A world powerhouse and Europe’s biggest city, London is one of the ultimate city-break destinations. Whether you enjoy its fabulous art, history and architecture, breathtaking sights, world-class cultural events, fine dining and vibrant nightlife or top quality theatre, ballet and opera, this pulsating metropolis fits the bill. While the capital often enjoys the limelight thanks to a number of high profile sporting events such as cricket at the Oval and Lords, tennis at Wimbledon and this year’s Tour de France, there’s even more of a buzz these day as it limbers up to host the 2012 Olympic Games.
There’s a wide range of accommodation from budget youth hostels to some of the most luxuriously expensive hotels on the planet. It’s not cheap but it’s certainly unforgettable.
Getting there/getting around London
London is easily accessible by road. Of the major motorways, you can travel to London from the M1 in the north, the M4 and M40 in the west, the M3 and M23 in the south and the M2 and M20 in the east. If you’re flying, choose from Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and City airports. By coach, nearly all national services come into Victoria coach station. Once you’re in London, you can choose the bus, train or tube.
You’ll also spy plenty of the capital’s iconic black taxi cabs, but they do tend to be on the expensive side. Driving in London is quite an experience and not for the faint-hearted. If you do drive or hire a car, remember that during the week you’ll have to pay the congestion charge (£8) between the hours of 7am and 6pm.
Sightseeing in London
You’d need a few weeks to tour all of London’s famous landmarks, galleries, museums, parks etc. Probably the best way to get your bearings and take in as many famous landmarks as possible is aboard an open-top bus. There are tourist bus stops all over the city and one ticket enables you to hop on and off as and when you need to. Most routes take in Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament and Piccadilly Circus. The London Eye is one of the city’s most popular attractions and offers fantastic views.
Top museums include Tate Britain, the Tate Modern, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum. There are wonderfully relaxing parks like Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, St James’s Park and Richmond Park or you could explore some of the city’s interesting markets at Camden, Notting Hill or Spitalfields.
London family attractions, day trips and shopping experiences
Family attractions in London
The Natural History Museum is superb for children and there are lots of interactive exhibits. You can experience what an earthquake feels like, get up close and personal with dinosaurs such as the terrifying T-Rex and examine weird and wonderful specimens in the Darwin Centre.
London Zoo and London Aquarium are popular destinations for animal lovers and the Tower of London and the London Dungeons make for an entertaining few hours. See your favourite celebrities (not quite in the flesh) at Madame Tussauds or head to east London to check out the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.
Day trips from London
Windsor Castle sits on the River Thames about 20 miles west of London and a tour of the world’s oldest occupied castle is extremely popular. If you fancy heading down to the coast you can catch a train to Brighton from Victoria Station and be sucking in the sea air in around one hour. Hampton Court Palace in the south west of London is probably one of the most spectacular palaces in the world and its famous maze should keep you busy.
Visit in the winter and you can ice-skate with the palace as your backdrop. Theme parks such as Chessington World of Adventures and Thorpe Park lie on the city’s outskirts and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park is around 30 minutes north of the capital.
Shopping in London
A shopping splurge won’t be cheap, but there’s not much you couldn’t buy. You’ll find high street fashion in Oxford and Regent Streets and big department stores like Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and world-famous Harrods in Knightsbridge. Around Covent Garden you’ll find exclusive boutiques and more high street names and the markets are great for variety. Portobello Market’s great for jewellery and Camden draws a very mixed crowd in search of ethnic arts, crafts, jewellery and second-hand clothing.
If you’re feeling peckish then Borough Market is wonderful for all manner of organic, regional and international produce. Just don’t go on an empty stomach or you’ll end up spending a fortune.
London nightlife, restaurants, bars and clubs
Restaurants in London
London’s fast becoming a culinary capital of the world and a place where you can try almost any kind of cuisine including Iranian, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish, Argentinean, Nepalese, Greek, Turkish, American and Mexican. Many traditional English pubs in London serve excellent cuisine and you can’t visit without trying a traditional Sunday roast.
If you really want to splash out, dine at one of the restaurants of the many ‘celebrity’ chefs in the capital like Gordon Ramsay’s Claridge’s restaurant or Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. There are also more than 30 Michelin starred restaurants including Hakkasan and Yauatcha (Chinese), Nobu and Umu (Japanese) and Aubergine and Chez Bruce (French).
Nightlife in London
Some of the world’s best nightclubs, theatre, dance and music are found in the capital. Plays in the West End can be very expensive but the UK’s best actors (as well as a few stars from the States) love to tread the boards. The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden has ballet and opera and there are live music venues all over the city where you can watch the planet’s best-known groups.
London’s nightclubs attract top DJs from all around the globe and hotspots include Fabric, China White (full of celebs) and Funky Buddha.
London has a massive choice of accommodation from simple and cheap guest houses and hostels to internationally famous five star hotels such as The Savoy and The Ritz.