London Tourist Information
An American who recently spent time in London said: ‘The city is every bit as raw, exciting, dizzy, happening, relaxing and entertaining as New York but with one exception: the site of London has been occupied since the ancient world. That has given this cosmopolitan city plenty of time to develop some historical places you simply must see.’
The ‘swinging’ London of the 1960s is now a melting pot of different cultures, while its skyline has slowly transformed from church spires and Victorian back-to-back houses to skyscrapers reminiscent of New York.
But those ‘must-see’ historical buildings remain untouched: Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace. There are also great museums and wide areas of parkland. This is a vibrant, exciting and, yes, expensive metropolis. You might be tired in London, but you’ll never tire of London.
As the 18th Century writer, Samuel Johnson, said: ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’.
Travelling to London
London has two main airports, Heathrow and Gatwick. Heathrow is on the western outskirts of London and handles most scheduled worldwide flights. There are several ways into the city centre. The Heathrow Express is a fast, frequent train service that takes travellers into London’s Paddington station in 15 minutes; a single fare is £13.
Underground, or subway, trains run every five minutes into the city, but they stop many times and the journey time is 50-60 minutes. The fare is about £5. London taxis (black cabs) can be found outside all four terminals. The journey time by road into central London is about an hour and the fare about £45-50. Gatwick, which handles scheduled and charter flights, is about 28 miles south of London. The fastest and most convenient way into the city is by Gatwick Express fast train to Victoria Station. The journey time is 30-35 minutes and the fare £14.
By TrainLondon is connected to the European mainland by the 31-mile Channel Tunnel rail route. There’s a direct service from France which runs straight into Waterloo station in London. Tickets must be bought in advance. London is also easily accessible by rail from every other part of the United Kingdom. Tickets can be bought on the day, but it’s cheaper to do it in advance.By RoadIf you’re driving from mainland Europe, it’s possible to bring the car on a train through the Channel Tunnel (www.eurotunnel.com). There are also a number of ferry companies offering a slower, but cheaper option.
London Travel Tips
English, with a London dialect (nothing like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins!), but also with many other accents. And with such a rich mix of cultures, you’re just as likely to hear Urdu, Polish or Cantonese on the street.
Currency And Tipping
The British have held out against introducing the Euro – the currency that’s been embraced by most of their European Union colleagues; they’re sticking with the pound (£), made up of 100 pence. Tipping is widespread and expected. Many restaurants have service included, so it’s as well to check the bill or ask the waiter. Sometimes the credit card slip will include a space for a tip: ten per cent is the norm. The generous Londoners also dig deep to make sure they keep a smile on the face of their porter, cabbie, hairdresser and concierge.
The weather in London can be unpredictable. 2006 was a long, warm summer, but it might be advisable to bring something suitable for all four seasons! It rains – although not all the time – so a light raincoat and umbrella are essentials. Very few restaurants insist on formal attire these days. Smart casual is mostly the norm.
Like any other large city in the western world, London has its share of pickpockets and chancers. Keep your belongings close to you and zipped up on the Tube and on the street, particularly at night. Beggars can be seen in shop doorways in the West End of London – ignore pleas for cash. Buskers, however, are licensed to ply their trade in many London subway stations, so feel free to donate if you dig the music.
The Tube- London has the oldest underground system in the world – ‘the Tube,’ as city-dwellers dub it. Despite the age of most of the lines, it’s safe, efficient and by far the best way to get around. The colour-coded tube map is a masterpiece of design: study it well before you leave the safety of your hotel room. You’ll still get lost, but that’s part of the fun, and Londoners will be happy to help with directions.
Travel Tip # 1
The London Sightseeing Pass is a 1- 2-3 or 6-day discount pass which offers over 625 Euros worth of free admission to some of the best sights and museums in the city and is available with or without public transportation.
The cost of a pass varies from 42 Euros to 158 Euros for adults and 26 Euros to 98 Euros for. Details at www.europeancitycards.com.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
Big Ben is actually the name of the bell in the clock tower that chimes every fifteen minutes. Tours inside the elaborate parliamentary buildings are available, but security is ultra-tight and arrangements must be made in advance. http://www.parliament.uk
The Tower of London
Where the Crown Jewels are housed and where you can stand on the execution site of three English queens. The Tower Bridge exhibition is a short walk away and also worth a visit. http://www.royalarmouries.org
The London Eye
A fantastic 360-degree view of London from one of the 32 capsules on the Millennium Wheel. Currently £8.50 for adults, £5 for children – book online. http://www.londoneye.com
The magnificent cathedral designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1710. This is where Charles and Diana were married in 1981. http://www.stpauls.co.uk
Changing of the Guards - Buckingham Palace
The Queen’s official London home – the Royal Standard flies above the building when she’s in residence. The state rooms are open to visitors in the summer. http://www.royal.gov.uk
The renowned display of waxwork models of the famous and infamous. http://www.tussauds.com
An architectural masterpiece of the 13th to 16th centuries. A unique pageant of British history with tombs of kings and queens and memorials to the great. http://www.westminster-abbey.org
considered to be the centre point of London. Here stands the 174-foot high column dedicated to Britain’s naval hero, Horatio Nelson. Look out for the pigeons!
The waterway that’s so much part of London life. For a different view of the city, take a boat trip. http://www.riverthames.co.uk
When everything’s got just a bit too much, take a break in one of London’s beautiful green spaces. http://www.royalparks.gov.uk
Eating and Drinking
British food used to be something of a joke, but things have changed and many world-famous chefs are making London a gourmet’s delight. The dining choices in London are endless. With such a mix of nationalities, it’s possible to sample food from practically every corner of the world any night of the week. The price range is equally as wide-ranging. Fashionable, expensive restaurants include Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, The Ivy (a favourite showbiz haunt) and Tom Aikens.
But there are many other restaurants that provide excellent value for money. A good listings guide will help, or book something stylish in advance with www.toptable.co.uk Many pubs and bars now have varied food options. Licensing laws have recently been relaxed, so the frustrating eleven o’clock closing time in pubs has become a thing of the past. And, of course, fast food outlets are everywhere.
London vies with Paris as the shopping capital of the world. From trendy boutiques to teeming fashion stores to vibrant street markets, there’s something to suit even the most discerning of shoppers.
Pick up the perfect gift from a luxury department store like Fortnum and Mason or while away an afternoon in the world famous halls of Harrods. Most things are more expensive in London than in other capitals, especially brand names, but bargains can be picked up at the many sales. The area around Oxford Street and Bond Street is the place for fashion stores and boutiques, but don’t miss these if you find time:
ShoppingCamden Market - a cosmopolitan rabbit-warren of food outlets, specialist record stores, antiques and just plain quirkiness. Underground: Camden or Chalk Farm (Northern line) http://www.camdenlockmarket.comCovent Garden - full of trendy shops and a great place to meet, mingle and watch some street theatre. Underground: Covent Garden (Piccadilly line)Harrods - the food hall is the main reason to visit the splendidly ornate Harrods department store – there’s an astounding variety of foods. Underground: Knightsbridge (Piccadilly line) Portobello Road - long-established market west of London. One end is mainly antiques, the middle section vegetables and the other end bric-a-brac. Crowded, but fun. Underground: Ladbroke Grove (Hammersmith & City line) Night Life - London is a mecca for lovers of all types of music with concert halls, clubs, bars and night-spots all over the capital. London DJs are famous the world over and the club scene there is second to none. Concerts from classical to jazz and pop are happening all the time and many pubs have their own entertainment, including stand-up comedy. There’s a bustling mainstream theatre scene in the West End and a thriving fringe circuit. Multi-screen cinema complexes abound. There’s simply no excuse to stay in!
The best – perhaps the only - way to sift through the many options is to get a good listings magazine. In-the-know Londoners swear by Time Out (www.timeout.com) which comes out weekly, is bang up-to-date and includes reviews as well as comprehensive lists of events.