- The capital of England and its largest city, with a population of about 8.2 million.
- With a history stretching back over 2,000 years, London is widely considered to be the de facto capital of the Western world (and one of the global financial powerhouses).
- The first city to have hosted the modern Olympics three times: in 1908, 1948 and 2012.
- Contains 4 world heritage sites: The Tower of London, Kew Gardens, Westminster Abbey, and the historic settlement of Greenwich.
- One in every three of the population is foreign-born. The city is one of the world’s top destinations for people wanting to study, work or learn the English language.
- Has the oldest underground railway network in the world.
- Nicknames: The Smoke / Big Smoke, The Great Wen, The Swinging City, Cockaigne.
- Currency: British Pound (GBP).
- Spoken languages: primarily English. London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and you may overhear a dozen different languages spoken.
- Best time to visit: from May to September. Note: weather in London can be unpredictable and gloomy. Pack a raincoat just in case.
Arriving via airport: National Express provides easy bus transfers between the city’s main stations and the 6 airports that service London. Directions from the major airports:
- Heathrow Airport (LHR) is accessible by Express Rail from London Paddington with a one-way fare of £21 while a taxi will charge £45-60. The cheapest way to get downtown is by London Underground (Piccadilly line) with an Oyster card (Zone 1-6 Travelcard valid).
- London Gatwick (LGW) is connected by rail lines operated by Gatwick Express for £18.90, Southern Railway for £13.50 and First Capital Connect for £10. All these tickets cost considerably less when purchased in advance. Easy Bus delivers to Earl’s Court for £2
- From London Stansted (STN) travel into the city is serviced by Stansted Express with rail journey time of 60 minutes and single fare at £21.50 while the Terravision coach to Victoria costs £9. Taxis charge up to £70.
WHERE TO STAY
Kensington is the most popular district due to great value for money and connects to budget-friendly Earl’s Court and Gloucester Road Underground. Another favorite is Victoria for a wide range of accommodation and optimal location near the transportation hubs and main sightseeing activities. While Knightsbridge is the place to be for exclusive shopping and restaurants, the best buzz is to be seen at West End, the centrally located area closest to the theater district. If you’re budget minded, Central-Baker Street and Marylebone are good areas to stay (to save money on accommodation, look for areas accessible by metro/tube).
- The best way to save both money and time while commuting around London is to purchase an Oyster Card, the electronic ticket used on all major transport options, from underground rail to bus, trams, river boat services and trains. Fares are almost half the price compared to paper tickets; the card can be topped up online or at any of the 3,900 Oyster Ticket Shops.
- The London Underground, mostly referred to as the Tube, is the world’s oldest underground network. It runs 11 lines distinguished by name and color and deliver to every corner of the city. Trains run from 5:30 AM to 1:00 AM and charge on a zonal fare system starting at £4.50 (or £2 for Oyster Card). For exact schedules, please see the timetable.
- The iconic red double-decker buses serve 700 routes throughout London and bear the number of their line and direction. Night service ensures no passenger is left stranded.
- Black cabs can be hailed from the street and are required by law to take passengers to any area within Greater London. Charges are distance and time dependent. Fares are metered, with a minimum charge of £2.40. Many residents prefer to use Uber.
- London River Services run privately owned commuter boats that make travel highly scenic from the waters of the Thames. Travelcards and Oyster cards are accepted.
- Drinking age is 18, and last call is depends on the venue. While bars and pubs typically stop serving alcohol around 12:30 AM, most clubs go on till 3 AM.
- London has an impressive selection of bars and nightclubs for all tastes.
- Head to Shoreditch for dance clubs playing drum and bass, house and trance music – the world’s top DJs call the area their home.
- Mayfair (and Knightsbridge) is for the exclusive crowd.
- Camden has a good selection of bars and clubs.
- Leicester Square is the pub crawl destination (also known as tourist central!)
- Upper Street and Clapham Junction should be on the radar for those looking to eat like the locals.
- Soho is a good all-around bet, with a wide selection of restaurants, clubs and jazz bars.
- Hip scene: head to Dalston or Shoreditch to party with the young and trendy crowd.
- Tip: London is an expensive place to drink – expect to pay £4 for a pint of beer/ale. Check the Bloomsbury area for cheaper drinks – look for bars and pubs near University College London (UCL).
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Tip: The London Sightseeing Pass can be purchased to gain free entrance to 60 attractions. A day pass costs £42.30 and is worth £80 in entrance fees alone; add a Travelcard for an extra £9 and get unlimited access on trains and buses for the day.
- The Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben. The Palace of Westminster, built by Edward the Confessor in the 11th century, is a must-see. The Big Ben is the name given to the bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace, and is an internationally-recognized symbol of London.
- The Tower of London. History buffs should check out the Crown Jewels exhibition, which includes the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross.
- The Hampton Court Palace is a lovely palace, and a must-see for visitors to the city. Several monarchs have adapted the palace to their own tastes over the years.
- The London Eye is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe (135 meters) and offers the most impressive views of the city. On clear days, visibility is up to 40 km in all directions!
- The British Museum: truly an Aladdin’s cave of treasures collected by the British Empire from all over the world. Even if you are not a history buff, the museum is worth a visit.
- Other museums worth a visit: the Tate Modern, Victoria & Albert Museum, the Churchill War Rooms, National Gallery, and Museum of Natural History.
- The stroll from Paddington Station to Trafalgar Square cuts through the city’s most cultural districts, including Kensington Gardens and St. James’ Park for a walk among London’s finest and most romantic green spaces.
- Notting Hill is home to the world famous Portobello Market, known for antique dealers, vintage fashion and knick knacks unlike any you’ve ever seen. Spitalfields Market is where to find up-and-coming designers, trendy pieces and vintage memorabilia.
- From Little Venice walk along the canal and reach Regent’s Park for a casual, scenic route outside the city mayhem.
- Starting from Blackheath Station, walk along Goffers Road to Greenwich Park and look upon London from the zero-degree meridian.
- Hackney is the city’s leafiest boroughs, with over 60 parks for picnics, quiet reads or lunch breaks.
- The Southbank is ideal for a relaxing stroll. Cross along Westminster Bridge to London Bridge, taking in lovely views of the River Thames as you do so. As you walk along the River, check out the Shakespeare Globe Theatre.
- Take a walk around one of London’s Royal parks. If you have trouble choosing one, try the St. James Park. Other great parks include: Hyde Park, Green Park, and Kensington Gardens.
- Treat yourself to a guided walking tour by London Walks – it’s well worth it.
- For event listings, visit Londonears (gigs), RA (club events), Le Cool (everything).
- If you’re into self-guided walking tours, there’s perhaps no better site than Secret London.
- Want to know the best way to get somewhere using public transport? Use Citymapper.
- The best festivals are held the months of June to August – plan ahead if visiting during these months, as the best budget accommodations in London quickly sell out at this time.
- Visit Buckingham Palace at the time of the changing of the guard to see an amazing procession for free.
- London is known for its subcultures. Denmark Street is a great visit if you’re into music, while Carnaby Street is a mecca for fashionistas.
- Where to find good cheap eats: check out the cafes of Soho for cheap food from all over.
- Dangerous areas: avoid the areas of Hackney, Tottenham, and Peckham at night. London is generally safe for tourists, but beware of scam artists the same way you would in any other busy city.
RECOMMENDED LONDON GUIDE BOOKS
- The Ultimate London Travel Guide By A Traveler For A Traveler
- National Geographic Walking London, 2nd Edition
- Rick Steves London 2016
- London: A Travel Guide Through Time
Recommended trip duration: 4-5 days