Much more than just Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, London is Western Europe’s largest and most vibrant city, a multi-ethnic melee, cultural hothouse, and bastion of the new
NEED TO KNOW
These range from the spectacular London Eye through to the stunning new Swiss Re Tower, popularly known as “the Gherkin.” And not forgetting Docklands, where clusters of towers, including the monumental Canary Wharf, have risen from nowhere over the past three decades to become a symbol of the modern city – built, appropriately enough, on the remains of its remarkable industrial and maritime past.
FORGET THE LONDON TOURIST TRAIL?
Visiting London for the first time is like the ultimate sightseeing trip, offering a string of world-famous landmarks, monuments, and street scenes which are instantly recognizable from films, paintings, and photographs – from the city’s familiar red double-decker buses through to the flashing neon signs of Piccadilly Circus.
Perhaps no other city in the world musters as many iconic images in as small a space.
Crowds, lines, and costs are the main turn-offs. Visiting London’s major attractions is a wallet-emptying business – Madame Tussauds, for instance, charges around £25 per adult, or £85 for a family ticket – and the queues and heaving throngs of visitors can be horrendous at all major sights.
In addition, the expense of getting around can be equally punitive: around £5 for a single tube journey within central London on the city’s world-famous (but ridiculously overpriced) underground system, whose jam- packed cars turn into human sardine cans during the morning and evening rush hours.
DOING IT ANYWAY?
A little advance planning can massively improve your experience of London. Get hold of a good city map or A–Z, purchase tickets for tourist sights ahead to avoid the lines, and check websites for special offers and discounts.
You may also be able to save some money by getting hold of a London Pass. Buy a Travelcard or Oyster card rather than purchasing individual tube tickets. And avoid the rush-hours if you can, especially if you’ve got luggage.
Getting There and Around
London is served by Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, and London City airports. There is a sprawling underground (or “tube”) system, plus extensive overground train and bus services, as well as plentiful taxis.
Where to Eat
London is a serious contender for world capital of food, offering every conceivable type of cuisine, from pie ‘n’ mash to glitzy eateries, such as Hakkasan and Amaya, which showcase modern Chinese and Indian food.
Gordon Ramsay’s Hospital Road restaurant, the capital’s only triple-starred Michelin establishment, gets rave reviews for its French-influenced dishes.
Where to Stay
London’s landmark hotels include the Dorchester, Ritz, Savoy, and Claridge’s. There is also a new generation of boutique hotels, such as the Conran-designed myhotel Bloomsbury and the mid-range but very hip Hoxton Hotel. For something less flash, try the Premier Inn chain
When to Go
Late spring and early fall when the weather can be good. The city is especially vibrant during the run-up to Christmas.
Budget per Day for Two
US$300 for accommodations, food, and travel.