Within the tarmac boundary of the M25, Greater London is a vast sprawl, in the best possible sense.
If you don’t want to limit yourself to the tourist trail, then when you go beyond the offices and churches of the City of London and the crowd-pleasing sights in the City of Westminster, you’ll enter the London that Londoners know.
In all parts of the London region there’s a dizzying rate of constant change, brought about by a construction boom that renders whole neighbourhoods unrecognisable in the space of a few months.
Areas come into fashion in just a couple of years, but within reason almost every village, suburb, inner-city neighbourhood has something to recommend it.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Greater London:
South of the river and a quick ride on the train, tube or DLR from the centre, Greenwich is awash with royal, maritime and scientific history.
It was the birthplace of several Tudor monarchs, including Henry VIII and the biggest reminder of its royal residents is the Queen’s House, built for James I’s wife, Anne in the 17th century and backing onto Greenwich Park.
Looking down on the palace is the Royal Observatory, also from the 17th century, and the location of the Prime Meridian (GMT). From this hill you can see most of London, and one of the closest monuments is the Old Royal Naval College, whose domed towers you may know from the long list of movies filmed here.
And don’t forget the O2, a giant entertainment venue inside the old Millennium Dome.
Encompassing an enormous area in southwest London, Richmond is an affluent district endowed with loads of London’s most cherished locations and attractions.
Hampton Court Palace was the home for English Kings from Henry VIII to George II, while the UNESCO-listed Kew Gardens is a botanical garden par excellence, covering a massive swathe of land by the riverside and containing four Grade I listed buildings, including the royal Kew Palace and breathtaking glasshouses.
Stop in at a riverside pub and see the herds of deer that roam the national nature reserve at Richmond Park, which has its own royal palace, the Georgian White Lodge.
Just west of Westminster, Kensington is an exceptionally well-heeled part of London and the home of the city’s museum district, as well as one of its most prized venues.
Mere footsteps separate the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
For shopping there’s the posh Kensington High Street and Knightsbridge, and royalty has a stake in this area thanks to Kensington Palace.
In the summer there’s high culture at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, as well as vibrant, joyous fun at the Notting Hill Carnival.
And at this time of year you can escape to the refined green spaces at Kensington Gardens and Holland Park.
4. South Bank
Rehabilitated for the Festival of Britain after the war, the South Bank is where you can go for a dose of culture and entertainment, just across the water from the City of Westminster.
Integrated into the walkways, platforms and staircases of this concrete cityscape are the British Film Institute and the Royal Festival Hall.
By the water is the now iconic wheel, the London Eye, the Saatchi Gallery (think Damien Hirst) and the London Aquarium.
Continue east along the Thames to the Southwark riverside, where you’ll encounter the Tate Modern, Britain’s main national modern art gallery, in a converted brick power station, as well as Shakespeare’s Globe, a modern replica of the original Globe Theatre.
Also extremely wealthy, Hampstead is a district with a village and heath, littered with low-key and gratifying pieces of London’s history and full of listed buildings.
The romantic poet John Keats lived in a house in Hampstead, now on Keats Grove, as did Sigmund Freud, and both of their homes are now museums.
At 320 hectares, Hampstead Heath has always been a place where you can flee London’s bustle, and its meadows and woods were painted by John Constable, yet another famous resident.
Get up to Parliament Hill with what is easily the furthest-ranging natural view of London, from Canary Wharf in the east to Battersea Power station in the west.
Just east of Hampstead is Highgate, feted for its cemetery where personalities as varied as Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, George Eliot and Lucien Freud are buried.
In the City of Westminster and part of the West End entertainment district, Soho is a vibrant place in a constant state of flux.
For more than 200 years it has had a rakish reputation, as London’s red light district and more recently as a gay quarter.
The heyday for the sex industry was the 1960s and 70s, but that has never been the whole story, as there have always been legendary venues, clubs and pubs like Ronnie Scott’s, the Colony Club, the Soho Theatre and the Marquee Club.
Some gone and some still in business, but all frequented by a roll-call of cultural icons, from Francis Bacon to the Rolling Stones.
If you’re mooching around this part of London you could also have a look around Farringdon and the Barbican, both of which are within walking distance and all border the long-gone walls of the old City of London.
Clerkenwell is a unique neighbourhood with Georgian flat-fronted houses and old workshops that once contained breweries and printworks in the 1800s.
Those have been replaced by architects, publishers and seriously upmarket restaurants.
But the brick buildings and cobbled alleyways remain.
For a bit of the old London, pop down to Smithfield Meat Market, which is in a Grade II listed building and has operated on this site for more than 800 years.
The pubs around the market have special opening times to accommodate the staff.
8. Canary Wharf
London’s other financial district is in the revitalised docks in the Borough of Tower Hamlets a few stops east of central London on the Jubilee Line.
For tourists there isn’t a great deal to “do” in Canary Wharf, even if there’s a really good museum about the history of the old docks and a decent shopping centre below One Canada Square, which was the first modern tower at this site.
Rather, Canary Wharf is where you can get a handle on the pace of change in London.
Before the 90s this place was a deserted remnant from the forgotten days of the Empire and now it’s a dynamic urban landscape with several of the tallest buildings in Europe.
You can catch the River Bus from Canary Wharf Pier downriver to Greenwich or Woolwich or as far upriver as Putney in West London.
Immigration in the post-War years has given Brixton a large West Indian population.
The final decades of the 20th century weren’t always easy in this district, as you might know from the Clash’s song the “Gun’s of Brixton” and the riots in 1981 and 1985. But in the last 20 years or so, Brixton has become somewhere to go out, with nightspots like the Fridge and Hootananny, trendy restaurants and one of London’s best markets, many of which have a Caribbean flavour.
Check the listings for the Brixton Academy to see if there’s a band or artist you like, though you’ll need to book months ahead if it’s someone big.
10. Camden Town
Not to be confused with the large borough that surrounds it, Camden Town is one of London’s alternative areas with five markets, shops for every subculture and masses of bars, popup restaurants, venues for live music and nightclubs.
It’s also a fabulous place to simply go for a walk because of the Regent’s Canal, which enters the Thames at Limehouse in East London, three miles away.
To the south of Camden is the Euston Road, where you’ll find the British Library, which has a copy of every book ever printed in the United Kingdom and was given a marvellous facelift at the start of this century.
11. Bloomsbury and Holborn
A very grand part of London that took on its current appearance in the 1700s and early 1800s, Bloomsbury is a district of flat-fronted townhouses and generous garden squares where students and office workers will sit out on the lawns for lunch in the summer.
The British Museum is in Bloomsbury, while if you walk down for a couple of minutes you’ll enter Holborn, home of the Old Bailey and so associated with the legal profession since the middle ages.
On Lincoln’s Inn Fields drop by the Sir John Soane’s Museum, at the home of one of the architects who helped transform London in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Just like Brixton, Hoxton is an Inner City neighbourhood that for many years was associated with crime and drugs.
But being so close to the City of London, this wouldn’t last forever.
By the 90s media and technology companies were moving onto Hoxton Square and like its neighbour Shoreditch, the district became the haunt of the most fashionable people in town.
Bars, restaurants, live music venues and nightclubs are now ten a penny in this neighbourhood.
And despite the tide of gentrification there’s still a reassuring layer of grime thanks to the old housing estates, pubs, “caffs” and betting shops on Hoxton Street.
Loads of different areas fall under this Borough next to the river in southwest London.
If there’s one emblematic sight it’s the four colossal art deco chimneys of the Battersea Power Station, long decommissioned and set to be revamped by Apple in the next few years after decades of inactivity.
For dining and nights out, look no further than St.
John’s Hill and Battersea Rise in Clapham, an area that was first en vogue in the 1980s and known for a laid-back atmosphere that 30-somethings will prefer.
And to unwind or have a kick about go for Clapham Common, sprawling out over 220 hectares and made famous by the gay community.
Another of those districts that people once only heard about on the news, Hackney is an east London area that is still a huge melting pot of different communities but also more fashionable than ever.
Come to browse the stalls of the hip Broadway Market on Saturdays or the bustling and friendly Ridley Road Market for Caribbean delights.
There’s everything from comedy to Opera at the Hackney Empire theatre, Victoria Park to the south welcomes a whole calendar of big events in summer and you’ll have more pubs, bars and places to eat than you could shake a stick at in Hackney Central, South Hackney and Stoke Newington.
A decade ago nobody in their right mind would have ranked this East London district as a place to go.
But regeneration for the Olympics and the unstoppable march of gentrification have transformed the area.
Westfield Stratford City is one of Europe’s largest urban shopping malls, and an all-day proposition if you can handle the crowds.
And then there’s the ultramodern architecture of the Olympic Park, where the village, aquatics centre and stadium (now occupied by the football team West Ham) are all a few strides away from each other.
Intended to be here long after the 2012 Olympics are forgotten is the frankly strange ArcelorMittal Orbit, the largest piece of public art in Britain, with an observation platform at the top.