Difference between revisions of "London"
Revision as of 14:24, 21 June 2010
Noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is a megalopolis of people, ideas and 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 nearly 8 million people — although the figure of over 14 million for the city's total metropolitan area more accurately reflects London's size and importance. London is one of the great "world cities," and remains a global capital of culture, fashion, finance, politics and trade.
London will host the 2012 Summer Olympics.
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.
England's royal family has, over the 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 (much to the annoyance of some people in the provinces i.e. everywhere except London!). 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.
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. From June through September average daily high temperatures peak at over 20°C (68°F) with July and August the warmest months at 23°C (73°F) while London's highest temperature since 2000 was recorded once in August at 38°C (100°F). This means London can feel hot and humid in the summer months. Winter days are rarely cold and frost is rather rare, and while sunshine is at a premium and wet days are more common, the average daily maximum is 8°C (46°F) in December and January, making London milder than most nearby continental European capital cities.
London 2012 Olympic Games
The International Olympic Committee decided in 2005 that London will serve as the host city for the Games of the XXX Olympiad , the Summer Olympic Games of 2012. This will make London the first city to hold the Olympic Games three times, having hosted the games previously in 1908 and 1948. The vast majority of events will be held in a regenerated area in East London.
Tourist Information Centres
Details of London's primary Tourist Information Centre are given below. There are other more minor centres and those are listed in the relevant district articles.
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 (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 the five terminals are operational - T2 is closed until 2014 for redevelopment. 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. A quick summary of transport options (also see Heathrow Airport):
When departing, note that after passing through security you will find no drinking fountains in the South Terminal departure lounge.
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, check their site  for up to date timetable information.
(ICAO: EGGW, IATA: LTN) Has traditionally been a holiday charter airport, but is now also served by some budget scheduled carriers. As per Stansted, and for the same reasons, many choose to spend the night here before flying, although "First Capital Connect" trains run 24 hours. To get to central London the following options exist:
London City Airport
(ICAO: EGLC, IATA: LCY) A commuter airport close to the city's financial district, and specializing in short-haul business flights to other major European cities. 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.
To get to the city centre the following options exist:
Other airports near London
London is the hub of the British rail network - every major city in mainland Britain has a frequent train service to the capital, and most of the smaller, provincial cities and large towns also have a direct rail connection to London of some sort - although the frequency and quality of service can vary considerably from place to place.
London has one international high speed rail route (operated by Eurostar  08705 186 186 ) 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 08457 48 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 road, even if driving into the centre of the city is definitely not recommended. Greater London is encircled by the M25 orbital motorway, on which nearly all the major trunk routes to the rest of England and Wales radiate from. 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!). Parking in the City of London is free after 6:30PM M-F, after 1:30PM on Saturday and all day Sunday.
The city has one of the most comprehensive public transport systems in the world. Despite residents' constant, and sometimes justified, grumbling about unreliability, public transport is often the best option for getting anywhere for visitors and residents alike and is far more reliable than locals would have you believe. Indeed, nearly a third of households do not feel the need to own a car.
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 busses. Be a Londoner and only use the tube as a way of travelling longer distances - you're here to see London - you can't see it underground!
Transport for London (TfL)  is a government organisation responsible for all public transport. Their website contains maps plus an excellent journey planner . They also offer a 24-hour travel information line, charged at local rate: tel +44-20-72221234 (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:
By tube / underground 11 colour-coded lines cover the central area and suburbs mostly north of the River Thames, run by TfL.
By Docklands Light Railway (DLR) Runs only in the east of the city, privately run but part of TfL's network.
By boat Commuter boats and pleasure cruises along the River Thames, privately run but part of TfL's network.
Airport Express Express rail services run to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports (tickets are generally sold at a premium), privately run and not part of the TfL network.
By tram (Tramlink) A tram service that operates only in southern suburbs around Wimbledon and Croydon.
By Overground 3 orange-coloured lines circling the northern suburbs, part of TfL's network. The Underground's East London Line is now closed until 2010 when it will become part of London Overground.
By National Rail A complex network of suburban rail services, mostly running in the southern suburbs, privately run and not part of the TfL network, although many do accept Oyster payments.
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 inital purchase cost. You can buy an Oyster Card from any Tube station for a deposit of £3. You can also get a Visitor Oyster card  for a deposit of £2, although these cards can be used only to pay as you go and cannot be loaded with 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, while with an Oyster Card it costs £1.80. Furthermore, a cash bus fare is £2 while with Oyster it is £1.20.
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 £5.60 (£7.20 M-F before 9:30AM).
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!
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, and from the driver outside the zone.
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.
By tube / underground
The London Underground  - also known popularly as The Tube - has trains that criss-cross London in the largest underground rail network anywhere in the world (it was also the first, the first section of the Metropolitan Line dates back to 1863). The Tube is an easy method of transport even for new visitors to London.
Tube maps  are freely available from any station, most tourist offices and are prominently displayed throughout 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 are able to change freely between lines at interchange stations (providing you stay within the zones shown on your ticket). Use the Tube Map to determine which line(s) you will take. 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 and announced it is easy to work out when to get off your train. Visitors should be aware, however, that the Tube map is actually 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 40 miles 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 5:30AM to about 1AM. This mode of transport is usually the fastest way to get from one part of London to the another, the only problem being the relative expense, and the fact that it can get extremely crowded during rush hours (7:30AM-10:00AM and 4:30PM-7PM). On warm days take a bottle of water with you. Also note that engineering works usually take place during weekends or in 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 their name (e.g. Circle Line, Central Line, Piccadilly Line). Some line names are misnomers that originated from when the Tube was originally operated by multiple private railways e.g. the Northern Line does not serve the most northern parts of the network, although it is one of the main routes serving South London. Also, many lines have multiple branches rather than running point-to-point so it's always advisable to check the train's destination (which will be 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's 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 e.g. 'Central Line Westbound Platform 1, Central Line Eastbound Platform 2'. It's 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 paying 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 have buttons for different fare levels and only accept coins, while the new touch-screen machines have instructions in multiple languages, offer a greater choice of ticket and accept bills and credit/debit cards (note that if your card doesn't have an embedded microchip you cannot use these machines - instead you should pay at the ticket counter). Single tickets are charged at a premium (often costing only a little less than a 1-day travelcard) of £4.00 flat fare for journeys within or beyond Zone 1 or £3.00 for journeys outside of Zone 1. Single Oyster fares are charged by the number of zones crossed, starting at £1.60 for 1 zone up to £3.60 for 6 zones. Paper travel cards valid for 1-, 3- 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 £5.50.
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 9:30AM and 6:30PM, 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. On some busy routes, extra-long buses known as "bendy buses" are used. Routes served by these buses always carry a yellow route sign as detailed below. Care should be taken as it is possible for those unfamiliar with them to get on then have no way of paying. This could be related to the relative ease of hopping on and off without paying (doors open along the length of the bus and there is no on-board conductor). This is, however, illegal and can be very risky - large teams of inspectors frequently descend on these buses accompanied by police, and it's possible to be arrested and prosecuted. Normally, however, those who get on the bus via the doors in the middle will be asked (or rather yelled) to come to the front and pay.
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 6AM-12:30AM. 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 nr. 88 bus 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.
Nightbuses 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 4 am 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.
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 a large number of independent private companies 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.
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.
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. 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. Cycling on the pavement (sidewalk) is illegal. Fortunately, most major roads will have a red-route (indicated by red-painted tarmac) which is restricted to buses, taxis and bicycles. However, bus stops are usually restricted to red-routes so it's not completely safe. Cycle-lanes exist but they are sporadic at best - usually a 3-foot wide section of tarmac barely wide enough for one cyclist typically indicated by green-painted tarmac.
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 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 Cycle Campaign  is an advocacy group for London cyclists and organizes regular group rides and events. 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.
In the United Kingdom helmets are not compulsory for cyclists. In London, many cyclists, especially those seen in rush hour, also wear filter masks, but their efficacy is even more disputed.
You must have working front and rear lights during hours of darkness. Flashing LED lights are legal. Reflective clothing is always a good idea even during the day.
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 take an extensive exam in central London's streets to be licensed for a black cab, meaning 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. 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 7AM-6PM (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 7:30AM-9:30AM and 4PM-7PM 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. Traffic is slow and heavy, 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! 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. A fully-enclosed crash-helmet is 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 unrivalled 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 comapny 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 sidewalks (pavements) 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 different 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 are in the appropriate district articles.
If you don't feel like splashing out on one of the commercial bus tours, you can make your own bus tour by buying an Oyster card and spending some time riding around London on the top deck of standard London buses. Of course you don't get the open air or the commentary, but the views are very similar. You will likely get lost but that is half the fun; if it worries you go for a commercial tour.
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.
Many of the city's most prestigious colleges fall under the auspices of the University of London  including:
Other institutions include Imperial College London , the UK's leading university specialising in sciences
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.
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.
London is hugely popular as a working holiday destination - work in bars and the hospitality industry is relatively easy to find and well paid.
Wages are generally higher in London than the rest of the UK, although the cost of living is higher still.
One of the world's great metropolises, anything and everything you could possibly want to buy is available in London, if you know where to look, and if you can afford it (London is not particularly noted for bargain shopping, owing to high prices and high exchange rates (depending on where the traveller is from) - though it can be done with some determination). 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 (7PM-8PM).
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. It's open Th-Sa, and it's best to go in the morning, since it gets unpleasantly crowded by around 11AM.
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.
Tourist traps 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). Londoners wouldn't dream of eating here - you shouldn't either! Notorious areas for inflated menu prices trading on travellers' gullibility and 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.
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, and will satisfy even the largest of appetites. Another good (and cheap) lunch option is a chicken or lamb doner (gyro) at many outlets throughout the city.
Tipping may also be different than what you're used to. All meals include the 17.5% 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.
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 flare 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. There are also many vegetarian Thai buffet places where you can eat somewhat unconvincing (but tasty) meat substitute grub for £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.
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 5AM-11PM although some such as Tesco Metro or convenience stores located at petrol stations may open 24 hours although they will stop selling alcohol after 11PM. 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 11PM) 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 South Quay DLR Station on the Lewisham line - about 15-min ride from Bank Station. 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.
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 £3 for a pint of beer 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 prices of £3.50-£4 are not unheard of. Despite this however it is still possible to find a sub-£3 pint in central London - it takes some determination - but 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.
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. 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 London breweries are Young's and and Fullers. Young's was founded in Wandsworth in 1831 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 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 (arguably the best nightclub in London). 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 Leicester Square and 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 Cafe De Paris, China White, Funky Buddha, Mahiki, Number One Leicester Square and the Ministry of Sound.
The Camden area is home to lots of clubs which play Indie, metal and rock music and notably the Electric Ballroom, the world famous Koko and Underworld.
Gay and lesbian
London has a vibrant gay scene with countless bars, clubs and events in just about every district of 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. The average cost of hotel accommodation in London is higher than its equivalent 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 accomodation well in advance.
In general, most people tend to stay within "Zone 1" of the underground, however 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 aways catch a bus anyway - by the 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 and most hotels are either 4 or 5 star and most will command a hefty price premium.
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.
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; LSEVactions and TravelStay.com.
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.
London is unfortunately not noted for free public wifi access - although the number of hotspots is continuing to grow. See  for a map containing free wifi locations.
Another good place for free wi-fi would be McDonald's, where free 24-hour period wi-fi are offered to customers. Furthermore, Pret-A-Manger franchises offer free internet without a login.
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.
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 (PCSO's) 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 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. If it appears you are being lured into a "clip joint", the easiest way out is to recommend a different bar to the new "friend" trying to get you into her "favourite local place" and if she staunchly refuses, be very suspicious. Sometimes this con trick takes place when someone is lured into a private club with the promise of something perhaps more than a drink (e.g., a 'private show' for a small amount of money or sex). 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.
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 outer suburbs.
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.
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. 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.
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