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London Neighborhoods

London sometimes feels like a collection of small towns, and some locals rarely leave their neighborhoods unless they absolutely have to. There’s a north-south divide here, with many north Londoners sneering at their southern cousins and bandying around the attractions north of the river as if trophies: the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s, Trafalgar Square, Hampstead Heath … while over on the southern bank, inhabitants can’t understand why anyone would want to live anywhere else than south, with the area’s preponderance of parks, mix of grit and bourgeois enclaves, and increased feeling of space.

Hoxton & Shoreditch

This part of East London was decimated by WWII bombing and subsequently underwent some intensive uglification during the post-war, low-cost rebuild era. Long a deprived, though central area of London, there was a sudden sea-change here in the 1990s when young artists and designers, such as Damien Hirst and Alexander McQueen, began to take advantage of the cheap rents and warehouse spaces, turning the area into a creative hub. The rest is history, and today, young artists are priced well out of the market. Some might say that the area’s ship has also sailed in terms of hipster cool, but it still feels pretty funky, with lively nightlife, tons of bars and people milling around at the weekend. Find plenty of interesting artsy shops and boutiques where you can buy yourself a slice of Shoreditch style.

Kensington

One of London’s glossiest areas, Kensington has houses that remind you of cream cakes, along with shops selling designer lifestyles, glitzy department stores and some exclusive, bijou bars and restaurants. The area is a key draw when it comes to London travel. Expect lots of cashmere and expensive haircuts. It’s also home to some of London’s finest museums, the Albert Hall and Hyde Park. Amble through Kensington Gardens, which contain the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and playground, and the cool contemporary Serpentine Gallery, housed in a quaint park tearoom. You can also go boating or swimming in the Serpentine.

Soho & Chinatown

Although Soho and Chinatown are in Westminster, they have such a strong character that they deserve their own section. Soho mixes sex clubs and shops with chi-chi media and advertising agencies, hip little cafes and trashy bars, private media-centered members clubs and long-standing gay scene locales. Unbelievably, this crowded district once formed part of a hunting ground belonging to Henry VIII—the name “Soho” is thought to have come from a hunting cry. Neighboring Chinatown is a bustling area that has been in existence in this location since the 1950s. Prior to this, Chinese immigrants clustered in the East End, close to the docks. Post-war it was impossible for foreign workers to find jobs, so the community turned their hand to providing Asian food, and Gerrard Street—still the center of the district—offered cheap rents.

Westminster

Not only a dominant central London borough, Westminster—thus named because it’s west of St Paul’s--is synonymous with the British government. Physically it’s also dominated by Charles Barry’s 19th-century gothic dreamscape: the Houses of Parliament. These delicate buildings stretch along the riverside, overlooked by the famous clocktower of Big Ben. As many MPs live in Westminster, this is also an infamously tidy and well-regulated borough, which encompasses Soho, Oxford Street, Regent Street and Marylebone.

South Bank

London’s South Bank offers a long narrow riverside area along the Thames. There’s a lot of London history here, especially as a venue for entertainment—the Globe Theatre stood here in Shakespeare’s time, and has been rebuilt close to its original location. In the 18th century the area turned into a base for industry, hence the sites of Bankside and Battersea power stations. However, along with the Festival of Britain in 1951 came dramatic changes to the area, with the construction of the architecturally controversial National Theatre, whose solid concrete forms, it must be said, do look prettier with the addition of jelly-bright floods of light after dark. Whatever your opinion of the buildings, the South Bank is a lovely place for a riverside wander, with its long and buzzing promenade, concert halls, galleries, the National Film Theatre, bars, restaurants and cinemas.

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