Neighbourhoods

London is a tough city to divide, with its multitudinous villages, divergent councils, ancient parishes and haphazard postcodes, none of which take into account the borders of any of the others.

The centre of the city is the commercial West End, with its kernel Soho and Covent Garden surrounded by academic Bloomsbury, bohe-mian Fitzrovia, chic Marylebone, superrich Mayfair, royal St James's and the political village of Westminster. Here you'll find much of the best shopping, eating and entertainment options in London, as well as most of the other visitors to the city.

The South Bank, facing the West End and the City across the Thames, serves up theatre, art, film and music, and features two of London's most iconic modern sights, Tate Modern and the London Eye, as well as the wonderful Borough Market.

The wealthy stretch of neighbourhoods from Hyde Park to Chelsea includes superexclusive Belgravia, shopping mecca Knightsbridge, the various guises of exceptionally posh Kensington and the large village of Chelsea, famed for the King's Rd. No visit to London is complete without checking out South Ken's museums, visiting Harrods and Harvey Nicks in Knightsbridge, or wandering the magnificent open spaces of Hyde Park.

To the east of the West End lie both the City (once the ancient Roman walled city, now the financial hub of London) and the once shabby neighbourhoods of Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and Spitalfields, now London's most creative and exciting districts. Here you'll find supercool Hoxton Sq with its clubs and bars, Spitalfields Market and fantastic Brick Lane, longtime curry hub of Banglatown and now one of the best clothes-shopping areas in London.

Further east lie the East End and Docklands: the East End is 'real' London, a multiethnic yet strangely traditional stretch of the city that's home of the famous cockney. The East End looks set to be transformed in the coming years as the London 2012 Olympics will be held in the valley of the River Lea in and around Stratford at the East End's furthest edge. Docklands is another, albeit government- and financial sector-driven, example of urban renewal - now seriously rivalling the City as the home of the capital's money men and London's tallest skyscrapers. The future belongs to the east due not only to the Olympics, but also to the Thames Gateway, a huge development of the Thames estuary.

North London is a hilly collection of charming villages, which often seem to exist as worlds within themselves, such as old money Hampstead and Highgate, celebrity-filled Primrose Hill, fashionable Islington, hippy Stoke Newington and well-healed Crouch End. In between are urban centres such as Finchley Rd, Camden Town, Holloway and Finsbuiy Park.

West London is grand, moneyed and home to some of London's most traditional must-sees including Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament and gems such as Kensington Palace. West London, too, has its cooler side in Notting Hill and Portobello Rd, with its great sheet market, superb shopping and many of the city's better pubs and bars.

South of the river, Greenwich enchants with its huge historic importance as a centre of maritime activity, and, of course, time. Neighbouring Southeast London areas of Deptford, New Cross and Woolwich are showing signs of becoming South London's long-awaited answer to Shoreditch.

Vast, residential South London has multiple flavours, from the leafy Blackheath, Clapham, Putney and Richmond to the edgier, rougher likes of Brixton, Kennington and Vauxhall.

Southwest London includes such well-known urban villages as Putney, Barnes, Richmond, Wimbledon and Kew that between them attract huge visitor numbers for the wonderful botanical gardens, the tennis and the almost perfectly preserved tudor palace of Heniy VIII at Hampton Court.

London takes years to get to know and even Londoners never entirely agree on what to call certain areas - so take things easily and always have a good map to hand - although much of London's charm rests in what you'll discover when you leave the beaten track and explore on your own.

'much of London's charm rests in what you'll discover when you leave the beaten track and explore on your own'

ITINERARY BUILDER

London is best approached in small, easy-to-digest chunks - its sheer size and variety of things to see and do (not to mention eat, drink and buy) may result in heart failure or at the very least severe exhaustion. For the purposes of our Itinerary Builder, West London includes our Hyde Park to Chelsea and West London neighbourhoods. South London includes the Greenwich & Southeast London, South London and Southwest London neighbourhoods.

ACTIVITIES Sights

Eating

Drinking

West End National Gallery (p75)

National Portrait Gallery

Sir John Soane's Museum

Gay Hussar (p239) Busaba Eathai (p245) Portrait (p240)

Gordon's Wine Bar (p280) French House (p278) Seven Stars (p280)

The City

Tower of London (pi 19) St Paul's Cathedral (pi09) Temple Church (pi 13)

Paternoster Chop House

Place Below (p249) Sweeting's (p248)

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Dickens Inn (p288) Jamaica Wine House (p282)

Clerkenwell, Shoreditch & Spitalfields

Geffrye Museum (pi51) Dennis Severe' House (pi 52)

St John (p255) Moro (p255) Bacchus (p257)

Foundry (p285) George & Dragon (p286) Jerusalem Tavern (p285)

The South Bank

Tate Modern (pi 29)

British Airways London Eye

Southwark Cathedral (pi31)

Skylon (p249) Anchor & Hope (p249) Blue Print Café (p250)

George Inn (p283) King's Arms (p283) Baltic (p282)

West London

Victoria & Albert Museum

(pi 39) Kensington Place (p267) Leighton House (pi 76)

Tom Aikens (p252) Daquise (p253) Olivo (p254)

Windsor Castle (p292) Earl of Lonsdale (p292)

North London

London Zoo (pi 65) Hampstead Heath (pi 70) Highgate Cemetery (pi 70)

Manna (p262)

Duke of Cambridge (p264)

La Gaffe (p264)

Hollybush (p289) Elk in the Woods (p290) Edinboro Castle (p289)

East London

V&A Museum of Childhood

Museum in Docklands (pi 61) Ragged School Museum

(pi 59)

Café Spice Ñamaste (p260) Wapping Food (p261)

Bistrotheque (p287) Prospect of Whitby (p288) Grapes(p288)

South London

Royal Observatory (pi81)

Hampton Court Palace

Imperial War Museum (pi 97)

Inside (p270) Glasshouse (p274) Lobster Pot(p272)

Trafalgar Tavern (p293) Barmy Arms (p296) So.uk (p294)

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