- For other places with the same name, see London (disambiguation).
Noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is a megalopolis of people, ideas and frenetic energy. The capital and largest city of the United Kingdom, it is also the largest city in Western Europe and the European Union. Situated on the River Thames in South-East England, Greater London has an official population of a little over 8 million, but the estimate of between 12 and 14 million people in the greater metropolitan area better reflects its size and importance. Considered one of the world's leading "global cities", London remains an international capital of culture, music, education, fashion, politics, finance and trade.
The name London originally referred only to the once-walled "Square Mile" of the original Roman (and later medieval) city (confusingly called the "City of London" or just "The City"). Today, London has taken on a much larger meaning to include all of the vast central parts of the modern metropolis, with the city having absorbed numerous surrounding towns and villages over the centuries, including large portions of the surrounding "home counties", one of which - Middlesex - being completely consumed by the growing metropolis. The term Greater London embraces Central London together with all the outlying suburbs that lie in one continuous urban sprawl within the lower Thames valley. Though densely populated by New World standards, London retains large swathes of green parkland and open space, even within the city centre.
Greater London is all of the area surrounded by the M25 orbital motorway, and consists of 32 London Boroughs and the City of London that, together with the office of the Mayor of London, form the basis for London's local government. The Mayor of London is elected by London residents and should not be confused with the Lord Mayor of the City of London. The names of several boroughs, such as Westminster or Camden, are well-known, others less so, such as Wandsworth or Lewisham. This traveller's guide to London recognises cultural, functional and social districts of varying type and size:
Vibrant historic district made famous by a group of turn-of-the-century writers and for being the location of the British Museum, the University of London and numerous historic homes, parks, and buildings. Part of the Borough of Camden.
|City of London
The City is where London originally developed within the Roman city walls and is a city in its own right, separate from the rest of London. It is now the most important financial centre in the world, but an area where modern skyscrapers stand next to medieval churches on ancient street layouts.
One of the main shopping and entertainment districts. Incorporates some of London's theatreland. Part of the City of Westminster and Borough of Camden.
Buffer zone between London's West End and the City of London financial district, home to the Inns of Court
West End district comprising Leicester Square, Chinatown, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus and the centre of London's cinema and theatre land
Some extremely well-heeled districts of west central London and most of the city's premier shopping street
|Notting Hill-North Kensington
Lively market, interesting history, the world famous carnival and a very ethnically diverse population
Largely residential district of northwest central London with lots of mid-range accommodation, and close to the Eurostar terminal
Dense concentration of highly fashionable restaurants, cafés, clubs and jazz bars, as well as London's gay village all mixed in with a cluster of sex shops and seedier adult entertainment venues. Soho is also home to many TV production facilities.
The name South Bank is usually used to refer specifically to the complex around the National Theatre near Waterloo and the London Eye. The wider area South of the Thames, including Bankside (Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre) and up to Borough, was historically the location of the activities frowned on by the Puritans who exiled theatre, cock-fighting and bear fights from the original walled City of London to the south of the river.
An extremely well-heeled inner London district with famous department stores, Hyde Park, many museums and the King's Road
A city in its own right, the seat of government and an almost endless list of historical and cultural sights, such as Buckingham Palace, The Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) and Westminster Abbey.
A diverse area of north London that includes eclectic Camden Town
A traditional working class heartland of inner London to the east of The City, made famous by countless movies and TV shows, and home to trendy bars, art galleries and parks, especially in the Shoreditch, Hoxton, and Old Street area.
On the pretty southern banks of the Thames; location of the Greenwich Meridian, Observatory, and the National Maritime Museum.
Hackney has become fashionable in recent decades and is home to a thriving arts scene as well as many trendy cafés, bars, and pubs.
|Hammersmith and Fulham
Borough in west London with a diverse population and the home of the BBC, plus a hotbed for professional football.
Literary north London and the wonderful open spaces of Hampstead Heath.
Area to the north of Clerkenwell that has undergone huge gentrification since 1990.
A diverse Caribbean-flavoured district to the south of the Thames, which includes the buzzing, bright-lights of Brixton.
Inner southern districts of London; traditionally residential, with a large melting pot of communities. The area retains some leftfield, quirky attractions. You can find a restaurant from just about any ethnic group in the world.
Grand Thames-side areas and open green parks in the north, and dense housing in south.
Taking in much of the ancient English county of Middlesex (which many local residents still identify with rather than "London") and former parts of Buckinghamshire. Heathrow Airport is located in this part of the city.
Largely made up of lush green upper middle-class/bourgeois suburbs, many of which were formerly part of the counties of Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire before being absorbed into Greater London.
Mostly originally part of the county of Essex, taking in former industrial areas on the upper Thames Estuary such as Beckton, Barking and Dagenham. To the North East lies the gateway to the affluent Epping Forest area.
Containing many commuter suburbs and densely-packed housing, as well as the well known urban centres of Kingston upon Thames and Croydon
Home to the annual tennis Championships and wombling Wimbledon Common
Leafy Thames-side scenery, Hampton Court Palace, the botanical gardens and some major parklands
- "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford" — Samuel Johnson
Settlement has existed on the site of London since well before Roman times, with evidence of Bronze Age and Celtic settlement. The Roman city of Londinium, established just after the Roman conquest of Britannia in the year 43, formed the basis for the modern city (some isolated Roman period remains are still to be seen within the City). After the end of Roman rule in 410 and a short-lived decline, London experienced a gradual revival under the Anglo-Saxons, as well as the Norsemen, and emerged as a great medieval trading city, and eventually replaced Winchester as the royal capital of England. This paramount status for London was confirmed when William the Conqueror, a Norman, built the Tower of London after the conquest in 1066 and was crowned King of England in Westminster.
London went from strength to strength with the rise of England to first European then global prominence, and the city became a great centre of culture, government and industry. London's long association with the theatre, for example, can be traced back to the English renaissance (witness the Rose Theatre and great playwrights like Shakespeare who made London their home). With the rise of Britain to supreme maritime power in the 18th and 19th centuries and the possessor of the largest global empire, London became an imperial capital and drew people and influences from around the world to become, for many years, the largest city in the world.
England's royal family has, over the centuries, added much to the London scene for today's traveller: the Albert Memorial, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Royal Albert Hall, Tower of London, Kew Palace and Westminster Abbey being prominent examples.
Despite the inevitable decline of the British Empire, and considerable suffering during World War II (when London was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe in the Blitz), the city is still a top-ranked world city: a global centre of culture, finance, and learning. Today London is easily the largest city in the United Kingdom, eight times larger than the second largest, Birmingham, and ten times larger than the third, Glasgow, and dominates the economic, political and social life of the nation. It is full of excellent bars, galleries, museums, parks and theatres. It is also the most culturally and ethnically diverse part of the country, making it a great multicultural city to visit. Samuel Johnson famously said, "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life". Whether you are interested in ancient history, modern art, opera or underground raves, London has it all.
The City and Westminster
If you ask a Londoner where the centre of London is, you are likely to get a wry smile. This is because historically London was two cities: a commercial city and a separate government capital.
The commercial capital was the City of London. This had a dense population and all the other pre-requisites of a medieval city: walls, a castle (The Tower of London), a cathedral (St Pauls), a semi-independent City government, a port and a bridge across which all trade was routed so Londoners could make money (London Bridge).
About an hour upstream (on foot or by boat) around a bend in the river was the government capital (Westminster). This had a church for crowning the monarch (Westminster Abbey) and palaces. As each palace was replaced by a larger one, the previous one was used for government, first the Palace of Westminster (better known as the Houses of Parliament), then Whitehall, then Buckingham Palace. The two were linked by a road called The "Strand", old English for riverbank.
London grew both west and east. The land to the west of the City (part of the parish of Westminster) was prime farming land (Covent Garden and Soho for example) and made good building land. The land to the east was flat, marshy and cheap, good for cheap housing and industry, and later for docks. Also the wind blows 3 days out of 4 from west to east, and the Thames (into which the sewage went) flows from west to east. So the West End was up-wind and up-market, the East End was where people worked for a living.
Modern-day London in these terms is a two-centre city, with the area in between known confusingly as the West End.
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See the 5 day forecast for London at the Met Office
Despite a perhaps unfair reputation for being unsettled, London enjoys a dry and mild climate on average. Only one in three days on average will bring rain and often only for a short period. In some years, 2012 being an example, there was no rain for several weeks.
Winter in London is mild compared to nearby continental European cities due to both the presence of the Gulf Stream and the urban heat effect. Average daily maximum is 8°C (46°F) in December and January. Daylight hours are short with darkness falling by 16:00 in December.
Snow does occur, usually a few times a year but rarely heavy (a few years being exceptions such as the winters of 2009 and 2010, with temperatures dipping down to sub-zeros regularly). Snow in London can be crippling, as seen at the end of 2010. Just 7 cm (3 in) of snow will cause trains to stop running, airports to see significant delays, and the postal service to come to a halt. London is a city which does not cope well with snow; walkways, stairs, and streets will not be cleared by shovels or ploughs. The streets will be salted/gritted, but will remain slick and snow/slush covered until the sun melts it away. This is due to a lack of widespread snow-clearing infrastructure as the city does not often see snow.
Summer is perhaps the best season for tourists as it has long daylight hours as well as mild temperatures. The average daily high temperatures in July and August are around 24°C (75°F). The highest temperature since 2000 was recorded once in August at 38°C (100°F). This means London can feel hot and humid for several days in the summer months. Also, because of the urban heat effect, at night it can feel humid and muggy.
The weather in London is highly changeable regardless of the time of year. Cold temperatures and severe rain can occur even in the summer months.
Tourist information centres
Since the closure of the Britain and London Visitor Centre in December 2011 due to cost-cutting by the government, London has no centrally located tourist information centre.
The City of London Information Centre, as the last remaining information centre in any of the Central London boroughs, is now the only impartial, face-to-face source of tourist information in Central London. It is located in St. Paul's Churchyard, next to St. Paul's Cathedral, and is open every day other than Christmas Day and Boxing Day, from 09.30-17.30 Monday to Saturday, and 10.00-16.00 on Sunday.
There is no office for tourist information for the whole of the UK nor for the whole of England.
Due to London's huge global city status it is the most served destination in the world when it comes to flights.
London (all airports code: LON) is served by a total of five airports. Travelling between the city and the airports is made relatively easy by the large number of public transport links that have been put in place over recent years. However, if transiting through London, be sure to check the arrival and departure airports carefully as transfers across the city may be quite time consuming. In addition to London's five official airports (of which only two are located within Greater London), there are a number of other regional UK airports conveniently accessible from London. Since they offer a growing number of budget flights, choosing those airports can be cheaper (or even faster, depending on where in London your destination is).
For transfers directly between London's airports, the fastest way (short of an expensive taxi or private helicopter) is the direct inter-airport coach service by National Express. Coaches between Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton run at least hourly, with Heathrow-Gatwick services taking 65 min (£18) and Heathrow-Stansted services 90 min (£20.50) (services between Stansted and Luton run only every two hours). However, it's essential to allow leeway, as London's motorways, especially the orbital M25 and the M1, are often congested to the point of gridlock. Some of these coaches have toilets on board.
- Main article: Heathrow Airport
Heathrow (IATA: LHR) is London and Europe's largest airport and the world's busiest airport in terms of international passenger movements, with services available from most major airports world-wide. It has five terminals. Terminal 2 reopened in June 2014 following redevelopment and until October 2014 there is a timetable of airline moves to this new terminal. Flights landing at Heathrow are often delayed by up to an hour as a simple result of air traffic congestion and waiting for parking slots.
See our separate Heathrow Airport article, but here's a quick summary of transport options:
- Fastest: by Heathrow Express rail (Paddington Station - Heathrow 1, 2, 3 & 5), ☎ . Every 15 min, journey time 15 min. Travelcard & Oyster card not valid. These train lines terminate at London Paddington which for most people will require a tube, bus, or cab ride to their final destination. Despite the Heathrow Express & Connect's speed, they are often not the fastest way to a final destination in London. One way, adult prices: £18 (if purchased online or from ticket machine/office) and £23, when purchased onboard; round trip is £34.
- Second fastest: by Heathrow Connect rail (terminal 3), Arriva Hotel (Paddington Station - Heathrow 1, 2, 3 & 4), ☎ . Travelcard & Oyster card not valid to Heathrow. Does not serve Terminal 5. Follows same route as Heathrow Express but stops at several intermediate stations to London Paddington so journey is 25 minutes and trains less frequent. Unlike Heathrow Express trains, the Heathrow Connect trains are poorly marked both at the airport and at Paddington. Ask a Heathrow Express attendant how to get to the train from the airport. For the return trip, Heathrow Connect leaves from Paddington Platform 12. One way £9.10, round trip £17.80.
- Cheapest: by London Underground (Piccadilly line), ☎ . Every few minutes, journey time approximately 1 hour, however this depends on your destination. For the cheapest single fare ask for an Oyster card (£5 refundable deposit). Zone 1-6 Travelcard valid. The first train leaves at 05:14 and the last train leaves for central London at 23:46 (Monday to Saturday). When travelling from central London to the airport check your destination carefully - some trains don't go to the airport and those that do go have 2 distinct routes. During the day trains are at least every 10 minutes and usually more frequent. Be aware that weekend engineering works can result in replacement buses being run in place of the trains - check with the TFL website beforehand. With Oyster one way £2.90 (off-peak) to £4.80 (peak).
- Bus N9 operates service from midnight-05:00 between Heathrow and Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, roughly following the Piccadilly Line into Central London. Buses depart every 20 minutes and take about 1 hour 15 minutes to reach central London.
- Taxi. A taxi from Heathrow to central London will cost £45-60. You may wish to consider taking a taxi if you have a lot of baggage or small children. Alternatively catch public transport into the city centre and then catch a taxi. There are two types of taxis: Black cabs (these can be hailed on a street or at a taxi rank) and licensed mini cabs (these are typically cheaper - but must be booked in advance over the phone or on the web). There are over 1000 minicab companies in London.
- By Transfers, ☎ . Journey time 35-40 min. approx £65.
- Pre-booked Mini Cab. A pre-booked sedan transfer from Heathrow to central London will cost £39-44. This an excellent and cheaper alternative to a black cab. The big advantage is the fixed fare, regardless of traffic conditions or route. There are dozens of companies serving Heathrow, just google 'heathrow minicab'. Once booked, the driver will be waiting for you with a sign bearing your name in the arrivals area. Tipping when using minicabs is not required, although is certainly welcome.
- Also: to South London, ☎ . Bus 285 (or taxi) to Feltham railway station (20 minutes) then a train to London Waterloo on the South Bank or Clapham Junction in South West London. Furthermore, bus X26 (limited stop) is an express route stopping in three of South London's district centres: Kingston, Sutton and Croydon. Zone 1-6 Travelcard valid on all London buses and trains. £2 single.
- Airport Parking. Heathrow Terminal 5 Parking.
- Main article: Gatwick Airport
(IATA: LGW) London's second airport, also serving a large spectrum of places world-wide. It is the world's busiest single runway airport and is split into a North and South Terminal. The two terminals are linked by a free shuttle train (5 minutes). The train station is located in the South Terminal. To get to the centre of the city, the following options exist:
- By rail: Gatwick Express, ☎ . Every 15 min, journey time 30-35 min. To London Victoria. Travelcard not valid. One way £18.90, round trip £33.20, for the cheapest fare visit their website.
- By rail: Southern Railway, ☎ . Every 15 min, journey time 35-40 min. To London Victoria via Clapham Junction. Much cheaper than Gatwick Express - £13.50 (cheaper if booked in advance).
- By rail: First Capital Connect, ☎ . To London Bridge, Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon, St Pancras International, Luton Airport and further north. Much cheaper than Gatwick Express - about £10 (they occasionally have advance tickets priced at half that).
- By bus: easyBus. Every 15-20 min, journey time 60-90 min. To Earl's Court/West Brompton. One way prices start from £2. Book online..
- By bus: National Express. Every 30 min, journey time 75-110 min. To London Victoria. One way prices start from £7. Book online.
- By Minicab, ☎ . Journey time 90-120 min. approx £70.
- By Transfers, ☎ . Journey time 80-110 min. approx £85.
- By car. 47 km (29 mi).
- By cycle. There is a long-distance cycle path into Central London, but as it involves an indirect route, going over the North Downs and through South-East London, it will likely be quite a ride. For adventurous people.
When departing, no drinking fountains are to be found in the South Terminal departure lounge after passing through security.
- Main article: London Stansted Airport
Transport options into central London:
- By rail: Stansted Express to London Liverpool Street, ☎ . Every 15 min, journey time 45-60 min. Single £23.40, return £37.50. Book 30 days in advance: single £8, return £16. Travelcards not valid. First class fares available. Children aged 5-15 travel at half fares. Most budget carriers' websites offer reduced price deals for the Stansted Express..
- By rail then London Underground: Stansted Express to Tottenham Hale then London Underground (Victoria line), ☎ . Every 15 min. If you are going to South London, the West End or West London then take the Stansted Express to Tottenham Hale then the London Underground (Victoria line). At Tottenham Hale ask for an Oyster card for the best fare. Single £21.00, return £33.50, then £3.20 (peak)/£2.70 (off-peak) for single Oyster fares to central London by Underground. Cash Underground fares cost considerably more..
- By coach: National Express, ☎ . Every 15-30 min. Journey time to Stratford: 1 hour. To Liverpool Street: 80 min. To Victoria: 90 min. To Stratford (tube: Stratford) or Victoria (tube: Victoria). Folding bicycles only. To Stratford: £8 single, £14 return. To Liverpool Street: £7.50 single (online in advance?). To Victoria: £10 single, £16 return. Travelcards not valid.
- By coach: Terravision, ☎ . Every 30 min. To Liverpool Street tube, Victoria tube or Stratford. To Liverpool Street: £8 single, £14 return. To Victoria: £9 single, £15 return. To Stratford: £6 single, £11 return. Travelcards not valid.
- By minibus: EasyBus. To Baker Street (tube: Baker Street) From £2 (advance web purchase) to £8 single. Travelcard not valid..
- By taxi, ☎ . Journey time 90-120 min. The airport is a long way from central London. It's normally a better idea to take a train to Liverpool Street and continue by taxi from there. approx £70.
- By Minicab, ☎ . Journey time 90-120 min. Stansted Airport Cars, located just outside of the terminal complex. approx £70.
London Luton Airport (IATA: LTN) is London's fourth airport after Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. It's nearer to central London than the latter two airports at 35 mi (57 km) north of central London and situated 1.7 mi (2.8 km) east of Luton town centre. It's a major hub for easyJet, Ryanair, Wizzair, Thomson Airways and Monarch Airlines. The vast majority of routes served are within Europe, although there are some charter and scheduled routes to destinations in Northern Africa and Asia.
Except for the City Airport, Luton Airport is the smallest of the London international airports, but still a major hub for many low-cost airlines and over 10 million passengers fly through the airport each year. It has the same facilities as the other major airports and also, like Stansted, it is commonplace for some passengers on early morning flights to sleep in the terminal before their flights. There can be heavy traffic congestion on the access road caused by the surge of early flights. The Parkway Airport station, which serves the terminal, is about 20 minutes walk back into town, although there is a regular shuttle bus charging £1.50 to take you to the station. If your train ticket says Luton Airport (rather than Luton Airport Parkway), then the bus ride is included in the ticket.
The airport is a major hub for easyJet, Ryanair, Wizzair, Thomson Airways and Monarch Airlines, with other airlines also serving the airport like Aer Arann, FlyBE and El Al, to cities primarily in Scotland, Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean Basin. If leaving on a morning flight (departing between 0700-0830), it is advisable to leave extra time to check in and clear security due to the large number of flights leaving (particularly Wizzair).
- By rail. Journey time: 20-55 min. £12.50 one way. Travelcard not valid. The airport has its own railway station "Luton Airport Parkway", served by trains 24 hours a day from Central London using "First Capital Connect Trains" from St Pancras International. There are up to 10 trains an hour, depending on the time of day. All trains go to London St Pancras International, but many also continue on to Blackfriars, London Bridge and Elephant & Castle, Gatwick Airport and Brighton. The station is nearly 2 km (1 mi) from the terminal building, a shuttle bus service connects the terminal and airport every 10 minutes, costing £1.50 each way. At rush hour times, this journey can take up to 25 minutes. Railway ticket offices can now sell through tickets to Luton Airport that include the shuttle bus, although some ticket office staff may not be aware of this if the station doesn't have direct trains to Luton. If the destination on your ticket says "Luton Airport" the shuttle bus is included, but if it says "Luton Airport Parkway" you will have to buy a bus ticket.
- By coach: Green Line number 757, ☎ . Every 20 min, journey time 90 min. To Victoria (tube: Victoria) via Brent Cross, Finchley Rd tube station, Baker St, Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner. £14 one way if bought from the driver, tickets can be purchased in-advance online from £2. Service is run by Greenline and in conjunction with easyBus (but can be used by all travellers regardless of airline you travel with). Travelcard not valid.
- By coach: National Express, ☎ . Every 20 min, journey time 90 min. To Victoria (tube: Victoria) via Golders Green and Marble Arch. From £1 (advance web purchase) one way. Travelcard not valid.
- By car. 60 km (34 mi) north of London, just off the M1 motorway which connects London with the Midlands and the North of England. Depending on where you are travelling from in London and time of day, journey times take 45-90 mins. Road users should plan their journey and check traffic conditions, as if an incident occurs on London's busy roads, journey times can dramatically increase. It costs £2 to stay in the "drop off zone" for a maximum of 10 minutes (non-extendable without penalty). There is also a short stay car park nearby. The "Medium stay" car park allows a short period of free parking (30 minutes), so passengers may be left here to catch the shuttle bus to the airport and collected, if the arrival time is known with certainty. No parking or drop-off is permitted at any other roadside locations - this is enforced by cameras and "parking charges" of £80 (£40 if paid promptly).
London City Airport (IATA: LCY) is London's fifth airport after Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. A commuter airport close to the City's financial district, and specialising in short-haul business flights to other major European cities. There are also growing numbers of routes to holiday destinations that include Malaga, Ibiza and Mallorca.
The airport is located on a former Docklands site in the London Borough of Newham, some 11 km / 6.9 miles east of the City of London and a short distance from Canary Wharf. It mainly offers flights to major European cities by full service carriers. British Airways operates two services a day to New York JFK on weekdays and a daily service on weekends using an Airbus A318 in an entirely business class configuration.
Not as expensive to fly into than it used to be, and you may indeed find that in some instances this may be your cheapest London airport to fly to. This doesn't take into account the cost savings of not coming from the distant larger London airports with £10+ transfer costs. Then there is the added bonus is that it is close to central London with its convenient link to the DLR. Minimum check in times for most airlines is around 30 minutes, with some offering 15 minute check in deadlines. Queues for security can be long at peak business times. Touchdown to the DLR (including taxi, disembarkation, immigration and baggage reclaim) can be as fast at 5 minutes, although 15 minutes is normal.
To get to the city centre the following options exist:
- By Docklands Light Railway (DLR). See also: Get around. The DLR runs to Bank station. There is a convenient change to the Jubilee line at Canning Town. Travelcard valid.
- By taxi. Journey time approximately 30 min. £20-35.
- By car. 10 km (6 mi).
- By bus. Take the 474 bus to Canning Town station and then the 115 or N15 into central London. See also: Get around. Travelcard valid.
Other airports near London
- London Southend Airport (IATA: SEN), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Southend airport serves a range of destinations in Europe with Aer Lingus Regional and easyJet. By rail, a journey time of 55-65 min. Travelcard not valid. The airport has its own railway station "Southend Airport", and is served from Liverpool Street, via Stratford by trains 17 hours a day. There are up to 8 trains an hour, depending on the time of day. The station is approximately 200m from the terminal building.
- London Ashford Airport, also known as Lydd Airport has rather seasonal, limited services and is used primarily for businessmen.
- Southampton Airport (IATA: SOU), ☎ . Every 30 min, journey time 1 hour. This is not officially a London airport, though accessible enough to conveniently serve the capital, especially South West London. A couple of budget carriers serving an increasing number of European destinations are based here. Direct trains connect Southampton airport to London Waterloo station. £30-35 round trip. Bournemouth Airport similarly operates a couple of Ryanair flight among others, and is not too far west on the train line from Southampton.
- Birmingham International Airport (IATA: BHX), ☎ . Every 20 min, journey time 72 min with Virgin Trains. This is another non-London airport worth considering as a less congested and hectic alternative to Heathrow, being just over an hour away from London. As a major airport serving the UK's second largest city, there is a good choice of long distance and European destinations. Direct trains connect Birmingham International to London Euston and Watford. The train station is connected to the terminal via a free shuttle train (2 minutes). From £10 (advance web purchase) one way, £35-100 round trip.
- Other small airports, such as Oxford Airport can also be useful. Kent International Airport and Shoreham Airport (near Brighton) are similarly small. Biggin Hill in Bromley borough had a rejected licence bid in 2010 for commercial flights for the Olympics but may receive one in the near future.
Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.
London is the hub of the British rail network - every major city in mainland Britain has a frequent train service to the capital, and most of the smaller, provincial cities and large towns also have a direct rail connection to London of some sort - although the frequency and quality of service can vary considerably from place to place.
Rail fares to London vary enormously from very cheap to prohibitively expensive - the golden rules are to book Advance tickets for a particular train time, don't travel into the city on Friday afternoons and Sundays, and avoid buying tickets on the day of travel. There are three basic types of ticket, which are summarised below. Note that much of the advice applies to rail travel in general within the United Kingdom.
- ANYTIME - travel on any train, any operator at any time, returning within one month with few restrictions. Very expensive however - on a long distance journey from Northern England or Scotland for example - an Anytime return ticket to London won't leave you with any change out of £250!
- OFF-PEAK - travel on certain trains within a specific time-frame; again returning within one month. Typically this excludes anything that arrives into London during the morning rush hour (before 10:00 typically), or any train which departs during evening rush hour (16:30-18:30). Weekends generally carry no restrictions on the use of Off-Peak tickets. There are however, a monumentally complex number of exceptions for which Off-Peak tickets are and aren't valid which are barely fathomable to the British, never mind overseas visitors. If you are in any doubt at all about the validity of an Off-Peak ticket, ask a guard at the station or a ticket office BEFORE getting on a train - as on-train conductors can be notoriously unforgiving.
- ADVANCE - travel on a specific day and train time, booked up to 12 weeks in advance either in person at a railway station, over the telephone, or online. Two Advance single tickets for the outward and return legs of the journey are generally cheaper than the Off-Peak return ticket. Better deals can often be had by going directly to the train operator's website. The earlier you book, the more you save - you can get down to as little as £12.00 one-way from Scotland for example, but these tickets are non-refundable, and cannot be used on anything other than the date, train time and operator that is printed on the reservation. Go on any other train and get caught and you will be obliged to pay the Anytime fare for the journey you are making - which, as we've said before, is hideously expensive!
The local and commuter rail companies within the London and Home Counties area also have a bewildering array of special fares which are all in essence, variations of the Off-Peak ticket and are far too detailed to cover here, go directly to the website of the operator concerned for more information. Note that if you only intend to use trains within the Greater London boundary, then the Oyster Card (explained below) is by far the easiest and cheapest option to use.
Seats can be reserved for free on all long-distance trains to London - the reservation is always issued automatically with an Advance ticket, and with most Off-Peak and Anytime tickets bought on-line. If, for whatever reason you hold an Anytime or Off-Peak ticket and there is no seat reservation coupon, then it is highly recommended you get one from any railway station ticket office - if you want to avoid camping out in the vestibule for all or part of the journey!! First Class is available on all long distance services to London, the standard of service varies from operator to operator, but in general you get a wider, more comfortable seat, free tea/coffee for the duration of the journey, and some sort of complimentary catering service. If can be great value if you get an Advance first-class fare, but it is extremely expensive otherwise, and to be honest - not really worth it. You can pay a Weekend supplement (generally £15-£20) to sit in the first class section of the train on Saturdays and Sundays, - useful if the service you are on is hideously overcrowded - but you don't get the same catering service as during the week.
If you are the holder of a Britrail pass, things are simpler - but remember you still have to make a seat reservation for the train you intend to travel on - otherwise you run the risk of standing for the journey! If you intend to use the overnight Sleeper trains to London, you will have to pay a berth supplement for every member of your party - provided there is berth availability on the train.
London has one international high speed rail route (operated by Eurostar 0870 518 6186 ) from Paris (2hr 15min) and Brussels (1hr 50 min) diving under the sea for 35 km (22 mi) via the Channel Tunnel to come out in England. It terminates at Saint Pancras International Station. For domestic train services, there are no fewer than 12 main line National Rail terminals (although in conversation you may hear the brand National Rail infrequently if ever it differentiates main line and London Underground services; journey planner on-line or phone 0845 748 49 50). With the exception of Fenchurch Street (tube: Tower Hill) these are on the London Underground. Most are on the circle line. Clockwise starting at Paddington, major National Rail stations are:
- London Paddington, serves South West England and Wales including Slough, Maidenhead, Reading, Oxford, Bath, Bristol, Taunton, Exeter, Plymouth and Cardiff and Swansea. Also the Central London terminus of the Heathrow Airport Express (see above) and serves some suburban stations such as Acton Main Line and Ealing Broadway.
- London Marylebone, serves some north western suburban stations such as Amersham, Harrow on the Hill and Wembley Stadium. Also serves Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Banbury, Stratford-upon-Avon and the city of Birmingham. It is much cheaper but slightly slower to take a train from Marylebone to Birmingham instead of a train from London Euston.
- London Euston, serves the Midlands, north-west England and west Scotland: Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Oxenholme Lake District, Carlisle, Glasgow, and Holyhead for connecting ferries to/from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Sleeper trains to Scotland leave from Euston.
- St Pancras International, serves Paris, Brussels, Lille, as well as Luton Airport, Bedford, Brighton, Gatwick Airport, Catford several destinations in Kent and the East Midlands: Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield.
- London King's Cross, serves East Anglia, north-east England and east Scotland: Cambridge, Doncaster, Leeds, York, Kingston upon Hull, Newcastle upon Tyne, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Platform 9 3/4 from the Harry Potter books is marked with a special sign, although platform 9 itself is actually in the fairly unpleasant metallic extension used by Cambridge trains.
- London Moorgate, serves some northern suburbs.
- London Liverpool Street, serves East Anglia: Ipswich and Norwich. Also the Central London terminus of the Stansted Airport Express.
- London Fenchurch Street, serves commuter towns north of the Thames estuary to Southend.
- London Bridge, London Cannon Street, London Waterloo East and London Charing Cross, serve south and south east London and England: Brighton, Dover, Eastbourne, Hastings and Ramsgate.
- London Blackfriars, serves Gatwick Airport and Brighton.
- London Waterloo, serves south west London and England: Portsmouth, Winchester, Southampton, Bournemouth, Weymouth, Salisbury and Exeter.
- London Victoria, serves south east London and England: Brighton, Dover, Eastbourne, Hastings and Ramsgate. Also the Central London terminus of the Gatwick Airport Express.
In South London many areas have only National Rail services (no London Underground services but there are buses). London Bridge, Victoria, Cannon St and Charing Cross serve the South East. London Waterloo serves the South West. First Capital Connect (frequently referred to as Thameslink) is a cross London route between Bedford and Brighton via Luton Airport (Parkway), Saint Pancras International, Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars, London Bridge and Gatwick Airport.
Most international and domestic long distance bus (UK English: coach) services arrive at and depart from a complex of coach stations off Buckingham Palace Road in Westminster close to London Victoria rail station. All services operated by National Express or Eurolines (see below) serve Victoria Coach Station, which actually has separate arrival and departure buildings. Services by other operators may use this station, or the Green Line Coach Station across Buckingham Palace Road. The following are among the main coach operators:
- National Express, ☎ . is by far the largest domestic coach operator and operates services to / from London from throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Advance ticketing is usually required and recommended practice in any case. Fares are low - especially when booked in advance via the web. A few journeys are fast but most are notably slower than using the train.
- Eurolines, ☎ . is an associate company of National Express, and runs coach services to / from London with various cities in Northern Ireland, the Ireland and continental Europe. Advance ticketing is required.
- Megabus, ☎ . (premium rate)operates budget coach services from/to London (Victoria Coach Station) to/from several major regional cities, it is even possible to get to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. Also offers service to continental Europe including Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. Fares are demand responsive but can be very cheap (£1.50 if you book far enough in advance). Megabus also offer a Sleeper service to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
- Greyhound, ☎ . (premium rate)coach services with free wi-fi, newspapers and extra legroom. From/to London (Victoria Coach Station) to/from several cities. Fares can be very cheap.
London is the hub of the UK's road network and is easy to reach by car, even if driving into the centre of the city is definitely not recommended. Greater London is encircled by the M25 orbital motorway, from which nearly all the major trunk routes to Scotland, Wales and the rest of England radiate. The most important are listed below.
- M1: The main route to/from the North, leading from the East Midlands, Yorkshire and terminating at Leeds. Most importantly, Britain's longest motorway - the M6, branches from the M1 at Rugby, leading to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, the Lake District and onwards to the Scottish border, and ultimately Glasgow.
- A1/A1(M) The A1 is the original, historic "Great North Road" between England and Scotland's capital cities and has largely been converted to motorway standard; it runs up the eastern side of Great Britain through Peterborough, York, Newcastle and continues north through Northumberland and the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh.
- M40/A40: Arrives in London from a north westerly direction, linking the city with Oxford and providing an additional link from Birmingham.
- M4: The principal route to/from the West - leading to Bath, Bristol and cities South Wales (Cardiff and Swansea). It is also the main route towards Heathrow Airport.
- M3: The main route to London from the shipping port of Southampton.
- M2/M20: Together, these motorways are the main link to the coastal ferry (and Channel Tunnel) ports of Dover and Folkestone from Continental Europe.
- M11: The M11 connects Stansted Airport and Cambridge to London, and it terminates on the north eastern periphery of the city.
In addition to the M25, here are two inner ring roads in London which skirt the central area:
- A406/A205 North Circular/South Circular The North Circular is a half circle on the North of the Thames, and is mostly a dual carriageway. It has direct connections with the M4, M40, M1 and M11 motorways and can be useful if you want to quickly get around the northern suburbs of the city. The corresponding South Circular is really a local road which is made up of segments of main suburban thoroughfares. The two roads are connected at the east end of the circle in North Woolwich/Woolwich Arsenal by the Woolwich Free Ferry, which runs approx. every 10–15 minutes and is free of charge, although it can only carry a limited amount of vehicles so avoid during busy periods as the queues can be very long! The ferry stops running after 10PM, so it's advisable to travel through the Docklands and use the Blackwall Tunnel instead.
Comparatively few people will actually drive into (or anywhere near) the centre of London. The infamous M25 ring road did not earn its irreverent nicknames "The Road To Hell" and "Britain's biggest car park" for nothing. The road is heavily congested at most times of the day, and is littered with automatically variable speed limits which are enforced with speed cameras. Despite the controversial "congestion charge", driving a car anywhere near the centre of London remains a nightmare with crowded roads, impatient drivers and extortionate parking charges (that's if you can find a space in the first place, that is!). From Monday through Friday, parking in the City of London is free after 18:30; after 13:30 on Saturday and all day Sunday.
London has one of the most comprehensive public transport systems in the world. Despite residents' perpetual (and sometimes justified) grumbling about unreliability, public transport is often the best option for getting anywhere for visitors and residents alike.
In central London use a combination of the transport options listed below - and check your map! In many cases you can easily walk from one place to another or use the buses. Be a Londoner and only use the Tube as a way of travelling longer distances. You're here to see London - you can't see it underground!
Transport for London (TfL) is a government organisation responsible for all public transport. Their website contains maps plus an excellent journey planner. TfL publishes a useful 'coping guide' specially designed for travellers who wish to use public transport during their visit to London. This can be downloaded in PDF format and printed as a nine-page brochure. TfL also offers a 24-hour travel information line, charged at premium rate: tel +44 843 222 1234 (or text 60835) for suggestions on getting from A to B, and for up to the minute information on how services are running. Fortunately for visitors (and indeed residents) there is a single ticketing system, Oyster, which enables travellers to switch between modes of transport on one ticket.
The main travel options in summary are:
- By bus: This is the cheapest and usually the best way to get around London as a tourist: on the Underground, you won't see anything! With an Oyster card, the bus fare is £1.45 per journey, and this is capped at £4.40 each day. This means that travelling by bus is one of the most cost-effective ways of getting around. Buses are also wheelchair and pram/buggy-accessible. As of 6th July 2014, you can no longer buy cash single tickets on the bus. Instead you will need to pay with an Oyster, a contactless credit/debit card, or buy a pre-paid Travelcard at a station.
- By Tube / Underground: 11 colour-coded lines cover the central area and suburbs, run by TfL. Be aware that in the morning and evening peaks on weekdays the Underground is very busy, especially the Circle and Central lines. You can often get to your destination in an alternative way; check the Bakerloo, Victoria and Piccadilly lines. Large parts of the Underground are also inaccessible to wheelchairs and parents with prams/buggies so you may want to consider taking the bus instead.
- By Docklands Light Railway (DLR): An automatic metro system running from the City to East London via the Docklands, providing links with London City Airport, Canary Wharf, Stratford (for Westfield Stratford City and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park), Greenwich and the ExCel Exhibition Centre. This is part of the TfL fare system so you must always remember to touch your Oyster card in at the start and out at the end of your journey.
- By foot: In central London, tube stations are close together (especially Leicester Square and Covent Garden). Walking to the next station often takes under 5 minutes, and is more scenic than using the tube. The street layout is confusing, so a street map is essential (many underground stations have central London maps for £2). Ask a local if you get stuck.
- By boat: Commuter ferries and pleasure cruises along the River Thames. Some (but not all) services accept Oyster cards: special fares apply, so check before you set out.
- Airport Express: Express rail services run to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports (tickets are generally sold at a premium), privately run and not part of the TfL network.
- By bicycle: There are hire bicycles (known to Londoners as "Boris bikes") operated by TfL available for pick up in Central and East London. You will need a credit or debit card with a PIN. If you bring your own bike, there are plenty of cycle lanes and traffic is normally considerate.
- By tram (Tramlink): A tram service that operates only in southern suburbs around Wimbledon and Croydon.
- By Overground: Orange-coloured lines circling the northern suburbs; connecting Stratford (for Westfield Stratford City and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) with Richmond Upon Thames. At Highbury and Islington it is possible to connect to Croydon and Crystal Palace in South London via the East End. There is also an interchange for Barking in East London at Gospal Oak and a line connecting Euston Station with Watford Junction in Hertfordshire. Another line runs from Willesden Junction in North West London to Clapham Junction in south via Shepherd's Bush (for Westfield). At Clapham Junction you can connect with mainline trains to Brighton, Gatwick Airport, Southampton and other points south. Part of TfL's network.
- By National Rail: A complex network of suburban rail services, privately run and not part of the TfL network, although all operators now accept Oyster payments within greater London only. Watch out, though: if you want to travel further afield, you will need to buy a separate paper ticket before you get on the train, or you may be charged a Penalty Fare or prosecuted.
Oyster is a contactless electronic smartcard run by Transport for London. In general, Oyster is the most cost-effective option if you plan to be in London for any more than a couple of days, or if you intend to make return visits to the city: the savings quickly recover the initial purchase cost. You can buy an Oyster card from any Tube station for a deposit of £5. You can "top up" an Oyster card with electronic funds. This money is then deducted according to where you travel. The cost of a single trip using the Oyster card is considerably less than buying a single paper ticket with cash. Prices vary depending on distance travelled, whether by bus or tube, and on the time of day. You can also add various electronic seven-day, 1 month and longer-period Travelcards onto an Oyster, and the card is simply validated each time you use it.
The deposit is fully refundable if you hand it in at any staffed Tube station's ticket office, and you will also get any pay-as-you-go credit refunded. However, your Oyster card, and the credit on it, never runs out or expires, so it's often worth keeping your Oyster around in case you return to London. Be prepared to give your signature on receipts or even show ID for refunds over a few pounds.
Oyster is valid on all red London buses, and almost all trains in London: a list of destinations is available on the London Tube and Rail Services map. Oyster is not valid on buses or trains outside London: if you need to travel beyond the stations on the map, you will have to pay for a paper ticket. (If you do not, you may be liable for a penalty fare or prosecution!) Oyster is also not accepted on long-distance coaches, nor on tour buses, charter buses or on the community bus route 812 in Islington.
Also, Oyster can not be used on:
- the Heathrow Express;
- the Heathrow Connect, beyond Hayes and Harlington;
- High Speed One trains between St. Pancras International and Stratford International.
If you have a National Railcard, such as the 16-25 Railcard or the Senior Railcard, you can register this with your Oyster card at a Tube ticket office to receive substantial discounts on your off-peak pay-as-you-go fares.
Using your Oyster
When using your Oyster card to travel, make sure the reader is displaying an orange light, then place it flat against the reader. Listen carefully for a single beep, and watch for a green light: if this happens, it means your card has been accepted, and you can proceed. If you hear two beeps and see a red light, this means your card has not been accepted. Take the card off the reader, wait for the orange light, and try again; if this continues to happen, ask for help from a member of staff.
When getting on any kind of train, such as the Tube, the DLR or the London Overground, simply touch your Oyster card on the yellow circular reader at the start and end of your journey. At stations with ticket gates, these readers will be on the right-hand side of the gates; at stations without gates, they will be on free-standing cabinets. Always make sure you touch in at the start, and out at the end of your journey! If you do not, the system has no way of knowing where you have travelled, and you will be charged the maximum fare.
Usually you will not need to touch your Oyster card on a reader when changing trains. However, some stations have pink Oyster "route validators" on the platforms: if you are getting off one train and getting onto another at one of these stations, touch your Oyster on the pink reader so that the system charges you the right fare for the route you have taken. There are a few other situations where you might need to touch out when changing trains: always ask a member of railway staff if you are in doubt.
When using a London bus, you only touch in once, when getting on the bus. Most buses have their Oyster reader on the ticket machine next to the driver. Some buses have Oyster readers on poles next to the middle and rear doors. You don't need to touch out when you get off the bus!
Some buses on routes 9 and 15 in central London are operated by heritage w:Routemasters. These buses have only one entrance, at the back, and are operated by conductors. Simply take your seat on the bus, and have your Oyster card ready: the conductor will take your card and scan it with a hand-held ticket machine.
When using a tram, simply touch your Oyster card on the reader on the tram platform before you get on a tram.
- Don't try to insert your Oyster card into the slot at the ticket gates! Touch it flat against the yellow reader, and wait for a single beep and a green light.
- On the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), and on some Overground and National Rail stations in the outlying parts of the city, there are no entry or exit gates (except at interchanges with the Tube like Bank or Stratford.) You have to be sure to touch your Oyster card on the readers (which are clearly signposted) as you enter and leave. Failure to do this when you begin a journey is regarded as fare dodging, and if you are caught you could be charged a Penalty Fare or prosecuted. Equally, failing to touch out when you leave a station will result in you being overcharged for your journey, as the system will make a default deduction of £8.60 since it doesn't know which station you left at.
- You should always keep your Oyster card separately from your wallet with your bank cards, cash, identity documents, etc. This is because if you take your wallet out to touch in at busy stations it makes you a prime target for pickpockets. It also means that if your wallet is stolen you will lose your means of travel as well as your money! Always keep your wallet in a secure inside pocket or a closed bag, and keep your Oyster card in a separate pocket. (If you buy your Oyster from a Tube station, it will usually come in a wallet of its own.)
- You should also be very careful if you have contactless credit or debit cards or RFID identity cards from your employer, as these can interfere with your Oyster if you keep them in the same wallet. This usually results in an error message but may mean you get charged the full fare from your contactless credit or debit card instead.
- Be careful standing near the readers on some buses - they are often quite sensitive and may read your card from several centimetres away, even if you did not intend this.
- Try not to keep your Oyster in your back pocket. Not only does this make it easy to pickpocket, it also means it is likely to crack or bend when you sit down.
You can top up your Oyster card with cash at any Tube station ticket machine or ticket office (you can use a credit card if it has a PIN number) with Oyster pay-as-you-go, also known as PrePay. Money is then deducted from your Oyster card each time you travel. When travelling by train, the fare is calculated based on where you started and ended your journey. Pay-as-you-go is much cheaper than paying by cash for each journey. For instance, a cash fare on the Tube in Zone 1 costs £4.70, while with an Oyster Card it costs £2.20. Bus fares are flat and you will be charged the same fare every time you get on the bus, regardless of whether you're getting off after one stop or going right to the end of the route.
The amount of Oyster credit deducted from your card in one day is capped at the cost of the equivalent day Travelcard for the journeys you have made. This means that on a day-to-day basis, you will always get the best fares when using Oyster pay-as-you-go. If you travel by bus only, your total fares are capped at £4.40 each day: this makes bus travel very good value in central London if you are making lots of journeys.
Don't forget: when travelling by train, make sure you touch your Oyster in and out at the start and end of each journey, or you will be charged extra!
A Travelcard gives you unlimited travel on trains within the relevant zones, and unlimited travel on all red London buses, even outside the zones of your Travelcard. You can have your Travelcard loaded onto your Oyster, or you can have it as a paper ticket. For periods longer than 7 days, you will usually need to register your Oyster card or provide some form of photographic I.D.
|Zones||Day Travelcard||Day Travelcard (off-peak)||7 Day Travelcard||Monthly Travelcard||Annual Travelcard|
The above prices are adult prices and are correct throughout 2014. For an up-to-date and comprehensive list of fares, see TfL's web site.
If you are using Oyster and travel beyond the zones of your Travelcard, you will be charged an extension fare from your pay-as-you-go credit when you touch out at your destination. If you are using a paper Travelcard and need to travel beyond your zones, you should get off at the boundary of your last valid zone and buy a ticket for the rest of your journey: if you do not, you will be charged a penalty fare and may be prosecuted!
The following table summarises the validity of the different tickets you can use on Oyster. For most tourists, trains and buses are the only transport you will use, but be aware that Oyster is not valid at all on airport express trains to Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted or Southend. However, Oyster is valid on the Piccadilly line to Heathrow Airport, as this is an Underground train.
|Bus||London Underground||London Overground||National Rail||DLR||Tram||Airport Express trains|
The London Underground has connections to all terminals at Heathrow (including Terminals 4 & 5) and most major London rail termini, with the exception of Fenchurch Street. A number of interchange hubs are also served (such as Farringdon, Elephant & Castle, Harrow & Wealdstone and Stratford )
|Rail terminus (or hub)||Station (Tube)||Notes|
|Marylebone||Bakerloo||Marylebone is also useful for 'fast' connections to Harrow and Amersham via National Rail. For Circle, Met & H&C lines, walk to Baker Street approx. 500m away.|
|Paddington||Circle, Hammersmith & City, District, Bakerloo||Circle & H&C line via King's Cross and all trains to Hammersmith depart from platforms 15 and 16 at the mainline station. Lancaster Gate (Central line) located approximately 600m away.|
|Euston||Victoria, Northern||For Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan lines, use Euston Square approx 400m away.|
|Fenchurch Street||Not connected||Tower Hill (Circle and District lines) is approx 400m away. Tower Gateway (DLR) is approx 350m away.|
|King's Cross - St Pancras||Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria|
|Liverpool Street||Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Central|
|London Bridge||Northern, Jubilee|
|Cannon Street||Circle, District|
|Waterloo||Jubilee, Bakerloo, Northern, Waterloo & City||Use this station for services from Waterloo East|
|Charing Cross||Bakerloo, Northern, Circle & District (from Embankment)|
|Victoria||Circle, District, Victoria|
|Kensington Olympia||District||District line only runs on weekends. Otherwise take District line train to Wimbledon, alight at West Brompton and change for National Rail|
|Elephant & Castle||Northern, Bakerloo|
London is a surprisingly compact city, making it a walker's delight. In many instances, walking is the quickest method of transport between two points.
Because Britain drives on the left hand side of the road, for most foreign visitors it can be all too easy to forget that traffic will come at you from the opposite direction than you are used to when crossing a street - for this reason remember to look right when you cross the road. If you are using a pedestrian crossing, don't think it's safe to risk it, even if you can't see any traffic coming: always wait for the green man to appear, and then cross quickly and carefully.
Particularly on Central London's busiest streets, it is easy to spot native Londoners as they weave in and out of the large crowds at fast speed; tourists who cannot will stand out. Make sure you're aware of your surroundings when in London—Londoners are usually very considerate, but a group of tourists standing in the middle of the pavement can be a major annoyance!
Walking alternatives to the Tube
In some instances it can be more pleasant or faster to walk your intended route instead of taking the Tube. Walking to another Tube station can also help you to avoid crowds. By looking at a map you'll notice that some central London Tube stations are very close to each other.
- Leicester Square station - Covent Garden station: Come out of the station with the Hippodrome casino behind you. Cross Charing Cross Road and walk up Cranbourn Street. Walk straight over at the junction and continue onto Long Acre. Walk straight up Long Acre to arrive at Covent Garden station. Approximate walking time: 5 minutes
- Embankment station - Waterloo station: Come out of the station onto Victoria Embankment, walk up the stairs and head across the River Thames using the Hungerford Bridge. At the other end of the bridge keep walking straight and away from the River Thames. Follow the railway line. You will come to some blue metal work and a walkway underneath the railway line called Sutton Walk. Follow this, cross the road and Waterloo station is ahead of you. Approximate walking time: 15 minutes
- Westminster station - Waterloo station: Come out of the station and head across the River Thames using Westminster Bridge. Keep heading straight until you come to a junction. Turn left and walk down York Road. Stay on York Road until you come to a railway bridge. Waterloo station will be on your right. Approximate walking time: 15 minutes
- Green Park station - Hyde Park Corner station: Come out of Green Park station onto the road. This is Piccadilly. Walk west along Piccadilly following the edge of Green Park. When you come to a roundabout head straight across it. Hyde Park and Hyde Park Corner station will be on your right. Approximate walking time: 10 minutes
Oxford Circus station
Oxford Circus station can become extremely busy on weekday evenings and if convenient it is worth walking to other Tube stations.
- Oxford Circus station - Bond Street station: Head west along Oxford Street from the road junction. You should see the London College of Fashion and BHS. Keep walking west and you will come to Bond Street station. Approximate walking time: 10 minutes
- Oxford Circus station - Tottenham Court Road station: At the road junction head east along Oxford Street heading past Topshop. Keep walking past H&M and McDonalds and you will eventually see a skyscraper - this is Centre Point. Keep heading straight and Tottenham Court Road station is on the road junction here. Approximate walking time: 25 minutes
By Tube / London Underground
The London Underground, known popularly as The Tube due to its tube-like tunnels drilled through the London clay, is a network of 11 lines which criss-cross London in one of the largest underground rail networks in the world. It was also the first, with the oldest section of the Metropolitan Line dating back to 1863. The Tube is an easy method of transport even for new visitors to London.
The Tube is London's equivalent to subway and metro systems in other world cities.
The routes operated by the London Underground fall into 2 broad typesː the older 'sub-surface' lines, such as the Circle and District lines, date from the nineteenth century. The newer (a term used loosely here) 'deep level' routes, such as the Northern and Piccadilly lines, were largely constructed in the early- to mid- twentieth century. Each line has stations with interesting architectural and artistic features typical of the era they were opened. As you travel around the network, look out for Victorian finery, Edwardian glazed tiles, smooth Art Deco symmetry and striking modern masterpieces.
Although not strictly part of the London Underground, the zonal fare system includes the Docklands Light Railway (or "DLR", a local transit system in the Docklands area using computer-operated "driverless" trains) and the Croydon Tramlink routes.
In addition to the Underground, there are routes termed 'London Overground' which are operated as part of the National Rail network, but on which certain Underground zonal fares can be used.
Travel on the tube system will always require the purchase of a ticket or the use of an Oyster card if you have one; fare evasion is treated as a serious matter.
Prices given are as of January 2014.
Single tickets are charged at two rates, depending on the payment method. Cash fares are zonal, Zones 1-2 being £4.70 between any two stations in those zones, a zone 1-6 single ticket is £5.70. Single Oyster fares are charged by the number of zones crossed, starting at £2.20 for 1 zone up to £5 for 6 zones. There are additional fares payable for zones beyond 6, but these are mostly outside what is considered London. Paper travelcards valid for 1 day, 3 days or 7 days are also available and can also be used on buses, National Rail trains, the DLR and Croydon Tramlink. They are priced by zones: a 1-day travelcard for Zones 1-2 costs £9 (Day anytime). Under operator-specific schemes, registered students, seniors and the disabled can claim specific discounts by showing a suitable photocard having been obtained in advance of travel.
Almost all stations have automatic ticket barriers. If you pay by Oyster card, just tap your card against the yellow pad to open the barriers (both upon entrance and exit). If you have a paper ticket, insert it face-up into the slot on the front of the machine, and remove it from the top to enter the station. If you have a single-ticket it will be retained at the exit gate. If you have luggage or if your ticket is rejected there is normally a staffed gate as well. Paper tickets can be purchased from vending machines in the station lobby. There are two types of machine: the older machines that have buttons for different fare levels and accept only coins and the new touchscreen machines that have instructions in multiple languages, offer a greater choice of ticket and accept bills and credit/debit cards (note that if your card has no embedded microchip, you cannot use these machines and you must pay at the ticket counter).
Tube maps are freely available from any station, most tourist offices and are prominently displayed in stations and in the back of most diaries. The Tube is made up of 11 lines each bearing a traditional name and a standard colour on the Tube map. To plan your trip on the Tube work out first which station is closest to your starting point and which is closest to your destination. You can change between lines at interchange stations (providing you stay within the zones shown on your ticket). Since the Tube Map is well designed it is very easy to work out how to get between any two stations, and since each station is clearly signed it is easy to work out when to exit your train. Visitors should be aware, however, that the Tube map is a diagram and not a scaled map, making it misleading for determining the relative distance between stations as it makes central stations appear further apart and somewhat out of place - the most distant reaches of the Metropolitan Line for example are almost 60 km (40 mi) from the centre of the city.
In central London, taking the Tube for just one stop can be a waste of time; Londoners joke about the tourists who use the Tube to travel between Leicester Square and Covent Garden stations, a journey which can take over 10 minutes on the Tube, despite the two stations being only a couple of minutes' walk apart. This is especially true since the walk from a tube station entrance to the platform at some central stations can be extensive. The Tube Map also gives no information on London's extensive bus and rail network.
Trains run from around 05:30 to about 01:00. They are usually the fastest way to travel in London, the only problem being the relative expense, and that they can get extremely crowded during rush hours (07:30-10:00 and 16:30-19:00). On warm days take a bottle of water with you as there is no air conditioning in the stations and carriages. Also note that engineering works usually take place during weekends or the evening. Contact TfL, especially if you plan to travel on a Saturday or a Sunday when entire lines may be shut down.
All lines are identified by name (e.g. Circle line, Central line, Piccadilly line). Many lines have multiple branches rather than running point-to-point so always check the train's destination (which is shown on the front of the train and the platform indicator screens, and will be broadcast on the train's PA). Some branches run as shuttles and require a transfer onto the 'main line'.
Note that the Northern line has two separate routes through the city centre which split at Euston and rejoin at Kennington, one (officially called the Charing Cross Branch) runs through the West End serving Leicester Square, Charing Cross and Waterloo, while the other route runs via the City of London (officially called the Bank branch but also referred to as the City branch) with major stops at Kings Cross St Pancras and Bank. Despite the confusing layout of the line, it is fairly easy to work out which way your train is going; for example a northbound Northern Line train to Edgware along the Charing Cross branch will be displayed on the indicator as 'Edgware via ChX' and the on-board PA will announce "This train terminates at Edgware via Charing Cross".
Finally, note that direction signs for the platforms indicate the geographical direction of the line, not the last stop of the line. It is always advisable to carry a pocket Tube Map to help you with this.
Although the doors to the Tube trains have buttons, you don't need to push them to open the doors. Pushing a button will only mark you out as a tourist. If the train pulls into the station and the doors don't open immediately, have faith, they will.
Crime levels on the tube systems are comparable but typically lower than many other subways systems, and traveller advice about watching luggage and valuables is reasonable. Owing to a heightened security climate, and a history of political violence targeting the tube, unattended baggage may be treated as a suspect or explosive device, and may be destroyed. Lost items (if not destroyed) will end up at the LU Lost property Office (Tube: Baker Street).
The tube system is covered by an extensive CCTV system, although it is not advised to be reliant on this fact when travelling.
The London Underground considers its safety record to be a matter of professional honour, major accidents being incredibly rare. Front-line staff are well trained for emergencies and will follow well rehearsed procedures. In addition front-line staff are generally appreciative of traveller vigilance, if concerns are politely expressed.
Although there is no specific law barring casual photography, owing to the increased threat from political violence, some front-line staff can be nervous about the intent and nature of those undertaking it. Large scale or commercial photography requires a specific permit. Under no circumstances should direct photography of security critical equipment be taken, and before photographing front-line staff, it is advised to ask. Flash photography is explicitly prohibited on safety grounds, as it could create an undesirable distraction to safety critical personnel.
London's iconic red buses are recognized the world over, even if the traditional Routemaster buses, with an open rear platform and on-board conductor to collect fares, have mostly been phased out. These still run on Heritage Route 9 and 15 daily between about 09:30 and 18:30, every 15 minutes.
Buses are generally quicker than taking the Tube for shorter (less than a couple of stops on the Tube) trips, and out of central London you're likely to be closer to a bus stop than a Tube station. Most buses in London are very frequent (at least every ten minutes.) Buses are usually accessible for buggies and wheelchairs. Buses also have a flat rate fare which stays the same no matter how far you travel (you will need to pay the fare again if you board a different bus).
Using the bus
Over 5 million bus trips are made each weekday; with over 700 different bus routes you are never far from a bus. Each bus stop has a sign listing the routes that stop there. Bus routes are identified by numbers and sometimes letters. For example, route 8 runs between Oxford Circus and Bow Church, via Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green. It is not possible to buy tickets for cash on the bus so you must have a valid Travelcard, Oyster card or contactless credit or debit card before you get on.
Buses have very clear blinds on the front, with their route number and their destination. When you see your bus approaching, signal clearly to the driver that you intend to get on their bus: the way to do this is to stick your hand out, with an open palm. The driver will indicate and pull into the stop.
Most buses have two doors. Form an orderly queue at the front door: when you reach the driver, touch your Oyster card on the reader, show them your Travelcard or pass. Some buses are worked by the 'New Bus for London': if you are using Oyster, you can get on this bus at any of its three doors. Some buses on routes 9 and 15 over the central sections are run by heritage Routemasters: simply take a seat on the bus, and wait for the conductor to come round to scan your Oyster card.
Hold on tight - especially if you can't find a seat! Buses can accelerate and brake very fast so always grab hold of one of the handrails.
Most buses have a system called iBus fitted: this announces the bus's destination at every stop, and announces the stops and nearby landmarks, both with an announcer's voice and on a screen at the front of the bus. Keep a close eye on this, because this will tell you where you need to get off. On Routemasters, the conductor will usually make announcements.
When you are nearing your stop, press one of the red "STOP" buttons on the handrails once only. You'll hear a bell, or a buzzer, and the words "Bus Stopping" will appear on the iBus screen. Hold on tight until the bus has stopped, and then get off the bus using the middle or rear door once it has opened.
If you're travelling on a heritage Routemaster, there are only two bell-pushers: alternatively, there is a cord hanging from the ceiling on the lower deck which you can pull to ring the bell. Be very careful only to ring it once: two bells is the signal the conductor uses to tell the driver to continue past the next stop!
Finally, always watch out for moving traffic when you get off the bus, especially if you are on a bus with an open platform at the back (a Routemaster or a New Bus for London.) Don't try to get off the bus until it has stopped, or is moving very slowly, and always be careful of cyclists and pedestrians.
- Watch out for pickpockets! If you think you have been pickpocketed, always call out to the driver and other passengers.
- If you are taking a pram/buggy with you, you must be prepared to fold it and carry your child if the bus is crowded, or if a wheelchair user needs to get on the bus.
- Smoking and drinking alcohol is not allowed on the bus. Non-alcoholic drinks and most food is fine, but be considerate: fast food is often smelly and leaves a mess. Be especially careful if you have a hot drink.
- Don't stand on the upper deck of the bus or on the stairs. This is dangerous and you can hurt yourself very badly. If you need to stand when the bus is busy, move downstairs.
- Don't obstruct the aisle or the gangway with luggage.
- Don't speak to the driver or try to get their attention when the bus is moving unless it is an emergency.
- Some buses terminate early and don't run the full length of the route. Always check the destination blind on the front of the bus, and if in doubt, ask the driver or the conductor. Drivers will usually announce a change in the bus's destination - but not always!
- You should always signal to the driver very clearly with your hand if you want the bus to stop, especially at quieter bus stops. The driver might drive past the stop if no one does this and no one on the bus is getting off.
- If your bus terminates early (e.g. destination Trafalgar Square but terminates at Aldwych) and you have paid using Oyster or contactless debit/credit card, ask the driver for a continuation ticket (sometimes called a transfer ticket.) This will will allow you to board another bus of the same route number to reach your destination without paying again.
The adult bus fare using Oyster is £1.45. It is no longer possible to pay a bus fare with cash. When you are using Oyster, the most you will be charged for single bus journeys in one day is £4.40: daily bus travel is 'capped' at this level, so all further bus journeys once you've reached this cap are effectively free as long as you touch in when you get on the bus. If you have a Travelcard for any zones, that includes free bus travel across all of London, even outside the zones of your Travelcard.
You can also pay for bus travel (at the Oyster fare) with a contactless debit or credit card. You touch the card flat against the reader, like you would with an Oyster card, but your bank account or credit card is charged instead. If you have more than one contactless card, be careful and keep them in separate pockets, and only touch one on the reader. The system is supposed to reject both cards if it doesn't know which one you want to pay with, but there is a small chance you may be charged twice for the same journey. It's important to note, however, that daily price caps don't work on debit/credit cards, so you will be charged for every single journey you make, even once you have spent more than £4.40 on bus travel in one day. Contactless debit/credit card payments are also not accepted on the few buses on route 9 and 15 worked by Routemasters: this is because the conductors' ticket machines cannot read them. For full information about debit/credit card fares, including caveats, see TfL's web site.
Children aged 10 and under travel for free on the bus when accompanied by an adult. Children between the ages of 11 and 15 must touch in using a special kind of Oyster card called a Zip card, yet journeys are still free. 16-18 Student Oysters (only available to students studying in London) go up to age 18 and journeys are still free. Residents of England who have an ENCTS free bus pass (for the elderly or disabled) also get free travel: simply show your pass to the driver or conductor.
Unlike on the Tube, single bus tickets are valid for one journey on one bus only. You are charged for each bus you travel on.
Standard bus services run from around 06:00-00:30. Around half past midnight the network changes to the vast night bus network of well over 100 routes stretching all over the city. There are two types of night buses: 24 hour routes and N-prefixed routes.
24-hour services keep the same number as during the day and will run exactly the same route, such as the number 88, for example. N-prefixed routes are generally very similar to their day-route, but may take a slightly different route or are extended to serve areas that are further out. For example, the 29 bus goes from Trafalgar Square to Wood Green during the day; however, the N29 bus goes from Trafalgar Square to Wood Green and then continues to Enfield.
Night buses run at a 30 minute frequency at minimum, with many routes at much higher frequencies up to every 5 minutes.
Prices stay the same, and daily travelcards are valid until 04:29 the day after they were issued, so can be used on night buses. Most bus stops will have night bus maps with all the buses to and from that local area on it, although it is good to check on the TfL website beforehand, which also has all those maps easily available.
While Britons on public transport are normally a model of reserve, those using night buses have a bit of a reputation for loud and rowdy behaviour. This is mainly because passengers are often people who have been having a good time in central London's clubs and bars; particularly true on buses leaving central London between 01:00 and 03:00. While the buses are normally quite safe, if this is a concern for you, consider taking a pre-booked minicab instead, or failing that sit or stand on the lower deck of the buses nearer the driver. Always call out to the driver if you are pickpocketed, threatened or attacked.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a dedicated light rail network operating in East London, connecting with the tube network at Bank, Tower Gateway (close to Tower Hill station), Canning Town, Heron Quays (close to Canary Wharf tube station) and Stratford. As the trains operate automatically, it can be quite exciting - especially for children - to sit at the front and look out through the window, whilst feeling as though one is driving the train oneself. The DLR also runs above ground on much of its route, and travels through many scenic parts of London, including the Docklands area where most of London's skyscrapers are located (which is how the network gets its name). Apart from the trains looking very different and running slightly less frequently than the Tube, visitors may as well treat the two systems as one system.
Unlike on the Tube, most DLR stations do not have ticket gates (except for Bank and Stratford). Also, unlike the Tube, you do need to push the buttons to open the doors. You can top up an Oyster card, buy a Travelcard or buy a paper ticket (at a substantial premium) from the ticket machines at the station. (Most stations are unstaffed, so if you want to pay by cash, make sure you have plenty of change!) As there are no gates, when travelling by Oyster you must always remember to touch in at the start, and out at the end of your journey. Even if you are changing to the Underground at Canary Wharf/Heron Quays, you must still touch in/out at the DLR station: the system will recognise that you have made an interchange between the two stations and treat it as part of the same journey.
The DLR can be a little confusing as the routes are not easily distinguished. Generally trains run on the following routes:
- Bank - Canary Wharf - Greenwich - Lewisham;
- Stratford - Poplar - Canary Wharf - Greenwich - Lewisham;
- Bank - Poplar - Canning Town - London City Airport - Woolwich Arsenal;
- Tower Gateway - Poplar - Canning Town - Royal Victoria - Custom House (for ExCeL) - Beckton;
- Stratford International - Stratford - West Ham - Canning Town (then on to Beckton via Custom House, or on to Woolwich Arsenal via London City Airport)
Check the displays on the platform, which will show you the destination and the wait for the next three trains, and also check the destination displays on the front and side of the train and listen for announcements. At busy times, some trains do not run the full length of the route. Take the first train, listen for announcements, and change where necessary.
Beware Canning Town station as it is very busy, and the line divides into two sections - one heading to Woolwich Arsenal and the other heading to Beckton. The Woolwich Arsenal branch will take you to London City Airport and the Beckton branch will take you to Custom House for ExCel. Always check the destination on the front of the train before getting on: especially at off-peak times, if you get on the wrong branch the return train could take several minutes!
Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom, with information applicable to using the National Rail system within London.
The British railway system is known as National Rail (although some older signs still refer to it as "British Rail"). London's suburban rail services are operated by several private companies under tightly-written government contracts, and mostly run in the south of the city, away from the main tourist sights. Only one line (Thameslink) runs through central London - on a north-south axis between London Bridge or Blackfriars stations, and the underground level of St Pancras main line station. There is no one central station - instead, there are twelve mainline stations dotted around the edge of the central area, and most are connected by the Circle line (except Euston, Fenchurch St and those South of the river like Waterloo and London Bridge).
Most visitors will not need to use National Rail services except for a few specific destinations such as Wimbledon, Hampton Court, Kew Gardens (Kew Bridge station), Windsor Castle, Greenwich, or the airports, or indeed if they are intending to visit other destinations in the UK. It's important to know that the quickest route between two stations is often a combination of the Tube as well as National Rail trains. For instance, if you are going from central London to Wimbledon, it will usually be much quicker to go to Waterloo and take the first Wimbledon train (around fifteen minutes, maximum) rather than take the District line, which can take up to 45 minutes.
Your pay-as-you-go Oyster card is valid in London zones 1-6, but not beyond, so be careful—if you want to travel beyond, you will need to buy a paper ticket from the ticket office at the station. If you travel beyond the London zones with no valid ticket, you will be charged a Penalty Fare (on National Rail services this is usually £20), you will have to buy another ticket for the remainder of your journey, and you will also be charged the maximum Oyster fare because you didn't touch out. This adds up to a lot, so be careful and make sure you plan your journey! If in doubt, ask at the ticket office.
There are express trains to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports. Tickets are often sold at a substantial premium, so you may want to consider taking the slightly slower 'stopping' services instead: for instance, an Anytime single from Victoria to Gatwick costs £19.90 on the Gatwick Express, and only £14.40 when marked "Route Southern Only"—taking a Southern train to Gatwick is only eight minutes longer. Don't forget: Oyster cards are not valid to the main airports, except for London City Airport and to Heathrow when travelling by Tube.
Don't throw your ticket away until you're out of the station at your destination! Many stations have ticket gates which you will need to put your ticket through to exit; also, you need to retain all the parts of your ticket throughout your journey, as a member of railway staff may need to see it.
In common parlance, Londoners may refer to travelling by "overground" (or "overland"), meaning going by National Rail (as opposed to going by Underground). However, only one service is officially called Overground - London Overground is a Transport for London rail service. It is operated and promoted just like the Underground, with the logo like the Tube (except orange) on stations and full acceptance of Oyster cards throughout. Trains will usually run every fifteen minutes or less.
London Overground consists of seven separate routes, forming a loose outer orbital with 'corners' at Clapham Junction, Surrey Quays, Highbury & Islington and Willesden Junction. These routes are:
- Clapham Junction - Willesden Junction - Gospel Oak - Highbury and Islington - Stratford;
- Richmond - Willesden Junction - Gospel Oak - Highbury and Islington - Stratford;
- Euston - Willesden Junction - Wembley Central - Watford Junction;
- Gospel Oak - Barking;
- Highbury & Islington - Shoreditch High Street - Whitechapel - New Cross Gate - West Croydon/Crystal Palace;
- Dalston Junction - Shoreditch High Street - Whitechapel - New Cross;
- Clapham Junction - Peckham Rye - Whitechapel (then on to Highbury & Islington.)
All London Overground trains are spacious, air-conditioned trains in a distinctive orange livery. These trains have plenty of seating and standing room, and big windows allowing for great "urban scenic" views.
London Overground appears on the Tube map as an orange line. At many stations (Whitechapel, for instance) trains leaving from the same platform will go to different destinations, so listen carefully for announcements and always check the destination on the front of the train. The Overground can be a great way to avoid changing trains in central London by skirting around the centre. It's also well-connected: you can frequently change for Underground trains, other Overground destinations, or for mainline National Rail services from Stratford, Clapham Junction and Watford Junction.
Tramlink, opened in 2000, is the first modern tram system to operate in London. South London is poorly served by the Tube and lacks east-west National Rail services so the network connects Wimbledon in South West London to Beckenham in South East London and New Addington, a large housing estate in South Croydon. The network is centred on Croydon, where it runs on street-level tracks around the Croydon Loop.
Route 3 (Wimbledon to New Addington - green on the Tramlink map) is the most frequent service, running every 7 1/2 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 15 minutes at all other times. Beckenham is served by Routes 1 and 2 (yellow and red on the Tramlink map), which terminate at Elmers End and Beckenham Junction respectively. Both services travel around the Loop via West Croydon and run every 10 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 30 minutes at all other times. Between Arena and Sandilands, these two services serve the same stops.
Cycling in the United Kingdom
The rules for cyclists are available in the British Government publication The Highway Code
Due to the expense of other forms of transport and the compactness of central London, cycling is a tempting option. Excellent free cycle maps can be obtained from your local tube stations, bike shop, or ordered online.
London now offers a city-wide bicycle hire scheme known as Barclays Cycle Hire, operated by Transport for London. For an hourly charge, bicycles may be hired from automated hire stations around the city. The bikes, all coloured a distinctive bright blue, can be unlocked and ridden around the city with a credit card, and must be returned to another hire station by locking the bike into the rack.
Despite recent improvements, London remains a relatively hostile environment for cyclists. The kind of contiguous cycle lane network found in many other European cities does not exist. The safest option is to stick to minor residential roads where traffic can be surprisingly calm outside rush hours.
Most major roads in London will have a bus lane which is restricted to buses, taxis and bicycles.
Cycle-lanes exist in London with both on road and off road routes. The network is not comprehensive, and on the road lanes vary in quality (normally between one and two metres wide). Cycle superhighways (major cycle routes) are painted blue other cycle lanes are green or red; however, some are indicated just with an stencilled image of a bike on the road. If the line between the traffic lane is solid cars may not use it as it is a mandatory cycle lane. A dashed line indicates a recommended cycle lane and motorists may make use of this road space, but it is recommended they don't. Many improvements have been made for cyclists in the city over the last few years, Noticeably, there are many new signposted cycle routes and new cycle lanes as well as a review of junctions considered dangerous for cycling. A new network of "Cycle super-highways" has recently been launched: these are indicated by bright blue-painted tarmac. Motor vehicles often park on cycle lanes, rendering them unusable.
Normally a cyclist should keep to the left of the lane when cycling on a road with traffic, to allow faster-moving traffic to overtake. However, it is legal for a cycle to dominate a lane by maintaining a central road position like any other vehicle. This will make you unpopular with any traffic behind you but it is recommended in London on approach to right-hand turns at junctions. Making a right-hand turn from the normal left-position means crossing the lane of traffic, which may often ignore you and any turn signals you might have been using, leading to near misses and even collisions.
The towpaths in North London along the Grand Union Canal and Regent's Canal as well as in Londons parks and green ways provide traffic-free cycle path in the capital. The Grand Union canal connects Paddington to Camden and the Regent's Canal connects Camden to Islington, Mile End and Limehouse in East London. It takes about 30-40 min to cycle from Paddington station to Islington along the towpaths.
Care should be taken lock your bike properly as many areas, some surprisingly busy, attract cycle thieves, while chaining a bicycle to a railing which appears to be private property can occasionally lead to said bike being removed.
Taking bikes on trains is very limited in London due to overcrowding. Non-folding bikes can be taken only on limited sections of The Tube network, mostly only on the above-ground sections outside peak hours. For this reason, folding bicycles are becoming increasingly popular. There is a map showing this on the Transport for London website. Most National Rail operators allow bicycles outside peak hours also.
Critical Mass London is a cycling advocacy group which meets for regular rides through central London at 18:00 on the last Friday of each month. Rides start from the southern end of Waterloo Bridge.
The London Cycling Campaign is an advocacy group for London cyclists. With active local groups in most of the city's boroughs, it is recognised by local and regional government as the leading voice for cycling in the capital.
London has two types of taxis: the famous black cab, and so-called minicabs. Black cabs are the only ones licensed to "ply for hire" (i.e. pick people up off the street), while minicabs are more accurately described as "private hire vehicles" and need to be pre-booked.
The famous black cab of London (not always black!) can be hailed from the kerb or found at one of the many designated taxi ranks. It is possible to book black cabs by phone, for a fee, but if you are in central London it will usually be quicker to hail one from the street. Their amber TAXI light will be on if they are available. Drivers must pass a rigorous exam of central London's streets, known as 'The Knowledge', to be licensed to drive a black cab. This means they can supposedly navigate you to almost any London street without reference to a map. They are a cheap transport option if there are five passengers as they do not charge extras, and many view them as an essential experience for any visitor to London. Black cabs charge by distance and by the minute, are non-smoking, and have a minimum charge of £2.20. Tipping is not mandatory in either taxis or minicabs, despite some drivers' expectations - use your discretion. If you like the service you may tip. If the ride has been uncomfortable or unsafe, or if the driver was rude, don't. Most Londoners will simply round up to the nearest pound.
Taxis are required by law to take you wherever you choose (within Greater London) if their TAXI light is on when you hail them. However some, especially older drivers, dislike leaving the centre of town, or going south of the River Thames. A good way to combat being left at the side of the curb is to open the back door, or even get into the cab, before stating your destination.
Minicabs are normal cars which are licensed hire vehicles that you need to book by phone or at a minicab office. They generally charge a fixed fare for a journey, best agreed before you get in the car. Minicabs are usually cheaper than black cabs, although this is not necessarily the case for short journeys. Licensed minicabs display a Transport For London (TFL) License - usually in the front window. One of the features of the license plate is a blue version of the famous London Transport "roundel". A list of licensed minicab operators can be found at TfL Cabwise.
Some areas in London are poorly serviced by black cabs, particularly late at night. This has led to a large number of illegal minicabs operating - just opportunistic people, with a car, looking to make some fast money. Some of these operators can be fairly aggressive in their attempts to find customers, and it's now barely possible to walk late at night through any part of London with a modicum of nightlife without being approached. These illegal cars are also regularly unsafe: a number of women are assaulted every week by illegal minicab operators (11 per month) and there is also a risk of robbery. You should avoid minicabs touting for business off the street and either take a black cab, book a licensed minicab by telephone, or take a night bus. Always remember: if it's not licensed and it's not pre-booked, it's just a stranger's car. Never get into an un-booked minicab.
TfL operate a service called Cabwise, which will determine your location and provide three local, licensed cab numbers. If you have an iPhone or an Android smartphone, you can use the Cabwise application (search your platform's app store) or text CAB to 60835 (be careful - this might not work from some phones!) You can also use an app such as Hailo, which allows you to summon a black cab to your location and will provide a map and approximate wait time for your taxi to arrive. Most railway stations will also be able to provide a list of good local cab firms (many will display this outside the station, even after the last train of the night has gone.)
Londoners who drive will normally take public transport in the centre; follow their example. Unless you have a disability, there is no good reason whatsoever to drive a car in central London.
Car drivers should be aware that driving into central London on weekdays during daylight hours incurs a hefty charge, with very few exemptions (note that rental cars also attract the charge). Cameras and mobile units record and identify the number plates and registration details of all vehicles entering the charging zone with high accuracy. The Central London Congestion Charge M-F 07:00-18:00 (excluding public holidays) attracts a fee of £8 if paid the same day, or £10 if paid on the next charging day. Numerous payment options exist: by phone, on-line, at convenience stores displaying the red 'C' logo in the window and by voucher. Failure to pay the charge by midnight the next charging day (take note!) incurs a hefty automatic fine of £80 (£40 if paid within 2 weeks).
Despite the Congestion Charge, London - like most major cities - continues to experience traffic snarls. These are, of course, worse on weekdays during peak commuting hours (i.e. between 07:30-09:30 and 16:00-19:00). At these times public transport (and especially the Tube) usually offers the best alternative for speed and reduced hassle. Driving in Central London is a slow, frustrating, expensive and often unnecessary activity. There are many sorts of automatic enforcement cameras and it is difficult (and expensive) to park. A good tip is, that outside advertised restriction hours, parking on a single yellow line is permissible. Parking on a red line or a double yellow line is never permissible and heavily enforced. Find and read the parking restrictions carefully! Parking during weekdays and on Saturday can also mean considerable expense in parking fees - fees and restrictions are ignored at your extreme financial peril - issuing fines, clamping and towing vehicles (without warning!) has become a veritable new industry for borough councils staffed by armies of traffic wardens.
For the disabled driving can be much more convenient than using public transport. If disabled and a resident of a member state of the EU then two cars can be permanently registered, for free, for the congestion charge.
Motorcycles and scooters are fairly common in London as they can pass stationary cars, can usually be parked for free and are exempt from congestion-charging. Scooters and bikes with automatic transmission are much more preferable - a manually-geared racing bike is completely impractical unless you have excellent clutch-control (although it has to be said you will see plenty of them being ridden aggressively by motorcycle couriers and locals as it can be the fastest way to get around!) Likewise to bicycles, car-drivers can show disregard to anyone on two wheels and larger vehicles have an unwritten priority so take care when crossing junctions. Crash helmets are mandatory. Parking for bikes is usually free - there are designated motorcycle-parking areas on some side-streets and some multi-level parking lots will have bike parking on the ground level.
London is now starting to follow the example of cities such as Sydney and Bangkok by promoting a network of river bus and pleasure cruise services along the River Thames. London River Services (part of Transport for London) manages regular commuter boats and a network of piers all along the river and publishes timetables and river maps similar to the famous tube map. While boat travel may be slower and a little more expensive than tube travel, it offers an extremely pleasant way to cross the city with unrivalled views of the London skyline - Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, etc. Sailing under Tower Bridge is an unforgettable experience.
Boats are operated by private companies and they have a separate ticketing system from the rest of London transport; however if you have a Travelcard you get a 33% discount on most boat tickets. Many boat operators offer their own one-day ticket - ask at the pier kiosks. Generally, tickets from one boat company are not valid on other operators' services. Oyster cards can be used as payment for the 'Clipper'-styled commuter services but not for tour boats.
Boats run on the following routes:
- Bankside - Millbank
- Barrier Gardens - Greenwich - St. Katharine's - Westminster
- Blackfriars - Embankment - Cadogan - Chelsea Harbour - Wandsworth (RQ) - Putney
- Canary Wharf - Hilton Docklands
- Canary Wharf - London Bridge City
- Embankment - Blackfriars - Chelsea Harbour - Cadogan
- Embankment - London Eye - Bankside - London Bridge City - Tower - Canary Wharf - Greenland - Masthouse Terrace - Greenwich - QEII for the O2 - Woolwich Arsenal
- Embankment - London Eye - Blackfriars - London Bridge City - Tower - Canary Wharf - Greenland - Masthouse Terrace - Greenwich - QEII for the O2 - Woolwich Arsenal
- Embankment - London Eye - Blackfriars - London Bridge City - Tower - Canary Wharf - Greenwich - QEII for the O2 - Woolwich Arsenal
- Embankment - London Eye - London Bridge City - Tower - Canary Wharf - Greenland - Masthouse Terrace - Greenwich - QEII for the O2 - Woolwich Arsenal
- Greenwich - Tilbury - Gravesend
- Greenwich - Tower - Westminster - London Eye
- Hampton Court - Kingston (Town End Pier) - Kingston (Turk's Pier) - Richmond (St Helena)
- Hampton Court - Richmond - Kew - Westminster
- Hilton Docklands - Canary Wharf
- London Bridge City - Canary Wharf
- Millbank - Bankside
- Putney - Wandsworth (RQ) - Chelsea Harbour - Cadogan - Embankment - Blackfriars
- Richmond (St Helena) - Kingston (Turk's Pier) - Kingston (Town End Pier) - Hampton Court
- Tilbury - Gravesend - Greenwich
- Westminster - Embankment - Festival - Bankside - London Bridge City - St. Katharine's - Westminster
- Westminster - Embankment - St. Katharine's - Westminster
- Westminster - Kew - Richmond - Hampton Court
- Westminster - London Eye - Tower - Greenwich
- Westminster - St. Katharine's - Greenwich - Barrier Gardens
- Woolwich Arsenal - QEII for the O2 - Greenwich - Masthouse Terrace - Greenland - Canary Wharf - Tower - London Bridge City - Bankside - Embankment - London Eye
- Woolwich Arsenal - QEII for the O2 - Greenwich - Masthouse Terrace - Greenland - Canary Wharf - Tower - London Bridge City - Blackfriars - Embankment - London Eye
- Woolwich Arsenal - QEII for the O2 - Greenwich - Masthouse Terrace - Greenland - Canary Wharf - Tower - London Bridge City - Embankment - London Eye
Some key tourist attractions that are easily accessible by boat include:
plus all the central London sights in Westminster and the South Bank
As well as the Thames, consider a trip along an old Victorian canal through the leafy suburbs of North London. The London Waterbus Company runs scheduled services (more in summer, less in winter) from Little Venice to Camden Lock with a stop at the London Zoo (pick up only). The 45-minute trip along Regent's Canal is a delightful way to travel.
Inline skating on roads and pavements (sidewalks) is completely legal, except in the City of London (a district). Roads are not the greatest but easily skateable. Central London drivers are more used to skaters than those in the outskirts.
By cable car
The Emirates Air Line is London's newest (2012) form of transportation, a cable car that runs across the Thames in East London and connects the Greenwich Peninsula on the South Bank (near the O2) and the Royal Docks on the north bank (near ExCel). The Greenwich Peninsula terminal connects to the North Greenwich tube station on the Jubilee Line and the Royal Docks terminal connects to the Royal Victoria DLR station. Although it is part of the TfL network and uses Oyster card, the Air Line sees more frequent use by tourists than by commuters and offers a more scenic alternative of crossing the Thames from this point without going below the surface. Service also does not operate as late as the Tube, bus or DLR.
London with children
London can be stressful with kids - check London with children for slightly less stressful sightseeing. However, it is a breeze with children over 7.
London is a huge city, so all individual listings are in the appropriate district articles and only an overview is presented here.
- Buckingham Palace. The official London residence of the Queen, in Westminster. Open for tours during the summer months only, but a must-see sight even if you don't go in. (Tube: Green Park)
- London Eye. The world's third largest observation wheel, situated on the South Bank of the Thames with magnificent views over London. (Tube: Waterloo)
- Marble Arch is a white Carrara marble monument designed by John Nash. It is located in the middle of a huge traffic island at one of the busiest intersections in central London where Oxford St meets Park Lane in Mayfair. (Tube: Marble Arch)
- Piccadilly Circus is one of the most photographed sights in London. The Shaftesbury Memorial, topped by the statue of Anteros (now popularly identified as Eros), stands proudly in the middle of Piccadilly Circus while the north eastern side is dominated by a huge, iconic neon hoarding. As of January 2013, there is currently scaffolding around the Eros statute. (Tube: Piccadilly Circus))
- St Paul's Cathedral, also in the City, is Sir Christopher Wren's great accomplishment, built after the 1666 Great Fire of London - the great dome is still seated in majesty over The City. A section of the dome has such good acoustics that it forms a "Whispering Gallery". There is also a viewing area that offers views of the surrounding area including the Millennium Bridge that lies nearby. (Tube: St Pauls)
- Tower Bridge. The iconic 19th century bridge located by the Tower of London near the City. It is decorated with high towers featuring a drawbridge. The public are allowed access to the interior of the bridge via the Tower Bridge Exhibition, tickets for which can be purchased on the website or at the bridge. (Tube: Tower Hill)
- Tower of London. Situated just south east of the City, is London's original royal fortress by the Thames. It is over 900 years old, contains the Crown Jewels, guarded by Beefeaters, and is a World Heritage site. It is also considered by many to be the most haunted building in the world. If you are interested in that sort of thing its definitely somewhere worth visiting. Sometimes there are guided ghost walks of the building. (Tube: Tower Hill)
- Trafalgar Square. Home of Nelson's Column and the lions, and once a safe haven for London's pigeons until the recent introduction of hired birds of prey. The "Fourth plinth" has featured a succession of artworks since 1999. Overlooked by the National Gallery, it's the nearest London has to a "centre", and has recently been pedestrianised. (Tube: Charing Cross)
- Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster, including the Queen Elizabeth II Tower (the clock tower commonly known as the name of its bell, Big Ben) and the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster. The seat of the United Kingdom parliament and World Heritage site, as well as setting for royal coronations since 1066, most recently that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The Palace of Westminster is open to the public only for viewing parliamentary debates, tours of the building are available in July–August when Parliament is away on summer recess. (Tube: Westminster)
- 30 St Mary Axe or The Gherkin, a peculiarly-shaped 180 m (590 ft) building in the City. There is no public access to it.
- The Shard. A futuristic skyscraper, dominates the London skyline and is currently the tallest building in the EU. There is a viewing deck on the 72nd floor that is open to the public, tickets for which must be booked via the website.
Museums and galleries
Central London hosts an outstanding collection of world-class museums and galleries, several of truly iconic status.
Even better, London is unique among global capitals in that the majority of the museums have no entrance charges, allowing visitors to make multiple visits with ease. Special or temporary exhibitions, of course, may attract an admission charge.
London museums and galleries with no general admission charge (free entry!) include:
- British Museum (Tube: Holborn)—a treasure trove of world cultures from across the ages, on a par with the Paris Louvre and New York's Metropolitan Museum
- National Gallery (Tube: Charing Cross)—houses the national collection of paintings in the Western European tradition from the 13th to the 19th centuries
- National Portrait Gallery (Tube: Charing Cross)
- Victoria and Albert Museum (Tube: South Kensington)
- Natural History Museum (Tube: South Kensington)
- Science Museum (Tube: South Kensington)
- Tate Modern (Tube: Southwark, Blackfriars)
- Tate Britain (Tube: Pimlico)
- Wallace Collection (Tube: Marble Arch)
and most museums in Greenwich.
Aside from these world famous establishments, there is an almost unbelievable number of minor museums in London covering a very diverse range of subjects. The British Government lists over 240 genuine museums in the city.
Notable smaller museums
- London's Transport Museum (Tube: Covent Garden)
- Museum of London Docklands (DLR: West India Quay)
The 'green lungs' of London are the many parks, great and small, scattered throughout the city including Hyde Park, St James Park and Regent's Park. Most of the larger parks have their origins in royal estates and hunting grounds and are still owned by the Crown, despite their public access.
- Hyde Park and adjoining Kensington Gardens make up a huge open space in central London and are very popular for picnics. (Tube:High Street Kensington, Marble Arch, Green Park or Hyde Park Corner)
- Regent's Park is wonderful open park in the northern part of central London.(Tube:Camden Town, Regent's Park)
- St James's Park has charming and romantic gardens ideal for picnics and for strolling around. St. James's Park is situated between Buckingham Palace on the west and Horse Guards Parade on the east.
- Hampstead Heath is a huge open green space in north central London. Not a tended park a such and is remarkably wild for a metropolitan city location. The views from the Parliament Hill area of the heath south over the city are quite stunning. (Tube: Hampstead, Overground: Hampstead Heath, Gospel Oak)
- Richmond Park also is a huge green space, but has a thriving deer population that is culled in the spring. Excellent place for cycling. (Tube:Richmond then Bus:371)
- Bushy Park, near to Hampton Court Palace, is the second-largest park in London. More low-key than its larger cousin, Richmond Park, it too has a large deer population. Bushy Park contains numerous ponds, bridleways, two allotments, and at its northern edge, the National Physical Laboratory.
English Heritage runs the Blue Plaques programme in London. Blue Plaques celebrate great figures of the past and the buildings that they inhabited. These are among the most familiar features of the capital’s streetscape and adorn the façades of buildings across the city. Since the first plaque was erected in 1867, the number has grown steadily and there are now more than 800. Recipients are as diverse as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sigmund Freud, Charles de Gaulle, Jimi Hendrix and Karl Marx. Look out for these around the city.
London is a huge city, so all individual listings are in the appropriate district articles. To make the most of the city's tremendous cultural offerings (performing arts, museums, exhibitions, clubs, eateries and numerous others), visitors will do well to pick up a copy of a cultural magazine like Time Out London (available at most corner shops and newsagents) which gives detailed information and critiques on what's around town including show times and current attractions. The website  also has major shows listed. There is also a Time Out iPhone/iPod app available although the print version tends to be more detailed.
London is one of the best cities in the world for concerts, spanning from new musical trends to well known bands. Between huge concert facilities and small pubs, there are hundreds of venues that organise and promote live music every week. Many concerts, especially in smaller or less known places are free, so there is plenty of choice even for tourists on a budget.
London has long been a launchpad for alternative movements, from the mods of the 60s, punks of the 70s, new romantics of the 80s, the Britpop scene of the 90s and in recent years the indie rock movement spearheaded by The Libertines and their ilk. It has one of the world's most lively live music scenes: any band heading a British, European or World tour will play London, not to mention the local talent. London's music scene is incredibly diverse, covering all genres of music from electro-jazz to death-metal, and all sizes of bands, from the U2s and Rolling Stones of the world to one man bands who disband after their first gig. This diversity is reflected in prices. As a rough guide: £20+ for 'top 40' bands in arena sized venues, £10+ for established bands in mid sized venues, £6+ for up and coming bands and clubnights in smaller venues, £5- for upstarting bands in bars and pubs.
London has hundreds of venues spread out over the city and the best way to know what's going on where is to browse online ticket agencies , music magazine's gig directories  and bands' myspaces . However, there are a few areas which have higher concentrations of pubs and venues than others. Kilburn is situated in North West London. It's long been known as an Irish area, and though their numbers have somewhat declined any visit to a local pub will show their influence remains today. Kilburn's important venue is The Good Ship.  Due to its inclusive policies and fair payment system, The Good Ship is a favorite place for young aspiring bands to try to get a foot off the ground. Good for those who would like to see bands "before they were big", who appreciate £5 entrance fees, good beer and friendly staff.</do>
One of the easiest to use and most comprehensive listings websites is "LondonEars" .
The West End, especially the areas concentrated around Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Shaftesbury Avenue and Haymarket, is one of the world's premier destinations for theatre, including musical theatre. Covent Garden has the only Actor sponsored school in the city called the Actors Centre which also gave way to the London Acting Network, a London acting community support group. In the centre of Leicester Square there is an official half-price TKTS booth. For up-to-date listings see the weekly magazine Time Out or check the official London theatreland site. The South Bank is another area well known for world class theatre, and is home to both the National Theatre and the Globe Theatre, the latter of which is London's only thatched building and an attraction in itself. Each Globe performance has over 700 £5 tickets. London's theatre scene outside of these two main districts is known as "the Fringe". Several of the larger and more established fringe theatres are an excellent way to see top quality productions of plays that may well transfer to the West End, but at lower than West End prices. The most significant of these are:
- The Royal Court (Nearest Tube is Sloane Square). This theatre specialises in new writing, and recent productions that have transferred to great acclaim include 'Enron' by Lucy Prebble and 'Jerusalem' by Jez Butterworth, which had long runs in both the West End and on Broadway.
- The Menier Chocolate Factory (Short walk from London Bridge station). This small theatre adjacent to Borough Market has done spectacularly well with revivals of musicals, including 'Sunday in the park with George' and 'A Little Night Music' both by Stephen Sondheim and which had runs in both the West End and Broadway.
- The Lyric Theatre (Short walk from Hammersmith Tube station), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Not to be confused with its West End namesake this fascinating theatre comprises a Victorian interior transplanted into a modern office building. It offers a mix of modern interpretations of Shakespeare, musicals (Sprink Awakenings was a notable success) and plays that reflect the multicultural nature of its location, in particular serving the Asian and Afro-Caribbean poulations of West London.
Other things to do
- Changing the Guard, Buckingham Palace SW1A 1AA. Buckingham Palace: alternate days 11:30 (except daily May-Jul). Horse Guards Arch: M-Sa 11:00, Su 10:00. The 45 min ceremony which occurs every morning outside Buckingham palace often features Guards regiments with bearskins and red tunics together with military bands. All these soldiers are fighting troops and there will be times when other regiments mount the guard at Buckingham Palace while units are deployed on active service overseas. In Whitehall, cavalry of the Household division on horseback and foot make the formal changeover between the previous guards on duty and the new guards at Horse Guards Parade. The Household division has guarded the royal family since 1660 and continue to do so today.
- Take a walk through London's Royal Parks. A good walk would start at Paddington station, and head through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park (passing Buckingham Palace) and St James Park before crossing Trafalgar Square and the River Thames to the South Bank and Waterloo Station. At a strolling pace this walk would take half a day, with plenty of places to stop, sit, drink, eat en route. A good pictorial description of this walk can be found online at Trips By Trains Royal Parks Walk.
- Watch a film. As well as the world-famous blockbuster cinemas in the West End, London has a large number of superb art house cinemas. In the summer months, there are often outdoor screenings at various venues, such as Somerset House and in some of the large parks.
- Watch football. Take in a home match of one of the city's 15+ professional football clubs for a true experience of a lifetime as you see the passion of the "World's Game" in its mother country. London will have six clubs in the top Premier League in the upcoming 2012–13 season—Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers (QPR), Tottenham Hotspur, and West Ham United. A level down, in the Football League Championship, finds Crystal Palace, and Millwall. Six other clubs are in lower levels of the professional league system—Brentford, Charlton Athletic and Leyton Orient in Football League One; and AFC Wimbledon, Barnet and Dagenham & Redbridge in Football League Two. Many of the bigger clubs will require booking in advance, sometimes many months ahead, but smaller clubs allow you to simply turn up on match day and pay at the gate. You will be able to find a ticket to a quality football match on any Saturday during the season.
- Wimbledon. Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is widely considered the most prestigious. Naturally it is a regular feature on the Tennis calendar. London goes "tennis crazy" for two weeks when the competition commences in late June and early July. One of the greatest traditions is to eat Strawberries and Cream with sugar.(Tube:Southfields)
- Open House London Weekend. Explore many of the city's most interesting buildings during the London Open House Weekend - usually held on the third weekend of September. During this single weekend, several hundred buildings which are not normally open to the public are opened up. See website for details of buildings opening in any given year - some buildings have to be pre-booked in advance - book early for the popular ones!
- Winter skating. London has a number of outdoor ice rinks that open in the winter months. Considered by some to be somewhat overpriced and overcrowded, they nonetheless have multiplied in recent years, easing congestion and increasing competition. Most charge from £10-12 (adults) for an hour on the ice, including skate hire. See the district articles for the City of London, East End and Leicester Square.
- Summer skating. In summer (and also in winter, for the more dedicated) there is also a thriving roller skating (on inline and traditional "quad" skates) scene in London, catering to many disciplines including street hockey, freestyle slalom, dance, general recreational skating (including three weekly marshalled group street skates) and speed skating. This mostly centres around Hyde Park (on the Serpentine Road) and Kensington Gardens (by the Albert Memorial). See the district articles for Mayfair-Marylebone and South West London.
- Tours. If you don't feel like splashing out on one of the commercial bus tours, you can make your own bus tour by buying an Oyster card and spending some time riding around London on the top deck of standard London buses. Of course you don't get the open air or the commentary, but the views are very similar. You will likely get lost but that is half the fun; if it worries you go for a commercial tour.
- Spitalfields Markets, 65 Brushfield St London E1 6AA (Straight down Bell Lane past 66-68 and keep walking). Visit the thriving old Spitalfields markets which were the original London fruit markets. They have a daily market selling amazing vintage odds and ends and new fresh clothes! Visit 66/68 Bell Lane nearby to see a wealthy merchants house, rumor has it John Lennon once played on the roof of this building with Yoko Ono.
- For a guided tour of London check out The Literary London Walking Tour - an interesting, informative and funny walk through London and its literary hotspots of the past and present. Meet local writers and poets and listen to them perform their works (£15 per person - FREE for all June and July 2012).
- Insider London deliver a range of unique alternative London walking tours. Tours include London Street Art, London Underground, Sustainable Architecture, Death and Debauchery and bespoke tours.
Universities in London
London attracts more students from overseas than any other city in the world, and is home to a huge variety of academic institutions. Its universities include some of the oldest and most prestigious in the world. The University of London is a federal university system with many constituent colleges, though for all practical purposes each constituent college operates as a separate university. London School of Economics and Political Science is located on the boundary of Covent Garden and Holborn in Westminster, 18 Nobel Prize winners and 50 world leaders have studied here. The School offers a well regarded lecture programme that is open to the public. Speakers have included Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama and Paul Krugman. Event schedule and ticket information available from the LSE website. University College London academic research is cited more than any other university in the UK, and its courses are regarded as among the best in Britain. The campus is located just north of the British Museum in the literary area of Bloomsbury. Notable alumni include Mahatma Gandhi, Alexander Graham Bell and the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham, whose mummified body is on display at the school in a wooden cabinet called the "auto-icon". Imperial College London is the UK's leading university specialising in science, engineering, business and medicine. The campus is located in a beautiful area of South Kensington, surrounded by numerous cultural institutions including the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Notable alumni include Sir Alexander Flemming, Thomas Henry Huxley, and H.G. Wells. Others include King's College London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Queen Mary, University of London, London Business School and the University of Westminster
London is a natural place to learn and improve spoken and written English. There are a huge range of options, from informal language exchange services to evening classes and formal language schools. There are a number of unaccredited schools charging hefty fees and offering qualifications that are viewed as worthless. If choosing a course from a privately-run school or college, it is important to ensure the institution is accredited by the British Council.
Some links to British Council accredited schools:
- Linguaenglish London. Lingua London is a family-run English language school and has been teaching English only courses in London for over 10 years.
- Language in London. This is the first school in the world to win the British Council prize for innovation in English teaching.
- Rose of York. Rose of York has been teaching English language courses for over 21 years and they offer full-time, intensive or part-time English courses
London is one of the world's leading financial centres and so professional services is the main area of employment, although this sector has been hit hard by the global financial crisis. As of mid-2010, the job market in London has recovered somewhat. It is best to check with recruiters and staffing agencies.
London is hugely popular as a working holiday destination - work in bars and the hospitality industry is relatively easy to find.
Wages are generally higher in London than the rest of the UK, in part due to the addition of London weighting, although the cost of living is higher still.
Though not particularly known for bargain shopping, nearly anything you could possibly want to buy is available in London. In Central London, the main shopping district is the West End (Bond Street, Covent Garden, Oxford Street and Regent Street). On Thursdays many West End stores close later than normal (19:00-20:00).
- Oxford Street. Main shopping street, home to flagship branches of all the major British high street retailers in one go including Selfridges, John Lewis (includes a food hall), Marks & Spencer and other department stores. It is best to shop here in the morning as the street becomes increasingly busy during the day. (Tube: Oxford Circus)
- Regent Street (between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus). Includes such gems as Hamleys, considered to be London's flagship toy store spread out on seven levels, and the London Apple Store. (Tube: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus)
- Bond Street. Some of the world's most luxurious designer stores such as Cartier, D&G, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton and Versace. (Tube: Bond Street)
- Tottenham Court Road. Contains some of the world's most luxurious designer interior stores such as Heals, whilst the southern end is famous for its large concentration of hi-fi, computer and electronics stores. (Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street)
- Covent Garden. Fashionable area home to quaint outlets and relatively expensive designer stores. Around Seven Dials, chains include Adidas Originals, All Saints, Carhartt, Fred Perry, G Star Raw and Stussy. For shoes head for Neal Street. Also the London Transport Museum whose gift shop has some of the best souvenirs in the city (old maps, vintage Tube posters, etc.). London's second Apple Store is located here as well. (Tube: Covent Garden)
- Charing Cross Road (near Covent Garden). A book lover's haven! New, second-hand, antiquarian and specialist. (Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Charing Cross)
- Denmark Street (at the north end of Charing Cross Road near Tottenham Court Road station). Also known as Tin-Pan Alley, this is a music lover's paradise with an amazing array of music shops, bars and clubs in one short street. (Tube: Tottenham Court Road)
- Soho. Offers alternative music and clothes. Now home to Chappell of Bond Street's historic music shop. (Tube: Oxford Circus)
- Camden Town. Alternative clothing and other alternative shopping, popular with teenagers and young adults. Has the headquarters for Cyberdog - a large shop which sells clothing and accessories for the club and rave scene. Camden Lock Market is also worth a visit to see independent artists plying their wares. (Tube: Camden Town)
- Chelsea. The King's Road is noted for fashion, homeware and children's clothing. On Wednesday many stores close late. (Tube: South Kensington)
- Knightsbridge. Department stores include the world famous Harrods (includes a food hall) and Harvey Nichols. On Wednesday many stores close late. (Tube: Knightsbridge)
- Beauchamp Place. Shop where royalty and celebrities shop! One of the world's most unique and famous streets. Over the years it has developed a strong reputation as one of London’s most fashionable and distinctive streets, housing some of the best known names in London fashion, interspersed with trendy restaurants, jewellers and speciality shops including the world famous trademark Fortuny. (Tube: Knightsbridge)
- Westminster. Some of the world's most famous shirts are made on Jermyn Street. Savile Row is home to some of the world's best men's bespoke tailors including Henry Poole, Gieves & Hawkes, H. Huntsman & Sons, Dege & Skinner and many others (Tube: Westminster)
- Westfield London in Shepherd's Bush is one of the two largest shopping mall complexes in Greater London. This was the first Westfield to be built and spurred regeneration of the local area. It is served by both the London Overground and Underground. It is easiest to get here via public transport, but there is reasonable car parking space available. (Tube: Shepherd's Bush)
- Westfield Stratford City in Stratford is a large shopping mall complex very similar to Westfield London in Shepherd's Bush but located on the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. There is ample car parking and you can also park here to access the Park itself. This Westfield is easier to access by car due to its proximity to the A12 road. (Tube / DLR: Stratford)
Borough Market is a great (if expensive) food market, offering fruit, vegetables, cheese, bread, meat, fish, and so on, much of it organic. The market opens Th-Sa. For market shopping, it's best to go in the morning, or after 14:00, since it starts to get very crowded by around 11:30 when the lunch crowd comes in. Lunch here is good though because there are many stalls that offer fresh made fast food on the spot; from ostrich burgers to falafel, most tastes are catered for. (Tube: London Bridge)
Old Spitalfields Market is an excellent market for clothes from up-and-coming designers, records, housewares, food, and all things trendy. Find it at 65 Brushfield St, E1 6AA (straight down Bell Lane past 66-68 and keep walking). Visit 66/68 Bell Lane nearby to see a wealthy merchants house, rumour has it John Lennon once played on the roof of this building with Yoko Ono. (Tube: Liverpool Street)
Tax-free shops in airports are not strong in variety, prices are equal to London, and they close rather early as well. Shop listings at airport web sites can help to plan your tax-free (vs traditional) shopping. In the evening allow an extra half hour as closing hours are not always strictly respected.
Many big department stores in central London have an information booth where they can give you the paperwork needed to reclaim tax on purchases made at the store when you get to the airport.
London, like the rest of the UK, uses the British Pound Sterling.
Retail prices for most items, with a few exceptions, always include VAT (at 20%). Visa and MasterCard/Maestro are the two most commonly-accepted debit/credit cards, although most large shops will also accept American Express. If your card does not have a microchip (for Chip & PIN) some machines (for instance, at Tube stations) will be unable to read your card. Some shops may ask you for additional identification, especially in relation to high value items, or items that are under age-related restrictions. Most shops no longer accept personal cheques.
£50 notes are not often used in everyday transactions and most shops will not accept them. When exchanging money at a bureau de change make sure to ask for £5, £10 and £20 notes only. The Bank of England's guide to bank notes may be of use.
|This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
It is a huge task for a visitor to find the "right place" to eat in London - with the "right atmosphere", at the "right price" - largely because, as in any big city, there are literally thousands of venues from which to choose, ranging from fast food joints, pubs, and mainstream chains all the way up to some of the most exclusive restaurants in the world which attract the kind of clientele that don't need to ask the price. Sorting the good from the bad isn't easy, but London has something to accommodate all budgets and tastes. Following is a rough guide to what you might get, should you fancy eating out:
Smoking is illegal in all enclosed and indoor public spaces in the UK.
- Up to £5 - you can get a good English pub or cafeteria breakfast with a rack of bacon, beans in tomato sauce, egg, sausage, orange juice and coffee or tea. Most pubs stop this offer at 11:00, but there are literally hundreds of backstreet cafes (colloquially known as "greasy spoons") which will serve this sort of food all day. Most supermarket chains offer a "meal deal", consisting of a sandwich, a drink and a bag of crisps or fruit for £3 together, while buying the sandwich only can be the same price. If you are going to be on a budget for several days, the supermarkets are a good option.
- £7 - will buy you a couple of sandwiches and a soft drink, some takeaway fish and chips, or a fast food meal. There are also a number of mostly Chinese restaurants which serve an all you can eat buffet for around this price. These are dotted about the West End and it is well worth asking a member of public or a shopkeeper where the nearest one is. These restaurants make much of their revenue on drinks although these are usually still moderately priced. The food while not being of the finest standard is usually very tasty and the range of dishes available is excellent. There are literally thousands of so-called takeaways in London and are a cheap alternative to a restaurant meal. Check with your hotel management if they allow food deliveries before ordering in. Most takeaways will offer some form of (usually very limited) seating, but not all do.
- £6-10 - will get you a good pub meal and drink or a good Chinese/Indian/Italian/Thai/Vietnamese buffet. Be aware that many pubs have a buy-one-get-one-free offer, and you can either order two main dishes for yourself or bring a friend.
- £15 - some more expensive French, Mediterranean and international restaurants do cheaper two or three course lunch menus.
- £25 - offers you a lot more choice. You can have a good meal, half a bottle of wine and change for the tube home. There are plenty of modest restaurants that cater for this bracket.
- £50 (to almost any amount!) - with more money to spend you can pick some of the city's finer restaurants. It may be a famous chef (like Michel Roux, Jr or Gordon Ramsay) or simply a place that prides itself on using the finest ingredients. Worth the splurge to impress a special someone. Note that these establishments often need to be booked well in advance, and most will enforce a dress code of some sort, like Rules of Covent Garden, the oldest restaurant still extant.
Prices inevitably become inflated at venues closest to major tourist attractions - beware the so-called tourist traps. The worst tourist trap food, in the opinion of many Londoners, is served at the various steak houses (Angus Steak House, Aberdeen Steak House etc. - they are all dotted around the West End and near the main train stations). Londoners wouldn't dream of eating here - you shouldn't either! Notorious areas for inflated menu prices trading on travellers' gullibility and lack of knowledge are the streets around the British Museum, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Even the major fast food chains charge a premium in their West End outlets - so watch out.
Pubs in the touristy areas of London are usually a poor choice for food although there are some brilliant "gastro-pubs" hidden away - use the internet or a good guide (such as Time Out or Datemojo) to find them. In general avoid all pubs that have graphic-designed and printed menus - it's people's experiences in these kind of places that gives Britain a bad name for food! Look around you - see any locals tucking in? No? - then you shouldn't either. The other rule to follow when avoiding poor food is the same as in any other part of Europe - is the menu available in multiple languages? If yes then start running!
In the suburbs, the cost of eating out is reduced drastically. Particularly in large ethnic communities, there is a competitive market which stands to benefit the consumer. In East London for example, the vast number of chicken shops means that a deal for 2 pieces of chicken, chips (fries) and a drink shouldn't cost you more than £3 especially on Brick Lane. Another good (and cheap) lunch option is a chicken or lamb doner (gyro) at many outlets throughout the city, though meat quality is often poor.
For more authentic Cockney food, try pie and mash, which originates from the working-class in the East End. Usually minced beef and cold water pastry pie served with mashed potato, mushy peas and "liquor" gravy, it tastes a lot better than it sounds. Some of the best pie houses are M. Manze in Peckham or F. Cooke in Hackney Broadway Market. Water Souchet and London Particular (green-pea and ham) are classic Cockney soups, though hard to find on menus. For those game, jellied eels, pickled-cockles and whelks are all traditional London seafood.
Central London's Borough Market offers wholesale produce as well as individual stalls that sell small bites and drinks for a casual and cheap meal. Kappacasein Dairy has a popular stand in the market famous for their grilled cheese which has earned the praise of Giada De Laurentiis and Ruth Reichl.
Tipping may also be different than what you're used to. All meals include the 20% VAT tax and some places include a service fee (10-12%). The general rule is to leave a tip for table service, unless there's already a service charge added or unless the service has been notably poor. The amount tipped is generally in the region of 10%, but if there's a figure between 10 - 15% which would leave the bill at a conveniently round total, many would consider it polite to tip this amount. Tipping for counter service, or any other form of service, is unusual - but some choose to do so if a tips container is provided.
While central London is full of restaurants and cafes it is useful for the visitor to be aware that there are some areas where the majority of diners are Londoners, rather than tourists, and in general you will get a much more pleasant, better value, and less crowded eating experience than you will find in the West End. These places are best visited in the evenings.
Clapham Junction is not just a train station - but also home to many good restaurants and bars, in particular on Lavender Hill and Battersea Rise. (Overground: Clapham Junction)
Drummond Street in the Euston area has a fine mix of Indian restaurants - a short walk from Euston railway station. (Tube: Euston)
High Street Croydon Croydon is derided by most Londoners, however this suburban gem of a road has at least 30 decent restaurants, including three Argentinians, a South African curryhouse, a couple of fancy modern European brassieres, and just about every other type of cuisine you can think of. (Overground: East Croydon)
Kings Street extends on to Chiswick High Road from Hammersmith Tube Station and is one long road of a choice of restaurants at very reasonable prices, some bargain mentions are the Thai restaurants offering 2 course lunch for £7. Nearby Shepherds bush is about a 15 minute walk and is alive with bars and pubs in the evening. (Tube: Hammersmith)
Lordship Lane in East Dulwich provides a good selection of European restaurants and a few award winning gastropubs. (train: East Dulwich)
Upper Street in Islington has dozens of excellent restaurants, popular with young professionals. (Tube: Highbury & Islington, Angel).
Wardour Street, in Soho, is full of nice cafes and restaurants. (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
As one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, you can find restaurants serving food cuisine from nearly every country, some of it as good as, if not better than in the countries of origin.
Indian food in London is especially famous and there is hardly a district without at least one notable Indian restaurant.
If you are looking for other particular regional foods these tend to be clustered in certain areas and some examples are:
- Brixton for African/Caribbean. (Tube: Brixton)
- Chinatown just off Leicester Square for Chinese. (Tube: Leicester Square)
- Edgware Road in Marylebone and Paddington is popular for Middle Eastern cuisine. (Tube: Edgware Road, Paddington)
- Drummond Street (just behind Euston railway station in the London/Camden district) has lots of vegetarian restaurants - mostly Indian. (Tube: Euston)
- Finsbury Park and nearby areas, for Greek and Turkish. (Tube: Finsbury Park)
- Golders Green for Jewish fare. (Tube: Golders Green)
- Kingsland Road for good cheap Vietnamese.
- Tooting, East Ham, Wembley and Southall for authentic & cheap Indian eateries including South Indian restaurants serving hot pongal, dosas, idlis and other South Indian "tiffin" items.
Other nationalities are equally represented and randomly dotted all over London. It is usually wisest to eat in restaurants on main thoroughfares rather than on quiet backstreets.
Like other capitals in the world, London has the usual array of fast food outlets. Sandwich shops are the most popular places to buy lunch, and there are a lot of places to choose from including Eat and Pret a Manger. Some Italian-style sandwich shops have a very good reputation and you can identify them easily by looking at the long queues at lunchtime. If all else fails, Central London has lots of mini-supermarkets operated by the big British supermarket chains (e.g., Sainsbury's, Tesco) where you can pick up a pre-packed sandwich.
Fast food with an Asian flair is easy to find throughout the city, with lots of Busaba Eathai, Wagamama, and Yo! Sushi locations throughout the city. Nando's, a popular pseudo-Portuguese restaurant chain, has spicy peri-peri style grilled chicken. For burgers, GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) has been joined by other franchises such as Byron and Haché.
Vegetarian and vegan
London has plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants many of them championing organic foodstuffs, and a quick search in Google will produce plenty of ideas, so you never have to see a piece of cooked meat all week.
If you are dining with carnivorous friends most restaurants will cater for vegetarians and will have at least a couple of dishes on the menu. Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants are generally fruitful, as they have plenty of traditional dishes (good Indian/Bangladeshi options can be found in the Brick Lane area of Spitalfields or further afield in East Ham, Tooting Broadway and Southall. These also tend to be very cheap eats with authentically prepared dishes with a true local ambience). There are also many vegetarian Thai buffet places where you can eat fake meat in tooth-achingly sweet sauces for under £5. These can be found on Greek and Old Compton Streets in Soho and Islington High Street.
Mildred's is a great veggie restaurant in the back streets of Oxford Circus.
Due to the mix of cultures and religions, many London restaurants cater well for religious dietary requirements. The most common signs are for Halal and Kosher meat, from burger joints to nice restaurants. There are lots of Halal restaurants  and shops all over London including Whitechapel Rd and Brick Lane in the East End, Bayswater, Edgware Rd and Paddington and in many parts of north London. There are plenty of Kosher restaurants in Golders Green, Edgware and Stamford Hill along with some central delis such as on Charing Cross Road.
Convenience stores and supermarkets
Convenience stores such as Tesco Metro, Sainsbury Central/Local, Budgens, Costcutter, SPAR, Somerfield as well as privately-run "corner shops" sell pre-made sandwiches, snacks, alcohol, cigarettes, drinks etc. Most are open from 05:00-23:00 although some such as Tesco Metro or convenience stores located at petrol stations may open 24 hours (although they will stop selling alcohol after 23:00). Be aware that Whistlestop convenience stores (located in or around train stations) are notoriously overpriced and should be avoided.
If using a petrol-station convenience store late at night (i.e. after 23:00) the store will be locked and you should order and pay through the external service window.
Although Tesco and Sainsbury's run smaller stores in central London, full-size superstores (including Morrisons and ASDA) are rare in the city centre and usually require a 15-20 minute Tube ride to reach them. The closest stores to central London are:
-  The ASDA store close to Crossharbour DLR Station on the Lewisham line. This is about a 15 minute ride from Bank station or at the end of the 135 24-hour bus route.
-  The Tesco in the Surrey Quays shopping mall which is next to Canada Water station on the Jubilee line - again about 10–15 minutes from the centre of town.
- There are larger Sainsbury's stores in both Whitechapel  (the nearest Tube is Whitechapel) and in Camden Town  (nearest Tube is Camden Town). Both of these stores are located in Travelcard Zone 2.
London is home to a great many pubs, bars and nightclubs. The online city guide View London and the weekly magazine Time Out tell what's going in London's night life, as well as cultural events in general.
Pubs & bars
London is an expensive place and your drink is likely to cost more than its equivalent elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Expect to pay around £4 for a pint of lager or Guinness (or around £3.50 for a pint of ale) in an average pub, but be aware that as with restaurants, pubs close to major tourist attractions cash in on travellers' gullibility so be on your guard for the tourist traps where higher prices are not unheard of. Despite this however it is still possible to find a sub-£3 pint in central London - it takes some determination. If you're looking to save money and meet travellers then pub crawls are guided tours that run nightly in central London. You'll save the ticket price on the savings you get from discounted drink deals and what you would have spent on club entry. The "1 Big Night Out" pub crawl is the biggest operator and starts from near Leicester square underground station.
Many local pubs, especially those run by chains like Wetherspoons and Scream tend to be more reasonably priced with good drink promotions on weekday nights and during the day. As with the rest of the UK, chain pubs abound which Londoners tend to avoid like the plague. A good place to get cheap beer is at any one of the Sam Smith's run pubs that are dotted around Soho and north of Oxford Street. These pubs are good traditional boozers which are frequented by the local working population and odd celeb.
In the Bloomsbury area, check out The Court (near the north end of Tottenham Court Road) and The Rocket (Euston Road). Both are fairly cheap to drink at, given that they cater for students of the adjacent University College London. Directly opposite the British Library is The Euston Flyer, popular with locals and commuters alike given its close proximity to St Pancras International railway station.
Classier bars and pubs can be much more expensive. However, the cost of alcohol drops significantly the further away you go from the centre (though be aware that West London tends to be an exception, with prices pretty much the same as the centre). For a more reasonably priced (but brilliant) cocktail bar than you'll find in the central and West End areas Lost Society in Clapham situated on Lavender Hill, cocktails here cost around £7-8 each.
Two important endemic London breweries are Young's and Fullers. Young's was founded in Wandsworth in 1831 (but has recently relocated to Bedford) and nowadays it boasts 123 pubs in central London alone. The Founder's Arms just next to the Tate Modern on the river embankment itself, is one of the brewery's most well known establishments with a great view of the River Thames. Fullers was founded a bit later in 1845 at Chiswick (where you can take a most enjoyable tour of the brewery, including beer-tasting) and the jewel in its crown is probably the Grade I listed Old Bank Of England on Fleet Street, thanks to its breath-taking interiors. Fuller's flagship beer is the famous 'London Pride', however to try a truly authentic Cockney pint, ask at bars if they serve a seldom seen now Porter, a dark style of beer originating in London in the 18th Century, similar but less heavy then a Stout. For a different taste, try London Gin, a popular type of spirit, often mixed with tonic water, (and a slice of lemon) to make G & T's.
It's hard to say which pub in London is truly the oldest but it's easy to find contenders for the title. Many pubs were destroyed in the Great Fire of London – indeed, Samuel Pepys supposedly watched the disaster from the comfort of the Anchor in Borough. Pubs were rebuilt on sites that claimed to have been working pubs since the 13th century. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street is on the site of an old monastery and its cellar dates back to the 13th century. The Princess Louise and Citty of York are two lovely pubs close by, along High Holborn with interesting decor; as is the Jerusalem Tavern of Farringdon, a converted Georgian coffee shop, which sells the Norfolk beer, St. Peters. The Royal Oak of Borough, is another pub which is the only representative of an out-of-town brewery in London, that of Harvey's of Lewes. The food is fantastic as is the atmosphere. Those interested in London's historic and literary connections can't miss The Spaniard's Inn in Hampstead. Dick Turpin is said to have been born here; John Keats and Charles Dickens both drank here; it's mentioned in Dickens' The Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker's Dracula. The Goose at Catford, was reputedly a favourite hole of Karl Marx.
For the best view in the city, try pubs on the banks of the Thames. The South Bank has lots of good bars with plenty of iconic bridges and buildings in sight the cocktail bar in the OXO tower is a secret that most tourists walk by everyday. Heading towards Bermondsey, pub crowds become a little less touristy.
If you're after gastropubs, you may like to visit London's first, The Eagle, in Clerkenwell, established in 1991. You can also try Time Out's favourite newcomer, The Princess Victoria on Uxbridge Road, Shepherd's Bush.
Wine buffs can enjoy the famous Davys wine bars that dot the city. The company, established in 1870, import wines and own over thirty bars in the centre. Other big names in wine include the Michelin-starred Cellar Gascon and Vinoteca, both in Smithfield. For a posh wine tasting experience, there is Vinopolis by Borough Market, though a tour price will be as eye-watering as the produce sampled.
Big hotels, such as The Langham, The Dorchester and The Ritz, and upmarket clubs around Leicester Square and Soho are reliable bets for a date at the bar. The Connaught Hotel in Mayfair-Marylebone boasts its house bar, plus the Time Out favourite, The Coburg. Still in Mayfair, The Polo Bar at The Westbury is very intimate.
You can rely on most up-and-running bars to offer a short cocktail menu and there are also bars that position themselves as cocktail specialists.
Nightlife is an integral part of London life and there are countless nightclubs in and around Central London with music to suit even the most eclectic of tastes. Districts in London tend to specialize to different types of music.
The Farringdon/Hoxton/Shoreditch area has many clubs playing drum and bass, techno, house and trance music and is home to the superclub Fabric. The clubs in this area are often home to the world's top DJ's and attracts a lively, hip and friendly crowd. Big name drum and bass, house and techno DJs also appear at clubs scattered around Kings Cross (Egg, Scala), Elephant (Ministry of Sound, Corsica Studios), Southwark (Cable), Whitechapel (Rhythm Factory), and at mixed nights at the Vauxhall clubs (see below). Nights are also hosted in disused Hackney warehouses or south London car parks.
The area around Mayfair is home to the more upmarket clubs in London. This area attracts a rather more showy crowd who love to flaunt what they have and is a must go to celebrity spot. Beware that drinks are ridiculously expensive and many clubs operate a guestlist-only policy. Music played here is often of the commercial chart, funky house, hip hop and R&B genre. Notable clubs include China White, Luxx, Maddox, Jalouse, Funky Buddha, Whisky Mist, Mahiki, No 5 Cavendish Square, Embassy, Vendome and Maya.
Nightclubs around the Leicester Square area hold the same music policy, but are rather more accessible, with numerous club and pub crawl promoters scattered around the area offering deals on entry. Notable clubs are Cafe De Paris, 1 Big Night Out pub crawl, Penthouse, Sound, Tiger Tiger, Zoo bar and Ruby Blue.
The Camden area is home to clubs which play Indie, metal and rock music and notably the Electric Ballroom, the world famous Koko (Fridays) and Underworld, however be aware that Camden clubs are mostly shut (or empty) on the weekdays.
London's Afro-Caribbean centre Brixton is home to numerous venues with all kinds of music, including a particular presence in reggae, ska, afrobeat, hiphop, and dubstep.
Gay and lesbian
London has a vibrant gay environment with countless bars, clubs and events in almost every district in the city.
The nucleus of London's gay scene is undoubtedly Old Compton St and the surrounding area in Soho but over the last couple of years Vauxhall has seen a boom in Gay venues. You will find that many areas, particularly in Camden Town and Shoreditch, that straight bars will have a mixed clientele. To find out what is going on during your visit, you can check:
- qmagazine.com. A weekly magazine that comprehensively covers the London gay scene with handy night by night listings available on-line and in print
- Boyz Magazine. Which is published fortnightly and is freely available at most London gay venues, and contains listings of everything that is happening in all the major clubs in London and the South East.
Gay Pride is held every year in June with parade and street parties. The choice of places to go sometimes seem to be unmanageable.
- London Gay and Lesbian Switchboard (LLGS), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. This voluntary service has been operating since 1974 and as well as providing counselling they offer an incredibly thorough information service about Gay events, accommodation and businesses in London.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
|Mid-range||£70 to £140|
London has hundreds of options for accommodation to suit all budgets from hostels through historic bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), mainstream chain hotels and apartments all the way to some of the most exclusive luxury hotels in the world such as The Savoy, The Ritz and Claridges where a stay in a top suite will cost upwards of £1,000 per night. The average cost of hotel accommodation in London is higher than in any other major British city. Prices invariably become inflated close to major sporting tournaments (such as the London Marathon, Wimbledon or major England football/rugby fixtures), or other important events taking place in the city - so it pays to plan your trip around such occasions or book your accommodation well in advance.
In general, most people tend to stay within "Zone 1" of the underground, however do your research carefully - sometimes being that extra five minutes away from a station can make the difference in cost and quality of local food and drinking options. In any case, you can always catch a bus anyway - by far the best way to see the city and get about generally.
Your budget will have a lot to do with what part of London you will want to stay in. Tourist-standard prices range from £20-200 per person per night. Expect smaller than average rooms especially at the low end of this range. As a general rule, expect to pay between £75-150 per night for a 2 or 3 star hotel in the central area of the city. Many of the big name chain hotels now offer substantial discounts (with rates often down as low as £30-£50 per room per night) if you book well in advance, but the drawback is that you have to pay the full amount upfront at the time of booking and there are no refunds if you cancel. The heart of the West End is the most expensive place to stay and most hotels are either 4 or 5 star and most will command a hefty price premium.
The City can also be very expensive during the week, as it relies heavily on the business market but prices often drop over the weekend and it can be a good way of getting into a higher standard of accommodation than you could otherwise afford. Bear in mind though that this part of central London becomes a ghost town over the weekend, and you will find that few (if any) bars and restaurants will be open.
A top tip however is to always check the likes of LondonTown.com, Expedia and LateRooms as well as the hotel's own website - since there are often deals to be had which can reduce the costs significantly.
The extra cost of getting around is probably not significant compared to savings made by staying in a hotel further out. With the excellent Tube system where you stay won't limit what you see. Always be sure though to check where the closest Tube station is to your hotel. Staying further out will be cheaper but when travelling in allow 1-2 min per Tube stop (near the centre), around 2-3 min per stop (further out) and 5-10 min per line changes. This can easily total up to a 1 hour journey if there is a walk at each end.
A more imaginative alternative could be to stay in a nearby town with quick and easy train travel to London. For example, lively Brighton (otherwise known as 'London by Sea') is only an hour away, but your budget will go much further and there are excellent accommodation options.
Some of the better value options are to be found in the following central districts:
- Bloomsbury. Relatively quiet district with a wide range of accommodation, and has enjoyed a surge in popularity following Eurostar's move to St Pancras International station. Cartwright Gardens features a dozen small B&Bs in historic houses. Many budget options are located on Argyle Square (just off the Euston Road). Gets a little seedy towards and beyond King's Cross railway station.
- Earl's Court and West Kensington in west central London. Budget and modest accommodation as well as good 4-star hotels. Be careful with the cheapest accommodation in this area though as it will likely be very seedy indeed.
- Paddington and Bayswater in north west central London. Has undergone a lot of change recently largely resulting from the Heathrow Express train coming into Paddington station. Good hotels can be found in the immediate area of the station and in quieter spots a short walk away as well as in the traditional mid-range accommodation area further south in Bayswater.
- Westminster. Lots of small B&Bs around the back of Victoria railway station in the Pimlico area.
A slightly left-field option is to check the Landmark Trust, a building preservation charity who purchase notable old buildings in the UK, renovate and run them as holiday lettings. An interesting approach to saving old buildings for sure.
Try booking a hotel in Canary Wharf if you are staying for the weekend - 4* hotels can be very cheap due to a lack of business customers. This also goes for the small area around Bank tube station.
Not necessarily as unpleasant as you may think, and as long as you don't mind sharing with others, they are the most cost-effective option and also offer breakfast as well as kitchens for self-catering.
There are a number of independent hostels throughout the city which are listed in the relevant district articles.
In the summer season, many of the colleges and universities in Central London open up their student halls of residence as hotels during vacations, at usually much lower rates than proper hotels, but expect very basic facilities (e.g. communal bathrooms, no catering facilities), but you will get the personal privacy that you don't get in hostels for not very much more cost.
Some apartment-hotels offer good value accommodation for those travelling in a group - often better quality than many hotels but at a cheaper individual rate per person.
Capsule-style crash spaces are just arriving, but currently these are only in central locations.
Short-term apartment or flat rentals are an attractive option for many travellers to London, and there are innumerable agencies offering them, almost all of them nowadays through the internet. A key consideration for renting a short term flat is if you are visiting in a large group or a family. In such cases a short stay in London can be more affordable compared to staying in a hotel. Your best protection is to deal only with London apartment rental agencies which have been recommended by independent sources you feel you can trust, and to deal only with those that accept confirmations via credit card.
Travellers can choose from a variety of homestay styles such as homeswapping (lovehomeswap.com), living in a temporarily vacated room (anyfriendofours.com) or the high end version where companies specialize in homestays with full hotel services such as housekeeping and concierge (viveunique.com). Most of the time these options are safe but it is important that guests and homeowners take equal precaution to ensure their valuables are safe guarded. Homeowners should always provide guests with terms and conditions of their live-in house rules to ensure there are no mishaps and both parties are at ease. This new trend allows guests to enjoy a less touristy version of London as most of these homes will be in residential areas which each have their own unique charm and experiences.
Hotels are generally expensive in London comparing with other European cities, as a result the city has a vast number of self-catering accommodation on offer, many of them are apartments in various central areas of the capital. Well established local sites include Holidaylettings.co.uk, Owners Direct and Alpha Holiday Lettings. If you are looking to stay in just a room or part of the property, Airbnb matches holiday makers with hosts who only rent out part of their homes.
London is unfortunately not noted for free public wifi access - although the number of hotspots is continuing to grow.
- O2 Free Hotspots. . O2 offers free WiFi around London's busiest streets including parts of Oxford- and Regents Street. Click on the link to see the map. Free.
- Online-4-Free.com. One of the most promising (it seems) for traveller-frequented areas, a service that provides blanket coverage along the banks of the River Thames (and some surrounding streets) from Millbank down to Greenwich Pier, and a small 'cloud' in Holborn - the free service asks only that you view a short advertisement every half hour to get 256 kbit/s (higher rates and ad-free come at a small charge). Free.
- Tate Modern. Offering for a trial period free wi-fi internet access.
- British Library. Offers free internet access throughout the library with registration.
- Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre. Offers free unencrypted wi-fi throughout the building without registration.
- Apple Store Regent St (tube:Oxford Circus). The Apple Store on Regent St offers free wifi and has a theatre at the back of the first floor where you can sit and spend an hour or two.
- The Tube. Virgin Media offers wifi access at a number of tube stations. Some mobile phone networks offer free access, otherwise you have to pay.
Another good place for free wi-fi would be McDonald's, where free 24-hour period wi-fi are offered to customers. Starbucks offers free wi-fi for customers registering their prepaid Starbucks Card. Furthermore, Pret-A-Manger franchises offer free internet without a login.
In an emergency, telephone "999" (or "112"). This number connects to Police, Ambulance and Fire/Rescue services. You will be asked which of these three services you require before being connected to the relevant operator.
Like many big cities, London has a variety of social problems, especially begging, drug abuse and theft (mobile phones are a favourite, often snatched by fast-moving cyclists).
London has the oldest police force in the world, The Metropolitan Police Service, and on the whole, London is a safe place to visit and explore. Alongside the regular Police, there are over 4,000 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) that provide a highly visible presence on the streets and can deal with low-level crime. Normal precautions for the safe keeping of your personal possessions, as you would in any other city, are suggested.
The Metropolitan Police have placed significant resources in combating street level crime. Working in conjunction with borough councils, they have brought the level of theft and pickpocketing in major retail areas in London to a manageable level.
Street gang culture is a growing problem in London as with many other cities in England. While most groups of youngsters are not likely to present any danger to tourists, some people feel the need to be slightly more vigilant in certain areas, especially certain outer suburbs.
Main precautions to take
Keep valuables out of sight: A lot of crime is opportunistic - a lot of mobile phones are snatched from restaurant tables. By keeping items such as cash and mobile phones out of sight theft can easily be prevented. Use zips and inside pockets to secure items wherever possible.
Be aware of your surroundings: Before using your mobile phone have a look around you. Put your back against something solid such as a wall or window so you can't be approached from behind. Constantly look around you even if you are in a busy area. Don't walk and talk/text!
Late at night
If you're planning to go out late at night and are worried about safety try to frequent crowded areas such as the West End. There are always plenty of people on the street, even at 04:00. Generally, outside central London, the South, and East suburban areas are considered more dangerous, notably Brixton, Peckham and Hackney, although some parts of North-West London such as Harlesden and northern Camden are also known trouble spots.
The main problem right throughout London to various degrees is drunken behaviour, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights and after football matches. Loud and rowdy behaviour is to be expected and fights and acts of aggression also occur. If you are harassed, it is best to simply ignore and walk away from those concerned. Trouble spots can be expected around popular drinking locations such as Soho and in various suburban centres.
Scams and cons
London has a large number of con artists around, all trying to convince you to hand over your money one way or another.
"Clip joint": 'Every night, Soho presents a particular danger: the "clip joint". The usual targets of these establishments are lone male tourists. Usually, an attractive woman will casually befriend the victim and recommend a local bar or even a club that has a "show". The establishment will be near-desolate, and, even if the victim has only a drink or two, the bill will run to hundreds of pounds. If payment is not immediately provided, the bouncers will lock the "patrons" inside and take it by force or take them to an ATM and stand over them while they extract the cash. To be safe, if a woman you just met suggests you a place, try to recommend a different bar. If she insists on hers then walk away and do not listen to her suggestions. Sometimes this con trick takes place when someone is lured into a private club with the promise of something perhaps more than a drink (like a 'private show' or sex for a small amount of money). A 'hostess fee' will appear on the bill for several hundred pounds, even though there has been nothing more than polite conversation.
"Stress tests": If anyone offers you a free "stress test", they are likely trying to recruit you into the Church of Scientology. The best option is to walk away or just say "No thank you" politely, as people are commonly harassed into giving personal details.
Needing money for phone/train tickets/the bus/et al.: A man or woman will approach you asking for money for public transport. They will claim that they have lost their Travelcard or that it has been damaged somehow. Most people upon losing their Travelcard will seek aid at a train station and not approach random strangers! Another variant of this scam exists wherein a man or woman will ask for change so they can make a call at a phone box (this is a frequent scam in the Shoreditch area). Occasionally a man with a very convincing fake gash on his arm will ask for money so that he can get to hospital (strangely refusing the offer of you calling an ambulance, as you would do for most injured people in the street).
Ticket machine scam: One of the most popular scams in London, is the ticket machine scam : while buying a ticket at a train station someone will approach you and act as if they want to help you buy the right ticket. In reality they will wait until your money is in the machine, then lean across, cancel the transaction and pocket your cash. Say "No thanks" politely - you know what ticket you want to buy!
Selling/asking for a donation for "lucky heather": This scam, usually operated by women, involves someone handing you "lucky heather" (a small flower usually wrapped in foil) and then either trying to sell it to you or asking for a donation. They will come up with a vague charity ("money for sick children", "money for orphaned babies", and so on) and show you a purse full of supposed "donations". This scam has been seen in Chinatown around the time of Chinese New Year.
Although not illegal as such, London is a known hotspot for charity collectors, some of whom can be extremely persuasive in trying to obtain a donation; therefore they have earned the name "charity muggers" or "chuggers". If you do not want to donate, be polite but forceful, and under no circumstances provide any form of bank details. A number of larger charities ask their collectors to have specific and verifiable identification.
Don't take illegal minicabs (see Get around for details). Minicabs are not allowed to ply for trade on the street and any minicab doing this should be avoided.
Travelling on the lower deck of a night bus is generally safer, as there are more passengers around, and you are visible to the bus driver.
If you have been the victim of crime on the railways or the London Underground you should report the crime as soon as possible to the British Transport Police, who have an office in most major train and Tube stations. Or if you have been a victim of crime in the City of London you should report the crime to the City of London Police. Elsewhere, you should report your crime as normal to the Metropolitan Police.
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) will provide emergency treatment for anyone in the UK, irrespective of whether they reside in the UK.
For a serious medical emergency, dial 999 or 112. These numbers are free of charge from any telephone. London's ambulance coverage is excellent, with highly trained and friendly staff. Do not be concerned if the telephone operator asks you for details about the emergency as this will be in order to focus an appropriate response.
For advice on non-emergency medical problems, you can ring the 24 hour NHS Direct service on 0845 4647. Treatment for non-emergency conditions, or for hospital admissions resulting from emergencies, is normally free for people holding a European Health Insurance card (EHIC) issued by most European governments, or certain other countries listed here. In the absence of such a card you would be well advised to get private travel health insurance.
Emergencies can also be dealt with at most NHS hospitals with an A & E (Accident & Emergency) department. In A & E, be prepared to wait for up to 4 hours during busy periods before being given treatment if your medical complaint is not too serious. For less serious problems, try a GP's ('General Practitioner', or family doctor) surgery or a high-street pharmacist.
You can find NHS services near you here.
Major A & E hospitals in London are:
- Central Middlesex Hospital, Acton Ln, Park Royal, NW10 7NS
- Charing Cross Hospital, Fulham Palace Rd, Hammersmith, W6 8RF
- Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, 369 Fulham Rd, Chelsea, SW10 9TR
- Greenwich District Hospital, Vanbrugh Hill, SE10 9HE
- Guy's Hospital, St. Thomas St, Bankside, SE1 9RT
- Homerton University Hospital, Homerton Row, Homerton, E9 6SR
- King's College Hospital, Denmark Hill, SE5 9RS
- Lewisham Hospital, High St, SE13 6LH
- Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Stadium Road, Woolwich, SE18 4QH
- Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton Ln, SW15 5PN
- Royal Free Hospital, 23 East Heath Rd, Hampstead, NW3 1DU
- The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, E1 1BB
- St. Marys NHS Trust, Praed St, Paddington, W2 1NY
- St. Thomas' Hospital, Lambeth Palace Rd, South Bank, SE1 7EH
- University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, 25 Grafton Way, Bloomsbury, WC1E 6DB
- Whittington Hospital, Highgate Hill, Archway, N19 5NF
London is well catered for in terms of pharmacies, with chains like Lloyds and Boots having a number of branches. Most large supermarkets also have pharmacy counters, although these do not stock some of the stronger remedies.
At large organised events, and in many theatre productions, basic medical assistance and first aid is provided through the support of organisations such as St John Ambulance, or the stewards for the event.
London is also home to some of the most renowned - and most expensive - private medical treatment facilities, the most notable of which being the host of private consultants and surgeons on Harley Street in Marylebone.
Embassies and High Commissions
- Aylesbury - Historic market town, 35 miles North-West of London.
- Bath. Roman relics, rich in Georgian architecture and makes an easy day trip from Paddington Station.
- Berkhamsted - Historic market town, features ruined castle of William the Conqueror, canalside pubs and Ashridge Forest
- Birmingham. Trains can take as little as 85 min from Euston or Marylebone or a coach from Victoria takes 3 hours. Boasts many events, pubs and clubs and shopping opportunities.
- Bournemouth. Large beach resort on the edge of the New Forest, with seven miles of golden sand, a two hour ride on the train from London Waterloo.
- Brighton. Fashionable beach town about 90 km (55 mi) south, less than an hour by train from Victoria Station.
- Canterbury. Site of the foremost cathedral in England, constructed during the 12th-15th centuries.
- Eastbourne. A leafy, seaside resort town, of 'timeless' Victorian architecture, with a lovely pier and bandstand. Famous for Beachy Head chalk cliffs, popular viewing platform and suicide spot!
- Hastings. Sea-side town, famous for the Battle of 1066.
- Hemel Hempstead. 30 miles north of London, a small town dating back to the 8th century. Also home to the UK's largest indoor ski slope.
- Henley on Thames. About 55 km (35 mi) west of London, a quaint and typical English town, great for walks by the Thames.
- Lewes. Delightful mid-Sussex town, with a picturesque brewery and famous Guy Fawkes festival in November.
- Manchester. If you have time it is worth visiting Britain's other great cities and Manchester has very much to offer. Manchester can be reached in around 2 hours by train and is about 320 km (200 mi) to the north. It is the 2nd most visited city in England (after London).
- Medway Towns. Has a strong naval history in Chatham Dockyards, with medieval attractions like Rochester Cathedral and Castle. Has a strong literary connection with Charles Dickens, you can visit his museum and a former residence.
- Portsmouth. Home of the Royal Navy and of real interest to nautical enthusiasts. Also offers access to the Isle of Wight.
- Shrewsbury. A very traditional town full of medieval black and white timber-framed buildings along winding, steep, narrow streets set on the River Severn easily reached by taking the train (change at Wolverhampton or Crewe) from Euston.
- St Albans. Small, quaint 'Cathedral city' just north of metropolitan London.
- Stonehenge. Among the most famous landmarks in England. The mysterious stone ring was built thousands of years ago, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can get there by a guided bus tour or by train (1 hr 30) to the nearby city Salisbury, where you can also visit the 13th-century cathedral with the highest spire in the country.
- South Downs and North Downs National Parks offer beautiful, rolling chalk hills for a days stroll or longer hikes.
- Shaftesbury. One of the oldest and highest towns in Britain. This small Dorset town is also considered one of the most beautiful.
- Winchester. Former capital of England and attractive cathedral city with lots to see, about an hour away by train from Waterloo.
- Windsor. Nearby Thames-side town with magnificent castle and Royal residence only one hour by train outside of London. Makes for a very easy day trip.