Follow our native know-how with these stylish hotels in London’s up-and-coming neighbourhoods.
Everyone remembers their first time to London: the novelty of your first Tube ride and balking at the price of a pint. But once you’ve seen the sights that prop up the British capital’s postcard trade, it’s time to stray – and stay – beyond its city centre, digging deeper into what keeps the locals, well, local. When you do, you’ll discover a second city of frenetic food markets, class-act pubs and piquant curry houses where the food is as authentic as it gets. Welcome to the real London.
The Pelican rests its bill in Tooting, a down-to-earth area of south London. Nearby and trading since the ’30s, you’ll find award-winning Tooting Market, crammed with stalls selling everything from spices to vintage fashion, alongside a thriving pop-up restaurant scene. Tooting High Street is known for its curry houses, especially South Indian and Sri Lankan flavours. Some are BYOB (bring your own booze), so pick up a few beers at Craft Tooting beforehand. A restaurant at the hotel is ready to serve breakfast the next morning.
Like the neighbourhood it calls home, the Boundary Shoreditch is a monument to the spirit of reinvention. The rooms of this converted warehouse are inspired by modernist design, and whether you’re partial to Terence Conran (the designer and former owner) or a quintessential Le Corbusier, there’s a room furnished to your taste. It’s not all skin deep, though; dine on prime steak at the rooftop grill before descending to cocktail bar Wilder, where the drinks take their cue from classic British ingredients.
The Great Northern has rubbed shoulders with King’s Cross station since 1854, making it London’s original railway hotel. The rooms invoke the golden age of rail travel with smooth Art-Deco curves, walnut panelling and soft leather seating. King’s Cross has had a renaissance in recent years, steaming back onto the scene with additions like Bombay brasserie Dishoom – designed to look like a ’20s train station café – and Coal Drops Yard, where bars and boutiques are housed in restored Victorian coal sheds.
Skirting the edge of a cobbled square, the Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell has a buttoned-up Georgian facade and interiors that speak to British eccentricity. The kaleidoscopic wallpaper, plum velvet armchairs, Afghan rugs and antique oddities are meant to be the possessions of Great Aunt Wilhemina, the hotel’s fictional matriarch. In the salon-esque cocktail bar, you can imbibe gin-spiked afternoon teas and tipples inspired by tinctures once found in Clerkenwell’s apothecaries.
Wood Green hotel Green Rooms has community at its heart, conceived as an affordable option for cash-strapped creatives. Artists, actors and musicians are its bread and butter, but you don’t have to be in the industry to stay. The bang-for-buck rates are echoed in the simplicity of the rooms, but the hotel has an impressive ’20s facade and a lively open-plan lounge and bar where you can rub shoulders with locals. Nearby Crouch End has a longstanding bohemian lean. Its main artery, Broadway, is lined with cafés, independent shops and wine bars.
The Haverstock Hotel is in leafy Hampstead, putting you within reach of London’s most coveted green spaces. To the south, you’ve got Primrose Hill with its city-spanning views and the manicured splendour of Regent’s Park. Head north and you’ll hit the wilder parkland of Hampstead Heath, favoured for its swimming ponds and out-of-town ambience. Hampstead has long held sway with cerebral types, including John Keats and Sigmund Freud, whose houses now hold museums.
Historic inn William IV has been trading from its corner of Kensal Green since 1830, making it one of the oldest pubs in the area. It takes its name from the British regent who was nicknamed the Sailor King, which is why you’ll find subtle nautical references in the cosy rooms upstairs. The pub itself is a beauty, with a long, marble-topped bar, exposed beams and a charming beer garden out back. On Fridays and Saturdays, check out Portobello Market in nearby Notting Hill, a treasure trove if you’re into antiques and vintage fashion.
If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere and aren’t too fussy about decor, Safestay London Elephant & Castle is perfectly placed for exploring vibrant southeast London. Vast food market Mercato Metropolitano is just up the road, with stalls hawking food from four corners of the Earth. You’ll also be well placed for forays up to riverside Southwark or down towards Peckham and New Cross, where the crowd skews towards the young and creative.