When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life;... Read more
The City and Westminster
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford
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 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
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.
Since the closure of the Britain and London Visitor Centre in December 2011 due to cost-cutting by the government, London 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, from 09.30-17.30 Monday to Saturday, and 10.00-16.00 on Sunday.
There is no office for tourist information for the whole of the UK nor for the whole of England.
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 traveling longer distances. You're here to see London - you can't see it underground!
Transport for London (TfL) is a government organization responsible for all public transport. Their website contains maps plus an excellent journey planner. TfL publishes a useful 'coping guide' specially designed for travelers who wish to use public transport during their visit to London. This can be downloaded in PDF format and printed as an 18-page brochure. 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 travelers to switch between modes of transport on one ticket.
The main travel options in summary are:
On buses, trains and the Tube, you can use your credit card, debit card, or prepaid card as a ticket, if the card was issued in the UK and if it supports contactless payment. Your card supports contactless payment if it has a symbol of three waves on it. When you enter a station or get on the bus, you just 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 (see below). The price per day is automatically capped at the price of a day ticket. You also avoid the (sometimes very long) queues at ticket machines. The same card cannot be used by two or more different passengers.
Oyster is a contactless electronic smartcard run by Transport for London. Unless you have a contactless credit card (see above), Oyster is the most cost-effective option if you plan to be in London for any more than a couple of days, or if you intend to make return visits to the city: the savings quickly recover the initial purchase cost. You can "top up" an Oyster card with electronic funds. This money is then deducted according to where you travel. The cost of a single trip using the Oyster card is considerably less than buying a single paper ticket with cash. Prices vary depending on distance traveled, whether by bus or tube and on the time of day. You can also add various electronic seven-day, 1 month and longer-period Travelcards onto an Oyster, and the card is simply validated each time you use it.
The deposit is fully refundable if you hand it in at any staffed Tube station's ticket office, and you will also get any pay-as-you-go credit refunded. 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. 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.
Oyster 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. (If you do not, you may be liable for a penalty fare or prosecution!) Oyster is also not accepted on long-distance coaches, nor on tour buses, charter buses or on the community bus route 812 in Islington.
Also, Oyster can not be used on:
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 ticket office to receive substantial discounts on your off-peak pay-as-you-go fares.
When using your Oyster card to travel, make sure the reader is displaying an orange light, then place it flat against the reader. Listen carefully for a single beep, and watch for a green light: if this happens, it means your card has been accepted, and you can proceed. If you hear two beeps and see a red light, this means your card has not been accepted. Take the card off the reader, wait for the orange light, and try again; if this continues to happen, ask for help from a member of staff.
When getting on any kind of train, such as the Tube, the DLR or the London Overground, simply 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; at stations without gates, they will be on free-standing cabinets. Always make sure you touch in at the start, and out at the end of your journey! If you do not, the system has no way of knowing where you have traveled, and you will be charged the maximum fare.
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 need to touch out when changing trains: always ask a member of railway staff if you are in doubt.
When using a London bus, you only touch in once, when getting on the bus. Most buses have their Oyster reader on the ticket machine next to the driver. Some buses have Oyster readers on poles next to the middle and rear doors. You don't need to touch out when you get off the bus - if you do, you will be charged twice.
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. Simply 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.
When using a tram, simply touch your Oyster card on the reader on the tram platform before you get on a tram.
You 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 number) with Oyster pay-as-you-go, also known as PrePay. Money is then deducted from your Oyster card each time you travel. When traveling 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. Bus fares are flat and you will be charged the same fare every time you get on the bus, regardless of whether you're getting off after one stop or going right to the end of the route.
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.
Don't forget: when traveling by train, make sure you touch your Oyster in and out at the start and end of each journey, or you will be charged extra!
A 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. Please note that, especially for the Zone 1-2 tickets, the paper Day Travelcard is substantially more expensive than the maximum Oyster fare. Therefore, an Oyster card will generally offer much better value.
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 should get off at the boundary of your last valid zone and buy a ticket for the rest of your journey: if you do not, you will be charged a penalty fare and may be prosecuted!
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. A number of interchange hubs are also served (such as Farringdon, Elephant & Castle, Harrow & Wealdstone, and Stratford).
London is a surprisingly compact city, making it a walker's delight. In many instances, walking is the quickest method of transport between two points.
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: always wait for the green man to appear, and then cross quickly and carefully.
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 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.
In some instances, it can be more pleasant or faster to walk your intended route instead of taking the Tube. Walking to another Tube station can also help you to avoid crowds. By looking at a map you'll notice that some central London Tube stations are very close to each other.
Oxford Circus station can become extremely busy on weekday evenings and if convenient it is worth walking to other Tube stations.
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, with the oldest section of the Hammersmith & City Line, originally opened as the Metropolitan Railway, dating back to 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 nineteenth century. The other, newer (a term used loosely here) "deep level" routes, were largely constructed in the early- to mid-twentieth century. The differences are that 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. 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.
Although not strictly part of the London Underground, the zonal fare system includes: The Docklands Light Railway (or "DLR", a local transit system in the Docklands area using computer-operated "driverless" trains), Croydon Tramlink routes, and the London Overground (which is operated as part of the National Rail network). Some national rail stations are also assigned a zone, for Oyster cards. Those that don't accept Oyster.
Travel on the tube system will always require the purchase of a ticket or the use of an Oyster card if you have one; fare evasion is treated as a serious matter.
Almost all stations have automatic ticket barriers. If you pay by Oyster card, just tap your card against the yellow pad to open the barriers (both upon 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 lobby. 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 (note that if your card has no embedded microchip, you cannot use these machines and you must pay at the ticket counter).
Tube maps are freely available from any station, most tourist offices and are prominently displayed in stations and in the back of most diaries. The LRTS map also shows national rail & is on a poster at most tube stations. The Tube is made up of 11 lines each bearing a traditional name and a standard color on the Tube map. To plan your trip on the Tube work out first which station is closest to your starting point and which is closest to your destination. 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. Visitors should be aware, however, that 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.
In central London, taking the Tube for just one stop can be a waste of time; Londoners joke about the tourists who use the Tube to travel between Leicester Square and Covent Garden stations, a journey which can take over 10 minutes on the Tube, despite the two stations being only a couple of 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.
Trains run from around 05:30 to about 01:00. They are usually the fastest way to travel in London, the only problem being the relative expense, and that they can get extremely crowded during rush hours (07:30-10:00 and 16:30-19:00). On warm days take a bottle of water with you as there is no air conditioning on most of the trains (only the Circle, Metropolitan, District, and Hammersmith & City lines have air conditioned trains). Also note that engineering works usually take place during weekends or in the evening. Contact TfL, especially if you plan to travel on a Saturday or a Sunday when entire lines may be shut down.
All 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 run as shuttles and require a transfer onto the 'main line'.
Note that the Northern line has two separate routes through the city centre which split at Euston and rejoin at Kennington. One (officially called the Charing Cross Branch) runs through the West End serving Leicester Square, Charing Cross and Waterloo, while the other route runs via the City of London (officially called the Bank branch but also referred to as the City branch) with major stops at King's Cross St Pancras and Bank. Despite the confusing layout of the line, it is fairly easy to work out which way your train is going; for example a northbound Northern line train to Edgware along the Charing Cross branch will be displayed on the indicator as "Edgware via ChX" and the on-board PA will announce "This train terminates at Edgware via Charing Cross".
Finally, note that 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.
Be considerate of your fellow passengers as best you can.
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 levels on the Tube systems are comparable but typically lower than many other subway systems, and traveler advice about watching luggage and valuables is reasonable. Owing 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 London Underground Lost Property Office (Tube: Baker Street).
The Tube system is covered by an extensive CCTV system, although it is not advised to be reliant on this fact when traveling.
The London Underground considers its safety record to be a matter of professional honor, major accidents being incredibly rare. Front-line staff are well trained for emergencies and will follow well-rehearsed procedures. In addition, front line staff is generally appreciative of traveler 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.
Although there is no specific bylaw barring casual photography, owing to the increased threat from terrorism, some front-line staff can be nervous about the intent and nature of photographers. If you are visiting a station for the sole purpose of photography, or you plan to be in the station for some time, you should let a member of front-line staff know your intentions. At busy stations, you should take care not to cause an obstruction. Under no circumstances should direct photography of security critical equipment (such as CCTV cameras) be taken, and it is advised to ask before photographing front-line staff. Flash photography is explicitly prohibited on safety grounds, as it could distract safety-critical personnel.
Large scale or commercial photography or filming requires a specific permit which can be obtained through TfL.
London's iconic red buses are recognized 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.) Buses 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).
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. Bus routes are identified by numbers and sometimes letters. For example, route 8 runs between Oxford Circus and Bow Church, via Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green. It is not possible to buy tickets for cash 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.
Buses have very clear blinds on the front, with their route number and their destination. When you see your bus approaching, signal clearly to the driver that you intend to get on their bus: the way to do this is to stick your hand out, with an open palm. The driver will indicate and pull into the stop.
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: simply take a seat on the bus, and wait for the conductor to come round to scan your Oyster card. Always wait for people to get out of the bus before you enter.
Hold on tight - especially if you can't find a seat! Buses can accelerate and brake very fast so always grab hold of one of the handrails.
Most buses have a system called iBus fitted: this announces the bus's destination at every stop, and announces the stops and nearby landmarks, both with an announcer's voice and on a screen at the front of the bus. Keep a close eye on this, because this will tell you where you need to get off. The screen may also display the current time, but this will disappear when someone pushes stop or is sometimes hidden behind gaffa tape (reason unknown). 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 iBus screen, replacing the clock. Hold on tight until the bus has stopped, and then get off the bus using the middle or rear door once it has opened.
If you're traveling 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 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 Bus for London) Don't try to get off the bus until it has stopped, or is moving very slowly, and always be careful of cyclists and pedestrians.
Bus route maps
Children 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 special kind of Oyster card called a Zip card, yet journeys are still free. 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.
Standard bus services run from around 06:00-00:30. Around half past midnight, the network changes to the vast night bus network of well over 100 routes stretching all over the city. There are two types of night buses: 24-hour routes and N-prefixed routes.
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.
While Britons on public transport are normally a model of reserve, those using night buses have a bit of a reputation for loud and rowdy behavior. This is mainly because passengers are often people who have been having a good time in central London's clubs and bars; particularly true on buses leaving central London between 01:00 and 03:00. While the buses are normally quite safe, if this is a concern for you, consider taking a pre-booked minicab instead, or failing that sit or stand on the lower deck of the buses nearer the driver. Always call out to the driver if you are pickpocketed, threatened or attacked.
Docklands 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 also 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. Apart from the trains looking very different and running slightly less frequently than the Tube, visitors may as well treat the two systems as one system.
Unlike 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, make sure you have plenty of change!) As there are no gates, when traveling 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 recognize that you have made an interchange between the two stations and treat it as part of the same journey.
The DLR can be a little confusing as the routes are not easily distinguished. Generally trains run on the following routes:
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. Take the first train, listen for announcements, and change where necessary.
Beware 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. The Woolwich Arsenal branch will take you to London City Airport and the Beckton branch will take you to Custom House for ExCel. Always check the destination on the front of the train before getting on; especially at off-peak times, if you get on the wrong branch then the return train could take several minutes!
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 St 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 fifteen 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, 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, 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 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. Don't forget: Oyster cards are not valid to the main airports, except for London City Airport and to Heathrow when traveling 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.
In common parlance, Londoners may refer to traveling by "overground" (or "overland"), meaning going by National Rail (as opposed to going by Underground). However, only one service is officially called Overground - London Overground is a Transport for London rail service. It is operated and promoted just like the Underground, with the logo like the Tube (except orange) on stations and full acceptance of Oyster cards throughout. Trains will usually run every fifteen minutes or less.
London Overground consists of seven separate routes, forming a loose outer orbital with 'corners' at Clapham Junction, Surrey Quays, Highbury & Islington and Willesden Junction. These routes are:
Most London Overground lines use Class 378 Capitalstars: spacious, air-conditioned trains in a distinctive orange livery. These trains have plenty of seating and standing room, and big windows allowing for great "urban scenic" views. The GOBLIN line uses Class 172 Turbostars. These trains are similar to the capitalstars but are smaller and use a diesel bus engine rather than being electric.
London Overground appears on the Tube map as an orange line, usually with a gap in the middle. At many stations (Whitechapel, for instance) 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.
Tramlink, opened in 2000, is the first tram system to operate in London since 1952. South London is poorly served by the Tube and lacks east-west National Rail services so the network connects Wimbledon in South West London to Beckenham in South East London and New Addington, a large housing estate in South Croydon. The network is centred on Croydon, where it runs on street-level tracks around the Croydon Loop.
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. Both 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.
Due to the expense of other forms of transport and the compactness of central London, cycling is a tempting option. Excellent free cycle maps can be obtained from your local tube stations, bike shop, or ordered online.
London now offers a city-wide bicycle hire scheme known as Santander Cycles, operated by Transport for London. For an hourly charge, bicycles may be hired from automated hire stations around the city. The bikes, all colored a distinctive bright blue, can be unlocked and ridden around the city with a credit card and must be returned to another hire station by locking the bike into the rack.
Despite recent improvements, 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.
Most major roads in London will have a bus lane which is restricted to buses, taxis and bicycles.
Cycle-lanes exist in London with both on-road and off-road routes. The network is not comprehensive, and on the road, lanes vary in quality (normally between one and two metres wide). Cycle superhighways (major cycle routes) are painted blue other cycle lanes are green or red; however, some are indicated just with n stenciled image of a bike on the road. If the line between the traffic lane is solid cars may not use it as it is a mandatory cycle lane. A dashed line indicates a recommended cycle lane and motorists may make use of this road space, but it is recommended they don't. 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. A new network of "Cycle super-highways" has recently been launched: these are indicated by bright blue-painted tarmac. Motor vehicles often park on cycle lanes, rendering them unusable.
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 near misses and even collisions.
The towpaths in North London along the Grand Union Canal and Regent's Canal as well as in London's parks and greenways provide traffic-free cycle path in the capital. The Grand Union canal connects Paddington to Camden and the Regent's Canal connects Camden to Islington, Mile End and Limehouse in East London. It takes about 30-40 min to cycle from Paddington station to Islington along the towpaths.
Care should be taken lock your bike properly as many areas, some surprisingly busy, attract cycle thieves while chaining a bicycle to a railing which appears to be private property can occasionally lead to said bike being removed.
Taking 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. There is a map showing this on the Transport for London website. Most National Rail operators allow bicycles outside peak hours also.
Critical Mass London 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 recognized by the local and regional government as the leading voice for cycling in the capital.
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 and are non-smoking. 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 the 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) License - 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.
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.
Some areas in London are poorly serviced by black cabs, particularly late at night. This has led to a large number of illegal minicabs operating - just opportunistic people, with a car, looking to make some fast money. Some of these operators can be fairly aggressive in their attempts to find customers, and it's now barely possible to walk late at night through any part of London with a modicum of nightlife without being approached. These illegal cars are also regularly unsafe: a number of women are assaulted every week by illegal minicab operators (11 per month) and there is also a risk of robbery. 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. 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.
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 Hailo, 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.)
Londoners 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.
Car drivers should be aware that driving into central London on weekdays during daylight hours incurs a hefty charge, with very few exemptions (note that rental cars also attract the charge). Cameras and mobile units record and identify the number plates and registration details of all vehicles entering the charging zone with high accuracy. Numerous payment options exist: by phone, on-line, 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 (take note!) incurs a hefty automatic fine.
Despite the Congestion Charge, London - like most major cities - continues to experience traffic snarls. These are, of course, worse on weekdays during peak commuting hours (i.e. between 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. 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. A good tip is, that outside advertised restriction hours, parking on a single yellow line is permissible. Parking on a red line or a double yellow line is never permissible and heavily enforced. Find and read the parking restrictions carefully! Parking during weekdays and on Saturday can also mean considerable expense in parking fees - fees and restrictions are ignored at your extreme financial peril - issuing fines, clamping and towing vehicles (without warning!) has become a veritable new industry for borough councils staffed by armies of traffic wardens.
For the disabled driving can be much more convenient than using public transport. If disabled and a resident of a member state of the EU then two cars can be permanently registered, for free, for the congestion charge.
Motorcycles and scooters are fairly common in London as they can pass stationary cars, can usually be parked for free and are exempt from congestion-charging. 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 show disregard to anyone on two wheels and larger vehicles have an unwritten priority so take care when crossing junctions. Crash helmets are mandatory. Parking for bikes is usually free - there are designated motorcycle-parking areas on some side-streets and some multi-level parking lots will have bike parking on the ground level.
London is now starting to follow the example of cities such as Sydney and Bangkok by promoting a network of river bus and pleasure cruise services along the River Thames. London River Services (part of Transport for London) manages regular commuter boats and a network of piers all along the river and publishes timetables and river maps similar to the famous tube map. While boat travel may be slower and a little more expensive than tube travel, it offers an extremely pleasant way to cross the city with unrivaled views of the London skyline - Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, etc. Sailing under Tower Bridge is an unforgettable experience.
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.
Inline 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.
The Emirates Air Line is London's newest form of transportation (constructed in 2012). It consists of a cable car that runs across the River Thames in East London and connects the Greenwich Peninsula on the south bank (near The O2) and the Royal Docks on the north bank (near the ExCeL Exhibition Centre). The Greenwich Peninsula terminal connects to the North Greenwich Tube station on the Jubilee line and the Royal Docks terminal connects to the Royal Victoria DLR station. Although it is part of the TfL network and uses Oyster cards, the Air Line sees more frequent use by tourists than by commuters.
Keep in mind if you are traveling to The O2 that the Emirates Air Line service finishes much earlier than the Tube and DLR. If the event you are attending is finishing late then you should have an alternative mode of transport to get back across the river.
London is a huge city, so all individual listings are in the appropriate district articles and only an overview is presented here.
Central London hosts an outstanding collection of world-class museums and galleries, several of truly iconic status.
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, of course, may attract an admission charge.
London museums and galleries with no general admission charge (free entry!) include:
and most museums in Greenwich.
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.
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.
English 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.
Whereas some London museums offer free entry, some other top London attractions are ridiculously expensive. For example, Westminster Abbey and the Tower. 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. 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 obviously requires some advanced planning.
To make the most of the city's tremendous cultural offerings (performing arts, museums, exhibitions, clubs, eateries and numerous others), visitors will do well to pick up a copy of a cultural magazine like Time Out London (available at most corner shops and newsagents) which gives detailed information and critiques on what's around town including show times and current attractions. The website also has major shows listed. There is also a Time Out iPhone/iPod app available although the print version tends to be more detailed.
London 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 organize 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 60s, punks of the 70s, new romantics of the 80s, the Britpop scene of the 90s and in recent years 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.
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 individual bands' MySpace 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 favorite 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."
One of the easiest to use and most comprehensive listings websites is "LondonEars".
The 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 called 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. For up-to-date listings see the weekly magazine Time Out or check the official London theatreland site.
The South Bank is another area well known for world-class theatre and is home to both the National Theatre and the Globe Theatre, the latter of which is London's only thatched building and an attraction in itself. 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 well transfer to the West End, but at lower than West End prices. The most significant of these are:
It is a huge task for a visitor to find the "right place" to eat in London - with the "right atmosphere", at the "right price" - largely because, as in any big city, there are literally thousands of venues from which to choose, ranging from fast food joints, pubs, and mainstream chains all the way up to some of the most exclusive restaurants in the world which attract the kind of clientele that doesn't need to ask the price. Sorting the good from the bad isn't easy, but London has something to accommodate all budgets and tastes.
Following is a rough guide to what you might get, should you fancy eating out: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 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.
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 travelers' 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 - it's people's experiences in this kind of places that gives Britain a bad name for food! 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!
In the suburbs, the cost of eating out is reduced drastically. Particularly in large ethnic communities, there is a competitive market which stands to benefit the consumer. In East London for example, there is a vast number of chicken shops. Brick Lane is also known for being home to London's version of the beigel (spelt "bagel" in the United States and Canada, but pronounced the same way), with Brick Lane Beigel Bake and Britain's First & Best Beigel Shop being among the sole remnants of what was once a thriving Jewish community in the neighbourhood. Another good (and cheap) lunch option is a chicken or lamb doner (gyro) at many outlets throughout the city, though meat quality is often poor.
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.
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.
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.
While central London is full of restaurants and cafes it is useful for the visitor to be aware that 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. 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)
As one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, you can find restaurants serving food cuisine from nearly every country, some of it as good as, if not better than 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:
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.
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.
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).
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 such as Tesco Metro, Sainsbury Central/Local, Budgens, Costcutter, SPAR, Co-op as well as privately-run "corner shops" 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 (although some will stop selling alcohol after a certain time) Be aware that Whistlestop convenience stores (located 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.
Although Tesco and Sainsbury's run smaller stores in central London, full-size superstores (including Morrisons and ASDA) are rare in the city centre and usually require a 15-20 minute Tube ride to reach them. The closest stores to central London are:
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 nightlife, as well as cultural events in general.
London is an expensive place and your drink is likely to cost more than its equivalent elsewhere in the United Kingdom. If you're looking to save money and meet travelers 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 underground 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 to drink at given that they cater for students of the adjacent University College London. Directly opposite the British Library is The Euston Flyer, popular with locals and commuters alike given its close proximity to St Pancras International railway station.
Classier bars and pubs can be much more expensive. However, the cost of alcohol drops significantly the further away you go from the centre (though be aware that West London tends to be an exception, with prices pretty much the same as the centre). For a more reasonably priced (but brilliant) cocktail bar than you'll find in the central and West End areas Lost Society in Clapham situated on Lavender Hill.
Two historic London breweries are Young's and Fullers. Young's was founded in Wandsworth in 1831 (but has recently relocated to Bedford) and nowadays it boasts 123 pubs in central London alone. The Founder's Arms just next to the Tate Modern on the river embankment itself 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 then 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 Citty of York 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 favorite 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 plenty of iconic bridges and buildings in sight the cocktail bar in the OXO tower is a secret that most tourists walk by everyday. Heading towards Bermondsey, pub crowds become a little less touristy.
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 Out's favorite 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. 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 favorite, 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 DJ's 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), and at mixed nights at the Vauxhall clubs (see below). 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, however, be aware that 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, hip-hop, and dubstep. In recent years more venues have opened in Peckham and New Cross.
London 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:
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 is one of the world's most fashion conscious cities, which explains the 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. 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 (19:00-20:00).
Borough 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. For market shopping, it's best to go in the morning, or after 14:00, since it starts to get very crowded by around 11:30 when the lunch crowd comes in. Lunch here is good though because there are many stalls that offer fresh made fast food on the spot; 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. Find it at 65 Brushfield St, E1 6AA (straight down Bell Lane past 66-68 and keep walking). Visit 66/68 Bell Lane nearby to see a wealthy merchants house, rumor has it John Lennon once played on the roof of this building with Yoko Ono. (Tube: Liverpool Street)
Also be sure to check out Brick Lane Market, Greenwich Market and Portobello Road Market.
Tax-free shops in airports are not strong in variety, prices are equal to London, and they close rather early as well. Shop listings at airport websites 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.
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.
London, 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.
December 5, 2021
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