Central London encompasses most of the city’s main attractions, theatres and restaurants, and most places within this area are in walking distance of each other. The River Thames divides the city into northern and southern halves, with Central London loosely described as being within the loop of the Underground’s Circle Line to the north bank of the river. London’s public transport is organized into zones, central London being Zone 1 with the zone numbers rising as you move out from the centre. The city is also divided into boroughs which are individually run by councils. There are 32 London boroughs plus the City of London.
Every area of London has something different to offer, whether it is attractions, open space, cuisine, nightlife or simply atmosphere. West London is renowned for its plush and expensive areas such as Kensington and Belgravia. It is the home of many major attractions, from the Royal Albert Hall to Kew gardens, and has excellent shops and beautiful architecture. North London contains appealing inner-city suburbs like Islington and Camden Town and has a lively social scene. East London is an area of great diversity, from the Bengali-influenced Brick Lane, to trendy Shoreditch and the modern Docklands area encompassing Canary Wharf. South London has a vibrant multi-cultural atmosphere that incorporates many attractions and venues including the South Bank centre, the lively international street markets of Brixton and Deptford, hip and happening Clapham and sedate Blackheath.
The "City of London" is the central business district. It is only one square mile in area and contains the Bank of England, The Stock Exchange, the finance companies and the international banks.
Adjacent, and to the west of the City of London, is the City of Westminster. Here, most major tourist attractions are located, including the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the "West End" - where sophisticated shops and night life are to be found.
London also has some of the finest museums in Europe including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and The Science Museum, all of which are to the south of Hyde Park and within easy walking distance of each other. For art lovers, the Tate Britain houses the national art collection with works from the 16 th century up to the present date.
Other famous attractions include the British Airways London Eye, which offers incredible views over the River Thames and London City center. Madame Tussaud’s is the famous wax-works museum featuring wax models of many of the world's famous personalities. If you are traveling with children, you may want to visit to the London Aquarium and the Zoo.
A more relaxing way to see the city is to take a River Thames Cruise which takes in Greenwich and the famous Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge, close to the Tower of London.
The best chance of good weather is during the summer. However, it is also the period when you can expect the biggest crowds. The climate in London is mild, due to the warming effects of the city itself, so it is never really cold, even in the harshest of winters. Snow and temperatures below freezing are unusual so in the case of unexpected heavy snowfall, London is caught off-guard and public transport services may run slower than usual. In the summer months temperatures average 18°C, and can climb even higher, so the city can become unbearably hot. Air-conditioning is not commonplace and the tube can get really stuffy. Rainfall is unpredictable, and it is wise, even in summer, to have a fold-up umbrella at hand.
January average temperature 3 deg Celsius, 79 mm rainfall February average temperature 4 deg Celsius, 51 mm rainfall March average temperature 6 deg Celsius, 61 mm rainfall April average temperature 8 deg Celsius, 53 mm rainfall May average temperature 11 deg Celsius, 56 mm rainfall June average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 56 mm rainfall July average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 46 mm rainfall August average temperature 16 deg Celsius, 56 mm rainfall September average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 69 mm rainfall October average temperature 11 deg Celsius, 74 mm rainfall November average temperature 7 deg Celsius, 76 mm rainfall December average temperature 4 deg Celsius, 79 mm rainfall
London is one of the world’s major airport hubs and as such, it is one of the cheapest destinations when it comes to airfares.
If you are planning your visit from continental Europe you can choose from a number of discount airlines flying to non-major airports, such as Stansted or Luton.
London Heathrow - The easiest way to reach the center of London is by the Heathrow Express train which runs every 15 minutes into Paddington, the main station. From here, you can take the Underground (also called the Tube) to the station closest to your hotel, or take a taxi ride. The cost of the Heathrow Express is 12 pounds single and 22 pounds return. The journey takes 15 minutes to terminals 1, 2 and 3 and 8 minutes more to terminal 4. The service operates 7 days a week approximately from 5:10 am to 11:40 pm from Paddington and from 5:07 am to 11:33 pm from Heathrow.
London Gatwick- There is a train service to Victoria station. It takes 30 minutes to South Terminal, which then has easy access to the North Terminal. It departs every 15 minutes from Victoria Station from approximately 5:00 am to 1:00 am and from Gatwick from 5:50 am to 12:50 am. There is also an hourly service throughout the night. The cost is £10.50 single and £20 return.
Stansted - The Stansted Express train service departs every 15 minutes to and from Liverpool Street Station. It runs from Liverpool Street Station from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm and from Stansted from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday. The journey takes 42 minutes and costs £13 for a single journey and £21 pounds for a return ticket. Stansted Airport railway station is just 2 minutes from the check-in desks.
Luton Airport - There is a regular bus service operating into central London. It is the Luton and District 757 Greenline service. It departs every hour as a rule and sometimes more regularly in peak hours. Buses operate Monday to Friday from early in the morning until midnight. The journey is around 1 hour 30 minutes. Adult fare is approximately £7.
The London Underground serves the whole of London and it is cheap and regular. Remember that day passes are a good way to save money and time. There is also a regular bus system and it can be fun to ride one of London's famous double-decker red buses.
Some double-deckers are used by tour companies that offer a day pass that allows you to hop on and off as many times as you please within a 24 hour period. These buses have live tour guides and recorded guides in many languages.
London 's Black Taxi Cabs are metered so there is no need to agree on a price before you start your journey, although you may want to check the price as the cost soon mounts up.
You can go for a scenic ride on a boat on London’s river Thames and enjoy a unique sight-seeing tour. You can buy a combination ticket for the double-decker tour bus and boat for a comprehensive look at the city.
CHILL OUT IN THE PARK
London is also known for its numerous parks – perfect places for a relaxing stroll or a game of football among friends. Or you can simply sit down on the grass, catch some sunshine and relax.
Overlooking the Thames, The Houses of Parliament are the city's most famous and photogenic sight, along with the Clock Tower, which everyone calls Big Ben on the corner and Westminster Abbey across Parliament Square.
Address: Buckingham Palace Rd., London SW1, England Phone: 020/7766-7730 Website: www.royal.gov.uk Admission: Adult £13.50, Students and Senior Citizens £11.50, Child £7.00, Under 5 free Opening hours: early August - early October, daily 9:30 am - 6:30 pm, last admission 4:15 pm; confirm dates as they are subject to the Queen's mandate. Access: Tube (station: Victoria, St. James's Park)
Buckingham Palace is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II and has been opened to visitors for the last few summers. Visitors are permitted access to the State Rooms which are still used by the Royal family to receive and entertain guests on state and ceremonial occasions. The rooms are lavishly decorated and include paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto, Sévres porcelain and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world.
During the summer, the Changing of the Guard takes place at the front of the Palace and is a popular event for visitors to the capital from the beginning of April to early July and on alternate days at other times.
Changing of the Guard: April - July, daily 11:30 am. August - March (alternating days only) 11:30 am.
TOWER OF LONDON
Address: Tower Hill Web: www.hrp.org.uk Open: November – February: Tuesday - Saturday 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, Sunday - Monday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. March – October: Tuesday - Saturday 9:00 am - 6:00 pm, Sunday - Monday 10:00 am - 6:00 pm. Access: Tube (station: Tower Hill) Admission: Adult: £13.50 Students and Senior Citizens £10.50 Child: £9 Under 5: free
The Tower of London was used as a prison, palace and place of execution, arsenal, mint and menagerie since its construction following the Norman Conquest of 1066. Today it is one of the most famous structures in the world and hosts a range of exhibitions and re-enactments which celebrate and represent some of the most spectacular aspects of its gory and glorious past.
TATE MODERN GALLERY
Address: Bankside Web: www.tate.org.uk Open: Sun - Thur 10:00 am - 6:00 pm; Fri, Sat: 10:00 am - 10:00 pm. Access: Tube (Southwark or Blackfriars stations) Admission: Free for permanent collection
The gallery is hugely popular. It contains Britain’s collection of international 20 th century and modern art. The gallery displays works by Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, Pollock, Rothko, Warhol and many more. Works are arranged thematically, and not chronologically or by artist.
Access: Tube (Knightsbridge station)
Sunday's Speakers' Corner in the park near Marble Arch is a must-see spectacle of fierce, sometimes comical, and always entertaining orators. From June to August, Hyde Park is home to the Royal Parks Summer Festival with live jazz evenings, opera, and plays all over the park.
Address: Thames South Bank Web: www.ba-londoneye.com Access: Tube (Westminster, Waterloo or Embankment stations) Open: daily, Oct - May: 10:00 am - 8:00 pm, June and Sept 10:00 am - 9:00 pm, July and Aug 10:00 am - 9:30 pm
Take a ride on the world's biggest observation wheel, standing at 450 ft (135 meters) tall; it overlooks the Thames next to County Hall. The wheel was sponsored by British Airways and was built to mark the turn of the millennium.
London has a fantastic selection of restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets with all international cuisine on offer. In the last couple of years it has become one of the premier culinary cities of Europe, with many new restaurants opening. Much of the best food borrows flavors and ingredients from around the world.
Dining out is expensive but keep in mind that menu prices always include 17.5% VAT (value-added tax). It's a good idea to reserve a table at all restaurants, with the exception of the most humble ones.
You should keep in mind that most restaurants open for very specific lunch and dinner hours. Lunch is generally served noon – 3:00 pm, while 7:00 pm-11:30 pm is typical for dinner.
If you are looking for cheap eats, the axis that runs along the south side of Leicester Square (Irving St and Panton Street) is the place. Restaurants like the Stockpot or the West End Kitchen serve cheap but good and filling food. This is the kind of fare a typical English family might eat at home (Lancashire Hotpot, Shepherd's Pie, Fish and Chips etc).
Here, the classic combination of sausages and mash is taken to new levels. There is a great variety of sausages and many variations of creamy mounds of mash and even a choice of gravies.
And remember, you haven’t been to Great Britain if you haven’t tried a plate of the famous Fish and Chips!
Rock & Sole Plaice
Address: 47 Endell St , near Covent Garden, London, UK - England WC2 · Phone: 20-7836-3785 Open: Monday - Saturday 11:00 am - 10:30 pm, Sunday noon – 9:00 pm. Access: Tube (Covent Garden station)
The place has a great location and is known for good, inexpensive food. Chips here are fantastic – large and crisp without being oily – and fish is fresh and thickly battered. You can choose from a number of beers and some unusual wines too. Average price for main course is around £4.
Stylish, huge and very popular with the locals of Chinatown - on weekends it’s completely packed. The house specialties are dumplings and dim sum, with dishes from a wide variety of regions and even some Thai items. Service is fast and friendly, and the waiters are helpful if you seek advice from them. The larger main courses from the menu are authentic and well-prepared, but it is the sampling menu that definitely draws the large and happy crowds to this place. Booking is advised.
Location: Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill, and Westbourne Grove, W10 5QZ Date: Running on Sunday August 27, 2006 and Monday 28, 2006 Hours: noon - 6:00 pm Admission: Free Access: Tube - Westbourne Park Underground
Over a million people flock every year to the streets of Notting Hill, Europe's biggest street festival, with Caribbean bands, extravagant costumes and floats, and exuberant dancers.
CHINESE NEW YEAR
Date: usually in January or February location: Chinatown, Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square Hours: 11:00 pm- 5:30 pm Admission: Free Access: Tube - Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus.
Chinese New Year in London is one of the most spectacular in the West, with huge dancing puppets, martial arts displays and an abundance of incredible food.
The Queen rides out on Horse Guards Parade, with the Household Cavalry in red tunics and bearskin hats. Trooping the Colour takes place on the Saturday closest to June 10th from 10:40 am when the Queen leaves Buckingham Palace to her arrival at Horse Guards at 11:00 am. At 12:50 pm a gun salute is fired from Green Park. Tube: Westminster and Charing Cross Tubes Admission: £ 16.00 per ticket.
The Changing of the Guard ceremony is one of the oldest and best known royal ceremonies. It takes place at Buckingham Palace every day at 11:30 am (alternate days in winter). The Guards wear their traditional uniforms with bearskins and the ceremnoy is accompanied by a band from one of the regiments playong traditionalmilitary marches.
Location: All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club Date: June, July Website: www.wimbledon.org
In summer you can watch tennis played at Wimbledon - the oldest and, arguably, the most prestigious event in the sport of tennis. Held every June or July, the tournament is the only Grand Slam event played on grass courts and lasts for a fortnight, subject to extensions for rain. Needless to say, tickets are extremely popular and you should plan your visit well ahead.
London is a huge metropolis with a diverse and thriving nightlife. It is world famous for its party vibe. From top clubs to intimate bars and pubs, movies, theaters, and family fun, London has it all.
Soho is a very popular area with numerous trendy bars and hangouts. It is also where you can find most gay bars and clubs. Notting Hill and Portobello Road are very popular districts with a lot going on. Camden, Angel, Clapham and Brixton are also lively nightlife hubs.
The West End has many bars, clubs and restaurants. In addition it is home to London’s so-called ‘Theatreland’. There you can find various Broadway-styled shows and musicals in the Lyceum Theatre or the Queen’s Theatre. Other notable cultural establishments in the area include Covent Garden, home of the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet, and the Albert Hall, not to be missed by all lovers of classical music.
If you are in the mood for a quiet drink, head to one of the numerous traditional English pubs, serving ale, stout, cider and malt whiskeys.
The Romans arrived in 43 AD and established ‘Londinium’ as a permanent military camp. Londinium became an important port and a hub of their road system. By the 4 th century the Roman Empire was failing and in 410 the Romans abandoned the city. The 8 th century saw invasions of Danish Vikings and in 1016 Danish leader Canute became King of all England. London was designated the capital, a position that it has held ever since. The Danish rule ended with the accession of Edward the Confessor who built his palace and abbey at Westminster.
Under William the Conqueror several forts were constructed, including the Tower of London, to prevent rebellions. He confirmed the city’s independence and the right to self-government. Over the next few centuries, there was a continuous struggle with the monarchy for a degree of self-government which culminated with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. London was then granted the right to elect its own Lord Mayor.
In 1348 the city was hit by the bubonic plague - the Black Death - which wiped out half of the capital’s population in two years. During the reign of the Tudor royal family London began to prosper and the population increased dramatically, trebling in size during the course of the century. The 16 th century was marked by the English Reformation, which saw the separation of the English Church from Rome. In the reign of Elizabeth I London witnessed a specifically English Renaissance, especially in the field of literature, which reached its culmination with the works of Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare.
The year 1665 marked another catastrophe, the Great Plague which claimed 100,000 lives. In 1666, London was hit by The Great Fire when 80% of the city was destroyed and more than 100,000 people were left homeless. The Great Rebuilding followed, which left virtually no traces of medieval city. In the 1720s the volume of trade tripled, London became the world’s largest city with the population approaching one million. Georgian architects covered all traces left of medieval times with new, symmetrical architecture and residential squares.
The 19 th century witnessed the emergence of London as the capital of an empire that stretched across the globe. The city’s population grew from just over one million in 1801 to nearly seven million by 1901. During Queen Victoria’s reign the country’s international reputation reached unprecedented heights. The spirit of the era is reflected in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park built for the 1851 Great Exhibition. This prosperity did not reach the whole of the population, however, and while half of London enjoyed the fruits of the richest industrialized nation in the world, the other half struggled to make ends meet,
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
During World War I London experienced its first aerial attacks. After the ‘Swinging Twenties’, the economy crumbled after the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929. When World War II broke out, London was largely unprepared for the German bombing campaign, known as the Blitz, which continued for 57 consecutive nights and completely destroyed huge portions of the centre and East End. After the war, many Londoners abandoned the city for good, starting a population decline that has continued. The subsequent labor shortage problem was solved as immigration increased from the former colonies, in particular the Indian subcontinent and the West Indies. During the so-called ‘Swinging Sixties’, fashion hit London in a big way, and London was proclaimed the hippest city on the planet. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher won the general election for the Conservative Party, which was to remain in power for 17 years.
At the turn of the 21 st century, London hosted the Millennium Dome at Greenwich, to mark the new century. Another millennium project was building the largest observation wheel in the world, the "Millennium Wheel" or the London Eye, which was erected as a temporary structure, but soon became a fixture, and draws four million visitors a year. The National Lottery also released a flood of funds for major enhancements to existing attractions, for example the roofing of the Great Court at the British Museum. On July 6, 2005 London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics.
Considering its size and the great differences in wealth, London is a remarkably safe city; it has a surprisingly low percentage of severe crime. However, you should beware of pick-pockets, who operate in crowded public places such as the Underground and major tourist attractions. Hold on tightly to purses, do not put wallets in back pockets, and do not place handbags or cameras on the floor in busy restaurants.
At night it is safer to use a bus or taxi, rather than the Underground - the so-called ‘Tube Gangs’ of professional thieves target the tube; so it is recommended not to stand near the doors on crowded trains.
A major London hazard remains its traffic. Remember to look right before crossing its highly congested roads, and don't expect mercy from couriers or taxi drivers.
In a genuine emergency, dial 999 from any telephone (no money required).
You should report routine thefts to a police station. An address can be found under ‘Police’ in a telephone directory.
The threat of terrorism has led to an increase in police patrols, so do not hesitate to report any suspicious packages to the police.
London is a tourist center throughout the year - few attractions are closed or have significantly reduced opening hours during the winter. Best chances for good weather are in July and August. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee of sun even in those months. In summer you should expect the biggest crowds and highest prices.
London in summer, though full of visitors, also offers plenty of interesting things to see and do. Be warned, however, that air-conditioning is rarely found in places other than department stores, modern restaurants, hotels, and cinemas, and in a hot summer London can become unbearably hot. Winters can be a bit depressing as it is usually wet and cold most of the time, but all the theaters, concerts, and exhibitions proceed at full speed.
The British prefer to be introduced to strangers, if possible. There is little or no body contact – when greeting someone a handshake is accompanied with ‘Pleased to meet you’. The British are reserved and private people. Avoid asking personal questions or staring at people. Also, eye contact is not usually kept during a conversation as too much of it is considered an invasion of privacy, especially when you don’t know the person well. Politeness is highly valued and will be met with great kindness. Personal space is very important. One should maintain wide personal space while talking to someone.
Queuing (waiting in line) is very much respected and present everywhere. Always go to the back of the line and wait your turn. This also applies to waiting for the bus, train or taxi.
Always be punctual, it is better to arrive a few minutes early just to be on the safe side.
Tipping: Standard tipping of 10 to 15% applies for similar services as in the USA.