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 roughly 7.5 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.
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. 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 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 and self-explanatory, others less so, such as Hackney or Tower Hamlets. A traveller's London is better defined by recognised 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, 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 city, 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.
London possesses one of the best collections of museums and galleries anywhere in the world. World cultures throughout history are well represented, for example, at the British Museum. The Museum of London (admission free) makes an ideal destination for the traveller who wants to understand the history and ongoing legacy of this great city.
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, Like New York and Washington, or Sydney and Canberra.
The commercial capital was the City of London. This had the 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 the Londoners could make money (London Bridge).
About an hour upstream (on foot or by boat) round 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 better 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, west and east. The land to the west of the City (part of the parish of Westminster) was prime farming land (Covent Garden etc.), 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 where people worked for a living. You now have a two-centre city, with the area in between known confusingly as the "West End". Except now the docks have closed, and been replaced by developments like Canary Wharf, making parts of the East End as expensive and full of offices as the City.
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 to September average daily high temperatures peak at over 20C with July and August the warmest months at 23C  while London's highest temperature since 2000 was recorded one August at 38C. 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 8C 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.
Due to Londons 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 six 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 six 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 65min (£18) and Heathrow-Stansted services 90min (£20.50) (note that services between Stansted and Luton run only every two hours). However, it's essential to allow leeway, as London's expressways, especially the orbital M25 and the M1 motorway, are often congested to the point of gridlock. Buses have toilets on board.
Heathrow (ICAO: EGLL, IATA: LHR)  is London and Europe's largest airport and the world's busiest airport in terms of international passenger movement, with services available from most major airports world-wide. There are five terminals. 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.
(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. To get to the city centre the following options exist:
Other airports near London
London has one international rail route (operated by Eurostar  08705 186 186 ) from Paris (2h15) and Brussels (1h50) diving under the sea for 22 high speed miles (35km) via the Channel Tunnel to come out in England. It terminates at St Pancras International. There are no less 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 Street (nearest 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 only have National Rail services (no London Underground services but there are buses). London Bridge, Victoria, Cannon Street 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 St James's 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:
From Germany: Cheap Bus Tours to London offers: MANGO Tours
There is also the option of a central London Park and Ride site located at Park Lane and Marble Arch, see National Park and Ride Directory .
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. The city has recently been awarded as having the best public transport in the world.
Transport for London (TfL)  is a government organisation responsible for all public transport. Visit their website. It 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 - but even this has a few limitations (see the guide below) and it is not yet universally accepted by many of the private rail operators.
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) Only runs 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 only operates 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.
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 £1.60. Furthermore, a cash bus fare is £2 while with Oyster it is £1.
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, less 50 pence. For zone 1-2 (central London including everywhere inside the Circle line and some places outside) this is £5.10 (£6.70 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. In the central area, tickets have to be bought at a machine by the bus stop if you don't have an Oyster and outside the zone from the driver.
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:
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 of the limitations if you travel on National Rail or on Airport Express trains.
London is a surprising compact city, making it a walker's delight and often being the quickest method of transport. London walking directions can be planned online with the walkit.com walking route planner .
Please remember to look right when you cross the road
By tube / underground
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. 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-9:30AM and 4:30PM-7PM). On warm days take a bottle of water with you.
You can use the Oyster to pay, or you can also buy magnetically encoded paper tickets from the information counters or the self-service machinese. The smaller machines only take coins, while the larger touch-screen machines also take bills and credit/debit cards (note that they only accept cards with an embedded micro-chip, old-style cards with a magnetic stripe only cannot be used). Paper tickets are relatively expensive with a flat fare of 3GBP for up to 4 zones and 4GBP for up to 6-zones. However, most machines also issue day-tickets that are also valid on other methods of transport. Keep hold of your ticket for the whole journey, you'll need it to exit the station as well.
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. Many of the most popular buses tend to be of the articulated double-length variety, known as bendy buses. 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.
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). Under 14s travel free without identification, 14-16s travel free on production of a Child Oyster photocard.
Buses display their route number in large digits at the front, side and rear.
Unlike The Tube one way tickets do not allow you to transfer to different buses.
Standard bus services run from around 6AM to 12:30AM. Around midnight the network changes to the night bus network, a reliable and often interesting way to get home. Bus numbers, routes and timetable change with most radiating from the Trafalgar Square area to most outlying parts of Greater London. Night buses are identified by an 'N' at the start of the route number, for example the N73 runs between Victoria and Walthamstow Central. Be careful though, not all night buses are prefixed with an "N", some are a 24 hour service, such as the 214 from Liverpool Street-Highgate Hill. Fares are the same as for regular services. Daily travelcards are valid until 4 am the day after they were issued, so can be used on nightbuses.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a dedicated light rail network operating in East London, connecting with the tube network at Bank, Shadwell, Tower Gateway, Canning Town 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 Oystercards, 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 - Woolowich 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. 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 the city centre. There is no one central station - instead, there are many mainline stations dotted around the edge of the city, and most are connected by the Circle line. Most visitors will not need to use National Rail services except for a few specific destinations such as Hampton Court, Windsor Castle, Greenwich or the airports.
Airport Express Rail services run to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports - tickets are generally sold at a premium. Visitors should take care as Oystercards are generally not accepted.
In common parlance, Londoners may refer to travelling by "overground", meaning going by National Rail (as opposed to going by Underground). However, only one service is officially called this - London Overground is a Transport for London rail service. It is operated and promoted just like the Underground, with the Tube logo 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.
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.
Non-folding bikes can only be taken 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 'tout for business' (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 in these days of heavy advertising!) 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 yellow TAXI light will be on if they are available. Drivers must take an extensive exam in 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.
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 many, 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 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". 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.
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.
Motorbike is arguably the fastest way around London, but also the most dangerous. The congestion zone does not apply, and thus for anyone commuting it's usually the cheapest option (possibly excluding bus rides). Parking for motorbikes and scooters is free at many of the reserved areas.
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.
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. 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.
London hosts an outstanding collection of world-class museums. Even better, it is the only one of the traditional "alpha world cities" (London, 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 Tate Modern, Tate Britain, British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and most museums in Greenwich. Donations are welcome. Note that admission to many temporary exhibitions is not free. The 'green lungs' of London are the many parks, great and small, scattered throughout the city including St James Park and Hyde 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.
London is a huge city, so all individual listings are in the appropriate district articles.
London attracts more students from overseas than any other city in the world, and is home to a huge variety of academic institutions. It's 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. London School  boasts of being the oldest accredited English language study school in the world.
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 Street, Covent Garden, Oxford Street and Regent Street). Visit Fortnum & Mason , "the Queen's grocery store." On Thursday many West End stores close late (7PM-8PM).
Markets. 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. Spitalfields  is an excellent market for clothes from up-and-coming designers, records, housewares, food, and all things trendy. Also Brick Lane, Greenwich and Portobello, .
Airports. 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, that served at the various steak houses. Real 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.
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 KFC-style chicken shops means that a deal for 2 pieces of chicken, chips (fries) and a drink shouldn't cost you more than £2, 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 15% 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.
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 the countries of origin. If you are looking for particular nationalities these tend to be clustered in certain areas: Brick Lane in East London is famous for curries, but for better quality Tooting in South West London has a good reputation and is cheaper. Brixton for African/Caribbean, Chinatown in Soho for Chinese, Edgware Road in Marylebone for Middle Eastern and Drummond Street (just behind Euston railway station) for a selection of good value Indian vegetarian. Golders Green for Jewish and Kingsland Road for good cheap Vietnamese. Other nationalities are equally represented, but are 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 London's most popular places to buy lunch, and there are a lot of places to choose from. Some Italian 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.
London has plenty of vegetarian-only restaurants, 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, then most restaurants will cater for vegetarians, and will have at least a couple of dishes on the menu. Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants are generally more fruitful, as they have plenty of traditional dishes that only use vegetables. 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 Street, Old Compton Street 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 loads of Halal restaurants and shops all over London - including east London (Whitechapel Rd, Brick Lane), Edgware Rd and the WC postcode (e.g. Bayswater), and many parts of north London, and plenty of Kosher restaurants mainly in Golders Green and Edgware.
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 £3 for a pint of beer in an average pub. However many local pubs, especially those run by chains like Wetherspoons and Scream tend to be more reasonably priced, the latter catering for a student audience. 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 in, 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).
Nightlife seems to be an integral feature 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 mainly consists of 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 crowd.
The area around the West End (Leicester Square, Mayfair, Piccadilly) is home to the more upmarket and exclusive clubs in London. This area attracts a rather pretentious 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 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 Paper.
The Camden area in North London is made of clubs which play Indie, metal and rock music. Notable clubs include Electric Ballroom, the world famous Koko, and Underworld.
Gay and lesbian
London has a vibrant gay scene with countless bars, clubs and events. The nucleus of London's gay scene is undoubtedly the western half of Old Compton Street in Soho and the surrounding area, but over the last couple of years Vauxhall has seen a boom. You will probably find that most places, particularly Camden and Shoreditch, straight bars will have a mixed clientele. To find out what is going on during your visit be sure to visit qxmagazine.com  a weekly magazine that comprehensively covers the London gay scene with handy night by night listings available on-line and in print (distributed in bars and clubs), scene-OUT.com  or pick up a copy of Boyz magazine  is published fortnightly and is freely available at most London gay venues, and contains listings of everything that is happening in all the major clubs in London and the South East. 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 from hostels through historic bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), mainstream chain hotels and apartments all the way through to some of the most exclusive establisments in the world such as the Savoy, The Ritz and Claridges where a stay in a top suite can cost upwards of £1000 per night. Your budget will have a lot to do with what part of London you will want to stay in. 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 around £80-£100 per night for a big-name 3-star chain hotel in the central area of the city, however 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 hotel savings further out. With the excellent Tube available where you stay won't limit what you see but be sure to check where the closest tube station is to your hotel. Staying further out will be cheaper but when travelling in allow 1-2 min per tube stop (near the centre), around 2-3 min per stop (further out) and 5min 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 for excellent food and accomodation options.
Hostels are not necessarily as unpleasant as you may think, and as long as you don't mind sharing with others, they can be 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 are no beds 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 £61 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 non-YHI members, the YHA will levy a £1 welcome stamp per day. For British visitors, a valid YHA (SYHA for Scotland) membership card will be sufficient.
There are a number of other, independent hostels all through the city:
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 and no catering.
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.
In an emergency phone Shelter on 0808 800 4444 (8AM-midnight) (Shelter is a British housing and homelessness charity).
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. Unfortunately, this situation has led to a new scam, in which fraudsters set up web sites offering such London rentals, often at exceptionally attractive rates, which you must secure by paying most or all of the rental in advance by wire. Some of these fraudulent web sites are very professionally designed and include photos of flats, glowing testimonials, and offers to pick you up at the airport. But after you send your money, you never hear from them again, and the London police can do nothing since typically you have no contact information for them but an email address, or if you have a postal address, it is false, and if you have a phone number, it is for an over-the-counter untraceable cell phone. In fact, the web site owners may not actually be in London, or even in Europe. 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.
Unlike some other cities, London is unfortunately not noted for free public wifi access - as yet. That said, a number of projects are in place or in development. See  for a map containing free wifi locations.
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 your require before being connected to the relevant operator.
Like many big cities, London has a variety of social problems, especially begging, drug abuse, 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 very safe place to visit and explore. Alongside the regular Police, the are over 4000 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 do 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 .
Don't take illegal minicabs (see 'Getting 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.
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, 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 which is present 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 do occur. If harrassed, 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.
Different parts of London offer vastly different levels of safety. You are unlikely to experience anything untoward in areas like Mayfair, Chelsea, St. John's Wood, Hampstead, or South Kensington.
Central London's heart (Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Marble Arch, etc.) has its fair share of rowdiness, but at the same time the volume of people keeps serious danger at bay. The same goes for places like High Street Kensington area, Swiss Cottage, Edgware Road, Little Venice, Lancaster Gate.
Areas such as Ealing, Kilburn, Shepherd's Bush, and Camden Town do not pose any specific threat, but at the same time are not seen as 'nice' areas to walk around.
Even busy night time 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). 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 significantly cut and bring the level of theft and pickpocketing in major retail areas in London. Whilst gun crime, by United States standards is extremely low, deaths from gunshot wounds are increasing, however these usually occur within gang disputes particularly in South and East London. Knife crime is however much higher and as such, conflicts should be avoided as tragic deaths caused as a result of seemingly petty incidents do occur from concealed weapons. 29 teenage boys in 2008 alone were tragically killed by gangs.
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. London is also home to some notorious organised gangs, but they won't pose any danger unless you are involved in that scene.
London is a fairly safe city for its size, and most visits should be trouble-free. The police are generally very helpful when problems do occur.