Samuel Johnsons old adage that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” might sound a whopping cliche these days, but he still had a point. London has it all: astounding architecture, marvellous museums (most of which are free), bucolic expanses and languid riversides, enthralling culture high and low, and a genuinely world-beating restaurant and bar scene. Its perhaps the city-aficionados city, and certainly one of the globes great capitals.

Its also a truly sprawling metropolis: a morass of distinct neighbourhoods connected by a complex web of tube lines, bus routes and boats, impossible to explore properly in one fell swoop. Making the most of London means picking a district or three that reflect your character and really digging in. Heres a guide to what Londons best neighbourhoods hold for the inquisitive traveller.

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Soho and the West End

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A thronging pub on Soho's Old Compton Street / Image: Alamy

The one for: glamour and clamour

Sohos come a long way since its gloriously sleazy heyday, but the area – a warren of byways between Regent Street and Charing Cross Road – is still vibrant, chaotic London in a nutshell. This is especially true of the roads off and around Old Compton and Dean streets, collectively an epicentre of the citys gay scene and home to some of Sohos most atmospheric boozers and restaurants. To the west, youll find bougie shopping at Liberty and Carnaby Street, to the south the bright lights of the Theatreland district. Its hardly a relaxing hood, but London doesnt come more evocative.

Camden & Kentish Town

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Canalside Camden is where much of the area's action lies / Image: Getty Images

The one for: music, markets and canalside munching

As every Londoner knows, Camden Town lost a lot of lustre after the Cool Britannia era, becoming a bit of tatty shell of its former self. But it’s decisively on the up again: the Stables Market, past the canal towards Chalk Farm, now offers some awesome street food (and is still home to the sartorial psytrance mecca of Cyberdog) and the areas venues remain a reliable hub for alternative music (the Electric Ballroom and metal pub The Black Heart especially). But for a more relaxing experience, head a mile or so north to Kentish Town – its got a family-friendly vibe, with its cute city farm and easy access to pretty Parliament Hill.

South Kensington & Chelsea

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South Ken's whizz-bang V&A is arguably London's best museum / Image: ©visitlondon.com/Jon Reid

The one for: antiquity aficionados

Londons world renowned for its museums, and one of the best in town is the V&A: a breathtaking and enormous collection of decorative art and design that you could get merrily lost in for weeks. The Natural History Museum, just across the road, is equally ace (especially if youre into dinosaurs), and collectively they represent South Kens key draws. Just to the south, Chelsea is a rarefied district of pretty mews houses, charming boozers, verdant squares and the very well-to-do. The Kings Road, which stretches from Sloane Square to Fulham, is the buzzy commercial and cultural heart, though any one of its streets would make a perfectly lovely bolthole for a long weekend.

Richmond

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A lone cyclist surveys Richmond Park's autumnal splendour / Image: ©visitlondon.com/Jon Reid

Best for: wild parks and historic views

Its a bit of a schlep out of town, but Richmonds picture-perfect setting and provision of wild green space makes it one of west Londons dreamiest hoods. The town makes fine use of its position on the banks of the Thames, with rowing boats for hire under the bridge and some excellent waterside watering holes. But Richmond Park, with its hordes of deer, protected views of St Pauls Cathedral, and miles of painterly woods and grassland, is the big ticket. Head south out of town, taking in the view over Petersham Meadows from Richmond Hill, and youll amble straight into it.

Peckham

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A prime view of the city skyline from Frank's rooftop bar / Image: Alamy

Best for: skyline sundowners and cutting-edge eats

For the last few years, Peckham in southeast London has been the citys hipster ground-zero. Originally, this was buoyed almost purely by the presence of iconic rooftop bar Franks (rather, inexplicably, than William Blakes favourite park, the Rye). But now, the area around the station thrums with achingly cool restaurants and drinking dens, clubs and multifaceted art spaces (all while resisting wholesale gentrification and retaining a strong African identity). Nearby Bellenden Road offers a far more villagey and genteel foil.

Brixton

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Brixton Village is one of the area's two kick-ass food markets / Image: Alamy

The one for: beautiful chaos

And you thought Peckham was hectic? Its got nothing on Brixton, south Londons most culturally energising neighbourhood. Its hugely multicultural, with a tumultuous history, and a thrumming, noisy atmosphere. Come for fantastic eats around the two markets and stay for the bass-heavy club culture, arthouse flicks at the Ritzy on regenerated Windrush Square, and the iconic vestige of old Brixton that is Hootenanny, a riotous pub/music-hall up Brixton Hill.

Shoreditch and Dalston

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Vivid street art in a cobbled Shoreditch backstreet / Image: ©visitlondon.com/Jon Reid

The one for: ageing hipsters

Connected by the traffic vein that is Kingsland Road, Shoreditch and Dalston are slowly outgrowing the hyper-cool reputations they held a decade ago – but not to their detriment. The former has largely shed itself of the dayglo grime of its hipster zenith: its well worth visiting for the excellent lifestyle shopping around Redchurch Street and top-tier restaurants like Rochelle Canteen, a seasonal British spot in a school garden off pretty Arnold Circus. Dalston remains rougher around the edges, but with an artsier vibe across places like avant-garde music venue Cafe Oto, multipurpose theatre EartH and the little corner of sylvan respite that is Dalston Curve Garden.

Clerkenwell and Barbican

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A placid day at the Barbican Estate / Image: ©visitlondon.com/Jon Reid

Best for: contemporary culture vultures

The brutalist babe that is the Barbican Centre should be top of the list for any visiting architecture or arts fans (its jungly Conservatory is one of Londons great hidden green spots, to boot). A great base for visiting it is nearby Clerkenwell, with its sea of designer furniture stores (and annual Design Week), quiet historic streets, premier contemporary dance venue Sadlers Wells and Exmouth Market – perhaps the finest foodie 300m in London. Letter enthusiasts should head across the road to the Postal Museum at Mount Pleasant; here, they can hop on the old subterranean mail railthat used to to transport parcels around London.

Bloomsbury

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The interior atrium at Bloomsbury's British Museum / Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum

The one for: rarefied reading

The Bloomsbury Set – the cohort of early 20th century intellectual heavyweights that included Virginia Woolf and EM Forster – may be long dissolved, but this seemly area just south of Euston Road still holds much to interest the bookish visitor. The London Review Bookshop – spitting distance from the gargantuan and matchless British Museum – and secondhand treasure trove Skoob are two of Londons finest; more scholarly bookworms should make for the reading rooms of the British Library just across the way (it also holds regular exhibitions and literary events if youre not just in it for the research).

Hampstead

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Diving into Hampstead Ponds offers a full immersion into nature / Image: Getty Images

The one for: wild swimming and wild nature

A mish-mash of adorable backstreets, boutiquey shops and obscenely beautiful houses, Hampstead Village is undoubtedly Londons loveliest locale. Better still, it sits adjacent to the expanse of Hampstead Heath, with its epic views of central London and verdant greenery. But the true icing on Hampsteads upmarket cake are its three wild swimming ponds. The mixed pond is close to the Overground station, while the mens and ladiespools are across the Heath near Highgate Hill. Their chilly, murky waters offer an immersion in nature (youll be sharing the soup with all kinds of waterfowl) quite unlike any other in London.

Greenwich

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A view to the Observatory from Greenwich's Old Royal Naval College / Image: Adobe Stock

The one for: maritime marvels

Wetter = better in Greenwich, a leafy riverside part of southeast London home to the National Maritime Museum, dry-docked tea clipper the Cutty Sark and the Old Royal Naval College, with its pristine lawns and austere columns designed by Sir Christopher Wren. When youve had your fill of nauticalia, a leisurely amble up the hill through Greenwich Park (Londons oldest) will bring you to the Royal Observatory. Dont forget to make a little time to see the Prime Meridian Line – the spot that marks the exact point of transition between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.

 

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