London

For other places with the same name, see London (disambiguation).
Double-decker Routemaster bus at a stop outside St Paul's Cathedral

Noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is a megalopolis of people, ideas and frenetic energy. The capital and largest city of the United Kingdom, it is also the largest city in Western Europe and the European Union. Situated on the River Thames in South-East England, Greater London has an official population of a little over 8 million, but the estimate of between 12 and 14 million people in the greater metropolitan area better reflects its size and importance. Considered one of the world's leading "global cities", London remains an international capital of culture, music, education, fashion, politics, finance and trade. Among international tourists, London is the most-visited city in the world.

Districts

The name London originally referred only to the once-walled "Square Mile" of the original Roman (and later medieval) city (confusingly called the "City of London" or just "The City"). Today, London has taken on a much larger meaning to include all of the vast central parts of the modern metropolis, with the city having absorbed numerous surrounding towns and villages over the centuries, including large portions of the surrounding "home counties", one of which - Middlesex - being completely consumed by the growing metropolis. The term Greater London embraces Central London together with all the outlying suburbs that lie in one continuous urban sprawl within the lower Thames valley. Though densely populated, London retains large swathes of green parkland and open space, even within the city centre.

Greater London is all of the area surrounded by the M25 orbital motorway, and consists of 32 London Boroughs and the City of London that, together with the office of the Mayor of London, form the basis for London's local government. The Mayor of London is elected by London residents and should not be confused with the Lord Mayor of the City of London. The names of several boroughs, such as Westminster or Camden, are well-known, others less so, such as Wandsworth or Lewisham. This traveller's guide to London recognises cultural, functional and social districts of varying type and size:

Central London

Central London and inner districts.
Bloomsbury
Vibrant historic district made famous by a group of turn-of-the-century writers and for being the location of the British Museum, the University of London and numerous historic homes, parks, and buildings. Part of the Borough of Camden.
City of London
The City is where London originally developed within the Roman city walls and is a city in its own right, separate from the rest of London. It is now the most important financial centre in the world, but an area where modern skyscrapers stand next to medieval churches on ancient street layouts.
Covent Garden
One of the main shopping and entertainment districts. Incorporates some of London's theatreland. Part of the City of Westminster and Borough of Camden.
Holborn-Clerkenwell
Buffer zone between London's West End and the City of London financial district, home to the Inns of Court
Leicester Square
West End district comprising Leicester Square, Chinatown, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus and the centre of London's cinema and theatre land
Mayfair-Marylebone
Some extremely well-heeled districts of west central London and most of the city's premier shopping street
Notting Hill-North Kensington
Lively market, interesting history, the world famous carnival and a very ethnically diverse population
Paddington-Maida Vale
Largely residential district of northwest central London with lots of mid-range accommodation, and close to the Eurostar terminal
Soho
Dense concentration of highly fashionable restaurants, cafés, clubs and jazz bars, as well as London's gay village all mixed in with a cluster of sex shops and seedier adult entertainment venues. Soho is also home to many TV production facilities.
South Bank
The name South Bank is usually used to refer specifically to the complex around the National Theatre near Waterloo and the London Eye. The wider area South of the Thames, including Bankside (Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre) and up to Borough, was historically the location of the activities frowned on by the Puritans who exiled theatre, cock-fighting and bear fights from the original walled City of London to the south of the river.
South Kensington-Chelsea
An extremely well-heeled inner London district with famous department stores, Hyde Park, many museums and the King's Road
Westminster
A city in its own right, the seat of government and an almost endless list of historical and cultural sights, such as Buckingham Palace, The Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) and Westminster Abbey.

Inner London

London regions - Color-coded map
Camden
A diverse area of north London that includes eclectic Camden Town
East End
A traditional working class heartland of inner London to the east of The City, made famous by countless movies and TV shows, and home to trendy bars, art galleries and parks, especially in the Shoreditch, Hoxton, and Old Street area.
Greenwich
On the pretty southern banks of the Thames; location of the Greenwich Meridian, Observatory, and the National Maritime Museum.
Hackney
Hackney has become fashionable in recent decades and is home to a thriving arts scene as well as many trendy cafés, bars, and pubs.
Hammersmith and Fulham
Borough in west London with a diverse population and the home of the BBC, plus a hotbed for professional football.
Hampstead
Literary north London and the wonderful open spaces of Hampstead Heath.
Islington
Area to the north of Clerkenwell that has undergone huge gentrification since 1990.
Lambeth
A diverse Caribbean-flavoured district to the south of the Thames, which includes the buzzing, bright-lights of Brixton.
Southwark-Lewisham
Inner southern districts of London; traditionally residential, with a large melting pot of communities. The area retains some leftfield, quirky attractions. You can find a restaurant from just about any ethnic group in the world.
Wandsworth
Grand Thames-side areas and open green parks in the north, and dense housing in south.

Outer London

A mosaic mural in Sutton
Greater London map showing the outer London districts.
North
Largely made up of lush green middle-class/bourgeois suburbs, many of which were formerly part of the counties of Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire before being absorbed into Greater London.
South
Containing many commuter suburbs with housing in varying styles, as well as the buzzing urban centres of Sutton, Kingston upon Thames, Croydon and Bromley, all four having cultural facilities in their town centres with leafy residential neighbourhoods fanning out from them.
East
Mostly originally part of the county of Essex, taking in former industrial areas on the upper Thames Estuary such as Beckton, Barking and Dagenham. To the North East lies the gateway to the affluent Epping Forest area.
West
Taking in much of the ancient English county of Middlesex (which many local residents still identify with rather than "London") and former parts of Buckinghamshire. Heathrow Airport is located in this part of the city.
Wimbledon
Home to the annual tennis Championships and wombling Wimbledon Common
Richmond-Kew
Leafy Thames-side scenery, Hampton Court Palace, the botanical gardens and some major parklands

Understand

The Tower of London
"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford" Samuel Johnson

History

Settlement has existed on the site of London since well before Roman times, with evidence of Bronze Age and Celtic settlement. The Roman city of Londinium, established just after the Roman conquest of Britannia in the year 43, formed the basis for the modern city (some isolated Roman period remains are still to be seen within the City). After the end of Roman rule in 410 and a short-lived decline, London experienced a gradual revival under the Anglo-Saxons, as well as the Norsemen, and emerged as a great medieval trading city, and eventually replaced Winchester as the royal capital of England. This paramount status for London was confirmed when William the Conqueror, a Norman, built the Tower of London after the conquest in 1066 and was crowned King of England in Westminster.

London went from strength to strength with the rise of England to first European then global prominence, and the city became a great centre of culture, government and industry. London's long association with the theatre, for example, can be traced back to the English renaissance (witness the Rose Theatre and great playwrights like Shakespeare who made London their home). With the rise of Britain to supreme maritime power in the 18th and 19th centuries (see Industrial Britain) and the possessor of the largest global empire, London became an imperial capital and drew people and influences from around the world to become, for many years, the largest city in the world.

England's royal family has, over the centuries, added much to the London scene for today's traveller: the Albert Memorial, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Royal Albert Hall, Tower of London, Kew Palace and Westminster Abbey being prominent examples.

Despite the inevitable decline of the British Empire, and considerable suffering during World War II (when London was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe in the Blitz), the city is still a top-ranked world city: a global centre of culture, finance, and learning. Today London is easily the largest city in the United Kingdom, eight times larger than the second largest, Birmingham, and ten times larger than the third, Glasgow, and dominates the economic, political and social life of the nation. It is full of excellent bars, galleries, museums, parks and theatres. It is also the most culturally and ethnically diverse part of the country, making it a great multicultural city to visit. Samuel Johnson famously said, "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life". Whether you are interested in ancient history, modern art, opera or underground raves, London has it all.

The City and Westminster

The Queen Elizabeth II Tower, until 2012 unnamed, is the iconic tower that is home to the bell known as 'Big Ben'

If you ask a Londoner where the centre of London is, you are likely to get a wry smile. This is because historically London was two cities: a commercial city and a separate government capital.

The commercial capital was the City of London. This had a dense population and all the other pre-requisites of a medieval city: walls, a castle (The Tower of London), a cathedral (St Pauls), a semi-independent City government, a port and a bridge across which all trade was routed so Londoners could make money (London Bridge).

About an hour upstream (on foot or by boat) around a bend in the river was the government capital (Westminster). This had a church for crowning the monarch (Westminster Abbey) and palaces. As each palace was replaced by a larger one, the previous one was used for government, first the Palace of Westminster (better known as the Houses of Parliament), then Whitehall, then Buckingham Palace. The two were linked by a road called The "Strand", old English for riverbank.

London grew both west and east. The land to the west of the City (part of the parish of Westminster) was prime farming land (Covent Garden and Soho for example) and made good building land. The land to the east was flat, marshy and cheap, good for cheap housing and industry, and later for docks. Also the wind blows 3 days out of 4 from west to east, and the Thames (into which the sewage went) flows from west to east. So the West End was up-wind and up-market, the East End was where people worked for a living.

Modern-day London in these terms is a two-centre city, with the area in between known confusingly as the West End.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 8 10 13 16 19 21 23 23 20 16 12 8
Nightly lows (°C) 2 2 4 5 8 11 13 14 11 8 5 3
Precipitation (mm) 52 34 42 45 47 53 38 47 57 62 52 54

See the 5 day forecast for London at the Met Office
London Eye

Despite a perhaps unfair reputation for being unsettled, London enjoys a dry and mild climate on average. Only one in three days on average will bring rain and often only for a short period. In some years, 2012 being an example, there was no rain for several weeks.

Winter in London is mild compared to nearby continental European cities due to both the presence of the Gulf Stream and the urban heat effect. Average daily maximum is 8°C (46°F) in December and January. Daylight hours are short with darkness falling by 16:00 in December.

Snow does occur, usually a few times a year but rarely heavy (a few years being exceptions such as the winters of 2009 and 2010, with temperatures dipping down to sub-zeros regularly). Snow in London can be crippling, as seen at the end of 2010. Just 7 cm (3 in) of snow will cause trains to stop running, airports to see significant delays, and the postal service to come to a halt. London is a city which does not cope well with snow; walkways, stairs, and streets will not be cleared by shovels or ploughs. The streets will be salted/gritted, but will remain slick and snow/slush covered until the sun melts it away. This is due to a lack of widespread snow-clearing infrastructure as the city does not often see snow.

Summer is perhaps the best season for tourists as it has long daylight hours as well as mild temperatures. The average daily high temperatures in July and August are around 24°C (75°F). The highest temperature since 2000 was recorded once in August at 38°C (100°F). This means London can feel hot and humid for several days in the summer months. Also, because of the urban heat effect, at night it can feel humid and muggy.

The weather in London is highly changeable regardless of the time of year. Cold temperatures and severe rain can occur even in the summer months.

Tourist information centres

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.

Get in

By plane

Summary map of rail connections to London airports

Due to London's huge global city status it is the most served destination in the world when it comes to flights.

London (all airports code: LON) is served by a total of five airports. Travelling between the city and the airports is made relatively easy by the large number of public transport links that have been put in place over recent years. However, if transiting through London, be sure to check the arrival and departure airports carefully as transfers across the city may be quite time consuming. In addition to London's five official airports (of which only two are located within Greater London), there are a number of other regional UK airports conveniently accessible from London. Since they offer a growing number of budget flights, choosing those airports can be cheaper (or even faster, depending on where in London your destination is).

For transfers directly between London's airports, the fastest way (short of an expensive taxi or private helicopter) is the direct inter-airport coach service by National Express. Coaches between Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton run at least hourly, with Heathrow-Gatwick services taking 65 min (£18) and Heathrow-Stansted services 90 min (£20.50) (services between Stansted and Luton run only every two hours). However, it's essential to allow leeway, as London's motorways, especially the orbital M25 and the M1, are often congested to the point of gridlock. Some of these coaches have toilets on board.

London Heathrow

Rail and Tube lines go to different terminals at Heathrow
Main article: Heathrow Airport

  Heathrow Airport (IATA: LHR). is London and Europe's largest airport and the world's busiest airport in terms of international passenger movements, with services available from most major airports world-wide. It has 4 terminals.

Terminal 2 reopened in June 2014 following redevelopment and until October 2014 there was a timetable of airline moves to this new terminal. Terminal 1 closed permanently on 29 June 2015. Flights landing at Heathrow are often delayed by up to an hour as a result of air traffic congestion and waiting for parking slots.

Here's a quick summary of transport options from Heathrow to central London:

London Gatwick

Main article: Gatwick Airport

  Gatwick Airport (IATA: LGW). is London's second airport, also serving a large spectrum of places world-wide. It is the world's busiest single runway airport and is split into a North Terminal and South Terminal. The two terminals are linked by a free shuttle train (5 minutes). The train station is located in the South Terminal.

Transport options into central London:

When departing, no drinking fountains are to be found in the South Terminal departure lounge after passing through security.

London Stansted

Main article: London Stansted Airport

  Stansted Airport (IATA: STN). is London's third airport, and is dominated by the two low-cost airlines EasyJet and Ryanair.

Transport options into central London:

London Luton

London Luton Airport - main entrance

  London Luton Airport (IATA: LTN). is London's fourth airport after Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. It's nearer to central London than the latter two airports at 35 mi (57 km) north of central London and situated 1.7 mi (2.8 km) east of Luton town centre. It's a major hub for easyJet, Ryanair, Wizz Air, Thomson Airways and Monarch Airlines. The vast majority of routes served are within Europe, although there are some charter and scheduled routes to destinations in Northern Africa and Asia.

Except for the City Airport, Luton Airport is the smallest of the London international airports, but still a major hub for many low-cost airlines and over 10 million passengers fly through the airport each year. It has the same facilities as the other major airports and also, like Stansted, it is commonplace for some passengers on early morning flights to sleep in the terminal before their flights. There can be heavy traffic congestion on the access road caused by the surge of early flights. The Parkway Airport station, which serves the terminal, is about 20 minutes walk back into town, although there is a regular shuttle bus charging £1.60 to take you to the station. If your train ticket says Luton Airport (rather than Luton Airport Parkway), then the bus ride is included in the ticket.

The airport is a major hub for easyJet, Ryanair, Wizzair, Thomson Airways and Monarch Airlines, with other airlines also serving the airport like Aer Arann, FlyBE and El Al, to cities primarily in Scotland, Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean Basin. If leaving on a morning flight (departing between 0700-0830), it is advisable to leave extra time to check in and clear security due to the large number of flights leaving (particularly Wizzair).

London City Airport

London City Airport

  London City Airport (IATA: LCY). is London's fifth airport after Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. A commuter airport close to the City's financial district, and specialising in short-haul business flights to other major European cities. There are also growing numbers of routes to holiday destinations that include Malaga, Ibiza and Mallorca.

The airport is located on a former Docklands site in the London Borough of Newham, some 11 km / 6.9 miles east of the City of London and a short distance from Canary Wharf. It mainly offers flights to major European cities by full service carriers. British Airways operates two services a day to New York JFK on weekdays and a daily service on weekends using an Airbus A318 in an entirely business class configuration.

Not as expensive to fly into than it used to be, and you may indeed find that in some instances this may be your cheapest London airport to fly to. This doesn't take into account the cost savings of not coming from the distant larger London airports with £10+ transfer costs. Then there is the added bonus is that it is close to central London with its convenient link to the DLR. Minimum check in times for most airlines is around 30 minutes, with some offering 15 minute check in deadlines. Queues for security can be long at peak business times. Touchdown to the DLR (including taxi, disembarkation, immigration and baggage reclaim) can be as fast at 5 minutes, although 15 minutes is normal.

To get to the city centre the following options exist:

Other airports near London

By train

Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.

London is the hub of the British rail network - every major city in mainland Britain has a frequent train service to the capital, and most of the smaller, provincial cities and large towns also have a direct rail connection to London of some sort - although the frequency and quality of service can vary considerably from place to place.

Rail fares to London vary enormously from very cheap to prohibitively expensive - the golden rules are to book Advance tickets for a particular train time, don't travel into the city on Friday afternoons and Sundays, and avoid leaving buying tickets until the day of travel. There are three basic types of ticket, which are summarised below. Note that much of the advice applies to rail travel in general within the United Kingdom.

The local and commuter rail companies within the London and Home Counties area also have a bewildering array of special fares which are all in essence, variations of the Off-Peak ticket and are far too detailed to cover here, go directly to the website of the operator concerned for more information. Note that if you only intend to use trains within the Greater London boundary, then the Oyster Card (explained below) is by far the easiest and cheapest option to use.

Seats can be reserved for free on all long-distance trains to London - the reservation is always issued automatically with an Advance ticket, and with most Off-Peak and Anytime tickets bought on-line. If, for whatever reason you hold an Anytime or Off-Peak ticket and there is no seat reservation coupon, then it is highly recommended you get one from any railway station ticket office - if you want to avoid camping out in the vestibule for all or part of the journey!! First Class is available on all long distance services to London, the standard of service varies from operator to operator, but in general you get a wider, more comfortable seat, free tea/coffee for the duration of the journey, and some sort of complimentary catering service. If can be great value if you get an Advance first-class fare, but it is extremely expensive otherwise, and to be honest - not really worth it. You can pay a Weekend supplement (generally £15-£20) to sit in the first class section of the train on Saturdays and Sundays, - useful if the service you are on is hideously overcrowded - but you don't get the same catering service as during the week.

If you are the holder of a Britrail pass, things are simpler - reservations are not required. However, if you wish to be guaranteed a seat, rather than standing for a lengthy journey (note that trains can be very busy, especially at peak times) then you can make a seat reservation at any station. If you intend to use the overnight Sleeper trains to London, you will have to pay a berth supplement for every member of your party - provided there is berth availability on the train.

London has one international high speed rail route (operated by Eurostar 0870 518 6186 ) from Paris (2hr 15min) and Brussels (1hr 50 min) diving under the sea for 35 km (22 mi) via the Channel Tunnel to come out in England. It terminates at Saint Pancras International Station. For domestic train services, there are no fewer than 12 main line National Rail terminals (although in conversation you may hear the brand National Rail infrequently if ever it differentiates main line and London Underground services; journey planner online or phone 0845 748 49 50). With the exception of Fenchurch Street (tube: Tower Hill) these are on the London Underground. Most are on the Circle line. Clockwise starting at Paddington, major National Rail stations are:

By coach

Most international and domestic long distance coach (U.S. English: bus) services arrive at and depart from a complex of coach stations off Buckingham Palace Road in Westminster close to London Victoria rail station. All services operated by National Express or Eurolines (see below) serve   London Victoria Coach Station, which actually has separate arrival and departure buildings. Services by other operators may use this station, or the   Green Line Coach Station across Buckingham Palace Road. The following are among the main coach operators:

By car

London is the hub of the UK's road network and is easy to reach by car, even if driving into the centre of the city is definitely not recommended. Greater London is encircled by the M25 orbital motorway, from which nearly all the major trunk routes to Scotland, Wales and the rest of England radiate. The most important are listed below.

In addition to the M25, here are two inner ring roads in London which skirt the central area:

Comparatively few people will actually drive into (or anywhere near) the centre of London. The infamous M25 ring road did not earn its irreverent nicknames "The Road To Hell" and "Britain's biggest car park" for nothing. The road is heavily congested at most times of the day, and is littered with automatically variable speed limits which are enforced with speed cameras. Despite the controversial "congestion charge", driving a car anywhere near the centre of London remains a nightmare with crowded roads, impatient drivers and extortionate parking charges (if you can find a space in the first place, that is!). From Monday through Friday, parking in the City of London is free after 18:30; after 13:30 on Saturday and all day Sunday.

There are also a number of Pay as you go car rental companies operating around London including Sixt , Car Clubs and Season Car Hire

Get around

Transport maps


London is the home of the famous Tube map, and TfL produce some excellent maps to help you get around:

Engineering work


Some parts of the Underground and Overground are frequently closed at weekends to allow engineers to upgrade and repair the track (the Underground is 150 years old, so it takes a lot of work to keep it running!) Usually there will be enough of the network still running to make most destinations accessible. If you are not in a hurry, this is a good reason to consider taking a bus instead. Always check before you travel: don't get caught out!

Ticketing


You must have a valid ticket at all times when travelling by bus, tram or train in London. If you don't show a valid ticket or a validated Oyster card when a ticket inspector asks to see it, you will have to pay a Penalty Fare, which is usually £40 (increased to £80 if it isn't paid within 21 days.) When travelling by train in London, always buy your ticket before you get on the train. If using an Oyster Card, ensure that you touch in and out on a yellow reader before and after travelling by tube or train, even if there are no barriers or they are left open.

London has one of the most comprehensive public transport systems in the world. Despite residents' perpetual (and sometimes justified) grumbling about unreliability, public transport is often the best option for getting anywhere for visitors and residents alike.

In central London use a combination of the transport options listed below - and check your map! In many cases you can easily walk from one place to another or use the buses. Be a Londoner and only use the Tube as a way of travelling longer distances. You're here to see London - you can't see it underground!

Transport for London (TfL) is a government organisation responsible for all public transport. Their website contains maps plus an excellent journey planner. TfL publishes a useful 'coping guide' specially designed for travellers who wish to use public transport during their visit to London. 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 travellers to switch between modes of transport on one ticket.

The main travel options in summary are:

Central London

Suburban London

Using your credit card as ticket

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, and the deposit of £5 for an Oyster card. The same card cannot be used by two or more different passengers.

Oyster card

Oyster Card

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 buy an Oyster card from any Tube station for a deposit of £5. 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 travelled, 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.

Using your Oyster

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 travelled, 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.

Tips

Pay-as-you-go (PrePay)

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 travelling by train, the fare is calculated based on where you started and ended your journey. Pay-as-you-go is much cheaper than paying by cash for each journey. For instance, a cash fare on the Tube in Zone 1 costs £4.70, while with an Oyster Card it costs £2.20. 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. If you travel by bus only, your total fares are capped at £4.40 each day: this makes bus travel very good value in central London if you are making lots of journeys.

Don't forget: when travelling 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!

Travelcards

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 (£12 vs. £6.40). Therefore, an Oyster card will generally offer much better value.

Zones Day Travelcard Day Travelcard (off-peak) 7 Day Travelcard Monthly Travelcard Annual Travelcard
1-2 £12.00 £12.00 £32.10 £123.30 £1,284
1-4 £12.00 £12.00 £46.10 £177.10 £1,844
1-6 £17.00 £12.00 £58.60 £225.10 £2,344

The above prices are adult prices and are correct throughout 2015. For an up-to-date and comprehensive list of fares, see TfL's web site.

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!

Validity

The following table summarises the validity of the different tickets you can use on Oyster. For most tourists, trains and buses are the only transport you will use, but be aware that Oyster is not valid at all on airport express trains to Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted or Southend. However, Oyster is valid on the Piccadilly line to Heathrow Airport, as this is an Underground train.

Bus London Underground London Overground National Rail DLR Tram Airport Express trains
Pay-as-you-go yes yes yes yes yes yes no
Travelcard yes yes yes yes yes yes no
Bus pass yes no no no no yes no

Connections

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 )

Rail terminus (or hub) Station (Tube) Notes
MaryleboneBakerlooMarylebone is also useful for 'fast' connections to Harrow and Amersham via National Rail. For Circle, Met, H&C and Jubilee lines, walk to Baker Street approx. 500m away and clearly signposted.
PaddingtonCircle, Hammersmith & City, District, BakerlooCircle & H&C line via King's Cross and all trains to Hammersmith depart from platforms 15 and 16 at the mainline station. Lancaster Gate (Central line) located approximately 600m away.
EustonVictoria, Northern For Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan lines, use Euston Square approx 400m away.
Fenchurch StreetNot connected Tower Hill (Circle and District lines) is approx 400m away. Tower Gateway (DLR) is approx 350m away.
King's Cross - St PancrasCircle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria
Liverpool StreetCircle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Central
London BridgeNorthern, Jubilee
Cannon StreetCircle, District
BlackfriarsCircle, District
WaterlooJubilee, Bakerloo, Northern, Waterloo & CityUse this station for services from Waterloo East
Charing CrossBakerloo, Northern, Circle & District (from Embankment)
VictoriaCircle, District, Victoria
Kensington OlympiaDistrictDistrict line only runs on weekends. Otherwise take District line train to Wimbledon, alight at West Brompton and change for National Rail
Elephant & CastleNorthern, Bakerloo

By foot

A reminder on the streets of London to "Look Right" when you cross the road

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 will stand out. Make sure you're aware of your surroundings when in London—Londoners are usually very considerate, but a group of tourists standing in the middle of the pavement can be a major annoyance! Try standing to the side of busy pavements and footpaths, especially if you're with a group.

Walking alternatives to the Tube

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

Oxford Circus station can become extremely busy on weekday evenings and if convenient it is worth walking to other Tube stations.

By Tube / London Underground

Geographic Central London Underground map
Full geographic London Underground map

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 Metropolitan Line 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 typesː the older "sub-surface" lines, such as the Circle and District lines, date from the nineteenth century. The newer (a term used loosely here) "deep level" routes, such as the Northern and Piccadilly lines, were largely constructed in the early- to mid- twentieth century. 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).

Ticketing

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.

Prices given are as of January 2014.

Single tickets are charged at two rates, depending on the payment method. Cash fares are zonal, Zones 1-2 being £4.70 between any two stations in those zones, a zone 1-6 single ticket is £5.70. Single Oyster fares are charged by the number of zones crossed, starting at £2.20 for 1 zone up to £5 for 6 zones. There are additional fares payable for zones beyond 6, but these are mostly outside what is considered London. Paper travelcards valid for 1 day, 3 days or 7 days are also available and can also be used on buses, National Rail trains, the DLR and Croydon Tramlink. They are priced by zones: a 1-day travelcard for Zones 1-2 costs £9 (Day anytime). Under operator-specific schemes, registered students, seniors and the disabled can claim specific discounts by showing a suitable photocard having been obtained in advance of travel.

Almost all stations have automatic ticket barriers. If you pay by Oyster card, 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).

Navigation

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 Tube is made up of 11 lines each bearing a traditional name and a standard colour 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.

Onboard

Be considerate of your fellow passengers as best you can.

Although the doors on some Tube trains have buttons, you don't need to push them to open the doors. 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.

Tube etiquette

  • Beware of pickpockets. Keep bags zipped up and do not keep valuable items in your back pockets.
  • Drinking alcohol or smoking anywhere on the London Underground is illegal.
  • Allow passengers to get off the train before boarding yourself by standing to the right or to the left of the train doors.
  • Move down the carriages between the seating rows if you are standing during busy periods.
  • Give up your seat to the elderly and those less able to stand, especially if the seat is labelled "Priority Seat". On the Piccadilly line these seats are also intended for those with luggage travelling to Heathrow so they can place their suitcases next to them.
  • The grab poles on the trains are for everyone, not just you. Refrain from leaning either yourself or any bags on the grab poles as this prevents your fellow passengers from holding on!
  • If you are wearing or carrying a large bag then take it off and either put it on your lap or between your legs. The space that the bag takes up on your back could be used by someone and you're also likely to hit people when you turn around!
  • Try to avoid eating food that has a strong odour. No one's saying you shouldn't eat, but not everyone in the carriage will appreciate the smell of your tuna and cheese sandwich.
  • Out of consideration for your fellow passengers always take your litter out of the carriage and away with you until you find a bin. The trains are not cleaned until they reach the end of the line!
  • Never try to board or leave a train when the door warning (a rapidly-repeating high pitch beep) is sounding. Many older trains (especially those on the Bakerloo, Circle, District and Piccadilly lines) are not fitted with sensors to detect if the doors are blocked and it's all too easy to become stuck in the doors, although the train cannot start if the doors are still open. It is also not worth trying to force yourself onto a packed train carriage.
  • Do not use flash photography or tripods when taking photographs. Camera flashes can distract train operators and tripods are not safe in the enclosed space of a platform. Trust us - your photographs will look better without flash even though it's not well-lit down there!
  • Do not pass between carriages through the emergency doors (unless you are on the Circle line, Hammersmith & City line, Metropolitan line or some District line trains as these trains have large open vestibules without doors) when the train is moving. You could easily fall and get crushed by the carriages behind the one you're leaving or be electrocuted by the electric fourth rail.
  • Curved platforms have the words "Mind the Gap" written on the platform edge (there will also be announcements saying these words). When the train stops, the carriage doors will usually line up with this warning. On some stations this gap may be larger than you think, so be careful when boarding trains where you see or hear this notice. Accidents have occurred where people have fallen down through the gap onto the track.
  • When using the escalators, always stand on the right to allow people in a hurry to pass. If you are standing on the left people will occasionally ask grumpily for you to get out the way, especially during rush hour when commuters are far less forgiving.
  • Have your Oyster card or ticket ready before you reach the top of the escalators or lift so you do not stop to find them and obstruct people behind you. Some stations do not have large ticket halls (an example being Covent Garden) and stopping at the top of the escalators or lifts is very dangerous. If you stop at the top of an escalator or just outside a lift you can expect to be shoved by upset people behind you!
  • Be careful at the ticket barrier of people coming up close behind you in an attempt to get through the barrier on your ticket. If you are passing swiftly through the ticket barriers you should not feel anyone bumping into your back. This isn't a regular occurrence but it can happen.

Crime and accidents

Crime levels on the Tube systems are comparable but typically lower than many other subway systems, and traveller 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 travelling.

The London Underground considers its safety record to be a matter of professional honour, major accidents being incredibly rare. Front-line staff are well trained for emergencies and will follow well rehearsed procedures. In addition front-line staff are generally appreciative of traveller vigilance, if concerns are politely expressed. If you notice something that concerns you please speak to a member of staff or a British Transport Police officer.

Photography

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. More information about filming on TfL property is available at this website.

By bus

Bus stop

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).

Using the 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.

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. 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. 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 travelling on a heritage Routemaster, there are only two bell-pushers: alternatively, there is a cord hanging from the ceiling on the lower deck which you can pull to ring the bell. Be very careful only to ring it once: two bells is the signal the conductor uses to tell the driver to continue past the next stop!

Finally, always watch out for moving traffic 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.

Tips

Fares

The adult bus fare is £1.50. It is no longer possible to pay a bus fare with cash, so you must pay with an Oyster card, contactless credit or debit card or a paper Travelcard you have already bought.

Unlike on the Tube, you are charged for each bus you travel on. If you change buses then you will be charged a new bus fare up to the daily/weekly price cap.

Bus route maps

Oyster

If you have a seven-day or monthly Travelcard or Bus and Tram Pass on your Oyster, that includes free bus travel across all of London, even outside the zones of your Travelcard. You still need to touch in when you get on the bus, but you won't be charged.

If you do not have a Travelcard, the fare of £1.50 is taken from your Oyster pay as you go credit as soon as you touch in when you get on the bus. The most you will be charged for single bus journeys in one day is £4.40: daily bus and tram travel is 'capped' at this level. So if you make three bus journeys in one day, you will be charged £1.50, £1.50, and then £1.40 for the third journey which takes you up to the cap; all further bus journeys made once you've reached this cap are effectively free as long as you touch in when you get on the bus.

If you have some money on your Oyster, but not enough for the full fare, the system will let you go into a negative balance to make one more journey, but you will not be able to use your Oyster again until you top up to clear the negative balance. You should be given a paper slip telling you that it is time to top up when this happens.

Don't forget to touch your Oyster on the reader as soon as you get on the bus. If you don't, you may be liable to a Penalty Fare or prosecution.

Contactless credit, debit or prepaid cards

You can also pay for with most contactless debit, credit or prepaid Visa, MasterCard/Maestro or American Express cards. You touch the card flat against the reader, like you would with an Oyster card, but your account is charged instead.

The total charges for that day are calculated and taken out of your account overnight. As with Oyster, you are charged £1.50 for each bus fare, up to a cap of £4.40 each day. In addition, a weekly price cap applies from Monday to Sunday, so you will never pay more than £21 for bus travel on a contactless card in any one week.

If you have more than one contactless card, or an Oyster and a contactless card, be careful and keep them in separate pockets, and only touch one on the reader. The system is supposed to reject both cards if it doesn't know which one you want to pay with, but there is a small chance you may be charged twice for the same journey. You may also be charged transaction charges with foreign cards, and some cards might not work if they are older or not programmed correctly: contact your card issuer in the event of problems.

NFC payment chips, for instance on a wristband or a mobile phone, may also work, but be prepared to have a backup payment method if they do not work.

For full information about contactless fares, including caveats, see TfL's web site.

Concessions

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.

Night buses

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 behaviour. 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.

By DLR

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 travelling by Oyster you must always remember to touch in at the start of your journey and touch out at the end. Even if you are changing to the Underground at Canary Wharf/Heron Quays, you must still touch in/out at the DLR station: the system will recognise that you have made an interchange between the two stations and treat it as part of the same journey.

The 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!

By train

Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom, with information applicable to using the National Rail system within London.

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 (on National Rail services this is usually £20), you will have to buy another ticket for the remainder of your journey, and you will also be charged the maximum Oyster fare because you didn't touch out. This adds up to a lot, so be careful and make sure you plan your journey! If in doubt, ask at the ticket office.

There are express trains to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports. Tickets are often sold at a substantial premium, so you may want to consider taking the slightly slower 'stopping' services instead: for instance, an Anytime single from Victoria to Gatwick costs £19.90 on the Gatwick Express, and only £14.40 when marked "Route Southern Only"—taking a Southern train to Gatwick is only eight minutes longer. Don't forget: Oyster cards are not valid to the main airports, except for London City Airport and to Heathrow when travelling by Tube.

Don't throw your ticket away until you're out of the station at your destination! Many stations have ticket gates which you will need to put your ticket through to exit; also, you need to retain all the parts of your ticket throughout your journey, as a member of railway staff may need to see it.

By Overground

Overground hints

  • Beware of pickpockets. Don't openly display your phone, wallet and other valuables.
  • Drinking alcohol or smoking anywhere on the Overground is illegal.
  • Always stand well behind the yellow line painted on the platform. At some stations on the North London and West London lines freight trains run in the gap between Overground trains - because these trains are not stopping they can travel through stations at speed. Turbulence from these trains is dangerous and standing behind the yellow line ensures that you are kept safe. When the yellow line is some distance away from the platform edge it means that fast trains go through the station thereby increasing the danger - take heed and stand behind the line!
  • Move down inside the carriages if you are standing during busy periods.
  • Most Overground trains have "walk-through" carriages with no doors separating each car. If the train is busy, try moving to the other end or towards the centre. Always remember that a train has more than one door!
  • Give up your seat to the elderly and those less able to stand, especially if the seat is labelled "Priority Seat." These seats are a slightly different shade of orange to most seats for easy identification.
  • The doors on the Overground will not open automatically. Wait for the button to light up and start beeping, then push it to open the train doors.
  • Trains will usually run every 15 minutes or less, and more frequently on busy routes.
  • Do not use flash photography or tripods when taking photographs. A camera flash can distract train drivers and tripods are not safe on the platform.
  • In common parlance, the route from Dalston Junction to Surrey Quays is known as the "East London line," a throwback to when it was part of the Underground. The route from Willesden Junction to Clapham Junction is similarly the "West London line"; the Clapham Junction to Surrey Quays route is the "South London line"; the route from Willesden Junction to Stratford is the "North London line"; the Gospel Oak to Barking LINe is occasionally called the "GOBLIN"; the route from Euston to Watford is the "Watford DC line."

In common parlance, Londoners may refer to travelling 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:

All London Overground trains are 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.

London Overground appears on the Tube map as an orange line. 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.

By tram (Tramlink)

Tramlink, opened in 2000, is the first modern tram system to operate in London. 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.

By bicycle

Cycling in the United Kingdom

  • Cycling on the pavement (sidewalk) is illegal, except where a cycle route has been designated by signs or painted lines.
  • When cycling on roads, you must ride on the left with other vehicles.
  • You must have working front and rear lights during hours of darkness. Flashing LED lights are legal. Reflective clothing is always a good idea at night.
  • Helmets are not compulsory for cyclists in the United Kingdom, and their effectiveness is as much a matter of debate here as anywhere else. In London, many cyclists, especially those seen in rush hour, also wear filter masks, but their efficacy is even more disputed.
  • It is illegal to jump through a red light for cyclists as well as motorists. Advance stop lines at traffic lights allow cyclists to wait ahead of other traffic at red lights. In practice, most car drivers ignore this and occupy the cycle space when waiting at lights.
  • When approaching a zebra crossing you should always take care and watch for pedestrians waiting to cross the road. You must be prepared to slow down or stop to allow them to cross as detailed in Rule 195 of the Highway Code. If someone is on a crossing already, you must stop as a car or other vehicle would and allow them to cross safely - weaving around pedestrians may frighten them and lead to an accident!

The rules for cyclists are available in the British Government publication The Highway Code

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 coloured 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 an stencilled 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 Londons parks and green ways 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 recognised by local and regional government as the leading voice for cycling in the capital.

By taxi

London Cab

London has two types of taxis: the famous black cab, and so-called minicabs. Black cabs are the only ones licensed to "ply for hire" (i.e. pick people up off the street), while minicabs are more accurately described as "private hire vehicles" and need to be pre-booked.

The famous black cab of London (not always black!) can be hailed from the kerb or found at one of the many designated taxi ranks. It is possible to book black cabs by phone, for a fee, but if you are in central London it will usually be quicker to hail one from the street. Their amber TAXI light will be on if they are available. Drivers must pass a rigorous exam of central London's streets, known as 'The Knowledge', to be licensed to drive a black cab. This means they can supposedly navigate you to almost any London street without reference to a map. They are a cheap transport option if there are five passengers as they do not charge extras, and many view them as an essential experience for any visitor to London. Black cabs charge by distance and by the minute, are non-smoking, and have a minimum charge of £2.20. Tipping is not mandatory in either taxis or minicabs, despite some drivers' expectations - use your discretion. If you like the service you may tip. If the ride has been uncomfortable or unsafe, or if the driver was rude, don't. Most Londoners will simply round up to the nearest pound.

Taxis are required by law to take you wherever you choose (within Greater London) if their TAXI light is on when you hail them. However some, especially older drivers, dislike leaving the centre of town, or going south of the River Thames. A good way to combat being left at the side of the curb is to open the back door, or even get into the cab, before stating your destination.

Minicabs are normal cars which are licensed hire vehicles that you need to book by phone or at a minicab office. They generally charge a fixed fare for a journey, best agreed before you get in the car. Minicabs are usually cheaper than black cabs, although this is not necessarily the case for short journeys. Licensed minicabs display a Transport For London (TfL) 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.)

By car

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. The Central London Congestion Charge M-F 07:00-18:00 (excluding public holidays) attracts a fee of £8 if paid the same day, or £10 if paid on the next charging day. 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 of £80 (£40 if paid within 2 weeks).

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.

By boat

A river bus at Tower Millennium Pier

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 unrivalled 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.

View from Greenwich Observatory which is easily reached by boat services plying the Thames

Boats run on the following routes:

Some key tourist attractions that are easily accessible by boat include:

  • Hampton Court Palace
  • Greenwich
  • Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Tate Galleries
  • London Dungeon
  • Tower of London
  • Tower Bridge
  • St. Katharine Docks
  • Millennium Dome/The O2
  • Ham House
  • Kew Gardens
  • HMS Belfast

plus all the central London sights in Westminster and the South Bank

As well as the Thames, consider a trip along an old Victorian canal through the leafy suburbs of North London. The London Waterbus Company runs scheduled services (more in summer, less in winter) from Little Venice to Camden Lock with a stop at the London Zoo (pick up only). The 45-minute trip along Regent's Canal is a delightful way to travel.

By skate

Inline skating on roads and pavements (sidewalks) is completely legal, except in the City of London (a district). Roads are not the greatest but easily skateable. Central London drivers are more used to skaters than those in the outskirts.

By cable car

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 travelling 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.

Operating hours for Emirates Air Line
Open Close
Weekdays 07:00 20:00 (winter), 21:00 (summer)
Saturday 08:00 20:00 (winter), 21:00 (summer)
Sunday 09:00 20:00 (winter), 21:00 (summer)

See

London with children

London can be stressful with kids - check London with children for slightly less stressful sightseeing. However, it is a breeze with children over 7.

London is a huge city, so all individual listings are in the appropriate district articles and only an overview is presented here.

Landmarks

Buckingham Palace
St Paul's Cathedral

Museums and galleries

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.

Notable smaller museums

Parks

St James' Park

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.

One of more than 800 Blue Plaques throughout London

Blue Plaques

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.

London Pass

Whereas some London museums offer free entry, some other top London attractions are ridiculously expensive. For example, entry to Westminster Abbey costs £20 per person (adult), and entry to the Tower is £23.10 per person if bought online (2015). These prices can be sometimes mitigated by a purchase of London Pass, which needs to be done at the London Pass website. The pass comes in several varieties and gives access to over 60 attractions, including both Westminster Abbey and the Tower. For example, a day pass costs £52 for an adult (2015). 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.

Do

London is a huge city, so all individual listings are in the appropriate district articles. 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.

Live music

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 organise and promote live music every week. Many concerts, especially in smaller or less known places are free, so there is plenty of choice even for tourists on a budget.

London has long been a launchpad for alternative movements, from the mods of the 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. As a rough guide: £20+ for 'top 40' bands in arena sized venues, £10+ for established bands in mid sized venues, £6+ for up and coming bands and clubnights in smaller venues, £5- for upstarting bands in bars and pubs.

London has hundreds of venues spread out over the city and the best way to know what's going on where is to browse online ticket agencies , music magazine's gig directories and bands' myspaces . However, there are a few areas which have higher concentrations of pubs and venues than others. Kilburn is situated in North West London. It's long been known as an Irish area, and though their numbers have somewhat declined any visit to a local pub will show their influence remains today. Kilburn's important venue is The Good Ship. Due to its inclusive policies and fair payment system, The Good Ship is a favorite place for young aspiring bands to try to get a foot off the ground. Good for those who would like to see bands "before they were big", who appreciate £5 entrance fees, good beer and friendly staff.</do>

One of the easiest to use and most comprehensive listings websites is "LondonEars" .

Theatre

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. Each Globe performance has over 700 £5 tickets. London's theatre scene outside of these two main districts is known as "the Fringe". Several of the larger and more established fringe theatres are an excellent way to see top quality productions of plays that may well transfer to the West End, but at lower than West End prices. The most significant of these are:

Other things to do

A Guardsman on duty at Buckingham Palace

Learn

Universities in London

London attracts more students from overseas than any other city in the world, and is home to a huge variety of academic institutions. Its universities include some of the oldest and most prestigious in the world. The University of London is a federal university system with many constituent colleges, though for all practical purposes each constituent college operates as a separate university. London School of Economics and Political Science is located on the boundary of Covent Garden and Holborn in Westminster, 18 Nobel Prize winners and 50 world leaders have studied here. The School offers a well regarded lecture programme that is open to the public. Speakers have included Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama and Paul Krugman. Event schedule and ticket information available from the LSE website. University College London academic research is cited more than any other university in the UK, and its courses are regarded as among the best in Britain. The campus is located just north of the British Museum in the literary area of Bloomsbury. Notable alumni include Mahatma Gandhi, Alexander Graham Bell and the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham, whose mummified body is on display at the school in a wooden cabinet called the "auto-icon". Imperial College London is the UK's leading university specialising in science, engineering, business and medicine. The campus is located in a beautiful area of South Kensington, surrounded by numerous cultural institutions including the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Notable alumni include Sir Alexander Flemming, Thomas Henry Huxley, and H.G. Wells. Others include King's College London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Queen Mary, University of London, London Business School and the University of Westminster

Learn English

London is a natural place to learn and improve spoken and written English. There are a huge range of options, from informal language exchange services to evening classes and formal language schools. There are a number of unaccredited schools charging hefty fees and offering qualifications that are viewed as worthless. If choosing a course from a privately-run school or college, it is important to ensure the institution is accredited by the British Council.

Some links to British Council accredited schools:

Work

London is one of the world's leading financial centres and so professional services is the main area of employment, although this sector has been hit hard by the global financial crisis. As of mid-2010, the job market in London has recovered somewhat. It is best to check with recruiters and staffing agencies.

London is hugely popular as a working holiday destination - work in bars and the hospitality industry is relatively easy to find.

Wages are generally higher in London than the rest of the UK, in part due to the addition of London weighting, although the cost of living is higher still.

Buy

Harrods

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).

Markets

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, rumour 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.

Airports

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 web sites can help to plan your tax-free (vs traditional) shopping. In the evening allow an extra half hour as closing hours are not always strictly respected.

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.

Practical

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.

Eat

This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget Below £15
Mid-range £15-50
Splurge £50+

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 don'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:

Smoking Ban

Smoking is illegal in all enclosed and indoor public spaces in the UK.

Prices inevitably become inflated at venues closest to major tourist attractions - beware the so-called tourist traps. The worst tourist trap food, in the opinion of many Londoners, is served at the various steak houses (Angus Steak House, Aberdeen Steak House etc. - they are all dotted around the West End and near the main train stations). Londoners wouldn't dream of eating here - you shouldn't either! Notorious areas for inflated menu prices trading on travellers' gullibility and lack of knowledge are the streets around the British Museum, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Even the major fast food chains charge a premium in their West End outlets - so watch out.

Pubs in the touristy areas of London are usually a poor choice for food although there are some brilliant "gastro-pubs" hidden away. In general avoid all pubs that have graphic-designed and printed menus - it's people's experiences in these 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!

Kappacasein cheese toastie from Borough Market

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, the vast number of chicken shops means that a deal for 2 pieces of chicken, chips (fries) and a drink shouldn't cost you more than £3 especially on Brick Lane. 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.

Restaurant streets

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 offering 2 course lunch for £7. Nearby Shepherds bush is about a 15 minute walk and is alive with bars and pubs in the evening. (Tube: Hammersmith)

Lordship Lane in East Dulwich provides a good selection of European restaurants and a few award winning gastropubs. (train: East Dulwich)

Upper Street in Islington has dozens of excellent restaurants, popular with young professionals. (Tube: Highbury & Islington, Angel).

Wardour Street, in Soho, is full of nice cafes and restaurants. (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)

Restaurant areas

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.

Chains

Like other capitals in the world, London has the usual array of fast food outlets. Sandwich shops are the most popular places to buy lunch, and there are a lot of places to choose from including Eat and Pret a Manger. Some Italian-style sandwich shops have a very good reputation and you can identify them easily by looking at the long queues at lunchtime. If all else fails, central London has lots of mini-supermarkets operated by the big British supermarket chains (e.g., Sainsbury's, Tesco) where you can pick up a pre-packed sandwich.

Fast food with an Asian flair is easy to find throughout the city, with lots of Busaba Eathai, Wagamama, and Yo! Sushi locations throughout the city. Nando's, a popular pseudo-Portuguese restaurant chain, has spicy peri-peri style grilled chicken. For burgers, GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) has been joined by other franchises such as Byron and Haché.

List of popular chains

Sandwiches
Burgers
Pizza


Others

Vegetarian and vegan

London has plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants many of them championing organic foodstuffs, and a quick search in Google will produce plenty of ideas, so you never have to see a piece of cooked meat all week.

If you are dining with carnivorous friends most restaurants will cater for vegetarians and will have at least a couple of dishes on the menu. Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants are generally fruitful, as they have plenty of traditional dishes (good Indian/Bangladeshi options can be found in the Brick Lane area of Spitalfields or further afield in East Ham, Tooting Broadway and Southall. These also tend to be very cheap eats with authentically prepared dishes with a true local ambience). There are also many vegetarian Thai buffet places where you can eat fake meat in tooth-achingly sweet sauces for under £5. These can be found on Greek and Old Compton Streets in Soho and Islington High Street.

Mildred's is a great veggie restaurant in the back streets of Oxford Circus.

Religious

Due to the mix of cultures and religions, many London restaurants cater well for religious dietary requirements. The most common signs are for Halal and Kosher meat, from burger joints to nice restaurants. There are lots of Halal restaurants and shops all over London including Whitechapel Rd and Brick Lane in the East End, Bayswater, Edgware Rd and Paddington and in many parts of north London. There are plenty of Kosher restaurants in Golders Green, Edgware and Stamford Hill along with some central delis such as on Charing Cross Road.

Convenience stores and supermarkets

Convenience stores such as Tesco Metro, Sainsbury Central/Local, Budgens, Costcutter, SPAR, Somerfield 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.

Supermarkets

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:

Drink

London is home to a great many pubs, bars and nightclubs. The online city guide View London and the weekly magazine Time Out tell what's going in London's night life, as well as cultural events in general.

Pubs & bars

London is an expensive place and your drink is likely to cost more than its equivalent elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Expect to pay around £4 for a pint of lager or Guinness (or around £3.50 for a pint of ale) in an average pub, but be aware that as with restaurants, pubs close to major tourist attractions cash in on travellers' gullibility so be on your guard for the tourist traps where higher prices are not unheard of. Despite this however it is still possible to find a sub-£3 pint in central London - it takes some determination. If you're looking to save money and meet travellers then pub crawls are guided tours that run nightly in central London. You'll save the ticket price on the savings you get from discounted drink deals and what you would have spent on club entry. The "1 Big Night Out" pub crawl is the biggest operator and starts from near Leicester square 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, cocktails here cost around £7-8 each.

Two historic London breweries are Young's and Fullers. Young's was founded in Wandsworth in 1831 (but has 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 favourite hole of Karl Marx.

For the best view in the city, try pubs on the banks of the Thames. The South Bank has lots of good bars with 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 favourite newcomer, The Princess Victoria on Uxbridge Road, Shepherd's Bush.

The "Bermondsey Beer mile" is home to many craft breweries which are open in the middle of the day most Saturdays. Situated under the railway arches on lines going to London Bridge, these quaint breweries are home to high quality beer at cheap to average London prices (~£2.00 per half). Best places include Kernel Brewery and Brew by Numbers.

Wine buffs can enjoy the famous Davys wine bars that dot the city. The company, established in 1870, import wines and own over thirty bars in the centre. Other big names in wine include the Michelin-starred Cellar Gascon and Vinoteca, both in Smithfield. For a posh wine tasting experience, there is Vinopolis by Borough Market, though a tour price will be as eye-watering as the produce sampled.

Big hotels, such as The Langham, The Dorchester and The Ritz, and upmarket clubs around Leicester Square and Soho are reliable bets for a date at the bar. The Connaught Hotel in Mayfair-Marylebone boasts its house bar, plus the Time Out favourite, The Coburg. Still in Mayfair, The Polo Bar at The Westbury is very intimate.

You can rely on most up-and-running bars to offer a short cocktail menu and there are also bars that position themselves as cocktail specialists.

Nightclubs

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 to 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, hiphop, and dubstep. In recent years more venues have opened in Peckham and New Cross.

Gay and lesbian

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 parade and street parties. The choice of places to go sometimes seem to be unmanageable.

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under £70
Mid-range £70 to £140
Splurge Over £140

London has hundreds of options for accommodation to suit all budgets from hostels through historic bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), mainstream chain hotels and apartments all the way to some of the most exclusive luxury hotels in the world such as The Savoy, The Ritz and Claridges where a stay in a top suite will cost upwards of £1,000 per night. The average cost of hotel accommodation in London is higher than in any other major British city. Prices invariably become inflated close to major sporting tournaments (such as the London Marathon, Wimbledon or major England football/rugby fixtures), or other important events taking place in the city - so it pays to plan your trip around such occasions or book your accommodation well in advance.

In general, most people tend to stay within "Zone 1" of the underground, however do your research carefully - sometimes being that extra five minutes away from a station can make the difference in cost and quality of local food and drinking options. In any case, you can always catch a bus anyway - by far the best way to see the city and get about generally.

Hotels

Your budget will have a lot to do with what part of London you will want to stay in. Tourist-standard prices range from £20-200 per person per night. Expect smaller than average rooms especially at the low end of this range. As a general rule, expect to pay between £75-150 per night for a 2 or 3 star hotel in the central area of the city. Many of the big name chain hotels now offer substantial discounts (with rates often down as low as £30-£50 per room per night) if you book well in advance, but the drawback is that you have to pay the full amount upfront at the time of booking and there are no refunds if you cancel. The heart of the West End is the most expensive place to stay and most hotels are either 4 or 5 star and most will command a hefty price premium.

The City can also be very expensive during the week, as it relies heavily on the business market but prices often drop over the weekend and it can be a good way of getting into a higher standard of accommodation than you could otherwise afford. Bear in mind though that this part of central London becomes a ghost town over the weekend, and you will find that few (if any) bars and restaurants will be open.

A top tip however is to always check the likes of LondonTown.com, Expedia and LateRooms as well as the hotel's own website - since there are often deals to be had which can reduce the costs significantly.

The extra cost of getting around is probably not significant compared to savings made by staying in a hotel further out near an Underground or railway station. Always be sure though to check where the closest Tube station is to your hotel. Staying further out will be cheaper but when travelling in allow 1-2 min per Tube stop (near the centre), around 2-3 min per stop (further out) and 5-10 min per line changes. This can easily total up to a 1 hour journey if there is a walk at each end. There are many hotels close to transport hub stations such as Stratford, Greenwich, Ealing Broadway, Wimbledon and East Croydon.

A more imaginative alternative could be to stay in a nearby town with quick and easy train travel to London. For example, lively Brighton (otherwise known as 'London by Sea') is only an hour away, but your budget will go much further and there are excellent accommodation options.

Some of the better value options are to be found in the following central districts:

A slightly left-field option is to check the Landmark Trust, a building preservation charity who purchase notable old buildings in the UK, renovate and run them as holiday lettings. An interesting approach to saving old buildings for sure.

Try booking a hotel in Canary Wharf if you are staying for the weekend - 4* hotels can be very cheap due to a lack of business customers. This also goes for the small area around Bank tube station.

Hostels

Not necessarily as unpleasant as you may think, and as long as you don't mind sharing with others, they are the most cost-effective option and also offer breakfast as well as kitchens for self-catering.

There are a number of independent hostels throughout the city which are listed in the relevant district articles.

In the summer season, many of the colleges and universities in Central London open up their student halls of residence as hotels during vacations, at usually much lower rates than proper hotels, but expect very basic facilities (e.g. communal bathrooms, no catering facilities), but you will get the personal privacy that you don't get in hostels for not very much more cost.

Apartments

Some apartment-hotels offer good value accommodation for those travelling in a group - often better quality than many hotels but at a cheaper individual rate per person.

Capsule-style crash spaces are just arriving, but currently these are only in central locations.

Short-term apartment or flat rentals are an attractive option for many travellers to London, and there are innumerable agencies offering them, almost all of them nowadays through the internet. A key consideration for renting a short term flat is if you are visiting in a large group or a family. In such cases a short stay in London can be more affordable compared to staying in a hotel. Your best protection is to deal only with London apartment rental agencies which have been recommended by independent sources you feel you can trust, and to deal only with those that accept confirmations via credit card.

Alternative Accommodation

Travellers can choose from a variety of homestay styles such as homeswapping (lovehomeswap.com), living in a temporarily vacated room (anyfriendofours.com) or the high end version where companies specialize in homestays with full hotel services such as housekeeping and concierge (viveunique.com). Most of the time these options are safe but it is important that guests and homeowners take equal precaution to ensure their valuables are safe guarded. Homeowners should always provide guests with terms and conditions of their live-in house rules to ensure there are no mishaps and both parties are at ease. This new trend allows guests to enjoy a less touristy version of London as most of these homes will be in residential areas which each have their own unique charm and experiences.

Holiday Rentals

Hotels are generally expensive in London when compared with other European cities. As a result the city has a vast number of self-catering accommodation on offer, many of them are apartments in various central areas of the capital. Well established local sites include Holidaylettings.co.uk, Perfect Accommodation,Space Apart Hotel, Owners Direct and Alpha Holiday Lettings. If you are looking to stay in just a room or part of the property, Airbnb matches holiday makers with hosts who only rent out part of their homes.

Connect

Wi-Fi access

London is unfortunately not noted for free public wifi access - although the number of hotspots is continuing to grow.

Stay safe

In an emergency, telephone "999" (or "112"). This number connects to Police, Ambulance and Fire/Rescue services. You will be asked which of these three services you require before being connected to the relevant operator.

Crime

Like many big cities, London has a variety of social problems, especially begging, drug abuse and theft (mobile phones are a favourite, often snatched by fast-moving cyclists).

A Traditional 'Blue Lamp' outside a Police Station in London

London has the oldest police force in the world, The Metropolitan Police Service, and on the whole, London is a safe place to visit and explore. Alongside the regular Police, there are over 4,000 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) that provide a highly visible presence on the streets and can deal with low-level crime. Normal precautions for the safe keeping of your personal possessions, as you would in any other city, are suggested.

The Metropolitan Police have placed significant resources in combating street level crime. Working in conjunction with borough councils, they have brought the level of theft and pickpocketing in major retail areas in London to a manageable level.

Street gang culture is a growing problem in London as with many other cities in England. While most groups of youngsters are not likely to present any danger to tourists, some people feel the need to be slightly more vigilant in certain areas, especially certain outer suburbs.

Main precautions to take

Keep valuables out of sight: Many crimes are opportunistic - a lot of mobile phones are snatched from restaurant tables. By keeping items such as cash and mobile phones out of sight theft can easily be prevented. Don't flash your cash unnecessarily!

Keep bags zipped up and close to your body: If your bag is hanging open it's like putting up a flashing neon sign saying "Steal from me!" Use zips and inside pockets to secure items wherever possible. Never leave valuables such as mobile phones, wallets or travel documents in an outside section of your bag.

Be aware of your surroundings: Before using your mobile phone have a look around you. Put your back against something solid such as a wall or window so you can't be approached from behind. Constantly look around you even if you are in a busy area. Don't walk and talk/text!

Late at night

If you're planning to go out late at night and are worried about safety try to frequent crowded areas such as the West End. There are always plenty of people on the street, even at 04:00. Generally, outside central London, the South, and East suburban areas are considered more dangerous, notably Brixton, Peckham and Hackney, although some parts of North-West London such as Harlesden and northern Camden are also known trouble spots.

The main problem right throughout London to various degrees is drunken behaviour, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights and after football matches. Loud and rowdy behaviour is to be expected and fights and acts of aggression also occur. If you are harassed, it is best to simply ignore and walk away from those concerned. Trouble spots can be expected around popular drinking locations such as Soho and in various suburban centres.

Scams and cons

London has a large number of con artists around, all trying to convince you to hand over your money one way or another.

Cup and ball game: This is perhaps the most common scam and is frequently seen on the busier pedestrian bridges such as Westminster Bridge. A person will lay out a mat with three cups on it. They will pretend to hide a ball under one of the cups, move the cups around, and then ask you to place a bet on where the ball-containing cup has landed. There is no ball - the con artist will have spirited it away! This con always has people acting as lookouts in the crowd and they will pretend to win every now and again so it looks like the game is winnable. Also beware if you are just stopping to watch as you could be pick-pocketed! The best defence is to walk straight past these events and not engage at all. If you have a mobile phone/cellphone that works in the UK you can phone the police on 101 (the non-emergency equivalent to 999) and report them, but it is advised to move away to do this as you may be harassed by the con artist or their lookouts if they overhear you.

Overzealous street performers: Most street performers are happy to just do their thing, let you watch, and then you can throw them a few coins if you liked the show. However, some street performers will actively grab and harass passers-by in order to get attention and money. They may forcefully pose with you and ask you to take a photograph and then demand money for the photo opportunity. They may also take this opportunity while you're distracted to pick-pocket you. Don't engage with any street performer who is pushy or forceful - try and walk away, or call out "Get off me!" or "No!" and draw attention to yourself if you can't escape easily. Again, you can report these street performers on the 101 number as above.

Tissue sellers on trains: Beggars will get onto a train and place tissues on the seats with a note begging for money. They want you to feel pity for them and buy the tissues. This is an organised scam and the money goes towards criminal enterprises. If you see this happening on a train don't buy the tissues and ignore anyone who asks you for money for them. If you're above ground you can text the British Transport Police on 61016 to report it.

"Clip joint": 'Every night, Soho presents a particular danger: the "clip joint". The usual targets of these establishments are lone male tourists. Usually, an attractive woman will casually befriend the victim and recommend a local bar or even a club that has a "show". The establishment will be near-desolate, and, even if the victim has only a drink or two, the bill will run to hundreds of pounds. If payment is not immediately provided, the bouncers will lock the "patrons" inside and take it by force or take them to an ATM and stand over them while they extract the cash. To be safe, if a woman you just met suggests you a place, try to recommend a different bar. If she insists on hers then walk away and do not listen to her suggestions. Sometimes this con trick takes place when someone is lured into a private club with the promise of something perhaps more than a drink (like a 'private show' or sex for a small amount of money). A 'hostess fee' will appear on the bill for several hundred pounds, even though there has been nothing more than polite conversation.

"Stress tests": If anyone offers you a free "stress test", they are likely trying to recruit you into the Church of Scientology. The best option is to walk away or just say "No thank you" politely, as people are commonly harassed into giving personal details.

Needing money for phone/train tickets/the bus/et al.: A man or woman will approach you asking for money for public transport. They will claim that they have lost their Travelcard or that it has been damaged somehow. Most people upon losing their Travelcard will seek aid at a train station and not approach random strangers! Another variant of this scam exists wherein a man or woman will ask for change so they can make a call at a phone box (this is a frequent scam in the Shoreditch area). Occasionally a man with a very convincing fake gash on his arm will ask for money so that he can get to hospital (strangely refusing the offer of you calling an ambulance, as you would do for most injured people in the street).

Ticket machine scam: One of the most popular scams in London, is the ticket machine scam : while buying a ticket at a train station someone will approach you and act as if they want to help you buy the right ticket. In reality they will wait until your money is in the machine, then lean across, cancel the transaction and pocket your cash. Say "No thanks" politely - you know what ticket you want to buy!

Selling/asking for a donation for "lucky heather": This scam, usually operated by women, involves someone handing you "lucky heather" (a small flower usually wrapped in foil) and then either trying to sell it to you or asking for a monetary donation. They will come up with a vague charity ("money for sick children", "money for orphaned babies", and so on) and show you a purse full of supposed "donations". If you are handed one of these flowers either hand it back or drop it on the ground and leave. Be aware that you if you take the flower and leave without "donating" you could be chased and harassed by the people involved in the scam. This scam has been seen in Chinatown around the time of Chinese New Year.

Street Collections

Although not illegal as such, London is a known hotspot for charity collectors, some of whom can be extremely persuasive in trying to obtain a donation; therefore they have earned the name "charity muggers" or "chuggers". If you do not want to donate, be polite but forceful, and under no circumstances provide any form of bank details. A number of larger charities ask their collectors to have specific and verifiable identification.

Transport

Don't take illegal minicabs (see Get around for details). Minicabs are not allowed to ply for trade on the street and any minicab doing this should be avoided.

Travelling on the lower deck of a night bus is generally safer, as there are more passengers around, and you are visible to the bus driver.

If you have been the victim of crime on the railways or the London Underground you should report the crime as soon as possible to the British Transport Police, who have an office in most major train and Tube stations. Or if you have been a victim of crime in the City of London you should report the crime to the City of London Police. Elsewhere, you should report your crime as normal to the Metropolitan Police.

Stay healthy

The UK's National Health Service (NHS) will provide emergency treatment for anyone in the UK, irrespective of whether they reside in the UK, but if you are not UK resident you will be expected to make a contribution (up to the entire cost) towards such treatment. The UK Government has, as of 2015, announced it intends to start charging for the use of the NHS (including emergency treatment) by visitors from outside the EU, to reduce the impact of so-called "health tourism".

You can find NHS services near you here.

Emergencies

For a serious medical emergency (unconsciousness, stroke, heart attack, heavy bleeding, broken bones, etc.) dial 999 or 112. These numbers are free of charge from any telephone. As emergency response is prioritised in London, do not be concerned if the telephone operator asks you for details about the nature of the emergency. Depending on the urgency an ambulance will probably be dispatched while you are talking to the operator so don't be worried about wasting time. The operator will also be able to reassure you and offer you advice on how to help the patient until the ambulance arrives. You should also try to have an address or general location of the patient before you call as this will help to save time.

London's ambulance coverage is excellent with highly trained and friendly staff. For instances of major trauma there is also London's Air Ambulance, two helicopters that can deliver an advanced trauma team within minutes to anywhere in London. At night the helicopters do not fly and a rapid response car is dispatched instead.

Emergencies can also be dealt with at most NHS hospitals with an A & E (Accident & Emergency) department. In A & E, be prepared to wait for a long time (the average is 4 hours) during busy periods before being given treatment if your medical complaint is not too serious. For less serious problems, try a GP's ("General Practitioner", or family doctor) surgery, Urgent Care Centre, or a high-street pharmacist.

Major hospitals

Major A & E hospitals in London are:

General medical advice

For advice on non-emergency medical problems, you can ring the 24 hour NHS Direct service on 111. Treatment for non-emergency conditions, or for hospital admissions resulting from emergencies, is normally free for people holding a European Health Insurance card (EHIC) issued by most European governments, or certain other countries listed here. In the absence of such a card you would be well advised to get private travel health insurance.

At large organised events, and in many theatre productions, basic medical assistance and first aid is provided through the support of organisations such as St John Ambulance or the stewards for the event.

Pharmacies

London is well catered for in terms of pharmacies with chains like Lloyds Pharmacy and Boots having a number of branches. Most large supermarkets also have pharmacy counters, although these do not stock some of the stronger remedies.

Private healthcare

London is also home to some of the most renowned - and most expensive - private medical treatment facilities, the most notable of which being the host of private consultants and surgeons on Harley Street in Marylebone.

Cope

Embassies and High Commissions

NOTE: A number of countries have a (separate) consulate for their consular services for issuing visas, passports, notary services, etc. in a different location than the main embassy/high commission chancery so check their website or call them before going to the embassy.

Go next

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