Difference between revisions of "London"
Revision as of 14:08, 10 March 2008
London  is the capital and largest city of both the United Kingdom and of England, and the largest city in western Europe. 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 historically 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 (now confusingly called the "City of London" or just "The City"). London, however, has taken on a much larger meaning to include all of the vast central part of the modern metropolis, the city having absorbed numerous surrounding towns and villages over the centuries. Reflecting the massive size of the metropolis, therefore, 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 center.
Greater London consists of 32 London boroughs and the City of London that, together with the relatively new Mayor of London, form the basis for London's local government. 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, however, is better defined not by strangely shaped and often fairly arbitrary administrative divisions but rather by recognized 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, however, 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 center of culture, government and industry. London's long association with the theater, 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, 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 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 center 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 people in the provinces i.e. everywhere except London). It is full of excellent bars, galleries, museums, parks and theaters. It is also the most culturally and ethnically diverse part of the country, and, for a visitor, a nice side-effect of this is the wide range of cuisines available. 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.
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.
London (all airports code: LON) is served by a total of six airports. Traveling 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 from most available major airports world-wide. There are four terminals, with a fifth opening in March 2008. 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. A quick summary of transport options:
(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. 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 center the following options exist:
Other airports near London
London has one international rail route (operated by Eurostar ) 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:
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 the city with 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.
12 colour-coded lines cover the central area and suburbs mostly north of the River Thames, run by TfL
Only runs in the east of the city, privately run but part of TfL's network
A tram service that only operates in southern suburbs around Wimbledon and Croydon.
The London Overground is now featured on Tube Maps although runs a lot less frequently than the tube (some branches run just 2 or 3 trains per hour). A suburban rail service that crosses north London and round to Richmond, run by TfL. The East London Line is now closed until 2010 when it will become part of the new London Overground.
Rail services to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports (tickets are generally sold at a premium) and suburban services that run out of the city from mainline stations like St Pancras International and Paddington (most lines are south of the River Thames and only one (Thameslink) runs through the city centre; operated by numerous private train companies).
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. 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 a mere £1.50. On the tube, be sure to touch in and touch out again at the end of your journey. The fare is calculated based on your start and end points. If you forget to touch your Oyster card at the start and finish you will be charged extra! Furthermore, a cash bus fare is £2 while with Oyster it is £0.90. It 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.
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 £4.80 (£6.30 M-F before 9:30AM).
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 within the zones for which they were purchased. Note that they can not be used on any Airport Express trains (Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express and Stansted Express). 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.
For travelling shorter distances in London there is no better way. Walking forces you to slow down and look around, and in a city like London there's always something interesting to look at if you take the time. Walking can also be the quickest way to get somewhere: check your map, central London is surprisingly compact. London walking directions can be planned online with the walkit.com walking route planner .
By tube / underground
Tube maps  are freely available from any station, most tourist offices and are prominently displayed throughout stations and, for some obscure reason, in the back of most diaries. The Tube is made up of 12 lines each bearing a traditional name and a standard color 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 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.
London's iconic red buses are recognized the world over, even if the traditional open-platform Routemaster buses have been largely phased out. Old-fashioned Routemaster buses, with an open rear platform and on-board conductor to collect fares, run on Heritage Route 9 and 15 every 15 minutes, daily between about 9:30AM and 6:30PM.
Over 5 million bus trips are made each weekday; with over 700 different bus routes you are never far from a bus in London.
Each bus stop has a sign listing the routes that will stop there. Bus routes are identified by numbers and sometimes letters, for example the 73 runs between Seven Sisters and Victoria. Yellow route signs indicate you must purchase your ticket before you board. This means 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. Note that these machines don't provide change (all the more reason to use one of the other options). Buses display their route number in large digits at the front, side, and rear of the bus.
The difficulty with buses over the tube is knowing when to get off; while tube stations are clearly marked it is sometimes more difficult to work out where to get off a bus. All bus stops have their location and the direction of travel marked on them, although by the time you've seen this it can be too late to get off! Bus drivers are usually too busy to be able to tell you when you've reached your destination. Your best bet is to ask fellow passengers and/or to trace your route on a map .
Standard bus services run from around 6am in the morning to 12:30AM. Buses are generally quicker than taking the Tube for short trips (less than a couple of stops on the Tube), and out of central London you're likely to be closer to a bus stop than a tube station. Around midnight the bus network changes to the night bus network. The night bus service is a reliable and often interesting way to get home at night. Night buses are identified by an 'N' at the start of the route number, for example the N73 runs between Walthamstow Central and Victoria. Bus routes, numbers and timetable all change with most of the buses radiating out from around the Trafalgar Square area to most outlying parts of Greater London. Fares are the same for night buses as for regular services.
Children under 14 travels free without identification, under 16 travels free on production of a Child Oyster photocard. However, unlike The Tube single tickets do not allow you to transfer to different buses.
Many of the most popular buses tend to be of the double-length articulated variety, known as bendy buses. Routes served by this type of bus always carry a yellow route sign as detailed above. Care should be taken as it is possible for those unfamiliar with this type of bus to get on board and then have no way of paying. This could be related to the relative ease of hopping on and off these without paying (at stops, 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 entirely possible to be arrested and prosecuted.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a dedicated light rail network operating in East London, connecting with the tube network at Bank and Tower Gateway. 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. 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.
There's an electric tram network running in south London between Wimbledon, Croydon, Elmers End, New Addington and Beckenham.
Due to the expense of other forms of transport and the compactness of central London, cycling is a tempting option. Excellent free cycle maps  can be obtained from your local tube stations, bike shop, or ordered online.
London 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 Cannal 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 sidewalk (pavement) 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. However, generally speaking, London remains a relatively hostile environment for cyclists.
In the United Kingdom helmets are not compulsory for cyclists, and opinions differ on their value. In London, many cyclists, especially those seen in rush hour, also wear filter masks, but their efficacy is even more argued over.
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. 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 before 10PM (10PM-midnight £10). Numerous payment options exist: by phone, online and by voucher. Failure to pay the charge by midnight the same 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.
A slower, pleasant way to travel through the city; privately owned, but discounts are offered on some lines to Travelcard holders. 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 center 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.
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. Alternatively make sure you are equipped with an integrated map of London buses and tubes  so that you can make the most of your Oyster card by getting less unpleasantly lost and more pleasantly lost!
Winter Skating. London has a number of outdoor ice rinks that open in the winter months. Considered by some to be somewhat overpriced and overcrowded, they nonetheless have multiplied in recent years, easing congestion and increasing competition. Most charge from £10-12 (adults) for an hour on the ice, including skate hire. See the district articles for the City of London, Docklands and Trafalgar Square.
Summer Skating. In summer (and also in winter, for the more dedicated) there is also a thriving roller skating (on inline and traditional "quad" skates) scene in London, catering to many disciplines including street hockey, freestyle slalom, dance, general recreational skating (including three weekly marshalled group street skates) and speed skating. This mostly centers around Hyde Park (on the Serpentine Road) and Kensington Gardens (by the Albert Memorial). See the district articles for Mayfair and South West London.
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 - 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 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.
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 usally 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. Marks & Spencer, 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 plenty of Kosher restaurants in London, 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 close on £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 two superclubs, Fabric (arguably the best nightclub in London) and Turnmills. 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, 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) and apartments to five star hotels. 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. 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 1-2min per tube stop (near the center), around 2-3min 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.
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 Youth Hostel Association of England and Wales  (YHA) operates four hostels in Central London. As of 2006, the YHA's prices were £24.80 for Bed and Breakfast per night for Hostelling International members, a £1 supplement per person per night for non-members. 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.
There are a number of other 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.
Capsule-style crash spaces are just arriving, but currently these are only in central locations (does anyone know of cheaper capsule-style crash space further out).
In an emergency phone Shelter on 0808 800 4444 (8AM-midnight) (Shelter is a British housing and homelessness charity).
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.
Like many big cities, London has a variety of social problems, especially begging, drug abuse, theft (mobile phones are a favourite), etc. London, however, manages to make do with a police force that doesn't need to carry guns, and is generally a safe place for the tourist to visit and walk around. In an emergency, telephone "999" (or "112"). Don't take illegal minicabs (see 'Getting Around' for details). 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 soccer 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.
Even busy nighttime Soho presents a particular danger; the "clip joint". The usual targets of these establishments are male tourists. Usually, an attractive woman will casually befriend the victim and recommend a local bar. 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. 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 "favorite local place" - and if she staunchly refuses, be very suspicious.
Use common sense, at night in particular, but be alert at all times: Don't let anyone near your phone, wallet or valuables; don't give change to strangers; avoid unfamiliar areas at night. It's always a good idea to appear confident and take steps not to mark yourself out as a tourist - some unscrupulous locals will equate "tourist" with "mug". Don't carry your wallet in your back pocket - while London's legendary pickpockets may not be as numerous as in days gone by, they are still equally skilled. 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.
Gang culture is a growing phenomena in London as with many other cities in England. Distinctive dress codes can be noticed which include excessive amounts of sports and/or hip-hop clothing, loose fitting baseball caps and most notoriously, hooded tops which are usually worn with the hood up all throughout the day and night and during hot and cold weather. If you notice crowds of youths dressed in this distingtive style, avoid eye contact and appear not to have noticed them if possible; eye contact can be percieved by them as intimidation. Be particularly cautious if one or more attempt to speak to you, They may or may not be considering 'jacking' (stealing from) you. Speak calmly and confidently and be alert to their intention. If they ask for you the time, do NOT bring out your mobile phone or display a valuable watch, just say you dont know. If they ask for a cigarette lighter then it is ok to let them use it and they probably will not hassle you, if you are smoking when this happens then it is advisable to do so otherwise they might percieve that you are disrespecting them. If they ask you for a spare cigerette whilst you are smoking, calmly and politely inform them that it was your last one. Do not escalate situations as such individuals are often extremely violent and can suddenly demonstrate extreme aggression and often carry concealed knives and even guns. You are unlikely to encounter such problems within predominantly touristic central London, but various outer suburbs require greater vigilance. Avoid large areas of social housing estates unless you know people there, they can be very dangerous places.
Transport is generally safe, although care should be taken on suburban tubes/trains at night; don't fall asleep and take notice of people sitting around you, be cautious if a large group of hooded youths board the bus. 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. Major train stations, particularly Kings Cross and Waterloo have problems you would normally associate with large stations. Some thieves hang around waiting for the Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted express trains so they can target disorientated tourists.
It can be a good idea to keep your credit card receipts in a safe place rather than throwing them away; and to be generally wary of "skimming" devices that may be attached to ATMs in an attempt to steal card details. Some of these are very sophisticated, so if in any doubt do not use that ATM. Ones inside shops or banks are safer. Be sure, when using ATM that there are no objects in the card slot nor any micro cameras above the keypad. If you suspect an ATM has been tampered with, you should inform the bank staff indoors or call the police.
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.