Noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is a megalopolis of people, ideas and frenetic energy. The capital and largest city of both England and 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. However, London’s urban area stretched to 9,787,426 in 2011, while the figure of 14 million for the city’s wider metropolitan area more accurately 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 “Central London” is widely used on both signs and by the media to describe the central core of the city, which encompasses The City, most of the City of Westminster, and some of the surrounding boroughs. 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 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:
Inner London Areas
Outer London Areas
London has existed in various incarnations for two millennia. The city has been the principal seat of British royal dynasties and of English (later British) governments throughout its history and has survived through fire, invasion and plague.
Evidence has been unearthed of Bronze and Iron Age settlement on the present day site of London, though it is unlikely a city existed here before the Roman conquest of Britannia in 43 AD. Londinium, the precursor to the modern city of London, was established in 50 AD. Ten years later it was conquered and destroyed by the Celtic Iceni tribe, led by their queen, Boudica. Soon rebuilt, by the 2nd century AD Londinium was the capital of Roman Britain and its largest city. Around 200 AD, the London Wall was erected to defend the city. The wall stretched for two miles around the ancient City, from Tower Hill in the East to Blackfriars Station in the West. Isolated Roman period remains and traces of the wall are still to be seen within the City of London (now known as the Square Mile).
After the end of Roman rule in 410, London experienced a gradual revival under the Anglo-Saxons. A coalition of Angles, Saxons and Jutes from Northern Europe, the Anglo-Saxons ruled in Britain for 500 years until the Norman invasion of 1066. The early Anglo-Saxon trading settlement of Lundenwic was established a mile away from Londinium. London’s British Museum houses the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon artifacts in the world.
From the late 8th century, Viking raids were common in Britain. In 871 London was seized by the Danish Norsemen, until it was reclaimed for Britain by King Alfred the Great of Wessex in 886. In 1016 the Danish king Cnut gained control of London and all of England. Westminster Abbey was completed in 1065 during the reign of his stepson Edward the Confessor. Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, the paramount political status of London was confirmed when William the Conqueror was crowned King of England in Westminster. The Normans built fortifications throughout Britain and the Tower of London in particular confirmed their dominance over the existing population.
After the Norman Conquest London emerged as a great trading city and with the rise of England to first European then global prominence, London became a great centre of culture, government and industry. During the 12th and 13th centuries it gradually replaced Winchester as the royal capital of England.
There have been several plagues in London, notably The Black Death (1348 – 1350) and the Great Plague (1664 – 1666). The plague was followed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 after which the city was largely rebuilt. Georgian London (1714 – 1830) saw the erection of fine Georgian architecture, particularly housing (for example, 10 Downing Street) as the population greatly increased.
London’s long association with the theatre flourished during the English Renaissance (late 15th to early 17th C). From 1576 indoor and outdoor theatres began to appear in London. The Rose Theatre was built in 1587 in the reign of Elizabeth 1st and was the first purpose-built theatre to stage the plays of Shakespeare. The most famous outdoor theatre was the Globe, built in 1599 by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. William Shakespeare was their resident playwright. Admission prices ranged from a penny standing charge to sixpence for the most desirable seats. There are currently over forty London theatres in the West End, in an area known as ‘Theatreland’. London’s Victoria and Albert Museum houses a permanent exhibition of the history of British theatre.
Hampton Court Palace was built from 1515 to 1530 under the reign of Henry VIII with traditional Renaissance lines. English royal dynasties spanning a millennium have all added to the cultural richness of present day London, from medieval buildings like Westminster Abbey to royal London palaces like the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. The Victorian Houses of Parliament (1840 – 1870) were constructed on the site of the old Palace of Westminster, built in the 11th century.
Britain became a supreme maritime power in the 18th and 19th centuries and London was at the epicentre of the global trade and commerce of the British Empire. The World Heritage site of Greenwich in London houses the Royal Museums, which include the Royal Observatory, home to Greenwich Mean Time, The National Maritime Museum and the last surviving tea clipper, the Cutty Sark. By the latter half of the 19th century in the Victorian era, London had become the largest city in the world.
During two world wars in the 20th century, London suffered aerial bombardment by firstly German zeppelins in World War I (1914 – 1918) and by the German Luftwaffe during the Blitz of World War II (1939 – 1945). London dominates the economic, political and social life of the nation. It is the largest city in the United Kingdom with a population of 8.5 million, over seven times more than England’s ‘second city’ of Birmingham.
The capital is full of excellent bars, galleries, museums, parks and theatres. It is also the most culturally and ethnically diverse part of the country. In 1777, noted diarist 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 is a global centre of history, learning and culture.
There is a traditional world view of the white British citizen that they are reserved with a ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude to life, deemed to be particularly true of Londoners – even that they are positively rude to strangers. The lovable ‘Cockney’ of film and TV is seen as the exception. However London is a highly diverse mix of race and cultures. The year 2015 saw the population of London hit an all-time high of 8.5 million and London has the second largest immigration population in the world (after New York).
In 2011 the London Evening Standard newspaper stated that London had 270 nationalities and 300 different languages. In 2011 national census, around 3 million Londoners were foreign born – just less than one third of the city’s population. However 78% of Londoners had English as their first or main language and 20% as their second language, speaking English ‘well, or very well’.
About 60% of Londoners are white, of which 45% are British. Just under a fifth are Asian British (of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Chinese heritage) and just fewer than 15% are Black British, particularly from the Caribbean and Africa. Over a third of the foreign born population of the UK lives in London.
In the mid 1980s half of London’s immigrants came from the former colonies of the British Commonwealth.(6) Now many migrants come from the European Union and the expansion of the EU to Eastern Europe (10 new states joined the EU in 2004) brought new migrants to London, particularly from Poland (which has the highest level of foreign citizens in the UK at 13%).
This ‘melting pot’ of people in the capital brings a rich diversity of art and culture, from ethnic and world cuisine, to music, to dance, to global artifacts and fashion. It also brings a valuable workforce, particularly in the lower paid service industries and in highly skilled professions like health and finance.
London was the scene of so-called ‘race’ riots in 1958 (Notting Hill) and 1981/1985 (Brixton). There were also riots in 2011 (Tottenham) sparked by the shooting of a local black man by the police. Many argue the roots of the 2011 riots were poverty and social alienation, not necessarily race. West Indian culture brought reggae music and the Notting Hill Carnival to the capital. Indian and Pakistani migrants have created a food revolution in London since the 1970s, notably in Brick Lane in the East End. From the Chinese cuisine and festivals in China Town, Soho to Irish music in Kilburn, to Polish delicatessens and Italian pasta and pizzas, each ethnic group in London brings its own colour and flavour.
The ‘cheerful chappy’ Cockney, born within the sound of the Bow Bells in East London is a media stereotype, as authentic as Dick Van Dyke’s accent in the musical ‘Mary Poppins’ (1964). Cockney rhyming slang may be rich and colourful, but it is very much in the minority in the multicultural landscape of London.
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.
However, the point from which distances to “London” are measured is in Trafalgar Square, where the original Charing Cross stood.
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 (Saint 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(as well as further down river and beyond) was where the city’s heavy industries were based, and thus became the epicentre of the working classes.
Modern-day London in these terms is a two-centre city, with the area in between known confusingly as the West End. However, even this doesn’t define the actual central area of London, which extends slightly beyond the City and Westminster, as inner portions of the surrounding boroughs (Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Lambeth) also lie within Central London.
Despite varied weather patterns, the city has an unfair reputation for being drizzly, grey and rainy. This is mostly an unfounded belief. In fact, London enjoys a drier climate than the rest of United Kingdom(and a warmer one) due to it having its own urban microclimate. On average, only one in three days will bring rain and usually then only for a short period. In some cases, 2010 being a well-known example, the city can go without rain for several weeks, leading to hosepipe bans across the city.
As for temperatures, London is far milder than nearby continental European cities due to the presence of the Gulf Stream. Average daily maximum is 8°C (46°F) in December and January (a full 4 degrees warmer than the rest of the United Kingdom on long-term average) and February is usually the coldest month of the year. In summer, temperatures can rise up to 24°C (75°F), and once reached as high as 38°C (100°F), as happened in 2003.
Due to the urban microclimate, inner London can feel hot and humid for several days in the summer months, especially during the evenings. However, summer is still perhaps the best season for tourists as it has long daylight hours as well as mostly mild temperatures.
Snow does occur, usually for a few days at the beginning of the year. In recent years, 2012 had snow both in February and December, with more in January 2013.
When it does appear, it causes huge transport problems. In 2010, just 7cm (3 in) of snow caused trains to stop running, airports to see significant delays, and mail service problems, and this is a fairly typical response to even minor icy conditions.
Although roads will be gritted, it can be very dangerous in London in the snow, as slippery conditions combine with crowds with inevitable consequences. So travellers should be very prepared for problems in the snow, both in moving by foot and public transport. On the other hand, London does look uniquely beautiful in the snow, with the landmarks and parks taking on a postcard-perfect air.
Although the average day is mild and clear, rain, winds, sun or snow could come very quickly. So pack clothes accordingly.
January – March
April – June
July – September
October – December
Tourist Information Centres
London has no single primary tourist information centre, after the closure of the Britain and London Visitor Centre in December 2011. Visit Britain now only exists on-line.
London’s own visitor promotion body is known as London and Partners and also has no public office, but maintains the website Visit London.
The only tourist information centre in zone 1 is the City of London Information Centre, St Pauls Churchyard, EC4M 8BX. Officially the tourist information centre for the City of London, it became the tourist office for Central London by default when everything else closed. Open daily Monday-Saturday 09:30-17:30 (9:30am to 5:30pm), Sunday 10:00-16:00. Closed Dec 25-26.
There is also a tourist information centre in Greenwich, near the Cutty Sark, in the same building as Discover Greenwich.
NOTE – The map above was prepared before major engineering works commenced at London Bridge. Until 2018 the trains branded Thameslink from St Pancras to Gatwick do not go via London Bridge. Through train still operate but during this multi-year engineering project, they bypass London Bridge. 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 IATA code: LON) is served by a total of six airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, City, Stansted, Luton, Southend). 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).
Transferring between London’s airports is never quick or simple, and any itinerary requiring an inter airport transfer should be regarded as a “last resort” if no other option is available. There are inter-airport bus service bys National Express between Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, which run at least hourly. Heathrow-Gatwick services take 65min in clear traffic – but they use roads that are frequently congested (£18. Heathrow-Stansted services 90min (£20.50) (note that services between Stansted and Luton run only every two hours). However, it’s essential to allow leeway, as all roads near London, especially the orbital M25 and the M1 motorway, are often congested to the point of gridlock. Some buses have toilets on board.
Heathrow Airport (IATA: LHR) is London and Europe’s largest airport and the world’s busiest airport in terms of international passenger movement, with services available from most major airports world-wide.
There are five separate terminals. During 2015, T1 closed for redevelopment.
Heathrow is dominated by the UK’s flag-carrier British Airways, who use the airport as its home base and principal hub, and consequently operate nearly 40% of all the airport’s flights. BA have their main base in Terminal 5, but also have a major presence in Terminal 3. Flights landing at Heathrow may be delayed by up to an hour as a simple result of air traffic congestion and waiting for parking slots. To complicate the matter, airlines that fly into Heathrow are currently playing a system-wide game of musical chairs as gate assignments are cycled through the new terminal, making it even more necessary for travellers to check their terminal and gate assignment in advance. Do plan your itinerary to allocate some time needed to get through Heathrow Airport T3, there can be long queues if you are not holding an EEA passport.
For transport options into town, see our Heathrow Airport article…
(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, there are various rail options and two bus options; please note the wide range of prices. If you need a Travelcard added on, to cover any onward travel that same day on Underground or bus, Tickets valid on trains branded Express are most expensive – £30.10, compared to £15.20 with Southern and only £13 with Thameslink; this cheapest option connects with more Underground lines than the other two, and takes about the same time.
After passing through security you will find no drinking fountains in the South Terminal departure lounge so as to increase the profits of drink vendors.
North Terminal: after passing through security, the intrepid traveller can find power sockets on many of the large columns. There are accessible sockets to the right of the left hand door from security, adjacent Super Dry. Starbucks also has sockets below the seating by the window around the corner from the serving area. All are unofficial. There are official mobile charging stations (paid) also.
Stansted (IATA: STN) is London’s third airport, and is dominated by the two low-cost airlines EasyJet and Ryanair who use the airport as a hub, as well as holiday charter airlines Thomson and Pegasus. Stansted also accommodates a few other scheduled carriers within Europe and a small number of inter-continental flights.
Stansted is very distant from the centre of London at Charing Cross – almost 38 mi (60km) away in Essex but less than 29 mi (47km) from either Cambridge or Colchester.
There are several commercial Wi-Fi hotspots covering most of the airport, but they charge extortionate rates. A free Wi-Fi hotspot is in the arrivals gate area, next to the phone booths offering fixed internet.
Getting to Stansted for an early morning flight is fairly straight forward, coaches run through the night, provided by National Express from London Victoria and London Liverpool Street. Since Oct 2015 Terravision is no longer allowed to trasnfer people to and from Stansted: be careful, since this is not advertised on the website (check the news on the Guardian). Be aware that lines are very common at Stansted. The airport authorities have been making an effort to increase passenger processing times. Even at the peak of the morning rush, security checks shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes, with 15 more common. Also getting to the airport can take longer than the proclaimed 90 minutes, expect more like 120 minutes. Arriving in the airport, queueing for passport control can easily take up to an hour for non-EU passport holders, especially for Sunday night arrivals. If you are eligible to use the biometric passport scanners, the lines for these are often shorter than the standard queues.
The airside departure area is currently being renovated, and there is very little waiting area. There’s not much you can do to avoid this however.
Transport options into central London:
Luton airport (IATA: LTN) is physically much smaller than Stansted, but still a major hub for many Low Cost airlines, and over 10 million passengers fly through the airport each year. It boasts the same facilities of the other major airports and also like Stansted, it is common place for some passengers on early morning flight, to sleepover in the terminal before their flights. The Parkway Airport station, which serves the terminal is about 20 minutes walk back into town, though 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 07:00-08:30), it is advisable to leave extra time to check in and clear security due to the large number of flights leaving (particularly Wizzair).
(IATA: LCY) A commuter airport close to the City’s financial district, and specialising in short-haul business flights to other major European cities. There are a growing number of routes to holiday destinations including Malaga, Ibiza and Majorca. There is also a business class only flight to New York JFK operated by British Airways.
Not as expensive to fly into as it used to be, and you may indeed find that from some origins, this may be your cheapest London airport to fly to, without even considering the cost savings of NOT coming from the distant larger London airports with £10+ transfer costs. Then there is the added bonus that it is close to central London, with a convenient link on the DLR. Minimum check-in time 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. From 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:
(IATA: SEN) only officially became London’s sixth airport when it was recently included within IATA’s classification of the Metropolitan Area of London, LON – meaning the airport is now officially London Southend to the rest of the world and airline booking systems. Like “London Gatwick” or “London Stansted”, the name is something of a creative liberty, since Southend is certainly not in the south end of London – it is located near the seaside town of Southend-on-Sea in Essex, which is some 42 miles (67km) to the east of the city. As this is a small airport (the smallest of the other 5 London airports), it is recommended to allow plenty of time to get through security (especially on early morning and Friday/Sunday evening flights), as there can be long queues (expect a maximum 30 minute wait at peak times) and there is often only one scanner working. Staff are also very strict in monitoring Easyjet’s hand luggage policy, at the boarding gates. There are not a lot of facilities on landside (An Arnold and Forbes café that is not open all the time and has very limited choices, Moneycorp, Europcar and Taxi Desk), but once you get through to departures, there is a lot more choice (Another Arnold and Fobres café with more options, a bar/restaurant called Laker’s Bar and Restaurant, WHSmith, another Moneycorp, a First Class Lounge and a Duty Free shop). It is best to get to the airport no more than 2 hours before departure, any earlier can leave you getting bored very quickly.
There has been an ongoing programme of development and EasyJet started operating services in April 2012. A regular rail service runs from Southend Airport Station to London Liverpool Street Station in central London 36 miles (58km) to the west.
By rail, a journey time of 55-65 min. Travelcards are 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. Trains often run every 20 minutes Monday to Saturday (with increased frequency at weekday morning and evening peak times) and every 30 minutes on Sundays and Bank Holidays. The station is c. 200 yd from the terminal building.
By coach: National Express runs a daily night-time coach service from the airport to Stratford, Liverpool Street and Victoria Coach Station. Allowing passengers to still get to London from late evening flights and catch some early morning flights from Southend, by still using public transport and not pay a fortune in taxi fares and hotel rooms. Tickets can be purchased online on the National Express website, or at the Moneycorp Bureau de Change in arrivals. Fares often avarage £10 one-way. Book early, as seats are limited on the coach!
By taxi: Taxis to and from the airport and London are very expensive and should only be used as a last resort (e.g. Missing the last train to London). Andrew’s Airport Cars are based at the airport, but the service is not very good (e.g. no taxis availible for arriving passengers) and the fares tend to be slightly more expensive than other taxi firms in the Southend-on-Sea area.
Other airports near London
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.
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 (2h 15min) and Brussels (1h 50 min) diving under the sea for 35 km (22 mi) via the Channel Tunnel to come out in England. It terminates at St. 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 online or phone 0845 748 49 50). With the exception of Fenchurch St (tube: Tower Hill) these are on the London Underground. Most are on the circle line. Clockwise starting at Paddington, major National Rail stations are:
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. Thameslink is a cross London route between Bedford and Brighton via Luton Airport (Parkway), St. 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 amongst the main coach operators:
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.
In addition to the M25, here are two inner ring roads in London which skirt the central area:
Ridesharing is a cheap, social and green way to travel to and from London. BlaBlaCar connects drivers with empty seats with passengers looking to travel the same way. BlaBlaCar is the UK’s leading app and website with over 20 million members.
Very few people 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 “congestion charge”, driving a car anywhere near the centre of London remains a nightmare with crowded roads, impatient drivers and expensive parking charges (that’s if you can find a space in the first place, that is!). From Monday through Friday, parking in parts of the City of London is free after 18:30; after 13:30 on Saturday and all day Sunday. There are also a number of Pay as you go car rental companies operating around London including WhizzGo and Car Clubs 
London has one of the most comprehensive public transport systems in the world. Despite residents’ constant, 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. Don’t 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. They also offer a 24-hour travel information line, charged at premium rate: ☎ 0843 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:
Oyster  is a contactless electronic smartcard run by Transport for London. In general, Oyster is the more cost effective option than paper tickets 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 and load it with a 7 Day Travelcards. You can “top up” an Oyster card with electronic funds for any amount starting in increments of 10p, though top ups using credit cards start at £5. This cash 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 the number of zones travelled, whether by bus or tube, and on the time of day. You can also add various electronic 1 week, 1 month and longer-period tickets onto the card, and the card is simply validated each time you use it. The deposit is refundable if you hand it in at the end of the trip, though if your stay is short your refund will be reduced by £3. However, there is no expiry date on the Oyster Card or any pay-as-you-go credit on the card. If you have any pay-as-you-go credit left this will also be refunded. You will get refunds in cash only if you paid in cash. Be prepared to give your signature on receipts or even show ID for refunds over a few pounds. If you intend to use only the Bus (and/or the tram), there is a daily capping at £4.40. If you use the Tube as well, the daily capping stands at £6.40. If you are not in a hurry, try to use the Bus because of its panoramic view from the top deck. there is no ‘Zone demarcation’ for Buses as the Bus fares are calculated from start to end (flat fare of £1.50 each journey).
You can charge up/top up your Oyster card with electronic cash at any tube station ticket machine or ticket desk (you can even use a credit card to do this if your credit card has a PIN number) with Oyster pay-as-you-go, also known as PrePay. Top ups can also be done at any National Rail ticket machine found in central London stations. This money is then deducted from your card each time you get on a service. The fare is calculated based on your start and end points. Pay-as-you-go is much cheaper than paying in cash for each journey. For instance, a cash tube one way in Zone 1 is £4.50, while with an Oyster Card it costs £2.30. Furthermore, it is impossible to pay a cash bus fare – the Oyster fare is £1.50.
The amount of PrePay deducted from your Oyster card in one day is capped – for central London this is lower than the appropriate paper day ticket (day Travelcard). For zone 1-2 (central London including everywhere inside the Circle line and some places outside) this is £6.40 (There is no difference in price cap between peak and off peak in central London).
On the tube, be sure to touch in and touch out again at the end of your journey. If you forget to touch your Oyster card at the start and or finish you will be charged extra! This is usually a hefty charge of £8.80, which is not counted towards the daily/weekly fare cap, as are fares charged resulting from failure to tap in or out. This fine can be disputed by calling TFL using the phone number on the back of the card. Just quote your Oyster number and remember where you finished your journey. Touch outs are not required for bus and tram rides so do not touch out when you exit the bus or tram.
Oyster also saves time getting onto buses. Buses operated under contract to London buses (that’s most buses within the M25) do NOT accept cash. If you don’t have an Oyster, you must use a “contactless” bank card, Apple Pay or a paper travelcard.
If you have a National Railcard, such as the 16-25 year old Railcard, you can register this with your Oyster card at a Tube ticket office and then continue to receive special discounts on your TFL travel. So for every journey on the Underground/DLR/Overground you get 34% discount and also qualify for a reduced daily price cap of £4.75. This means a zone 1 Underground ride will only cost £1.50 instead of £2.30. Do note the discount applies only during off-peak times, even within zone 1 (where peak and off-peak fares are normally the same) and does not extend to buses. Travelling during peak hours may forfeit your entitlement to the reduced daily price cap for the day.
Contactless Credit and Debit Cards and Apple Pay on TfL
An alternative to Oyster is a contactless credit or debit card. A contactless credit or debit card can be used anywhere Oyster is accepted (Underground, Overground, bus, and boat). Most European and some American credit cards have an embedded contactless chip; this number will only grow in the coming years. Look for the contactless symbol on your card. The fare charged when using a contactless credit or debit card is the same as when using an Oyster card, and users of the former can also take advantage of the daily/weekly price caps offered to the latter. And you also don’t need to worry about leaving any money on an Oyster card at the end of your trip. This can be a good option for those who need to use public transit infrequently over several days, as it is cheaper than getting a travel card.
If you have ApplePay enabled on your iPhone or Apple Watch (currently only offered by selected US and UK banks), you can also use that to pay for public transport in London. Fares and price caps are the same as Oyster/actual contactless cards. However, be careful if you have more than one device that uses the same debit/credit card account or more than one account registered with ApplePay. Choose only one device and one payment card within it. For example, you have an two payment cards enabled for Apple Pay on your iPhone, they are treated as two separate accounts. Likewise, if you have only one payment card linked to two Apple Pay devices such as an iPhone and Apple Watch, your iPhone and Apple Watch are also treated as two separate accounts. In both scenarios, it means two price caps where you can be spending up to £12.80 for zone 1 & 2 travel if you do not stick to only one device and/or one card within it. This also means that you should avoid using the actual physical payment card and its Apple Pay version in the same day. If you attempt to enter the Tube using an iPhone and exit using an Apple Watch device, even if they are linked to one and the same payment card, you may be charged the maximum fare of up to £8.80 twice (that is £17.60).
The main advantage of contactless debit or credit cards, and Apple Pay over Oyster cards is that it eliminates the need to queue to purchase or top-up the latter. Moreover, you do not need to fork out at least £10 at once when using a debit/credit card to top up Oyster (£5 for the card itself and at least £5 for credit). However, just as with any foreign exchange transaction you need to take note of foreign exchange fees your bank levies, especially if your card isn’t denominated in pound sterling. Another disadvantage of using contactless cards is that you cannot use it to avail of discounted fare schemes, such as those offered in conjunction with railcards.
Travelcards vs Capping
A Travelcard may be loaded onto an Oyster card (not day tickets) or may be purchased as a paper ticket.
1- and 7-day Travelcard rates mentioned above apply only to off-peak journeys. The “daily cap” using Oyster is cheaper at £6.40 for travel between zones 1 & 2 for both peak and off-peak journeys. The weekly cap is £32.10 for zones 1 & 2 but the amount counted towards the cap resets to £0 every Mondays at 4.30. For a more comprehensive list of the prices visit the TFL website:
Travelcard season tickets
Weekly, monthly and longer-period Travelcard season tickets can be purchased at all tube station ticket offices. These can be used on any tube, DLR, bus, London Overground, National Rail or tram service. You have to select a range of zones when you buy it, numbered 1-9. If you happen to travel outside the zone, you can use PrePay (see above) to make up the difference. Note that they can not be used on any Airport Express trains (Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express and Stansted Express). However, a Zone 1-6 Travelcard can be used on the London Underground (Piccadilly line) to/from Heathrow Airport. Notice a weekly travelcard may be a better value than a PAYG Oyster card if you are looking to travel extensively within London for more than five days in a week, especially given that the former’s effectivity will last a week after it was purchased, whereas weekly fare cap on the latter will reset at 4.30 every Monday.
The following table summarises the validity of the different tickets you can use on Oyster. For most tourists, tubes and buses are the only transport you will use, but be aware that these tickets are not valid on any Rail trains to any of London’s airports.
London is a surprisingly compact city, making it a walker’s delight and walking is often the quickest method of transport.
The city is incredibly well signposted so it is very easy to find your way round by foot.
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.
Particularly on Central London’s busiest streets, it is easy to spot native Londoners as they are able to weave in and out of the large crowds at fast speed. Refrain from walking slowly in tight spaces to avoid annoying any fast walking people that may be trying to pass.
By Tube / Underground
The London Underground – also known popularly as The Tube – has trains that criss-cross London in the largest underground rail network in the world (it was also the first, the first section of the Metropolitan Line dates back to 1863). The Tube is an easy method of transport even for new visitors to London.
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 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 60km (36 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. 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 overground bus network and its orbital rail network.
Trains run from around 05:30 to about 12:30 (Sun – Thurs). On Friday and Saturdays trains run 24hrs, currently only on the Central and Victoria Line. The Jubilee line will join these as of 7/10/16. They are usually the fastest way to travel in London, the only problem being the relative expense, and that it 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. Also note that engineering works usually take place during weekends or the evening. Contact TfL or visit their web site especially if you plan to travel on a Saturday or a Sunday when entire lines may be shut down. Avoid rush hours if at all possible (08:00 – 09:00 and 17:00 – 18:00) as over 500,000 people crowd onto the tube on their way to and from work. 
All lines are identified by name (Circle Line, Central Line, Piccadilly Line) and by colour (on maps). Many lines have multiple branches rather than running point-to-point so always to check the train’s destination (which is shown on the front of the train, the platform indicator screens and will be broadcast on the train’s PA), especially if you plan to travel outside zones 1 and 2. Some branch lines (such as the Chesham branch of the Metropolitan Line or the Kensington Olympia branch of the District Line) 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 but known by locals as the West End 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 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. Always always advisable to carry a pocket Tube map (available for free at most stations) to help you with this.
Almost all stations have automatic ticket barriers, though some stations may leave them open during extremely busy hours. 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. Paper tickets are now no longer good value and are being phased out; it is recommended to use oyster or contactless.
All ticket offices are now closed, and information is instead now available from members of staff in the ticket hall area. At certain tube stations, TfL provides visitor centres offering guidance, the opening times are listed below from TfL’s website:
To buy a paper ticket or top up an oyster card, it is easiest to use a ticket machine (oyster cards can be automatically topped up online, but this feature is more useful for commuters). There are two types of ticket machine, one type which is wider accepts coins, notes and card payments, while narrower machines which only facilitates card payments. Both types issue Oyster cards and have the same user interface software, which supports more than 17 different languages to use. To top up an Oyster card, begin the process by pressing the card against the yellow pad until it registers on the screen; when purchasing tickets use the display. Note: TfL ticket machines will not accept £50 notes.
London’s iconic red buses are recognized the world over, even if the traditional Routemasterbuses, with an open rear platform and on-board conductor to collect fares, have been phased out. These still run on Heritage Route 15 daily between about 09:30 and 18:30, every 15 minutes. Buses are generally quicker than taking the Tube for short (less than a couple of stops on the Tube) trips, but for longer ones can be much slower especially when traffic is heavy. For sightseeing, buses are a much more pleasant way to travel than the Tube, and cheaper too for a single journey. Out of central London you’re likely to be closer to a bus stop than a tube station.
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 routes that stop there. Bus routes are identified by numbers and sometimes letters, for example the 73 runs between Victoria and Seven Sisters, and the C1 (C for Central) runs from Victoria to White City. The letter N before a number designates a night bus, but a few services without the letter N run 24-hours – these are uncommon but clearly indicated and can be very useful!
Importantly, since the 6th of July 2014, it is not possible in London to purchase a bus ticket on the bus, nor can you expect a ticket machine at your bus stop! You must either have a Pay-as-you-go Oyster card with sufficient funds, a Travelcard ticket, a bus pass, or a contactless bank payment card (see note below). For the vast majority of tourists, Oyster cards (either pay-as-you-go or with a Travelcard loaded) remain the best option. TfL now allow you to make one more journey on an Oyster card with positive balance, but not enough to pay the full fare. Your card will go into negative balance, and you must top it up as soon as possible. The rest of the fare will be taken then.
London Transport has recently enabled using contactless bank cards (e.g. Visa payWave, MasterCard PayPass) to pay for transport within London. Simply use your credit or debit card as if it were an Oyster card and pay the usual £1.50 for a single fare. Daily and Monday-Sunday capping also work, but you should be wary of bank charges for foreign transactions. If using contactless, there is one charge to your card per day, so you would only pay one foreign transaction fee per day. Contactless bank cards are accepted everywhere where Oyster is and charged the same way.
Youngsters aged 11-15 travel free on buses with an 11-15 Oyster photocard (which are available for visitors, but unlike Oyster cards, these require an online application form and you must be prepared to wait four weeks). Similarly, if aged 16-18, half-price travel is available, but this again requires an application form and a long wait. Student Oysters (only available to students studying in London) are available from age 18 and provide a 35% discount on weekly and monthly travel cards.
Buses display their route number in large digits at the front, side and rear. All bus stops have their location and the direction of travel on them.
The iBus system has now been rolled out the iBus on every bus and garage in London. This system provides bus times and destination information on a audio-visual display.
Unlike The Tube one way tickets do not allow you to transfer to different buses.
Standard bus services run from around 05:30-00:30. 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 the exact 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 on 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 04:00 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.
London’s night buses are occasionally used by loud drunks who when provoked, can be quite confrontational but rarely violent. Stay polite and on the bottom deck of the bus to best avoid them although there will be just as many if not more friendly drunks who would be up for a chat. Use your instincts.
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 tube station), Canning Town, Heron Quays (close to Canary Wharf tube station) and Stratford. As the trains often operate without a driver, it can be quite exciting – especially for children – to sit in front and look at 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 picturesque parts of London, including the Docklands area where most of London’s skyscrapers are located. Apart from the trains looking slightly different and running slightly less frequently than the Tube, visitors may as well treat the two systems as the same.
Unlike the tube, the DLR uses the honour-system at all stations apart from Bank and Stratford. Tickets are available from the machines at stations (most stations are unstaffed so make sure you are armed with a handful of coins or low-denomination notes) and are distance-based. Travelcards are also accepted, as are Oyster cards, which must be validated when entering the platform, and then validated again when exiting the station.
The DLR can be a little confusing as the routes are not easily distinguished – generally trains run between Bank – Lewisham, Stratford – Lewisham, Bank – Woolwich Arsenal, Stratford – Woolwich Arsenal and Tower Gateway – Beckton. Displays on the platform will tell you the destination and approximate wait for the next 3 trains, and the destination is also displayed on the front and side of the train.
Wikitravel 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 London Waterloo and London Bridge). Most visitors will not need to use National Rail services except for a few specific destinations such as Hampton Court, Kew Gardens (Kew Bridge station), Windsor Castle, Greenwich or the airports, or indeed if they are intending to visit other cities in the UK. Since 2 January 2010, pay-as-you-go Oyster cards are accepted on all routes within London travel zones 1-6.
Visitors are well advised to remember that the quickest route between two stations might be a combination of the Tube as well as the National Rail network. (For example: getting to Wimbledon from central London by Tube using the District Line takes significantly longer (around 45 minutes) than taking the National Rail service from Waterloo to Wimbledon (around 15 minutes).)
Trains branded as Express serve Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports. However, trains to Stansted and Luton also have intermediate stops serving commuter stations. Trains to Gatwick are non stop, but the time saving is less than five minutes compared to other services. Tickets for trains branded express are generally sold at a premium. Oyster cards are only valid to Gatwick and not on other mainline routes to airports.
When you make National Rail journeys in London you can do so in the same way as the tube, however some journeys are charged at a slightly more expensive (or sometimes, but not often) cheaper rate. As a rough guide, if a journey between either your two stations or two stations further along the line where you get on and get off, you will be charged the standard fare, otherwise, you will be charged a higher fare. You can find out what fare you will be charged, as well as alternative routes for cheaper fares on using the TFL fare finder. There is also a map which shows National Rail services running in London coloured by the type of fare they charge. If you are following the route for cheaper fares, when you change trains, you will need to tell the system you are taking that route, by touching a pink oyster card reader at the station you interchange at.
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. London Overground appears on the Tube map as an orange line, and services run across North London suburbs from east to west. Overground services can be a useful shortcut for crossing the city, bypassing the centre, for example from Kew Gardens to Camden. London Overground services also connect busy Clapham Junction railway station in the Southwest to West London (Shepherds Bush and Kensington) and Willesden Junction in the Northwest.
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 7.5 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.
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 on-line.
London now offers a city-wide cycle hire scheme, operated by Transport for London. For an hourly charge, bicycles may be hired from automated hire stations around the city. The bikes, coloured red, 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. London motorists seem reluctant to acknowledge the existence of cyclists, especially at busy junctions. 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 red-route (indicated by red-painted tarmac) which is restricted to buses, taxis and bicycles. There are many bus stops on red routes, which can present a problem cycling around buses.
Cycle-lanes exist in London but they are often sporadic at best – usually a 3-foot wide section of tarmac barely wide enough for one cyclist typically indicated by green-painted tarmac. Many improvements have been made for cyclists in the city over the last few years, even if they remain no more than gestures in most places. Noticeably, there are many new signposted cycle routes and some new cycle lanes, not to mention more cyclists since the 2005 public transport attacks. 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.
The towpaths in North London along the Grand Union Canal and Regent’s Canal are the closest thing to a truly 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 30-40min to cycle from Paddington station to Islington along the towpaths. In summer they are crowded with pedestrians and not suitable for cycling, but in winter or late in the evening they offer a very fast and safe way to travel from east to west in North London. Many cyclists enjoy cutting through one of London’s enormous parks. It is more of a peaceful way of cycling than riding on the road.
Care should be taken as to where you choose to park your bike. 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 6PM 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’ (ie 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 curb 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’, in order 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 £2.40. Tipping is not mandatory in either taxis or minicabs, despite some drivers’ expectations! Use your discretion: if you like the service you may tip otherwise don’t. Londoners will often just round up to the nearest pound.
Taxis are required by law to take you up to 12 miles or up to one hour duration, if the destination is in Greater London (20 miles if starting at Heathrow Airport) if their TAXI light is on when you hail them, unless they have a good reason. 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 sometimes cheaper than black cabs, although this is not necessarily the case for short journeys. Minicabs can be significantly cheaper for airport journeys – for example, a minicab from Heathrow to South-West London will cost around £36, whereas a black cab will cost over £100. Drivers are not tested as rigorously as black cab drivers, so they will typically not speak English very well and rely on a GPS to find their way, but will still get you from A to B. Licensed minicabs display a Transport For London (TFL) License Plate – usually in the front window. One of the features of the license plate is a blue version of the famous London Underground “roundel”. A list of licensed minicab operators can be found at TfL Findaride: . Note that 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. You should avoid mini-cabs touting for business off the street or outside nightclubs, and either take a black cab, book a licensed minicab by telephone, or take a night bus. These illegal drivers are unlicensed and sadly they are often unsafe: a number of women are assaulted every week by illegal minicab operators (11 reported per month).
Londoners who drive 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, online, 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 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 have a 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 unrivaled 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:
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 skatable. In the centre, drivers are more used to skaters than in the outskirts.
London is a huge city, so all individual listings are in the appropriate district articles and only an overview is presented here.
The first landmark that any tourist should make a beeline for is any that allows them to get an aerial view of the city. This allows you to familiarize yourself with all of London’s landmarks at once, as well as offering stunning views of the capital. This means a visit to either the London Eye, the Shard or the Monument:
A name that crops up again and again in the history of London’s great buildings is Sir Christopher Wren. Tasked with the job of rebuilding London after the Great Fire of London destroyed a third of the medieval city in 1666, his plans were sadly rejected, but he did leave the city with 51 new churches, as well as the world-famous St Paul’s Cathedral in [[Check out our guidelines and learn how to create your own! London/Holborn-Clerkenwell|Holborn]] with its majestic dome and renowned ‘Whispering Gallery’.
Directly across the river from the cathedral are two London landmarks that offer insight into two very different eras in London’s past. Crossing on Millennium Bridge from St Paul’s you will see Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern. The former is a late 20th Century reconstruction of the original theater where many of the Bard’s greatest plays were first performed, a piece of Elizabethan London recreated in 1997. The latter is a striking converted power station, with a large brick tower that looms strikingly over the river.
Following this river west, you come to perhaps London’s most famous landmark — Big Ben, part of the Palace of Westminster (which also includes the Houses of Parliament), although the clock tower is technically called the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben is the name of the bell that chimes every hour). The Palace of Westminster is open to the public for viewing parliamentary debates, tours of the building are available during August-September when Parliament is away on summer recess and every Saturday throughout the year.
Whilst in the Westminster area, Buckingham Palace is a must-see. The official London residence of the Queen, it is open for tours during the summer months only. Even when it is closed to the public, the regular ‘changing of the guard’ is a big tourist draw, a celebration of British pageantry that dates back to 1660.
Long before Buckingham Palace was a royal residence there was the Tower of London in the east of the city next to the famous rising Tower Bridge. It is over 900 years old, contains the Crown Jewels, guarded by Beefeaters, and is a World Heritage site considered by many to be the most haunted building in the world.
From a landmark with nearly a millennium’s worth of history to one that is constantly evolving, Piccadilly Circus is one of the most photographed sights in London. The statue of Eros stands proudly in the middle while the north eastern side is dominated by huge screens showing advertisements. Originally famed for its neon, this has since been mostly updated to become a huge digital billboard, but still remains as awe inspiring and even brighter than it was before.
From here, walk through Leicester Square to encounter Trafalgar Square, the home of Nelson’s Column, the lions, and the ‘Fourth plinth’, a site for modern public art that has seen everything from a giant blue cockerel to a succession of the British public who each got an hour to stand on it. Overlooked by the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, it is the nearest London has to a center.
Museums and Galleries
London hosts an outstanding collection of world-class museums, including three of the world’s most visited. As well as these internationally famous collections you can find nearly 250 other museums across the city. Best of all, many of these let you see their permanent collections for free, including must-visit places like:
In contrast to this, independent museums will usually charge you to enter. This is also true of temporary exhibitions at the free-to-enter museums above. Although amounts differ, it is usually around £10-£15. However, the money-conscious tourist can see a significant number of masterpieces without having to spend a penny.
At the British Museum (London’s most popular museum and the second most-visited in the world) for example, visitors can see the Parthenon marbles, the Rosetta Stone and one of the world’s biggest collections of mummies all for free. And that is just some of the 80,000 objects on display in the museum at any given time.
Alongside this museum and other renowned collections are over 250 art galleries. Although some require an appointment and/or have limited opening hours, most are open to the public and free to visit. From the classical to the contemporary, all forms of art imaginable can be seen in London. Work from famous artists from Da Vinci to Damien Hirst can be seen in the city, alongside thousands of other world-famous works and the famous works of the future.
Aside from these world famous establishments, there is an almost unbelievable number of minor museums in London covering a very diverse range of subjects. Although the big museums and galleries like the V&A, Tate and British Museum are not to be missed, many of London’s quirkier or lesser known museums are well worth your time.
From the handheld fan to Sigmund Freud, many subjects have surprisingly fascinating museums all of their own, with Greenwich’s Fan Museum and the Freud Museum in Hampstead just two of the many exhibition spaces that fit that description.
Dental equipment, Sherlock Holmes, gardening …all three of these things have museums dedicated to them in the capital, their sites sitting alongside the museums and galleries you might expect in a big city, like the Natural History Museum or Museum of London. And with so many of them free, there really is no excuse but to explore them whilst in London.
Despite a reputation as ‘the Big Smoke’, a sprawling urban metropolis of concrete, and London is surprisingly green. In fact, London is 47% green space, spread out amongst some of Europe’s most beautiful parks.
Most of the biggest began as royal estates and/or hunting grounds, and are still owned by the Crown. These so-called ‘Royal Parks’ cover 5,000 acres, and are all free to enter at any time. There are eight Royal Parks, which are:
Of these, Richmond Park is by far the largest, at more than double the size of even the second biggest park in London, Wimbledon Common. Slightly out of Central London, its 955 hectares are the perfect place for a day trip. As well as great cycling routes, it is famous for its deer population. Richmond Park has been home to a herd of 600 deer since around the 16th Century, and as long as you keep a respectful distance (the recommendation is 50 metres) from them you are welcome to wander amongst them.
Perhaps most famous of the parks is Hyde Park and the Kensington Gardens that back onto them. Although they feature less to catch the eye than many of London’s parks, their large expanses and central location makes them a popular picnic spot for tourists visiting popular nearby attractions like the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum.
In fact, many of these Royal Parks can be found near major tourist attractions, making them ideal for a spot of lunch or just to get away from the bustle around these venues. St James’ Park, for example, is just off of Buckingham Palace, and features a beautiful garden walkway as well as a family of swans.
Regent’s Park can be found in front of the London Zoo, with visitors from the park being able to see a large part of the south side of the zoo for free from the park, including the giraffes. It also has some of the best formal gardens of all the London parks, enclosed by hedges and bursting to life with flowers and fountains.
Hampstead Heath is another popular choice a little out of the centre. Not a tended park as such, it 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. It also features a famous outdoor swimming pool for those fancying a dip on a hot day — or for braver souls, you can join the Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club.
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.
There are also many parks in London not part of the Royal Parks well worth exploring. Principal among these is Victoria Park in Hackney. Though a fair walk from either Mile End or Homerton stations, it rewards the walk. Featuring a boating lake and a Chinese Pagoda amongst other sights, it is less well known than the other parks and so tends to be quieter, and offers great walks along the lake and the canal.
However, London also offers all sort of other park spaces both small and large worth exploring. Well-known green areas include both Wimbledon and Clapham Common as well as Holland Park, but there are many where the pleasure lies in discovering them out of the blue in an otherwise urban environment.
With nearly 900 of them found in all but three of London’s boroughs, Blue Plaques are among the most familiar features of the capital’s streetscape. The first Blue Plaques were erected to celebrate great figures of the past and the buildings they inhabited, but in the 150 years since the first was put up this has widened to include plaques that commemorate famous events. Visitors to London can now find the homes or workplaces of everyone from Clement Attlee to Emile Zola, and the sites of famous events like the forming of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood or the first broadcast from the BBC.
After the Society of Arts founded the scheme in 1866, the first Blue Plaque (at the birthplace of Lord Byron at Cavendish Square) was put up a year later. Initially, the scheme was designed to mark out notable buildings to save them from demolition, but ironically the site of this first plaque was demolished in 1889. However, around 15 of these early plaques still survive, including ones for military leader Lord Nelson , poet John Keats and French Emperor Napoleon III, whose plaque at 1c King’s Street is the oldest still standing.
Although widely known as ‘Blue Plaques’, it should be noted that it is only since the 1960s that they have been in that color as standard. Some Royal Society of the Arts plaques are blue, but the colors vary, and those put up when the London County Council took over the program in 1901 were brown or a shade of blue-grey very different from the royal blue of today’s plaques.
To confuse matters even further, there are some plaques that are not blue and are not Blue Plaques. The term ‘Blue Plaques’ describes the plaques erected by the Royal Academy or any of the three organizations that took over from them: the London County Council (1901-1965), the Greater London Council (1965-1986) and English Heritage from 1986 onwards. Due to a deal with the Corporation of the City of London, the mile stretch of the City of London itself has its own commemorative notices which are also blue, except for one red Blue Plaque in tribute to author and dictionary-writer Samuel Johnson at his home in Gough Square. Transport for London also has its own plaques that are red.
For those interested in finding London Blue Plaques, they can be found in all boroughs except Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Hillingdon. The most concentrated area for them is the borough of Westminster, which has a third of all Blue Plaques, commemorating figures as diverse as Samuel Pepys and Chopin. However, they can be found as far afield as Croydon to the South and Enfield to the North. Additionally, the selection panel of experts are committed to giving Blue Plaque status to around twelve new buildings every year, meaning the number to discover is ever-growing.
London is a huge city, so all individual listings should be 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. Their website also has major shows listed and there is also an iPhone/iPod app available – though these tend to not be as detailed as the print version.
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.
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:
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, although the cost of living is higher overall.
Almost anything you could possibly want to buy is available in London. Its flagship store, Harrods in Knightsbrige once famously boasted they could source anything you could desire from anywhere in the world – at a price. The largest department store in Europe its motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique – All Things for All People, Everywhere. Harrods once even sold exotic animals to anyone who could pay, including elephants and tigers, though their pet department closed after 90 years in 2014.
London is an enormous city, and many of its suburbs qualify as small cities in themselves with similar concentrations of chain stores to those you would find in the West End. Some Londoners prefer not to shop along Oxford Street and eschew “shopping in town” in favour of local malls. Westfield shopping mall near Shepherd’s Bush, for example is the biggest shopping mall in Europe, with over 300 retail outlets. Because of the city’s comprehensive public transport, getting out to the suburbs is very easy and fast.
In Central London, the main shopping district is the West End (Oxford St, Regent St, Bond St, and Covent Garden). Many West End stores open late on Thursdays, typically until 8 – 9pm.
The archetypal high street and the busiest shopping street in Europe, Oxford Street takes in four tube stations: It stretches from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Rd, via Bond Street and Oxford Circus, which is roughly in the middle. There are around 300 stores on Oxford Street, including major high street department stores like John Lewis, Happy Beds, Marks and Spencer and Selfridges. Set on three floors, Topshop’s flagship Oxford Street branch is billed as Britain’s largest fashion store. Very busy at weekends, Oxford Street is less daunting after the rush hour on weekday mornings.
Several notable shopping streets run off Oxford Street. At the junction of Oxford Circus lies Regent Street, home to Hamley’s, which at seven levels is arguably the largest (and oldest) toy shop in the world. The flagship London Apple Store is also based on Regent Street. Liberty’s, with its Tudor style frontage and famous Art Nouveau printed fabrics is adjacent to Regent Street on Great Marlborough Street. Nearby is Carnaby Street, world famous for its swinging Sixties explosion of fashion. It now houses independent fashion outlets and Kingly Court, a small and pretty piazza, home to cafes and vintage boutique shops.
Bond Street runs from Oxford Street to Piccadilly. Some of the world’s most luxurious designer stores such as Cartier, D&G, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton and Versace are sited here.
Tottenham Court Road runs from Tottenham Court Road tube station on Oxford Street, to Euston Road. The Northern section 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.
Leading off Piccadilly, Burlington Arcade is a Regency passage with a glass roof. With wrought iron lamps and over thirty mahogany fronted shops it sells high-end goods, from fashion and fine fabrics to jewellery. It closes at 5.30pm to the chime of the Burlington Bell. Iconic department store Fortnum and Mason is nearby, famous for its quality goods and afternoon teas.
On the south side of Piccadilly, historic Jermyn Street sells high quality men’s haberdashers and toiletry shops like Turnbull & Asser. Nearby is world famous Saville Row, housing the finest bespoke men’s tailors in London, since its inception in 1803.
Covent Garden is centred around a fashionable neo-classical piazza, designed by Inigo Jones in 1631 and it is home to quirky outlets and trendy designer stores. There is a street market in the piazza and the London Transport Museum gift shop sells souvenirs (old maps, vintage Tube posters). Adjoining streets are filled with vintage, fashion and designer shops. Around Seven Dials chains include Adidas Originals, All Saints, Carhartt, Fred Perry, G Star Raw and Stussy. Trendy Neal Street is renowned for shoe shopping, and Neal’s Yard Dairy sells healthy, organic food. Monmouth Street is a very fashionable location, with outlets for British fashion designers selling both new and used clothes.
Near to Covent Garden, Charing Cross Road is a book lovers’ haven. New, second-hand, antiquarian and specialist book shops abound, and it also contains the flagship Foyles store, once the largest book shop in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records.
Soho offers alternative music outlets and vintage vinyl. Traditionally known for its sex shops, Soho also has more up high-end market offerings like the flagship store Agent Provocateur, selling provocative designer lingerie
Knightsbridge and Chelsea are up-market shopping areas. Many stores in Kensington and Chelsea close late on Wednesdays, typically from 8 – 9pm. Department stores include the world famous Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Chelsea’s King’s Road is noted for fashion, home wares and trendy children’s goods.
Camden Town is renowned for alternative clothing/shopping, especially popular with teenagers and young adults. On the banks of Regent’s canal, Camden Lock markets sell quirky, affordable new and vintage clothes and artefacts. Forbidden Planet sells unusual ‘geeky’ gifts and Cyberdog fashion store is like shopping in a night club.
Angel, Islington is south east of Camden. It is noted for independent clothes shops from luxury designer to vintage. Camden Passage is good for vintage buys and also for antique shops. Nearby Upper Street and Essex Street are lined with designer, high street and specialist shops.
Kensington High Street is the perfect shopping hangout for kids who aren’t particularly bothered about the price tag. The clothes stores target fashion-savvy young adults with an eye for edgy, designer clothes. Nearby Kensington Church Street is a mecca of high-end antique shops.
Borough (tube: London Bridge)  is a great (if expensive) food market, offering fruit, veg, cheese, bread, meat, fish, and so on, much of it organic. Th-Sa (best to go in the morning, since it gets unpleasantly crowded by around 11:00).
Old Spitalfields Market  is an excellent market for clothes from up-and-coming designers, records, housewares, food, and all things trendy, it was once the London fruit markets. Find it at 65 Brushfield St London E1 6AA (Straight down Bell Lane past 66-68 and keep walking). 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. Also checkout Brick Lane, Greenwich and Portobello, .
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 extra half an hour as closing hours are not always strictly respected.
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:
Prices inevitably become inflated at venues closest to major tourist attractions – beware the so-called tourist traps. The worst tourist trap food is, 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 to the main train stations). Londoners wouldn’t dream of eating here – you shouldn’t either! Notorious areas for inflated menu prices trading on travellers’ 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 within the touristy areas of London are usually a generic and basic choice for food although there are some brilliant ‘gastro-pubs’ hidden away – use the internet or a good guide (such as Time Out or Londonist) 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 give 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. Another good (and cheap) lunch option is a chicken or lamb doner kebab (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 ‘liquour’ gravy, it tastes a lot better then 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. For cheap, quality fish and chips frequented by many black cab drivers, try Super Fish near Waterloo station.
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 and 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.
Many Londoners, especially in the evenings, eat out in their local neighborhood or a nearby restaurant hub, rather than eating in central London. The reasons are simple; the the quality of the food will be better, the quality of the service is better, and the cost is significantly lower. Generally in zones 2-6 you will get a much more pleasant, better value, and less crowded eating experience than you will find in the West End. The suburbs are home to many independent restaurants that keep standards high in order to attach repeat custom. Even the chain restaurants tend to be better outside zone 1 serving identical menus to their West End outlets but without tourist premiums being added to the prices.
Restaurant streets are best visited in the evenings as many places are closed or very quiet during the day.
European / British Cuisine
East Asian, South Asian, Middle-Eastern, Caribbean, and other
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:
Other nationalities are equally represented and randomly dotted all over London.
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 has spicy peri peri style grilled chicken.
London has plenty of vegetarian-only 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 afeild 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 Sts in Soho and Islington High Street.
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 Hillalong with some central delis such as on Charing Cross Road. There is also Hare Khrisna vegan resturant just off Charing X in Soho Square.
Convenience stores and supermarkets
Convenience stores such as Tesco Metro, Sainsbury Central/Local, Budgens, Costcutter, SPAR, Cooperative as well as privately-run ‘corner shops’ sell pre-made sandwiches, snacks, alcohol, cigarettes, drinks etc. Most are open from 05:00-23:00 (5 AM-11 PM) 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 (11 PM). 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 23:00/11 PM) the store will be locked and you should order and pay through the external service window.
Full-size superstores such as Tesco, Asda and Morrisons are rare in the city centre and usually require a 15-20 min tube ride to reach them. One of the closest is the ASDA store close to Crossharbour DLR Station on the Lewisham line – about 15-minute ride from Bank Station or at the end of the 135 24-hour bus line. There is also a 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. If you plan on buying lots of groceries it’s worth the trip as prices are much lower than in any downtown supermarkets.
Types of Cuisines
As a truly cosmopolitan city, most of the world’s cuisines cuisines can be found in London. Food available varies from British institutions like fish and chips to classic cuisines like Italian or Chinese, all the way to fare from countries like Mongolia or Ethiopia.
Some areas of London have become identified with certain cuisines, and most major fares have a specific place where there are heavy concentrations of that cuisine:
For centuries, pie and mash was the epitome of London fare. Though most of London’s pie shops have sadly been lost, a few remain. These are mostly found in the outer reaches of London, and include M Manze in Peckham and Sutton (the oldest in London), Cockneys Pie and Mash in Ladbroke Grove, and Arments in Walworth, which also serves that strange London delicacy, the jellied eel.
For tourists looking for a full taste of the best that British cuisine has to offer, Heston Blumenthal’s ‘Dinner’ in Knightsbridge is a must-visit destination. Blumenthal is perhaps Britain’s most celebrated chef, and this second restaurant of his will show you why.
Chinese and East Asian
The major centre for Chinese cooking in London can be found in Chinatown, an area behind Leicester Square. Although smaller than the Chinatowns in other major cities, there are still around fifty restaurants on Chinatown’s main street (Gerrard Street), with many more on the streets around the area.
All budgets and dining preferences are catered to, from cheap pre-theatre buffet restaurants like the multiple Mr Wu’s to extravagant feasts. Particular highlights include Chinatown’s famed dim sum and the dish that gives Crispy Duck restaurant its name, all washed down with a glass of bubble tea from Candy Café.
Outside of Chinatown, Michelin-starred Chinese can be found at Hakkasan in Mayfair, fantastic Thai can be found at Heron on Edgware Road, and a Vietnamtown-of-sorts is located on Kingsland Road close to Hoxton Overground Station.
Find Korean restaurants in St Giles near Tottenham Court Road Station. Japanese restaurants can be a great budget option for the West End.
Indian,Pakistani and Western Asian
Those looking for a curry in the capital have to make a trip to Brick Lane, which has been ubiquitous with Indian food since a large Bengali population settled there in the mid-20th Century. Whereas the top half of Brick Lane is famed for its two bagel shops, the rest is nearly all curry restaurants. Though the standard is nearly universally low. A much tastier option is Tayyabs, in Whitechapel, a bustling restaurant with great value dishes. Worth the sometimes lengthy wait. Or the nearby Lahore.
For those looking for a slightly more fine dining take on the food of the subcontinent, Dishoom (just off Covent Garden) is well worth a visit. There are also very highly rated (but expensive!) options such as Gymkhana and Benares.
Burgers and American Food
Upmarket and gourmet fast food has been a food trend in London for a few years, with many restaurants specializing in burgers, hot dogs and another American staples.
Although London food fans differ widely when it comes to choosing their favorites, two to try are Kentish Town’s Dirty Burger and any of The Diner chain. The former can be found in what is essentially a shack in a car park, but their burgers are some of the capital’s best. For a wider variety of stateside fare, The Diner (in Camden, Bloomsbury, Camden or at Spitalfields Market) is a popular choice, offering well made blue plate classics inspired by US diner food.
Pizza and Italian
Though London’s Little Italy (in Clerkenwell) is fairly small, the city caters well to those looking for Italian.
Visitors are advised to choose the smaller trattorias if they are looking for the best pizzas and pasta in the city. The quality of these is generally high, but Goodge Street’s Mondellos is a particular favorite for those looking for authentic and reasonably priced Italian food. For high dining Italian, the one Michellin-starred Locanda Locatelli in Marylebone and River Cafe in Hammersmith are notable.
London is home to a great many pubs, bars and nightclubs. The online city guide View London  and the weekly magazine Time Out  can inform you of what’s going in London’s night life, as well as with 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 – but it takes some determination. If you’re looking to save money and meet travellers then pub crawls are guided tours that run nightly in 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. Two operators “1 Big Night Out” and “Camden Pub Crawl” operate nightly in Leicester Square and Camden town respectively.
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. However since both pubs have been taken over by a new company drinks have become noticeably more expensive. 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).
Two important endemic London breweries are Young’s and 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 on the South Bank is one of the brewery’s most well known establishments. 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 Cittie of Yorke (22 High Holborn, WC1V 6BN Tel +44 20 7242-7670) 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 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, 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.
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.
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, whilst Vauxhall has also grown significantly in the last decade – with a generally more seedier and fetish-oriented selection of bars and clubs compared to those of Soho. You will find that many areas, particularly in Camden Townand Shoreditch, that straight bars will have a mixed clientele.
To find out what is going on during your visit, you can check:
Pride is held every year in June with parade and street parties. The choice of places to go sometimes seem to be unmanageable.
London has a wide range of accommodation to suit all tastes from hostels through historic bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), mainstream chain hotels and apartments all the way to some of the most famous and exclusive luxury hotels in the world such as The Savoy, The Ritz and Claridges. Hotel rates in London are notoriously expensive, and considerably higher than the UK (and indeed, European) average. Prices invariably become even more inflated close to major sporting tournaments (such as the London Marathon, Wimbledon or major England football/rugby fixtures), or other important events (such as Royal ceremonies) taking place in the city – so it pays to plan your trip around such occasions or book your accommodation well in advance.
Most people want to base themselves within the central area of London (Zones 1 and 2 of the Underground) – but this is also by far the most expensive part of the city to stay in, with even the traditional “budget” hotel chains like Premier Inn or Travelodge charging a premium in the centre compared to properties located just on the fringes of Zone 2 or in the outer boroughs. Be wary therefore of big-name chain hotels with “London” in their title that look suspiciously cheap – you may find that they are actually in the outer suburbs or even on the outskirts of the city with a commute of nearly an hour into Zone 1. Hotel prices are often linked to their proximity to a Tube or overground railway station with a fast link to the centre of town, so for this reason do your research carefully – sometimes being that extra five minutes away from a station can make the difference in cost and quality and 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.
There are hundreds of London hotels and there is no one particular area that is more desirable or advisable area to stay in. It all depends on whether you need quick access to certain airports or business areas/tourist attractions. Your budget will also have a lot to do with which part of London you stay in. Generally speaking, the rates you can expect to pay are as follows:
£15-£30 per night. This will buy a bunk within a shared dormitory in a hostel within Zone 1 (central London) or possibly a Bed and Breakfast within the outer suburbs. It is also possible to find an advance purchase rate in any of the budget hotel chains (Premier Inn, Travelodge, ibis) at this price, but again you will be basing yourself in at least Zone 3 and probably or further out. Here is information about the different transport zones of London.
£40-£80 per night. Expect to pay this for a small independent 1- or 2- star hotel or guest house in Zone 1 or 2. Remember that London hotel star ratings on most websites are based on the services provided, and not on the cleanliness of rooms, friendliness of service, etc. Rooms at this price range tend to be very small and the quality can admittedly be somewhat hit and miss. Some of these establishments offer excellent value for money, whilst others can be very poor indeed. Always do your research online before booking.
£80-£150 per night. This is the realistic starting point for a room in a 2-3 star mainstream chain hotel within Zone 1 or 2. The aforementioned budget chains tend to average out at the £100 per night mark.
£150-£300 per night. This is the rack rate for a 4-5 star hotel such as a Hilton or Marriott. As with most things, prices can greatly vary.
£400+ per night. This is the going rate for a luxury hotel within the West End or the City, and even the more modest chain hotels have been known to charge this amount during periods of high demand — the Summer Olympics of 2012 was a prime example. Suites in famous luxury hotels such as the Savoy or Claridges can run into £1,000s per night (even tens of thousands!), and are generally aimed at those who don’t have to ask the price.
Many of the big name hotel chains 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 with most hotels being either 4 or 5 star and are therefore priced accordingly.
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.
Should you choose not to stay central, the extra cost of getting around is probably not significant compared to your savings from a cheaper hotel. Always be sure 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 change. 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.
Here is a roundup of options 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. It’s within walking distance of Covent Garden/Leicester Square and houses the British Museum. Cartwright Gardens features a dozen small B&Bs in historic houses. Many budget options are located on Argyle Square (just off the Euston Road). The area becomes a little seedy toward King’s Cross.
Earl’s Court and West Kensington – 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. This area has undergone a lot of change 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. It’s a great choice if you’re arriving in London at Heathrow and a good central area to explore the city.
Westminster – Lots of small B&Bs around the back of Victoria railway station in the Pimlico area.
Also, consider Heathrow Airport and the surrounding area — although it is 15 mi (20km) from the heart of the city, you are spoilt for choice for hotels both in and around the airport boundary, and with the frequent transport links to and from the centre, not too much of a handicap. You can often get into big name chain hotels a lot cheaper than their equivalents in the West End for example, with the obvious advantage of being close to the airport on the days when you are travelling.
A slightly left-field option is to check the Landmark Trust, a building preservation charity that purchases notable old buildings in the UK, renovates and runs them as holiday lettings.
Popular Budget Hotel Chains include Premier Inn, Travelodge, Space Apart Hotel and Britannia Hotels so it is usually worth checking these out first. The standard is of course suited to the budget traveller but rooms are usually clean, comfortable and well maintained. Travelodge in Barking is a good pick. Although you are further from the City Centre you are still on the underground system (Zone 4) and just 35 min from Kings Cross. And if you’re lucky you can get rooms there from £19 per room per night, which might make the extra travel time worth it!
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. The “official” Youth Hostel Association of England and Wales  (YHA) operates five hostels in Central London. Like everything else, you should book online well in advance – the hostels usually fill up on Friday and Saturday nights about 14 days before. A top tip is don’t be put off if there is no availability left online, phone the hostel in question to see if there are still beds available or if there has been a cancellation. Some of the YHA’s properties also offer a limited number of private family rooms – expect to pay around £60 per night.
Keep in mind that for foreign visitors, the YHA hostels will require to see a form of ID (a passport or national identity card) and a valid membership card from a local YHI (Youth Hostelling International)-recognised Youth Hostel association. For British visitors, a valid YHA (SYHA for Scotland) membership card is all that’s required. For all non-YHI members, the YHA will levy a £3 welcome stamp per day.
There are a number of other, independent hostels throughout the city and these 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. London University vacation accommodation providers include; UCL Residences LSEVactions.
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 travelers 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 home-owners take equal precaution to ensure their valuables are safe guarded. Home-owners 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. This new trend also allows them to generate additional income or to cover their rental bills whilst they do so.
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 Interhome and Alpha Holiday Lettings.
London is unfortunately not noted for free public Wi-Fi access – although the number of hotspots is continuing to grow. In general, good places to start looking are coffee shops (usually free with a purchase, typically The Cloud – or otherwise ask the person on the till if they have a local hotspot) and pubs, since many offer free Wi-Fi to boost business.
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. A number of shops around Oxford Street are also beginning to offer free Wi-Fi, handy whilst you wait.
The main mobile networks are EE, Vodafone, Three and O2. However there are a host of MVNOs that use the infrastructure of these networks, these often offer plans tailored towards expat communities and tourist who wish to call abroad, the main players are LycaMobile, Lebara and giffgaff. If staying connected is a priority you may want to compare the data speeds of the networks, OpenSignal provide London coverage maps.
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.
‘Beware when crossing the roads, as cars drive on the left side of the road. Be sure to look BOTH ways before crossing. Tourists often forget to check cars approaching from the right.
Like most big cities, London has a variety of social problems such as begging and street theft (mobile phones/wallets/bags). On the whole however, London is a safe place to visit and explore. It has the oldest police force in the world and is now policed by the Metropolitan Police Service (covering the whole of Greater London) and the City of London Police (covering the City of London district/the Square Mile). Alongside the regular London police forces, there are around 4,000 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) that provide a highly visible presence on the streets and are able to deal with low-level crime. The British Transport Police police London railways including the London Underground system.
Online crime statistic mapping allows residents and visitors to London to see the level of recorded crime for different areas. Not surprisingly, the most populated areas have the highest levels of crime – Westminster has the highest and Camden the second highest. These figures are inflated by opportunist street crime – areas high in tourists, especially in high density shopping areas, like Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road.
Normal precautions for the safe keeping of your personal possessions, as in any other city, are advisable. The Metropolitan Police website gives advice about staying safe while travelling in London . This includes advice about staying safe on the tube, on buses, on trains and in cabs, as well as walking in the city and when using bicycles. In the event of emergencies call 999. You will be directed to the fire, police or ambulance services. For non-emergency concerns, call 101.
The British Transport Police outlines safety advice while travelling here. The website includes such wise (and common sense) advice as keeping wallets/purses secure and in an inside pocket, zipping up bags, carrying them in front of you or tucked under your arm. Don’t overtly display jewellery and money. It also lists online addresses to register property like electrical gadgets and bikes, and where to register lost property.
If you’re planning to go out late at night and are worried about safety, keep to crowded areas such as the West End. There are always plenty of people on the street, even at 4 a.m. When calling for a cab or taxi always use licensed drivers. The traditional London black cab is licensed to pick up travellers on the street, otherwise private hire companies can only pick up customers at an actual address. Bogus ‘private hire’ drivers who offer lifts to pedestrians should never be used – always check the photo ID of your cab driver before you get in. You can also book licensed taxis and minicabs on the Cabwise service, part of Transport for London’s website. Two licensed minicab numbers and one licensed taxi (black cab) number in your area will be sent straight to your mobile phone. This is charged at standard text message rate plus 35p per enquiry.
Don’t forget that British traffic drives on the left side of the road – this is particularly important when crossing the street. Also stand behind the yellow line at tube stations, or ‘Mind the Gap’.
Some parts of London are perceived to be more dangerous. In terms of crime statistics, Westminster|Westminster has the highest rate of crime, yet it includes some of the most desirable/expensive areas like Knightsbridge and Chelsea. According to Metropolitan Police Commander Makhdum Chishty ‘absolutely nowhere in London should be avoided’. He advises that London is one of the safest major cities in the world and that crime continues to fall. Overall crime in Westminster is down by 16.4%.
The Metropolitan Police site gives safety advice for tourists in London. It includes a section on Soho, advising that ‘although few in number’ some Soho bars which advertise sex shows are best avoided – hostesses serve drinks for very high prices and you can find yourself with a bill for the hostess too. People offering sexual services for money in Soho may ask for money first and give you a fictitious address to join them – they will disappear with your money.
While muggings are rare in London, they can happen. Always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you find yourself on a lightly travelled or poorly lit area. Scotland Yard advises that you ‘walk purposefully’ towards your destination to deter unwelcome attention.
Throughout London there are various degrees of drunken behaviour, particularly at weekends. It is best to simply ignore them and walk away from those concerned. Trouble spots can sometimes arise round popular drinking locations such as Soho.
There are various scams in London aimed particularly at tourists. When using a cash withdrawal machine, be wary of people offering to help you – they may lean in and memorise your pin number, pick your pocket or even snatch the cash.
One scam involves distraction. Conmen will stage shows, for example magic tricks while their accomplice(s) pick your pockets, or the shows will involve you betting money on various outcomes (whether a pea is under a certain cup for example).
Another scam is fake auctions – electrical gadgets or (fake) designer goods are auctioned off at knock down prices in busy shopping areas like Tottenham Court Road. The tourist will be bidding against the accomplice(s) of the ‘auctioneer’ for inferior goods. If you are approached by unlicensed sellers of ‘designer’ goods on the street, it’s a scam.
Never buy tickets for London tours from sellers who are not attached to any tour or bus. When asked for directions be sure you are not being distracted so an accomplice can pick your pocket or bag.
Don’t take illegal minicabs (see Get around for details).
Travelling on lower deck of a night bus is generally safer, as there are more passengers around, and you are visible by 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. Elsewhere, you should report your crime as normal to the Metropolitan Police. Non-emergency calls to the police should be made on 101.
The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) will provide emergency treatment for anyone in the UK, irrespective of whether they reside in the UK. In a medical emergency, dial 999 or 112 and ask for ambulance service. These numbers are free of charge from any telephone. For advice on non-emergency medical problems, you can ring the 24 hour NHS Direct service on 0845 4647 or ring NHS 111.
Emergencies can be dealt with under the NHS system at any hospital with an A & E (Accident & Emergency) department. At A & E departments, be prepared to wait for up to 2-3 hours during busy periods before being given treatment if your medical complaint is not too serious.
Major A & E hospitals in London are:
For advice on minor ailments and non-prescription drugs, consult a high street pharmacist.
London is also home to some of the most renowned (and most expensive) private medical treatment facilities. Most notable of all are probably the host of private consultants and surgeons on Harley St in Marylebone.
Embassies and High Commissions