A short guide to find the ideal location for your stay in London.
It’s in your diary: you have decided to spend a few days in London for the first time. How many things to do in London! How many landmarks that you cannot miss! How many historical places, famous markets, wonderful shops, lively streets!!! You’ve sorted out the air tickets, which nowadays are getting more affordable if you choose well. But now there is the problem of deciding where to stay, especially if you don’t want to splash out all your holiday budget in a fancy hotel. Unless you have your favourite place to stay or a hotel chain that you loyally rely on, choosing a hotel in a city as large as London can become a difficult task. You have checked the usual sites, like Booking.com or Trivago, but the choice is so wide that it’s difficult to decide just on the basis of price and reviews.
My suggestion? First of all decide the location of the hotel in London, then start browsing offers for that specific area.
If this is your first visit to London and you want explore this wonderful city, a central location would be much better, but we all know that central hotels in London can be extremely expensive. And, anyway, some of the most famous London landmarks that you don’t want to miss are not so close to each other and you would need some transportation anyway.
If you ended up on this blog, chances are that you like the idea of exploring London by bus, because, as we never tire of repeating, it’s the most cost effective and enjoyable way to do it. The most central location would be near Trafalgar square, which is officially the centre of London. At walking distance from Trafalgar Square you have The National Gallery (which is actually on Trafalgar square) Piccadilly Circus, Soho, Leicester square, Covent Garden, Whitehall, Parliament square and Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, Southbank and the London Eye (via a footbridge), St James’s Park, Pall Mall and Buckingham Palace. Did I forget something? Probably, but these are enough to tell you why Trafalgar Square should be the central point of any visit to London.
Finding a good cheap hotel in London is difficult, but in this area it is quite impossible.
Therefore, rather than a central location, the best option would be to choose a hotel with a good bus connection, and possibly one that takes you directly to Trafalgar square or nearby.
These are the areas of London which can solve this problem and where it is not very difficult to find budget hotels too.
Being very close to Hyde Park, Bayswater is an ideal place to stay in London, especially in the nice season, because an early morning stroll in the park is always a very good choice. From Bayswater there are several buses that can take you quickly to your chosen destination, and the routes to get there are quite panoramic too. All buses from Bayswater usually stop in Notting Hill Gate (if their direction is west), and from there a short walk will take you to Portobello and its famous market. Let’s see where they take you if you go in the opposite direction (east)
- Bus 390: it takes you to Oxford Circus (ideal for shopping in Oxford Street or to take further connections) and Tottenham Court Road, at a short distance from the British Museum
- Bus 148: wonderful trip from Bayswater to Westminster, following Hyde Park along Park Lane, Hyde Park Corner, Victoria, and to Westminster; you can either stop here and start visiting or stay on the bus across Westminster Bridge where you can stop and start walking to the London Eye and Southbank. Parliament square should be your first stop in London if you want to start from the Classics, those unmissable landmarks that are in your top ten list or in our First and essential London Classic Walk (which we friendly call the FEC walk)
- Bus 274: this route will take you to the northern part of central London, near Regent’s Park (where you can stop and visit the famous Zoo) and up to Camden Town and its funky shops and market.
- Bus 94: it follows the same route as the 390 along Oxford Street (great for shopping lovers), but instead of going straight at Oxford Circus it turns right onto Regents Street and you can stop your trip in Piccadilly Circus. From there you can select many other bus routes, or you can have a stroll towards Soho, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, or you can reach Trafalgar square and start the above mentioned Fec walk
As you can see, only 4 buses can take you around central London quite easily, and this make Bayswater an ideal location.
This is an area of London that I always liked: from here you can reach the west end on foot, which is particularly convenient if you are thinking of watching a show of the theatres located in the area: after a day of sightseeing you can easily get back to your hotel to get changed and start your night out, and after that, you can wander back leisurely to the comfort of your hotel room (hopefully, because if you are on a budget, the comfort might not be so great). Bloomsbury is also never too far from nice places to go to. The British Museum is definitely one of them, but not the only one. Covent Garden and Soho are also a short stroll away, and if you are a shopping addict, you can always go to Oxford Street, empty your wallet in the shop (or shops) of your choice and drop the bags in your hotel before heading out for you night.
There are various nice hotels (although a bit more expensive) near Russel Square: look out for bargains, not unusual during week-ends. There are also nice hotels – often on the cheap side, but not on the over depressing variety – in the nearby Gower street.
Buses, on the other hands, are not so many, or at least, they won’t take you directly to one of your classic destinations. You will find most bus stops near Russel Square, but, unless you want to go to Euston station or to South London (and I don’t really see a particular reason for it, if you are visiting London for the first time), these buses are not that interesting. Better to go to the bus stops on Gower Street or on Bloomsbury Street, where you can catch the following buses:
- Bus 14: to Knightsbridge, Harrods, and South Kensington (ideal for visiting the local Museums: V&A, Natural History Museum or the Science Museum). It is also a quite nice bus ride, since it takes you through Soho and theatre land, and along Piccadilly. It would be particularly nice in the evening, to enjoy the colours and the lights of Piccadilly Circus.
- Bus 24: to Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Westminster and Parliament Square. It’s a short ride, but it takes you into the heart of London and the starting point of the famous FEC walk.
- Bus 390: to Notting Hill, via Oxford Street and Hyde Park. It’s more of a shopping route: you could get straight to Portobello market in the morning, and take the same bus back in the afternoon, if you want to try the shops or one of the huge stores on Oxford Street, like Selfridges.
An important note: Gower street is a one way road, therefore there is no risk to get on the wrong bus: all of them go south. If you want to go north, the bus stops are located on Tottenham Court Road, which runs parallel to Gower street. If you are on one of these buses heading back to your hotel, they will stop in Tottenham Court Road: the first stop will be probably the best choice to walk back to your hotel, if it is located near Russel Square or the British Museum.
As I said, Bloomsbury is a nice location, central, but quiet. However, it’s more suitable for walkers, considering the more limited choice of buses.
This is an area of London that no one will probably choose as a base to explore the city, being not particularly attractive, unless you have a strong passion for Portuguese or Brasilian food. In fact, behind Vauxhall bus station, there is the highest concentration of Portuguese and Brasilian restaurants in London, and the Portuguese community is quite well settled in this area. The area is not particularly attractive, but it is undergoing a complete face lift. We don’t know what it will look like after that, but for sure in these days is a hub of road works and construction, so it might be quite noisy too. However, it’s well known for being a rather inexpensive areas, and it’s home of one of the largest bus stations in London. For this reason, it’s extremely easy to explore the city starting from here. There is also the underground station of the Victoria line, which is perfect if your flight will arrive at Stansted Airport: if you want to get to central London from Stansted you get on the “stansted express” train and get out at Tottenham Hale (rather than at its final destination Liverpool Street), and from there catch the tube (Victoria Line) to Brixton, which stops at Vauxhall. There are not many hotels in Vauxhall either (probably there will be more after the face lift), so your choice is limited to the Travelodge which is located near the Bus and Underground station or choose one of the AirBnB’s of the area (here you can find a great guide to choose the perfect BnB).
So Vauxhall is not really for the faint hearted or for those uninterested in modern architecture (I really like the MI6 building, for instance – the real home of James Bond and the other real Double-O’s), but it spoils you with its choice of buses (and Portuguese restaurants, of course):
- Bus 88: one of my favourite. You can cross the whole town from Vauxhall to Westminster, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, Oxford Circus, and up up up to Camden Town. On the way back from Camden you can stay on the bus beyond Vauxhall and end up in Clapham, an interesting area of London with a very nice park, many eating places preferred by locals, rather than by tourist, and with a village feel (to be honest, I’m a bit partial here, because I live in Clapham)
- Bus 77: a short ride will take you to Southbank. If you are not heading straight to the London Eye, you can stop anywhere after Lambeth Palace and follow the riverside walk, which offers wonderful views of the Parliament and Big Ben, but from a different and less crowded spot.
- Bus 87: it takes you across the river to Tate Britain – one of the less visited galleries in London, maybe because it has been overshadowed by its cousin Tate Modern, but still one of the most interesting, with wonderful paintings of Turner and Constable – Westminster and Parliament Square, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and Aldwych.
- Bus 2 : good, if you are planning to visit one of the most notorious (but rather sadly so) attractions of London: Madame Tussaud – the wax museum. I warmly invite you not to do so, especially if this is your first visit in London, although – I must admit – it could be fun if you are travelling with children or with silly friends with the same sense of humour. In any case, the bus ride is still good. It takes you to Hyde Park, Marble Arch and ends up in Marylebone, close to Baker Street, where you can find not only Madame Tussaud, but also the most famous address in London: 221B Baker Street, home (and now museum) of the famous Sherlock Holmes. You are also a short stroll away from Regent’s Park, which is always worth a visit. The same bus is also good for your shopping duties, because, if you stop at marble Arch, you have the whole Oxford Street stretching in front of you: nearly too km of shopping delights, with more than 300 shops and 5 million square feet of retail space, quite daunting both for legs, wallet and the patience of those who are not shopaholics.
So, even Vauxhall can be, unexpectedly, a good starting point to visit London by bus!
Do you have any suggestions? Do you have any other favourite London location? Please leave your comment!