Travel to London?
London is innovative, dynamic, and outrageous,
with history and culture leaking from every brick and individual
style around every corner.
It's a supremely cosmopolitan city , with excellent restaurants, quirky
pubs, avant-garde shops, unparalleled museums - most of which are
now free - superb theatre and similar attractions and a blitzing
The streets are mostly easy to walk, relatively safe (thanks in
part to CCTV) and offer endless little peculiarities.
This is one of the most interesting capital cities on earth, whatever
And the best view in London? From Primrose Hill at dusk if the weather's fine, of course. Take a picnic!
... as much of life as the world can show' S. Johnson
London frequently has terrible weather and always has overpriced hotels and taxis,
grubby places both under and overground and too many homeless street people.
Best: May-September, summer gets crowded and could be sticky in late July or August with averages of around 22C (70F) and extremes of 30C (90F); the weather can change several times a day so layered clothing, hats and umbrellas are usually advisable!
Avoid: January-March. England in winter is not only often cold (around zero), grey
and wet, but daylight is in short supply.
Current London temperature and time.
Tourist Attractions (Underground, Zone 1)
London has a very walkable centre with plenty of parks and major sights
in easily manageable clusters.
Power Walk could start at Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard at 11.15am
every day May-July and alternate days August-April. The guards, sometimes with music, march/ride down Pall Mall or Bird
Cage Walk from Wellington Barracks to the Palace and the ceremony takes about 45
minutes, but is cancelled if it's raining hard.
State Apartments Palace tours are impressive, though the gardens are a disappointment. Buckingham Palace tours are only available thru August-September.
Nearby, and beside the River Thames, are the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, which you cannot enter unless attached to a tour or have a ticket from your local MP or a Lord, and Westminster Abbey, which you can, at a price. This is a dramatic
Gothic Abbey where most British royals have been and still are crowned,
married and buried.
You could walk 15 minutes south to the wonderful and relaxed Tate Britain (our favourite London art gallery) or hop on many kinds of tour boat at Westminster Bridge,
just looking at or jumping off at places such as Tate Modern gallery or the Tower of London dpwnstream or even way upstream to Hampton Court.
Alternatively, immediately north of the Houses of Parliament is Whitehall,
a grand broadway and the centre of British government, including 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister's tiny terraced house, and
Horse Guards Parade with one poor sap of a guard on duty for tourist photocalls.
At the north end of Whitehall is Trafalgar Square, the
modest centre of London, sporting Nelson's Column, fountains and two fine, free art galleries, the National Gallery (some say the best art gallery in the world) and National Portrait Gallery.
Another two or three hundred metres north of that are Piccadilly
Circus (not very attractive, nor is it a circus in normal terminology) with the superb Royal Academy of Arts gallery on one
side, Leicester Square pedestrian area for cinemas, mediocre eating
and dumb street theatre, Soho for sensational Asian cuisine and
mediocre sex shops, and Shaftesbury Avenue for last minute theatre
City Walk requires a turn to the east, a short walk across
to Covent Garden for good eating, pretty fair street theatre, some
excellent unusual shops, and major theatres all around, including
the Royal Opera House.
Ten minutes north gets you to the unmissable and free British Museum, or south to the river, and 18thC Somerset House,
offering OK museums and an interesting central court - skating rink in winter and fountain display the rest of the year.
The third option is to continue east into the City of London (see
below for meaning), past some very pretty buildings, old and
new , including St Paul's Cathedral, the Royal Courts of Justice,
the Bank of England, the Gherkin and finishing at the Tower of London - where
excellent tours are led by a 'Beefeater' guide with fascinating
historical stories and sights, including the stunning Crown Jewels.
The Tower is busy so arriving promptly at opening time is a good idea.
Adjacent to the Tower is spectacular Tower Bridge, with some excellent
bankside restaurants and cafés on the other side.
This walk will be spookily quiet at night and at the weekend, with nothing open.
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the South Bank, with Tate Modern tower hovering behind.
South Bank Walk runs from County Hall and the Millennium
Wheel ( London Eye) downstream to Tower Bridge, and is particularly
enjoyable on a sunny, summer day but also works well at night for
The main items of interest after a ride on the big wheel are the National Theatre, an unattractive series of concrete blocks but
offering good theatre, some of it free, the stunning Tate Modern - again partly free and tourists must see the Turbine Hall, down
to Shakespeare's recreated Globe Theatre which is not at all free
and will need advance booking, past the Mayor of London's 'Glass
Testicle' to Tower Bridge and a well earned drink on the south bank.
There are plenty of pubs, cafés and restaurants all along
on the (River) Thames Path: Opened in 1996 the Thames Path National Trail is an easy, view-packed
and characterful walking route that...more
A herd of transport beasts migrating along London's Thames River North Bank
- Taxis are expensive (though knowledgeable and trustworthy).
Minicabs that cruise late at night (not the traditional shape) are unreliable, lack knowledge of the city AND will probably try to charge way too much.
Buses are good over
short distances and better value than the tube, tho' complex routes and queues can be a pain.
Tube: The transport
of choice for the masses is the 'Tube' or Underground (subway/ metro).
This is often a bit grubby but usually efficient and safe.
The tube is not cheap, but most sights are in Zone 1, so if you
stay in Zone 1 too and get a Zone 1 travelcard then value improves
dramatically. Tube Maps are clear and free and all lines are well colour-coded,
so once you've got that worked out it's easy to use. Buses are included on the card so you can mix 'n' match according
to your needs.
How to save money on the tube and buses
if you're in town for just one or two days, at the start of each day buy a one day Travelcard, it's WAY cheaper than buying individual tickets (and more convenient for frequent journeys).
If you're in town for a few days buy an Oyster card. It's inexpensive, stores money in it and can be topped up easily when necessary. Then simply touch it on the yellow pad on entering a bus or going thru a ticket barrier. This will deduct the correct amount for your trip, with a discount. On buses you use it only on entry, on tubes you use it twice, on entry and exit. It's VERY convenient and reasonably priced.
- Cars: Drive your own cars, NO! We wouldn't recommend your own auto or car rental as parking is a nightmare and the city's 'Congestion Charge' (CC) is unclear, automatically applied to any car entering from outside the area - whether you are British or not - and may result in you being chased all around the world by an increasingly absurd fine. We know Japanese who paid several hundred pounds weeks later in Tokyo!
If you want to tour the UK, get to London by train from the airport, then, once you have finished visiting the city centre, hire a car - but make sure you have full car insurance; the UK's prettiest roads can be narrow and winding but are really worth the trouble...
If you are visiting from Europe in your own car pay attention to CC information and pay the charge as soon as possible.
Motorcycles and electric cars are free of Congestion Charge.
- Starting your London experience on the top deck of a guided bus
tour is a good way to get your bearings.
More on London Transport.
Dec 31, midnight firework display beside the big Wheel. Huge but
not very subtle and extremely crowded. To see the New Year's fireworks in relatively uncrowded comfort try the Skylon bar in the Royal Festival Hall or take a boat on the Thames.
Jan 1, New Year's Day Parade, wacky English folk and plenty of foreign
imports, such as American marching bands but a bit lacking in pizzazz, especially if you have a hangover. More effective for families and kids.
Early May, the London Marathon.
June, Trooping the Colour, the Queen's birthday military parade.
Outdoors, impeccable performances and free.
June, Wimbledon tennis tournament.
July, The Royal Tournament, a massive military show, indoors at
End of August, Notting Hill Carnival, 2/3 days. Not really up to
Caribbean standards but colourful and lively.
some precise dates or more information see: European
Festivals or Arts
Museums:There are a number of truly wonderful and well-presented
collections, mostly entry free. e.g. The British Museum - the world's
oldest and most important museum,
the Natural History Museum (gorgeous Gothic building with interactive,
kid-friendly exhibits), the Victoria & Albert (stunning decorative
arts, the sensational, new, 5* Medieval and Renaissance Galleries among other things), and the Science Museum (also interactive
and kid-friendly). These last three are located near each other.
Pay to see Madame Tussaud's waxworks and adjacent London Planetarium which are are popular but getting a little dated in this high-tech age, as is the Museum of the Moving Image
(fly like Superman!), near Waterloo.
Then there's Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, a faithful
rendering of the 400 year old theatre, with performances in the
summer; standing room (just like in medieval times!) is a cheap and cheerful way to experience it.
One of many glorious rooms in the (free!) Victoria and Albert Museum (aka V & A)
Art Galleries: Set in lovely buildings
old and new, mostly free of charge. e.g. Also free are some galleries such as the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the weird little Serpentine in Hyde Park, Royal Academy (fantastically eclectic Summer Exhibition
June-August) Hayward, and White Cubefor provocative stuff.
Classical Music: The Proms in Royal
Albert Hall (July-Sept), Covent Garden Festival (May/June), free
summer lunchtime concerts in churches all over the place, Kenwood
Lakeside Concerts, South Bank Centre, Wigmore Hall etc.
Dance/Opera: Try the restored Royal
Opera House, the Coliseum, the South Bank Centre, Sadler's Wells
+ ICA + Riverside for more avant-garde stuff.
Theatre: the city is packed with big
shows as well as little fringe things, mainly in 'theatreland' area.
Try SOLT in Leicester Square for half price same day tickets, or
call Ticketmaster/First Call. And don't forget Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the South Bank for an authentic medieval performance.
Comedy: Plenty of this. The Comedy
Store is #1 and Fri/Sat nights best, but avoid August as all the
funny people are in Edinburgh at the festival.
Live Music: Plenty of this too, but
avoid mega-shows at Wembley and don't buy from touts. Some good
medium-size venues are: Astoria, Brixton Academy, Forum, Hackney
Empire, Shepherd's Bush Empire.
Check excellent 'Time Out' magazine for event info/listings.
Free lunchtime classical concerts at St Martins church next to Leicester Square or St James, off Piccadilly.
Spas: see Time Out's list of best 20 London spas, but the very best is, apparently, the Sanctuary in Covent Garden, women only but not too pricey.
London hotels/hostels are notoriously pricey and the more central you get, the more money you need. The Earls Court area is favoured by Aussies. To be near the tourist heart of the city try a hotel near Piccadilly Circus, but they won't be low cost unless you are ready for a youth hostel. Make sure you book accommodation before you arrive.
Some cheap London hotels are (at the time of writing): lovely Holland Park YHA hostel (High Street Kensington tube) or YHA at King's Cross or Oxford Street offer refurbished double rooms; Main House in Portobello (near Notting Hill); the City Inn in Westminster; Holiday Inn Express near Old Street; Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch; Dean Street Townhouse.
Also consider private rental apartments (flats in British English) or serviced flats that do a nightly
rate, such as The Apartments in Chelsea.
- Camden Lock Market, (Camden Town tube),
has an extensive, permanent market, partly covered, with wild
and wacky offerings. This is a must for souvenirs, rebellious teenagers,
goths, and indeed anti-establishment persons of any age. However, make sure you see the real thing, not one of the many extensions/alternatives in the area.
From Camden Town tube walk right up the street, past other 'markets' and OVER the canal bridge. Immediately on the left is the original market, with the best extension continuing along on the left and morphing into the pretty good Stables Market area. We love it all but particularly mad, loud and Matrix-ish is Cyberdog, more-or-less on the border between Camden Lock and Stables markets.
Foodstuffs of all kinds are available at low prices, from genuine Venezuelan arepas to tapas and sushi, so plan to eat when you get there.
Best time to be there is weekends (for the wackier offerings) 10-12 noon as the place heaves with tourists later on. However, it is open daily till about 6pm.
- Walks on Hamstead Heath, swimming in the free summer lidos (open air pools) or summer
picnics at Kenwood House concerts will suit tranquil music lovers
- Kew Gardens in Richmond is a 300
acre collection of gardens, parks and Victorian conservatories full
of beautifully presented plants of all sorts.
- O2 (once the Millennium Dome) is a fine place for shows, concerts, films and roller-skating
but disappointingly plain for eating, drinking and shopping.
Get there via Jubilee Line to North Greenwich, by Docklands Light Railway, bus or best of all take a high-speed Thames Clipper ferry down the river from Westminster or London Bridge.
city vs the City of London
The first is what you would expect, all of the large city.
The second is the medieval city of London that is now mostly a core business and legal district on the north bank of The Thames
river, roughly stretching from Covent Garden to Tower Bridge, including
St Paul's Cathedral, the 'Erotic Gherkin' and the Tower of London.
Forget traditional British food which is truly terrible and look
for adventure in the more modern restaurants with which London is
stuffed or superb, diverse and authentic foreign cuisine along the
lines of Thai, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Italian, Brazilian, Malaysian...
Excellent healthy/tasty fast food places are all around. The Pret-a-Manger chain is especially efficient, tasty, healthy and fast for quality snacking.
Entry to many attractions, such as the Tower of London, is much cheaper if you have a student or youth card.
Liberty's fabric store in Regent Sreet.
Classy: The new kid on the block is Westfield roofed shopping centre, a very classy and comfortable browsing environment in any weather, with plenty of upmarket shops from Armani and Apple to Zara. Get there via Shepherd's Bush tube.
Also Bond Street and Knightsbridge (Harrods etc) for very high quality branded goods, Kensington, Chelsea and
Regent Street (especially Liberty's, above) for more variety and less price, but still upmarket.
Regular Joes looking for style at the right price shop in Oxford Street, or for tech and gadget bargains try Tottenham Court Road.
Wacky stuff: Camden Lock Market, Portobello market (weekends), Covent Garden, Neal Street.
Short Trips out of London (a day or two)
How to get to London (Londres. Londra)
By Air: Most international airlines fly to London which is served mainly by Gatwick and Heathrow airports which are both well linked by fast trains to the city centre. Information on getting to/from Gatwick (30 minutes on Gatwick Express train) and Heathrow (15-20 minutes by Heathrow Express train).
Cheap Flights to London: Charter companies and some budget airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet use Luton which is 30 miles (48kms) north of the city centre but still well provided with transport systems. Getting to/from Luton.
Stanstead airport is the last option and least pleasant for cheap flights, 40 miles (64 kms) out but still reaching London's Liverpool Street station (not a brilliant hub) in 45 minutes by train or bus. Getting to/from Stanstead.
Paris to London by train: The fast Eurostar rail line links Gare du Nord in Paris (or Brussels) with London's St Pancras International in just over two hours. St Pancras is linked to many other stations in the UK. It's now possible to buy a through-ticket, to or from Paris, to 68 regional stations in Great Britain. Eurostar booking.
London By Bus:
Eurolines is an association of 30 national and private bus companies linking Paris to destinations all over Europe including London. Paris' international bus terminal, The Gare Routière Internationale de Paris-Galliéni, is in the inner suburb of Bagnolet. Eurolines Booking.
By car Paris to London: the easiest route is via Eurotunnel from Calais to Folkstone (tourists drive their cars onto a train at the tunnel entrance) and then the M20 and/or other motorways, taking at least 7 hours, door-to-door. This is an expensive way to reach London, not to mention the pricey and sometimes tricky-to-pay congestion charge for inner-city driving. So...only consider this route if you need the car to explore England afterwards.
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