And yet, it’s so easy for this city’s slickers to skip by the character of the past and wind up in the nondescript ‘burbs.
So here are a few areas packed with personality, which inspired literary greats, where gangsters ruled and rock stars first riffed.
This is how to start living history.
Covent Garden, WC2
Legend has it: Charles Dickens lived, worked and hung out in this famous part of town, and would conjure up stories at Rules (rules.co.uk), which is now London’s oldest restaurant, dating back to 1798.
Eat and Drink: The Seven Stars pub (53-54 Carey St, tel. 020 7242 8521) is one of the oldest boozers in the city and among the few to survive the Great Fire of London.
Live: This central location doesn’t come cheap. David J W Smith, senior negotiator at EA Shaw, tells us: “The majority of converted apartments in the area will be found in Victorian and Edwardian buildings, usually above commercial space.
Rent for one-bed flats is around £600 per week.” Ouch.
Tube: Covent Garden.
Legend has it: Serial killer Jack the Ripper roamed around here in 1888 before he murdered his victims.
Back then, he was known as the ‘The Whitechapel Murderer’. Two victims, prostitutes Catherine Eddowes and Elizabeth Stride, were said to be regulars at The Ten Bells, a pub still on Commercial Street.
This part of town was sketchy a century ago, but many locals say it was ‘cleaned up’ when the Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie, and their famed gang The Firm, were at the height of their power.
A truly happening place.Eat and Drink: The Commercial Tavern (142 Commercial St, tel. 020 7247 1888) is a great little pub where a young clientele enjoys an interior covered with retro Popeye wallpaper and clever puzzle mosaics. For dinner, try Boho Mexica.
Covered in vintage Latino movie posters, it serves mean burritos and mojitos.
Live: Carl Davenport, associate director at Chesterton Humberts Tower Bridge, says: “There is a diverse mix of property – some beautiful Georgian squares still exist today.
Average rental prices for a one-bed are £250-£300 per week.” Bargain. Sort of.
Tube: Shoreditch High Street.
Legend has it: Soho’s all about late-night clubs now, so not much has changed since the 1800s, when the area was packed with prostitutes, dance halls and small theatres.
As Thomas Burke wrote in 1915: “When the respectable Londoner wants to feel devilish he goes to Soho.”
From the Thirties to the Sixties the many pubs made a killing off poets, artists and writers, such as Dylan Thomas.
George Orwell and co. frequented places such as The Dog And Duck (18 Bateman Street, tel. 020 7494 0697) and many pubs like it which remain.
In the Sixties, the Rolling Stones first performed in The Marquee Club and in the Seventies the Sex Pistols made their name while living at 6 Denmark Street – today the road is known for its clutter of musical instrument stores, so the next big music movement could start here, too.
Eat and Drink: Book a table at La Bodega Negra, a Mexican restaurant behind a sleazy sex shop front.
Live: Smith reckons only party animals need apply: “Those looking for the quiet life should avoid Soho – the area never sleeps.” One-beds cost around £600 a week.
Tube: Oxford Street.
The City, EC1
Legend has it: The first Governor of Australia, Admiral Arthur Phillip, lived on Bread Street when he joined the Royal Navy in 1755 before setting sail for Oz. On January 26, 1788, he arrived at Sydney Cove, the first Australia Day.
In 1593, William Shakespeare once lived in Bishopsgate before apparently buying a house near the Blackfriars Theatre.
Eat and Drink: Word is that a fave Dickens drinking hole when he was creating Great Expectations was the ominous-sounding Dirty Dicks.
Live: Parts of the City are surprisingly affordable, according to Davenport. “Average rental prices for a one bedroom is £400 per week,” he says.
Fancy a property with a bit of history to it?
“The City has some very old conversions in EC4,” he tells us, though there are modern apartments built in the Nineties, too.
Tube: Liverpool Street.
Photos: Thinkstok; Getty; Melita Kiely