Difference between revisions of "London"
Revision as of 16:53, 13 June 2013
Noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is a megalopolis of people, ideas and frenetic energy. The capital and largest city of both the United Kingdom and of England, 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 — although the figure of 14 million for the city's metropolitan area more accurately reflects its size and importance. Considered one of two of the world's leading "global cities", London remains an international capital of culture, music, education, fashion, politics, finance and trade.
The name London originally referred only to the once-walled "Square Mile" of the original Roman (and later medieval) city (confusingly called the "City of London" or just "The City"). Today, London has taken on a much larger meaning to include all of the vast central parts of the modern metropolis, with the city having absorbed numerous surrounding towns and villages over the centuries, including large portions of the surrounding "home counties", one of which - Middlesex - being completely consumed by the growing metropolis. The term Greater London embraces Central London together with all the outlying suburbs that lie in one continuous urban sprawl within the lower Thames valley. Though densely populated by New World standards, London retains large swathes of green parkland and open space, even within the city centre.
Greater London 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:
Settlement has existed on the site of London since well before Roman times, with evidence of Bronze Age and Celtic settlement. The Roman city of Londinium, established just after the Roman conquest of Britannia in the year 43, formed the basis for the modern city (some isolated Roman period remains are still to be seen within the City). After the end of Roman rule in 410 and a short-lived decline, London experienced a gradual revival under the Anglo-Saxons, as well as the Norsemen, and emerged as a great medieval trading city, and eventually replaced Winchester as the royal capital of England. This paramount status for London was confirmed when William the Conqueror, a Norman, built the Tower of London after the conquest in 1066 and was crowned King of England in Westminster.
London went from strength to strength and with the rise of England to first European then global prominence and the city became a great centre of culture, government and industry. London's long association with the theatre, for example, can be traced back to the English renaissance (witness the Rose Theatre and great playwrights like Shakespeare who made London their home). With the rise of Britain to supreme maritime power in the 18th and 19th centuries and the possessor of the largest global empire, London became an imperial capital and drew people and influences from around the world to become, for many years, the largest city in the world.
The Royal families over the previous centuries, added much to the London scene for today's traveller: the Albert Memorial, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Royal Albert Hall, Tower of London, Kew Palace and Westminster Abbey being prominent examples.
Despite the inevitable decline of the British Empire, and considerable suffering during World War II (when London was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe in the Blitz), the city is still a top-ranked world city: a global centre of culture, finance, and learning. Today London is easily the largest city in the United Kingdom, eight times larger than the second largest, Birmingham, and ten times larger than the third, Glasgow, and dominates the economic, political and social life of the nation. It is full of excellent bars, galleries, museums, parks and theatres. It is also the most culturally and ethnically diverse part of the country, making it a great multicultural city to visit. Samuel Johnson famously said, "when one is tired of London, one is tired of life." Whether you are interested in ancient history, modern art, opera or underground raves, London has it all.
The City and Westminster
If you ask a Londoner where the centre of London is, you are likely to get a wry smile. This is because historically London was two cities: a commercial city and a separate government capital.
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 (St Pauls), a semi-independent City government, a port and a bridge across which all trade was routed so Londoners could make money (London Bridge).
About an hour upstream (on foot or by boat) around a bend in the river was the government capital (Westminster). This had a church for crowning the monarch (Westminster Abbey) and palaces. As each palace was replaced by a larger one, the previous one was used for government, first the Palace of Westminster (better known as the Houses of Parliament), then Whitehall, then Buckingham Palace. The two were linked by a road called The "Strand", old English for riverbank.
London grew both west and east. The land to the west of the City (part of the parish of Westminster) was prime farming land (Covent Garden and Soho for example) and made good building land. The land to the east was flat, marshy and cheap, good for cheap housing and industry, and later for docks. Also the wind blows 3 days out of 4 from west to east, and the Thames (into which the sewage went) flows from west to east. So the West End was up-wind and up-market, the East End was where people worked for a living.
Modern-day London in these terms is a two-centre city, with the area in between known confusingly as the West End.
Despite a perhaps unfair reputation for being unsettled, London enjoys a dry and mild climate on average. Only one in three days on average will bring rain and often only for a short period. In some years such as 2010 there is no rain for several weeks.
Winter in London is mild compared to nearby continental European cities, due to both the presence of the Gulf Stream and urban heat effect. Average daily maximum is 8°C (46°F) in December and January. Snow does occur, usually a few times a year but rarely heavy (a few years being exceptions such as the winters of 2009 and 2010, with temperatures dipping down to sub-zeros regularly). Snow in London can be crippling, as seen at the end of 2010. Just 7 cm (3 in) of snow will cause trains to stop running, airports to see significant delays, and mail service will halt. London is a city which does not cope well with snow; walkways, stairs, and streets will not be cleared by shovels or ploughs. The streets will be salted/gritted, but will remain slick and snow/slush covered until the sun melts it away. Daylight hours are short with darkness filling up the sky by 4pm in December.
Summer is perhaps the best season for tourists as it has long daylight hours as well as mild temperatures. The average daily high temperatures in July and August are around 24°C (75°F) The highest temperature since 2000 was recorded once in August at 38°C (100°F). This means London can feel hot and humid for several days in the summer months. Also, because of urban heat effect, during night time it could feel muggy.
Regardless of which time of the year, the weather in London could change quickly from sunny to rain and from hot to cold.
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: M-Sa 09.30-17.30, Su 10:00-16:00, closed on 25/26 Dec.
There is also a tourist information centre in Greenwich, near the Cutty Sark, in the same building as Discover Greenwich.
Due to London's huge global city status it is the most served destination in the world when it comes to flights.
London (all airports code: LON) is served by a total of five airports. Travelling between the city and the airports is made relatively easy by the large number of public transport links that have been put in place over recent years. However, if transiting through London, be sure to check the arrival and departure airports carefully as transfers across the city may be quite time consuming. In addition to London's five official airports (of which only two are located within Greater London), there are a number of other regional UK airports conveniently accessible from London. Since they offer a growing number of budget flights, choosing those airports can be cheaper (or even faster, depending on where in London your destination is).
For transfers directly between London's airports, the fastest way (short of a taxi) is the direct inter-airport bus service by National Express . Buses between Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton run at least hourly, with Heathrow-Gatwick services taking 65 min (£18) and Heathrow-Stansted services 90 min (£20.50) (note that services between Stansted and Luton run only every two hours). However, it's essential to allow leeway, as London's expressways, 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, ICAO: EGLL) 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. Currently, four of its five terminals are operational - T2 is closed until 2014 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 occupy all of Terminal 5, and have a major presence in Terminals 1 and 3. Flights landing at Heathrow are often delayed by up to an hour as a simple result of air traffic congestion and waiting for parking slots. 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 travelers to check their terminal and gate assignment in advance. Do plan your itinerary to allocate some time needed to get through Heathrow Airport T3, it can be long if you are not holding an EEA passport. A quick summary of transport options (also see Heathrow Airport):
(IATA: LGW, ICAO: EGKK)  London's second airport, also serving a large spectrum of places world-wide. It is the world's busiest single runway airport and is split into a North and South Terminal. The two terminals are linked by a free shuttle train (5 minutes). The train station is located in the South Terminal. To get to the centre of the city, the following options exist:
When departing, note that after passing through security you will find no drinking fountains in the South Terminal departure lounge.
Stansted is very distant from the centre of London at Charing Cross - almost 38 mi (60 km) away in Essex and less than 29 mi (47 km) 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 Terravision  and National Express from London Victoria and London Liverpool Street. Terravision costs £9 one way and run roughly every hour throughout the night(although, on the rush hours the qeues for boarding Terravision coaches at the airport may take more then an hour). Be aware that lines are very common at Stansted, security check can easily take an hour. 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 2 hours for non-EU passport holders, especially for Sunday night arrivals.
Transport options into central London:
(ICAO: EGGW, 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 between 0700-0830), it is advisable to leave extra time to check in and clear secudity due to the large number of flights leaving (particularly Wizzair).
London City Airport
(ICAO: EGLC, 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 than 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 is that it is close to central London, with a convenient link on the DLR. Minimum check in times for most airlines is around 30 minutes, with some offering 15 minute check in deadlines. Queues for security can be long at peak business times. 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, ICAO: EGMC) 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.
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 (58 km) 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. There are up to 8 trains an hour, depending on the time of day. The station is c. 200 yd from the terminal building.
Other airports near London
Wikitravel has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.
London is the hub of the British rail network - every major city in mainland Britain has a frequent train service to the capital, and most of the smaller, provincial cities and large towns also have a direct rail connection to London of some sort - although the frequency and quality of service can vary considerably from place to place.
Rail fares to London vary enormously from very cheap to prohibitively expensive - the golden rules are to book Advance tickets for a particular train time, don't travel into the city on Friday afternoons and Sundays, and avoid buying tickets on the day of travel. There are three basic types of ticket, which are summarised below. Note that much of the advice applies to rail travel in general within the United Kingdom.
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. First Capital Connect (frequently referred to as 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:
Comparatively few people will actually drive into (or anywhere near) the centre of London. The infamous M25 ring road did not earn its irreverent nicknames "The Road To Hell" and "Britain's biggest car park" for nothing. The road is heavily congested at most times of the day, and is littered with automatically variable speed limits which are enforced with speed cameras. Despite the controversial "congestion charge", driving a car anywhere near the centre of London remains a nightmare with crowded roads, impatient drivers and extortionate parking charges (that's if you can find a space in the first place, that is!). From Monday through Friday, parking in the City of London is free after 18:30; after 13:30 on Saturday and all day Sunday. For totally free street parking, try the area around Canada Water Underground Station (Zone 2). It's also outside the Congestion Charge Zone. Opposite the huge Decathlon, there's a residential area with no parking limitation. Further along there's also free parking at the massive car park at the cinema area (near the 24 hour Tesco Extra). There are also a number of Pay as you go car rental companies operating around London including WhizzGo  and Car Clubs 
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 traveling 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: tel 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 "charge up" an Oyster card with electronic funds. 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 distance 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 fully refundable if you hand it in at the end of the trip. 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.
You can charge 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. 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 £2.10. Furthermore, a cash bus fare is £2.40 while with Oyster it is £1.40.
The amount of PrePay deducted from your Oyster card in one day is capped at the cost of the appropriate paper day ticket (day Travelcard) for the zones you have travelled through. For zone 1-2 (central London including everywhere inside the Circle line and some places outside) this is £7.00 (£8.80 M-F before 09:30).
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 finish you will be charged extra! This is usually a hefty charge of £7.20. 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.
Oyster also saves time getting onto buses. If you don't have an Oyster, tickets have to be bought at a machine by the bus stop in the central area or from the driver if outside the central zone.
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 daily price cap. Do note the discount applies only during off-peak times.
A Travelcard may be loaded onto an Oyster card or may be purchased as a paper ticket.
The above prices are Adult prices and only for Zones 1 & 2. For a more comprehensive list of the prices visit the TFL website:
1 Day Travelcards 
7 Day, Monthly & Annual Travelcards 
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.
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 Airport Express trains.
London is a surprisingly compact city, making it a walker's delight and often being the quickest method of transport.
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
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 60 km (40 mi) from the centre of the city. In central London, taking The Tube for just one stop can be a waste of time; Londoners joke about the tourists who use the Tube to travel between Leicester Square and Covent Garden stations. 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 01:00. 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.
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). 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. If you pay by Oyster Card, just tap your card against the yellow pad to open the barriers (both upon entrance and exit). If you have a paper ticket, insert it face-up into the slot on the front of the machine, and remove it from the top to enter the station. If you have a single-ticket it will be retained at the exit gate. If you have luggage or if your ticket is rejected there is normally a staffed gate as well. Paper tickets can be purchased from vending machines in the station lobby. There are two types of machine: the older machines that have buttons for different fare levels and accept only coins and the new touchscreen machines that have instructions in multiple languages, offer a greater choice of ticket and accept bills and credit/debit cards (note that if your card has no embedded microchip, you cannot use these machines, you pay at the ticket counter).
Single tickets are charged at a premium (often costing only a little less than a 1-day travelcard) of £4.50 flat fare for journeys within or beyond Zone 1 or £3 for journeys outside of Zone 1. Single Oyster fares are charged by the number of zones crossed, starting at £2.00 for 1 zone up to £5.50 for 6 zones. Paper travel cards valid for 1 day, 3 days or 7 days are also available and can also be used on buses, National Rail trains, the DLR and Croydon Tramlink. They are priced by zones: a 1-day travelcard for Zones 1-2 costs £8.80 (day anytime).
London's iconic red buses are recognized the world over, even if the traditional Routemaster buses, with an open rear platform and on-board conductor to collect fares, have been phased out. These still run on Heritage Route 9 and 15 daily between about 09:30 and 18:30, every 15 minutes. Buses are generally quicker than taking the Tube for short (less than a couple of stops on the Tube) trips, and out of central London you're likely to be closer to a bus stop than a tube station.
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. Yellow signs indicate you must purchase your ticket before you board. You must either have a Pay-as-you-go Oyster card, travelcard season ticket, bus saver ticket, bus pass, or have bought a one way ticket from a machine at the bus stop. These machines don't provide change (all the more reason to use one of the other options). From age 11 and up you must show an Oyster card on buses, yet journeys are free. Student Oysters (only available to students studying in London) go up to age 18 and journeys are still free, failure to show an Oyster means a £2 fare.
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 new 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 00:30-0530. 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.
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 honor-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 Oystercards 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).)
Airport Express Rail services run to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports - tickets are generally sold at a premium and Oystercards not valid.
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 Oystercards. 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 1/2 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 15 minutes at all other times. Beckenham is served by Routes 1 and 2 (yellow and red on the Tramlink map), which terminate at Elmers End and Beckenham Junction respectively. Both services travel around the Loop via West Croydon and run every 10 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 30 minutes at all other times. Between Arena and Sandilands, these two services serve the same stops.
Due to the expense of other forms of transport and the compactness of central London, cycling is a tempting option. Excellent free cycle maps  can be obtained from your local tube stations, bike shop, or ordered online.
London now offers a city-wide 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, all coloured a distinctive bright blue, can be unlocked and ridden around the city with a credit card, and must be returned to another hire station by locking the bike into the rack.
Despite recent improvements, London remains a relatively hostile environment for cyclists. 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.
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 £2.20. Tipping is not mandatory in either taxis or minicabs, despite some drivers' expectations..... Use your discretion, if you like the service you may tip otherwise don't. Londoners will often just round up to the nearest pound.
Taxis are required by law to take you wherever you choose (within Greater London) if their TAXI light is on when you hail them. However some, especially older drivers, dislike leaving the centre of town, or going south of the River Thames. A good way to combat being left at the side of the curb is to open the back door, or even get into the cab, before stating your destination.
Minicabs are normal cars which are licenced hire vehicles that you need to book by phone or at a minicab office. They generally charge a fixed fare for a journey, best agreed before you get in the car. Minicabs are usually cheaper than black cabs, although this is not necessarily the case for short journeys. Licensed minicabs display a Transport For London (TFL) License 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 licenced 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 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 per month).
Londoners who drive will normally take public transport in the centre; follow their example. Unless you have a disability, there is no good reason whatsoever to drive a car in central London.
Car drivers should be aware that driving into central London on weekdays during daylight hours incurs a hefty charge, with very few exemptions (note that rental cars also attract the charge). Cameras and mobile units record and identify the number plates and registration details of all vehicles entering the charging zone with high accuracy. The Central London Congestion Charge  M-F 07:00-18:00 (excluding public holidays) attracts a fee of £8 if paid the same day, or £10 if paid on the next charging day. Numerous payment options exist: by phone, 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 fairly common in London as they can pass stationary cars, can usually be parked for free and are exempt from congestion-charging. Scooters and bikes with automatic transmission are much more preferable - a manually-geared racing bike is completely impractical unless you have excellent clutch-control (although it has to be said you will see plenty of them being ridden aggressively by motorcycle couriers and locals as it can be the fastest way to get around!) Likewise to bicycles, car-drivers 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.
Museums and Galleries
London hosts an outstanding collection of world-class museums. Even better, it is the only one of the traditional "alpha world cities" (London, Tokyo, New York City and Paris) in which the majority of the museums have no entrance charges, thus allowing visitors to make multiple visits with ease. Although London can be expensive, many of the best museums and galleries are free including:
and most museums in Greenwich. Note that admission to many temporary exhibitions is not free.
Aside from these world famous establishments, there is an almost unbelievable number of minor museums in London covering a very diverse range of subjects. The British government lists over 240 genuine museums in the city.
The 'green lungs' of London are the many parks, great and small, scattered throughout the city including Hyde Park, St James Park and Regent's Park. Most of the larger parks have their origins in royal estates and hunting grounds and are still owned by the Crown, despite their public access.
English Heritage runs the Blue Plaques  programme in London. Blue Plaques celebrate great figures of the past and the buildings that they inhabited. These are among the most familiar features of the capital’s streetscape and adorn the façades of buildings across the city. Since the first plaque was erected in 1867, the number has grown steadily and there are now more than 800. Recipients are as diverse as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sigmund Freud, Charles de Gaulle, Jimi Hendrix and Karl Marx. Look out for these around the city.
London is a huge city, so all individual listings 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 still.
Though not particularly known for bargain shopping, nearly anything you could possibly want to buy is available in London. In Central London, the main shopping district is the West End (Bond St, Covent Garden, Oxford St and Regent St). On Thursdays many West End stores close later than normal (19:00-20:00).
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.
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 poor choice for food although there are some brilliant 'gastro-pubs' hidden away - use the internet or a good guide (such as Time Out or Datemojo) to find them. In general avoid all pubs that have graphic-designed and printed menus - it's peoples experiences in these kind of places that gives Britain a bad name for food! Look around you - see any locals tucking in? No? - then you shouldn't either. The other rule to follow when avoiding poor food is the same as in any other part of Europe - is the menu available in multiple languages? If yes then start running!!
In the suburbs, the cost of eating out is reduced drastically. Particularly in large ethnic communities, there is a competitive market which stands to benefit the consumer. In East London for example, the vast number of chicken shops means that a deal for 2 pieces of chicken, chips (fries) and a drink shouldn't cost you more than £3 especially on Brick Lane. Another good (and cheap) lunch option is a chicken or lamb doner (gyro) at many outlets throughout the city, though meat quality is often poor.
For more authentic Cockney food, try pie and mash, which originates from the working-class in the East End. Usually minced beef and cold water pastry pie served with mashed potato, mushy peas and '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.
Whilst central London is full of restaurants and cafes it is useful for the visitor to be aware that there are some areas where the majority of diners are Londoners, rather than tourists, and in general you will get a much more pleasant, better value, and less crowded eating experience than you will find in the West End. These places are best visited in the evenings.
Upper Street Head to Highbury & Islington (Victoria line) or Angel (Northern line). Dozens of excellent restaurants, popular with young professionals.
"Stoke Newington Church Street" has a fantastic range of independent restaurants and cafes. Stoke Newington Rail Station or the 73 bus.
Drummond Street in the Euston area has a fine mix of Indian restaurants - a short walk from Euston railway station.
Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia has a wide range of chain and independent restaurants covering all cuisines. It is particularly popular with workers in the media industry, especially during weekday lunchtimes.
Clapham Junction is not just a train station - but also home to many good restaurants and bars, in particular on Lavender Hill and Battersea Rise
Lordship Lane in the southern suburbs - head to East Dulwich station - a good selection of european restaurants and a few award winning gastropubs
High Street Croydon Croydon is derided by most Londoners as the end of the earth, however this suburban gem of a road has at least 30 decent restaurants, including three Argentinians, a South African curryhouse, a couple of fancy modern European brassieres, and just about every over type of cuisine you can think of. Sadly chain restaurants are moving in (Zizzi's, Pizza Express) but most of the places are still independent. Get a quick train to East Croydon station from Victoria or London Bridge.
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. It is usually wisest to eat in restaurants on main thoroughfares rather than on quiet backstreets.
Like other capitals in the world, London has the usual array of fast food outlets. Sandwich shops are the most popular places to buy lunch, and there are a lot of places to choose from including Eat and Pret a Manger. Some Italian-style sandwich shops have a very good reputation and you can identify them easily by looking at the long queues at lunchtime. If all else fails, Central London has lots of mini-supermarkets operated by the big British supermarket chains (e.g. , Sainsbury's, Tesco) where you can pick up a pre-packed sandwich.
Fast food with an Asian flair is easy to find throughout the city, with lots of Busaba Eathai, Wagamama, and Yo! Sushi locations throughout the city. Nando's 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 Hill along 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, Somerfield as well as privately-run 'corner shops' sell pre-made sandwiches, snacks, alcohol, cigarettes, drinks etc. Most are open from 05:00-23:00 although some such as Tesco Metro or convenience stores located at petrol stations may open 24 hours although they will stop selling alcohol after 23:00. Be aware that Whistlestop convenience stores (located in or around train stations) are notoriously overpriced and should be avoided. If using a petrol-station convenience store late at night (i.e. after 23:00) the store will be locked and you should order and pay through the external service window.
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.
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 restuarants, pubs close to major tourist attractions cash in on travellers' gullibility so be on your guard for the tourist traps where higher prices are not unheard of. Despite this however it is still possible to find a sub-£3 pint in central London - it takes some determination. If you're looking to save money and meet travellers then pub crawls are guided tours that run nightly in central London. You'll save the ticket price on the savings you get from discounted drink deals and what you would have spent on club entry. The 'Camden Pub Crawl' is a local favourite, consistently drawing crowds of 100+ and showcasing some of London's best pubs and clubs. Camden is renowned for it's eclectic mix of style and alternative nature, which reflect well in the pubs/clubs visited along the way. Another Operator "1 Big Night Out" pub crawl starts from near Leicester square underground station.
Many local pubs, especially those run by chains like Wetherspoons and Scream tend to be more reasonably priced with good drink promotions on weekday nights and during the day. As with the rest of the UK, chain pubs abound which Londoners tend to avoid like the plague. A good place to get cheap beer is at any one of the Sam Smith's run pubs that are dotted around Soho and north of Oxford Street. These pubs are good traditional boozers which are frequented by the local working population and odd celeb.
In the Bloomsbury area, check out The Court (near the north end of Tottenham Court Road) and The Rocket (Euston Road). Both are fairly cheap to drink at, given that they cater for students of the adjacent University College London. 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 but over the last couple of years Vauxhall has seen a boom in Gay venues. You will find that many areas, particularly in Camden Town and Shoreditch, that straight bars will have a mixed clientele. To find out what is going on during your visit, you can check:
Gay Pride is held every year in June with parade and street parties. The choice of places to go sometimes seem to be unmanageable.
London has hundreds of options for accommodation to suit all budgets from hostels through historic bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), mainstream chain hotels and apartments all the way to some of the most exclusive luxury hotels in the world such as The Savoy, The Ritz and Claridges where a stay in a top suite will cost upwards of £1,000 per night. However, note that the average cost of hotel accommodation in London is a lot higher than in any other major British city. Prices invariably become inflated close to major sporting tournaments (such as the London Marathon, Wimbledon or major England football/rugby fixtures), or other important events taking place in the city - so it pays to plan your trip around such occasions or book your accommodation well in advance.
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 the word "London" in their title that look suspiciously cheap - you may find that they are actually 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.
Your budget will have a lot to do with what part of London you will want to stay in. Tourist-standard prices range from £20-200 per person per night. Expect smaller than average rooms especially at the low end of this range. As a general rule, expect to pay between £75-150 per night for a 2 or 3 star hotel in the central area of the city. Many of the big name chain hotels now offer substantial discounts (with rates often down as low as £30-£50 per room per night) if you book well in advance, but the drawback is that you have to pay the full amount upfront at the time of booking and there are no refunds if you cancel. The heart of the West End is the most expensive place to stay 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.
A top tip however is to always check the likes of LondonTown.com, Expedia and LateRooms as well as the hotel's own website - since there are often deals to be had which can reduce the costs significantly.
The extra cost of getting around is probably not significant compared to savings made by staying in a hotel further out. With the excellent Tube system where you stay won't limit what you see. Always be sure though to check where the closest tube station is to your hotel. Staying further out will be cheaper but when travelling in allow 1-2 min per tube stop (near the centre), around 2-3 min per stop (further out) and 5-10 min per line 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.
Some of the better value options are to be found in the following central districts:
A slightly left-field option is to check the Landmark Trust, a building preservation charity who purchase notable old buildings in the UK, renovate and run them as holiday lettings. An interesting approach to saving old buildings for sure.
Popular Budget Hotel Chains include Premier Inn and Travelodge, 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, TravelStay.com and Cortisso.
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.
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.
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 many big cities, London has a variety of social problems, especially begging, drug abuse and theft (mobile phones are a favourite, often snatched by fast-moving cyclists).
London has the oldest police force in the world, The Metropolitan Police Service , and on the whole, London is a safe place to visit and explore. Alongside the regular Police, there are over 4,000 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) that provide a highly visible presence on the streets and are able to deal with low-level crime. Normal precautions for the safe keeping of your personal possessions, as you would in any other city, are suggested.
Crime mapping has been launched in London allowing residents and visitors to see the level of recorded crime for different areas .
If you're planning to go out late at night and are worried about safety, frequent crowded areas such as the West End. There are always plenty of people on the street, even at 4AM. Generally, outside central London, the South, and East suburban areas are considered more dangerous, notably Brixton, Peckham and Hackney, although some parts of North-West London such as Harlesden and northern Camden are also known trouble spots.
The main problem right throughout London to various degrees is drunken behaviour, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights and after football matches. Loud and rowdy behaviour is to be expected and fights and acts of aggression also occur. If you are harassed, it is best to simply ignore and walk away from those concerned. Trouble spots can be expected around popular drinking locations such as Soho and in various suburban centres.
Every night, Soho presents a particular danger: the "clip joint". The usual targets of these establishments are lone male tourists. Usually, an attractive woman will casually befriend the victim and recommend a local bar or even a club that has a "show". The establishment will be near-desolate, and, even if the victim has only a drink or two, the bill will run to hundreds of pounds. If payment is not immediately provided, the bouncers will lock the "patrons" inside and take it by force or take them to an ATM and stand over them while they extract the cash.
To be safe, if a woman you just met suggests you a place, try to recommend a different bar. If she insists on hers then walk away and do not listen to her suggestions. Sometimes this con trick takes place when someone is lured into a private club with the promise of something perhaps more than a drink (like a 'private show' or sex for a small amount of money). A 'hostess fee' will appear on the bill for several hundred pounds, even though there has been nothing more than polite conversation.
The Metropolitan Police have placed significant resources in combating street level crime. Working in conjunction with borough councils, they have been able to bring the level of theft and pickpocketing in major retail areas in London to a level that is manageable. A particular problem is 'snatch' thefts, typically of mobile phones. Be careful using a smartphone as you get off the tube, or in subways.
Street gang culture is a growing problem in London as with many other cities in England. While most groups of youngsters are not likely to present any danger to tourists, some people feel the need to be slightly more vigilant in certain areas, especially certain outer suburbs.
If anyone offers you a free "stress test", they are likely trying to recruit you into the Church of Scientology. The best option is to walk away or just say "No thank you" politely, as people are commonly harassed into giving personal details.
Scams/Con Artists London has a large number of con artists around, all trying to convince you to hand over your hard-earned money one way or another. In a well-known scam, an older gentleman will ask you for directions, convincing you that he thought you were English. This scam has been used for over ten years.
Other popular scams are a man in a suit asking for emergency money for the phone (seen in Shoreditch many times). Also a man with a very convincing fake gash on his arm - asking for money to get to hospital (strangely refusing the offer of calling an ambulance).
One of the most popular scams in London, is the ticket machine scam, when, while buying a ticket at a train station someone will approach you and act as if they want to help you buy the right ticket. In reality they will wait until your money is in the machine, then lean across, cancel the transaction and pocket your cash.
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