Bonafide Londoners think of the sprawling metropolis by neighbourhood. The city is a hive of villages with each with its own unique communities, attractions and people. If it sounds like a jungle out there, be assured it is positively tribal.
You can't fail to find fun in Soho. This square mile between Tottenham Court Road and Leicester Square tube, flanked by Charing Cross Road to the east and Regent's Street to the west has something for everyone. Some argue it's too mainstream nowadays, but there's still a seedy dose of sleaze that makes it diverse enough to attract all sorts, from pierced gay guys in leather to middle-aged couples catching pre-theatre drinks. Old Compton Street is the main drag, littered with gay bars and cafes, the various cross streets are packed with places to eat, drink and party.
Head for the legendary, tiny 24-hour Bar Italia on Frith Street for an espresso, it's not for Starbuck-length stays but it's a great rendezvous spot. Little Italy next door is one of the few places you can eat until 3am, it's always buzzing. Round the corner on Old Compton is LAB, one of the funkiest little cocktail bars in the West End, it may be tiny but the pedigree bar team keep it thriving.
There are great budget noodle restaurants where you can nosh in under an hour. They don't take reservations so just join the fast-moving queue. For Thai food lovers check Busabu Eathai, with its stylish, dark wood Christian Liagre interior, diners share large round communal tables so it's not for the shy. Wagamama's with long communal benches on Lexington Street is another popular one of which there are now several in London.
Lapdancing lapdogs should head west for Brewer Street. Amongst the cheap thrills is Madame JoJo's, this famous camp, dragshow cabaret is a London institution. Various alleyways boast seedier attractions and adult stores, but muggers target Soho so be sensible. Continue along Brewer Street and you'll eventually hit Glasshouse Street and the Atlantic Bar, it's a classic with stunning original art deco interiors. Dress smart, hip or stylish and lounge in the more intimate Dick's Bar for the ultimate in cocktail decadence.
No-one knows why this acronym has been bestowed upon Fitzrovia, the area north of Oxford Street, between Tottenham Court Road and Regent's Street, but hey - all you need to know is Ian Schrager opened his second London hotel here, directly north of Soho. So if you've a Wall-Street wallet and like life turbo-charged, go perch at the Long Bar. The leafy courtyard area is an al fresco oasis of calm, a rare treat in London.
Minutes away is Hakkasan, tucked off Oxford Street on Hanway Place. This cavernous subterranean Asian restaurant and bar is a feast for the eyes. It has knock-out interiors and cocktails and the lunchtime dim sum is recommended. Further west, north of Oxford Circus tube, is ever-popular Mash on Great Portland Street, a paradise for wheat and fruit beer fans. It's a micro-brewery with a hip retro-futuristic interior. The Italian restaurant upstairs is good for large groups, not intimate soirees.
Hip Hoxton and Shoreditch
This once industrial wasteland has gone crazy since 1998 when the art crowd moved eastside and the property developers followed, greedily chasing their paint trails. Equidistant from Old Street and Liverpool Street station is Hoxton Square, where there's the Lux arthouse cinema and bars galore (most do food too) ; the Electricity Showroom, the Hoxton Square Bar & Grill and Bluu, perfect if you want to meet a web designer, or in fact any kind of designer. Cool art dealer Jay Jopling has the ultra-hip White Cube2 gallery on the corner of the square and 'Sensationalist' Charles Saatchi is about to open one here too.
The cynical hip-Hox locals dress down but funky, think i-D magazine (their offices are here) meets a Dazed & Confused fashion shoot. One of the best hangouts is Melbourne-born Will Ricker's Great Eastern Dining Rooms, regulars include Kylie and Tracey Emin. The no-nonsense Italian diner, is mid-priced and always packed, the bar does snacks too and the basement club-cum-lounge is open until 1am, Wednesday to Saturday. Just don't wear a suit when in EC2/N1, don the quirkiest gear you can find. This loft-living neighbourhood is so style savvy it even has it's own haircut (but no eftpos), the 'Hoxton fin' - a tufty, surfer's version of the Mohican.
If city professionals with big bucks appeal, wine and dine at the Great Eastern Hotel, slap-bang atop Liverpool Street station. This mega-hotel is owned by design guru and restaurateur Sir Terence Conran and includes six eating and drinking establishments, all busiest on weekdays. Take your pick from Myabi, Fishmarket, the haute cuisine Aurora, brasserie Terminus, Tudor style pub George or try to scam your way into the trendy members only lounge, the GE Club.
Swanky Mayfair and Knightsbridge
Hoxton's antithesis, these boroughs are for lording it up. For gents who love bespoke there is Savile Row or Jermyn Street just southwest of Piccadilly Circus. Drop into Fortnum and Mason (4th floor) on Piccadilly for afternoon tea. The Royal Academy is opposite. Close to Hyde Park corner, there's rubberneckers and gold diggers paradise in the form of Japanese restaurant Nobu and the legendary Met Bar at the Metropolitan Hotel. Bar crawl at the Hilton next door, revel in the 70s glitz of Windows on the World on the top floor, with its panorama of the park, then descend to the den of Polynesian kitsch in the basement, Trader Vic's, so fab even some Londoners don't know it's there. Then try Zeta, their hipper bar with nouveau Martinis, great finger food and crazy nights with a DJ. Currently Thursday rocks.
Designer junkies parading the fashion temples on Bond Street may want to sip a bellini at chi chi Cecconi's after a hard's day retail therapy - be warned it's art dealer posh. For a more worldly experience, try the French-Arabic restaurant Momo's on the tiny cobbled Heddon Street off Regent Street. It's Marrakech-louche with an authentic souk style interior and global-cool Kemia Bar below. You can have tea and pastries in Mô next door and you can even buy the daybed you're lounging on.
Hop in a cab to Knightsbridge for Harrods or the ultimate Ab Fab department store for fashionistas, Harvey Nichols. Take a break from retail therapy in the Fifth Floor bar, or pop across the road for antipasti and one of the 70 wines by the glass at the über-modern Iso-bar, or dine in Osteria d'Isola, the brasserie below.
Cultural vulture South Bank and Southwark
Stroll over the Thames on Hungerford Bridge from Embankment Station on a Sunday, for the National Film Theatre or browsing the small secondhand paperback book stall. Watch the river go by or check out the upper level of the Southbank's hulking concrete complex for art at the Hayward Gallery, live music at the Royal Festival Hall, or just people watching. Boarders skid about in the shadows and underbelly of the architecture. Further west along the south embankment is the Eye, the giant bicycle wheel with people-pods, take the 25-minute revolution for a bird's eye view of London.
Take the Jubilee Line from Charing Cross station to Southwark for the Tate Modern, everyone loves this blockbuster building, go see what the fuss is about. Even if you hate art you still get a great view of the river Thames from the award-winning cafés. En route home, nip into Baltic by Southwark tube, for a shot of fruit flavoured vodka and Eastern European grub. Can't take the pace? You can catch the Eurostar to Paris, trains leave from nearby Waterloo.