Noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is a megalopolis of people, ideas and frenetic energy. The capital and largest city of England, and of the wider United Kingdom, it is also the largest city in Western Europe and the European Union. Situated on the River Thames in South-East England, Greater London has an official population of a little over 8 million, but the estimate of between 12 and 14 million people in the greater metropolitan area better reflects its size and importance. Considered one of the world's leading "global cities", London remains an international capital of culture, music, education, fashion, politics, finance and trade.
Greater London is most of the area surrounded by the M25 orbital motorway, and consists of 32 London Boroughs and the City of London that, together with the office of the Mayor of London, form the basis for London's local government. The Mayor of London is elected by London residents and should not be confused with the Lord Mayor of the City of London. The names of several boroughs, such as Westminster or Camden, are well-known, others less so, such as Wandsworth or Lewisham. This traveller's guide to London recognises cultural, functional and social districts of varying type and size:
HistorySettlements have existed on the site of London since well before Roman times, with evidence of Bronze Age and Celtic inhabitants. The Roman city of Londinium, established just after the Roman conquest of Britannia in the year 43, formed the basis for the modern city (some isolated Roman period remains are still to be seen within the City). After the end of Roman rule in 410 and a short-lived decline, London experienced a gradual revival under the Anglo-Saxons, as well as the Norsemen, and emerged as a great medieval trading city, eventually replacing Winchester as the royal capital of England. This paramount status for London was confirmed when William the Conqueror, a Norman, built the Tower of London after the conquest in 1066 and was crowned King of England in Westminster.
London went from strength to strength with the rise of England to first European then global prominence, and the city became a great centre of culture, government and industry. London's long association with the theatre, for example, can be traced back to the English renaissance (witness the Rose Theatre and great playwrights like Shakespeare who made London their home). With the rise of Britain to supreme maritime power in the 18th and 19th centuries (see Industrial Britain) and the possessor of the largest global empire, London became an imperial capital and drew people and influences from around the world to become, for many years, the largest city in the world.
England's royal family has, over the centuries, added much to the London scene for today's traveller: the Albert Memorial, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Royal Albert Hall, Tower of London, Kew Palace and Westminster Abbey being prominent examples.
Despite the decline of the British Empire, and suffering during World War II when London was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe in the Blitz, the city remains a top-tier world city: a global centre of culture, finance, and learning. Today London is easily the largest city in the United Kingdom, eight times larger than the second largest, Birmingham, and ten times larger than the third, Glasgow, and dominates the economic, political and social life of the nation. It's full of excellent bars, galleries, museums, parks and theatres. It is also the most culturally and ethnically diverse part of the country, and arguably of the whole of Europe as well, making it a great multicultural city to visit. Samuel Johnson famously said, "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life". Whether you are interested in ancient history, modern art, opera or underground raves, London has it all.
The City and Westminster
If you ask a Londoner where the centre of London is, you are likely to get a wry smile. This is because historically London was two cities: a commercial city and a separate government capital.
The commercial capital was the City of London. This had a dense population and all the other pre-requisites of a medieval city: walls, a castle (The Tower of London), a cathedral (St Paul's), a semi-independent City government, a port and a bridge across which all trade was routed so Londoners could make money (London Bridge).
About an hour upstream (on foot or by boat) around a bend in the river was the government capital (Westminster). This had a church for crowning the monarch (Westminster Abbey) and palaces. As each palace was replaced by a larger one, the previous one was used for government, first the Palace of Westminster (better known as the Houses of Parliament), then Whitehall, then Buckingham Palace. The two were linked by a road called The "Strand", the old English word for "riverbank".
London grew both west and east. The land to the west of the City (part of the parish of Westminster) was prime farming land (Covent Garden and Soho for example) and made good building land. The land to the east was flat, marshy and cheap, good for cheap housing and industry, and later for docks. Also the wind blows 3 days out of 4 from west to east, and the Thames (into which the sewage went) flows from west to east. So the West End was up-wind and up-market, the East End was where people worked for a living.
Modern-day London in these terms is a two-centre city, with the area in between known confusingly as the West End.
Extreme weather is rare. Occasionally there may be heavy rain that can bring localised flooding or strong winds that may down trees and damage roofs, but overall you are unlikely to encounter anything too lively.
WinterWinter in London is mild compared to nearby continental European cities due to both the presence of the Gulf Stream and the urban heat effect. The average daily maximum temperature is 8°C (46°F) in December and January. The coldest temperature recorded in London stands at −16.1 °C (3.0 °F) and was recorded at Northolt during January 1962, but this occurred during one of the coldest winters ever seen in the UK.
Daylight hours become increasingly shorter with darkness falling at 15:00 in December. Days continue to be short up until March when sunset starts to occur after 19:00.
Snow does occur, usually a few times a year but rarely heavily (a few years being exceptions such as the winters of 2009 and 2010, with temperatures dipping down to sub-zeros regularly). Snow in London can be crippling, as seen at the end of 2010. Just 7 cm (3 in) of snow will cause trains to stop running, airports to see significant delays, and the postal service to come to a halt. London is a city which does not cope well with snow; walkways, stairs, and streets will not be cleared by shovels or ploughs. The streets will be salted/gritted, but will remain slick and snow/slush covered until the sun melts it away. This is due to a lack of widespread snow-clearing infrastructure as the city does not often see snow.
SpringSpring in the capital can be something of a weather rollercoaster with big variations in temperature day by day. It can be a very wet time of year, but the increases in day length from March onwards and steady temperature increases as the season progresses can make it a pleasant time to visit.
Days can be mild and warm, but the temperature will often dip at night as the sun's warmth dissipates.
The beginning of spring in March can be as cold as winter, so be sure to bring something warm to wear!
SummerSummer is perhaps the best season for tourists as it has long daylight hours as well as mild temperatures. The average daily high temperatures in July and August are around 24°C (75°F). The highest temperature ever seen in London stands at 38.1°C (100.6°F), which was recorded on 10 August 2003 at Kew Gardens.
Humidity across the city can increase and stay high over the course of several days and nights, leading to unexpectedly muggy conditions. Also, upon occasion, clouds of dust from storms in the Sahara desert can be blown across Europe and lead to increases in pollution levels.
Despite the increased warmth, the weather in summer can be variable. Occasional prolonged instances of rain and unexpected dips in temperature can occur. If you're coming during the summer it is still advised to dress in layers and bring some waterproofs!
AutumnAutumn in London can vary from year to year: In some years September and October can see temperatures not far below those seen in summer due to a phenomenon known as an "Indian summer", but in other years the temperature can decrease rapidly to winter levels and stay there. Autumn tends to be the wettest and windiest season but, again, this can vary from year to year. Day length at the beginning of autumn is near that of summer, meaning that a September trip can still be as easy to plan as an August one as there's plenty of daylight to work with.
Mid-autumn is a wonderful time to wander one of London's many tree-filled parks as the leaves fade from green to gold. Another benefit of a September trip is that children return to school at the beginning of the month, meaning that some tourist attractions will be quieter.
It's best to see autumn in London as being like a box of chocolates: You never know what you're going to get!
Tourist information centresLondon has no centrally located tourist information centre. The City of London Information Centre, as the last remaining information centre in any of the Central London boroughs, is now the only impartial, face-to-face source of tourist information in Central London. It is located in St. Paul's Churchyard, next to St. Paul's Cathedral, and is open every day other than Christmas Day and Boxing Day, M-Sa 09:30-17:30 and Su 10:00-16:00. There is no office for tourist information for the UK or for England.
If transiting through London, check the arrival and departure airports carefully as transfers across the city may be quite time consuming. Other regional UK airports are conveniently accessible from London. They offer a growing number of budget flights, which may be faster, depending on where in London your destination is.
Avoid changing money at the airports - their exchange rates are poor, and dismally poor at London Gatwick. You can probably swipe your bank card or use an ATM to pay for the ride into town. If you have pounds sterling from a previous trip, beware that UK banknotes are changing, see United Kingdom#Money for details.
National Express offers fast, direct inter-airport coach service between Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton at least hourly. Heathrow-Gatwick take 65 min (£18), and Heathrow-Stansted services take 90 min (£20.50). Services between Stansted and Luton run every two hours. It's essential to allow leeway, as London's motorways are often congested to the point of gridlock. Some of these coaches have toilets on board.
Heathrow AirportLondon's largest airport and the world's busiest airport in terms of international passenger movements, with services available from most major airports world-wide. More than 77 million passengers used Heathrow Airport during the period of Jul 2016 to Jun 2017.
Here's a quick summary of transport options from Heathrow to central London:
Fastest: by Heathrow Express railphone: +44 845 600 1515Travelcard & Oyster card not valid. These train lines terminate at London Paddington. They are often not the fastest way to a final destination in London.
phone: +44 845 678 6975Requires a change for Terminal 5. Follows the same route as Heathrow Express but stops at several stations to London Paddington so journey is 25 minutes and trains less frequent. TfL trains are poorly marked at the airport and at Paddington. Ask a TfL attendant how to get to the train from the airport. For the return trip, the train leaves from Paddington Platform 12.
Cheapest: by London Underground (Piccadilly line or Tfl rail / Crossrail)phone: +44 845 330 9880For the cheapest single fare ask for an Oyster card (£5 refundable deposit), or use a contactless card. A Zone 1-6 Travelcard is valid. Train for central London M-Th 05:02-23:45, and non-stop F 05:02 to Su 23:28. When travelling from central London, some Piccadilly trains don't go to the airport. During the day trains are at least every 10 minutes and usually more frequent. Weekend engineering works can result in replacement buses being run in place of the trains - check with the Transport for London website beforehand.
- Bus N9 operates service from midnight-05:00 between Heathrow and Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, roughly following the Piccadilly Line into central London. Buses depart every 20 minutes and take ~1hr15min to reach central London. Flat fare of £1.50, accepts Oyster Card or Contactless Credit/Debit, but not cash.
TaxiA taxi ("black cab") from Heathrow to central London will cost £45-60. You may wish to consider taking a taxi if you have a lot of baggage or small children.
Pre-booked Mini CabA booked sedan transfer from Heathrow to central London will cost £39-44. The fare is fixed, regardless of traffic conditions or route. There are dozens of companies serving Heathrow, just google 'heathrow minicab'. Once booked, the driver will be waiting for you with a sign bearing your name in the arrivals area. Tipping when using minicabs is not required, although it is certainly welcome.
phone: +44 845 748 4950Bus 285 or taxi to Feltham railway station (20 min) then a train to London Waterloo on the South Bank or Clapham Junction in South West London. Bus X26 is an express route calling at Hatton Cross, Teddington Broad St., Kingston Wood St., Kingston Cromwell Rd., New Malden Fountain, Worcester Park, Queen Victoria, Cheam Broadway, Sutton Police Station, Carshalton High St., Wallington Green, East Croydon & West Croydon St Michaels bus station. Zone 1-6 Travelcard valid on all London buses and trains.
- Airport Parking. Heathrow Terminal 5 Parking.
Gatwick AirportLondon's second airport, also serving a large spectrum of places world-wide. It is split into a North Terminal and South Terminal. The two terminals are linked by a free shuttle train (5 minutes). The British Rail train station is located in the South Terminal.
Transport options into central London:
phone: +44 845 850 1530To London Victoria. Travelcard not valid.
phone: +44 845 127 2920To London Victoria via Clapham Junction (same route as Gatwick Express - but with intermediate stops).
phone: +44 871 200 2233To London Bridge, Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon, St Pancras International, Luton Airport and further north.
By bus: easyBusTo Earl's Court/West Brompton.
By bus: National ExpressTo London Victoria.
phone: +44 7505 616915
By car. Follow the M23 (London), then the A23 (Central London).
By cycleThere is a long-distance cycle path into Central London, but as it involves an indirect route, going over the North Downs and through South-East London, it will likely be quite a ride. For adventurous people.
London Luton AirportLondon's fourth airport, 35 miles north of the city, is a major hub for the budget airlines easyJet, Ryanair and Wizz Air, and for charter flights by Tui (formerly Thomsons). This means it particularly feels the peaks and troughs of holiday travel: Easter here can be chaotic. Most flights are to Europe, plus a few to Tel Aviv, the Gulf states and Red Sea resorts. UK flights are to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Belfast. See below for transport, and allow extra time because the access routes and parking lots are still being excavated. However building work on the interior is complete for the time being. There's a couple of cafes and an exchange desk groundside, then a large retail and waiting area in airside departures, plus multi-faith prayer room. Exchange kiosks are run by ICE: they don't display their rates, but these are about 25% off the official rate for major currencies - poor but average for a UK airport. "Duty free" liquor is 10% more expensive than UK supermarket prices. Consider printing your boarding pass even if it's on your phone, as mobile / Wifi coverage is scratchy within the terminal building; you can use airport Wifi (non-secure) free for up to 4 hours.
Transport to & from London is described below. For transport between airport and Luton and other nearby towns, and to other London airports, see Luton.
By rail takes an hour altogether. The airport station is Luton Airport Parkway a mile from the terminal, linked by shuttle bus. There are trains to central London every 10-15 mins daytime and hourly through the night. They reach London St Pancras (adjacent to King's Cross) within 30 mins, mostly continuing across the city to Blackfriars, London Bridge, Brighton and other places in Kent. (Slow trains take 40 mins.) Single fare £15-18, return £26. The shuttle bus costs £2.40 single or £3.80 return and can be paid by cash or contactless at the staff infront of the bus or at the driver. If your ticket is to or from "Luton Airport" rather than Parkway, it's already included in the price. Coming out from London, the train will be bound for Luton town (the next stop down the line) or Bedford.
By bus takes 90 mins, more in rush hour, but may be quicker than train for destinations in north London. The bus station is just outside Arrivals. Green Line Bus 757 runs between airport and London Victoria every 30 mins daytime and hourly through the night. Stops include Brent Cross, Finchley Road and Baker Street. Tickets online are £11 single, £17 return valid 3 months; or pay the driver. National Express Bus A1 runs to London Victoria, stopping at Golders Green, Frognal, Finchley Rd, St Johns Wood, Baker St and Marble Arch. It runs every 20 min daytime, hourly through the night. Bus A2 runs to London Paddington via the same stops. Demand-led pricing, with low online "teaser" fares, but real-world fares are similar to Greenline.
By car: all the major car rental agencies have desks in arrivals, pre-book online for best deals and to ensure availability. There's a mix of on-airport and off-site parking lots nearby, though access is clogged by construction work. For London and the south, follow signs along A1081 to join M1 at jcn 11, and from there it's 10 mins to the M25 junction. Continue on M1 for Brents Cross and city centre or join M25 for east or west; depending on traffic it'll take between 90 mins and the rest of your life.
London City Airport
London City AirportLondon's fifth largest airport. A commuter airport close to the City's financial district, and specialising in short-haul business flights to other major European cities. There are also routes to holiday destinations that include Malaga, Ibiza and Mallorca.
The airport is located 11 km (6.9 miles) east of the City of London and a short distance from Canary Wharf. It mainly offers flights to major European cities by full service carriers. British Airways operates two services a day to New York JFK on weekdays and a daily service on weekends using an Airbus A318 in an entirely business class configuration.
Plane tickets are marginally more expensive than what can be found in London's other airports. With that said, you may find that this can be your cheapest London airport to fly to, especially if you add £10 or more in transfer costs from outlying airports. The airport has its own station on the Woolwich Arsenal branch of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).
Minimum check-in time for most airlines is around 30 minutes, with some offering 15 minute check-in deadlines. Queues for security can be long at peak business times. Touchdown to the DLR (including taxi, disembarkation, immigration and baggage reclaim) can be as fast at 5 minutes, although 15 minutes is normal.
To get to the city centre the following options exist:
By Docklands Light Railway (DLR)See also: Get around. The DLR runs to Bank, Stratford, and Canary Wharf stations, among many others. You can change to the London Underground's Jubilee line at Canning Town which heads to Canary Wharf and then on into central London. You can also disembark at Royal Victoria station and ride the Emirates AirLine cable car across the River Thames to Greenwich, taking the Jubilee line into central London from there.
By car. Journeys can take anywhere from 45 minutes to well over an hour depending on traffic. Follow signs for The City (A13).
By busTake the 474 bus to Canning Town station and then the 115 or N15 into central London. See also: Get around.
London Southend Airport
phone: +44 1702 608100Southend airport serves a range of destinations in Europe with Aer Lingus Regional and easyJet. The airport has its own railway station "Southend Airport", and is served by trains to Liverpool Street, via Stratford by trains 17 hours a day. There are up to 8 trains an hour, depending on the time of day. The station is 200 m from the terminal building. A journey time of 55-65 min. Travelcard not valid. If you're driving into Central London, follow signs for London (A127), then (A130), and finally (A13).
London is the hub of the British rail network - every major city in mainland Britain has a frequent train service to the capital, and most of the smaller, provincial cities and large towns also have a direct rail connection to London of some sort - although the frequency and quality of service can vary considerably from place to place.
Rail fares to London vary enormously from very cheap to prohibitively expensive - the golden rules are to book Advance tickets for a particular train time, don't travel into the city on Friday afternoons and Sundays, and avoid leaving buying tickets until the day of travel. There are three basic types of ticket, which are summarised below. Much of the advice applies to rail travel in general within the United Kingdom.
- Anytime - travel on any train, any operator at any time, returning within one month with few restrictions. Very expensive however - on a long distance journey from Northern England or Scotland for example - an Anytime return ticket to London won't leave you with any change out of £250!
- Off-peak - travel on certain trains within a specific time-frame; again returning within one month. Typically this excludes anything that arrives into London during the morning rush hour (before 10:00 typically), or any train which departs during evening rush hour (16:30-18:30). Weekends generally carry no restrictions on the use of Off-Peak tickets. There are however, a monumentally complex number of exceptions for which Off-Peak tickets are and aren't valid which are barely fathomable to the British, never mind overseas visitors. If you are in any doubt at all about the validity of an Off-Peak ticket, ask a guard at the station or a ticket office before getting on a train - as on-train conductors can be notoriously unforgiving. Super Off-Peak tickets have further restrictions on the time at which they can be used and differ depending on the train operator. Again, ask at the ticket office or the guard before boarding the train.
- Advance - travel on a specific day and train time, booked up to 12 weeks in advance either in person at a railway station, over the telephone, or online. Two Advance single tickets for the outward and return legs of the journey are generally cheaper than the Off-Peak return ticket. Better deals can often be had by going directly to the train operator's website. The earlier you book, the more you save - you can get down to as little as £12.00 one-way from Scotland for example, but these tickets are non-refundable, and cannot be used on anything other than the date, train time and operator that is printed on the reservation. Go on any other train and get caught and you will be obliged to pay the Anytime fare for the journey you are making - which, as we've said before, is hideously expensive!
The local and commuter rail companies within the London and Home Counties area also have a bewildering array of special fares which are all in essence, variations of the Off-Peak ticket and are far too detailed to cover here - go directly to the website of the operator concerned for more information. If you only intend to use trains within the Greater London boundary, then the Oyster Card (explained below) is by far the easiest and cheapest option to use.
Seats can be reserved for free on all long-distance trains to London - the reservation is always issued automatically with an Advance ticket, and with most Off-Peak and Anytime tickets bought on-line. If, for whatever reason you hold an Anytime or Off-Peak ticket and there is no seat reservation coupon, then it is highly recommended you get one from any railway station ticket office - if you want to avoid camping out in the vestibule for all or part of the journey! First Class is available on all long distance services to London, the standard of service varies from operator to operator, but in general you get a wider, more comfortable seat, free tea/coffee for the duration of the journey, and some sort of complimentary catering service. If can be great value if you get an Advance first-class fare, but it is extremely expensive otherwise, and to be honest - not really worth it. You can pay a Weekend supplement (generally £15-20) to sit in the first class section of the train on Saturdays and Sundays, - useful if the service you are on is hideously overcrowded - but you don't get the same catering service as during the week.
If you are the holder of a Britrail pass, things are simpler - reservations are not required. However, if you wish to be guaranteed a seat, rather than standing for a lengthy journey (trains can be very busy, especially at peak times) then you can make a seat reservation at any station. If you intend to use the overnight Sleeper trains to London, you will have to pay a berth supplement for every member of your party - provided there is berth availability on the train.
EurostarLondon has one international high speed rail route (operated by Eurostar) that runs from St Pancras International station to Paris (2hr 15min), Disneyland Paris (4hr 21min, most journeys require a change of train at Lille station), Brussels (1hr 50 min) and a selection of French cities. It dives under the sea for 35 km (22 mi) on the Kent coast via the Channel Tunnel. Despite it being considered a significant part of the route, the train only passes through the Channel Tunnel for about half an hour and most of your journey will be spent above ground whizzing through the countryside.
There are airport-style security checks prior to boarding. Although they're not as strict, leave ample time before your train departs for your belongings and yourself to be scanned and for your passport to be checked. Eurostar advises its customers to be at the security check 30 minutes ahead of departure for standard class and 10 minutes for the most expensive fares.
Like all train services various fares are available depending on the time of day and how far you book in advance. There are three classes of ticket available: Business Premier (the most expensive), Standard Premier, and Standard. Seats are available both with tables and without and it's recommended to book far in advance if you require a table. If you are on a train direct to Disneyland Paris then Disney cast members will come through and speak to you about having your luggage transferred to your hotel so you can go pretty much straight into the parks.
There are through tickets available even for places not served by Eurostar itself, for example Deutsche Bahn offers tickets from any station in Germany to London with the final part of the trip on Eurostar at special prices "from" 59.90€. Eurostar likewise sells tickets to Amsterdam even ahead of the planned Easter 2018 launch of direct connections.
Main London terminalsFor domestic train services, there are 12 main line National Rail terminals. With the exception of Fenchurch Street (Tube: Tower Hill) all of these stations are also on the London Underground with most being on the Circle line. When purchasing a ticket to or from London via National Rail's website you will normally just select "London (All Stations)" and the system will figure out which ones you can use. Clockwise starting at Paddington, major National Rail stations are:
- London Paddington, serves South West England and Wales including Slough, Maidenhead, Reading, Oxford, Bath, Bristol, Taunton, Exeter, Plymouth and Cardiff and Swansea. Also the Central London terminus of the Heathrow Airport Express, and suburban rail services from Reading, Slough and parts of West London West London
- , serves some north western suburban stations such as Amersham, Harrow on the Hill and Wembley Stadium. Also serves Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Banbury, Stratford-upon-Avon and the city of Birmingham. It is much cheaper but slightly slower to take a train from Marylebone to Birmingham instead of a train from London Euston.
- London Euston, serves the Midlands, north-west England and west Scotland: Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Oxenholme Lake District, Carlisle, Glasgow, and Holyhead for connecting ferries to/from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Sleeper trains to Scotland leave from Euston.
- , serves Avignon, Brussels, Calais, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Paris and Disneyland Paris on the European continent, as well as Luton Airport, Bedford, Brighton, Gatwick Airport, several destinations in Kent and the East Midlands: Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield back in the UK.
- London King's Cross, serves East Anglia, north-east England and east Scotland: Cambridge, Doncaster, Leeds, York, Kingston upon Hull, Newcastle upon Tyne, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Platform 9 3/4 from the Harry Potter books is marked with a special sign and a trolley half-pushed through the wall, although platform 9 itself is actually in the fairly unpleasant metallic extension used by Cambridge trains.
- , serves East Anglia: Ipswich and Norwich. Also the Central London terminus of the Stansted Airport Express.
- London Fenchurch Street , serves commuter towns north of the Thames estuary to Southend.
- , London Cannon Street, and London Charing Cross, serve south and south east London and England: Brighton, Dover, Eastbourne, Hastings and Ramsgate.
- , serves Gatwick Airport and Brighton.
- London Waterloo, serves south west London and southern England: Portsmouth, Winchester, Southampton, Bournemouth, Weymouth, Salisbury and Exeter.
- , serves south east London, Kent and Sussex Brighton, Dover, Eastbourne, Hastings and Ramsgate. Also the Central London terminus of the Gatwick Airport Express.
Most international and domestic long distance coach (U.S. English: bus) services arrive at and depart from a complex of coach stations off Buckingham Palace Road in Westminster close to London Victoria rail station. Virtually all services operate from London Victoria Coach Station, which actually has separate arrival and departure buildings. Some services by smaller operators may use the nearby. Listed below are the main coach operators. It is strongly recommended to book your travel in advance: fares can be much cheaper (even a day or two can make all the difference) and you avoid ticket office queues and potentially sold-out coaches. All large and many smaller coach operators allow passengers to show tickets on their mobile phone, and all will allow passengers to print tickets at home.
phone: +44 870 580 8080By far the largest domestic coach operator and operates services throughout Great Britain. Fares are fairly low (although usually higher than Megabus): especially when booked in advance via the web.
phone: +44 141 352 4444 (answered by Citylink)Operates budget coach services between London and various other UK cities, and even to get to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. Fares are demand responsive but can be very cheap (£1.50 if you book far enough in advance).
phone: +44 870 514 3219An associate company of National Express, it runs coach services between London and various cities in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and continental Europe (with direct services extending as far as Bucharest in Romania).
phone: +49 30 300 137 300is a German bus company which in 2016 took over Megabus services to and from continental Europe (coaches may still carry Megabus branding). Services to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Cologne.
OUIBUSis a coach company owned by the SNCF (French Railways), competing on the routes to Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. They offer newer coaches with plug sockets, Wi-Fi and reserved seating (which is especially useful for those travelling as a couple or group).
phone: +48 77 443 44 44operates coach services to cities throughout Poland from Victoria Coach Station.
phone: +420 841 101 101(formerly Student Agency) is a Czech operator with a daily service to Prague, departing from the Green Line Coach Station.
London is the hub of the UK's road network and is easy to reach by car, even if driving into the centre of the city is definitely not recommended.
Comparatively few people drive into (or anywhere near) the centre of London. The infamous M25 ring road did not earn its irreverent nicknames "The Road to Hell" and "Britain's biggest car park" for nothing. The road is heavily congested at most times of the day, and is littered with automatically variable speed limits which are enforced with speed cameras. Despite the controversial "congestion charge", driving a car anywhere near the centre of London remains a nightmare with crowded roads, impatient drivers and extortionate parking charges (if you can find a space in the first place, that is!) From Monday through Friday, though, parking in the City of London is free after 18:30; after 13:30 on Saturday and all day Sunday. Drivers can also use shared parking services such as YourParkingSpace, Parkonmydrive or Parkingspacerentals to secure a parking space when none is available.
Renting a carIs not necessary or advisable to travel by car within most of London, so one should only be considered for trips outside of or to the outer edges of the city. Even for these trips, you will likely find public transport to be cheaper and easier.
Pay-as-you-go car rental companies operating around London include DriveNow, Sixt , Car Clubs and Season Car Hire.
RoadsGreater London is encircled by the M25 orbital motorway, from which nearly all the major trunk routes to Scotland, Wales and the rest of England radiate. The most important are listed below.
- M1: The main route to/from the North, leading from the East Midlands, Yorkshire and terminating at Leeds. Most importantly, Britain's longest motorway - the M6 - branches from the M1 at Rugby, leading to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, the Lake District and onwards to the Scottish border and ultimately Glasgow.
- A1/A1(M) The A1 is the original, historic "Great North Road" between England and Scotland's capital cities and has largely been converted to motorway standard; it runs up the eastern side of Great Britain through Peterborough, York, Newcastle and continues north through Northumberland and the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh.
- M40/A40: Arrives in London from a north westerly direction, linking the city with Oxford and providing an additional link from Birmingham.
- M4: The principal route to/from the West - leading to Bath, Bristol, and cities in South Wales (Cardiff and Swansea). It is also the main route towards Heathrow Airport.
- M3: The main route to London from the shipping port of Southampton.
- M2/M20: Together, these motorways are the main link to the coastal ferry (and Channel Tunnel) ports of Dover and Folkestone from Continental Europe.
- M11: The M11 connects Stansted Airport and Cambridge to London and terminates on the north-eastern periphery of the city.
A roads are major roads which can vary in scale from local routes to major thoroughfares.
- A10: Begins at the Monument in central London and heads north through Islington, Hackney, Haringey, Enfield and then out of London into Hertfordshire and onto Cambridge. Connects to the M25 in Enfield.
- A13: Links central and east London with south Essex, terminating at Shoeburyness. It's one of two main roads, the other being the A127, that link London to the seaside resort of Southend-on-Sea. The road begins in Aldgate before passing through Limehouse, the Isle of Dogs, Canning Town, Silvertown, East Ham (where it connects with the A406), Dagenham, and Rainham (where it connects with the M25) where it heads out into Essex.
A406 and A205The North Circular Road (A406) and South Circular Road (A205) are two roads are connected at the east end of the circle in North Woolwich by the Woolwich Free Ferry. The ferry runs approximately every 10–15 minutes and is free of charge, but has limited space and can get very busy at peak times. The ferry stops running after 22:00, so at night it's advisable to travel through Docklands and use the Blackwall Tunnel instead.
- A406 (North Circular Road): The A406 is a major road that passes through north London connecting east and west. It is a dual carriageway for most of its length and has direct connections with the M4, M40, M1 and M11 motorways as well as numerous other A roads. It is one of the main routes to Brent Cross Shopping Centre and Wembley Stadium.
- A205 (South Circular Road): While the A406 is mostly a fast purpose-built road, the A205 was not fully built and instead incorporated local roads of varying width. Due to this it can become heavily congested, as well as having some notoriety with local people. The road picks up where the A406 terminates at the opposite end of the Woolwich Ferry and passes through Woolwich, Catford, Dulwich, Clapham, Wandsworth and Richmond. It re-joins the A406 at the Chiswick Roundabout.
- By bus: This is the cheapest and usually the best way to get around London as a tourist: on most of the Underground, you won't see anything!
- By Tube / Underground: 11 lines cover the central area and suburbs, run by TfL.
- By Overground: Urban rail system, part of TfL's network.
- By National Rail: A complex network of suburban rail services, privately run and not part of the TfL network (with the exception of two lines called "TfL Rail", which will become part of the Elizabeth line in autumn 2019), although all operators now accept Oyster payments within Greater London.
- By Docklands Light Railway (DLR): An automatic metro system running from the City to east London via the Docklands, run by TfL.
- By foot: In central London, walking to the next Tube station often takes around 10 minutes, and is a more scenic choice than going underground. The street layout can be confusing, so a street map is essential; map and travel apps for smartphones and tablets are incredibly useful and many stations have central London printed maps for £2.
- By boat: Both commuter ferries run by TfL and pleasure cruises ply along the River Thames. Some services accept Oyster cards, but special fares apply, so check before you travel.
- By bicycle: There are hire bicycles (known to Londoners as "Boris Bikes" after former London mayor Boris Johnson) operated by TfL available for pick up in inner London. You will need a credit or debit card with a PIN. If you bring your own bike, there are plenty of cycle lanes and traffic is normally considerate.
- By tram (Tramlink): A tram service that operates only in southern suburbs around Croydon, Wimbledon and Bromley. Run by TfL.
By public transport
- Tube map, showing Underground, Overground, DLR, TfL Rail, Tramlink and cable car
- Tube and National Rail map, with Oyster card information
- Night Tube map, showing which Tube and Overground lines run all night on Fridays and Saturdays.
- Bus maps include "spider maps" by route and borough, and a simplified map showing key bus routes and visitor attractions in central London
- River buses - great if you're near the Thames
- Toilets on the Tube - a map of every TfL station with a public lavatory.
London has one of the most comprehensive public transport systems in the world. Despite residents' perpetual (and sometimes justified) grumbling about unreliability, public transport is often the best option for getting anywhere for visitors and residents alike. In central London use a combination of the transport options listed below - and check your map: in many cases you can easily walk from one place to another or use the buses. Be a Londoner and only use the Tube as a way of travelling longer distances.
Transport for London (TfL) is a government organisation responsible for all public transport. Their website contains maps plus an excellent journey planner. TfL publishes a useful 'coping guide' specially designed for travellers who wish to use public transport during their visit to London. TfL also offers a 24-hour travel information line, charged at premium rate: tel +44 843 222 1234 (or text 60835) for suggestions on getting from A to B, and for up to the minute information on how services are running. Fortunately for visitors (and indeed residents) there is a single ticketing system, Oyster, which enables travellers to switch between modes of transport on one ticket.
You must have a valid ticket at all times when travelling by bus, tram or train in London. If you can't show a valid ticket or a validated Oyster card you will have to pay a Penalty Fare, which is usually £40 (increased to £80 if it isn't paid within 21 days). Always buy your ticket before you get on the train. If using an Oyster Card, ensure that you touch in and out on a yellow reader before and after travelling by Tube or train, even if there are no barriers or they are left open.
There are four types of tickets you can buy: the Oyster card (a contactless electronic smartcard), Travelcards (which exist both in paper form or can be loaded on your Oyster card), contactless debit or credit cards, and paper tickets. Paper tickets are significantly more expensive than paying by Oyster card or contactless card.
The deposit is fully refundable; if you have less than £10 credit on your card, you can claim an instant refund of the credit and deposit at some ticket machines after 48 hours of purchase of your Oyster card. Station staff will assist you if necessary. However, your Oyster card, and the credit on it, never expires, so keep it around in case you return to London. Be prepared to give your signature on receipts or even show ID for refunds over a few pounds.
You can sign up for contactless and Oyster account. This will allow you to track your journeys and make refund claims for incomplete journeys.
Visitor Oyster card is a version of the normal Oyster card targeted to travellers. This version of the Oyster card can be purchased from some travel agents outside London and overseas or ordered by mail. This card can also be sent back to TfL by mail after a trip to London to claim a refund for the unused balance. Visitor Oyster cards come pre-charged with pay as you go credit: in increments from £10 to £50. The card itself costs £5 plus postage. With a Visitor Oyster card you can also get some discounts in various venues across the city.
If you have a National Railcard, such as the 16-25 Railcard or the Senior Railcard, you can register this with your Oyster card at a Tube station (members of staff near ticket machines can do this) to receive a 33% discount on off-peak pay-as-you-go fares.
Validity of your OysterOyster is valid on all red London buses, and almost all trains in London: a list of destinations is available on the London Tube and Rail Services map. Oyster is not valid on buses or trains outside London: if you need to travel beyond the stations on the map, you will have to pay for a paper ticket. Oyster is also not accepted on long-distance coaches, tour buses, charter buses, or on the community bus route 812 in Islington. Also, Oyster cannot be used on the Heathrow Express.
The following table summarises the validity of the different tickets you can use on Oyster. For most tourists, the Tube, trains, and buses are the only transport you will use, but Oyster is not valid at all on airport express trains to Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted or Southend. However, Oyster is valid on the Piccadilly Underground line to Heathrow Airport.
|Bus||Tram||London Underground||London Overground||National Rail||DLR||Airport Express trains|
|Bus & Tram pass||yes||yes||no||no||no||no||no|
Using your Oyster
When getting on any kind of train, you must touch your Oyster card on the yellow circular reader at the start and end of your journey. At stations with ticket gates, these readers will be on the right-hand side of the gates. In the outlying parts of the city there are no entry or exit gates on some stations. In this case, the readers are on free-standing cabinets next to entrances/exits. Failing to touch out when you leave a station will result in you being charged a maximum fare for your journey, since the system doesn't know which station you left from. The maximum fare is between £5.40 and £14.20, and depends on the station where you started a journey.
Usually you will not need to touch your Oyster card on a reader when changing trains. However, some stations have pink Oyster "route validators" on the platforms: if you are getting off one train and getting onto another at one of these stations, touch your Oyster on the pink reader so that the system charges you the right fare for the route you have taken. There are a few other situations where you might have to touch out when changing trains.
When using a London bus or a tram, touch in once when getting on. Don't touch out when you get off the bus or you will be charged twice. Most buses have their Oyster reader next to the driver. Trams and some buses have Oyster readers on poles next to the doors. Some buses on routes 9 and 15 in central London are operated by heritage Routemasters. These buses have only one entrance, at the back, and are operated by conductors. Take your seat on the bus, and have your Oyster card ready: the conductor will take your card and scan it with a hand-held ticket machine.
You can make a change to another bus or a tram free of charge during one hour. You'll still have to touch your Oyster on the 2nd bus or tram, but no money will be deducted then.
Like with bus journeys, fare caps apply to Tube, DLR, and zone 1-6 travel on National Rail services. If you use a combination of Tube, zone 1-6 railway, and bus journeys in a day, the Tube's fare caps (based on the farthest zone you travelled to) will apply to all your journeys for that day.
Contactless credit or debit cards or other RFID identity cards may interfere with your Oyster if you keep them in the same wallet. This usually results in an error message but may mean you get charged the full fare from your contactless credit or debit card instead. Be careful standing near the readers on some buses - they are often quite sensitive and may read your card from several centimetres away, even if you did not intend this. It is best to remove the card from the wallet or purse it is in.
Pay-as-you-go (PrePay) with your OysterYou can top up your Oyster card with cash at any Tube station ticket machine or ticket office (you can use a credit card if it has a PIN) with Oyster pay-as-you-go, also known as PrePay. Money is then deducted from your Oyster card each time you travel. When travelling by train, the fare is calculated based on where you started and ended your journey. Pay-as-you-go is much cheaper than paying by cash for each journey. For instance, a cash fare on the Tube in Zone 1 costs £4.70, while with an Oyster Card it costs £2.40. Bus fares are flat and you will be charged the same fare every time you get on the bus, regardless of distance.
The amount of Oyster credit deducted from your card in one day is capped at the cost of the equivalent day Travelcard for the journeys you have made. This means that on a day-to-day basis, you will always get the best fares when using Oyster pay-as-you-go. If you travel by bus only, your total fares are capped at £4.40 each day: this makes bus travel very good value in central London if you are making lots of journeys.
TravelcardsA Travelcard gives you unlimited travel on trains within the relevant zones, and unlimited travel on all red London buses, even outside the zones of your Travelcard. You can have your Travelcard loaded onto your Oyster, or you can have it as a paper ticket. For periods longer than 7 days, you will usually need to register your Oyster card or provide some form of photographic I.D. Especially for the Zone 1-2 tickets, the paper Day Travelcard is substantially more expensive than the maximum Oyster fare (£12 vs. £6.40). Therefore, an Oyster card will generally offer much better value.
|Zones||Day Travelcard||Day Travelcard (off-peak)||7 Day Travelcard||Monthly Travelcard||Annual Travelcard|
The above prices are adult prices and were correct as of 2018. For an up-to-date and comprehensive list of fares, see TfL's website.
If you are using Oyster and travel beyond the zones of your Travelcard, you will be charged an extension fare from your pay-as-you-go credit when you touch out at your destination. If you are using a paper Travelcard and need to travel beyond your zones, you have to get off at the boundary of your last valid zone and buy a ticket for the rest of your journey.
Contactless payment cards
A contactless payment, debit or credit card, as well as Apple Pay and Android Pay, can be used directly to pay fares on buses, trains and the Underground. Some pre-paid cards may work as well. A contactless card bears a four-waves logo
When you enter a station or get on the bus, touch the card against the yellow validation reader, as if it were an Oyster card. The price is the same as with an Oyster card. The price per day is automatically capped at the price of a day ticket. You also avoid the queues at ticket machines, the £5 deposit for an Oyster card, and you never have to top it up. A Travelcard can not be loaded onto a contactless card. The same card cannot be used by two or more different passengers.
Using a contactless card as a visitor from abroad may be tricky though. Your bank may ask for additional confirmations, so TfL may suspend accepting a card until you release a pending payment. Also sometimes you may end up with an unfinished journey even though you've touched an exit gate probably because a card may require a bit longer to process after a gate is opened. Keep your card at a reader until the gate opens fully. You can sign up for contactless and Oyster account to check for these issues.
Paper ticketsIt's still possible to pay for a journey by a paper single or return ticket. However, this only makes sense if you take perhaps two to three journeys on public transport during your trip to London as they cost significantly more (roughly double the cost) in comparison with the other means of payment.
Day Travelcards, One-Day Bus & Tram passes and season tickets can also be purchased in paper.
The London Underground, known popularly as the Tube due to its tube-like tunnels drilled through the London clay, is a network of 11 lines which criss-cross London in one of the largest underground rail networks in the world. It was also the first: the oldest section of the Hammersmith & City Line opened as the Metropolitan Railway in 1863. The Tube is an easy method of transport even for new visitors to London and is equivalent to subway and metro systems in other world cities.
The routes operated by the London Underground fall into 2 broad types: the older "sub-surface" lines, encompassing the Metropolitan, District, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines, date from the 19th century. The "deep level" routes were largely constructed in the early-to-mid-20th century. The sub-surface lines are usually accessed by walking down a short set of stairs, whereas the deep-level lines are accessed by a complicated network of escalators or lifts. It is the deep lines which are served by the iconic tube-shaped trains which, despite their small size, can only just fit through the tunnels. However, the deep-level trains do not have air conditioning, which can make them unbearably hot in the summer.
Each line has stations with interesting architectural and artistic features typical of the era they were opened. As you travel around the network, look out for Victorian finery, Edwardian glazed tiles, smooth Art Deco symmetry, and striking modern masterpieces. Various conservation pieces are also present, such as the heritage 1900s station name roundel sign at Caledonian Road on the westbound platform.
Trains on most days and on most lines run from around 05:30 to around 01:00. They are usually the fastest way to travel in London, the only problem being the relative expense, and the fact that they can get extremely crowded during rush hours (07:30-10:00 and 16:30-19:00). There is no air conditioning on the deep-level trains. TfL's website has a page notifying of tracking delays, closures, and planned engineering works, which you should check if you plan to travel on a Saturday or a Sunday, when entire lines may be shut down due to engineering works.
If you're travelling around central London then taking the Tube for just one stop can be a waste of time. For example, to travel between Leicester Square and Covent Garden stations takes over 10 minutes on the Tube, despite the two stations being only a few minute's walk apart. This is especially true since the walk from a Tube station entrance to the platform at some central stations can be extensive. The Tube map also gives no information on London's extensive bus and rail network. For more information see the 'By foot' section.
Night TubeThe Night Tube, introduced in 2016, is a limited 24-hour Tube service that operates on certain lines on Fridays and Saturdays.
Night Tube fares are the same as the off-peak fares during the day. Day Travelcards are valid on the day they were issued (using the date printed on the card) and for journeys starting before 04:30 the following day. For example, if you buy a Day Travelcard at 11:00 on Friday, you can use it until 04:29 on the following Saturday. Daily capping on Oyster cards and contactless payment cards also applies.
As of December 2017 the Night Tube runs on the following lines:
- Central line: Trains run approximately every 10 minutes between White City and Leytonstone, and approximately every 20 minutes on the Ealing Broadway to White City, and Leytonstone to Loughton/Hainault sections. There is no service between North Acton and West Ruislip, Loughton and Epping, and Woodford and Hainault.
- Jubilee line: Trains run every 10 minutes on average along the entire line.
- Northern line: Trains run on average every 8 minutes between Morden and Camden Town and every 15 minutes from Camden Town to High Barnet/Edgware. There is no service on the Mill Hill East and Bank branches.
- Piccadilly line: Trains run every 10 minutes on average between Cockfosters and Heathrow Terminal 5. There is no service on the Terminal 4 loop or between Acton Town and Uxbridge.
- Victoria line: Trains run every 10 minutes on average along the entire line.
- London Overground: Trains run every 15-20 minutes on average between Highbury & Islington and New Cross Gate.
TicketingTravel on the Tube system will always require the purchase of a ticket or the use of an Oyster card or contactless payment card if you have one; fare evasion is treated as a serious matter.
Single tickets are charged at two rates, depending on the payment method. Cash fares are zonal, Zones 1-2 being £4.70 between any two stations in those zones, a zone 1-6 single ticket is £5.70. Single Oyster fares are charged by the number of zones crossed, starting at £2.20 for 1 zone up to £5 for 6 zones. There are additional fares payable for zones beyond 6, but these are mostly outside what is considered London. Paper travelcards valid for 1 day, 3 or 7 days are also available and can also be used on buses, National Rail trains, the DLR and Croydon Tramlink. They are priced by zones: a 1-day travelcard for Zones 1-2 costs £9 (Day anytime). Under operator-specific schemes, registered students, seniors and the disabled can claim specific discounts by showing a suitable photocard having been obtained in advance of travel.
Almost all stations have automatic ticket barriers. If you pay by Oyster card or a contactless payment card, just tap your card against the yellow pad to open the barriers (ensure that you do this upon both entrance and exit). If you have a paper ticket, insert it face-up into the slot on the front of the machine, and remove it from the top to enter the station. If you have a single-ticket it will be retained at the exit gate. If you have luggage or if your ticket is rejected there is normally a staffed gate as well.
Paper tickets can be purchased from vending machines in the station's ticket hall. There are two types of machine: the older machines that have buttons for different fare levels and accept only coins and the new touchscreen machines that have instructions in multiple languages, offer a greater choice of ticket and accept bills and credit/debit cards (if your card has no embedded microchip, you cannot use these machines and you must pay at the ticket counter).
If you have a national train ticket, which involves travelling across London (e.g. Brighton to Darlington), you may be able to travel on the Tube across London, from one London terminus to another. If your train ticket has "Any permitted †" (with the dagger symbol) written in the "Route" section (at the bottom of the ticket), then you are able to travel on the Tube without buying another ticket. These can be used at the ticket barriers in the same way as the paper tickets described above.
NavigationAll lines are identified by name (e.g. Circle line, Central line, Piccadilly line). Many lines have multiple branches rather than running point-to-point, so always check the train's destination (which is shown on the front of the train and the platform indicator screens, and will be broadcast on the train's PA). Some branches, such as the District line to High Street Kensington and Kensington (Olympia) stations, run as shuttles and require a transfer onto the "main line".
Signs can be seen to be vague, especially if you are unfamiliar with what compass point direction (e.g. northbound) you're travelling in, as these are most often given rather than destinations. A person new to the Tube can become very frustrated trying to work out where a particular connection at a particular station is found. Each station is staffed by at least two personnel at all times who can advise you on your route and full system maps are on the walls of every platform and ticket office. Additionally, on every platform, there are individual line maps showing all the stations served by trains calling at that platform.
The Tube is made up of 11 lines each bearing a traditional name and a standard colour on the Tube map. You can change between lines at interchange stations (providing you stay within the zones shown on your ticket). 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 it is easy to work out when to exit your train. The Tube map is a diagram and not a scaled map, making it misleading for determining the relative distance between stations as it makes central stations appear further apart and somewhat out of place - the most distant reaches of the Metropolitan Line for example are almost 60 km (40 mi) from the centre of the city. Tube maps are freely available from any station, most tourist offices, and are prominently displayed in stations. The National Rail map showing National Rail services is displayed as a large poster at most Tube stations.
Direction signs for the platforms indicate the geographical direction of the line, not the last stop of the line. It is always advisable to carry a pocket Tube map to help you with this.
The Northern line has two routes through central London which split at Euston and rejoin at Kennington. One (the Charing Cross Branch) runs through the West End, while the other route runs via the City of London (called the Bank branch, or the City branch). It is fairly easy to work out which way your train is going; check the signs above the platform, and on the front of the train. The train's destination and central branch will also be announced on board, for example "This train is for Edgware, via Charing Cross."
The London Underground has connections to all terminals at Heathrow (including Terminals 4 & 5) and most major London rail termini, with the exception of Fenchurch Street. Interchange hubs are also served, (such as Farringdon, Elephant & Castle, Harrow & Wealdstone and Stratford.
OnboardBe considerate of your fellow passengers as best you can. Pushing and rushing are seen as extremely rude - there's not much need to run for a Tube train unless it's the very last one of the day! Also, trying to strike up a conversation with strangers is seen as peculiar and will instantly mark you out as a tourist. Despite having a reputation as being aloof Londoners are usually happy to help out if you have a problem, but otherwise they'd rather you didn't try to be overly familiar.
Although the doors on some Tube trains have buttons, they have been disconnected from the electricity & don't do anything. Pushing a button will only mark you out as a tourist. If the train pulls into the station and the doors don't open immediately then wait for a few seconds - the driver undershot the station and will need to drive the train forward a short distance.
Crime, safety, and accidentsWhen using the escalators, always stand on the right to allow people in a hurry to pass. Drinking alcohol or smoking anywhere on the London Underground is illegal.
Crime levels on the Tube are comparable to but typically lower than in many other subway systems, and traveller advice about watching luggage and valuables is reasonable. The Tube system is covered by an extensive CCTV system, although it is not advised to be reliant on this fact when travelling.
The London Underground considers its safety record to be a matter of professional honour, major incidents being incredibly rare (despite the media attention they generate). Front-line staff are well trained for emergencies and will follow well-rehearsed procedures. In addition, front-line staff are generally appreciative of traveller vigilance, if concerns are politely expressed. If you notice something that concerns you please speak to a member of staff or a British Transport Police officer.
Getting helpOn the wall of the platforms (or freestanding on outdoor platforms) there will be a round, white device labelled "Help Point" with one or two buttons and a fire alarm. Press the green button to alert staff to an emergency and press the blue button to ask for non-urgent assistance. If you see smoke or fire always use the fire alarm first.
On the trainOn Tube trains you will notice that there is a red handle you can pull to alert the driver to a serious incident or accident occurring on the train. If the train is in a tunnel the alarm should only be used in dire emergencies that require immediate attention, as pulling the alarm will activate the train's brakes. In practice, when the alarm is activated, a driver will move the train forward into the next station where help can be obtained. Therefore, the alarms should only be used in stations if possible as passengers will then be able to escape the train quickly if needed.
TfL advise travellers to carefully consider their usage of the passenger alarm and, if suitable, leave the train at the next station and seek help from station staff instead. Because trains on the London Underground are run close together any delays can have serious knock-on effects for the rest of the service. In contrast, train drivers vary in their opinion as to when the alarm should be used: Consensus tends to be that if it's something you would run down the train to tell the driver then the alarm should definitely be used. I
Lost itemsOwing to a heightened security climate, and a history of political violence targeting the Tube, unattended baggage may be treated as a suspect or explosive device and may be destroyed. Lost items (if not destroyed) will end up at the Lost Property Office (Tube: Baker Street) and will be stored for 3 months. You will need to fill in a form online describing your lost item and TfL will contact you if it is found. There is a charge (£5.00) for recovery of most items, however some items (e.g. Laptops) have higher fees.
London's iconic red buses are recognised the world over, even if the traditional Routemaster buses, with an open rear platform and on-board conductor to collect fares, have mostly been phased out. These still run on the central section of route 15 daily between about 09:30 and 18:30, every 15 minutes.
Buses are generally quicker than taking the Tube for shorter (less than a couple of stops on the Tube) trips, and out of central London you're likely to be closer to a bus stop than a Tube station. Most buses in London are very frequent (at least every ten minutes) and are usually accessible for buggies and wheelchairs. Buses also have a flat rate fare which stays the same no matter how far you travel. You will need to pay the fare again if you board a different bus, although the Hopper fare allows you to take as many buses as you like in one hour and only pay for the first one.
Over 5 million bus trips are made each weekday; with over 700 different bus routes you are never far from a bus. Each bus stop has a sign listing the routes that stop there and bus routes are identified by numbers and sometimes letters. Buses have very clear blinds on the front, with their route number and their destination. Transport for London produces all Bus route maps.
Using the bus
- If you are taking a pram/buggy with you, you must be prepared to fold it and carry your child if the bus is crowded or if a wheelchair user needs to get on the bus.
- Smoking and drinking alcohol is not allowed on buses. Non-alcoholic drinks and most food is fine, but be considerate: fast food is often smelly and leaves a mess.
- No standing on the upper deck or stairs.
- Don't speak to the driver or try to get their attention when the bus is moving unless it is an emergency.
- Some buses terminate early and don't run the full length of the route. Always check the destination blind on the front of the bus, and if in doubt, ask the driver or the conductor. Drivers will usually announce a change in the bus's destination.
- If your bus terminates early and you have paid using Oyster or contactless debit/credit card, ask the driver for a continuation ticket, sometimes called a transfer ticket. This will allow you to board another bus of the same route number to reach your destination without paying again.
Most buses have two doors. Form an orderly queue at the front door: when you reach the driver, touch your Oyster or contactless card on the reader or show them your Travelcard or pass. Some buses are worked by the "New Routemaster": you can get on this bus at any of its three doors, as long as you touch in your Oyster or contactless card as soon as you board. Some buses on routes 15 over the central section from Trafalgar Square to Tower Hill are run by the original heritage Routemasters: take a seat on the bus and wait for the conductor to come round to scan your Oyster card.
If you are a wheelchair user, you should indicate as normal, and wait by the second door from the front (the middle door on a "New Routemaster"). The driver will activate the wheelchair ramp for you to use. Heritage Routemasters are not wheelchair-accessible.
Most buses have a system that provides visual and audible announcements of the bus's destination at every stop, the stops, and nearby landmarks. On Routemasters, the conductor will usually make announcements.
When you are nearing your stop, press one of the red "STOP" buttons on the handrails once only. You'll hear a bell, or a buzzer, and the words "Bus Stopping" will appear on the destination screen. Get off the bus using the middle or rear door. There is also a blue "stop" button by the wheelchair space - this indicates to the driver that the wheelchair ramp is required at the next stop.
If you're travelling on a heritage Routemaster, there are only two bell-pushers: Alternatively, there is a cord hanging from the ceiling on the lower deck which you can pull to ring the bell. Be very careful only to ring it once: two bells is the signal the conductor uses to tell the driver to continue past the next stop!
Finally, always watch out for moving traffic, cyclists and pedestrians, when you get off the bus, especially if you are on a bus with an open platform at the back (a Routemaster or a "New Routemaster"). Don't try to get off the bus until it has stopped, or is moving very slowly. If your bus does not have an open platform then, for safety reasons, the driver will not open doors outside of stops.
FaresIt is not possible to buy tickets on the bus so you must have a valid Travelcard, Oyster card or contactless credit or debit card before you get on. Alternatively, tickets may be purchased from most newsagents in London, or from ticket machines at certain central London stops. The adult bus fare is £1.50.
Unlike on the Tube, you are charged for each bus you travel on. If you change buses then you will normally be charged a new bus fare up to the daily/weekly price cap. However, the Hopper fare allows you to make unlimited bus or tram journeys for the price of one if you use an Oyster card or contactless payment method. All of your journeys must be made within an hour of touching in on the first bus or tram you are travelling on and you must also use the same Oyster or contactless card for the other journeys.
If you have a seven-day or monthly Travelcard or Bus and Tram Pass on your Oyster, that includes free bus travel across all of London, even outside the zones of your Travelcard (buses aren't subject to zones). You still must touch in when you get on the bus, but you won't be charged.
If you do not have a Travelcard, the fare of £1.50 is taken from your Oyster pay as you go credit as soon as you touch in when you get on the bus. The most you will be charged for single bus journeys in one day is £4.40: daily bus and tram travel is "capped" at this level.
If you have some money on your Oyster, but not enough for the full fare, the system will let you go into a negative balance to make one more journey, but you will not be able to use your Oyster again until you top up to clear the negative balance. You should be given a paper slip telling you that it is time to top up when this happens.
Touch your Oyster on the reader as soon as you get on the bus or you may be liable to a Penalty Fare or prosecution.
Contactless credit, debit or prepaid cardsYou can also pay for with most contactless debit, credit or prepaid Visa, MasterCard/Maestro or American Express cards. You touch the card flat against the reader, like you would with an Oyster card, but your account is charged instead. Some foreign-issued cards will not work for contactless payment.
The total charges for that day are calculated and taken out of your account overnight. As with Oyster, you are charged £1.50 for each bus fare, up to a cap of £4.40 each day. In addition, a weekly price cap applies from Monday to Sunday, so you will never pay more than £21 for bus travel on a contactless card in any one week.
See above for further information on contactless payment.
ConcessionsChildren aged 10 and under travel for free on the bus when accompanied by an adult. Children between the ages of 11 and 15 must touch in using a Zip card, with which Tube journeys charge £0.85, yet journeys are still free on buses. If they do not have a Zip card they must pay the full fare using an adult Oyster or contactless card. 16-18 Student Oyster cards (only available to students studying in London) go up to age 18 and journeys are still free. Residents of England who have an ENCTS free bus pass (for the elderly or disabled) also get free travel: simply show your pass to the driver or conductor.
- Always call out to the driver if you are pickpocketed, threatened or attacked.
24-hour services keep the same number as during the day and will run exactly the same route, such as the number 88, for example. N-prefixed routes are generally very similar to their day-route, but may take a slightly different route or are extended to serve areas that are further out. For example, the 29 bus goes from Trafalgar Square to Wood Green during the day; however, the N29 bus goes from Trafalgar Square to Wood Green and then continues to Enfield.
Night buses run at a 30-minute frequency at minimum, with many routes at much higher frequencies up to every 5 minutes.
Prices stay the same, and daily Travelcards are valid until 04:29 the day after they were issued, so can be used on night buses. Most bus stops will have night bus maps with all the buses to and from that local area on it, although it is good to check on the TfL website beforehand, which also has all those maps easily available.
By DLRDocklands Light Railway (DLR) is a dedicated light rail network operating in East London, connecting with the Tube network at Bank, Tower Gateway (close to Tower Hill station), Canning Town, Heron Quays (close to Canary Wharf Tube station), and Stratford. As the trains operate automatically, it can be quite exciting - especially for children - to sit at the front and look out through the window, whilst feeling as though one is driving the train oneself. The DLR runs above ground on much of its route, and travels through many scenic parts of London, including the Docklands area where most of London's skyscrapers are located.
The DLR can be a little confusing as the routes are not easily distinguished, however there are network maps on the train and the platform. Check the displays on the platform which will show you the destination and the wait for the next three trains, and also check the destination displays on the front and side of the train and listen for announcements. At busy times, some trains do not run the full length of the route. In this instance you should take the first train, listen for announcements, and change where necessary. Be extra careful at Canning Town station as it is very busy and the line divides into two sections - one heading to Woolwich Arsenal and the other heading to Beckton. Always check the destination on the front of the train before getting on, especially at off-peak times when there may not be a return train for a good few minutes if you end up on the wrong branch.
TicketingUnlike on the Tube, most DLR stations do not have ticket gates (except for Bank and Stratford). Also, unlike the Tube, you do need to push the buttons to open the doors.
You can top up an Oyster card, buy a Travelcard or buy a paper ticket (at a substantial premium) from the ticket machines at the station. Most stations are unstaffed, so if you want to pay by cash then make sure you have plenty of change! As there are no gates, when travelling by Oyster you must always remember to touch in at the start of your journey and touch out at the end. Even if you are changing to the Underground at Canary Wharf/Heron Quays, you must still touch in/out at the DLR station: the system will recognise that you have made an interchange between the two stations and treat it as part of the same journey.
The British railway system is known as National Rail (although some older signs still refer to it as "British Rail"). London's suburban rail services are operated by several private companies under tightly-written government contracts, and mostly run in the south of the city away from the main tourist sights. Only one line (Thameslink) runs through central London - on a north-south axis between London Bridge or Blackfriars stations, and the underground level of St Pancras main line station. There is no one central station - instead, there are twelve mainline stations dotted around the edge of the central area, and most are connected by the Circle line (except Euston, Fenchurch Street and those south of the river like Waterloo and London Bridge).
Most visitors will not need to use National Rail services except for a few specific destinations such as Wimbledon, Hampton Court, Kew Gardens (Kew Bridge station), Windsor Castle, Greenwich, or the airports, or indeed if they are intending to visit other destinations in the UK. It's important to know that the quickest route between two stations is often a combination of the Tube as well as National Rail trains. For instance, if you are going from central London to Wimbledon, it will usually be much quicker to go to Waterloo and take the first Wimbledon train (around 15 minutes, maximum) rather than take the District line, which can take up to 45 minutes.
Your pay-as-you-go Oyster card is valid in London zones 1-6, but not beyond, so be careful — if you want to travel beyond the London zones you will need to buy a paper ticket from the ticket office at the station. If you travel beyond the London zones with no valid ticket, you will be charged a Penalty Fare (on National Rail services this is usually £20), you will have to buy another ticket for the remainder of your journey, and you will also be charged the maximum Oyster fare because you didn't touch out. This adds up to a lot, so be careful and make sure you plan your journey! If in doubt, ask at the ticket office.
There are express trains to and from Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports. Tickets are often sold at a substantial premium, so you may want to consider taking the slightly slower 'stopping' services instead: for instance, an Anytime single from Victoria to Gatwick costs £19.90 on the Gatwick Express, and only £14.40 when marked "Route Southern Only"—taking a Southern train to Gatwick is only eight minutes longer. Don't forget: Oyster cards are not valid to the main airports, except for London City Airport and to Heathrow when travelling by Tube.
Don't throw your ticket away until you're out of the station at your destination! Many stations have ticket gates which you will need to put your ticket through to exit; also, you need to retain all the parts of your ticket throughout your journey, as a member of railway staff may need to see it.
- Drinking alcohol or smoking anywhere on the Overground is illegal.
- Always stand well behind the yellow line painted on the platform. At some stations on the North London and West London lines freight trains run in the gap between Overground trains - because these trains are not stopping they can travel through stations at speed. Turbulence from these trains is dangerous.
- Most Overground trains have "walk-through" carriages with no doors separating each car. If the train is busy, try moving to the other end or towards the centre.
- Give up your seat to the elderly and those less able to stand, especially if the seat is labelled "Priority Seat." These seats are a slightly different shade of orange than most seats.
- The doors on the Overground will not open automatically. Wait for the button to light up and start beeping, then push it to open the train doors.
- Trains will usually run every 15 minutes or less, and more frequently on busy routes.
- Do not use flash photography or tripods when taking photographs. A camera flash can distract train drivers and tripods are not safe on the platform.
In common parlance, Londoners may refer to travelling by "overground", meaning going by National Rail (as opposed to going by Underground). However, only London Overground is a Transport for London rail service, which serves most boroughs of the capital. Oyster cards are accepted. Trains will usually run a minimum frequency of every fifteen minutes, and some stations have a considerably more frequent service. The trains have big windows allowing for great "urban scenic" views.
The Overground appears on the Tube map as a double orange line. TfL also produces a map only showing Overground services. At many stations, trains leaving from the same platform will go to different destinations, so listen carefully for announcements and always check the destination on the front of the train. The Overground can be a great way to avoid changing trains in central London by skirting around the centre. It's also well-connected: you can frequently change for Underground trains, other Overground destinations, or for mainline National Rail services from Stratford, Clapham Junction and Watford Junction.
By TramlinkThe Tramlink network is centred on Croydon, where it runs on street-level tracks around the Croydon Loop, providing transit to an area not well-served by the Tube or National Rail. Route 3 (Wimbledon to New Addington - green on the Tramlink map) is the most frequent service, running every 7 or 8 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 15 minutes at all other times. Beckenham is served by Routes 1 and 2 (yellow and red on the Tramlink map), which terminate at Elmers End and Beckenham Junction respectively. All services travel around the Loop via West Croydon and run every 10 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 30 minutes at all other times. Between Arena and Sandilands, these two services serve the same stops.
Because Britain drives on the left hand side of the road, for most foreign visitors it can be all too easy to forget that traffic will come at you from the opposite direction than you are used to when crossing a street - for this reason remember to look right when you cross the road. If you are using a pedestrian crossing, don't think it's safe to risk it, even if you can't see any traffic coming: Wait for the green man to appear and then cross quickly and carefully. Some pedestrian crossings now have countdown timers to indicate how long it will be safe to cross for.
Particularly on Central London's busiest streets, it is easy to spot native Londoners as they weave in and out of the large crowds at fast speed; tourists who cannot will stand out. Make sure you're aware of your surroundings when in London—Londoners are usually very considerate, but a group of tourists standing in the middle of the pavement can be a major annoyance! Try standing to the side of busy pavements and footpaths, especially if you're with a group.
Walking alternatives to the TubeIn some instances it can be faster to walk some or all of your intended route instead of taking the Tube. By looking at a map you'll notice that some central London Tube stations are a lot closer together than the Tube map would make you believe. TfL have produced a map detailing the walking time and number of steps between various popular stations.
Here are some more specific instructions for some of the stations that you are likely to use as a tourist:
- Leicester Square station - Covent Garden station: Come out of the station with the Hippodrome casino behind you. Cross Charing Cross Road and walk up Cranbourn Street. Walk straight over at the junction and continue onto Long Acre. Walk straight up Long Acre to arrive at Covent Garden station. Approximate walking time: 5 minutes
- Holborn station - Covent Garden station: Exit the station onto Kingsway, opposite a large Sainsbury's shop (if you exit onto High Holborn opposite a McDonald's - turn left, and round the corner). Cross Kingsway (this is a very busy road), and turn left on the other side. Take the second right (by a Starbucks) onto Great Queen Street. Walk straight, crossing over Drury Lane onto Long Acre. Continue on Long Acre, crossing over Endell Street/Bow Street. Covent Garden station will be on your left. Approximate walking time: 10 minutes.
- Embankment station - Waterloo station: Come out of the station onto Victoria Embankment, walk up the stairs and head across the River Thames using the Hungerford Bridge. At the other end of the bridge keep walking straight and away from the River Thames. Follow the railway line. You will come to some blue metal work and a walkway underneath the railway line called Sutton Walk. Follow this, cross the road and Waterloo station is ahead of you. Approximate walking time: 15 minutes
- Westminster station - Waterloo station: Come out of the station and head across the River Thames using Westminster Bridge. Keep heading straight until you come to a junction. Turn left and walk down York Road. Stay on York Road until you come to a railway bridge. Waterloo station will be on your right. Approximate walking time: 15 minutes
- Green Park station - Hyde Park Corner station: Come out of Green Park station onto the road. This is Piccadilly. Walk west along Piccadilly following the edge of Green Park. When you come to a roundabout head straight across it. Hyde Park Corner station will be on your right. Approximate walking time: 10 minutes
- Queensway - Bayswater: Turn to the left when exiting the station and keep walking. This is a good route if you want to quickly change to a different Tube line but not change at Notting Hill Gate. Approximate walking time: 1 minute
Oxford Circus stationOxford Circus station can become extremely busy on weekday evenings and, if convenient, it is worth walking to other Tube stations.
- Oxford Circus station - Bond Street station: Head west along Oxford Street from the road junction. You should see the London College of Fashion and BHS. Keep walking west and you will come to Bond Street station. Approximate walking time: 10 minutes
- Oxford Circus station - Tottenham Court Road station: At the road junction head east along Oxford Street heading past Topshop. Keep walking past H&M and McDonald's and you will eventually see a skyscraper called Centre Point. Continue heading straight and Tottenham Court Road station is on the road junction here. Approximate walking time: 25 minutes
- When cycling on roads, you must ride on the left with other vehicles.
- You must have working front and rear lights during hours of darkness. Flashing LED lights are legal. Reflective clothing is always a good idea at night.
- Helmets are not compulsory for cyclists in the United Kingdom, and their effectiveness is as much a matter of debate here as anywhere else. In London, many cyclists, especially those seen in rush hour, also wear filter masks, but their efficacy is even more disputed.
- It is illegal to jump through a red light for cyclists as well as motorists. Advance stop lines at traffic lights allow cyclists to wait ahead of other traffic at red lights. In practice, most car drivers ignore this and occupy the cycle space when waiting at lights.
- When approaching a zebra crossing you should always take care and watch for pedestrians waiting to cross the road. You must be prepared to slow down or stop to allow them to cross as detailed in Rule 195 of the Highway Code. If someone is on a crossing already, you must stop as a car or other vehicle would and allow them to cross safely - weaving around pedestrians may frighten them and lead to an accident!
Most major roads in London will have a bus lane which is restricted to buses, taxis and bicycles.
Many improvements have been made for cyclists in the city over the last few years, Noticeably, there are many new signposted cycle routes and new cycle lanes as well as a review of junctions considered dangerous for cycling. Despite ongoing improvements, however, London remains a relatively hostile environment for cyclists. The kind of contiguous cycle lane network found in many other European cities does not exist. The safest option is to stick to minor residential roads where traffic can be surprisingly calm outside rush hours.
Critical Mass London is a cycling advocacy group which meets for regular rides through central London at 18:00 on the last Friday of each month. Rides start from the southern end of Waterloo Bridge. The London Cycling Campaign is an advocacy group for London cyclists. With active local groups in most of the city's boroughs, it is recognised by local and regional government as the leading voice for cycling in the capital.
Normally a cyclist should keep to the left of the lane when cycling on a road with traffic, to allow faster-moving traffic to overtake. However, it is legal for a cycle to dominate a lane by maintaining a central road position like any other vehicle. This will make you unpopular with any traffic behind you but it is recommended in London on approach to right-hand turns at junctions. Making a right-hand turn from the normal left-position means crossing the lane of traffic, which may often ignore you and any turn signals you might have been using, leading to potential accidents.
Taking bikes on trainsPermission to take bikes on trains is very limited in London due to overcrowding. Non-folding bikes can be taken only on limited sections of the Tube network, mostly only on the above-ground sections outside peak hours. For this reason, folding bicycles are becoming increasingly popular. Most National Rail operators allow bicycles outside peak hours.
Santander CyclesLondon offers a bicycle hire scheme known as Santander Cycles (colloquially referred to as "Boris Bikes" after Boris Johnson, a former London mayor), operated by Transport for London. Docking stations can be found across central London and slightly further out into areas such as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Hammersmith.
The bikes, all coloured a distinctive red, can be unlocked at any hire dock and then ridden to wherever you want. After each journey the bike must be returned to a docking station on the network by locking the bike into the rack and receiving confirmation via a green light.
You pay via a credit or debit card and two payment plans exist: Daily and yearly. A daily plan gives access to the system for an unlimited number of rides for 24 hours. A fee for the first 30 minutes of each ride is included in the initial payment (i.e. "free"). For every other 30 minutes above that it costs extra £2. A yearly plan costs £90 for a full year.
The Santander Cycles app can be used to make the hiring process faster, although sometimes the app doesn't show a journey as finished even if the bike was successfully docked back at a station. If in doubt it's better to check your activity log at the official site.
Cycle waysCycle lanes provide on-road and off -road routes. The network is not comprehensive, and on the road lanes vary in quality and size (normally 1-2 m wide). Some are indicated just with an stencilled image of a bike on the road. If the line between the traffic lane and cycle lane is solid, then vehicles may sometimes enter the space. A dashed line indicates a recommended cycle lane and motorists may make use of this road space, but it's recommended that they don't.
Cycle Superhighways are cycle routes that run into central London from outer London and across the capital. They are designed to provide safe, fast routes for cyclists who commute and are painted blue to indicate where they are. Some are segregated from the road but some may be on the main carriageway. Lists and maps of all routes are available here.
Quietways are similar to Cycle Superhighways. They link key destinations in the capital but utilise side streets, waterways and parks instead of busy roads. As of February 2017 there is only one designated route - Waterloo to Greenwich - but more are due to follow. Click here for a map and more information about the scheme.
The towpaths in north London along the Grand Union Canal and Regent's Canal, and in London's parks and other green areas, provide a traffic-free cycle path through the capital. The Grand Union canal connects Paddington to Camden and the Regent's Canal connects Camden to Islington, Mile End and Limehouse in east London. It takes about 30-40 minutes to cycle from Paddington station to Islington along the towpaths. Pedestrians have priority on towpaths - slow down and respect their right of the way!
London has two types of taxis: the famous black cab, and so-called minicabs. Black cabs are the only ones licensed to "ply for hire" (i.e. pick people up off the street), while minicabs are more accurately described as "private hire vehicles" and need to be pre-booked.
The famous black cab of London (not always black!) can be hailed from the kerb or found at one of the many designated taxi ranks. It is possible to book black cabs by phone, for a fee, but if you are in central London it will usually be quicker to hail one from the street. Their amber TAXI light will be on if they are available. Drivers must pass a rigorous exam of central London's streets, known as 'The Knowledge', to be licensed to drive a black cab. This means they can supposedly navigate you to almost any London street without reference to a map. They are a cheap transport option if there are five passengers as they do not charge extras, and many view them as an essential experience for any visitor to London. Black cabs charge by distance and by the minute, are non-smoking, and have a minimum charge of £2.20. Tipping is not mandatory in either taxis or minicabs, despite some drivers' expectations - use your discretion. If you like the service you may tip. If the ride has been uncomfortable or unsafe, or if the driver was rude, don't. Most Londoners will simply round up to the nearest pound.
Taxis are required by law to take you wherever you choose (within Greater London) if their TAXI light is on when you hail them. However some, especially older drivers, dislike leaving the centre of town, or going south of the River Thames. A good way to combat being left at the side of the curb is to open the back door, or even get into the cab, before stating your destination.
Minicabs are normal cars which are licensed hire vehicles that you need to book by phone or at a minicab office. They generally charge a fixed fare for a journey, best agreed before you get in the car. Minicabs are usually cheaper than black cabs, although this is not necessarily the case for short journeys. Licensed minicabs display a Transport For London (TfL) Licence - usually in the front window. One of the features of the license plate is a blue version of the famous London Transport "roundel". A list of licensed minicab operators can be found at TfL Cabwise.
TfL operate a service called Cabwise, which will determine your location and provide three local, licensed cab numbers. If you have an iPhone or an Android smartphone, you can use the Cabwise application (search your platform's app store) or text CAB to 60835 (be careful - this might not work from some phones!) You can also use an app such as mytaxi, which allows you to summon a black cab to your location and will provide a map and approximate wait time for your taxi to arrive. Most railway stations will also be able to provide a list of good local cab firms (many will display this outside the station, even after the last train of the night has gone.)
Some areas in London are poorly served by black cabs, particularly late at night. This has led to illegal minicabs operating, who are just opportunistic people with a car, looking to make some "fast" money. Some of these illegal operators can be fairly aggressive in their attempts to find customers, and it's now barely possible to walk late at night through any part of London with a modicum of night-life without being approached. If you've booked a "licensed" minicab to collect you from a venue, the driver or operator should be able to give you additional details, (an example being, the phone-number you booked them from), to confirm they are legitimate.
You should avoid minicabs touting for business off the street and either take a black cab, book a licensed minicab by telephone, or take a night bus. Not only is it 'illegal' for unlicensed minicabs to ply for trade on the street, these illegal cabs are also regularly unsafe, with a risk of robbery or assault a possibility, given that the operators of such illegal minicabs are in no way checked or vetted for past offences.
Always remember: if it's not licensed and it's not pre-booked, it's just a stranger's car. Never get into an un-booked minicab..
Uber is available in London and generally charge cheaper fares than black cabs, although higher "surge" prices are charged at times of high demand. Vehicles can only be booked via the smartphone app.
By carLondoners who drive will normally take public transport in the centre; follow their example. Unless you have a disability, there is no good reason whatsoever to drive a car in central London. Driving in central London is a slow, frustrating, expensive and often unnecessary activity. There are many sorts of automatic enforcement cameras and it is difficult and expensive to park.
Driving outside of central London is easier, but traffic can still be an issue and most tourists won't head out that far unless they have a reason.
For those with disabilities driving can be much more convenient than using public transport. If disabled and a resident of a member state of the EU then two cars can be permanently registered, for free, for the Congestion Charge.
Congestion ChargeDriving into central London on weekdays during daylight hours incurs a hefty charge called the Congestion Charge with very few exemptions. Rental cars also attract the charge. Cameras and mobile units record and identify the number plates and registration details of all vehicles entering the charging zone with high accuracy. The Central London Congestion Charge M-F 07:00-18:00 (excluding public holidays) attracts a fee of £11.50 if paid the same day, or £14 if paid on the next charging day. Numerous payment options exist: by phone, online, at convenience stores displaying the red 'C' logo in the window, and by voucher. Failure to pay the charge by midnight the next charging day incurs a hefty automatic fine of £130 (£65 if paid within 2 weeks).
TrafficDespite 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 07:30-09:30 and 16:00-19:00). At these times public transport (and especially the Tube) usually offers the best alternative for speed and reduced hassle.
ParkingOne good tip is, that outside advertised restricted hours (usually on a Sunday), parking on a single yellow line is permissible. Parking on a red line or a double yellow line is never permissible and heavily enforced. Find and read the parking restrictions carefully! Parking during weekdays and on Saturday can also mean considerable expense in parking fees (fees and restrictions are ignored at your extreme financial peril). Issuing fines, clamping and/or towing vehicles (without warning!) has become a veritable new industry for borough councils staffed by armies of traffic wardens.
Also watch out for marked parking bays as these always have restrictions. Many are "Resident Parking Only" between certain hours and you will be fined if you park during these hours without a permit. Some bays also have restrictions on how long you can park in them for and these can be confusing. If in doubt: Don't park!
If you are driving to your destination then it's safest to find a dedicated private car park nearby. These may be eye-wateringly expensive, but parking on the roads is a lottery with low odds of you winning. Two large car park operators are NCP and Q-Park.
Motorcycles and scootersMotorcycles and scooters are fairly common in London as they can pass stationary cars, can usually be parked for free, and are exempt from the Congestion Charge. Scooters and bikes with automatic transmission are much more preferable - a manually-geared racing bike is completely impractical unless you have excellent clutch control (although it has to be said you will see plenty of them being ridden aggressively by motorcycle couriers and locals as it can be the fastest way to get around!) Likewise to bicycles, car drivers can sometimes show disregard to anyone on two wheels and larger vehicles have an unwritten priority so take care when crossing junctions. Helmets are mandatory. Parking for bikes is usually free - there are designated motorcycle-parking areas on some side-streets and some multi-level car parks will have bike parking on the ground level.
Boats are operated by private companies and they have a separate ticketing system from the rest of London transport; however if you have a Travelcard you get a 33% discount on most boat tickets. Many boat operators offer their own one-day ticket - ask at the pier kiosks. Generally, tickets from one boat company are not valid on other operators' services. Oyster cards can be used as payment for the 'Clipper'-styled commuter services but not for tour boats.
All the central London sights in Westminster and the South Bank tourist attractions are easily accessible by boat as are:
Consider a trip along an old Victorian canal through the leafy suburbs of North London. The London Waterbus Company runs scheduled services (more in summer, fewer in winter) from Little Venice to Camden Lock with a stop at the London Zoo (pick up only). The 45-minute trip along Regent's Canal is a delightful way to travel.
By skateInline skating on roads and pavements (sidewalks) is completely legal, except in the "square-mile" of the City of London. Roads are not the greatest but easily skateable. Central London drivers are more used to skaters than those in the outskirts.
By cable carThe Emirates Air Line is a cable car that runs across the River Thames in east London giving panoramic views of the surrounding area and beyond. The Air Line connects the Greenwich Peninsula on the south bank (near The O2) and the Royal Docks on the north bank (near the ExCeL Exhibition Centre), with the Greenwich Peninsula terminal connecting to North Greenwich Tube station on the Jubilee line and the Royal Docks terminal connecting to Royal Victoria DLR station.
Although it is part of the TfL network and uses Oyster cards, the Air Line is mostly a tourist attraction and is therefore at its quietest during the week. It tends to be busiest when there is a large event on at the ExCeL Exhibition Centre or a popular concert on at The O2.
The Emirates Air Line service sometimes finishes earlier than the Tube and DLR. If you are travelling to The O2 for an event that finishes late, you should have an alternative means in mind for getting back across the river.
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London is a huge city, so all individual listings are in the appropriate district articles and only an overview is presented here.
- Buckingham Palace. The London residence of the Queen, in Westminster. Open for tours during the summer months only, but a must-see sight even if you don't go in. (Tube: Green Park)
- London Eye. The world's fourth-largest observation wheel, situated on the South Bank of the Thames with magnificent views over London. (Tube: Waterloo)
- Marble Arch is a white Carrara marble monument designed by John Nash. It is located in the middle of a huge traffic island at one of the busiest intersections in central London where Oxford Street meets Park Lane in Mayfair. (Tube: Marble Arch)
- Piccadilly Circus is one of the most photographed sights in London. The Shaftesbury Memorial, topped by the statue of Anteros (now popularly identified as Eros), stands proudly in the middle of Piccadilly Circus while the north eastern side is dominated by a huge, iconic neon advertising hoarding. Occasionally there will be scaffolding or fencing around the Eros statue in order to protect it during times when large crowds are anticipated. (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
- St Paul's Cathedral, also in the City, is Sir Christopher Wren's great accomplishment, built after the 1666 Great Fire of London - the great dome is still seated in majesty over The City. A section of the dome has such good acoustics that it forms a "Whispering Gallery". There is also a viewing area that offers views of the surrounding area including the Millennium Bridge that lies nearby. (Tube: St Paul's)
- Tower Bridge. The iconic 19th century bridge located by the Tower of London near the City. It is decorated with high towers featuring a drawbridge. The public are allowed access to the interior of the bridge via the Tower Bridge Exhibition, tickets for which can be purchased on the website or at the bridge. (Tube: Tower Hill)
- Tower of London. Situated just south east of the City, is London's original royal fortress by the Thames. It is over 900 years old, contains the Crown Jewels, is guarded by Beefeaters, and is a World Heritage site. It is also considered by many to be the most haunted building in the world. If you are interested in that sort of thing its definitely somewhere worth visiting. Sometimes there are guided ghost walks of the building. You can even have a good meal in one of the buildings on the property. (Tube: Tower Hill)
- Trafalgar Square. Home of Nelson's Column and the lions, and once a safe haven for London's pigeons until the introduction of hired birds of prey. The "Fourth Plinth" has featured a succession of artworks since 1999. Overlooked by the National Gallery, it's the nearest London has to a "centre", and has been pedestrianised. (Tube: Charing Cross)
- Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster, including the Queen Elizabeth II Tower (the clock tower commonly known as the name of its bell, Big Ben) and the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster. The seat of the United Kingdom parliament and World Heritage site, as well as setting for royal coronations since 1066, including Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The Palace of Westminster is open to the public only for viewing parliamentary debates, tours of the building are available in July – August when Parliament is away on summer recess. Westminster Abbey also has a restaurant and a café that both serve good food. (Tube: Westminster)
- 30 St Mary Axe or The Gherkin, a peculiarly-shaped 180 m (590 ft) building in the City. There is no public access to the building itself but it can be viewed from the roads and small paved areas directly in front of and behind the building. Security guards can be overzealous in this area and you may be asked to move on or stop taking photographs if you are doing so (although this may seem overbearing, it is private land and they can ask you to leave if they wish). Commanding views of this building can also be obtained from public roads near the site such as Leadenhall Street. Of minor interest to history fans is an inscription on Bury Street dedicated to a young Roman girl who was found buried here by archaeologists in 1995. Her remains were moved to the Museum of London while the Gherkin was being constructed, and were reburied in 2007 at the original site. (Tube: Aldgate)
- The Shard. A futuristic triangular skyscraper in South Bank that dominates the London skyline and is the tallest building in the EU. There is a viewing deck on the 72nd floor that is open to the public, tickets for which must be booked via the website. There are also restaurants and the expensive luxury hotel Shangri-La on the lower floors. (Tube: London Bridge)
- The Walkie-Talkie / 20 Fenchurch Street, although it has been voted as one of London's ugliest skyscrapers, has a large rooftop garden which affords great views over the Thames and south side of the river. This garden is free to visit, however, it is necessary to book well in advance due to high demand, especially in the summer months. (Tube: Monument)
Museums and galleries
Even better, London is unique among global capitals in that the majority of the museums have no entrance charges, allowing visitors to make multiple visits with ease. Special or temporary exhibitions usually attract an admission charge.
London museums and galleries with no general admission charge (free entry!) include:
- British Museum (Tube: Holborn)—a treasure trove of world cultures from across the ages, on par with the Paris Louvre and New York's Metropolitan Museum
- National Gallery (Tube: Charing Cross)—houses the national collection of paintings in the Western European tradition from the 13th to the 19th centuries
- National Portrait Gallery (Tube: Charing Cross)
- Victoria and Albert Museum (Tube: South Kensington)
- Natural History Museum (Tube: South Kensington)
- Science Museum (Tube: South Kensington)
- Tate Modern (Tube: Southwark, Blackfriars)
- Tate Britain (Tube: Pimlico)
- Wallace Collection (Tube: Marble Arch)
Aside from these world famous establishments, there is an almost unbelievable number of minor museums in London covering a very diverse range of subjects. The British Government lists over 240 genuine museums in the city.
Notable smaller museums
- London Transport Museum (Tube: Covent Garden)
- Museum of London (Tube: Barbican or St. Paul's)
- Museum of London Docklands (DLR: West India Quay)
- The Royal Museums Greenwich: (DLR: Cutty Sark)
- Royal Observatory
- National Maritime Museum
- Cutty Sark
The "green lungs" of London are the many parks, great and small, scattered throughout the city including Hyde Park, St James Park and Regent's Park. Most of the larger parks have their origins in royal estates and hunting grounds and are still owned by the Crown, despite their public access.
- Hyde Park and adjoining Kensington Gardens make up a huge open space in central London and are very popular for picnics. Within Kensington Gardens, the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Playground is a free playground for young children featuring a huge wood pirate ship. (Tube: High Street Kensington, Marble Arch, Green Park or Hyde Park Corner)
- Regent's Park is a wonderful open park in the northern part of central London. (Tube: Camden Town, Regent's Park)
- St James's Park has charming and romantic gardens ideal for picnics and for strolling around. St. James's Park is situated between Buckingham Palace on the west and Horse Guards Parade on the east.
- Hampstead Heath is a huge open green space in north London. It's not a tended park as such and is remarkably wild for a metropolitan city location. The views from the Parliament Hill area of the heath overlooking the city skyline are quite stunning. (Tube: Hampstead, Overground: Hampstead Heath, Gospel Oak)
- Richmond Park is a huge green space, with a thriving deer population. Excellent place for cycling. (Tube: Richmond then Bus 371)
- Bushy Park, near to Hampton Court Palace, is the second-largest park in London. More low-key than its larger cousin, Richmond Park, it too has a large deer population. Bushy Park contains numerous ponds, bridleways, two allotments, and at its northern edge, the National Physical Laboratory.
- Holland Park is a public park in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in west London. It covers about 22 hectares and contains two Japanese gardens - the Kyoto Garden (1991) and Fukushima Memorial Garden (2012), a youth hostel, a children's playground, squirrels and peacocks. The closest Tube station is Holland Park on the Central line.
Blue PlaquesEnglish Heritage runs the Blue Plaques programme in London. Blue Plaques celebrate great figures of the past and the buildings that they inhabited. These are among the most familiar features of the capital’s streetscape and adorn the façades of buildings across the city. Since the first plaque was erected in 1867, the number has grown steadily and there are now more than 800. Recipients are as diverse as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sigmund Freud, Charles de Gaulle, Jimi Hendrix and Karl Marx. Look out for these around the city.
London PassWhereas some London museums offer free entry, some other top London attractions are ridiculously expensive. For example, entry to Westminster Abbey costs £20 per person (adult), and entry to the Tower is £21.50 per adult if bought online (2017). These prices can be sometimes mitigated by a purchase of London Pass, which needs to be done at the London Pass website. The pass comes in several varieties and gives access to over 60 attractions, including both Westminster Abbey and the Tower. For example, a day pass costs £62 for an adult (2017). The best strategy, if one wants to visit several expensive high-profile attractions, is to buy a day pass and to try visiting all of them in the same day. This requires some advanced planning and will not give you much time at each place you visit - for example, it can take an hour on public transport to travel between the Tower of London and London Zoo.
Live musicLondon is one of the best cities in the world for concerts, spanning from new musical trends to well-known bands. Between huge concert facilities and small pubs, there are hundreds of venues that organise and promote live music every week. Many concerts, especially in smaller or less known places are free, so there is plenty of choice even for tourists on a budget.
London has long been a launchpad for alternative movements, from the mods of the 1960s, punks of the 70s, new romantics of the 80s, the Britpop scene of the 90s, and the indie rock movement spearheaded by The Libertines and their ilk. It has one of the world's most lively live music scenes: any band heading a British, European or World tour will play London, not to mention the local talent. London's music scene is incredibly diverse, covering all genres of music from electro-jazz to death-metal, and all sizes of bands, from the U2s and Rolling Stones of the world to one man bands who disband after their first gig. This diversity is reflected in prices. As a rough guide: £20 and up for 'top 40' bands in arena-sized venues, £10 and up for established bands in mid-sized venues, £6 or more for up-and-coming bands and club nights in smaller venues, £5 and up for new bands in bars and pubs.
London has hundreds of venues spread out over the city and the best way to know what's going on where is to browse online ticket agencies, Music Magazine's gig directories and bands' social media pages. A few areas which have higher concentrations of pubs and venues than others. Kilburn in North West London has long been known as an Irish area; though their numbers have somewhat declined, a visit to a local pub will show their influence remains today. Kilburn's The Good Ship is a favourite place for young aspiring bands to try to get a foot off the ground, due to its inclusive policies and fair payment system. Good for those who would like to see bands "before they were big", who appreciate £5 entrance fees, good beer and friendly staff.
One of the easiest to use and most comprehensive listings websites is LondonEars.
TheatreThe West End, especially the areas concentrated around Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Shaftesbury Avenue and Haymarket, is one of the world's premier destinations for theatre, including musical theatre. Covent Garden has the only actor-sponsored school in the city, the Actors Centre, which also gave way to the London Acting Network, a London acting community support group. In the centre of Leicester Square there is an official half-price TKTS booth. Be wary of other ticket offices -including those claiming to be the "Official Half-Price Ticket Office" - as these may have higher prices, and have been known to sell fake tickets. For up-to-date listings see the weekly magazine Time Out or check the Official London Theatre site.
The South Bank is another area well known for world class theatre, and is home to the National Theatre and the Globe Theatre, the latter of which is London's only thatched building and an attraction in itself. Each Globe performance has over 700 £5 tickets. London's theatre scene outside of these two main districts is known as "the Fringe". Several of the larger and more established fringe theatres are an excellent way to see top quality productions of plays that may move to the West End, but at lower than West End prices. The most significant of these are:
The Royal CourtThis theatre specialises in new writing, and productions that have transferred to great acclaim include Enron by Lucy Prebble and Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, which had long runs in the West End and on Broadway.
The Menier Chocolate FactoryThis small theatre adjacent to Borough Market has done spectacularly well with revivals of musicals, including Sunday in the Park with George and A Little Night Music both by Stephen Sondheim and which ran in the West End and on Broadway.
The Lyric TheatreNot to be confused with its West End namesake this fascinating theatre comprises a Victorian interior transplanted into a modern office building. It offers a mix of modern interpretations of Shakespeare, musicals (Spring Awakening was a notable success) and plays that reflect the multicultural nature of its location, in particular serving the Asian and Afro-Caribbean populations of West London.
Other things to do
- Take a walk through London's Royal Parks. A good walk would start at Paddington station, and head through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park (passing Buckingham Palace) and St James's Park before crossing Trafalgar Square and the River Thames to the South Bank and Waterloo station. At a strolling pace this walk would take half a day, with plenty of places to stop, sit, drink, eat en route.
Watch a filmAs well as the world-famous blockbuster cinemas in the West End, London has a large number of superb art house cinemas. In the summer months, there are often outdoor screenings at various venues, such as Somerset House and in some of the large parks.
- Watch football ie soccer. London has over a dozen professional football clubs, plus Wembley Stadium the national stadium, hosting internationals (including Euro 2020) and the finals of club competitions eg the FA Cup and the league playoffs. As of 2019, London has five clubs in the Premier League, the top tier of English football: Chelsea, Arsenal, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs), and West Ham United. In the second tier, the Championship, are Brentford, Charlton Athletic, Fulham, Millwall and Queens Park Rangers (QPR). In the third tier League One are AFC Wimbledon; and in the fourth tier League Two are Leyton Orient. Other clubs slug it out in the lower leagues, semi-professional going on amateur. International and top club matches need booking in advance, but at smaller clubs just turn up and pay at the gate. Never ever pay a scalper for a ticket, it's illegal so what he's selling probably isn't valid at the turnstile, and with so much choice it's a buyer's market. At bottom-end clubs there's actually a risk that you might be begged to strip off and take the field to make up an eleven - Hackney & Walthamstow marshes have football teams and playing fields the way Xanadu had caverns measureless to man, with a thin drizzle blowing in off a sunless sea.
- Watch rugby union ie 15-a-side. Internationals are played at Twickenham west of the city - the Six Nations international games are likely to sell out. Three London teams play in the Premiership, the top tier of club rugby in England: Saracens, Harlequins, and (since 2019) London Irish.
Watch tennis at WimbledonWimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is widely considered the most prestigious. Naturally it is a regular feature on the tennis calendar. London goes "tennis crazy" for two weeks when the competition commences in late June and early July. One of the greatest traditions of this event is to eat strawberries and cream with sugar.(Tube: Southfields)
- Watch cricket at the Oval (Lambeth) or Lord's (St Johns). Both host county and Test matches (ie internationals, lasting up to 5 days).
Open House London WeekendExplore many of the city's most interesting buildings during the London Open House Weekend - usually held on the third weekend of September. During this single 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 - some buildings have to be pre-booked in advance - book early for the popular ones!
- Winter skating. During the winter months multiple outdoor ice rinks pop up across London. Considered by some to be somewhat overpriced and overcrowded, they nonetheless have multiplied, easing congestion and increasing competition. Most charge from £10-12 (adults) for an hour on the ice, including skate hire. See the district articles for the City of London, East End and Leicester Square.
- Summer skating. In summer (and also in winter, for the more dedicated) there is also a thriving roller skating (on inline and traditional "quad" skates) scene in London, catering to many disciplines including street hockey, freestyle slalom, dance, general recreational skating (including three weekly marshalled group street skates) and speed skating. This mostly centres around Hyde Park (on the Serpentine Road) and Kensington Gardens (by the Albert Memorial). See the district articles for Mayfair-Marylebone and South West London.
Bus and river toursIf you don't feel like splashing out on one of the commercial bus tours, you can make your own bus tour by buying an Oyster card and spending some time riding around London on the top deck of standard London buses. Of course you don't get the open air or the commentary, but the views are very similar. You will likely get lost but that is half the fun; if that worries you then go for a commercial tour. One tour, for instance, can be obtained from the London Pass. There is a website for this company. Essentially what it does is sell a 24-hour ticket to use the company's buses to see the essential sites of London and a boat tour on the Thames (with the same ticket) provides a river tour of some of metropolitan London. Taking a tour like this is a good way to spend much of a first day in London, so you can decide what you want to see up close later. Other commercial tours offer similar services.
- Insider London deliver a range of unique alternative London walking tours. Tours include London Street Art, London Underground, Sustainable Architecture, Death and Debauchery and bespoke tours, as well as pub and architecture tours.
- Hidden London. A series of tours run by the London Transport Museum exploring the hidden depths of the Underground, including abandoned stations and tunnels; plus there are visits to TfL's famous art deco headquarters (55 Broadway) and "access all areas" inside looks at operational stations such as Charing Cross and Euston. Demand is high for what is quite a restricted annual programme, and you can purchase a maximum of four tickets per tour. Adults: £41.50, concession: £36.50. This ticket includes a day pass to the LT Museum, to be used within a month of the event date, and gives you a 10% discount on all merchandise bought at the museum shop or online within the same period.
- NFL International Series. NFL (American Football) games held in Wembley and Twickenham Stadiums. In the upcoming 2017 season, two games will be played at Wembley and two at Twickenham. Usually held on Sunday evenings or afternoons between October and December of each year.
London is a natural place to learn and improve spoken and written English. There are a huge range of options, from informal language exchange services to evening classes and formal language schools. There unaccredited schools charging hefty fees and offering qualifications that are viewed as worthless. If choosing a course from a privately-run school or college, it is important to ensure the institution is accredited by the British Council.
Some links to British Council accredited schools:
Linguaenglish LondonLingua London is a family-run English language school and has been teaching English only courses in London for over 10 years.
- Lite Regal International School. Lite Regal International School has since 1993 been offering English Language in London and Cambridge and they offer IELTS and all the Cambridge English Examinations for all levels.
phone: +44 20 7580 9888Rose of York has been teaching English language courses for over 28 years and they offer full-time, intensive or part-time English courses
London is hugely popular as a working holiday destination - work in bars and the hospitality industry is relatively easy to find.
Wages are generally higher in London than the rest of the UK, in part due to the addition of London weighting, although the cost of living is higher still.
MoneyLondon, like the rest of the UK, uses the British pound sterling.
Retail prices for most items, with a few exceptions, always include VAT (at 20%). Visa and MasterCard/Maestro are the two most commonly-accepted debit/credit cards, although most large shops will also accept American Express. If your card does not have a microchip (for Chip & PIN) some machines (for instance, at Tube stations) will be unable to read your card. Some shops may ask you for additional identification, especially in relation to high-value items, or items that are under age-related restrictions. Most shops no longer accept personal cheques. Contactless or NFC-enabled Visa and MasterCard cards can also be used for purchases of usually up to £20 in lieu of Chip & Pin, even on London Underground fare gates and buses.
£50 notes are not often used in everyday transactions and most shops will not accept them. When exchanging money at a bureau de change make sure to ask for £5, £10 and £20 notes only. The Bank of England's guide to bank notes may be of use.
London and England are some of the worst places to exchange money. Included fees (in the exchange rate) of up to 50% are not uncommon. Do not get fooled by the no commission statement that many bureaux de change make. This is a trick and actually a blunt lie because the exchange rates are just made so bad so that they cover for any necessary commissions. So, how do you identify a decent exchange rate? Basically, the spread between the buy and sell rate tells you what is the fee (divided by 2, actually)—anything above 10% is a rip-off, 5% is good, 1% is excellent but forget about it in the UK. You are better off withdrawing money from ATMs here.
ShoppingLondon has justified reputation for being one of the world's most expensive cities. But if you do your homework beforehand, there are ways to limit the damage, and prices for basic items are in general not as exorbitant as in the likes of Oslo, Reykjavik, Zurich or Sydney.
London is one of the world's most fashion-conscious cities: it has an abundance of clothing shops from the flagship stores of Oxford Street to the tiny boutiques of Brick Lane.
Though not particularly known for bargain shopping, nearly anything you could possibly want to buy is available in London. During major sales, such as the annual Boxing Day sale after Christmas, and Black Friday in late November (an event imported from the U.S.), you price for some items are lowered by up to 70%, meaning that it is possible to find bargains for genuine luxury-branded goods if you are there at the right time. In Central London, the main shopping district is the West End (Bond Street, Covent Garden, Oxford Street and Regent Street). On Thursdays many West End stores close later than normal (7-8PM).
- Oxford Street. Main shopping street, home to flagship branches of all the major British high street retailers in one go including Selfridges, John Lewis (includes a food hall), Marks & Spencer and other department stores. It is best to shop here in the morning as the street becomes increasingly busy during the day. (Tube: Oxford Circus)
- Regent Street (between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus). Includes such gems as Hamleys, considered to be London's flagship toy store spread out on seven levels, the iconic luxury department store Liberty, and the London Apple Store. (Tube: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus)
- Bond Street. Some of the world's most luxurious designer stores such as Cartier, D&G, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton and Versace. (Tube: Bond Street)
- Tottenham Court Road. Contains some of the world's most luxurious designer interior stores such as Heals. (Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street)
- Covent Garden. Fashionable area home to quaint outlets and relatively expensive designer stores. Around Seven Dials, chains include Adidas Originals, All Saints, Carhartt, Fred Perry, G Star Raw and Stussy. For shoes, head for Neal Street. Also found here is the London Transport Museum whose gift shop has some of the best souvenirs in the city (old maps, vintage Tube posters, etc.) London's second Apple Store is located here as well. (Tube: Covent Garden)
- Charing Cross Road (near Covent Garden). Traditionally a book lover's haven, it still has the giant general bookstore Foyles, and a few specialist and antiquarian shops survive south of Cambridge Circus and on the side streets to the east. (Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square, or Charing Cross)
- Piccadilly (near Piccadilly Circus). Home to the luxury department store Fortnum & Mason.
- Denmark Street (at the north end of Charing Cross Road near Tottenham Court Road station). Also known as Tin-Pan Alley, this is a music lover's paradise with an amazing array of music shops, bars and clubs in one short street. (Tube: Tottenham Court Road)
- Soho. Offers alternative music and clothes. Now home to Chappell of Bond Street's historic music shop. (Tube: Oxford Circus)
- Camden Town. Alternative clothing and other alternative shopping, popular with teenagers and young adults. Has the headquarters for Cyberdog - a large shop which sells clothing and accessories for the club and rave scene. Camden Lock Market is also worth a visit to see independent artists plying their wares. (Tube: Camden Town)
- Chelsea. The King's Road is noted for fashion, homeware and children's clothing. On Wednesday many stores close late. (Tube: South Kensington)
- Knightsbridge. Department stores include the world-famous Harrods (includes a food hall) and Harvey Nichols. On Wednesday many stores close late. (Tube: Knightsbridge)
- Beauchamp Place. Shop where royalty and celebrities shop! One of the world's most unique and famous streets. It is known as one of London’s most fashionable and distinctive streets, housing some of the best known names in London fashion, interspersed with trendy restaurants, jewellers and speciality shops including Fortuny. (Tube: Knightsbridge)
- Westminster. Some of the world's most famous shirts are made on Jermyn Street. Savile Row is home to some of the world's best men's bespoke tailors including Henry Poole, Gieves & Hawkes, H. Huntsman & Sons, and Dege & Skinner. (Tube: Westminster)
- Westfield London in Shepherd's Bush is one of the two largest shopping mall complexes in Greater London. It is served by the London Overground and the Underground. It is easiest to get here via public transport, but there is reasonable car parking space available. (Tube: Shepherd's Bush)
- Westfield Stratford City in Stratford is a large shopping mall complex located on the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. There is ample car parking and you can also park here to access the park. This Westfield is easier to access by car due to its close proximity to the A12 road. (Tube/DLR: Stratford)
MarketsBorough Market is a great (if expensive) food market, offering fruit, vegetables, cheese, bread, meat, fish, and so on, much of it organic. The market opens Th-Sa. Many stalls offer freshly made fast food on the spot for lunch; from ostrich burgers to falafel, most tastes are catered for. (Tube: London Bridge)
Old Spitalfields Market is an excellent market for clothes from up-and-coming designers, records, housewares, food, and all things trendy. (Tube: Liverpool Street)
Also be sure to check out Brick Lane Market, Greenwich Market and Portobello Road Market.
Tax-freeTax-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 an extra half hour as closing hours are not always strictly respected.
Nevertheless, tax-free (at the airport) does not mean cheaper. Prices are determined by the shop owner at their own discretion, and due to the large crowds, high shop rents, and free marketing there is no real reason why anyone should offer prices below average. Also, often goods sold here have different sizes than in regular stores, making it harder to compare. Furthermore, tax-free shops mostly only offer expensive brands and no cheap non-brand stuff, like simple sun glasses. Either way, you are better off doing your shopping somewhere else.
Nevertheless, a different matter is tax reclaim. Many big department stores in central London have an information booth where they can give you the paperwork needed to reclaim tax on purchases made at the store when you get to the airport.
Following is a rough guide to what you might get, should you fancy eating out:
- Up to £5 - you can get a good English pub or cafeteria breakfast with a rack of bacon, beans in tomato sauce, egg, sausage, orange juice and coffee or tea. Most pubs stop this offer at 11:00, but there are literally hundreds of backstreet cafes (colloquially known as "greasy spoons") which will serve this sort of food all day. Most supermarket chains offer a "meal deal", consisting of a sandwich, a drink and a bag of crisps or fruit for £3 together, while buying the sandwich only can be the same price. If you are going to be on a budget for several days, the supermarkets are a good option.
- £7 - will buy you a couple of sandwiches and a soft drink, some takeaway fish and chips, or a fast food meal. There are also mostly Chinese restaurants which serve an all-you-can-eat buffet for around this price. These are dotted about the West End and it is well worth asking a member of public or a shopkeeper where the nearest one is. These restaurants make much of their revenue on drinks although these are usually still moderately priced. The food while not being of the finest standard is usually very tasty and the range of dishes available is excellent. There are literally thousands of so-called takeaways in London and are a cheap alternative to a restaurant meal. Check with your hotel management if they allow food deliveries before ordering in. Most takeaways offer some form of seating, but this is usually very limited.
- £6-10 - will get you a good pub meal and drink or a good Chinese/Indian/Italian/Thai/Vietnamese buffet. Many pubs have a buy-one-get-one-free offer, and you can either order two main dishes for yourself or bring a friend.
- £15 - some more expensive French, Mediterranean and international restaurants do cheaper two or three course lunch menus.
- £25 - offers you a lot more choice. You can have a good meal, half a bottle of wine and change for the tube home. There are plenty of modest restaurants that cater for this bracket.
- £50 (to almost any amount!) - with more money to spend you can pick some of the city's finer restaurants. It may be a famous chef (like Michel Roux, Jr, or Gordon Ramsay) or simply a place that prides itself on using the finest ingredients. Worth the splurge to impress a special someone. These establishments often need to be booked well in advance, and most will enforce a dress code of some sort, like Rules of Covent Garden, the oldest restaurant still extant.
Prices inevitably become inflated at venues closest to major tourist attractions - beware the so-called tourist traps. The worst tourist trap food, in the opinion of many Londoners, is served at the various steak houses (Angus Steak House, Aberdeen Steak House, etc. - they are all dotted around the West End and near the main train stations). Londoners wouldn't dream of eating here - you shouldn't either! Notorious areas for inflated menu prices trading on travellers' gullibility and lack of knowledge are the streets around the British Museum, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Even the major fast food chains charge a premium in their West End outlets - so watch out.
Pubs in the touristy areas of London are usually a poor choice for food although there are some brilliant "gastro-pubs" hidden away. In general, avoid all pubs that have graphic-designed and printed menus. Look around you - see any locals tucking in? No? - then you shouldn't either. The other rule to follow when avoiding poor food is the same as in any other part of Europe - is the menu available in multiple languages? If yes then start running!
For more authentic Cockney food, try pie and mash, which originates from the working-class in the East End. Usually minced beef and cold water pastry pie served with mashed potato, mushy peas and "liquor" gravy, it tastes a lot better than it sounds. Some of the best pie houses are M. Manze in Peckham or F. Cooke in Hackney Broadway Market. Water Souchet and London Particular (green-pea and ham) are classic Cockney soups, though hard to find on menus. For those game, jellied eels, pickled-cockles and whelks are all traditional London seafood. It's people's experiences in these kind of places that gives Britain a bad name for food!
Central London's Borough Market offers wholesale produce as well as individual stalls that sell small bites and drinks for a casual and cheap meal. Kappacasein Dairy has a popular stand in the market famous for their grilled cheese which has earned the praise of Giada De Laurentiis and Ruth Reichl.
Of course, the quintessential British dish fish and chips is widely available in London, but the standards can be pretty disappointing in the tourist trap pubs. The best-rated fish and chips shops in London are generally located in the suburbs, away from all the tourist fare in central London.
Tipping may also be different than what you're used to. All meals include the 20% VAT tax and some places include a service fee (10-12%). The general rule is to leave a tip for table service, unless there's already a service charge added or unless the service has been notably poor. The amount tipped is generally in the region of 10%, but if there's a figure between 10-15% 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.
Restaurant streetsWhile central London is full of restaurants and cafes, there are some areas where the majority of diners are Londoners, rather than tourists, and in general you will get a much more pleasant, better value, and less crowded eating experience than you will find in the West End. These places are best visited in the evenings.
- Clapham Junction is not just a train station, but also home to many good restaurants and bars, in particular on Lavender Hill and Battersea Rise. (Overground: Clapham Junction)
- Drummond Street in the Euston area has a fine mix of Indian restaurants - a short walk from Euston railway station. (Tube: Euston)
- High Street Croydon Croydon is derided by most Londoners, however this suburban gem of a road has at least 30 decent restaurants, including three Argentinians, a South African curryhouse, a couple of fancy modern European brassieres, and just about every other type of cuisine you can think of. (Overground: East Croydon)
- Kings Street extends on to Chiswick High Road from Hammersmith Tube Station and is one long road of a choice of restaurants at very reasonable prices, some bargain mentions are the Thai restaurants offering two course lunch for £7. Nearby Shepherds bush is about a 15 minute walk and is alive with bars and pubs in the evening. (Tube: Hammersmith)
- Lordship Lane in East Dulwich provides a good selection of European restaurants and a few award winning gastropubs. (train: East Dulwich)
- Upper Street in Islington has dozens of excellent restaurants, popular with young professionals. (Tube: Highbury & Islington, Angel).
- Wardour Street, in Soho, is full of nice cafes and restaurants. (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
Restaurant areasAs one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, you can find restaurants serving food cuisine from nearly every country, some of it as good as, if not better than in the countries of origin. Indian food in London is especially famous and there is hardly a district without at least one notable Indian restaurant.
If you are looking for other particular regional foods these tend to be clustered in certain areas and some examples are:
- Brick Lane in the East End is famous for Bangladeshi curries. (Overground: Shoreditch High Street)
- Brixton for African/Caribbean. (Tube: Brixton)
- Chinatown just off Leicester Square for Chinese. (Tube: Leicester Square)
- Edgware Road in Marylebone and Paddington is popular for Middle Eastern cuisine. (Tube: Edgware Road, Paddington)
- Drummond Street (just behind Euston railway station in the London/Camden district) has lots of vegetarian restaurants - mostly Indian. (Tube: Euston)
- Finsbury Park and nearby areas, for Greek and Turkish. (Tube: Finsbury Park)
- Golders Green for Jewish fare. (Tube: Golders Green)
- Kingsland Road for good cheap Vietnamese.
- Tooting, East Ham, Wembley and Southall for authentic & cheap Indian eateries including South Indian restaurants serving hot pongal, dosas, idlis and other South Indian "tiffin" items.
- Bayswater for Chinese, including the famous Four Seasons roast duck. (Tube: Bayswater, Queensway)
Other nationalities are equally represented and randomly dotted all over London. It is usually wisest to eat in restaurants on main thoroughfares rather than on quiet backstreets.
Fast food and chains
Like other capitals in the world, London has the usual array of fast food outlets. Sandwich shops are the most popular places to buy lunch, and there are a lot of places to choose from including Eat and Pret a Manger. Some Italian-style sandwich shops have a very good reputation and you can identify them easily by looking at the long queues at lunchtime. If all else fails, central London has lots of mini-supermarkets operated by the big British supermarket chains (e.g., Sainsbury's, Tesco) where you can pick up a pre-packed sandwich.
Fast food with an Asian flair is easy to find throughout the city, with lots of Busaba Eathai, Wagamama, and Yo! Sushi locations throughout the city. Nando's, a popular pseudo-Portuguese restaurant chain, has spicy peri-peri style grilled chicken. For burgers, GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) has been joined by other franchises such as Byron and Haché.
Vegetarian and vegan
London has plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants many of them championing organic foodstuffs, and a quick search in Google will produce plenty of ideas, so you never have to see a piece of cooked meat all week.
If you are dining with carnivorous friends most restaurants will cater for vegetarians and will have at least a couple of dishes on the menu. Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants are generally fruitful, as they have plenty of traditional dishes. Good Indian/Bangladeshi options can be found in the Brick Lane area of Spitalfields or further afield in East Ham, Tooting Broadway, and Southall. These also tend to be very cheap eats with authentically prepared dishes with a true local ambience. There are also many vegetarian Thai buffet places where you can eat fake meat in tooth-achingly sweet sauces for under £5. These can be found on Greek Street and Old Compton Street in Soho and Islington High Street.
Mildred's is a great veggie restaurant in the back streets of Oxford Circus.
Due to the mix of cultures and religions, many London restaurants cater well for religious dietary requirements. The most common signs are for Halal and Kosher meat, from burger joints to nice restaurants. There are lots of Halal restaurants and shops all over London including Whitechapel Rd and Brick Lane in the East End, Bayswater, Edgware Rd and Paddington and in many parts of north London. There are plenty of Kosher restaurants in Golders Green, Edgware and Stamford Hill along with some central delis such as on Charing Cross Road.
Convenience stores and supermarketsConvenience stores such as Tesco Metro, Sainsbury's Central/Local, Budgens, Costcutter, SPAR, Co-op, and privately-run "corner shops" will sell pre-made sandwiches, snacks, alcohol, cigarettes, drinks, etc. Most are open from 05:00-23:00 although some, such as Tesco Metro or convenience stores located at petrol stations, may open 24 hours (some will stop selling alcohol after a certain time). Whistlestop convenience stores, usually found in or around train stations, are notoriously overpriced and should be avoided.
If using a petrol station convenience store late at night (i.e. after 23:00) the store will be locked and you should order and pay through the external service window.
SupermarketsAlthough Tesco, Sainsbury's and other supermarkets run smaller stores in central London, full-size superstores, including Morrisons and ASDA, are rare in the city centre - with the exception of the Sainsbury's in Pimlico - and you will usually have to take a 15-20 minute Tube ride to reach one. The closest large stores to central London are:
- The ASDA store close to Crossharbour DLR Station on the Lewisham line. This is about a 15-minute ride from Bank station or at the end of the 135 24-hour bus route.
- The Morrisons in Chalk Farm close to Chalk Farm and Camden Town Tube stations. Bus route 27 runs directly to the store.
- The Tesco in the Surrey Quays shopping centre which is next to Canada Water station on the Jubilee line - about 10–15 minutes from the centre of town.
- There are larger Sainsbury's stores in Pimlico (Tube: Victoria) and also Whitechapel (Tube: Whitechapel) and Camden Town (Tube: Camden Town). Pimlico is in Travelcard Zone 1 while the latter stores are in Travelcard Zone 2.
- There are a few Lidl Stores near Central London, including Finsbury Park and Camden. Lidl is a budget supermarket.
Marks & Spencer, an upmarket retailer, also operate food halls branded as "Simply Food". They can be found across central London. The smaller stores, such as those found in train stations, tend to focus mostly on ready-to-eat food such as sandwiches, drinks, snacks, and also essentials such as bread and milk.
London is home to a great many pubs, bars and nightclubs. The online city guide View London and the weekly magazine Time Out tell what's going in London's night life, as well as cultural events in general.
Pubs and bars
London is an expensive place and your drink is likely to cost more than its equivalent elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Expect to pay around £4 for a pint of lager or Guinness (or around £3.50 for a pint of ale) in an average pub. As with restaurants, pubs close to major tourist attractions cash in on travellers' gullibility so be on your guard for the tourist traps where higher prices are not unheard of. Despite this however it is still possible to find a sub-£3 pint in central London - it takes some determination. If you're looking to save money and meet travellers then pub crawls are guided tours that run nightly in central London. You'll save the ticket price on the savings you get from discounted drink deals and what you would have spent on club entry. The "1 Big Night Out" pub crawl is the biggest operator and starts from near Leicester Square Tube station.
Many local pubs, especially those run by chains like Wetherspoons and Scream, tend to be more reasonably priced with good drink promotions on weekday nights and during the day. As with the rest of the UK, chain pubs abound which Londoners tend to avoid like the plague. A good place to get cheap beer is at any one of the Sam Smith pubs found across Central London, including Soho and the City.
In the Bloomsbury area, check out The Court (near the north end of Tottenham Court Road) and The Rocket (Euston Road). Both are fairly cheap, given that they cater for students of the adjacent University College London. Directly opposite the British Library is The Euston Flyer, popular with locals and commuters alike given its close proximity to St Pancras International railway station.
Classier bars and pubs can be much more expensive. However, the cost of alcohol drops significantly the further away you go from the centre (West London tends to be an exception, with prices pretty much the same as the centre). For a more reasonably priced (but brilliant) cocktail bar than you'll find in the central and West End areas Lost Society in Clapham on Lavender Hill, cocktails here cost around £7-8 each.
Two historic London breweries are Young's and Fullers. Young's was founded in Wandsworth in 1831 (but has relocated to Bedford) and nowadays it has 123 pubs in central London alone. The Founder's Arms next to the Tate Modern on the river embankment, is one of the brewery's most well-known establishments with a great view of the River Thames. Fullers was founded a bit later in 1845 at Chiswick (where you can take a most enjoyable tour of the brewery, including beer-tasting) and the jewel in its crown is probably the Grade I listed Old Bank Of England on Fleet Street, thanks to its breath-taking interiors. Fuller's flagship beer is the famous 'London Pride', however to try a truly authentic Cockney pint, ask at bars if they serve a seldom seen now porter, a dark style of beer originating in London in the 18th century, similar but less heavy than a stout. For a different taste, try a gin and tonic.
It's hard to say which pub in London is truly the oldest but it's easy to find contenders for the title. Many pubs were destroyed in the Great Fire of London – indeed, Samuel Pepys supposedly watched the disaster from the comfort of the Anchor in Borough. Pubs were rebuilt on sites that claimed to have been working pubs since the 13th century. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street is on the site of an old monastery and its cellar dates back to the 13th century. The Princess Louise and Cittie of Yorke are two lovely pubs close by along High Holborn with interesting decor; as is the Jerusalem Tavern of Farringdon, a converted Georgian coffee shop, which sells the Norfolk beer, St. Peters. The Royal Oak of Borough, is another pub which is the only representative of an out-of-town brewery in London, that of Harvey's of Lewes. The food is fantastic as is the atmosphere. Those interested in London's historic and literary connections can't miss The Spaniard's Inn in Hampstead. Dick Turpin is said to have been born here; John Keats and Charles Dickens both drank here; it's mentioned in Dickens' The Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker's Dracula. The Goose at Catford, was reputedly a favourite hole of Karl Marx.
For the best view in the city, try pubs on the banks of the Thames. The South Bank has lots of good bars with views of iconic bridges and buildings. One lesser-known cocktail bar sits in the OXO Tower, which is a secret that most tourists walk by every day. Heading towards Bermondsey, pub crowds become a little less touristy. For something historic try the Prospect of Whitby' in Wapping which has been on its site since 1520 and claims to be the world’s oldest riverside tavern.
If you're after gastropubs, you may like to visit London's first, The Eagle, in Clerkenwell, established in 1991. You can also try Time Outs favourite newcomer, The Princess Victoria on Uxbridge Road, Shepherd's Bush.
The "Bermondsey Beer mile" is home to many craft breweries which are open in the middle of the day most Saturdays. Situated under the railway arches on lines going to London Bridge, these quaint breweries are home to high quality beer at cheap to average London prices (~£2 per half). Best places include Kernel Brewery and Brew by Numbers.
Wine buffs can enjoy the famous Davys wine bars that dot the city. The company, established in 1870, import wines and own over thirty bars in the centre. Other big names in wine include the Michelin-starred Cellar Gascon and Vinoteca, both in Smithfield. For a posh wine tasting experience, there is Vinopolis by Borough Market, though a tour price will be as eye-watering as the produce sampled.
Big hotels, such as The Langham, The Dorchester and The Ritz, and upmarket clubs around Leicester Square and Soho are reliable bets for a date at the bar. The Connaught Hotel in Mayfair-Marylebone boasts its house bar, plus the Time Out magazine favourite, The Coburg. Still in Mayfair, The Polo Bar at The Westbury is very intimate.
You can rely on most up-and-running bars to offer a short cocktail menu and there are also bars that position themselves as cocktail specialists.
Nightlife is an integral part of London life and there are countless nightclubs in and around Central London with music to suit even the most eclectic of tastes. Districts in London tend to specialize in different types of music.
The Farringdon/Hoxton/Shoreditch area has many clubs playing drum and bass, techno, house and trance music and is home to the superclub Fabric. The clubs in this area are often home to the world's top DJs and attracts a lively, hip and friendly crowd. Big name drum and bass, house and techno DJs also appear at clubs scattered around Kings Cross (Egg, Scala), Elephant (Ministry of Sound, Corsica Studios), Southwark (Cable), Whitechapel (Rhythm Factory), or at mixed nights at the Vauxhall clubs. Nights are also hosted in disused Hackney warehouses or south London car parks.
The area around Mayfair is home to the more upmarket clubs in London. This area attracts a rather more showy crowd who love to flaunt what they have and is a must go to celebrity spot. Beware that drinks are ridiculously expensive and many clubs operate a guestlist-only policy. Music played here is often of the commercial chart, funky house, hip hop and R&B genre. Notable clubs include China White, Luxx, Maddox, Jalouse, Funky Buddha, Whisky Mist, Mahiki, No 5 Cavendish Square, Embassy, Vendome and Maya.
Nightclubs around the Leicester Square area hold the same music policy, but are rather more accessible, with numerous club and pub crawl promoters scattered around the area offering deals on entry. Notable clubs are Cafe De Paris, 1 Big Night Out pub crawl, Penthouse, Sound, Tiger Tiger, Zoo bar and Ruby Blue.
The Camden area is home to clubs which play Indie, metal and rock music and notably the Electric Ballroom, the world-famous Koko (Fridays) and Underworld. Camden clubs are mostly shut (or empty) on the weekdays.In South London, London's Afro-Caribbean centre Brixton is home to numerous venues with all kinds of music, including a particular presence in reggae, ska, afrobeat, hiphop, and dubstep. There are also venues in Peckham and New Cross.
Gay and lesbianLondon has a vibrant gay environment with countless bars, clubs and events in almost every district in the city.
The nucleus of London's gay scene is undoubtedly Old Compton St and the surrounding area in Soho but over the last couple of years Vauxhall has seen a boom in Gay venues. You will find that many areas, particularly in Camden Town and Shoreditch, that straight bars will have a mixed clientele. To find out what is going on during your visit, you can check:
qxmagazine.comA weekly magazine that comprehensively covers the London gay scene with handy night by night listings available on-line and in print
Boyz MagazineWhich is published fortnightly and is freely available at most London gay venues, and contains listings of everything that is happening in all the major clubs in London and the South East.
Gay Pride is held every year in June with a parade and street parties. The choice of places to go sometimes seem to be unmanageable.
London Gay and Lesbian Switchboardphone: +44 20 7837 7324This voluntary service has been operating since 1974 and as well as providing counselling they offer an incredibly thorough information service about Gay events, accommodation and businesses in London.
In general, most people tend to stay within "Zone 1" of the underground, however do your research carefully - sometimes being that extra five minutes away from a station can make the difference in cost and quality of local food and drinking options. In any case, you can always catch a bus anyway - by far the best way to see the city and get about generally. If you stay outside of Zone 1, TfL's travel time map shows which locations have good public transport.
Your budget will have a lot to do with what part of London you will want to stay in. Tourist-standard prices range from £20-200 per person per night. Expect smaller than average rooms especially at the low end of this range. As a general rule, expect to pay between £75 and £150 per night for a two- or three-star hotel in the central area of the city. Many of the big name chain hotels now offer substantial discounts (with rates often down as low as £30-£50 per room per night) if you book well in advance, but the drawback is that you have to pay the full amount upfront at the time of booking and there are no refunds if you cancel. The heart of the West End is the most expensive place to stay and most hotels are either four- or five-star and most will command a hefty price premium.
The City can also be very expensive during the week, as it relies heavily on the business market but prices often drop over the weekend and it can be a good way of getting into a higher standard of accommodation than you could otherwise afford. Bear in mind though that this part of central London becomes a ghost town over the weekend, and you will find that few (if any) bars and restaurants will be open.
A top tip, however, is to always check the likes of LondonTown.com, Expedia and LateRooms as well as the hotel's own website since there are often deals to be had which can reduce the costs significantly.
The extra cost of getting around is probably not significant compared to savings made by staying in a hotel further out near an Underground or railway station. Always be sure though to check where the closest Tube station is to your hotel. Staying further out will be cheaper but when travelling in allow 1-2 min per Tube stop (near the centre), around 2-3 min per stop (further out) and 5-10 min per line changes. This can easily total up to a 1 hour journey if there is a walk at each end. There are many hotels close to transport hub stations such as Stratford, Greenwich, Ealing Broadway, Wimbledon and East Croydon.
A more imaginative alternative could be to stay in a nearby town with quick and easy train travel to London. For example, lively Brighton (otherwise known as 'London by Sea') is only an hour away, but your budget will go much further and there are excellent accommodation options.
Some of the better value options are to be found in the following central districts:
- Bloomsbury. Relatively quiet district with a wide range of accommodation, and has enjoyed a surge in popularity following Eurostar's move to St Pancras International station. Cartwright Gardens features a dozen small B&Bs in historic houses. Many budget options are located on Argyle Square (just off the Euston Road). Gets a little seedy towards and beyond King's Cross railway station.
- Earl's Court and West Kensington in west central London. Budget and modest accommodation as well as good 4-star hotels. Be careful with the cheapest accommodation in this area though as it will likely be very seedy indeed.
- Paddington and Bayswater in north west central London. Has undergone a lot of change largely resulting from the Heathrow Express train coming into Paddington station. Good hotels can be found in the immediate area of the station and in quieter spots a short walk away as well as in the traditional mid-range accommodation area further south in Bayswater.
- Westminster. Lots of small B&Bs around the back of Victoria railway station in the Pimlico area.
A slightly left-field option is to check the Landmark Trust, a building preservation charity who purchase notable old buildings in the UK, renovate and run them as holiday lettings. An interesting approach to saving old buildings for sure.
Try booking a hotel in Canary Wharf if you are staying for the weekend - 4* hotels can be very cheap due to a lack of business customers. This also goes for the small area around Bank Tube station in the City of London, although some shops and eateries tend to close down for the weekend in that area.
HostelsNot necessarily as unpleasant as you may think, and as long as you don't mind sharing with others, they are the most cost-effective option and also offer breakfast, and kitchens for self-catering.
There are independent hostels throughout the city which are listed in the relevant district articles.
In the summer season, many of the colleges and universities in Central London open up their student halls of residence as hotels during vacations, at usually much lower rates than proper hotels, but expect very basic facilities (e.g. communal bathrooms, no catering facilities), but you will get the personal privacy that you don't get in hostels for not very much more cost.
ApartmentsSome apartment-hotels offer good value accommodation for those travelling in a group - often better quality than many hotels but at a cheaper individual rate per person.
Capsule-style crash spaces are just arriving, but they are only in central locations.
Short-term apartment or flat rentals are an attractive option for many travellers to London, and there are innumerable agencies offering them, almost all of them nowadays through the internet. A key consideration for renting a short term flat is if you are visiting in a large group or a family. In such cases a short stay in London can be more affordable compared to staying in a hotel. Your best protection is to deal only with London apartment rental agencies which have been recommended by independent sources you feel you can trust, and to deal only with those that accept confirmations via credit card.
Additional option in this sector is serviced apartments for stays longer from 2 weeks, the price between 60£ to 150£ and the apartments are a hybrid between hotels and apartments, including cleaning and desk services.
Alternative accommodationTravellers can choose from a variety of homestay styles such as home-swapping (lovehomeswap.com), living in a temporarily vacated room (anyfriendofours.com) or the high end version where companies specialize in homestays with full hotel services such as housekeeping and concierge (viveunique.com). Most of the time these options are safe but it is important that guests and homeowners take equal precaution to ensure their valuables are safeguarded. Homeowners should always provide guests with terms and conditions of their live-in house rules to ensure there are no mishaps and both parties are at ease. This new trend allows guests to enjoy a less touristy version of London as most of these homes will be in residential areas which each have their own unique charm and experiences.
Holiday rentalsHotels are generally expensive in London when compared with other European cities. As a result the city has a vast number of self-catering accommodation on offer, many of them are apartments in various central areas of the capital. Well established local sites include Holidaylettings.co.uk, Perfect Accommodation,Space Apart Hotel, Owners Direct, stay.com and Alpha Holiday Lettings. If you are looking to stay in just a room or part of the property, Airbnb matches holidaymakers with hosts who only rent out part of their homes.
London is unfortunately not noted for free public wifi access - although the number of hotspots is continuing to grow.
O2 Free HotspotsO2 offers free wifi around London's busiest streets including parts of Oxford Street and Regent Street. Click on the link to see the map.
Online-4-Free.comOne of the most promising (it seems) for traveller-frequented areas, a service that provides blanket coverage along the banks of the River Thames (and some surrounding streets) from Millbank down to Greenwich Pier, and a small "cloud" in Holborn - the free service asks only that you view a short advertisement every half hour to get 256 kbit/s (higher rates and ad-free come at a small charge).
Tate ModernOffering free wifi for a trial period.
British LibraryOffers free internet access throughout the library with registration.
Royal Festival Hall at Southbank CentreOffers free unencrypted wifi throughout the building without registration.
Apple Store Regent StThe Apple Store on Regent Street offers free wifi and has a theatre at the back of the first floor where you can sit and spend an hour or two.
London UndergroundVirgin Media offers wifi access at Tube stations. Some mobile phone networks offer free access, otherwise you have to pay.
- Free wifi is also available in many cafes, and the following chain outlets: McDonald's, Pret A Manger, JD Wetherspoon pubs, Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero, Starbucks.
CrimeLike many big cities, London has a variety of social problems, especially begging, drug abuse and theft (mobile phones are a favourite, often snatched by fast-moving moped riders).
The Metropolitan Police have placed significant resources in combating street level crime. Working in conjunction with borough councils, they have brought the level of theft and pickpocketing in major retail areas in London to a manageable level. Pickpocketing in London is not as rampant as in other major European cities, though it still pays to be vigilant and take the usual precautions in securing your valuables.
Street gang culture is a growing problem in London as with many other cities in England. While most groups of youngsters are not likely to present any danger to tourists, some people feel the need to be slightly more vigilant in certain areas, especially certain outer suburbs. Violent crime is in general not common, and typically occurs in impoverished neighbourhoods that tourists are unlikely to wander into by accident.
Main precautions to takeKeep valuables out of sight: Many crimes are opportunistic - a lot of mobile phones are snatched from restaurant tables. By keeping items such as cash and mobile phones out of sight theft can easily be prevented. Don't flash your cash unnecessarily!
Keep bags zipped up and close to your body: If your bag is hanging open it's like putting up a flashing neon sign saying "Steal from me!" Use zips and inside pockets to secure items wherever possible. Never leave valuables such as mobile phones, wallets, or travel documents in an outside section of your bag.
Be aware of your surroundings: Before using your mobile phone have a look around you. Put your back against something solid such as a wall or window so you can't be approached from behind. If you're in a train or Tube station try to use your phone before leaving as all stations have CCTV. Constantly look around you even if you are in a busy area. Don't walk and talk/text!
Late at nightIf you're planning to go out late at night and are worried about safety then try to frequent crowded areas such as the West End. There are always plenty of people on the street, even at 04:00. Generally, outside central London, the south, and east suburban areas are considered more dangerous, notably Brixton, Peckham and Hackney, although some parts of north-west London such as Harlesden and northern Camden are also known trouble spots.
The main problem throughout London to various degrees is drunken behaviour, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights and after football matches. Loud and rowdy behaviour is to be expected and fights and acts of aggression also occur. If you are harassed, it is best to simply ignore and walk away from those concerned. Trouble spots can be expected around popular drinking locations such as Soho and in various suburban centres.
Scams and consLondon has a large number of con artists around, all trying to convince you to hand over your money one way or another. In general, you should never give cash or your bank/credit card detail to people on the street no matter how genuine they seem.
Cash machine/ATM scams: Most usage of these machines is perfectly safe, but there are various ways that thieves can either obtain your card or your cash when using an ATM. It is always safest to withdraw cash using a machine inside a bank, but street machines are usually more convenient. Before inserting your card visually check the machine for anything that looks odd. Thieves sometimes install cameras above the pin pad. If things look OK then reach out and wiggle the slot where you insert your card - if the slot's loose, don't put your card in, as there may be a device installed to trap your card. All good? OK, is there anyone standing too close to you or hovering nearby? If so, perhaps cancel the transaction and go elsewhere. If everything's good then go ahead! When obtaining your cash and retrieving your card hover your hand over the slot to be ready to grab them as soon as they come out. Is anyone trying to distract you? Don't let them and leave swiftly. If you notice anything odd about a cash machine or people nearby then phone the police on 101 (999 in an emergency) or report it to the premises the machine is attached to. Don't try to remove any devices yourself.
Cup and ball game: This variant of a scam dating back into antiquity is perhaps the most common and is frequently seen on the busier pedestrian bridges such as Westminster Bridge. A person will lay out a mat with three cups on it. They will pretend to hide a ball under one of the cups, move the cups around, and then ask you to place a bet on where the ball-containing cup has landed. There is no ball - the con artist will have spirited it away! This con always has people acting as lookouts in the crowd and they will pretend to win every now and again so it looks like the game is winnable. Also beware if you are just stopping to watch as you could be pick-pocketed! The best defence is to walk straight past these events and not engage at all. If you have a mobile phone/cellphone that works in the UK you can phone the police on 101 (the non-emergency equivalent to 999) and report them, but it is advised to move away to do this as you may be harassed by the con artist or their lookouts if they overhear you.
Overzealous street performers: Most street performers are happy to just do their thing, let you watch, and then you can throw them a few coins if you liked the show. However, some street performers will actively grab and harass passers-by in order to get attention and money. They may forcefully pose with you and ask you to take a photograph and then demand money for the photo opportunity. They may also take this opportunity while you're distracted to pick-pocket you. Don't engage with any street performer who is pushy or forceful - try and walk away, or call out "Get off me!" or "No!" and draw attention to yourself if you can't escape easily. Again, you can report these bogus street performers on the 101 number as above.
Tissue sellers on trains: Beggars will get onto a train and place tissues on the seats with a note begging for money. They want you to feel pity for them and buy the tissues, but this is an organised scam and the money goes towards criminal enterprises. If you see this happening on a train don't buy the tissues and ignore anyone who asks you for money for them. If you're above ground you can text the British Transport Police on 61016 to report it.
"Clip joint": 'Every night, Soho presents a particular danger: the "clip joint". The usual targets of these establishments are lone male tourists. Usually, an attractive woman will casually befriend the victim and recommend a local bar or even a club that has a "show". The establishment will be near-desolate, and, even if the victim has only a drink or two, the bill will run to hundreds of pounds. If payment is not immediately provided, the bouncers will lock the "patrons" inside and take it by force or take them to an ATM and stand over them while they extract the cash. To be safe, if a woman you just met suggests you a place, try to recommend a different bar. If she insists on hers then walk away and do not listen to her suggestions. Sometimes this con trick takes place when someone is lured into a private club with the promise of something perhaps more than a drink (like a "private show" or sex for a small amount of money). A "hostess fee" will appear on the bill for several hundred pounds, even though there has been nothing more than polite conversation.
"Stress tests": If anyone offers you a free "stress test", they are likely trying to recruit you into the Church of Scientology. The best option is to walk away or just say "No thank you" politely, as people are commonly harassed into giving personal details.
Needing money for phone/train tickets/the bus/et al.: Someone will approach you asking for money for public transport. They will claim that they have lost their Travelcard or that it has been damaged somehow. Most people upon losing their Travelcard will seek aid at a train station and not approach random strangers! Another variant of this scam exists wherein a man or woman will ask for change so they can make a call at a phone box. Occasionally a person with a very convincing fake injury will ask for money so that they can get a taxi to hospital, strangely refusing the offer of you calling an ambulance or the police for them as you would do for most injured people in the street. Ignore them.
Ticket machine scam: One of the most popular scams in London is the ticket machine scam: While buying a ticket at a train station someone will approach you and act as if they want to help you buy the right ticket. In reality, they will wait until your money is in the machine, then lean across, cancel the transaction and pocket your cash. Say "No thanks" politely - you know what ticket you want to buy!
Selling/asking for a donation for "lucky heather": This scam, usually operated by women, involves someone handing you "lucky heather" (a small flower usually wrapped in foil) and then either trying to sell it to you or asking for a monetary donation. They will come up with a vague charity ("money for sick children", "money for orphaned babies", and so on) and show you a purse full of supposed "donations". If you are handed one of these flowers either hand it back or drop it on the ground and leave. Be aware that you if you take the flower and leave without "donating" you could be chased and harassed by the people involved in the scam.
Street collectionsAlthough not illegal, London is a known hotspot for charity collectors, some of whom can be extremely persuasive in trying to obtain a donation; therefore they have earned the name "charity muggers" or "chuggers". If you do not want to donate, be polite but forceful, and under no circumstances provide any form of bank details. Larger charities ask their collectors to have specific and verifiable identification.
Don't take illegal minicabs (see Get around for details). No Minicabs are allowed to ply for trade on the street, and any doing this should be avoided.
Travelling on the lower deck of a night bus is generally safer, as there are more passengers around, and you are visible to the bus driver.
If you have been the victim of crime on the railways or the London Underground you should report the crime as soon as possible to the British Transport Police who have an office in most major train and Tube stations. If you have been a victim of crime in the City of London you should report the crime to the City of London Police. Elsewhere, you should report your crime as normal to the Metropolitan Police.
If you've lost an item on the Underground, Overground or Docklands Light Railway, in a licensed black cab, or on a red London bus then you should contact the TfL Lost Property Office (Tube: Baker Street) as soon as possible. In respect of other rail and coach services, the relevant service operator should be contacted.
You can find NHS services near you here.
EmergenciesFor a serious medical emergency (unconsciousness, stroke, heart attack, heavy bleeding, broken bones, etc.) dial 999 or 112 and ask for an ambulance. These numbers are free of charge from any telephone. When you call, the operator will ask for details about the patients and your location; answering these questions will not delay help. As emergency response is prioritised in London the operator needs to know what resources they need to use and how quickly you need them.
London's ambulance coverage is excellent with highly trained and friendly staff. For instances of major trauma there is also London's Air Ambulance, two helicopters that can deliver an advanced trauma team within minutes to anywhere in London. At night the helicopters do not fly and a rapid response car is dispatched instead.
Emergencies can also be dealt with at most NHS hospitals with an A & E (Accident & Emergency) department. In A & E, be prepared to wait for a long time (the average is 4 hours) during busy periods before being given treatment if your medical complaint is not too serious. For less serious problems, try a GP's ("General Practitioner", or family doctor) surgery, Urgent Care Centre, or a high-street pharmacist.
Major hospitalsMajor A & E hospitals in London are:
- Charing Cross Hospital, Fulham Palace Rd, Hammersmith, W6 8RF
- Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, 369 Fulham Rd, Chelsea, SW10 9TR
- St George's Hospital, Blackshaw Road, Tooting, SW17 0QT
- Homerton University Hospital, Homerton Row, Homerton, E9 6SR
- King's College Hospital, Denmark Hill, SE5 9RS
- University Lewisham Hospital, High St, SE13 6LH
- Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Stadium Road, Woolwich, SE18 4QH
- Royal Free Hospital, 23 East Heath Rd, Hampstead, NW3 1DU
- The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, E1 1BB
- St. Marys NHS Trust, Praed St, Paddington, W2 1NY
- St. Thomas' Hospital, Lambeth Palace Rd, South Bank, SE1 7EH
- University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, 25 Grafton Way, Bloomsbury, WC1E 6DB
- Whittington Hospital, Highgate Hill, Archway, N19 5NF
General medical adviceFor advice on non-emergency medical problems, you can ring the 24 hour NHS Direct service on 111.
Treatment for non-emergency conditions, or for hospital admissions resulting from emergencies, is normally free for people holding a European Health Insurance card (EHIC) issued by most European governments, or certain other countries listed here. In the absence of such a card you would be well advised to get private travel health insurance.
At large organised events, and in many theatre productions, basic medical assistance and first aid is provided through the support of organisations such as St John Ambulance or the stewards for the event.
PharmaciesPharmacies (often referred to as "chemists") are found across London, with chains such as Lloyds Pharmacy and Boots being prevalent. Many independent pharmacies also exist. Most large supermarkets also have pharmacy counters, although these do not stock some of the stronger remedies. Unlike other European countries pharmacies in the UK are not often marked by prominent neon "green cross" signs.
Pharmacists are also able to offer advice on many health problems and recommend medicines that might help. For certain remedies (for example stronger painkillers) you may have to ask at the counter, as for regulatory reasons these can only be sold by pharmacists under strict protocols. Don't be alarmed if the pharmacist asks some basic diagnostic questions or for your ID.
Finding a toiletNeed to spend a penny? Transport for London have produced a map of stations on their network with a toilet. Black and red pictograms indicate the presence of male, female, and disabled toilets, as well as rooms for changing babies. Where a pictogram is black, this indicates that lavatories are outside the gateline (thus open to all), while red pictograms mark toilets which are inside the gateline so only accessible to passengers or those willing to pay to touch in and out. Finally, the presence of an asterisk tells you whether a fee is charged for use of the facilities.
For fact fans out there, the Central line has the most stations with toilets, at 29, and the Piccadilly line is close behind with 28. However, the sheer length of these lines and the number of stations skew the figures. Therefore, the lines with the greatest proportion of stations with loos and thus those lines which are best for regular customers are the Metropolitan line with 27 toilets out of a total of 34 stations (or 79% coverage), and the Jubilee line with 21 comfort areas across 27 stations (77%). As a shuttle between two of the busiest stations on the network, the Waterloo and City line naturally hits 100% loo coverage, and with its name you'd be disappointed if it didn't. By contrast, passengers should be prepared to cross their legs on the Docklands Light Railway, as across a network of 45 stations, a paltry 6 are equipped to offer a comfort break.
Embassies and High CommissionsSome countries have a separate consulate for issuing visas, passports, notary services, etc., found in a different location than the main embassy/high commission. It is advised to check their website or call them ahead of time if you need these services. The major English-speaking countries' embassies are marked on the dynamic map at the top of the article; to locate them, click the green number next to their flag.
Around the UK
- Aylesbury - Historic market town, 35 miles north-west of London.
- Bath. Roman relics, rich in Georgian architecture and makes an easy day trip from Paddington station.
- Berkhamsted - Historic market town. Features the ruined castle of William the Conqueror, canal-side pubs, and Ashridge Forest. Takes around 30-40 minutes by train from Euston station.
- Birmingham. Boasts many events, pubs and clubs, and shopping opportunities. Trains can take as little as 85 minutes from Euston or Marylebone or a coach from Victoria takes 3 hours.
- Bournemouth. Large beach resort on the edge of the New Forest, with seven miles of golden sand. Only a two hour ride on the train from Waterloo station.
- Brighton. Fashionable beach town about 90 km (55 mi) south. Less than an hour by train from Victoria station.
- Canterbury. Site of the foremost cathedral in England, constructed during the 12th-15th centuries.
- Eastbourne. A leafy, seaside resort town of "timeless" Victorian architecture, with a lovely pier and bandstand. Famous for Beachy Head chalk cliffs, and a popular viewing platform.
- Hastings. Seaside town, famous for the Battle of 1066. Around an hour and a half from London Bridge or St Pancras stations.
- Hemel Hempstead. 30 miles north of London, a small town dating back to the 8th century. Also home to the UK's largest indoor ski slope. Around half an hour from Euston station.
- Henley-on-Thames. About 55 km (35 mi) west of London, a quaint and typical English town, great for walks by, and aquatic activities on, the Thames. Home to the famous boating Regatta in summer.
- Lewes. Delightful mid-Sussex town, with a picturesque brewery and the famous Guy Fawkes festival in November. About an hour from Victoria station.
- Manchester. If you have time it is worth visiting Britain's other great cities and Manchester has very much to offer. Manchester can be reached in around 2 hours by train and is about 320 km (200 mi) to the north. It is the second most visited city in England (after London).
- Maidstone, county town of Kent, known as the Garden of England.
- Margate and Ramsgate, twin seaside resorts of the Isle of Thanet in Kent.
- Medway Towns. Has a strong naval history in Chatham Dockyards, with medieval attractions like Rochester Cathedral and Castle. Has a strong literary connection with Charles Dickens, you can visit his museum and a former residence.
- Oxford and Cambridge. The university cities make for ideal days out of London.
- Portsmouth. Home of the Royal Navy and of real interest to nautical enthusiasts. Also offers access to the Isle of Wight.
- Shrewsbury. A very traditional town full of medieval black and white timber-framed buildings along winding, steep, narrow streets set on the River Severn easily reached by taking the train (change at Wolverhampton or Crewe) from Euston.
- St Albans. Small, quaint "cathedral city" just north of metropolitan London. Also home to Verulamium Museum and Verulamium Park featuring the Roman history of the area. Easily accessed from J22 on the M25 motorway or about 30 minutes on the train out of Farringdon station.
- Stonehenge. Among the most famous landmarks in England. The mysterious stone ring was built thousands of years ago, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can get there by a guided bus tour or by train (1 hr 30) to the nearby city Salisbury, where you can also visit the 13th-century cathedral with the highest spire in the country.
- South Downs and North Downs National Parks offer beautiful, rolling chalk hills for a day's stroll or longer hikes.
- Southend-on-Sea. An Essex seaside town with pebble and sand beaches, fairground rides, arcades, and the longest pier in the world. Make sure to grab yourself a delicious Rossi ice cream - a local delicacy since 1932 - while you're there! Only 40 minutes by train from Fenchurch Street station.
- Shaftesbury. One of the oldest and highest towns in Britain. This small Dorset town has been described as "beautiful" by visitors.
- Winchester. Former capital of England and attractive "cathedral city" with lots to see. About an hour away by train from Waterloo.
- Windsor. Nearby Thames-side town with magnificent castle and Royal residence located only one hour by train outside of London via Paddington station. Makes for a very easy day trip.
- Amsterdam (The Netherlands) — Flights operate multiple times daily from Heathrow, Gatwick, and City airports with a flight time of around 1 hour. Alternatively, you can go via Eurostar from St. Pancras station in 3 hrs 50 mins.
- Disneyland Paris — 2 hours 40 minutes to the Magic Kingdom by Eurostar from St. Pancras station.
- Brussels (Belgium) — Only 2 hours via Eurostar from St. Pancras station.
- Lille (France) — Only 1 hour 20 minutes via Eurostar from St. Pancras station.
- Paris (France) — Only 2 hours via Eurostar from St. Pancras station.