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Tower Bridge at dusk. Bridging the River Thames near the Tower of London, Tower Bridge is one of the icons of the central London landscape.
For other places with the same name, see London (disambiguation).

London [1] is the capital and largest city of both the United Kingdom and of England, and the largest European city. 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 politics, culture, fashion, trade and finance.

The name "London" originally referred only to the once-walled "Square Mile" of the original Roman (and later mediæval) 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 centre.

The Tower, by Felix Gottwald.
London Eye

The International Olympic Committee has decided that London will serve as the host city for the Games of the XXX Olympiad, the Summer Olympic Games of 2012 [2]. This will be the third time that London has been an Olympic City, having hosted the games previously in 1908 and 1948.


Greater London consists of 32 local boroughs that—together with the relatively new London mayorality—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 strangely-shaped and often fairly arbitrary administrative divisions, but rather by recognised functional, cultural and social districts of varying types and sizes:

London regions
  • Central London
  • East London - a mixture of galleries and bustling nightlife, as well as the some of the most deprived areas in the country. Now the focus of redevelopment for the 2012 Olympic Games.
  • West London - major towns are Kensington, Chelsea, Hammersmith, Fulham, Shepherd's Bush, Chiswick, Acton and Ealing.
  • South West London - covers Battersea, Brixton, Clapham, Kingston, Putney, Richmond, Twickenham, Wandsworth, Wimbledon, Streatham and Tooting.
  • South East London - covers Greenwich, Dulwich, Croydon, Lewisham, Bromley, Depford and Penge.
  • North East London
  • North London
  • North West London



Settlement has existed on the site of London since well before Roman times, with evidence of Bronze Age and Celtic peoples. The Roman city of Londinium however, established just after the Roman conquest of Britannia in 43 AD, formed the basis for the modern city (some isolated Roman period remains are still to be seen within the city). After a short-lived decline that followed the end of Roman rule in 410 AD, London experienced a gradual revival under the Anglo-Saxons and also the Vikings, emerging as a great medieval trading city and eventually replacing Winchester as the English royal capital. This paramount status for London was confirmed by the Norman, William the Conqueror, who built the Tower of London after the Conquest in 1066 and was crowned King of England in nearby 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 government, industry and culture. London's long association with the theatre, for example, can be traced back to the English Renaissance (witness the Rose Theatre and Shakespeare's Globe) 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, drawing people and influences from around the world to become - for one long period - the largest city in the world. Despite the inevitable decline of the Empire, and considerable suffering during the Second World War (when London was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe in "the Blitz"), the city remains a top-ranked world city, a global centre of finance, learning and culture.

The Museum of London, located near the Barbican to the north of the City of London, makes an ideal destination (free admission!) for the traveller who wants to understand the history and ongoing legacy of this great city.

London is easily the largest city in the country, eight times larger than England's 'second' city, Birmingham, and dominates the economic, political and social life of the United Kingdom (much to the annoyance of people in "the provinces" - i.e. everywhere except London). The city is full of excellent bars, theatres, museums, art galleries, and parks. 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 said "When one is tired of London, one is tired of life." Whether you are interested in ancient history or modern art, opera or underground raves, London has it all.

England's royal families have, over the centuries, added much to the London scene for today's traveller: the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, the Albert Memorial, the Royal Albert Hall, and Westminster Abbey spring immediately to mind.

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.


Like most inhabitants of big cities, Londoners are a mixed bunch. Most are fairly private and quiet, even reserved, but with no malice intended and a wicked sense of humour. Trying to get onto a packed bus or Tube will often involve quite a bit of well-intentioned cursing and pushing. Judging the mood of people can often be difficult: You can sit on a Tube for a long time, each of your fellow passengers studiously avoiding making eye-contact with anyone else as if their life depended on it.... One chance remark from a passenger getting on board can then lift the mood and have everyone chuckling into their newspapers.... Londoners generally don't take themselves or other people very seriously, as witnessed in the sport of "Blaine-baiting" which emerged briefly during David Blaine's self-imposed incarceration at Tower Bridge during 2003 (eggs and insults were thrown at the self-important magician).

Because of its status as a high wage/high cost city, London is heavily dependent on immigrant labour for "front-of-house" staff such as shop assistants and hotel/restaurant waiters, and not all will be proficient in speaking English, leading the tourist to believe that they are quite rude and impolite. Just be prepared for this and be patient!

Get in

By plane

London (all airports code: LON) is served by a total of six airports - getting to and from the airports is made relatively easy by the large number of public transport links that have been put in place over recent years. If transiting through London, be sure to check the arrival and departure airports carefully as the transfer may be quite time-consuming.

In addition to London's six official airports (of which only two are located in 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 service by National Express [3]. Buses between Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports run at least once per hour, with Heathrow-Gatwick services taking 65 minutes (£18) and Heathrow-Stansted services 90 minutes (£20.50). However, it's essential to allow leeway, as London's expressways, especially the radial M25, are often congested. Buses have toilets on board.

London Heathrow (LHR)

[4] 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. Flights landing in Heathrow often are delayed by up to an hour as a simple result of air traffic congestion and waiting for parking slots. As a result of Heathrow's size and overcrowding, disembarking the plane can also take considerably longer than at London's other airports.

There are fast food restaurants in the departure areas of all four terminals, though the food is rather mediocre and overpriced. The Mark's and Spencer's outlet in the arrivals area of terminal 3 sells excellent sandwiches at standard prices. Cheaper sandwiches can be found at Boots, but the selection is limited. Within Terminal #1 airside area, the situation is particularly poor - with most cafes closing between 9pm and 10pm, contrary to declared 'till last departing flight'.

To get to the centre of London, the following options exist (in rough order of increasing price).

  • There is a bus service to nearby hotels at £3 for a single trip - this however can be cheaper than a taxi.
  • Piccadilly Line [5] - an underground rail line from the airport to stations throughout central London. There are two stations: one for Terminals 1/2/3, and one for Terminal 4. The journey takes around 50 minutes. £4 (single); Travelcards (zone 6) are valid. This option is much cheaper than the Heathrow Express, and can be faster if your destination is in the suburbs west of London; use the Journey Planner to pick the best route. It can however, become very crowded and unpleasant once the train gets near the central area.
  • By coach - National Express runs a regular service to Victoria Bus Station (next to the railway station) for £15 return - journeys take about 40 mins to an hour
  • Heathrow Connect [6] - a cheaper but slower regional rail link between the airport and London Paddington station. The service runs every 30 min and takes 25 min from terminals 1,2,3. £9.50 (single). Railcards valid only up to Hayes & Harlington, after which a supplement must be paid to reach Heathrow.
  • RailAir [7] - a regular bus service to Woking, a town slightly southwest of London. Woking has good rail connections - if travelling from Heathrow to southwest London, going via Woking is often faster and easier than going through central London.
  • Heathrow Express [8] - a high-speed rail link between the airport and London Paddington Station. The service runs every 15 minutes and takes 15 minutes from terminals 1,2,3 or 23 minutes from terminal 4. £13.50 (single, booked on-line); £26 (return); Statistically the most expensive railway journey in Britain (at over £1 per mile; Travelcards (see below) not valid.
  • By taxi, the journey from the airport to central London will take approximately one hour. £46.00-£50.00 (not great value; you may save time and money by taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington followed by a taxi to your destination)
  • By Mini Cab, journey times as for road / taxi travel, however prices are generally cheaper than the black cabs. The Mini Cab service is a licensed taxi service scheme and cars must be booked in advance.
  • By road, the airport is some 17 miles (27 km) west of central London - a large part of the journey can be made by means of the M4 motorway which can, however, be quite congested at peak periods
  • By the night bus route N9. One of the few options if you need to get in or out of there in the wee hours. Takes about an hour to Aldwych, and only runs every half hour from about midnight to 5am (when the tube and other connections have stopped). Standard bus fare applies (about £1).
  • By bicycle. Travelling to the center by bike may sound like madness, but it's a lot easier than it might seem and an attractive alternative for the adventurous traveller. To get out of the terminal123 area, take the cycle path in the service tunnel on the left hand side of the main road tunnel. The cycle path is meant for airport employees and not widely advertised. It can be accessed by following the signs to car park 1A and turning right just before the car park entrance. After leaving the tunnel, turn right and head to Harlington and further on to Hayes&Harlignton station. From there, the remaining 20km journey to Paddington (in central London) is a pleasant, traffic free ride along the towpath of the Grand Union Canal. It will take you about 1h30min, which isn't all that slower than the Tube and it's about the only way to get to Heathrow for free. Most airlines take bikes for a small surcharge, provided you declare them as "sports equipment".

London Gatwick (LGW)

[9] London's second airport, also serving a large spectrum of places world-wide. To get downtown, the following options exist:

  • Gatwick Express [10] - a high-speed rail link between the airport and London Victoria Station. The service runs every 15 minutes and takes 30-35 minutes. Express class £14 (single); £25 (return); First Class (includes priority security procedures) £20 single, £38 return. Some other options (including Day Return and Carnet) available. Travelcards not valid. Railcards valid.
  • Regular National Rail [11] trains from the Airport rail station to London Victoria, London Bridge, King's Cross and various other stations in central London. To Victoria these run about every 15 minutes and take 35-40 minutes. £9 (single to Victoria), so slightly slower and slightly cheaper than the Gatwick Express; Travelcards not valid.

Another option is the first capital connect line that runs through kings cross, farringdon, city thameslink, london bridge to gatwick. Have a look at national rail (above) for options.

  • By car, the airport is some 29 miles (47 km) south of central London.

London Stansted (STN)

[12] Currently London's third airport, the base for a large number of budget carriers and flights within Europe and a few inter-continental flights.

Internet: There are several commercial wi-fi hotspots covering most of the airport, but they charge extortionate rates. A free wi-fi hotspot is located in the arrivals gate area, next to the phone booths offering fixed internet.
Sleeping in Stansted Airport: The airport's location a long way outside London, the high price of accommodation in the city, the fact that the Underground does not operate before 5:30 am, the fact that airport hotel rooms for under $100 per night are virtually non-existent, the large number of budget flights often departing as early as 6:00 am (when the lowest fares are available), and the fact that many budget airlines don't pay for accommodation in the event of cancellation, all contribute to the reality that an increasing number of travellers choose to spend the night in "Hotel Stansted" prior to their flight. A crowd of around 100 travellers (up to 400 in summer) camp in the main departure/arrivals hall every night, effectively turning it into a giant dormitory. If you decide to make Stansted Airport your domicile for a night, there are a few things to bear in mind: You should arrive early, preferably around 10pm, and stake your territory immediately. Benches without armrests are in limited supply and fill up quickly. If you arrive later take a floor mat and sleeping bag. Sleeping on the floor is tolerated by the staff, but avoid pitching your bed in front of shops and counters. A Sleeping bag is generally recommended as the automatic doors constantly open and close as passengers arrive, and it can get chilly in winter. Safety is not a problem. The airport is miles away from any settlement and security guards overlook the open-plan building 24/7. Ear plugs and eye covers are a must, as the cleaning staff are noisy and shop assistants start arriving at 4am to open shutters. At least one cafe is open all night, offering snacks and hot drinks. Toilets remain open and are normally in good condition.
To get to central London, the following options exist:
  • Stansted Express [13] - a non-stop rail link between the airport and London Liverpool Street Station. The service runs every 15-30 minutes and takes 45 minutes. £15 (single); £25 (return); Travelcards not valid. If your destination is in the Western part of London, get off at Tottenham Hale and continue to your destination on the Victoria Line - it will save you half an hour or so. The Stansted express covers the last part of its journey (between Tottenham Hale and Liverpool Street) at snail pace and takes 15 min for this short stretch. Stansted Express does not accept bicycles except for folding bikes.
  • Terravision [14] - this express bus service runs from the airport to Bishopsgate(Liverpool Street station) and Victoria Coach terminal. The service runs hourly and takes 75 minutes. £8.10/£13.50 (single/return) to Victoria, £6.70/£11.80 (single/return) to Liverpool St; Travelcards not valid.
  • National Express Bus [15] - coaches depart at least every half hours. £10/£16 (single/return) to London Victoria (via Golders Green); £8/£14 (single/return) to Stratford. National Express Bus does not accept bicycles except for folding bikes. Buses go every 15min to Victoria Station. The journey from Victoria takes about 1h30 min, from Stratford 1hr. Delays due to traffic congestion are commonplace, especially on the Victoria Service.
  • Taxis are available but are not the most efficient option. The airport is actually quite a long way from London, so expect the journey to take 1h30 min (2h in heavy traffic) and to set you back about £70. It's normally a better idea to take a train to Liverpool Street station and continue by taxi from there.

London Luton (LTN)

[16] 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 downtown, the following options exist:

  • By National Rail [17]. This airport does not have a dedicated rail link, but the there is a free shuttle bus from the airport to Luton Airport Parkway Station every few minutes and taking five minutes. From there, trains run four or more times an hour to either London St Pancras or London King's Cross Thameslink stations taking around 30 minutes. £11 (single); Note that some trains run non-stop into London, whilst others stop at every station pushing the travel time to nearly 50 minutes, so check before you board. Travelcards not valid.
  • By Green Line [18] bus 757 from Luton Airport to London Green Line Coach Station. Buses run every 20 minutes and take 90 minutes. Travelcards not valid.
  • By National Express [19] coaches. Coaches run from outside the airport at various times throughout the day and night into Golders Green, Marble Arch and Victoria Coach Station. Prices vary depending on the service. It is often worth booking in advance via the National Express website as promotional fares can be as little as £1.
  • By car, the airport is some 35 miles (60 km) north of central London.
  • You can take easyBus vans. If you book in advance, it will be cheaper (£2-£8 booked via internet vs £8 at the bus). They do not go to the city centre, but to Baker St near the Northern Line.

London City Airport (LCY)

[20] A commuter airport close to the city's financial district, and specialising in short-haul business flights to other major European cities. To get downtown, the following options exist:

  • By the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), which connects with the London underground; Travelcards are valid.
  • By taxi, the journey will take about half an hour. £20.00-£35.00.
  • By car, the airport is 6 miles east of central London.

London Southend Airport (SEN)

Currently undergoing redevelopment and is set to become London's sixth international airport once the new rail link is completed. At present it serves destinations in the British isles only.

Other airports near London

  • Southampton Airport [21] (SOU) is not officially a London airport, though accessible enough to conveniently serve the capital, especially South West London. A couple of budget carriers serving an increasing number of European destinations are based here.
  • Direct trains connect Southampton airport to London Waterloo station every 30 minutes. Journey time 1h10min, cost £30-35 return.
  • Birmingham International Airport [22] (BHX) is another non-London airport worth considering as a less congested and hectic alternative to Heathrow, being just over an hour away from London. As a major airport serving the UK's second largest city, there is a good choice of long distance and European destinations.
  • Direct trains connect Birmingham International to London Euston and Watford every 30 minutes. Journey time 1h15min. Cost £35-100 return.

By train

London is served by one international rail link, currently operating out of Waterloo International. High-speed trains travel under the sea for 22 miles (35 km) through the Channel Tunnel from Paris (2h40m) and Brussels (2h15m) and are operated by Eurostar. Book well in advance to secure the best ticket deals. For onward travel Waterloo International is part of the Waterloo station complex (see below) and well served by tube lines, buses and taxis.

London is also well served by trains to and from other parts of the UK. There are no fewer than 12 main line terminal stations, forming a ring around Central London and each serving various parts of the country. Apart from Fenchurch Street (nearest Tube Tower Gateway), all are served by their own stations on the tube network, and most (but not all) can be reached by the Circle Line -- which may be the easiest, if not fastest, way to transfer between stations by Tube. All are served by buses and taxis.

For a detailed profile of each station, visit the Network Rail Stations website and select the appropriate station from the list at left.

In clockwise order the mainline (National Rail) train stations are:

  • London Paddington, serving the area to the west of London including Reading, Oxford, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea, Taunton, Exeter and Plymouth. Paddington is also the downtown terminus of the Heathrow Airport Express service (see above) and also serves commuters from Ealing Broadway, Acton Main Line, Slough, Maidenhead and points west.
  • London Marylebone, serving an area to the north-west of London. One branch serves suburban stations including Wembley Stadium then towns like High Wycombe, Banbury, Stratford Upon Avon and Birmingham. The other takes a more northerly route along the Metropolitan line via Harrow-on-the-Hill to Amersham and then on to Aylesbury. It is usually much cheaper (but slightly slower) to take a Chiltern Railways train from London Marylebone to Birmingham instead of Virgin Trains from London Euston.
  • London Euston, serving central and north-west England and western Scotland, including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Carlisle, Chester and Glasgow, and rail and ferry services to/from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland from Holyhead. Euston is also the London terminus for the sleeper train to Scotland.
  • London St Pancras, serving the East Midlands, including Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield. Eurostar trains will be moving here from Waterloo, possibly some time in 2007.
  • London King's Cross, serving north-eastern England and eastern Scotland, Doncaster, Leeds, Kingston Upon Hull, York, Newcastle upon Tyne, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Regional services including Cambridge, Stevenage, Hitchin and Peterborough also operate from King's Cross. Platform 9 3/4 from the Harry Potter books is marked with a special sign -- although Platform 9 itself is actually in the fairly unpleasant metallic extension used by Cambridge trains. Kings Cross Thameslink station is a short walk away and provides services on the cross London Thameslink line to St Albans, Luton Airport Luton and Bedford to the north and Gatwick Airport and Brighton to the south.
  • London Moorgate, serving regional commuter stations along the King’s Cross line north east of London, duplicating many of the services out of King’s Cross.
  • London Liverpool Street, serving East Anglia, including Ipswich and Norwich. Liverpool Street is also the downtown terminus of the Stansted Airport Express service (see above).
  • London Fenchurch Street, serving largely commuter towns on the north side of the Thames estuary, including Southend.
  • London Bridge, London Cannon Street, London Waterloo East and London Charing Cross, all serving the area south and south east of London, including Brighton, Eastbourne, Hastings, Dover and Ramsgate. Famously known as the "Pit of Despair" by London commuters.
  • London Blackfriars A small intermediate station serving the cross London Brighton- Bedford line with some commuter services from the south eastern parts of London terminating here.
  • London Waterloo, serving the area south-west of London, including Portsmouth, Winchester, Southampton, Bournemouth, Weymouth, Salisbury and Exeter. South-west London is also most quickly reached from Waterloo, although some areas like Richmond and Wimbledon are also served by the western reaches of the District Line. This station is currently the terminus for direct trains to mainland Europe (see above).
  • London Victoria, serving the area south and south-east of London, including Brighton, Eastbourne, Hastings, Dover and Ramsgate, and serves some of south London's commuter belt. Victoria is also the downtown terminus of the Gatwick Airport Express service (see above).
  • Kensington Olympia, a small station just to the west of the centre, and the only London stop for several Virgin long distance cross country services between the Midlands to the south coast.

There is also one cross-London rail service commonly known as Thameslink but officially called First Capital Connect, from Bedford to Brighton and calling in central London at London King's Cross Thameslink, Farringdon, City Thameslink and London Blackfriars. It notably connects Gatwick and Luton airports with each other and Central London.

Train times (to and from any location) can be found on the National Rail Planner [23] or by calling 08457 48 49 50 (local call charges apply) from anywhere in the UK.

The last train sometimes doesn't come because of changes to the schedule, variations in the weather, or for some other reason.

Many parts of London itself are best accessible by train (sometimes called National Rail or Overground trains to distinguish from the Tube) -- some solely so. South-east London in particular is served principally by trains from London Bridge, Victoria, Charing Cross and Cannon Street stations.

Travellers should note that London's bizarre lack of integration of National Rail train services with Transport for London means that pre-pay Oyster cards are not (NOT!) valid on the overground. Travelcards, Oyster or otherwise, are valid, but it is not possible, for example, to use pre-pay to extend a Zone 1 Travelcard to a Zone 5 station. At present, the section of Silverlink Metro service between Euston and Watford is the only National Rail route in Greater London which is Oyster compliant.

As of November 2007, all of the Silverlink Metro network will become the "London Overground" which will be fully integrated into the existing Tube routes, and Oyster ticketing system. It is the first stage of a long campaign by Mayor Ken Livingstone for the entire suburban rail network to eventually be controlled by Transport for London, but it is unlikely to be fully realised for many years.

By bus

Most international and domestic long distance bus services (UK English:coach services) arrive at and depart from a complex of coach stations off Buckingham Palace Road 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:

  • National Express [24] is by far the largest domestic coach operator and operates services to / from London from throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Advance ticketing is usually required and recommended practice in any case
  • Eurolines [25] is an associate company of National Express, and runs coach services to / from London with various cities in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and continental Europe. Advance ticketing is required.
  • MegaBus [26] operates budget coach services from/to London (Green Line Coach Station) to/from several major regional cities, it is even possible to get to Inverness in central Scotland. Tickets must be booked online and fares are demand responsive but can be very cheap (£1.50 if you book far enough in advance).

Get around

London has one of the most comprehensive public transport systems in the world. Despite Londoners' constant, and often justified, grumbling about it breaking down on a regular basis, public transport is often the best option for getting anywhere in London for visitors and residents alike. Indeed, more than a third of London households do not feel the need to own a car. Transport for London (TfL) [27] is the body responsible for London's transport network, predominantly made up of the Underground, buses, rail and trams.

You can use Transport for London's useful Journeyplanner [28] to help you plan your journeys around London on public transport. They also offer a 24-hour travel information line, charged at local rate: tel +44-20-72221234 for suggestions on getting from A to B, and for up to the minute information on how services are running.

By foot

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.

By Tube / Underground

The London Underground [29] - also known popularly as "The Tube" - has trains that criss-cross London in the largest underground rail network anywhere in the world (it was also the first, the first section of the Metropolitan Line dates back to 1863). 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 (go for a Travelcard, if you can), and the fact that it can get extremely crowded during "rush hours" (7:30AM-9:30AM and 4:30PM-7PM). Take a bottle of water with you on warm days. Trains run from around 5:30AM to about 1am at night. Tube maps are freely available from any station, most tourist offices and are prominently displayed throughout stations.

The Tube is made up of twelve lines, each bearing a traditional name and a standard colour on the Tube Map [30]. To plan your trip on The Tube, work out first which station is closest to your starting point and which closest to your destination. Use the Tube Map to determine which line(s) you will take. You are able to change freely between lines at interchange stations (providing you stay within the zones shown on your ticket, or via any reasonable route for single-destination tickets). 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. The Tube is therefore an easy method of transport even for new visitors to London. 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.

When using the tube in Zone 1, bear in mind that the cut-and-cover lines (Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan and District) run at slower speeds and longer intervals than the deep bore lines. Where you have a choice, do not opt for those lines for journeys longer than about 3 stops. For example, the journey from Liverpool Street to Paddington is about 10 min faster using the Central and Bakerloo lines than using the Circle Line, even though it involves a change.

  • Underground Map modified with walklines [31]

Travel on The Tube has become extremely erratic as of late, especially on the weekends. Many sections of The Tube are shut down on the weekends due to "planned engineering" work. Transport for London's website ( has constant updates about these disruptions of service.

The Tube system is divided up into several Zones in concentric circles from Zone 1 (central London, containing most of the primary tourist attractions) all the way out to Zone 6 (outer suburbs and Heathrow Airport). Fares depend on which zone you start in and how many zones you cross. Single fares for an adult are £3 for most trips, including anything within Zones 1 thru 4, or any that stays outside Zone 1. Longer trips, such as from Zone 1 to Zone 5 or 6, or from Zone 3 in the West End to Zone 4 in the East End (passing through Zone 1), cost £4. Travelcards offer much better value if you will be making several journeys - an off-peak Day Travelcard for Zones 1-2 is available after 9.30am each day, for example, at £4.90. Detailed fare information is available at any Tube station or from the TfL website [32]. Using a pre-pay Oyster card [33] reduces fare prices significantly with a Zone 1 single fare costing £1.50 whilst a journey between Zones 1 and 6 costs £2 evening and weekends or £3.50 during the daytime. Oyster cards are available at every Underground station but require payment of a deposit of £3; this is refunded when the card is returned. Another advantage of using an Oyster card is that it is automatically capped to a relevant daily Travelcard price - see below.

If you buy a weekly ticket, you do not have to wait until after 9:30AM and the average price per day will be even cheaper. Oyster cards can again be used for such tickets, along with other seasonal tickets.

There is a general "underground etiquette" amongst Londoners on the Tube, and it's a good idea to learn it quickly so you don't get trampled on by stampeding commuters, and it will also help prevent you being identified as a tourist by pickpockets and touts which still frequent the large central stations.

  • Always stand on the RIGHT when using the escalators and passageways to allow people on in a hurry to pass.
  • Have your ticket or Oystercard ready for when you get to the top of the escalators so not to obstruct the barriers.
  • Move down the platforms whilst waiting on a train to allow for others coming down the escalators behind you.
  • Don't carry excessive amounts of luggage.
  • Move clear of ticket halls, station entrances and at the foot of escalators.
  • If a train arrives and is badly overcrowded, look at the information display on the platform to see when the next train is due. If it's only a couple of minutes behind, you would be as well to wait, as the chances are it will be half empty.
  • Ticket touts are common at the large interchange stations, and try to collect unwanted Travelcards so they can sell on at a profit - the money is often used for drugs and other illicit activities.
  • Beware of pickpockets. They often prey on disorientated tourists at the stations which connect with major rail terminuses (Euston, Waterloo etc.) and tourist attractions. Always keep your belongings in an inside pocket.

By bus

Red bus in London

London's iconic red buses are recognised the world over, and are a major part of London life. Over 5 million bus trips are made each weekday; with over 700 different bus routes you are never far from a bus in London.

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. 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. Your best bet is to ask fellow passengers and/or to trace your route on a map. Bus drivers are sometimes helpful and sometimes not, but they're usually too busy to be able to tell you when you've reached your destination.

Bus routes are identified by numbers and sometimes letters, for example the 73 runs between Seven Sisters and Victoria. Buses display their route number in large digits at the front, side, and rear of the bus. Each bus stop has a sign listing the routes that will stop there. Standard bus services run from around 6am in the morning to 12:30AM at night. Around midnight the bus network changes to the Night Bus network. 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. Night buses are identified by an 'N' at the start of the route number, for example the N73 runs between Walthamstow Central and Victoria. The night bus service is a reliable and often interesting way to get home at night.

Bus journeys are cheaper than taking the Tube, at £1.50 per trip (children under 14 free without identification, under 16 free on production of a Child Oyster card). However, unlike The Tube single tickets do not allow you to transfer to different buses. Consider purchasing a One Day Bus Pass (adult, one day, £3.50) or an Oystercard if you will be making several trips a day, or a Bus Saver booklet of six tickets for £6.00 (£1.00 each), available at rail stations, tube stations and news agents. Fares are the same for night buses as for regular services.

A One Day Bus Pass can be purchased from bus ticket machines, local rail and tube stations, and also selected newsagents for the bargain price of £3.50 (children travel free), allowing unlimited bus journeys for an entire day (and night - up till 4:30AM the next day on the night bus network) across the whole of Greater London. Travelcards and Oystercards also work on bus services.

An Oystercard requires a £3 refundable deposit - however, when using a Pre-Pay Oystercard, a bus journey is £0.80 per trip, a considerable saving. This also applies to night buses. Another option is to charge an Oystercard with a One Day Bus Pass - it tends to be more difficult to lose or damage the Oystercard than it does a slip of paper or card.

Yellow route signs indicate you must purchase your ticket before you board. This means you must either have a Travelcard, a Bus Pass, a Bus Saver ticket, a Pre-Pay Oystercard, or have bought single 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).

The 29 bus is most popular bus (day or night) in London. During the Friday/Saturday late nights between Central London & Wood Green, the N29 runs every 6 mins. Old-fashioned Routemaster buses, with an open rear platform and on-board conductor to collect fares, run on Heritage Routes 9 and 15 every 15 minutes, every day between about 09:30 and 18:30.

Many of the most popular buses, including the 29 bus tend to be of the double-length articulated variety, known as bendy buses. 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. 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. Routes served by this type of bus always carry a yellow route sign as detailed above.

By Tram

There's an electric tram network running between South-West and South-East of outer London (Wimbledon to Beckenham). The tram fares are the same as bus fares; Travelcards covering zones 3,4,5 or any combination thereof, and/or bus passes, are acceptable on all tram routes.


Docklands Light Rail (DLR) is a dedicated light rail network operating in east London, connecting with the Underground network at Bank and Tower Gateway. 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. The DLR uses the same system of Zones as the Tube, and travelcards are valid on DLR services. 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 one's self.

Travelcard and Oystercard

A Travelcard is an all-in-one ticket that allows you travel on the Underground (the Tube), buses, DLR, trams and rail services within set zones. Many travellers, for example, would choose to buy a one day Travelcard that allows unlimited travel throughout zones 1-4 (all of central London, plus many outer suburbs like Richmond, Greenwich and Wimbledon) for £5.40 (April 2006). Other period travelcards such as three-day, weekly, monthly and yearly are also available.

In addition to standard cardboard tickets, tickets may also be purchased in the form of an Oystercard. This is a credit-card sized smartcard that stores your ticket information instead of the cardboard ticket. Rather than inserting a ticket at the gates you simply pass your Oystercard near the yellow readers, meaning you don't need to remove your card from your wallet or bag. You can purchase a weekly, monthly, or annual ticket on an Oystercard. You can also purchase a Pre-Pay Oystercard for a £3 returnable deposit, which stores a monetary value on the card. Swiping your Oystercard for journeys around London will automatically deduct the appropriate value from your card. This provides a level of convenience over buying ticket individually, and also gives you a large discount on each fare. The amount deducted from your Pre-Pay Oystercard is capped at the cost of the appropriate day travelcard or bus pass. This means you don't need to decide at the start of the day whether to get a travelcard or just purchase single rides - using Pre-Pay Oystercard will ensure you are charged the minimum fare. Note that Pre-Pay Oystercards cannot be used on many National Rail services; for these you'll need to purchase a cardboard ticket or a travelcard. Detailed fare information is available at any tube station or from the TfL website.

By cycle

Due to the expense of other forms of transport and the compactness of central London, cycling is a tempting option. 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 July 2005 public transport attacks. Excellent free cycle maps detailing these routes can be obtained from your local tube stations, bike shop, or ordered online. However, London remains a relatively hostile environment for cyclists, generally speaking. A skeletal cycle lane network does not exist. The safest option is to stick to minor residential roads where traffic can be surprisingly calm outside rush hours.

The towpaths along the Grand Union and Regent's Canals in North London are the closest thing to a truly traffic-free cycle path in the capital. 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. 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 30-40 min to cycle from Paddington station to Islington along the towpaths.

Helmets are optional - but well-advised - throughout the UK. It should be stressed that wearing a helmet whilst cycling in London is a particularly good idea - many motorists seem reluctant to acknowledge the existence of cyclists, especially at busy junctions. Many cyclists, especially those who cycle at rush hour, choose to wear filter face masks.

Non-folding bikes can only be taken on limited sections of The Tube network, mostly only on the above-ground sections outside peak hours. Most rail operators allow bicycles outside peak hours also. For this reason, folding bicycles are becoming increasingly popular.

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.

The London Cycle Campaign [34] is an advocacy group for London cyclists and organises regular group rides and events. Critical Mass London [35] 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.

By taxi

London Cab

London has two types of taxis: the famous black cabs, and so-called mini-cabs. 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 cabs 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. Their yellow 'TAXI' light will be on if they are available. Black cabs charge by distance and by the minute, are non-smoking, and have a minimum charge of £2.20 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. 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. 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.

A new convenient taxi-based service is Zingo [36] - call 08700 700 700 and you will be connected direct with the driver of the nearest available black cab anywhere in London to arrange pickup. Normal meter fares apply + £2 booking fee.

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.

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 'mini-cabs' operating - just opportunistic people, with a car, looking to make some fast money. These illegal drivers are unlicensed and sadly they are often unsafe: a number of women are assaulted every week by illegal minicab operators. Some of these operators can be fairly aggressive in their attempts to find custom, 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 mini-cab by telephone, or take a night bus. 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".

Tipping is not mandatory in either taxis or minicabs, despite some drivers' expectations..... Use your discretion - the fares are usually high enough....

By road

Driving in Central London is a slow, frustrating and, often, unnecessary activity. 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 [37] attracts a fee of £8 Monday through Friday 7AM-6:30PM (excluding public holidays) if paid the same day before 10PM (after 10PM until midnight, a surcharge of £2 is added to encourage early payment, totalling £10). Failure to pay the charge by 12 midnight the same day (take note!) incurs a hefty automatic fine of £80 (reduced to £40 if paid within 2 weeks). Numerous payment options exist: by phone, by voucher and online. Check the website for details.

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. Parking during weekdays and Saturdays 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. Find and read the parking restrictions carefully! 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...


Streets of London

London boasts a vast number of attractions for the traveller. Following is a selection of some of the most popular and noteworthy (the rest to be found in the various district pages - get exploring!):

Through to the campaign Everyones London you will get great discounts (up to 50%) on many attractions, if you can present a valid travel ticket. These include the London Eye, the Aquarium, Madame Tussauds, special exhibitions in museums, various restaurants and shows like Saturday Night Fever. To check out how much you get where, visit the Transport of London website here.


The Tower, by Felix Gottwald.
Buckingham Palace, by Felix Gottwald.
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
St.Paul's Cathedral from across the River Thames
  • the London Eye [38] - a giant ferris wheel on the South Bank of the river Thames with magnificent views
  • the Tower of London [39] - London's original royal fortress by the Thames, over 900 years old, containing the Crown Jewels, guarded by Beefeaters, and a World Heritage site. The Tower contains enough buildings and exhibits to keep a family busy for a full day, with plenty of both warlike and domestic contents. Entry is expensive but Beefeaters, who are all retited sergent majors from the British Army, provide guided tours for free as well as ceremonial security.
  • St Paul's Cathedral [40] - Sir Christopher Wren's great accomplishment, built after the 1666 Great Fire of London - the great dome still seated in majesty over The City
  • Shakespeare's Globe Theatre [41] - a fantastic modern reconstruction of the Tudor period Globe Theatre, scene of some fine Shakespearian moments
  • Tower Bridge [42] - the magnificent 19th century bridge, decorated with high towers and featuring a drawbridge. The up-and-coming area of Bankside sits to its west, and the regenerated Butler's Wharf area of shops, reasonably priced riverside restaurants and the London Design Museum lie to its east. For a small charge you can get the lift to the top level of the bridge and admire the view: this includes a visit to a small museum dedicated to the bridge's history and engineering.
  • Westminster Abbey [43] and the Palace of Westminster[44] (including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament) - seat of the British parliament and World Heritage site. Note that the Abbey itself charges tourists for entry -- but not worshippers. Attend a church service for free and enjoy some of the finest choral music in London from the choir. Evensong (see Abbey website) at 4PM or 5PM, depending on time of year, is an especially good bet. You can also visit the 'Mother of Parliaments'; when Parliament is in session (generally late September to mid-July) the only public admittance is to the public gallery in the chamber whenever the House is sitting, typically weekday afternoons only. On the way to the gallery you get a good sample of the internal architecture and decoration. For important debates, for Prime Ministers' Questions, or during tourist season, there is often a queue; however the gallery is often open well into the evening. When Parliament is not sitting, there are 75 minute guided tours, including all the important areas - book ahead or buy tickets for the same day over the road.
  • Buckingham Palace [45] - the official London residence of the Queen, one of several royal palaces in London. Open for tours during the summer months only, but a must-see sight even if you don't go in.
  • Southwark Cathedral [46] - off the traditional tourist path, Southwark Cathedral has been the site of worship since 852 AD. Literally in the shadow of London Bridge, the Cathedral is a shelter from the noise of the city.
  • Somerset House [47] - this magnificent 18th century building off the Strand, recently restored to the public, houses the collections of the Courtauld Institute of Art, Gilbert Collection and Hermitage Rooms. You'll also find shops, cafés, a restaurant and the spectacular Fountain Court, scene of public ice-skating in the winter.
  • Trafalgar Square - home of Nelson's Column and the lions, and once a safe haven for London's pigeons until the recent introduction of hired birds of prey. It recently attracted controversy over the 'Fourth plinth', previously empty, being temporarily home to a Marc Quin sculpture, 'Alison Lapper Pregnant'. Overlooked by the National Gallery, it's the nearest London has to a 'centre', and has recently been pedestrianised. Previously, traffic used to circle the entire fountain and statuary area.
  • Leicester Square - Possibly one of the busiest areas in London. It houses the largest cinemas (frequently hosting star-studded premieres), as well as cafes and restaurants. Due to the huge influx of tourists, everything from cinema tickets to bottles of water are very expensive.
Tourists enjoy a rest at Picadilly Circus
  • Piccadilly Circus - rather eccentric mix of people
  • Maritime Greenwich [48] - home of Greenwich Mean Time, the Cutty Sark [49] and the Royal Observatory [50] - World Heritage site
  • Royal Albert Hall [51] - landmark location of many world-renowned concerts (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin), still plays host to top shelf entertainment. In summer, the BBC Proms are a varied classical music festival, and first-come first-served standing tickets can be had for £5 (2006 price). Doors open 30mins before the performance (which generally begins at 7.30pm) but a queue starts earlier, around 6pm for a 'normal' concert and considerably earlier if there are big-name performers. Seated tickets are also available for £20-£50; often there are some still available on the night. Special rules restrict entrance to the famous Last Night in September; you will not be able to get in without attending at least 6 other Proms!
  • Portobello Road [52] - claimed to be the world's largest antiques market. For antiques, souvenirs and other knick-knacks or simply a walk through time. Camden Market is often claimed to be the new Portobello Road.

Museums and Galleries

London hosts an outstanding collection of world-class museums. Even better, it is the only one of the three traditional "alpha world cities" (along with 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.

  • the British Museum [53] - one of the world's great museums, founded in 1753 - a vast repository of the world's cultures and free entrance
  • the National Gallery [54] - excellent art collection, the vast majority of which is free of charge to visit. The audioguides are very comprehensive, have comments on most of the paintings in the museum, and are free, though this fact is not advertised, and a donation is suggested.
  • the National Portrait Gallery [55] just around the corner from the National gallery; also admission free excepting some exhibitions
  • the Museum of London [56] - a great place to visit to understand the history and development of the city, from prehistoric times to recent history, with plenty of detail on the Roman and Medieval cities - admission is free
Tate Modern
  • the Tate Galleries [57] - Tate Britain [58] and Tate Modern [59] - showcases of some of the best of British and Modern Art respectively - mostly free entry
  • the Victoria and Albert Museum [60] - highlights the decorative arts such as fashion and furniture - admission free
  • the Natural History Museum [61] - the dinosaur exhibit complete with life-sized roaring T-Rex is popular with kids (and adults), but the museum really excels with the galleries devoted to mammals, insects and the human body. There is also a new wing where groups can tour a research facility and the Museum's historic stocks of pickled specimens (well worth a visit, but not for the squeamish!) - free entry
  • the Science Museum [62] - packed with science and industry; there are galleries devotes to many subjects, including space, nuclear physics, genetics, and computing; the top floor is, appropriately, taken up with the history of flight and many historic aircraft, including a Spitfire and a Hurricane.
  • the Sir John Soane's Museum [63] - free but groups must prebook and may need to make donation
  • the Saatchi Gallery [64] - closed and moving to Chelsea, opens in early 2007
  • the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory Greenwich [65] - home of the Prime Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time. Highlights include the lovely walk up to the observatory (with a great view of the river) and the collection of old clocks and navigational instruments - admission free except for special exhibitions
  • the The Wallace Collection [66] - home to Old Master Paintings, Furniture, Porcelain, Arms and Armour and other Fine Art. Free tours, charges for special workshops
  • the Pollock's Toy Museum Trust [67] - no longer at Scala Street. Pollock's Toy Museum [68] charges an entrance fee.
  • the Imperial War Museum [69] - London site, with an afternoon's worth of British military history, is free except for some special exhibitions; the same institution owns the Central London Cabinet War Rooms, HMS Belfast (a WWII cruiser, now a floating museum extensive enough to satisfy the most warlike son or husband), and Duxford Air Museum, an airbase a day trip from London with five hangars' worth of historic aircraft (you are unlikely to fit everything in in one visit).
  • the RAF Museum [70] , in Hendon, is a longish Tube ride from Central London but closer than Duxford and a must for any war buffs. It has extensive galleries detailing the history of the RAF and its aircraft.
  • the London Dungeon [71] brings to life the gorier elements of London's past, with faithful recreations of disaster, disease, and torture. Younger children may be scared.

Although the rest of London may be expensive, many of its best museums and galleries are free including both Tates, the National and National Portrait Galleries, the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum, and most things in Greenwich. Temporary exhibits do cost money, however. Audioguides are available at many of the major museums; many of these are free of charge, though there may be a suggested donation.

Parks and Gardens

The 'green lungs' of London are the many parks, great and small, scattered throughout the city. Some of the best-known and most-popular are:

Lawn chair in Kensington Gardens.
  • Hyde Park [72] - the West End's back garden, Hyde Park is the largest central London park at 140 ha (350 acres) in size. Noted for the large number of recreational possibilities, for the Serpentine (the central large lake) and collection of public sculpture
  • Kensington Gardens [73] - blends into Hyde Park at its western end, features Kensington Palace and the Albert Memorial, 111 ha (275 acres) in size
  • Green Park [74] - 16 ha in size
  • St James' Park [75]
  • Regents Park and the London Zoo(ological Gardens) [76]
  • Kew Gardens [77] - the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in south-west London are one of London's most popular attractions, easily accessed by public transport
  • Richmond Park [78] - The largest Royal Park in London at 1000 ha (2500 acres) in size
  • Brockwell Park [79]. Running from Brixton to Herne Hill, this houses the famous Brockwell Lido.

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. These royal parks are now policed by a division of the Metropolitan Police Service for London. It takes over from the Royal Parks Constabulary which policed Royal Parks prior to the Metropolitan Police.


If you're feeling really touristy visit Madame Tussaud's. Here you can see (and take photos of yourself with) a lot of very realistic waxfigures of celebrities, criminals, politicians and more. There is also the creepy chamber of horrors, although if that appeals you may prefer The London Dungeon.


  • Open top bus tours offer a good, albeit somewhat expensive, introduction to the sights of London. Two principal operators tend to dominate the market for this kind of tour: (The Original Tour and The Big Bus Company). Both provide hop-on/hop-off services where you can get off at any attraction and catch the next bus; both provide live commentaries in English and recorded commentaries in other languages (not necessarily on the same buses).
  • Alternative to a bus tour -- use your feet. All the main sights you'll want to see can be reached in a long day of walking (12 hours or so). Get a good guidebook (Rough Guide, Lonely Planet...), sketch a map to stick in your pocket, have an early breakfast and be on your way. Magnificent on a sunny day, and even if the weather is awful, you're still in LONDON.
  • London Eye [80], the sixth tallest structure in the city; see fantastic views across London.
London Eye
  • If you don't feel like splashing out on one of the commercial bus tours, you can make your own bus tour by buying a Travelcard (see 'Get Around' section) 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 the commercial tour. Every day except December 25/26. £4.30 (offpeak adult); £5.30 (peak adult); £2.60 (children); peak means before 9:30AM.
  • Go on a London Walking Tour - Walks are around (£5 full) for 2-3 hours of guided walks on a variety of themes.
  • Take part in one of the free organised Street Skates (Wednesday/Friday/Sunday). Experienced marshals stop traffic while you roll along past the sights and sounds of London.
  • Visit one or more of the great Royal Parks, London's "green lungs" - in the centre, Hyde Park (the largest) and Kensington Gardens, Green Park, St James Park, Regents Park; further afield, Richmond Park, Bushy Park, Greenwich Park and Brompton Cemetery.
  • Explore many of London's most interesting buildings during the London Open House Weekend normally held in Autumn (2006: Sep 16-17). During this weekend several hundred buildings which are not normally open to the public are opened up. See website for details of buildings opening in any given year.
  • If you are in the mood for a view of London by sea, take advantage of the London Ducktours. Your tour 'bus' is actually a D-Day landing water/land vehicle that has been refurbished complete with tour guide. Visit [81]
  • London audioguides include

London Adventures by TalkingTrip, Bluebrolly, Tourist Tracks, AudioCityTours, iAudioguide (free), (free) and Pocketvox all available for download in MP3 format.

  • See history come alive - go to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. This ceremony, the locking up of the Tower, has been performed every night at 10pm for 800 years. It has never been missed and was only delayed once - when the Luftwaffe bombed the Tower. Begun by Edward I to lock the soldiers in the tower so they didn't wreak havoc, these days it is ostensibly to lock people out. Tickets are free but MUST be prearranged. See the Tower website for details (


  • London Theatre - go and see a musical, play or comedy in London's Theatreland. The weekly Time Out magazine has listings for most plays, concerts, etc. London Theatre has a large variety of shows from fringe to Broadway-like musicals and productions. The West End district is where you'll find the last type, with famous imported Broadway shows and some very good local productions. You can find discounted tickets to these shows at the Half Price Ticket Booth (aka: TKTS) in the area, where reduced tickets are sold on a free seats basis. If you prefer to buy your tickets in advance you can still find discounts at sites like
  • Walking on Green Grass - There are some parks - usually the ones that are considered "gardens" - on which walking on the grass is actively discouraged. The larger parks, however, are good places to enjoy the sun, play a game of football, or enjoy a romantic afternoon or evening.


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.

  • Somerset House [82], Strand, Tube: Temple, Charing Cross, Holborn, Covent Garden, Waterloo and Blackfriars - set in the courtyard of Somerset House, this has become a Londoner's favourite, although how it will compete with the newcomers remains to be seen. It's preferable to visit at night, when the Christmas tree is lit up. From 24 November 2005 - 29 January 2006.
  • Kew Gardens [83], Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Tube: Kew Gardens - a relative newcomer to the scene, this draws in skaters despite the distance from central London. The ice rink is situated in front of the Temperate House (the large greenhouse containing the exotic plants), a combined entry ticket is available, allowing you to wander round the fascinating gardens as well. 26 November 2005 - 15 January 2006.
  • Natural History Museum [84], Cromwell Road - this museum has decided to join in the rinks this year, and looks to be an interesting venue for a festive skate. If you've visited the museum before, you will appreciate the beautiful building that the museum occupies. There is also a Christmas fair (which is free), selling various gift ideas. From 16 November 2005 – 22 January 2006. Nearest tube: High Street Kensington (Circle, District and Piccadilly Lines).
  • Tower of London [85] - another debut this year, set in the tourist-hotspot of the famous Tower. The ice rink itself will be hosted in the dry moat beneath the North wall of the Tower of London. From 19th November 2005 for 7 weeks. Nearest tube: Tower Hill (Circle and District Lines)
  • Canary Wharf [86] - opened for the first time in 2005, the Canary Wharf ice rink offers a cafe and bar, and the only genuine Central Park style skating in London, in the smart Canada Square park surrounding by glittering office tower blocks. Nearest tube: Canary Wharf (Jubilee line and DLR)

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 marshaled group street skates) and speed skating. This mostly centers around Hyde Park (on the Serpentine Road) and Kensington Gardens (by the Albert Memorial).

  • Skate Patrol[87] runs free stopping and turning classes, and can advise you if you have the skills to join one of the street skates. They can also refer you to an ICP qualified instructor if you want to take things further. Serpentine Road near the lake, Hyde Park, Sundays 1pm-5pm. Look for the red t-shirts.
  • Group street skates are the LondonSkate[88] on Wednesdays (8pm, Serpentine Road, April-September), the London Friday Night Skate[89] (8pm, Hyde Park Corner) and the Sunday Stroll[90] (2pm, Serpentine Road)
  • The Easy Peasy Skate[91] for absolute beginners runs in Battersea Park: 10:30am Saturdays
  • The[92] discussion forum is the best place to ask about any other kind of wheeled skating and to find like-minded people
  • Easyskate provides qualified instructors (most of them teach in Hyde Park check out[93] for details.

Sporting Events

  • the world-famous Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships [94] - part of the Grand Slam world tennis fixtures - are held each year in late June-early July in Wimbledon in South West London and attract all the top-seeded players for a fortnight of competition.


One of the world's great metropolises, anything and everything you could possibly want to buy is probably 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!)

The famous Harrods, by Felix Gottwald.

Central London, and especially the West End, has a number of world-famous shopping areas and streets:

  • Oxford Street: The flagship branches of all the major UK high street retailers in one go - including Selfridges [95] and other department stores
  • Bond Street and its neighbours: considered to be UK's fashion heaven
  • Camden Town - alternative clothing and retail, popular with teenagers and young adults
  • Soho - for alternative music, clothes
  • Covent Garden - quaint outlets and relatively expensive designer retail
  • Knightsbridge: including Harrods [96] the slightly more expensive retailer, and Harvey Nichols [97]
  • Chelsea - the King's Road is noted for fashion, homewares and kids
  • Regent Street: between Oxford and Piccadilly Circuses - includes such gems as Hamleys [98], considered to be London's flagship toy store, on seven levels, and the London Apple Store
  • Tottenham Court Road: specialising in interior decorations and electronics
  • Charing Cross Road - for book stores, new, specialised and antiquarian
  • Markets - London has plenty, whether you're looking for bric-a-brac, clothes or fresh food, try Portobello, Brick Lane, Greenwich, Borough and Brixton for starters.
  • Leicester Square - London is a famous place for musicals, but it is quite hard to get a ticket for it. However, if you go to Leicester Square, there is this district where you can get many half-price tickets for all of the musicals showing in London - in the centre of the square you will find the "TKTS" booth which is operated in collaboration with all the major theatres, and is the best place to start when looking for cheap theatre tickets.

Central London shops are usually open late at least one night a week, until 7PM-8PM. West End shops (Oxford Street to Covent Garden) stay open until late on Thursdays, while Wednesday evening is late opening for Chelsea and Knightsbridge.

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.


Breakfast Fry-Ups

It is a huge task for a visitor to find the 'right place' to eat in London - with the 'right atmosphere', at the 'right price' - largely because, as in any big city, there are literally thousands of venues from which to choose. London has long had a reputation of not serving the best food, but this is really an outdated opinion, and you no longer have to spend ages hunting around for a decent, reasonably priced place. It is now one of the best cities in the world to eat, whatever your budget, particularly when it comes to more upmarket café chains, such as Caffe Nero, EAT and Pret-A-Manger, which are a favourite with commuters, shoppers and some tourists. You can find restaurants serving food cuisine from nearly every country in the world as London is the most diverse city in the world.

London is only second to Tokyo as the most expensive city in the world to eat. But this survey hides the fact that there are plenty of good value, even cheap places to eat - you just have to know where to look.

Of course, many travellers (especially those on a budget!) prefer to help themselves; picnicking and/or buying food for preparation in your room is a great way to enjoy good food at the lowest price possible.


Following is a (very!) rough guide to what you might get, should you fancy eating out:

  • £5 - a couple of sandwiches and a soft drink, or some fish and chips (takeaway only), or a fast food 'meal'
  • £10 - plenty of Chinese/Indian/Thai/Vietnamese restaurants will give you a meal and bottle of beer for this much. Some more expensive restaurants serving French, Mediterranean or International cuisine have cheaper "lunch offers" that include two or three courses.
  • £20 - a lot more choice: you can have a good meal, half a bottle of wine and change for the bus home. There are plenty of modest restaurants that cater for this bracket.
  • £40 - you are generally paying for nicer interior, or a better view. But if you are trying to impress a special someone it'll be worth it.
  • £50 +: with more money to spend you can pick some of London's finer restaurants. It may be a famous chef (like Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver) or simply a place that prides itself on using the finest ingredients. There is no maximum limit on what you can spend, as some restaurants seem intent on pushing this higher and higher....

Prices inevitably become inflated at venues closest to major tourist attractions - beware the so-called "tourist traps". Notorious areas for inflated menu prices trading on travellers' gullibility and lack of knowledge are the streets around Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, the British Museum and the Palace of Westminster. 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!

London has probably the highest number of fast food outlets in Europe and you can hardly miss them when in London, whether central or suburbs. The usual suspects (McDonalds, KFC and Burger King) seem to be on every street corner in Central London, but those in the middle of the West End and near major tourist areas cheekily add the odd 10p and 20p onto their prices. Sandwich shops are London's most popular places to buy lunch, and there are a lot of places to choose from. More upmarket chains such as Eat and Pret a Manger offer ready-made sandwiches made with quality ingredients. Other independent shops will make sandwiches to order, but depending on where you go the product may not be as large as you expect. Some Italian sandwich shops have a very good reputation and you can identify them easily by looking at the long queues at lunchtime. And if all else fails, there's likely to be a Subway nearby (often connected to an easyInternetCafe in case you need to check your email). Another good (and cheap) lunch option is a chicken or lamb doner (you might call it a gyro) at many outlets throughout the city. If all else fails, the central area has lots of mini-supermarkets operated by the big British supermarket chains (e.g. Tesco Metro, Sainsbury's Central etc.) where you can pick up a pre-packed sandwich.

Tipping may also be different than what you're used to. Some places include a service fee (usually 10-12%), and all meals include the 17.5% VAT tax. 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.


London has a restaurant to suit any taste, it's just a matter of finding it. Start off with a printed guide (spend some time in a bookshops and have a free browse for some ideas, particularly Harden's London Restaurants, Time Out books such as the 'Eating & Drinking Guide' and 'Cheap Eats in London' as they generally very reliable). If you are looking for particular nationalities these tend to be clustered in certain areas: Brick Lane is famously known for curries, but for a better quality meal (and cheaper) Tooting has a far better reputation. For a collection of good value Indian Vegetarian restaurants, go to Drummond Street. There's Chinatown (Soho) for Chinese, Kingsland Road (Shoreditch) for good cheap Vietnamese, Brixton for African/Caribbean, Golder's Green for Jewish and Edgware Road (Marylebone) for Middle Eastern cuisine. Also a great choice is the located in the St. Martin's Lane Hotel, which features Asian-Cuban cuisine. Other nationalities are equally represented, but are randomly dotted all over London. The Dinner Deals and Toptable websites offer 2-for-1 deals and percentage discounts for some of London's hottest and most interesting restaurants.


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.

For those of you looking for veggie fast food, Red Veg on Dean Street, opposite Tesco in Soho, has some great stuff. 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 meat, from burger joints to nice restaurants. There are also plenty of Kosher restaurants in London, including a Chinese Kosher restaurant (Kaifeng [99]).

Specialty shops

London caters for most global tastes by hosting at least one - and sometimes - many food stores that specialise in one or more cuisines. Numerous examples exist, for example, of food stores dedicated to Chinese, Japanese, Italian and African foods.


  • Fortnum & Mason, "the Queen's grocery store", selling the finest quality (and most expensive) foods and drink
  • Harrods, a seven floor department store which is world famous.
  • Harvey Nichols, noted for fashion, jewelry and music.
  • Selfridges, the Oxford Street emporium, has high style in all categories (like Bloomingdale's in New York)


London is home to a great many pubs, bars and nightclubs. You are reminded that London is an expensive place and that your drink is likely to cost you more than its equivalent elsewhere in the UK. Expect to pay close on £3 for a pint in an 'average' pub. However, the cost of alcohol drops significantly the farther away you go from the central area. 'Classier' bars and pubs can be much more expensive. 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 Euston area, check out The Court (near the top end of Tottenham Court Road) and The Rocket (on Euston Road, a short walk from the British Library); both are part of the Scream chain and 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 Euston, St. Pancras and King's Cross railway stations.

The general rule about tourist traps applies to pubs as much as anything else - you will find plenty of "traditional English pubs" near major attractions (usually the type with mock Tudor style cladding and lots of hanging baskets decorating the outside), with inflated prices to match - avoid them all. For a cheap pint near Piccadilly Circus, check out The Midas Touch (Golden Square, just off Beak Street in Soho), is another popular pub with locals and usually has some good happy hour deals.

However, these are the more trendier bars/clubs. Some classy and somewhat expensive hip and trendy bars include the Light Bar, Long Bar and Purple Bar.

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. The choice of places to go sometimes seem to be unmanageable. Gay Pride is held every year in June with parade and street parties.

  • Barcode Bar and dance club in Soho, opened a second venue in Vauxhall
  • Heaven Legendary disco, which saw its best days in the 80's
  • G-A-Y Dance party, popular with a very young crowd (Soho)
  • The Royal Vauxhall Tavern a landmark. Features the Dame Edna Experience on Sundays
  • The Hoist Men only leather bar
  • Central Station Bar and fetish club in King's Cross - seedier than most central venues.
  • Ghetto Different music every night of the week, relatively cheap

You will probably find that most places, particularly Shoreditch or Camden, straight bars will have a mixed clientele.


London has hundreds of options for accommodations - from 4 star hotels, through apartments, to historic B&Bs and hostel beds. You can end up paying anything from £20-200 per person, per night, with most hotels anywhere near the centre charging £50 per person and up. Expect smaller than average rooms, especially at the lower end of the price range. Your budget will have a lot to do with what part of London you will want to stay in. 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 mins per tube stop (near the centre), around 2-3 mins per stop (further out), and 5 mins per line change. This can easily total up to a 1 hour journey if there is a walk at each end. The extra cost of more zones on a travel card is probably not significant compared to hotel savings further out.

Capulse-style crash spaces are just arriving, butcurrently these are only in central locations. (does anyone know of cheaper capsule-style crash space further out?)

Some nice, convenient areas to stay in London include:

  • Bloomsbury - relatively quiet area with a wide range of accommodations, gets a little seedy towards and beyond King's Cross station. Many budget options are located on Argyle Street. Cartwright Gardens features a dozen small B&Bs in historic homes.
  • Kensington - the Earl's Court area of Kensington has many budget and modest accommodations as well as good 4 star hotels and some good restaurants as well.
  • Paddington/Hyde Park - an area that has undergone a lot of change recently, largely resulting from the Heathrow Express coming into Paddington Station. Good hotels can be found in the immediate area of the station and in quieter spots a short walk away.
  • Westminster - lots of small B&B hotels (many used to be brothels but are posh now) around the back of Victoria station, in the Pimlico area.

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 [100] operates four hostels in Central London:

  • St Pancras (Euston Road, opposite the British Library and St Pancras railway station) The largest and newest of the four, minutes walk from Kings Cross/St Pancras and Euston Tube stations)
  • St.Pauls (In the City, a short walk from St. Pauls Cathedral) A small hostel converted from one of the Square Mile's oldest buildings.
  • Holland Park (Off Kensington High Street, near High St. Kensington on the Circle Line) Situated in a spectactular location in one of London's most prestigious areas.
  • Oxford Street (Located in the middle of the shopping district)

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.

In the summer season, many of the colleges and universities in Central London open up their student Halls of Residence as hotels during the summer vacation, at usually much lower rates than "proper" hotels, but expect very basic facilities and no catering. University College London [101] is based in the King's Cross/Bloomsbury area and offers such a service.

In an emergency, should you get stranded in London with nowhere to stay, call the Shelter 24-hour helpline on 0808 800 4444 (Shelter is a UK national charity that provides advice on housing and homelessness).

Stay safe

Like many big cities, London has a variety of social problems, especially begging, drug abuse, theft (mobile phones are a favorite), 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 Soho. 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, although some parts of North-West London around Willesden are also known trouble spots. However it is unlikely that tourists will be in these areas.

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 however 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.

Transport is generally safe, although care should be taken on suburban tubes/trains at night; if possible sit on the lower deck of night buses and don't fall asleep!!! 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.

One thing to note is that many tourist attractions are located near council estates (public housing) which may not be a safe area for tourists to wander around, particularly at night. Examples of these attractions would be Tower Bridge (the South side), London Eye, Camden and Portobello Road Markets, Shoreditch and Greenwich.

London is, despite all this, a fairly safe city for its size, and most visits should be trouble-free. The police are generally very helpful when problems do occur. Language may be a problem at the scene, if you do not speak English, however officers make every effort to try and convey questions. In some forces, they may call an interpreter over the phone to translate.

Get out

  • Brighton is a nearby beach resort, sometimes known as "London-on-Sea". £13 (adult off-peak day return by rail).
  • Hampton Court Palace is an historic Royal Palace located on the outskirts of London
  • Winchester is former capital of England and an attractive cathedral city with lots to see. The train journey (from London Waterloo) gives good views of the southern English countryside and takes about one hour. £20 (adult off-peak day return by rail).
  • Windsor is a nearby Thames-side town with a magnificent castle and royal residence. £7 (adult off-peak day return by rail).
  • The University cities of Oxford and Cambridge make for ideal days out of London
  • Canterbury is the site of the foremost cathedral in England, constructed from the 12th to the 15th century. Entry to the cathedral costs £4, and it's certainly worth doing a guided tour for an additional £3. The famous white cliffs of Dover are only 15 miles further east, easily accessible by train.
  • Southend-on-Sea is a seaside town in Essex and a short train ride away.

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!