into and out of the city of London. You really want to be in London if you're visiting London.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.