FCUS GUIDES

London - Big Ben (and London Eye in the background) © Andrew Sanger

Flights to London - Hotels in London
Books - London basics - Pubs - Tea



A short break in
London

The Tower of London © Andrew Sanger



HOME
GUIDEBOOKS
Google map
London
SITE
SEARCH

Copyright

London
Our Twitter list


Useful guides? Bookmark and Share  

Thank you!
 



^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^

 

If the old Cockney song is right, maybe it is 'because I'm a Londoner that I love London so'. Or maybe it's because this vast, dynamic, free-and-easy metropolis, by far Europe's largest, most important and most culturally diverse city, offers more in arts and music, eating and drinking, shows and entertainment, all day and all night, than most other capitals can even imagine.
  Visually, London is fascinating, a city of greenery and gardens, fine tree-lined streets, grand terraces and charming, beautiful squares and over 5,000 acres of parkland.
  Capital of England, of the United Kingdom and of the British Commonwealth, for several centuries London has had unequalled political, financial, intellectual and social influence around the globe. Once the seat of the greatest empire the world has known, fittingly London has inherited an open, internationalist outlook, and a population drawn from every nation on earth.
  At the same time, London retains its quintessential Englishness, combining a love of personal freedom with a formal, dignified heritage and a flair for pageantry and tradition. Many of the clichés about Londoners are true - people do have a certain reserve and a liking for privacy, and great respect for individual liberty. It's true, too, about Londoners' quirky humour, and a genuine good nature that extends a quiet welcome to everyone
.


 Get the feel

Although densely urban, most of London's skyline (apart from the City and Docklands) is low-rise, with many long terraces of fine 18th- and 19th-century buildings. There are numerous well-kept parks and squares, with three large Royal Parks - Hyde Park, Green Park and St James' Park - in the city centre. Even in the heart of the capital, the atmosphere is surprisingly calm and relaxed, and you'll see a lot of crowded, convivial pubs of character, most of them at least a century or two old.

 What, why, where

London sprawls over 600 square miles with about 14 million residents (8 million within the 32 boroughs). It began in about AD43 as the walled Roman city of Londinium on the north bank of the Thames. That original London has become the financial district known simply as the City - also colloquially known as "the Square Mile".
  London's role as a world leader in commerce and trade, science, technology and the arts has been undisputed for centuries. It established itself as the leading global financial centre in the 18th century, a position it has kept ever since.
  The River Thames winds through the middle of 21st-century London, but the city centre, historic London, most sightseeing and the main entertainment district all lie on the north side of the river in the West End - so called because it is west of the more ancient City.
  Outside these central areas are dozens of distinctive residential and commercial districts. Among them are several historic neighbourhoods of character and charm - often known as London's 'villages' - for example Hampstead, Richmond and Greenwich.

 Getting started

The official tourist information organisation is Visit London. Its main tourist information offices are at Piccadilly Circus and in St Paul's Churchyard. In addition there are 10 other London Tourist Information Centres around the capital, of which 7 are in the city centre.
Click for map of Visit London tourist offices.
  Another useful London information resource is London Information Centre in Leicester Square
www.visitLondon.com
www.londontown.com/

 Compass points

St Pancras International is London's Eurostar terminus, on the north side of the city centre. Other major railway termini are Waterloo (trains from SW England), Victoria (the south), King's Cross (the north), Paddington (the west) and Liverpool Street (the east).

The West End, London's central district, extends from Park Lane to the Aldwych. Its focal point is considered to be Trafalgar Square.  Within a few paces of this majestic public square are many of London's most famous streets, sights, museums and places of entertainment, including Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. London's busiest shopping street is 1½ mile long Oxford Street,  from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road.

Kensington & Chelsea, west of Park Lane and mainly south of Hyde Park, is London's smallest, most densely populated borough, noted for prosperous residential areas, major museums and the upmarket department stores and designer outlets of Knightsbridge and King's Road. It also includes funkier Notting Hill and Portobello Road.

 Getting around

London is too big to explore comfortably on foot. The central zone alone is about 5 miles [8km] across. You'll need to get acquainted with London's inefficient and often infuriating public transport system, or spend quite a lot of pounds sterling on the famously overpriced black cabs.

Public transport - Transport for London (or TfL) operates a comprehensive network of red buses (not all are double deckers!) and 11 London Underground lines (locally known as the Tube).
  TfL also includes the Overground (ordinary trains operating around London's perimeter) and DLR (Docklands Light Railway), linking the City to the East End and former docklands.

Tickets are valid throughout the whole TfL network. Fares are payable by zone: a flat rate within one zone, a higher flat rate to travel in two zones, and so on. The zones are concentric, zone 1 being the West End and City. There are 6 zones in total.
  Most London residents use an Oyster Card - an electronic smartcard which stores credit and allows access to all London's public transport.
 
It's not possible to pay bus fares with cash: see other ways to pay.
  Visitors to London can buy a Visitor Oyster Card or, if preferred, travel passes called Travelcards valid for 1 to 7 days.
- Transport for London: www.tfl.gov.uk

- London Undergound map


Taxis - The advantages of London's distinctive black cabs are that drivers' knowledge of London is encyclopaedic, journeys are always properly metered, they can be hailed anywhere, and they are widely available day and night. A tip of 10% is always expected.
  Offering a cheaper alternative to black cabs are numerous licensed taxi companies whose drivers use saloon cars, locally known as minicabs. These must always be pre-booked. Any minicab touting for business is unlicensed.
  London's leading minicab operator is Uber, 'hailed' and paid for using an app.

'Boris Bikes' for hire - first 30 mins is free
Bike hire
- TfL's cycle rental scheme is in place throughout central London. You can pick up and return the bicycles, officially called Santander Cycles but popularly known as Boris Bikes (after former London mayor Boris Johnson who created the scheme), at distinctive bike stations, using a pre-payment key or a credit card. The first 30 minutes, enough to cycle almost anywhere in the city centre, are free.
- Bicycle hire scheme

River bus services run by Thames Clippers along the Thames are a fast, enjoyable way through central London. (Oyster cards valid, but with an additional fare.)
www.thamesclippers.com

Driving - Traffic in central London flows relatively smoothly most of the day, but parking is hard to find and expensive, except on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Beware of large numbers of cyclists riding fast and dangerously, weaving across lanes in heavy traffic - especially at night, when many have no lights. All of the West End and City is within the Congestion Zone, which from 7am-6pm Mon-Fri can only be entered on payment of a daily charge of £11.50p.

 Entertainment and nightlife

What's on in London? Find latest listings and reviews in London's popular free publications: Evening Standard, Metro, and Time Out.

London has over 50 theatres, 1000 music venues and clubs, and - depending on tastes - entertainment round the clock 7 days a week.

London's entertainment districts
Entertainment and nightlife are located in different parts of the city centre. The main central London entertainment districts are

South Hoxton, Shoreditch, South Hackney - NE of the City - vibrant arts and entertainment with bars, clubs and restaurants
.

Camden - N of West End - clubs, shows, live music venues, including Electric Ballroom, The Roundhouse, Dingwalls.

Soho (including Chinatown) - between Leicester Sq, Regent St, Oxford St, Charing Cross Rd - hundreds of bars, cabarets, striptease clubs, gay venues, jazz, theatres,
restaurants
.

The South Bank - Thames riverside - high culture, classical music, concerts, theatre, National Film Theatre, Royal Festival Hall, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
www.southbankcentre.co.uk
www.shakespearesglobe.com

Leicester Square / Piccadilly Circus / Shaftesbury Avenue - "Theatreland", major rock and pop venues, late-night pubs, clubs, cinemas.

Covent Garden - Ballet, opera, classical music, Royal Opera House, classic theatres.

Other arts and entertainment centres
Outside the entertainment districts are many other performance venues and arts centres large and small. Europe's largest performing arts centre is the Barbican, in the City. It stages world-class exhibitions, music, theatre, dance and film, and is the home of the London Symphony Orchestra.

An important nightlife restriction: in the UK, alcoholic drinks are only served in 'licensed premises'. Most are licensed only from 11am until 11pm or midnight. Some (usually if there is live entertainment) have longer hours, especially nightclubs and dance venues which are normally open to 3am or 4am.

 Eat and drink in London

 Pubs  ("public houses"), known for their odd names, cosy decor and wide choice of beers on tap, as well as a convivial informality, are part of the English way of life. London has about 4000 pubs, most dating from the 18th to early 20th centuries. Most have loyal patrons (regulars), and cater either to a local neighbourhood or to a particular type of clientele.
 Pubs may either be 'tied' to particular brewers, or 'free houses' serving their own choice of beers including 'real ales' - traditional beers from independent breweries. Most pubs also serve food.
 Good pubs in London are too numerous to list. About 200 of the city's best pubs are listed on http://londonist.com/pubs

English food was once infamous - but that's one cliché which is utterly outdated. Several of Europe's finest gastronomic restaurants are in London. Michelin Red Guide London 2017 lists 2 three-star, 9 two-star, and an astounding 53 one-star establishments in the city, as well as scores of other recommended restaurants. See the Evening Standard's full list and Google map of London's 2017 Michelin-starred restaurants.
  Classic British ingredients include high-quality beef, sausages, fresh fish, vegetables and cheeses. Traditional meals include English breakfast (focused on fried eggs with bacon, with many extras); Sunday roast (beef, potatoes, green vegetables, a batter dish called Yorkshire pudding, and a meat sauce called 'gravy'); and afternoon tea (see below). Vegetarianism is very common and widely catered for.
  Typical London eating combines European and Asian influences, with just a few surviving English classics. Fish & chips is popular, but so is chicken tikka masala. English sweet pies and puddings served with custard appear on menus alongside panna cotta and tiramisu.
  Central London is packed with French and Italian restaurants. Prices can be on the high side. Asian ethnic restaurants - especially Indian, Chinese and Thai - generally offer less expensive dining, as do numerous chains like Fishworks, Wagamama and Yo!Sushi.
  In addition, so-called 'coffee shops' and sandwich bars provide inexpensive meals and snacks, while simple diner-style restaurants called caf
és - jokingly pronounced "caffs" - serve generous traditional English breakfasts and basic cooked lunches at rock-bottom prices. All department stores have restaurants, and most pubs, too, serve food.
 
 Afternoon tea  is a traditional British treat. Normally taken between 3.30pm and 5.30pm, a full afternoon tea, or 'set tea', comprises a pot of tea, light sandwiches or savouries, scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam (or preserve), and a slice of cake. Properly appreciated, afternoon tea should not be too rich, and is not a substitute for either lunch or dinner.
 Optional variations include more sandwich and less cake, coffee instead of tea, and butter instead of cream.
 Top places for an elegant set tea include most leading hotels, notably Claridges, the Ritz, the Dorchester, Palm Court at the Langham and Brown's Hotel.
 Upmarket department stores Harrods and Fortnum & Mason are also known for their afternoon teas. Expect to pay as much as £40-£50pp for tea in such places.
  Countless other eating places offer a less grand afternoon tea, including the
restaurants of museums and art galleries, for as little as £5.
Visit London's top 10 London teas

 Must-see

 The British Museum 
A majestic 18th-century building entered through a beautifully roofed Great Court, the British Museum displays one of the world's leading collections of worldwide artefacts illustrating the development of civilization and culture from two million years ago to the present day.
  "M
useum highlights" alone number over 4000 items, including the Ancient Egyptian Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures (Elgin Marbles), and treasures of Mesopotamia, drawings by  Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo.
  Entry is free, except for temporary special exhibitions which attract large numbers of London residents. There are three cafés and a restaurant serving full meals and afternoon tea.
Address: Great Russell St, WC1.
Tube: Tottenham Court Road; Holborn.
www.britishmuseum.org

 St Paul's Cathedral 
Under a vast, elegant dome and tall lantern tower visible from afar, St Paul's is one of London's most beautiful and striking landmarks. As the cathedral of the diocese of London, it's the principal centre of religious life in the capital. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and opened in 1710, it's the fifth cathedral on the site since 604, and the first built after the Reformation - as such, St Paul's embodied the independence and freedom of England and the English church.
  Numerous royal and national events have been celebrated here, including the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria and both jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II, and her 80th birthday in 2006. Royal weddings include the marriage of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer in 1981, and state funerals held here include that of Sir Winston Churchill.
  The interior is wonderfully decorated and proportioned. Don't miss the curious Whispering Gallery, 259 steps up into the dome. St Paul's also has a restaurant, serving afternoon tea.
Address: St Paul's Churchyard, EC4.
Tube: St Paul's.
www.stpauls.co.uk

 The Tower of London 
A complete Norman and medieval fortress beside the Thames, the Tower is replete with sometimes bloody history and significance. During Tudor times, the Tower was a royal prison, and many executions took place here. The Tower houses the Crown Jewels - the crowns and regalia, some currently in use, of the British monarchy. The security guards of the Tower, commonly known as 'Beefeaters' (their correct name is Yeoman Warders), still wearing 15th-century uniform. Superstitions and legends surround the Tower, for example that if the six ravens living there should ever leave, 'the kingdom will fall.'
  Crossing the Thames beside the Tower of London, Tower Bridge is a spectacular example of Victorian design and engineering. Its latest addition is a spectacular glass floor in the walkways across the Thames.
Address: Lower Thames St, EC3.
Tube: Tower Hill.
www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/
www.towerbridge.org.uk

 Covent Garden 
The atmospheric former vegetable market of London is now one of the city's most popular shopping, dining and leisure districts. It's centred on the old "piazza" covered market and surrounding cobbled plazas.
Address: Covent Garden, WC2.
Tube: Covent Garden; Leicester Sq.
www.coventgardenlondonuk.com

 London Eye
The huge rotating wheel of transparent capsules, standing across the river from the Houses of Parliament, provides London's most spectacular panoramic views. At the top you're 442 feet high and can see as much as 25 miles in fine weather. A rotation takes 30 minutes.
Address: Westminster Bridge Road, SE1.
Tube: Waterloo; Westminster.
www.londoneye.com

 Buckingham Palace
The Queen's imposing 775-roomed official London residence and administrative office stands between St James' Park and Green Park, at the end of the pink-paved Mall. If the Royal Standard is flying, Her Majesty is in residence. The lavish suite of State Rooms, where official events are held, is opened to the public on certain dates each year.
The Royal Mews - stables and garages - is open to visitors, as is The Queen's Gallery, exhibiting part of the Queen's extensive art collection. Changing the Guard (11.30am. May-July daily; rest of year: alternate days, weather permitting) is a splendid 40-minute ceremony on the Palace forecourt. Guardsmen of the Queen's Guard - in red tunic and black 'bearskin' hats - arrive with a band to replace those on duty.
State Rooms - next tour dates - see website
Address:  The Mall, SW1A 1AA.
Tube: St James's Park; Hyde Park Corner.
Buckingham Palace webpage

 Westminster Abbey 
 and the Houses of Parliament 

Majestic 316ft (96m) clock tower Big Ben, properly called Elizabeth Tower, rises from the Palace of Westminster - better known as the  Houses of Parliament (ie the Commons and the Lords), seat of the world's oldest democratic government. Though mainly 19th-century neo-Gothic, parts of the golden stone building date to the 11th century.
  You can climb steps to the bells of Big Ben, go on guided tours, and watch debates and Government proceedings in action.
  Across the road, Westminster Abbey is the church where royal coronations, christenings, weddings and funerals have taken place for over 1000 years (though the present building dates to 1245). The interior is richly decorated with paintings, fabrics, stained glass, fine paving and elaborate memorials and tombs. Many great figures are buried here, including 17 monarchs. In Poets' Corner, great British writers are honoured, including Shakespeare and Chaucer.
Address: Parliament Square, SW1.
Tube: Westminster.
www.westminster-abbey.org

www.parliament.uk

 The Science Museums 
The Science Museum and its neighbour the Natural History Museum cover an immense range of knowledge in accessible, thought-provoking  and entertaining displays that are highly child-oriented. Highlights at the Natural History are the reconstructed dinosaurs and the large mammals. Both museums deserve a long visit, are free, and have restaurants. And note that the V&A (see Art museums, below) is just round the corner.
Address: Exhibition Rd, SW7.
Tube: South Kensington.

 The Art Museums 
London's art collections rival any city in the world. The largest permanent galleries open to the public are the National Gallery (Trafalgar Square), housing 13th-19th century W. European art; Tate Modern (South Bank), international modern and contemporary art; and Tate Britain (Millbank), British art from 1500 to the present, including a huge collection of works by Turner. All these are free except for special exhibitions.
  The Royal Academy (Piccadilly) specialises in prestigious temporary exhibitions. London has many other remarkable art galleries, such as the Courtauld Institute
(the Strand), considered one of the finest small art museums in the world, with some exceptional Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces.
  There are many specialised museums numbering among the best in the world, among them the renowned Victoria & Albert (V&A), which has the world's largest collection devoted to design, style and fashion; it also has a leading photography gallery.
  All London's art museums have restaurants and cafés.

 Shopping in London

Oxford St – London's main shopping street, with focus on clothes. Its western half has top department stores including Selfridges, and flagship stores of Marks & Spencer and John Lewis.

Regent St, curving elegantly south from Oxford Circus, has many designer fashion stores including Liberty's, Jaeger, Austin Reed, and Barbour, as well as toyshop Hamleys. Touristy fashion mecca Carnaby St is parallel.

Bond St, also south of Oxford St, is a chic upmarket area noted for exclusive high fashions and jewellery and Fenwick's flagship store.

Piccadilly, along its eastern half, runs through a traditional, exclusive shopping districts, with department store Fortnum & Mason, upmarket Burlington Arcade, and luxury tailoring in Savile Row and Jermyn St.

Knightsbridge, Kensington, Chelsea – The meeting of Knightsbridge, Brompton Road and Sloane Street is a focal point for designer outlets and prestigious department stores (notably Harrods). West from Sloane Sq, King's Road has stylish, original fashions. In N.Kensington, Portobello Rd is a long multi-ethnic market street, with a big antiques section.

 Events and festivals

The Boat Race
2 April 2017
Oxford and Cambridge universities' traditional fast and furious rowing race along the Thames between Mortlake and Putney (W of city centre).
www.theboatrace.org


Chelsea Flower Show
23-27 May 2017
The Royal Horticultural Society's prestigious annual flower show transforms the Royal
Hospital grounds into impressive show gardens and displays.
www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/chelsea


Notting Hill Carnival
27-28 August 2017
2016 is the 50th anniversary year of this West London event that has become Europe's largest street festival, with steel bands, parades, floats and over 50,000 performers. Culminates in Carnival Parade on Bank Holiday Monday.
www.thelondonnottinghillcarnival.com/


Thames Festival
1-30 September 2017
London's riverbank is the setting for a celebratory month of music, dance, art, river events and fireworks.
http://thamesfestival.org/

 In the Know

Riverboat is the fastest and most enjoyable way from the Tate Modern to the Tate Britain.
Greenwich Mean Time (GMT - the basis of time zones around the world) is the time at the Greenwich Royal Observatory in London.
Three huge parklands lie on the edge of the city centre - Hampstead Heath (great London views), Richmond Park (deer roaming freely) and Kew Gardens (Royal Botanic Gardens).
Don't block the escalators
at London Underground ("Tube") stations! The rule is stand on the right or walk on the left.
Ride the top deck on London buses for a great sightseeing ride, especially #15 (Trafalgar Sq to Tower of London via St Paul's) and #12 (Piccadilly, Trafalgar Sq, Whitehall, Westminster and Big Ben).
Foggy London Town in reality rarely experiences dense fog. The notorious "pea-soupers", London's thick yellow-tinted opaque smogs caused by a combination of fog and smoke-polluted air, have not occurred for many years.

 Flights and Getting to London

Flights to London: London's five airports are London Heathrow (15 miles W of city centre by tube or express bus), London Gatwick (28 m S, express train), London Stansted (40 m N, train or bus), London Luton (32 m NW, bus or train) and London City (6 m E, DLR).

By road: London is at the start of motorways M1, M2, M3 and M4, as well as major roads A1, A2, A3 and A4. Motorway M25 encircles London. The North Circular and South Circular ring roads run through the inner suburbs.
Google map of road access to London.

 Hotels in London

London accommodation ranges from hundreds of small guesthouses in the London suburbs, to scores of branded budget hotels near major London stations and interchanges, and dozens of decent, mid-range hotels on the edge of the city centre, up to some of the world's grandest, most luxurious hotels, which are mainly in the heart of London's West End.
 The accommodation pages on Visit London's website give a comprehensive overview of finding a hotel in London, with online booking.
 Basic lodgings outside the city centre can be booked via  www.bedandbreakfasts.co.uk.

 London basics

Where is London? In SE England.
International dialling code: + 44 20.
Time zone: GMT (+ 1 in summer = BST).
Money: Pound Sterling (£).



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^
^

Top


Top

By Andrew Sanger ©
 


 Guidebooks

 

 

 


Search either the Focus Guides website or the whole Web

  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 

Google     
 
  Web Focus Guides  
London
Revised and updated January 2017. All rights reserved worldwide.
Text: © Focus Guides and Andrew Sanger.
Pictures: All are copyright © Andrew Sanger.
Permission to use: This guide may be freely PRINTED ONLY for personal non-commercial use. Unless a LICENCE has been obtained it may not, in whole or in part, be COPIED nor used for any COMMERCIAL purpose.
**********
BUY  LICENCE
**********
^

Free one-page online travel guides by Andrew Sanger at Focus Guides (http://www.focusguides.com)
Avignon - Bruges - Brussels - Dublin - Eurostar cities - Jerusalem - The Hague - Lille - London - Lyon - Malta - Marseille - Nice - Oxford - Paris - San Francisco - Tel Aviv - Tunis - Verona - York