London Orientation

London can be a very confusing city, especially for the outsider. No doubt you will hear numerous area names bandied back and forth which can often be daunting.

Many names you will be familiar with - Soho, the West End, Camden Town, Greenwich - but that doesn't mean you know where they are!

So how does London fit together? How do the different areas relate to one another? And where are the main sites you want to see?

Don't worry! This page gives a brief outline of the major tourist areas and will help you get your bearings. But don't forget there are lots of other parts of London to explore, where you can escape from the crowds, chance across peaceful parks and gardens, and discover a more authentic London off the beaten track.....

The London that we see today is one of the most varied and diverse cities in the world. You just have to take a look at any street map to see that the city wasn't planned (no straight, orderly streets here), but that it has evolved over hundreds of years to form the jumble of streets, districts and boroughs that shape the present day city.

As London has expanded over the years, whole villages, towns and districts have been swallowed up within its boundaries. As a result, the city retains a very provincial feel, but that is what makes London so special and unique. But don't let the confusion of geography intimidate you - it is best to explore London in small chunks so that you can delight in its diversity!

River, 2K
The River Thames is the heart of London - it slowly meanders from west to east, dividing the city into its northern and southern halves. For most tourists, it is a small area north of the river that constitutes 'London', and indeed, most of the more obvious tourist sites are fairly concentrated in this area. These are the areas that you will probably recognise by name - Soho, the West End, Whitehall and Westminster to name but a few.

To give you a central reference point we will use the area of London that is known as 'The City of London', or more commonly just 'The City'.
The City, 2K
This is an apt starting point as it is the site of the original London that dates back to Roman times, where the original walled city stood. It is an area approximately one square mile to the north of the river with St Paul's Cathedral as its focal point. Also home to Wall Street and the Bank of England, The City is one of the most important financial institutions in the world.

Compass West, 2K Today's London actually contains two cities - in Britain, a city is defined as a town or area with its own charter and, most importantly its own cathedral. London's other one is Westminster, which dates back to the eleventh century when King Edward the Confessor built his cathedral.
As the name suggests, this lies to the west of The City!
It is Westminster that is home to British politics, with the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall and Downing Street all within its boundaries. Other tourist delights such as Buckingham Palace and, of course, Westminster Abbey are found here too. Westminster, 2K

Also to the west of The City is the West End. Although the name would suggest that this area covers absolutely all of west London, it actually refers to a quite specific area from Tottenham Court Road in the east to Park Lane in the west. Compass West, 2K
But just to confuse matters, the name 'West End' is commonly used in a broader sense to include Soho, Covent Garden, Mayfair, Bloomsbury, and even Westminster.
The West End, 2K
For many tourists, the West End (especially in its broader use) is London. Here you will find landmarks such as Trafalgar Square and Nelson's column, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square with their world famous West End theatres and cinemas, and the shoppers' meccas of Oxford St and Regents St.

Compass South West, 2K The areas of Kensington, Chelsea, and Earls Court are also probably familiar, and again they are well known tourist areas. Kensington, for example, boasts the world famous Victoria and Albert, Science and Natural History Museums and, of course Kensington Palace, former home to the late Princess Diana. These areas are all situated to the south-west of
The City, but still north of the River Thames.
South West London, 2K

To the north of The City you will find areas such as Notting Hill, famous for the annual Notting Hill Carnival, and Camden Town with its popular market. These areas don't contain as many obvious tourist sites, but are still well known and worth a visit.
North London,2K
Compass North, 2K

Compass East, 2K East End, 2K
To the east of The City, you will naturally find the East End - areas such as Whitechapel, Hackney and the Docklands. Although best known for being home to the Cockney, the East End now has a more culturally diverse feel to it with large ethnic communities. Most visitors to the East End go at the weekends for its famous markets and it is here that you will get a taste of 'real' London.

Over the river to the south, you will find tourist attractions such as the cultural haven of the South Bank Centre, Wimbledon with its famous tennis courts, and the beautiful area of Greenwich, home to the Prime Meridian. Also in the south you will find districts with very familiar names such as Battersea, Brixton and Lambeth. Although less obviously a tourist destination, it is definitely worth crossing over the river to explore south London. Compass South, 2K
South London, 2K

There are, of course, many other districts and areas for London is a huge city, but these are perhaps the most obvious areas, and for the tourist, the ones that will top the list of those to visit. And, although this brief outline may help you get your bearings a little, remember there is no substitute for a good map!

As to how to overcome the vastness that is London? The best advice is surely 'tackle a small area at a time'!

London A-Z
London Town Guide
Travel Advice
Accommodation in London
Other Town Guides

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