Areas of London

Belgravia

When King George IV decided to make Buckingham Palace his permanent residence in 1825, the Grosvenor family saw an opportunity. They commissioned architect Thomas Cubitt to build an area of exclusive housing on this newly fashionable land, and his grand classical designs have survived to this day as some of the most fashionable residential property in London. It’s a peaceful and hugely attractive area, especially by contrast with the bustle that surrounds it, and many of the UK’s richest residents have their London homes here. The twentieth century had little impact on Belgravia, and her antique shops and Michelin-starred restaurants are still discreetly located behind plain front doors, while the hotels offer topnotch facilities. Sloane Square’s bars and restaurants are packed every evening with ‘Sloanes’, the sons and daughters of wealthy rural gentry, though it is also the home of the Royal Court Theatre, and its long tradition of left-wing theatre.

Chelsea

Football is traditionally a working class sport, but an ordinary fan of Chelsea FC earns around double the national average income, a statistic that tells you everything you need to know about this fabulously wealthy riverside neighborhood. Two long high streets, the King's Road and the Fulham Road run parallel to the river, meaning that nowhere in the neighborhood are you ever more than a few minutes' walk from a world-class restaurant, an exciting little boutique, or an antique shop with hotels more concentrated up towards fashionable Sloane Square. The artists of the nineteenth century and the pop singers of the 1960s made their homes here, and there are still a few remnants of the areas Bohemian past. Though the art galleries tend to sell tasteful landscapes, and the cafes no longer host all-night parties, the doyenne of contemporary British art Charles Saatchi chose Chelsea to be the home of his new gallery, and Vivien Westwood's punk boutique is still open on King's Road.

City

The Square Mile is the space that was contained within the mediaeval walls of London, a history remembered each November in the pomp of the Lord Mayor's Show. Now it is the nation's financial center and embodies the capital's mix of tradition and change. A place of mighty skyscrapers, this tiny area (only twenty minutes walk from one side to the other) generates 3% of the UK's income. The City by night is among the most stunning sights in London, a ghost town of towering skyscrapers and stunning ancient buildings, including St. Paul's Cathedral, the spiritual heart of Great Britain, and the Bank of England, which has regulated the finances of Britain from the same spot since 1694. Around the edges of the city are a few business hotels and stupendously expensive restaurants and bars, where the super-rich can blow their bonuses.

Fitzrovia

Neatly tucked away between the wealth of Marylebone, the edgy energy of Soho and the grandeur of Bloomsbury, Fitzrovia is peaceful and attractive, home to small media organisations, small pubs and small restaurants and a smattering of decent hotels. Wide streets lined with tall buildings in Victorian brick mingle with cosy side alleys, with a variety of architectural styles from the eighteenth century to the present day, all of it dominated by the BT Tower, one of London’s tallest and most iconic buildings. Tottenham Court Road is the major shopping street, and the best place in London to look for home furnishings and electronic goods. The area around Oxford Street mixes good high street shops with pubs and bars catching the overflow from Soho’s nightlife.

Holland Park

Holland Park is one of London's most elegant districts, its pretty, petit park being its main feature. It's the ideal location for those wanting to escape the clamour of the city but who don’t want to travel too far out of the center, although most of the hotel options are more towards Kensington and Bayswater. The park itself offers small, cosy grassy knolls, cooling woodland glades, wild ponds, pavilions, an open expanse for games and general frolicking, playgrounds for older and younger children and a café. There are beautiful woodland trails, manicured lawns and formal gardens, the Kyoto Japanese Garden with its resident Coi, and a fantastic ice cream stand in the middle. Opened in 1952, Holland Park used to be a private estate belonging to the Earl of Holland. During the 19th century the Holland House attracted high profile visitors from various walks of life, from the politician, Lord Palmerston, to the poet, Lord Byron. The former ballroom of Holland House is now the stylish Belvedere restaurant, while the orangery and ice house host temporary exhibitions. In the summer open-air opera and theatre concerts are held in the grounds. Look out for peacocks roaming the grounds.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park is among the best city center parks in the world, all the more awe-inspiring because it creates a virtually unbroken line of green space with Kensington Gardens, Green Park and St James's Park across the capital. Being slap-bang in the middle of town, it's surrounded by a vibrant collection of areas from plush Kensington on its south-western tip to the end of Oxford Street in the northeastern corner; with many luxury hotels dotted around the perimeter. Technically two different parks, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are in practical and historical terms one huge, merging expanse. Almost every kind of outdoor pursuit takes place within its 625 acres all year round. Horse-riding, rollerblading, swimming, boating, tennis, cycling, bowling and putting are just some of the formal activities catered for, while informal games of cricket, football, rugby and rounders regularly sprout up in the ‘Sports Field’ on the south side of the park. A number of famous London attractions are also housed within this central space. Hyde Park boasts Speaker's Corner and the Serpentine Lake, Lido and Gallery, while Kensington Palace, the Italian Gardens, Peter Pan statue, Albert Memorial and Diana Memorial Playground characterize Kensington Gardens. A full complement of events including free guided walks, concerts, workshops and entertainments complete the picture.

Kensington

The streets of Kensington may not be paved with gold but, in terms of real estate, they might as well be. The most desirable area, where you’ll find many a multi-million pound residence, is between Kensington High Street, up and over to Notting Hill Gate. The Royal Borough (given ‘Royal’ status in 1901) has been home to the monarchy since 1689. Their well tended gardens at Kensington Palace are open to the public, as are those of Holland Park. When it comes to shopping, Kensington High Street has every high street brand you can think of with the landmark Barkers building reminding us of the street’s history in retail supremacy. With popular parks, museums and shops in easy reach and a crowd of competing hotels nearby, Kensington is brilliant for tourists wanting to be that little way out of the center. There’s also a history of putting on fairs and exhibitions: the Olympia’s pretty glass covered main hall was originally called the National Agricultural Hall. Opening its doors on Boxing Day 1886, the Paris Hippodrome Circus started a tradition in entertainment on the grounds with around 400 performers, 300 horses and six elephants.

Knightsbridge

Harrods, the most recognized shop in the world famed for its annual Christmas lights and window displays, is at the center of Knightsbridge, an area that is becoming the best place in London to max out your credit card. Bond Street was the traditional location for designers to have their flagship stores, but an increasing number, including legendary shoe designers Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo, are moving to Knightsbridge. The trio of department stores (sophisticated Harvey Nichols, huge Harrods, and lovable Peter Jones) continue to dominate the area and bring in tourists, who can take their pick from a selection of luxurious hotels. To the north, Hyde Park and the Serpentine lake provide attractive open spaces away from the bustle, and the south of Knightsbridge is also an attractive place for a stroll, with the grand fashion boutiques replaced by neat terraces, gardens and antique shops. On the ground floor and basement of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel can be found the first London restaurants of celebrated chefs Heston Blumenthal and Daniel Boulud.

Maryleborn

Just a short step away from the tourist hordes, Marylebone still has the feel of a real neighborhood, though a slightly odd one: the wealthy residents are becoming ever more attractive as Harley Street, the traditional home of England's best doctors, has recently become the heart of the UK's flourishing plastic surgery industry. The beautiful architecture (the Wallace Collection is a must) and the open spaces of Regent's Park make this a fine area to have a wander, while Marylebone High Street is absolutely charming, lined with traditional pubs, beautiful boutiques and shops (including the flagship Daunt Books) and excellent local restaurants as well as an impressive mix of hotels - and a farmer's market every Saturday. A short walk from Marylebone is the home of the most famous fictional detective in the world ''“ Sherlock Holmes' bachelor flat at 221B Baker Street ''“ and the popular waxworks at Madame Tussauds.

Mayfair

Primarily thanks to the game Monopoly, where the area is deigned to have London's most expensive property, Mayfair's sharp reputation precedes it. The smart neighborhood is named after the annual May Fair which used to take place on the site that is Shepherd Market today. Traditionally bordered by Hyde Park to the west, Oxford Street to the north, Pall Mall and Green Park to the south and Regent Street to the east, Mayfair contains some of London's most exclusive luxury hotels, restaurants, shops, members' clubs and private residences. Rents are among the highest in London and the world - which adds to the area's exclusive feel. Important buildings in Mayfair include the Royal Academy of Arts, the Grosvenor House Hotel, Claridge's, The Dorchester and the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. Mayfair has also become an attractive location away from the City for private banks, hedge funds and wealth managers. Throw in the designer shops and art galleries of Old Bond Street, New Bond Street, Savile Row (home to some of the world's most renowned tailors) and Conduit Street - and you begin to get a picture of just how exclusive the neighborhood is.

Regents Park

Regent's Park is a huge, thriving green expanse in the heart of the capital consisting of two circular areas (an Inner and Outer Circle). At one-time a hunting ground for the ever-ebullient Henry VIII, the Prince Regent (later King George IV) commissioned royal architect John Nash to transform the land in the early 19th century. Now most famously associated with London Zoo - positioned over on the north-east corner of the park - an open-air theatre, ornate bandstand, large boating lake, huge mosque and 100-acre sports field add to its many attractions. The rest of its 410 acres consists of vast open parkland interspersed with formal, landscaped gardens. Dating back to the 1930s, Queen Mary's Gardens are still regularly and fastidiously tended, while the rose gardens burst at the seams with over 30,000 flowers. A number of pretty eateries also populate the park, while Primrose Hill (to the north) is heaving with trendy cafes and bars, not to mention some fantastic views over Westminster and the City. The park's a worthy attraction in itself, and if you're visiting the zoo or theatre, do make sure you take a couple of hours out to explore the elegant surroundings. If you're staying nearby in one of the charming hotels, try an early morning walks when the park is at its most beautiful. The annual Freeze Art Fair takes place in the south of the park every October, attracting some of the art world's most famous faces for five days of schmoozing.

St James’s

Once the London home of the very wealthiest members of the British aristocracy, almost every building lining the streets of St. James’s is a palace – though now most play host to corporate headquarters and grand hotels rather than famous families. Pall Mall is the home of London’s gentleman’s clubs, in whose backrooms the new aristocracy of newspaper editors, CEOs, generals and investment bankers swig brandy and make insider deals. Their expensive tastes are catered to by the exclusive boutiques, delicatessens and tailors of Jermyn Street, and the grand theatres of Haymarket. To the south, St. James’s Park is one of the loveliest of the Royal parks, full of semi-tame wildlife and landscaped gardens. Stand on the bridge in the middle of the lake for a perfect London view, with Buckingham Palace on one side, and the palaces of Whitehall on the other.

St Johns Wood

This leafy area to the west of Regent's Park is one of the few parts of central London to be developed with low density villas. Detached and semi-detached houses with large gardens are common here, and this has made it one of the most desirable areas of London for families with children as well as an un-touristy place largely free of hustle, hotels and crowded haunts. It's an area that's full of eccentric architecture, and it is also the home of England's most eccentric sport: Lord's cricket ground lies at the center of the neighborhood. And for those who like a bit of useless trivia: St John's Wood is the only Tube station name not to contain any letters from the word 'mackerel'.

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