First time tourist in London photographing Tower Bridge

The Best Area to Stay in London for First Time Visitors

Where is the best area to stay in London when you’re a first time visitor? London is huge, and tourist sights are spread all over. Choosing a place to stay can be overwhelming when you’re trying to navigate everything for the first time. This guide narrows down where you want to stay to be close to everything. I’ve also recommended hotels for all price points that won’t mean spending an hour on the train each day just to get near what you want to see.

I’m an American living in England. I’ve always lived just outside London, and have spent plenty of day trips, long weekends, and extended trips with visitors exploring the city. I’ve stayed in all of the areas I recommend and hope this guide helps you plan the perfect place to stay in London.

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Quick Reference: Top 5 Hotel Picks for Central London

Best budget hotel in central London: The Z Hotel Covent Garden

Interior rooms lack windows, but are still bright and comfortable with private bathrooms. The least expensive way to stay in the heart of London.

Best mid-range hotel in central London: The Bloomsbury

Stylish rooms close to the action, but tucked enough away to get you a quiet night’s sleep. Amazingly conveninet if you fly into Heathrow – just take the Elizabeth line to Tottenham Court Road station.

Best luxury hotel in central London: One Aldwych

Classic luxury with all the amenities. Lavishly comfortable rooms right in the heart of the West End, and don’t miss the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed afternoon tea.

Best family-friendly hotel in central London: Bankside Hotel

The Thames is right outside, offering riverside strolls that are anything but boring. Street performers and artists dot the walkway and several family-friendly restaurants are nearby. Inside, the hotel offers family rooms and complimentary coloring materials for young aspiring artists.

Best unique special occasion hotel in central London: The Rookery

Four poster beds, wood paneled walls, crackling fireplaces… if you’re dreaming of a London stay that’s worthy of once-in-a-lifetime memories, this is where you should go.

London: Know before you go

✈️ Closest airport: London has six major airports, but most visitors travel through either London Heathrow (LHR) or London Gatwick (LGW)

💷 Currency: Great British Pound (£) is used throughout the UK.

🕰️ Time zone: The entire UK is in one time zone, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). From late March to late October, the whole country moves an hour forward to British Summer Time (BST).

🔌 Plugging in electronics: Electric sockets in the UK are unlike those in Europe or the US. If you are visiting from outside the UK, you will likely need this universal travel adaptor.

📱 Using your smartphone: If you want to use your phone data while visiting, the easiest and cheapest solution is to purchase an e-sim for your trip.

🚘 Car rentals: If you only visit London, then you should not bother renting a car. It will be expensive and more trouble than it is worth. If you’re headed beyond London, Americans can rent a car in the UK with a valid US driver’s license from any state. I recommend Discover Cars to find the best pricing on UK rental cars. Driving in the UK is not for the faint of heart, so check out my guide to driving in the UK before you set out!

🚊 Train booking: All major UK cities, and many other destinations in between, can be reached by train. Check train routes, ticket prices, and get your tickets directly through Trainline.

How Important is Where You Stay in London?

In such a large city, it is easy to waste time on endless Tube rides rather than seeing the things you came here to see. Unless you’re a superfan of public transportation, staying near the action is vital to having a great first-time visit to London. Plus, less time spent commuting means more time to wander and uncover London’s hidden gems. Learn more about London transportation and more with my London travel tips.

Map Guide to Central London

So, you want to stay close to the things you want to see, and that seems to mean central London. But where is central London? Let’s map it out. 

The purple area outlines the best area to stay in for your first trip to London. I added some of the popular London tourist sights so that you can get a visual of how staying in this area will keep you close to a lot of what you want to see.

I’ll get into what to expect from each neighborhood below, and explain the slightly less central areas that you might still want to consider. 

The Best London Neighborhoods for Tourists

Central is great, but what should you expect from the different areas in London? Every neighborhood has its own unique feel, and you may find yourself more drawn to the personality of some neighborhoods over others. 

Covent Garden

Covent Garden is the most central area of central London. This is also the heart of the West End theatre district and a very bustling area. You can easily walk to many tourist sights from here and really feel immersed in the city. You’ll have no shortage of restaurants and shopping on your doorstep when you stay in Covent Garden. Don’t miss exploring the Seven Dials neighborhood, and duck into bright and cheery Neal’s Yard.

Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden

If you are flying into Heathrow, note that the Elizabeth line (super bright and clean new underground train route) will bring you to Tottenham Court Road Station. That station is located just north of Covent Garden. This can make your airport transfers a straightforward Tube ride and short walk. 

If you aren’t a city person, then Covent Garden can feel overwhelming. It is busy here all the time. If you’re craving a quieter retreat at the end of your day, a different neighborhood could be a better fit. 


If you play the British version of Monopoly, the most expensive spot on the board is Mayfair. I share that to set the scene a bit for what to expect in this neighborhood. Not all of the hotels here are over the top, but you can expect a generally posh area with many ridiculously expensive cars parked along the roads. 

All of this fanciness makes for a quieter area than Covent Garden that is dotted with flowering window gardens and private parks. There are several embassies scattered about, which can be fun to spot as well. It’s a very pretty area that is still well connected, so easy to use as a base for exploring.


This is my hidden gem of a place to stay in London for first time visitors. As you can see from the map, the River Thames runs through London. Most of central London lies north of the river, along with many of the popular tourist sights. 

The area just south of the river tends to be a bit less expensive, but often has gorgeous views across the river to major sights. From here you have a choice of several bridges to walk across, giving you the chance to start and end your days with my favorite London city views. The London Eye is located here as well, and some Tube lines cross below the river.  

Southbank isn’t going to give you the polish of Mayfair, but it is a central area with the potential for great views and river strolls. It’s also a nice area for families thanks to the wide walks along the Thames that give room to run little legs. It also often hosts entertainers and pop-up markets along the water. The nearby Waterloo train station is handy for day trips to explore Hampton Court Palace.


If your first visit to London is a whirlwind fast stop, then Westminster could be a great option. Two of the very biggest tourist draws – Buckingham Palace and Big Ben – are both right here. If you fly into Gatwick airport, then train service will bring you right into Westminster at London Victoria station. This is a top way to see the most in the least amount of time.

If you want to hit the royal highlights in London, then Westminster makes for a convenient base. You’re already on the doorstep of Buckingham Palace, and Kensington Palace can be reached with a short Tube ride or a leafy walk through Hyde Park.

Slightly Less Central


This is probably my favorite area of London, and one I’ve stayed in several times. The high street is loaded with lovely shops, including the surprisingly gorgeous Daunt Books (see why in my Rainy Day guide to London – it’s number 27 on the list). Depending on where you stay in Marylebone, it’s a short walk to find nature in either Regent’s Park or Hyde Park. If you want to pretend you can afford to live in central London, this is a great place to do that. 

Daunt Books in Marylebone

Unfortunately, the center of Marylebone is not home to any Tube stops. It’s not usually a far walk to find one, but know that it’s unlikely you will have a station right outside your hotel.

City of London

What could be more central in London than the City of London? Kind of a lot, it turns out. This is the financial hub of London, and a lot of what’s around supports the finance employees that commute in for work. Don’t be shocked when the coffee shop on the corner is closed weekends, or the streets start looking bare at night.

In spite of the modern work buzz in this neighborhood, it’s the oldest part of London. There are some great bits to this neighborhood, and history pops up everywhere. For example, an ancient Roman temple was uncovered during construction of a modern building. Today, you can visit the London Mithraeum under that building to see the temple ruins and learn about the temple’s mysterious history. Remnants of the Roman wall that surrounded early London can be found along the aptly named London Wall Rd.

Leadenhall Market City of London
Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market is also worth a wander – one of the shops here was used in the Harry Potter films as the entrance to The Leaky Cauldron. The Victorian architecture of the covered market often stops people in their tracks.

From this area, you’ll be close to St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Sky Garden.


If you fly into Heathrow, the quickest route into London is the Heathrow Express. This brings you to Paddington station, which is not within the most central part of London. Staying here can still be a good bet if you want to limit your luggage hauling as much as possible. You’ll only need to navigate the streets between Paddington and your hotel.

Paddington is also a major station with connections to several Tube lines, making it easy to get around central London easily. The beautiful new Elizabeth line stops here, so you could hop on and be near Covent Garden at Tottenham Road Station in under 10 minutes. 

South Kensington

If you’re coming to London with museums high on your wishlist, South Kensington will put you right on the doorstep of Museum Row. This area includes the famous Natural History Museum and the V&A. For everything other than these museums, you’ll be traveling a bit further. 

London Natural History Museum
London Natural History Museum

South Kensington is also within a short walk of Hyde Park, and not too far from Kensington Palace. It’s a gorgeous neighborhood with a lot of pretty London buildings and good restaurants.

How Much Does it Cost to Stay in London?

Most mid-range hotels in central London will cost £250+ per night. It’s not hard to find hotels running higher than £500 per night. 

I know, it’s expensive here. However, it is possible to find budget options, even in central London. I strongly recommend against booking cheaper lodging further out to save money on your trip. You will pay for it in higher transportation costs and less time to devote to sight seeing. 

The Best Hotels in London for First Time Visitors

Your first visit to London will be wonderful and probably a bit overwhelming. Picking a hotel or rental that is near a Tube station will help minimize your travel time to see the sights. At the same time, you’re more likely to find quiet spaces and lower prices if you aren’t quite as well connected. These hotel recommendations aim to make your experience as smooth as possible, combining easy commutes with good quality stays.  

The Bloomsbury Hotel 

The Bloomsbury Hotel. Image: Expedia

The Bloomsbury is an ideal base for first-time visitors that are flying in and out of Heathrow. Take the Elizabeth line from Heathrow to Tottenham Court Road and find the hotel just around the corner. You’ll be right where you want to be in central London with minimal fuss. The hotel features vintage charm and comfy beds. 

“The staff was very friendly and professional from the front desk to housekeeping. Everyone made you feel welcome and all were eager to assist. The atmosphere was so inviting and relaxing. The room was spacious and well appointed. The beds and linens were exceptionally comfortable. The toiletries smelled so good I didn’t bother to unpack mine. The location was excellent, tucked in on a side street like a grand mansion. The espresso maker was a welcome treat. I would definitely recommend the Bloomsbury Hotel to a solo traveller as a safe and comfortable place to stay. From the business traveler to the family vacation the Bloomsbury will not disappoint.”

Debra from United States of America (see more reviews)

The May Fair  

The May Fair. Image: Expedia

While this hotel is located in posh Mayfair, and only a block away from The Ritz London, the May Fair offers luxury without completely breaking the bank. You’re only a short walk to Green Park station, making Tube access quick and easy. Expect comfy beds with plush pillows to sink into after a long day of sightseeing. 

Some room rates include breakfast, and there are family room options as well as luxury suites.

“Everything! Amazing stay, staff were all so friendly and couldn’t do enough for us would highly recommend.”

Abbie from United Kingdom (see more reviews)

Park Plaza Westminster Bridge 

Park Plaza Westminster Bridge. Image: Expedia

Fancy waking up to a view of Big Ben or The London Eye? You can find that here, as well as many room size options that are great for families. The hotel also has great amenities, including a couple of restaurants, a pool, and a 24-hour gym. It’s a short walk across Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

“Location was great! Spacious rooms, very clean and modern hotel, the beds are very comfortable! Very close to Waterloo station, Big Ben and Westminster. Friendly staff and super service! Amazing London Eye view from the window! 100% recommended!”

Marina from Ireland (see more reviews)

Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street 

Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street. Image: Expedia

I’ve stayed in Radisson Blu properties in several cities, and have always had a good experience with them. This location is in the heart of Seven Dials, a wonderful bit of Covent Garden home to unique shops and delicious restaurants. The hotel has a restaurant on site, but I’d skip that in favor of exploring the Seven Dials streets. In fact, two of my favorite spots to eat are located very close to this hotel: Home Slice Pizza in Neal’s Yard and Seven Dials Market. 

“Lovely hotel, great breakfast, perfect location. 2nd time staying here, will be my go to place for all future London trips.”

Austen from United Kingdom (see more reviews)

The Londoner

The Londoner. Image: Expedia

It does not get more central than this. The Londoner is located on Leicester Square. While Leicester Square itself can be over the top touristy, you’ll be within walking distance from many of the best London sights. The hotel offers modern and comfortable rooms that start at London-reasonable prices and go up to the slightly insane. An indoor pool and on-site restaurants and bars will help you unwind after your London sightseeing. 

“Everything about this hotel was perfect, the location, the facilities, the staff! Customer service was the best I’ve ever had at a hotel in London, worth every penny.”

Amy from United Kingdom (see more reviews)

Best London Hotels for Families and Groups

Finding space for more than two travelers in London is hard. It’s an expensive city and lodging that can accommodate more than a couple isn’t available in high quantities. 

I’ve rented flats through AirBnB before, with very mixed results. I don’t recommend that for your first visit to London because it’s very hard to find something central that isn’t either outrageously priced, further away than you realize, or giving scam vibes. 

With that said, don’t give up hope! These hotels offer family-sized rooms or even a small apartment without outrageous prices.

Citadines Trafalgar Square

Citadines Trafalgar Square. Image: Expedia

This apart-hotel offers studios, 1-bedroom, and 2-bedroom flats just down the road from Trafalgar Square. You’ll also have a kitchenette and small dining table in your flat, making it easy to have snacks or breakfast in. 

“Excellent location. . 2 minute walk from London eye. 1 bedroom apartment. Very spacious. A double bed in the room and two comfy single beds fold out from the sofa in the living room. Also a small kitchen will all utensils and a good size TV”

Keegan from Ireland (see more reviews)

Bankside Hotel 

Bankside Hotel. Image: Expedia

This hotel offers something that is very common in the US, but pretty hard to find in the UK and Europe – a hotel room with two large beds. If you’re traveling with children or friends and want some space without booking a suite, then this could be the right place for you. Located in the Southbank area of London, you’ll be close to the London Eye and gorgeous walks along the Thames.

“The property was so nice! The room, with all of the comforts, great skin/hair products, teas, snacks. Quiet and dark. The staff was super helpful and just overall a top notch property. Would highly recommend and would return when in London!”

Laura from United States of America (see more reviews)


Best London Hotels for a Special Occasion

If your first trip to London is to celebrate something special, these luxury and unique options will give you something to remember. 

The Rookery 

The Rookery. Image: Expedia

This is the perfect hotel for an unforgettable London trip. Dark wood furnishings, including some four poster beds, will make you feel like you stepped into your own private London townhome. 

The Rook’s Nest is their signature suite, and includes a big canopy bed, fully stocked bookshelves, and a lofted seating area beside a circular window. 

Located near Farringdon station, which connects with the Elizabeth line for easy Heathrow transfers, and the Overground network in case your plans include day trips outside of the city.

This is a smaller boutique hotel, so book early if you have your heart set on staying here.

“The care and attention the staff showed us during our stay was really refreshing. They clearly cared about making this a meaningful experience and left a handwritten note in the room to mark the occasion, which was a big birthday. The communal rooms with open fires were an absolute treat to lounge in and were not overcrowded at the times we used them; in fact we had the whole room to ourselves for a while. The breakfast was absolutely incredible. I loved how easy it was to order (by filling in a check box and hanging it outside the room). We both opted for the continental which was delivered to the room and was so fresh and plentiful!”

Samantha from United Kingdom (see more reviews)

One Aldwych 

One Aldwych. Image: Expedia

This luxury hotel is in the heart of Covent Garden, only a five minute walk from Covent Garden Tube station. Rooms here are plush and soothing – a good place to relax even when the city outside is noisy. The on-site pool plays underwater music, and you can spoil yourself in the spa and high-end restaurants. Their afternoon tea service also tends to be at the top of lists for best spots to try in London.   

“We had an amazing stay at One Aldwych. The staff were fantastic, and simply couldn’t have done any more to help us during our stay. The hotels location is superb, just minute walk to Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and the whole West End theatre district.”

James from United Kingdom (see more reviews)

The Savoy 

The Savoy. Image: Expedia

This hotel has been one of the fanciest in London since 1889. It has seen celebrities and politicians over the years, and even boasts the only drive-on-the-right road in London at its entrance. The lobbies and rooms are all done up in either Edwardian or Art Deco style. You’ll also find several excellent restaurants on site. 

“From the time you arrive till the time you leave the Savoy experience is extra special. The staff cannot be more accommodating and nothing is too much trouble you are treated like Royalty. The dining in the Gordon Ramsey and the breakfast served to excellence If your going for a stay in the west end of London there is no better choice and we would 100% recommend you try the Savoy.”

Andrew from United Kingdom (see more reviews)

Best London Hotels for Budget and Solo Travel

If you really need to keep your costs down, or are traveling alone and just looking for a safe place to rest each night, are you out of luck in London? You can make it work, but may need to make some creative choices. 

Z Hotel Covent Garden 

This is a great creative option for budget-minded travelers who prefer hotels to hostels. You can find rooms here quite cheap for London, if you don’t mind a room without a window. This is the cheapest option in Covent Garden without sacrificing quality. You can also get a window room here for a bit more per night.

“Perfect location for a solo traveller. A few steps away from lots of bars and restaurants. The room was cosy and well appointed. I would definitely stay again.”

Green from United Kingdom (see more reviews)

YHA London Central 

Hostels are a tried and true way to keep costs down. This one offers a convenient location with shared or private room options. It is located just a bit north of the central London area I recommend, but is still just a few blocks from a Tube station and a reasonable walk to the British Museum.

“Handy for the underground (great portland street) also bus route. Professional staff, superb dorms very clean. There is a spacious self catering kitchen with all electrical appliances and washing up sink. They offer a paid breakfast. A lift operates to all floors.”

Janette from United Kingdom (see more reviews)

Best Area to Stay in London FAQs

Which zone should I stay in when I visit London?

When you start planning your trip to London, you’re going to hear a lot about London zones. Public transportation in London is price blocked in zones, with Zone 1 representing the middle of London and circling farther as the zone numbers increase. Check out this TFL zone map for a visual of the London zones.

Most London tourist sights are in Zone 1, with a handful in Zone 2. For this reason, first time visitors to London should stay in Zone 1 to limit the time you spend traveling to sightsee each day.

Where is Downtown London?

London does not have a downtown, which can be very confusing for first-time visitors. Historic sights and museums are scattered around – check out the map above for a visual.

Covent Garden is the most central London neighborhood for first-time visitors that want to be in the middle of the action.

Are hotel beds smaller in London?

Yes, Americans may be surprised to learn that beds here are typically smaller than what you find in the U.S. Most hotels offer either a full or queen-sized bed. 

To add to the confusion, hotels may advertise a “King room” that actually holds a queen-sized bed. This is because the sizing system for mattresses is different here. What you’d call a queen bed in the U.S. is called a king bed here. 

Luxury hotels are most likely to have American-style king beds, and does a good job of identifying the actual bed size in the room descriptions. 

Where are the cheapest places to stay in central London?

Unfortunately, there are no cheap places in central London. Check out the recommendations above for budget and solo travel options that keep costs low while staying in the middle of things. Consider Southbank (near the river), Marylebone, and City of London neighborhoods to occasionally find a deal. 

Where should I avoid staying in London?

London is a generally safe (use common sense as you would in any large city) and welcoming city, but there are some places I’d avoid to make sure your first visit is the best it can be:

  • Near the airports – you may find a cheaper rate, but the airports are far from the city center (check out my London travel tips to see how far) and you’ll quickly reduce your savings with daily transport fees.
  • Outside Zone 1 – for your first visit, stay near the things you want to see most. For instance, Greenwich is lovely, but you’ll again have a longer and sometimes crowded commute to reach central London.
  • In private lodging that isn’t well reviewed – There are unfortunately scams out there and lodging that won’t meet your expectations. For your first visit, don’t chance booking somewhere that hasn’t already received good reviews. And if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

How can I find the best prices on London hotels?

I use to compare prices on all London hotels. You can use their flexible dates rate finder to find the cheapest dates that work with your schedule. This can be a big help when you want to spend some time in London and also explore other places outside the city. Use the rate finder to pick the best rates in London and plan your time outside the city for the more expensive dates.

If you have a hefty stash of hotel loyalty or credit card points, those can come in handy. Be ready to book early, though, as points rooms can fill up further in advance. Also keep in mind that most hotel programs only book standard rooms on points, which may be too small if you’re bringing kids along.

What else do I need to know to plan a London itinerary?

Check out this guide to London travel planning for more details on what to see and how to put together the perfect trip!

These rainy day ideas will keep you going if the clouds roll in on your visit.

Wondering what to wear in London? Don’t miss my seasonal packing lists.

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