Insight Guides: Pocket London - APA (2016)
A-Z TRAVEL TIPS
London has a wide range of accommodation, but bargains are hard to come by, as are affordable hotels right in the centre of the city. It’s important to book ahead, as London fills up in the summer, but if you arrive without a reservation, head for a Tourist Information Centre (for more information, click here) or call Visit London’s telephone accommodation-booking service on 0845-644 3010 (www.visitlondon.com).
London is served by five airports: the two major hubs are Heathrow and Gatwick, while Stansted, Luton (both north of the centre) and London City are primarily for chartered, budget or short-haul flights.
Heathrow (tel: 0844-335 1801; www.heathrowairport.com) is 14 miles (22km) west of central London. The fastest connection from the airport to central London is the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, which takes 15 minutes and runs every 15 minutes between just after 5am (just before 6.30am on Sun) and around 11.30pm. The fare is a hefty £21.50 single (£35 return), possibly the world’s costliest rail ticket per mile. Heathrow Connect (www.heathrowconnect.com) run a cheaper service that takes 25 minutes and costs £10.10. There is also a direct Underground route (£5.70 single), on the Piccadilly Line, which reaches the West End in around 50 minutes. It operates from 5am (6am Sunday) until 12.30am daily and all through the night on Fridays and Saturdays.National Express (tel: 0871-781 8178; www.nationalexpress.com) runs coaches from Heathrow to Victoria Coach Station; the journey takes between 45 and 80 minutes, depending on traffic, and the single fare is £6. easyBus (www.easybus.com) run services to Victoria and Waterloo. The bus station is at Terminals 1, 2 and 3; from Terminals 4 and 5, take the free Heathrow Connect train to the bus station.
Heathrow is well-served for taxis; a ride in a London ‘black cab’ into town will cost £40–70 plus tip, and take 30–60 minutes, depending on traffic.
Gatwick (tel: 0844-892 0322; www.gatwickairport.com) is 27 miles (43km) south of London. The airport isn’t on the Underground network, but the Gatwick Express (tel: 0845-850 1530; www.gatwickexpress.com) runs every 15 minutes from London Victoria Station from 3.30am–12.32am, and to Victoria from Gatwick from 4.35am–01.35am. The train takes 30 minutes and costs £19.90 one-way (slightly cheaper online). Southern also runs services from Gatwick to Victoria, a journey time of 30 minutes (£15.30 one way). Thameslink trains run direct services from Gatwick to Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon and St Pancras International, with an average journey time of 30 minutes (£19 one way).
easyBus (www.easybus.com) run services from Gatwick to West London while National Express bus services (tel: 0871-781 8181) operate the 32-mile (51km) journey between Heathrow and Gatwick (£25 single), taking between 60 and 90 minutes.
A black cab will cost around £80.
Stansted (tel: 0844-335 1803; www.stanstedairport.com) is located 34 miles (54km) northeast of London. The Stansted Express (tel: 0845-748 4950; www.stanstedexpress.com) leaves for Liverpool Street station every 15 minutes from 5.30am until 0.30am and from Liverpool Street to Stansted between 3.40am (Mon, Fri and Sat), 4.10am (Sun) or 4.40am (Tue–Thu) and 11.25pm, and costs £19 one way; the journey takes around 45 minutes.
The National Express Coach (tel: 0870-574 7777; www.nationalexpress.com) leaves for Victoria Station around every 20 minutes 24-hours a day, takes around 90 minutes and costs from £8 one way.
The easyBus (www.easybus.com) runs every 15 minutes 24 hours a day, daily, between Stansted and London’s Baker Street; single fares go from £2. Journey time is 1 hour 15 minutes.
Taxis cost around £80.
London City Airport (tel: 020-7646 0088; www.londoncityairport.com) is just 6 miles (10km) east of the City and is mainly used by business travellers. The airport has its own station on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), which connects with the Underground network at Bank station.
Luton Airport (tel: 0158-240 5100; www.london-luton.co.uk) is linked by Thameslink rail services with London St Pancras International; some trains continue to Gatwick via Blackfriars. There is a shuttle bus between the airport and Luton train station. The journey to St Pancras takes about 40 minutes, and trains run every 7–15 minutes. Green Line buses (route 757) run to Victoria in London, and take about 90 minutes (tel: 0844-801 7261; www.greenline.co.uk).
BUDGETING FOR YOUR TRIP
In general, London is a very expensive city, so make sure you come prepared.
Accommodation. Double room with a bath in Central London, excluding breakfast, including VAT: from around £110 to over £400 per night.
Meals and drinks. For a decent English breakfast, expect to pay anywhere from £6 and up, for a Continental breakfast £3.50 and up; for lunch (in a pub, including one drink) £8–12; for dinner (three courses, including wine, at a reasonable restaurant) £25–55. A bottle of house wine costs £12–20, a pint of beer £3.50; a coffee £2–3.
Entertainment. A ticket to the cinema will cost around £8–12; admission to a club: £5–20; and a good seat at a West End musical £50. Admission to many museums and art galleries is free, except for special exhibitions; others cost £4–16. Tickets for the most expensive attractions cost £16–25, but many are available ‘2 for the price of 1’ if you travel by rail (see www.daysoutguide.co.uk).
Transport. A one-day, peak Travelcard (zones 1 and 2): £12.
The weather in the capital is generally mild compared with the rest of the country. Good weather is certainly not guaranteed in summer, although occasionally the temperature soars.
London is best approached with layers of clothing. While the city’s reputation for rain may be somewhat exaggerated, you should pack an umbrella just in case. Fairly casual clothes are acceptable everywhere but classier restaurants and some nightclubs.
CRIME AND SAFETY
Serious crime is low for a city of this size, but the Dickensian tradition of pickpocketing is alive and well. Take the usual precautions. Use only black cabs and pre-booked minicabs. The threat of terrorism has led to an increase in police patrols, so don’t hesitate to report any suspicious packages.
If you are only staying a short while in London, don’t hire a car. Negotiating Central London by car is stressful for the uninitiated, due to the city’s web of one-way streets, bad signposting and impatient drivers, not to mention expense due to the Congestion charge.
If a car is a necessity or you want to explore further afield, you should drive on the left and observe speed limits (police detection cameras are numerous). It is illegal to drink and drive, and penalties are severe. Drivers and passengers (back and front) are legally obliged wear seat belts.
Congestion charge. Cars driving into a clearly marked Congestion Zone in inner London between 7am and 6pm Mon–Fri are filmed, and their owners are fined if a payment of £11.50 has not been made by midnight the same day. You can pay at many small shops, or by phone (tel: 0845-900 1234). See www.tfl.gov.uk for details.
Speed limits. Unless otherwise indicated these are: 30mph (50kmh) in urban areas (note that 20mph is increasingly common), 60mph (100kmh) on normal roads away from built-up areas, 70mph (112kmh) on motorways and dual carriageways.
Parking. This is a big problem in central London. Meters are slightly less expensive than multi-storey car parks, but only allow parking for a maximum of two or four hours; it can also be hard to find a free one. Many areas of central London operate ‘pay by phone’ parking only, for which you will need a credit card.
Breakdown. The following organisations operate 24-hour breakdown assistance: AA, tel: 0800-887 766; RAC, tel: 0844-774 1372. The service is free to members only.
Car hire. To rent a car, you must be at least 21 years old and in possession of a valid driving licence (held for at least one year) and a credit card. The cost usually includes insurance and unlimited mileage but always check this.
All the hire major companies are represented in London; most have outlets at the airports as well as in the centre. Weekly rates start at around £150.
Alamo tel: 0871-384 1086; www.alamo.co.uk; Avis tel: 0844-581 0147, www.avis.co.uk; Budget, tel: 0844-544 3439; www.budget.co.uk; Hertz tel: 0843-309 3099, www.hertz.co.uk.
The standard current in Britain is 230 volt, 50 cycle AC. Plugs have three pins rather than two, so bring an adaptor as necessary.
EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES
Australia: High Commission, Australia House, Strand, WC2B 4LA, tel: 020-7379 4334, www.uk.embassy.gov.au.
Canada: High Commission, Canada House, Trafalgar Square, SW1Y 5BJ, tel: 020-7004 6000, www.canadainternational.gc.ca.
Ireland: Embassy, 17 Grosvenor Place, SW1X 7HR, tel: 020-7235 2171, www.embassyofireland.co.uk.
New Zealand: High Commission, New Zealand House, 80 Haymarket, SW1Y 4TQ, tel: 020-7930 8422, www.nzembassy.com.
South Africa: High Commission, South Africa House, Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DP, tel: 020-7451 7299, http://southafricahouseuk.com.
US: Embassy, 24 Grosvenor Square, W1K 6AH, tel: 020-7499 9000, http://london.usembassy.gov.
For police, fire brigade or ambulance dial 999 from any telephone (no payment required).
GAY AND LESBIAN TRAVELLERS
The gay scene in London centres around Soho and Vauxhall, with Old Compton Street in Soho offering specialist bars and shops. For information call the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard on tel: 0300-330 0630, www.llgs.org.uk.
GETTING TO LONDON
By air. There are regular flights from most major airports in the world to London. For information on the city’s airports, for more information, click here.
By rail. The Channel Tunnel provides Eurostar (tel: 0843-218 6186, www.eurostar.com) passenger services by rail from Paris Nord (2 hrs 15 mins), Lille Europe (1 hr 20 mins) and Brussels Midi (1 hr 50 mins) to London St Pancras.
Vehicles are carried by trains through the tunnel from Folkestone in Kent to Calais in France by Eurotunnel (tel: 0844-335 3535; www.eurotunnel.com). The trip takes 35 minutes, and there are two to four departures every hour. Although bookings are not essential, they are advisable at peak times. Fares are cheaper late at night or in the early morning.
By ferry. Ferries operate between many British and Continental ports. Calais–Dover is the shortest crossing (75–90 minutes). Some of the main companies are:
Brittany Ferries, tel: 0871-244 0744 (UK), www.brittany-ferries.co.uk. Sail from Portsmouth to Caen, Cherbourg and St-Malo, Poole–Cherbourg and Plymouth–Roscoff.
Norfolk Line, tel: 0871-574 7235 (UK), www.norfolkline.com. Dover–Dunkirk.
P&O Ferries, tel: 0871-664 2121 (UK), 0825-12 01 56 (France), www.poferries.com. Dover–Calais.
SeaFrance, tel: 0844-493 0651 (UK). Dover–Calais.
By coach. Eurolines (tel: 0871-781 8177; www.eurolines.co.uk) run coaches to London from around 25 European countries. Within the country, National Express (tel: 0871-781 8181, www.nationalexpress.com) runs services from Victoria Coach Station on Buckingham Palace Road.
Bus tours. Hop-on hop-off double-decker bus tour operators include the Big Bus Tours (tel: 020-7233 9533; www.bigbustours.com) and the Original Tour (tel: 020-8877 1722, www.theoriginaltour.com). Departure points include Marble Arch, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, Victoria and London Bridge.
Walking tours. London Walks (tel: 020-7624 3978; www.walks.com) offers almost 100 walks, many with literary and historical themes.
Black Taxi Tours. These offer a full commentary from knowledgeable cabbies. Tours are two hours long. Cost £140 per cab – up to five passengers. For 24-hour booking, tel: 020-7935 9363, www.blacktaxitours.co.uk.
River travel. Much of London’s history is centred on the Thames, and seeing the city from the river provides a fascinating perspective. City Cruises (tel: 020-7740 0400; www.citycruises.com) serve the main piers down to Tower Pier and Greenwich; Thames River Services (tel: 020-7930 4097, www.thamesriverservices.co.uk) run from Westminster Pier to Greenwich. There’s also Duck Tours – World War II amphibious vehicles, which drive past famous London landmarks. They used to take to water too, though following a fire aboard one of their crafts in 2013, that leg of the journey now takes place aboard a City Cruises boat. A ride aboard one of the amphibious vehicles is expensive, but great for children, although the boats do look pretty precarious sitting low in the water. Departure from County Hall (tel: 020-7928 3132; www.londonducktours.co.uk).
Canal trips. Jason’s Trip (www.jasons.co.uk) is a traditional painted narrow boat making 90-minute trips along the Regent’s Canal between Little Venice and Camden Lock, Apr–Oct. The London Waterbus Company (tel: 020-7482 2660; www.londonwaterbus.com) runs from Camden Lock to Little Venice, with discounted tickets to the zoo at Regent’s Park.
HEALTH AND MEDICAL CARE
EU citizens can receive free treatment on producing a European Health Insurance Card. Many other countries also have reciprocal arrangements for free treatment. However, most visitors will be liable for medical and dental treatment, so will have to pay for any non-emergency treatment. They should ensure they have adequate health insurance.
Major hospitals include Charing Cross Hospital (Fulham Palace Road, W6, tel: 020-3311 1234) and St Thomas’s (Westminster Bridge Road, SE1, tel: 020-7188 7188). Guy’s Hospital Dental Department is at St Thomas Street, SE1, tel: 020-7188 8006. For the nearest hospital or doctor’s, ring NHS Direct, tel: 111.
Late pharmacies: Boots on Piccadilly Circus and Bliss Chemist at 5 Marble Arch stay open until midnight.
The London A–Z, an invaluable streetplan of the city centre and suburbs, is available in a range of sizes from newsagents and bookshops.
London’s Evening Standard (Mon–Fri; free and given out at rail and Tube stations) is good for cinema and theatre listings.
Listings magazines. Most comprehensive is the weekly Time Out magazine (free, handed out at Central London stations). The free paper Metro, also available daily in rail and tube stations, also has arts and events listings.
Currency. The monetary unit is the pound sterling (£), divided into 100 pence (p). Banknotes: £5, £10, £20, £50. Coins: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2. Many of London’s large stores also accept euros.
Currency exchange. You will probably get the best rate by using an ATM, known as a cash machine, with your bankcard from home. Post offices and Marks & Spencer have bureaux de change that don’t charge commission. At private bureaux de change (some open 24 hours), rates can be very low and commissions high. If you have to use one, check for a London Tourist Board code of conduct sticker.
Tax refunds. These enable visitors from outside the European Union to reclaim the 20 percent value-added tax when spending over a certain amount. Stores can supply VAT refund forms, which should be presented to Customs officials when leaving the country.
Banks: Usually Mon–Fri 9.30am–5pm, although some close at 3.30pm. Saturday-morning banking is common in shopping areas.
Shops: Most open Mon–Sat 9am–10am and close around 5.30pm to 6pm. In commercial areas such as Oxford Street shops stay open until 8pm Mon–Sat (until 9pm on Thur). On Sundays major shops are only allowed six hours of trading between 10am and 6pm.
Police, identifiable by their black uniforms and high-rise hats, are usually unarmed and, on the whole, friendly and helpful. For emergencies, tel: 999.
Most post offices open Mon–Fri 9am–5pm and Sat 9am–noon. London’s main post office is at 24–8 William IV Street, near Trafalgar Square; it stays open until 6.30pm Mon–Fri.
On public (or ‘bank’) holidays, banks and offices close, but most other amenities remain open. They are: New Year’s Day (January 1), Good Friday (March/April), Easter Monday (March/April), May Day (first Monday in May), Spring Bank Holiday (last Monday in May), Summer Bank Holiday (last Monday in August), Christmas Day and Boxing Day (December 25 and 26).
London’s UK dialling code is 020. To call from abroad, dial the 44 international access code for Britain, then 20, then the eight-digit number. To phone abroad, dial 00 followed by the international code for the country you want, then the number: Australia (61); Ireland (353); US and Canada (1), etc.
Despite the ubiquity of mobiles, London still has a fair number of public phone boxes; most accept phone cards, which are widely available from post offices and newsagents in amounts in varying amounts between £5 and £20. Many also accept credit and debit cards. At coin phone boxes the minimum fee is 40p.
Operator (for difficulties in getting through): 100
International Operator: 155
Directory Enquiries (UK): 118-500 or 118-888 or 118-118
International Directory Enquiries 118-505 or 118-866 or 118-899
In winter Great Britain is on Greenwich Mean Time. In summer (April–October) clocks are put forward one hour.
Many restaurants automatically add a 10–15 percent service charge to your bill. It is your right to deduct this if you are not happy with the service. It is usual to tip guides, porters and cabbies about 10 percent.
There are usually public conveniences in railway stations (often with a charge of between 20p and 50p), parks and museums. Few Underground stations have toilets for customer use (Piccadilly and the new Jubilee line stations are rare exceptions). Department stores often have free customer toilets.
The official tourist board maintains a website at www.visitlondon.com. It contains a huge amount of information on attractions, upcoming events and festivals, as well as practical information and a hotel booking service.
Personal enquires can be made at the City of London Information Centre (St. Paul’s Churchyard, EC4M 8BX; tel: 0870-156 6366; www.visitlondon.com). The office is open Mon–Sat 9.30am–5.30pm and Sun 10am–4pm.
Another tourist information centre is located at the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre in the Old Royal Naval College (Pepys House, 2 Cutty Sark Gardens, Greenwich SE10 9LW; tel: 0870-608 2000; www.visitgreenwich.org). The office is open daily 10am–5pm.
For information on buses, underground, Overground, DLR and trains contact Transport for London (tel: 020-7222 1234; www.tfl.gov.uk). For national rail queries, tel: 0845-748 4950, www.nationalrail.co.uk. Both websites have excellent journey planners.
Oyster cards. These are smart cards that you charge up with however much you wish to pay, then touch in on yellow card readers at Tube and rail stations and on buses, so that an amount is deducted each time you use it. Oyster cards and contactless payment cards offer better value than buying single tickets, and travelcards valid for one, three or seven days, or one month, cover travel on all Tube, bus, DLR and local trains (within the specified zones).
Travel- and Oyster cards can be bought from Tube or DLR stations and newsagents. Visitors can order them in advance from www.visitbritainshop.com.
Children aged 11–15 travel free on buses with an Oyster photocard, and under-11s travel free on the Tube and DLR at off-peak times provided they are with an adult.
Underground. Known as the Tube, this is the quickest, though perhaps least rewarding way to get across town. During the rush hours (8am–9.30am and 5–7pm) stations and trains are packed. Services run 5.30am to around midnight and all through the night on Fridays and Saturdays. If you’re heading for the end of a line, your last train may leave closer to 11pm. Most lines have trains every couple of minutes at peak times and every few minutes off peak.
Stations are split into nine zones, spreading out from the centre, and are charged accordingly (a single journey in zones 1–2 costs £4.70, but half the price with an Oyster card). A one-day Travelcard (also available on an Oyster card) offers unlimited use of buses, DLR, tubes and trains; a card for zones 1 and 2 is £12 peak. You can also buy seven-day, monthly and annual cards.
Some lines split into two, so always check the train’s destination.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR). This is a fully automated railway that runs through redeveloped areas of east London and to Greenwich, and connects with the Tube network at Bank, Tower Gateway, Stratford and a few other stations. Tickets and fares are the same as for the Tube.
Buses. Most buses run fairly frequently from 6am–midnight or 12.30am and are then replaced by night buses (identified by an N before the number), which run every half hour or hour until dawn and usually pass through the Trafalgar Square area. Some buses run 24-hours a day. Cash is not accepted on board the bus network in London; touch in with an Oyster or contactless payment card as you board. The flat adult fare across London is £1.50.
In 2012 a new breed of double decker buses was introduced in London to modernise the fleet and replace the unpopular and problematic articulated ‘bendy-buses’ launched in 2002 by then mayor Ken Livingstone. Taking their inspiration from the classic double-decker Routemaster, the New Bus for London (NB4L) was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, who designed the Olympic cauldron. The stylish driver-and-conductor buses feature an open back door and two sets of stairs. At the time of writing, they run on routes 9, 11, 24, 38 and 390, with more due to be introduced.
Trains. London’s principal National Rail stations are Charing Cross, Euston, King’s Cross, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Paddington, St Pancras International, Victoria and Waterloo. If you are staying in the suburbs, the fastest way into central London is often by this network, used heavily by commuters, but less packed than the Tube between rush hours.
Taxis. Official black cabs display the regulated charges on the meter. You can hail a cab in the street if the orange light on its roof is on, or you will find them at railway stations, airports and taxi ranks. You can book a taxi in advance at www.tfl.gov.uk (comments and complaints can be registered here too), or by using the smartphone app Hailo.
Licensed minicabs can only be hired by telephone, so avoid any illegal ones touting for business on the street late at night. Addison Lee (tel: 020-7387 8888; www.addisonlee.com) is a good, licensed minicab firm. To receive the telephone numbers of the two nearest minicabs and one black cab number, text CAB to 60835 from your smartphone (charge).
TRAVELLERS WITH DISABILITIES
The definitive guidebook, Access in London by Gordon Couch, William Forrester and David McGaughey was last issued in 2003. Much more recent updates (including post-Olympics information) can be found at http://accessinlondon.org.
Information on accessibility of public transport can be found at www.tfl.gov.uk. The Visit London website (www.visitlondon.com) also has information about accessible hotels, attractions and entertainment venues. Artsline (www.artsline.org.uk), London’s information and advice service on access to the arts and entertainment for disabled people, provides detailed access information for venues across London.
VISAS AND ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
EU nationals will need their passport or national ID card to enter the UK. A visa to visit the United Kingdom is not required by nationals of member states of the European Economic Area (EEA), the Commonwealth (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, as long as the stay does not exceed three months) and the USA. Nationals of other countries (and for longer stays for those listed above) should check with the British Embassy and apply for a visa, if necessary, in good time.
Customs. Free exchange of non-duty-free goods for personal use is allowed between countries within the EU.
WEBSITES AND INTERNET ACCESS
Websites that may interest visitors to London include:
www.visitlondon.com – London Tourist Board site
www.standard.co.uk – maintained by the Evening Standard newspaper, with detailed listings
http://streetsensation.co.uk – see which shops are on the city’s favourite streets
www.tfl.gov.uk – travel information from Transport for London
www.bbc.co.uk – the BBC’s vast site, with news, weather and listings
Internet cafes and Wifi access
London has internet cafes in practically all areas. A large percentage of cafés and public areas (including some railway stations) and most hotels now have free Wifi.