Travel Smart London - Fodor's London (2015)

Fodor's London (2015)

Travel Smart London

Main Table of Contents

Getting Here and Around


Getting Here and Around

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Air Travel | Bike Travel | Bus Travel | Car Travel | DLR: Docklands Light Railway | River Bus | Taxi | Train Travel | Underground Travel: The Tube

Central London and its surrounding districts are divided into 32 boroughs—33, counting the City of London. More useful for finding your way around, however, are the subdivisions of London into postal districts. Throughout the guide we’ve given the full postal code for most listings. The first one or two letters give the location: N means north, NW means northwest, and so on. Don’t expect the numbering to be logical, however. You won’t, for example, find W2 next to W3. The general rule is that the lower numbers, such as W1 or SW1, are closest to Buckingham Palace, but it is not consistent—SE17 is closer to the city center than E4, for example.


Flying time to London is about 6½ hours from New York, 7½ hours from Chicago, 11 hours from San Francisco, and 21½ hours from Sydney.

For flights out of London, the general rule is that you arrive at least one hour before your scheduled departure time for domestic flights and two hours before international flights for off-peak travel.

Airline Security Issues
Transportation Security Administration. | 866/289-9673 |


International flights to London arrive at either Heathrow Airport (LHR), 15 miles west of London, or at Gatwick Airport (LGW), 27 miles south of the capital. Most flights from the United States go to Heathrow, which is the busiest and is divided into five terminals, with Terminals 3, 4, and 5 handling transatlantic flights. Gatwick is London’s second gateway. It has grown from a European airport into an airport that also serves dozens of U.S. destinations. A smaller third airport, Stansted (STN), is 35 miles northeast of the city. It handles mainly European and domestic traffic, although there’s also scheduled service from New York. Two smaller airports, Luton (LTN), 30 miles north of town, and business-oriented London City (in East London E16) mainly handle flights to Europe.

Airport Information
Gatwick Airport. | 0844/892-0322 |
Heathrow Airport. | 0844/335-1801 |
London City Airport. | 020/7646-0088 |
Luton Airport. | 01582/405-100 |
Stansted Airport. | 0844/355-1803 |

Ground Transportation

London has excellent if pricey bus and train connections between its airports and central London. If you’re arriving at Heathrow, you can pick up a map and fare schedule at the Transport for London (TfL) Information Centre located in the Underground station serving Terminals 1, 2, and 3. Train service can be quick, but the downside (for trains from all airports) is that you must get yourself and your luggage to the train via a series of escalators and connecting trams. Airport link buses (generally National Express Airport buses) may ease the luggage factor and drop you closer to central hotels, but they’re subject to London traffic, which can be horrendous and make the trip drag on for hours. Taxis can be more convenient than buses, but beware that prices can go through the roof. Airport Travel Line has additional transfer information and takes advance booking for transfers between airports and into London. The BAA (British Airport Authority) website is a useful resource, giving all transportation options from Gatwick, Heathrow, and Stansted.

Heathrow by Bus: National Express buses take one hour to reach the city center (Victoria) and cost from £5 one way and £9 round-trip (book online for best prices). A rival service, easyBus, offers buses from as little as £2 (book online for best prices). The National Express Hotel Hoppa service runs from all airports to around 20 hotels near the airport (from £4). Alternatively, nearly every hotel in London itself is served by the Hotel By Bus service. Fares to central London average around £22.50. SkyShuttle also offers a shared minibus service between Heathrow and any London hotel. The N9 night bus runs to Aldwych every half hour from midnight to 5 am; it takes an hour and costs £2.40.

Heathrow by Train: The cheap, direct route into London is via the Piccadilly line of the Underground (London’s extensive subway system, or “Tube”). Trains normally run every four to eight minutes from all terminals from early morning until just before midnight. The 50-minute trip into central London costs £5.70 one way and connects with other central Tube lines. The Heathrow Express train is comfortable and convenient, if costly, speeding into London’s Paddington station in 15 minutes. Standard one-way tickets cost £20 (£34 round-trip) and £28 for first class. Book ahead (online is the cheapest option; at a counter/kiosk less so), as tickets are more expensive to buy on board. There’s daily service from 5:10 am (5:50 am on Sunday) to 11:25 pm (10:50 pm on Sunday), with departures every 15 minutes. The Heathrow Connect service leaves from Paddington station and makes five local stops before arriving at Terminals 1, 3, and 5. At 25 minutes, journey time is only slightly slower than the Express and one-way tickets are £9.50.

Gatwick by Bus: An hourly bus service runs from Gatwick’s north and south terminals to London’s Victoria station, with stops at Hooley, Coulsdon, Mitcham, Streatham, Stockwell, and Pimlico. The journey takes up to 90 minutes and costs from £7.50 one way. The easyBus service runs to west London (Fulham) from as little as £2; the later the ticket is booked online, the higher the price (up to £10 on board).

Gatwick by Train: The fast, nonstop Gatwick Express leaves for Victoria station every 15 minutes 4:35 am-1:35 am. The 30-minute trip costs £19.90 one way, £34.90 round-trip. Book in advance, as tickets cost more on board. The First Capital Connect rail company’s non-express services are cheaper; Capital Connect train runs regularly throughout the day to St. Pancras International, London Bridge, and Blackfriars stations; departures are every 15 minutes (hourly during the night), and the journey takes 45-55 minutes. Tickets are from £10 one way from St.Pancras International. FlyBy service to Victoria (£14.40 single) is not express, takes almost an hour, and the fare applies only on trains operated by Southern Trains.

Stansted by Bus: Hourly service on National Express Airport bus A6 (24 hours a day) to Victoria Coach station costs from £10 one way, £17 round-trip, and takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes. Stops include Golders Green, Finchley Road, St. John’s Wood, Baker Street, Marble Arch, and Hyde Park Corner. The easyBus service to Victoria via Baker Street costs from £2 one-way but book early and online for best prices.

Stansted by Train: The Stansted Express to Liverpool Street station (with a stop at Tottenham Hale) runs every 15 minutes 6 am-12:30 am, Monday to Thursday; until 1:30 am, Friday to Sunday. The 45-minute trip costs £23.40 one way, £32.80 round-trip if booked online. Tickets cost more when purchased on board.

Luton by Bus and Train: A free airport shuttle runs from Luton Airport to the nearby Luton Airport Parkway station, from which you can take a train or bus into London. From there, the First Capital Connect train service runs to St. Pancras, Farringdon, Blackfriars, and London Bridge. The journey takes about 35 minutes. Trains leave every 10 minutes or so during the day, and hourly during the night. Single tickets cost from £14 one-way. The Green Line 757 bus service from Luton to Victoria station runs three times an hour, takes about 90 minutes, and costs from £10 one way.

Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton by Taxi: This is an expensive and time-consuming option. The city’s congestion charge (£10) may be added to the bill if your hotel is in the charging zone, you run the risk of getting stuck in traffic, and if you take a taxi from the stand, the price will be even more expensive (whereas a minicab booked ahead is a set price). The trip from Heathrow, for example, can take more than an hour and cost more than £55.

Transfers Between Airports

Allow at least two to three hours for an inter-airport transfer. The cheapest option—but most complicated—is public transportation: from Gatwick to Stansted, for instance, you can catch the non-express commuter train from Gatwick to Victoria station, take the Tube to Liverpool Street station, then catch the train to Stansted from there. To get from Heathrow to Gatwick by public transport, take the Tube to King’s Cross, then change to the Victoria line, get to Victoria station, and then take the commuter train to Gatwick.

The National Express Airport bus is the most direct option between Gatwick and Heathrow. Buses pick up passengers every 15 to 20 minutes from 5:20 am to midnight from both airports. The trip takes around 70 minutes, and the fare is from £20 one way, but it’s advisable to book tickets in advance. National Express buses between Stansted and Gatwick depart every 30 to 45 minutes and can take around 3 hours and 45 minutes. The adult one-way fare is from £22. Some airlines may offer shuttle services as well—check with your travel agent in advance of your journey.

easyBus. |
First Capital Connect. | 0845/026-4700 |
Gatwick Express. | 0845/850-1530 |
Heathrow Express. | 0845/600-1515 |
National Express. | 08717/818178 |
SkyShuttle. | 0845/481-0960 |
Stansted Express. | 0845/600-7245 |

Transfer Information
Airport Travel Line. | 0871/200-2233 |


British Airways is the national flagship carrier and offers mostly nonstop flights from 16 U.S. cities to Heathrow and Gatwick airports, along with flights to Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow. It also offers flights to New York from London City Airport near Docklands.

Airline Contacts
American Airlines. | 800/433-7300, 0844/499-7300 in London |
British Airways. | 800/247-9297, 0844/493-0787 in London |
Delta Airlines. | 800/241-4141 for international reservations, 0871/221-1222 in London |
United Airlines. | 800/864-8331 for international reservations, 0845/607-6760 in London |
US Airways. | 800/428-4322 for international reservations, 0845/600-3300 in London |
Virgin Atlantic. | 800/862-8621, 0844/209-7777 in London |


London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, is a real cycling enthusiast and keen to make the capital more bike-friendly. A 24-hour cycle-for-hire scheme, the Barclays Cycle Hire, introduced in 2010 to enable Londoners to pick up a bicycle at one of more than 720 docking stations and return it at another, has proved very popular. The first 30 minutes are free. After that, charges rise incrementally from £1 for one hour up to £50 for the entire 24 hours. There is also a £1-per-day access charge. Fees are payable online, by phone, or at docking stations, by credit or debit cards only—cash is not accepted. To sign up, a user goes to the TfL (Transport for London) website and then receives a bike key in the mail, so this scheme is really meant for locals, not tourists.



National Express is the biggest British long-distance bus operator and the nearest equivalent to Greyhound. It’s not as fast as traveling by train, but it’s comfortable (with washroom facilities on board). Services depart mainly from Victoria Coach station, a well-signposted short walk behind the Victoria mainline train station. The departures point is on the corner of Buckingham Palace Road; this is also the main information point. The arrivals point is opposite, at Elizabeth Bridge. National Express buses travel to all large and midsize cities in southern England and the midlands. Scotland and the north are not as well served. The station is extremely busy around holidays and weekends. Arrive at least 30 minutes before departure so you can find the correct exit gate. Smoking is not permitted on board.

Another bus company, Megabus, has been packing in the budget travelers in recent years, since it offers cross-country fares for as little as £1 per person. The company’s single- and double-decker buses serve an extensive array of cities across Great Britain with a cheerful budget attitude. In London, buses for all destinations depart from the Green Line bus stand at Victoria station. Megabus does not accommodate wheelchairs, and the company strictly limits luggage to one piece per person checked, and one piece of hand luggage.

Green Line serves the counties surrounding London, as well as airports. Bus stops (there’s no central bus station) are on Buckingham Palace Road, between the Victoria train station and Victoria Coach station.

Tickets on some long-distance routes are cheaper if purchased in advance, and traveling midweek costs less than over weekends and at holiday periods.


Private, as opposed to municipal, buses are known as coaches. Although London is famous for its double-decker buses, the old beloved rattletrap Routemasters, with the jump-on/off back platforms, now only serve two “heritage” routes: the No. 9 travels through Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, and Knightsbridge, and the No. 15 travels from Trafalgar Square down Fleet Street and on to St. Paul’s Cathedral. That said, a modernized Routemaster has taken to the streets in recent times, replacing the failed experiment that was the so-called “bendy buses” (long, articulated vehicles that struggled to navigate London’s narrow roads).

Bus stops are clearly indicated; signs at bus stops feature a red TfL symbol on a plain white background. You must flag the bus down at some stops. Each numbered route is listed on the main stop, and buses have a large number on the front with their end destination. Not all buses run the full route at all times; check with the driver to be sure. You can pick up a free bus guide at a TfL Travel Information Centre (at Euston, Liverpool Street, Piccadilly Circus, King’s Cross, and Victoria Tube stations; and at Heathrow Airport).

Buses are a good way of seeing the town, particularly if you plan to hop on and off to cover many sights, but don’t take a bus if you’re in a hurry, as traffic can really slow them down. To get off, press the red “Stop” buttons mounted on poles near the doors. You will usually see a “Bus Stopping” sign light up. Expect to get sardined during rush hour, from 8 am to 9:30 am and 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm.

Night buses, denoted by an “N” before their route numbers, run from midnight to 5 am on a more restricted route than day buses. However, some night-bus routes should be approached with caution and the top deck avoided. All night buses run by request stop, so flag them down if you’re waiting or push the button if you want to alight.

All journeys cost £2.40, and there are no transfers. If you plan to make a number of journeys in one day, consider buying a Travelcard, good for both Tube and bus travel. Also consider getting a prepaid Oyster card, as single journeys are just over a pound using a prepaid card. Travelcards are also available in one-, three-, or seven-day combinations. Visitor Oyster cards cost £5 and can be topped up. They are available from ticket desks at Gatwick and Stansted airports or at any Tube station and are transferable if you have money left over. Traveling without a valid ticket makes you liable for a fine (£40). Buses are supposed to swing by most stops every five or six minutes, but in reality, you can often expect to wait a bit longer, although those in the city center are quite reliable.

In central London, if you don’t have a prepaid Oyster or Travelcard, you must pay before you board the bus. Automated ticket machines are set up at these bus stops, which are clearly marked with a yellow sign “Buy Tickets Before Boarding.” Otherwise, you can buy tickets at most central London Tube stations as well as at newsagents and shops that display the sign “Buy Your Travel Cards & Bus Passes Here.” Outside the central zone, payment may be made to the driver as you board (exact change is best so as to avoid incurring the driver’s wrath).

Bus Information
easyBus. |
Green Line. | 0844/801-7261 |
Megabus. | 0900/160-0900 |
National Express. | 08717/818-178 |
Transport for London. | 0343/222-1234 |
Victoria Coach Station. | 0843/222-1234.


The best advice on driving in London is this: don’t. London’s streets are a winding mass of chaos, made worse by one-way roads. Parking is also restrictive and expensive, and traffic is tediously slow at most times of the day; during rush hours—from 8 am to 9:30 am and 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm—it often grinds to a standstill, particularly on Friday, when everyone wants to leave town. Avoid city-center shopping areas, including the roads feeding Oxford Street, Kensington, and Knightsbridge. Other main roads into the city center are also busy, such as King’s Cross and Euston in the north. Watch out also for cyclists and motorcycle couriers, who weave between cars and pedestrians that seem to come out of nowhere, and you may be fined heavily for straying into a bus lane during its operating hours—check the signs.

If you are staying in London for the duration of your trip, there’s virtually no reason to rent a car since the city and its suburbs are widely covered by public transportation. However, you might want a car for day trips to castles or stately homes out in the countryside. Consider renting your car in a medium-size town in the area where you’ll be traveling, and then journeying there by train and picking up the car once you arrive. Rental rates are generally reasonable, and insurance costs are lower than in comparable U.S. cities. Rates generally begin at £40 a day for a small economy car (such as a subcompact General Motors Vauxhall Corsa, or Renault Clio), usually with manual transmission. Air-conditioning and unlimited mileage generally come with the larger-size automatic cars.

In London your U.S. driver’s license is acceptable (as long as you are over 23 years old, with no driving convictions). If you have a driver’s license from a country other than the United States, it may not be recognized in the United Kingdom. An International Driver’s Permit is a good idea no matter what; it’s available from the American (AAA) or Canadian (CAA) Automobile Association and, in the United Kingdom, from the Automobile Association (AA) or Royal Automobile Club (RAC). International permits are universally recognized, and having one may save you a problem with the local authorities.

Remember that Britain drives on the left, and the rest of Europe on the right. Therefore, you may want to leave your rented car in Britain and pick up a left-side drive if you cross the Channel.

Congestion Charge

Designed to reduce traffic through central London, a congestion charge has been instituted. Vehicles (with some exemptions) entering central London on weekdays from 7 am to 6 pm (excluding public holidays) have to pay a £10 daily fee; it can be paid up to 90 days in advance, on the day of travel, or on the following charging day, when the fee goes up to £12. Day-, month-, and yearlong passes are available on the Congestion Charging page of the Transport for London website, at gas stations, parking lots (car parks), by mail, by phone, and by SMS text message. One day’s payment is good for all access into the charging zone on that day. Traffic signs designate the entrance to congestion areas, and cameras read car license plates and send the information to a database. Drivers who don’t pay the congestion charge by midnight of the next charging day following the day of driving are penalized £130, which is reduced to £65 if paid within 14 days.

Congestion Charge Customer Service. | 0343/222-2222 in U.K., 0044/207/649-9122 outside U.K. |
Transport for London. | 0343/222-1234 |


Gasoline (petrol) is sold in liters and is expensive (at this writing about £1.35 per liter—around $8 per gallon). Unleaded petrol, denoted by green pump lines, is predominant. Premium and Super Premium are the two varieties, and most cars run on regular Premium. Supermarket pumps usually offer the best value. You won’t find many service stations in the center of town; these are generally on main, multilane trunk roads out of the center. Service is self-serve, except in small villages, where gas stations are likely to be closed on Sunday and late evening. Most stations accept major credit cards.


During the day—and probably at all times—it’s safest to believe that you can park nowhere except at a meter, in a pay-and-display bay, or in a garage; otherwise, you run the risk of an expensive ticket, plus possibly even more expensive clamping and towing fees (some boroughs are clamp-free). Restrictions are indicated by the “No Waiting” parking signpost on the sidewalk (these restrictions vary from street to street), and restricted areas include single yellow lines or double yellow lines, and Residents’ Parking bays. Parking at a bus stop is prohibited; parking in bus lanes, restricted. On Red Routes, indicated by red lines, you are not allowed to park or even stop. It’s illegal to park on the sidewalk, across entrances, or on white zigzag lines approaching a pedestrian crossing.

Meters have an insatiable hunger in the inner city—a 20p coin may buy just three minutes—and some will permit only a maximum two-hour stay. Meters take 20p and £1 coins, pay-and-display machines 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, and £2 coins. Some take payment by credit card. In some parts of central London, meters have been almost entirely replaced by pay-and-display machines that require payment by cell phone. You will need to set up an account to do this ( Meter parking is free after 6:30 or 8:30 in the evening, on Sunday, and on holidays. Always check the sign. In the evening, after restrictions end, meter bays are free. After meters are free, you can also park on single yellow lines—but not double yellow lines. In the daytime, take advantage of the many NCP parking lots in the center of town (from about £7 per hour, up to six hours).

NCP. | 0845/050-7080 |

Roadside Emergencies

If your car is stolen, you’re in a car accident, or your car breaks down and there’s nobody around to help you, contact the police by dialing |999.

The general procedure for a breakdown is the following: position the red hazard triangle (which should be in the trunk of the car) a few paces away from the rear of the car. Leave the hazard warning lights on. Along highways (motorways), emergency roadside telephone booths are positioned at intervals within walking distance. Contact the car-rental company or an auto club. The main auto clubs in the United Kingdom are the Automobile Association (AA) and the RAC. If you’re a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA), check your membership details before you depart for Britain, as, under a reciprocal agreement, roadside assistance in the United Kingdom should cost you nothing. You can join and receive roadside assistance from the AA on the spot, but the charge is higher—around £95—than a simple membership fee.

Emergency Services
American Automobile Association. | 800/564-6222 |
Automobile Association. | 0800/085-2721, 161/333-0004 from outside the U.K., 0800/887-766 for emergency roadside assistance from cell phones |
RAC. | 01922/437000 inquiries, 0800/828-282 for emergency roadside assistance, 0333/200-0999 for emergency roadside assistance |

Rules of the Road

London is a mass of narrow, one-way roads, and narrow, two-way streets that are no bigger than the one-way roads. If you must risk life and limb and drive in London, note that the speed limit is either 20 or 30 mph—unless you see the large 40 mph signs found only in the suburbs. Speed bumps are sprinkled about with abandon in case you forget. Speed is strictly controlled and cameras, mounted on occasional lampposts, photograph speeders for ticketing.

Medium-size circular intersections are often designed as “roundabouts” (marked by signs in which three curved arrows form a circle). On these, cars travel left in a circle and incoming cars must yield to those already on their way around from the right. Signal when about to leave the roundabout.

Jaywalking is not illegal in London and everybody does it, despite the fact that striped crossings with blinking yellow lights mounted on poles at either end—called “zebra crossings”—give pedestrians the right-of-way to cross. Cars should treat zebra crossings like stop signs if a pedestrian is waiting to cross or already starting to cross. It’s illegal to pass another vehicle at a zebra crossing. At other crossings (including intersections) pedestrians must yield to traffic, but they do have the right-of-way over traffic turning left at controlled crossings—if they have the nerve.

Traffic lights sometimes have arrows directing left or right turns; try to catch a glimpse of the road markings in time, and don’t get into the turn lane if you mean to go straight ahead. Turning on a red light is not permitted. Signs at the beginning and end of designated bus lanes give the time restrictions for use (usually during peak hours); if you’re caught driving on bus lanes during restricted hours, you will be fined. By law, seat belts must be worn in the front and back seats. Drunk-driving laws are strictly enforced, and it’s safest to avoid alcohol altogether if you’ll be driving. The legal limit is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, which roughly translated means two units of alcohol—two small glasses of wine, one pint of beer, or one glass of whiskey.


For destinations in East London, the quiet, driverless Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a good alternative, offering interesting views of the area.

The DLR connects with the Tube network at Bank and Tower Hill stations as well as at Canary Wharf. It goes to London City Airport, the Docklands financial district, and Greenwich, running 5:30 am-12:30 am Monday-Saturday, 7 am-11:30 pm Sunday. The DLR takes Oyster cards and Travelcards, and fares are the same as those on the Tube. A £17 River Rover ticket (£15.30 if booked online) combines one-day DLR travel with hop-on, hop-off travel on City Cruises riverboats between Westminster, Waterloo, Tower, and Greenwich piers.

Transport for London. | 0343/222-1234 |


One legacy of the 2012 Olympics has been a new push to develop river travel as part of London’s overall public transportation system. The service now stops at 10 piers between London Eye/Waterloo and Greenwich, with peak-time extensions to Putney in the west and Woolwich Arsenal in the east. The Waterloo-Woolwich commuter service runs 6 am-midnight on weekdays, 8:30 am-midnight on weekends (peak time frequency: every 20 minutes). Tickets are £6.50, with a one-third discount for Travelcard holders and a 10% discount for Oyster card holders. When there are events at the O2 (North Greenwich Arena), a half-hourly express service runs to and from Waterloo starting three hours before the event. There is also the special Tate to Tate express, a 20-minute trip between Tate Modern and Tate Britain that costs £6.50. Boats run every 40 minutes from 10 am to 5 pm. A £13.10 per day River Roamer ticket offers unlimited river travel after 9 am.

Thames Clippers. | 020/7001-2222 |


Universally known as “black cabs” (even though many of them now come in other colors), the traditional big black London taxicabs are as much a part of the city’s streetscape as red double-decker buses, and for good reason: the unique, spacious taxis easily hold five people, plus luggage. To earn a taxi license, drivers must undergo intensive training on the history and geography of London. The course, and all that the drivers have learned in it, is known simply as “the Knowledge.” There’s almost nothing your taxi driver won’t know about the city.

Hotels and main tourist areas have cabstands (just take the first in line), but you can also flag one down from the roadside. If the yellow “For Hire” sign on the top is lighted, the taxi is available. Cabdrivers often cruise at night with their signs unlighted so that they can choose their passengers and avoid those they think might cause trouble. If you see an unlighted, passengerless cab, hail it: you might be lucky.

Fares start at £2.40 and charge by the minute—a journey of a mile (which might take between 6 and 13 minutes) will cost anything from £5.60 to £8.80 (the fare goes up between 10 pm and 6 am—a system designed to persuade more taxi drivers to work at night). A surcharge of £2 is applied to a telephone booking. At Christmas and New Year, there is an additional surcharge of £4. You can, but do not have to, tip taxi drivers 10% of the tab. Usually passengers round up to the nearest pound.

Minicabs, which operate out of small, curbside offices throughout the city, are generally cheaper than black cabs, but are less reliable and trustworthy. These are usually unmarked passenger cars, and their drivers are often not native Londoners, and do not have to take or pass “the Knowledge” test. Still, Londoners use them in droves because they are plentiful and cheap. If you choose to use them, do not ever take an unlicensed cab: anyone who curb-crawls looking for customers is likely to be unlicensed. Unlicensed cabs have been associated with many crimes and can be dangerous. All cab companies with proper dispatch offices are likely to be licensed. Look for a small purple version of the Underground logo on the front or rear windscreen with “private hire” written across it.

There are plenty of trustworthy and licensed minicab firms. For London-wide service try Lady Mini Cabs, which employs only women drivers, or Addison Lee, which uses comfortable minivans but requires that you know the full postal code for both your pickup location and your destination. When using a minicab, always ask the price in advance when you phone for the car, then verify with the driver before the journey begins.

Black Cabs
Dial-a-Cab. | 020/7253-5000 cash bookings, 020/7426-3420 credit/debit card bookings |
Radio Taxis. | 020/7272-0272 |

Addison Lee. | 020/7387-8888 |
Lady MiniCabs. | 020/7272-3300 |


The National Rail Enquiries website is the clearinghouse for information on train times and fares as well as to book rail journeys around Britain—and the earlier the better. Tickets bought two to three weeks in advance can cost a quarter of the price of tickets bought on the day of travel. However, journeys within commuting distance of city centers are sold at unvarying set prices, and those can be purchased on the day you expect to make your journey without any financial penalty. You may also be able to purchase a PlusBus ticket, which adds unlimited bus travel at your destination. Note that, in busy city centers such as London, all travel costs more during morning rush hour. You can purchase tickets online, by phone, or at any train station in the United Kingdom. Check the website or call the National Rail Enquiries line to get details of the train company responsible for your journey and have them give you a breakdown of available ticket prices. Regardless of which train company is involved, many discount passes are available, such as the 16-25 Railcard (for which you must be under 26 and provide a passport-size photo), the Senior Railcard, and the Family & Friends Travelcard, which can be bought from most mainline stations. But if you intend to make several long-distance rail journeys, it can be a good idea to invest in a BritRail Pass (which you must buy in the United States).

You can get a BritRail Pass valid for London and the surrounding counties, for England, for Scotland, or for all of Britain. Discounts (usually 20%-25%) are offered if you’re between 16 and 25, over 60, traveling as a family or a group, or accompanied by a British citizen. The pass includes discounts on the Heathrow Express and Eurostar. BritRail Passes come in two basic varieties. The Classic pass allows travel on consecutive days and the FlexiPass allows a number of travel days within a set period of time. The cost (in U.S. dollars) of a BritRail Consecutive Pass adult ticket for eight days is $249 standard and $369 first class; for 15 days, $369 and $549; and for a month, $549 and $825. The cost of a BritRail FlexiPass adult ticket for four days’ travel in two months is $270 standard and $338 first class; for eight days’ travel in two months, $438 and $650; and for 16 days’ travel in two months, $630 and $938. Prices drop by about 25% for off-peak travel passes between November and February.

Most long-distance trains have refreshment carriages, called buffet cars. Most trains these days also have “quiet cars” where use of cell phones and music devices is banned. Smoking is forbidden in all railcars.

Generally speaking, rail travel in the United Kingdom is expensive and the ticketing system unnecessarily convoluted: for instance, a round-trip ticket to Bath from London can cost more than £150 per person at peak times but for an off-peak ticket purchased far enough in advance, that fee can drop to £20 or even less. It’s best to avoid the frantic business commuter rush (before 9:30 am and after 4:30 pm). Credit cards are accepted for train fares paid both in person, by phone and online.

Delays are not uncommon, but they’re rarely long. You almost always have to go to the station to find out if there’s going to be one (because delays tend to happen at the last minute). Luckily, most stations have coffee shops, restaurants, and pubs where you can cool your heels while you wait for the train to get rolling. National Rail Enquiries provides an up-to-date state-of-the-railroads schedule.

Most of the time, first-class train travel in England isn’t particularly first-class. Some train companies don’t offer at-seat service, so you still have to get up and go to the buffet car for food or drinks. First class is generally booked by business travelers on expense accounts because crying babies and noisy families are quite rare in first class and quite common in standard class.

Short of flying, taking the Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel is the fastest way to reach the continent: 2 hours and 15 minutes from London’s St. Pancras International station to Paris’s Gare du Nord. The high-speed Eurostar trains use the same tunnels to connect St. Pancras International directly with Midi station in Brussels in around two hours. If purchased in advance, round-trip tickets from London to Belgium or France cost from as little as £69, especially if you travel in the very early or very late hours of the day. If you want to bring your car over to France (if it’s a rental, ask the rental company if this is permitted), you can use the Eurotunnel Shuttle, which takes 35 minutes from Folkestone to Calais, plus at least 30 minutes to check in. The Belgian border is just a short drive northeast of Calais.

BritRail Travel. | 866/938-7245 in U.S. and Canada |
Eurostar. | 08432/186186, 1233/617575 outside U.K. |
National Rail Enquiries. | 0845/748-4950, 020/7278-5240 outside U.K. |

Channel Tunnel Car Transport
Eurotunnel. | 0844/335-3535 in U.K., +33/3-21-00-20-61 from outside Europe |

London Underground

Previous Map | Next Map | London Maps


London’s extensive Underground train (Tube) system has color-coded routes, clear signage, and many connections. Trains run out into the suburbs, and all stations are marked with the London Underground circular symbol. (Do not be confused by similar-looking signs reading “subway”—in Britain, the word subway means “pedestrian underpass.”) Trains are all one class; smoking is not allowed on board or in the stations. There is also an Overground network serving the farther reaches of Inner London. These now accept Oyster cards.

Some lines have multiple branches (Central, District, Northern, Metropolitan, and Piccadilly), so be sure to note which branch is needed for your particular destination. Do this by noting the end destination on the lighted sign on the platform, which also tells you how long you’ll have to wait until the train arrives. Compare that with the end destination of the branch you want. When the two match, that’s your train.

London is divided into six concentric zones (ask at Underground ticket booths for a map and booklet, which give details of the ticket options), so be sure to buy a ticket for the correct zone or you may be liable for an on-the-spot fine of £40. Don’t panic if you do forget to buy a ticket for the right zone: just tell a station attendant that you need to buy an “extension” to your ticket. Although you’re meant to do that in advance, generally if you’re an out-of-towner, they don’t give you a hard time.

For one-way fares paid in cash, a flat £4.70 price per journey now applies across all central zones (1-3), whether you’re traveling 1 stop or 12 stops. If you’re planning several trips in one day, it’s much cheaper to buy a tourist Oyster card or even a Travelcard, which is good for unrestricted travel on the Tube, buses, and some Overground railroads for the day. The off-peak Oyster-card fare for Zones 1-2, for example, is £2.20. Bear in mind there is no longer an Off-Peak one-day Travelcard. A one-day Travelcard for Zones 1-2 now costs £9.20 and you can travel at anytime. The more zones included in your travel, the more the Travelcard will cost. For example, Kew is Zone 4, and Heathrow is Zone 6. If you’re going to be in town for several days, buy a seven-day Travelcard (£31.60 for Zones 1-2, £58 for Zones 1-6). Children 11-15 can travel at discounted rates on the Tube and free on buses and trams with an Oyster photocard (order at least four weeks before date of travel), while children under 11 travel free on the Tube if accompanied by an adult or with an Oyster photocard and on buses at all times. Young people 16-18 and students over 18 get discounted Tube fares with an Oyster photocard.

Oyster cards are “smart cards” that can be charged with a cash value and then used for discounted travel throughout the city. Each time you take the Tube or bus, you place the blue card on the yellow readers at the entrance and the amount of your fare is deducted. Passengers using Oyster cards pay lower rates. Oyster-card Tube fares start at £1.60 and go up depending on the number of zones you’re covering, time of day, and whether you’re traveling into Zone 1. You can open an Oyster account online or pick up an Oyster card at any London Underground station, and then prepay any amount you wish for your expected travel while in the city. Using an Oyster card, bus fares are £1.45 instead of £2.40. If you make numerous journeys in a single day, your Oyster-card deductions will always be capped at the standard price of a one-day Travelcard.

However, although Oyster cards sound like the way of the future, they will soon be a thing of the past. From late 2014, Oyster cards will begin to be gradually phased out and passengers encouraged to move to a system of direct payments using their bank debit cards. In practice, this will mean swiping your “contactless” debit card instead of your Oyster card at ticket barriers.

From fall 2015, Tube trains will run for 24 hours a day on weekends on five major lines: Piccadilly, Victoria, Northern, Central, and Jubilee. If successful, this pilot scheme will be expanded to other lines. Until then, the usual timetable will apply on all lines, with trains running from just after 5 am Monday-Saturday, and with the last services leaving central London between midnight and 12:30 am. On Sunday, trains start two hours later and finish about an hour earlier. The frequency of trains depends on the route and the time of day, but normally you should not have to wait more than 10 minutes in central areas.

There are TfL Travel Information Centres at the following Tube stations: Euston, Liverpool Street, Piccadilly Circus, King’s Cross, and Victoria, open 7:15 am-9:15 pm; and at Heathrow Airport (in Terminals 1, 2, and 3), open 6:30 am-10 pm.

Important note: as with the Metro system in Paris—and unlike the subway system in New York City—you need to have your ticket (Oyster-card pass or regular ticket) handy in order to exit the turnstiles of the Tube system, not just to enter them.

Transport for London. | 0343/222-1234 |

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Previous Chapter | Table of Contents

Business Services and Facilities | Communications | Customs and Duties | Electricity | Emergencies | Holidays | Mail | Money | Packing | Passports and Visas | Safety | Taxes | Time | Tipping | Tours | Visitor Information


There are several The Color Company outlets (formerly known as FedEx Kinko’s) and Mail Boxes Etc. locations in London to handle your photocopying, next-day mail, and packaging needs. Check their websites for more locations.

The Color Company (FedEx Kinko’s). | 1 Curzon St., Mayfair | 0800/939-493 |
Mail Boxes Etc. | 19-21 Crawford St., Marylebone | 020/7224-2666 |



If you’re traveling with a laptop, carry a spare battery and adapter: new batteries and replacement adapters are expensive. If you do need to replace them, head to Tottenham Court Road (W1), which is lined with computer specialists. For Macintosh computers, Micro Anvika is a good chain for parts and batteries, and the Apple Stores on Regent Street off Oxford Street and in the Covent Garden Piazza do repairs. John Lewis department store and Selfridges, on Oxford Street (W1), also carry a limited range of computer supplies.

The United Kingdom is finally catching up to the United States in terms of the spread of high-speed and Wi-Fi. In London, free Wi-Fi is increasingly available in hotels, pubs, coffee shops—even certain branches of McDonald’s—and broadband coverage is widespread; generally speaking, the pricier the hotel, the more likely you are to find Wi-Fi there.

Cybercafes. More than 4,000 Internet cafés worldwide are listed. |
My Hot Spots. |


The good news is that you can now make a direct-dial telephone call from virtually any point on Earth. The bad news? You can’t always do so cheaply. Calling from a hotel is almost always the most expensive option; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones. Calling cards usually keep costs to a minimum, but only if you purchase them locally. And then there are cell phones, which are sometimes more prevalent—particularly in the developing world—than landlines; as expensive as cell phone calls can be, they are still usually a much cheaper option than calling from your hotel.

The minimum charge from a public phone is 60p for a 120-second call. To make cheap calls it’s a good idea to pick up an international phone card, available from newsstands, which can be used from residential, hotel, and public pay phones. With these, you can call the United States for as little as 5p per minute.

To dial from the United States or Canada, first dial 011, then Great Britain’s country code, 44. Continue with the local area code, dropping the initial “0.” The code for London is 020 (so from abroad you’d dial 20), followed by a 7 for numbers in central London, or an 8 for numbers in the Greater London area. Freephone (toll-free) numbers start with 0800, 0500, or 0808; low-cost national information numbers start with 0845 or 0844.

A word of warning: 0870 numbers are not toll-free numbers; in fact, numbers beginning with this, 0871, or the 0900 prefix are “premium rate” numbers, and it costs extra to call them. The amount varies and is usually relatively small when dialed from within the country but can be excessive when dialed from outside the United Kingdom.

Calling Within Britain

There are three types of phones: those that accept (1) only coins, (2) only British Telecom (BT) phone cards, or (3) BT phone cards and credit cards, although with the advent of cells, it’s increasingly difficult to find any type of public phone, especially in London.

The coin-operated phones are of the push-button variety; the workings of coin-operated telephones vary, but there are usually instructions on each unit. Most take 10p, 20p, 50p, and £1 coins. Insert the coins before dialing (the minimum charge is 10p). If you hear a repeated single tone after dialing, the line is busy; a continual tone means the number is unobtainable (or that you have dialed the wrong—or no—prefix). The indicator panel shows you how much money is left; add more whenever you like. If there is no answer, replace the receiver and your money will be returned.

There are several different directory-assistance providers. For information anywhere in Britain, try dialing 118-888 (49p per call, then 9p per minute) or 118-118 (49p per call, then 14p per minute); you’ll need to know the town and the street (or at least the neighborhood) of the person or organization for which you’re requesting information. For the operator, dial 100.

You don’t have to dial London’s central area code (020) if you are calling inside London itself—just the eight-digit telephone number. However, you do need to use it if you’re dialing a 0207 (Inner London) number from a 0208 (Outer London) number, and vice versa.

For long-distance calls within Britain, dial the area code (which begins with 01), followed by the number. The area-code prefix is used only when you are dialing from outside the destination. In provincial areas, the dialing codes for nearby towns are often posted in the booth.

Calling Outside Britain

For assistance with international calls, dial 155.

To make an international call from London, dial 00, followed by the country code and the local number.

When calling from overseas to access a London telephone number, drop the first 0 from the prefix and dial only 20 (or any other British area code) and then the eight-digit phone number.

The United States country code is 1.

Access Codes
AT&T Direct. | 0800/890-011 in U.K., 0500/890-011 in U.K.
MCI. | 0800/279-5088 in U.K., 800/888-8000 for U.S. and other areas.
Sprint International Access. | 0808/234-6616 in U.K.

Calling Cards

Public card phones operate either with cash or with special cards that you can buy from post offices or newsstands. Ideal for longer calls, they are composed of units of 10p, and come in values of £5, £10, and more. To use a card phone, lift the receiver, insert your card, and dial the number. An indicator panel shows the number of units used. At the end of your call, the card will be returned. Where credit cards are taken, slide the card through, as indicated.

Cell Phones

If you have a multiband phone (Britain uses different frequencies from those used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, however: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable. And overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It’s almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, since text messages have a very low set fee (often less than 5¢).

If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in London. You’ll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. If your trip is extensive, you could also simply buy a new cell phone in your destination, as the initial cost will be offset over time.

TIP If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old cell phones or buy a cheap one online; ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.

Any cell phone can be used in Britain if it’s tri-band/GSM. Travelers should ask their cell phone company if their phone is tri-band and what network it uses, and make sure it is activated for international calling before leaving their home country.

You can rent a cell phone from most car-rental agencies in London. Some upscale hotels now provide loaner cell phones to their guests. Beware, however, of the per-minute rates charged, as these can be shockingly high.

Cellular Abroad. This company rents and sells GMS phones and sells SIM cards that work in many countries. | 800/287-5072 in U.S., 310/862-7100 international, 800/3623-3333 in U.K. |
Mobal. Cell phone rentals and GSM phone purchases (starting at $49) that will operate in 150 countries are available here. Per-call rates vary throughout the world. | 888/888-9162 in U.S., 01543/426999 in U.K. |
Planet Fone. Here, you can rent cell phones, but the per-minute rates are expensive. | 888/988-4777 |
Rent a Mobile Phone. Phones with short contracts can be rented. | 020/7353-7705 |


You’re always allowed to bring goods of a certain value back home without having to pay any duty or import tax. But there’s a limit on the amount of tobacco and liquor you can bring back duty-free, and some countries have separate limits for perfumes; for exact figures, check with your customs department. The values of so-called “duty-free” goods are included in these amounts. When you shop abroad, save all your receipts, as customs inspectors may ask to see them as well as the items you purchased. If the total value of your goods is more than the duty-free limit, you’ll have to pay a tax (most often a flat percentage) on the value of everything beyond that limit.

There are two levels of duty-free allowance for entering Britain: one for goods bought outside the European Union (EU) and the other for goods bought within the EU.

Of goods bought outside the EU you may import the following duty-free: 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco; 4 liters of still wine and 16 liters of beer and, in addition, either 1 liter of alcohol over 22% by volume (most spirits), or 2 liters of alcohol under 22% by volume (fortified or sparkling wine or liqueurs).

Of goods bought within the EU, you should not exceed the following (unless you can prove they are for personal use): 800 cigarettes, 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars, or 1 kilo of tobacco, plus 10 liters of spirits, 20 liters of fortified wine such as port or sherry, 90 liters of wine, or 110 liters of beer.

Pets (dogs and cats) can be brought into the United Kingdom from the United States without six months’ quarantine, provided that the animal meets all the PETS (Pet Travel Scheme) requirements, including microchipping and vaccination. Other pets have to undergo a lengthy quarantine, and penalties for breaking this law are severe and strictly enforced.

Fresh meats, vegetables, plants, and dairy products may be imported from within the EU. Controlled drugs, flick knives, obscene material, counterfeit or pirated goods, and self-defense sprays may not be brought into the United Kingdom; firearms (both real and imitation) and ammunition, as well as souvenirs made from endangered plants or animals, are barred except with relevant permits.

HM Revenue and Customs. | Crownhill Court, Tailyour Rd., | Plymouth | 0300/200-3700 |
U.S. Customs and Border Protection. |


The electrical current in London is 220-240 volts (coming into line with the rest of Europe at 230 volts), 50 cycles alternating current (AC); wall outlets take three-pin plugs, and shaver sockets take two round, oversize prongs. For converters, adapters, and advice, stop in one of the many STA Travel shops around London or at Nomad Travel.

Consider making a small investment in a universal adapter, which has several types of plugs in one lightweight, compact unit. Most laptops and cell phone chargers are dual voltage (i.e., they operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts), and thus require only an adapter. These days the same is true of small appliances such as hair dryers. Always check labels and manufacturer instructions to be sure. Don’t use 110-volt outlets marked “For Shavers Only” for high-wattage appliances such as hair dryers.

Nomad Travel. | 43 Bernard St., Bloomsbury | 020/7833-4114 |
STA Travel. | 0333/321-0099 |
Steve Kropla’s Help for World Travelers. Information is available here on electrical and telephone plugs around the world. |
Walkabout Travel Gear. Offers some helpful advice on electricity; search for “Adapters.” |


London is a relatively safe city, though crime does happen (even more so than in New York City), especially in areas of built-up public project housing or tourist meccas. If you need to report a theft or an attack, head to the nearest police station (listed in the Yellow Pages or the local directory) or dial 999 for police, fire, or ambulance (be prepared to give the telephone number you’re calling from). National Health Service hospitals give free round-the-clock treatment in Accident and Emergency sections, where waits can be up to four hours, depending on the severity of your ailment or injury. As a non-EU foreign visitor, you will be expected to pay for any treatment you receive before you leave the country. Prescriptions are valid only if made out by doctors registered in the United Kingdom. All branches of Boots are dispensing pharmacies.

Doctors and Dentists
Dental Emergency Care Service. | 020/8748-9365 |
Medical Express Clinic. | 117A Harley St., Marylebone | 020/7499-1991, 0800/980-0700 |
UCL Eastman Dental Hospital. | 256 Gray’s Inn Rd., King’s Cross | 020/3456-7899 |

Foreign Embassies
U.S. Embassy. | 24 Grosvenor Sq., Mayfair | 020/7499-9000 | |

General Emergency Contacts
Ambulance, fire, police. | 999 U.K. only, 112 pan-European.

Hospitals and Clinics
Charing Cross Hospital. | Fulham Palace Rd., Fulham | 020/3311-1234 |
Royal Free Hospital. | Pond St., Hampstead | 020/7794-0500 |
St. Thomas’s Hospital. | Westminster Bridge Rd., Lambeth | 020/7188-7188 |
University College Hospital. | 235 Euston Rd., Bloomsbury | 0845/155-5000, 020/3456-7890 |

Samaritans. Counseling service. | 020/7734-2800 |

Boots. | 44-46 Regent St., Piccadilly Circus | 0845/070-8090 |


Standard holidays are New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, May Day (first Monday in May), spring and summer bank holidays (last Monday in May and August, respectively), Christmas, and Boxing Day (December 26). On Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, some shops, restaurants, and businesses close early. Some museums and tourist attractions may close for at least a week around Christmas, or operate on restricted hours—call to verify.


Stamps can be bought from post offices (generally open weekdays 9-5:30, Saturday 9-noon), from stamp machines outside post offices, and from some newsagents and newsstands. Mailboxes are known as post or letter boxes and are painted bright red; large tubular ones are set on the edge of sidewalks, whereas smaller boxes are set into post-office walls. Allow seven days for a letter to reach the United States. Check the Yellow Pages for a complete list of branches, though you cannot reach individual offices by phone.

Airmail letters up to 10 grams (0.35 ounce) to North America, Australia, and New Zealand cost 88p. Letters under 9.4 inches by 6.4 inches within Britain are from 60p for first class, 50p for second class. Large letters (over 9.4 inches by 6.4 inches, under 13.8 inches by 9.8 inches) cost from 90p first class, 69p second class within the United Kingdom, depending on weight. Airmail is assessed by weight alone.

If you’re uncertain where you’ll be staying, you can have mail sent to you at the London Main Post Office, c/o poste restante. The post office will hold international mail for one month.

Post Office. | 0845/611-2970 |

Main Branches
London Main Post Office. | 24-28 William IV St., Charing Cross | | 43-44 Albemarle St., Mayfair | 111 Baker St., Marylebone | 54-56 Great Portland St., Fitzrovia | 181 High Holborn, Holborn.

London Postal Districts

Previous Map | London Maps


Most department stores and retail outlets can ship your goods home. You should check your insurance for coverage of possible damage. Private delivery companies such as DHL, FedEx, and Parcelforce offer two-day delivery service to the United States, but you’ll pay a considerable amount for the privilege.

Express Services
DHL. | 0844/248-0844 |
FedEx. | 0845/607-0809 |
Parcelforce. | 0844/800-4466 |


No doubt about it, London is one of the most expensive cities in the world: getting around is expensive, eating can be pricey, travel costs are steep, and hotels aren’t cheap. However, for every yin there’s a yang, and travelers do get a break in other places: most museums are free, for example, and Oyster cards help cut the price of travel.


Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you’ll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.

TIP PIN numbers with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in many countries. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.

Credit cards or debit cards (also known as check cards) will get you cash advances at ATMs, which are widely available in London. To make sure that your Cirrus or Plus card (to cite just two of the leading names) works in European ATMs, have your bank reset it to use a four-digit PIN number before your departure.


TIP Remember to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you’re prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost, but you’re better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank’s number is usually printed on your card.

If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you’ll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it’s usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there’s a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they’re in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won’t be any surprises when you get the bill.

TIP Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor(shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in dollars. In most cases you’ll pay the merchant a 3% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.

Dynamic currency conversion programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don’t always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. And if this practice really gets your goat, you can avoid it entirely thanks to American Express; with its cards, DCC simply isn’t an option.

Credit cards are accepted virtually everywhere in London.

Reporting Lost Cards
American Express. | 800/528-4800 in U.S., 01273/696933 in U.K. |
Diners Club. | 800/234-6377 in U.S., 514/877-1577 collect from abroad |
MasterCard. | 800/627-8372 in U.S., 0800/964-767 in U.K. |
Visa. | 800/847-2911 in U.S., 020/7795-5777 in U.K. |


The units of currency in Great Britain are the pound sterling (£) and pence (p): £50, £20, £10, and £5 bills (called notes); £2, £1 (100p), 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p, and 1p coins. At this writing, the exchange rate was about Australian $1.55, Canadian $1.61, New Zealand $1.94, U.S. $1.63, and €1.23 to the pound (also known as quid).

Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there’s some kind of huge, hidden fee. (Oh … that’s right. The sign didn’t say no fee.) And as for rates, you’re almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank or post office.

TIP Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you’re planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don’t wait until the last minute.


London’s weather is unpredictable. It can be cool, damp, and overcast, even in summer, but the odd summer day can be uncomfortably hot, as not many public venues, theaters, or the Tube are air-conditioned. In general, you’ll need a heavy coat for winter and light clothes for summer, along with a lightweight coat or jacket. Always pack a small umbrella that you can easily carry around with you. Pack as you would for any American city: jackets and ties for expensive restaurants and nightspots, casual clothes elsewhere. Jeans are popular in London and are perfectly acceptable for sightseeing and informal dining. Sports jackets are popular with men. In five-star hotels men can expect to be asked to wear a jacket and tie in the restaurant and bar, and women might feel out of place unless they’re in smart clothes. Otherwise, for women, ordinary dress is acceptable just about everywhere.


U.S. citizens need only a valid passport to enter Great Britain for stays of up to six months. If you’re within six months of your passport’s expiration date, renew it before you leave—nearly extinct passports are not strictly banned, but they make immigration officials anxious, and may cause you problems.


It’s always surprising how few Americans have passports—only 35% at this writing. This number is expected to grow now that it is impossible to reenter the United States from trips to neighboring Canada or Mexico without one. Remember this: a passport verifies both your identity and nationality—a great reason to have one.

U.S. passports are valid for 10 years. You must apply in person if you’re getting a passport for the first time; if your previous passport was lost, stolen, or damaged; or if your previous passport has expired and was issued more than 15 years ago or when you were under 16. All children under 18 must appear in person to apply for or renew a passport. Both parents must accompany any child under 14 (or send a notarized statement with their permission) and provide proof of their relationship to the child.

There are 24 regional passport offices, as well as 7,000 passport acceptance facilities in post offices, public libraries, and other governmental offices. If you’re renewing a passport, you can do so by mail. Forms are available at passport acceptance facilities and online.

The cost to apply for a new passport is $140 for adults, $95 for children under 16; renewals are $140. There is an additional “execution fee” of $25. Allow six weeks for processing, both for first-time passports and renewals. For an expediting fee of $60 you can reduce this time to about two weeks. If your trip is less than two weeks away, you can get a passport even more rapidly by going to a passport office with the necessary documentation. Private expediters can get things done in as little as 48 hours, but charge hefty fees for their services.

TIP Before your trip, make two copies of your passport’s data page (one for someone at home and another for you to carry separately). Or scan the page and email it to someone at home and/or yourself.


A visa is essentially formal permission to enter a country. Visas allow countries to keep track of you and other visitors—and generate revenue (from application fees). You always need a visa to enter a foreign country; however, many countries routinely issue tourist visas on arrival, particularly to U.S. citizens. When your passport is stamped or scanned in the immigration line, you’re actually being issued a visa. Sometimes you have to stand in a separate line and pay a small fee to get your stamp before going through immigration, but you can still do this at the airport on arrival. Getting a visa isn’t always that easy. Some countries require that you arrange for one in advance of your trip. There’s usually—but not always—a fee involved, and said fee may be nominal ($10 or less) or substantial ($100 or more).

If you must apply for a visa in advance, you can usually do it in person or by mail. When you apply by mail, you send your passport to a designated consulate, where your passport will be examined and the visa issued. Expediters—usually the same ones who handle expedited passport applications—can do all the work of obtaining your visa for you; however, there’s always an additional cost (often more than $50 per visa).

Most visas limit you to a single trip—basically during the actual dates of your planned vacation. Other visas allow you to visit as many times as you wish for a specific period of time. Remember that requirements change, sometimes at the drop of a hat, and the burden is on you to make sure that you have the appropriate visas. Otherwise, you’ll be turned away at the airport or, worse, deported after you arrive in the country. No company or travel insurer gives refunds if your travel plans are disrupted because you didn’t have the correct visa.

U.S. Passport Information
U.S. Department of State. | 877/487-2778 |

U.S. Passport and Visa Expediters
A. Briggs Passport & Visa Expeditors. | 800/806-0581, 202/388-0111 |
American Passport Express. | 800/455-5166 |
Passport Express. | 800/362-8196 |
Travel Document Systems. | 800/874-5100, 202/638-3800 |
Travel the World Visas. | 866/886-8472 |


The rules for safety in London are the same as in New York City or any big metropolis. If you’re carrying a considerable amount of cash and do not have a safe in your hotel room, it’s a good idea to keep it in something like a money belt, but don’t get cash out of it in public. Keep a small amount of cash for immediate purchases in your pocket or handbag.

Beyond that, use common sense. In central London, nobody will raise an eyebrow at tourists studying maps on street corners, and don’t hesitate to ask for directions. However, outside of the center, exercise general caution about the neighborhoods you walk in: if they don’t look safe, take a cab. After midnight, outside of the center, take cabs rather than wait for a night bus. Although London has plenty of so-called “minicabs”—normal cars driven by self-employed drivers in a cab service—don’t ever get into an unmarked car that pulls up offering you “cab service.” Take a licensed minicab only from a cab office, or, preferably, a normal London “black cab,” which you flag down on the street. Unlicensed minicab drivers have been associated with a slate of violent crimes in recent years.

If you carry a purse, keep a firm grip on it (or even disguise it in a local shopping bag). Store only enough money in the purse to cover casual spending. Distribute the rest of your cash and any valuables among deep front pockets, inside jacket or vest pockets, and a concealed money pouch. Some pubs and bars have “Chelsea clips” under the tables where you can hang your handbag at your knee. Never leave your bag beside your chair or hanging from the back of your chair. Be careful with backpacks, as pickpockets can unzip them on the Tube, or even as you’re traveling up an escalator.

U.S. Department of State. |


Departure taxes are divided into four bands, depending on destination. The Band A tax on a per-person Economy fare is £13, Band B is £69, Band C is £85, and Band D is £97. The fee is subject to government tax increases.

The British sales tax (V.A.T., value-added tax) is 20%. The tax is almost always included in quoted prices in shops, hotels, and restaurants.

Most travelers can get a V.A.T. refund by either the Retail Export or the more cumbersome Direct Export method. Many, but not all, large stores provide these services, but only if you request them; they will handle the paperwork. For the Retail Export method, you must ask the store for Form VAT 407 when making a purchase (you must have identification—passports are best). Some retailers will refund the amount on the spot, but others will use a refund company or the refund booth at the point when you leave the country. For the latter, have the form stamped like any customs form by U.K. customs officials when you leave the country, or, if you’re visiting several European Union countries, when you leave the EU. After you’re through passport control, take the form to a refund-service counter for an on-the-spot refund (which is usually the quickest and easiest option), or mail it to the address on the form (or the envelope with it) after you arrive home. You receive the total refund stated on the form (the retailer or refund company may deduct a handling fee), but the processing time can be long, especially if you request a credit-card adjustment. This may be preferable to a check, however, as U.S. banks will charge a fee for depositing a check in a foreign currency.

With the Direct Export method, the goods are shipped directly to your home. You must have a Form VAT 407 certified by customs, the police, or a notary public when you get home and then send it back to the store, which will refund your money. For inquiries, contact Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise office.

Global Refund is a worldwide service with 240,000 affiliated stores and more than 200 Refund Offices. Its refund form, called a Tax Free Check, is the most common across the European continent. The service issues refunds in the form of cash, check, or credit-card adjustment. Again, the cost of cashing a foreign currency check may exceed the amount of the refund.

V.A.T. Refunds
Global Refund. | 866/706-6090 in U.S., 800/32-111-111 in U.K., 800/32-222-555 in U.K. |
Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs. | 0300/200-3700 within U.K., 292/050-1261 from outside U.K. |


London is five hours ahead of New York City. In other words, when it’s 3 pm in New York (or noon in Los Angeles), it’s 8 pm in London. Note that Great Britain and most European countries also move their clocks ahead for the one-hour differential when daylight saving time goes into effect (although they make the changeover several weeks after the United States).

Time Zones This site can help you figure out the correct time anywhere in the world. |


Tipping is done in Britain just as in the United States, but at a lower level. So, although it might make you uncomfortable, tipping less than you would back home in restaurants—and not tipping at all in pubs—is not only accepted, but standard. Tipping more can look like you’re showing off. Do not tip movie or theater ushers, elevator operators, or bar staff in pubs—although you can always offer to buy the latter a drink.



Whether you join the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme or just, per usual, get one from a rental shop, remember that London is still a busy metropolis: unless you’re familiar with riding in London traffic, the best way to see it on two wheels is probably to contact one of the excellent cycle-tour companies.

Tour Operators
Barclays Cycle Hire. | 0343/222-6666 within U.K., 208/216-6666 from outside U.K. |
Cycle Tours of London. | 07788/994430 |
Fat Tire Bike Tours. | 07882/338779 |
London Bicycle Tour Company. | 020/3318-3088 |


Year-round, but more frequently from April to October, boats cruise the Thames, offering a different view of the London skyline. Most leave from Westminster Pier, Charing Cross Pier, and Tower Pier. Downstream routes go to the Tower of London, Greenwich, and the Thames Barrier via Canary Wharf. Upstream destinations include Kew, Richmond, and Hampton Court (mainly in summer). Most of the launches seat between 100 and 250 passengers, have a public-address system, and provide a running commentary on passing points of interest. Some include musical entertainment. Depending upon the destination, river trips may last from one to four hours.

Details on all other operators are available as a PDF from Transport for London’s River Services page

River Cruise Operators
Bateaux London. | 020/7695-1800 |
London Duck Tours. | 020/7928-3132 |
Thames Cruises. | 020/7928-9009 |
Thames River Boats. | 020/7930-2062 |
Thames River Services. | 020/7930-4097 |


Guided sightseeing tours from the top of double-decker buses, which are open-top in summer, are a good introduction to the city, as they cover all the main central sights. A number of companies run daily bus tours that depart (usually between 8:30 and 9 am) from central points. In hop-on, hop-off fashion, you may board or alight at any of the numerous stops to view the sights, and reboard on the next bus. Most companies offer this hop-on, hop-off feature but others, such as Best Value, remain guided tours in traditional coach buses. Tickets can be bought from the driver and are good all day. Prices vary according to the type of tour, although £25 is the benchmark. For that more personal touch, try out a tour in a guided taxi. Other guided bus tours, like those offered by Golden, are not open-top or hop-on, hop-off, but enclosed (and more expensive) coach bus versions.

Bus Tour Operators
Best Value Tours. | 0870/803-1316 |
Big Bus Tours. | 020/7808-6753 |
Black Taxi Tour of London. | 020/7935-9363 |
Golden Tours. | 020/7630-2028 in U.K., 800/509-2507 in U.S. |
Original London Sightseeing Tour. | 020/8877-1722 |
Premium Tours. | 020/7713-1311, 800/815-4003 from the U.S. |


The tranquil side of London can be found on narrow boats that cruise the city’s two canals, the Grand Union and Regent’s Canal; most vessels operate on the latter, which runs between Little Venice in the west (nearest Tube: Warwick Avenue on the Bakerloo line) and Camden Lock (about 200 yards north of Camden Town Tube station). Fares start at about £9 for 1½-hour round-trip cruises.

Canal Tour Operators
Canal Cruises. | 020/8440-8962 |
Jason’s Trip. |
London Waterbus Company. | 020/7482-2550 |


Evan Evans, Green Line, and National Express all offer day excursions by bus to places within easy reach of London, such as Hampton Court, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Bath.

Tour Operators
Evan Evans. | 020/7950-1777, 800/422-9022 in U.S. |
Green Line. | 0844/801-7261 |
National Express. | 0871/781-8178 |


One of the best ways to get to know London is on foot, and there are many guided and themed walking tours from which to choose. Richard Jones’s London Walking Tours includes the Jack the Ripper Walk, following in the footsteps of the titular killer, as does the Blood and Tears Walk. Other tours include Secret London, the West End with Dickens, and Hampstead—A Country Village. Context London’s expert docents lead small groups on walks with art, architecture, and similar themes. The London Walks Company hosts more than 100 walks every week on a variety of themes, including a Thames pub walk, Literary Bloomsbury, and Spies and Spycatchers. For more options, pick up a copy of Time Out magazine and check the weekly listings for upcoming one-off tours.

Walking Tour Operators
Blood and Tears Walk. | 07905/746733 |
Blue Badge. | 020/7403-1115 |
Context London. | 020/3514-1780, 800/691-6036 in U.S. |
London Walks. | 020/7624-3978 |
Richard Jones’s London Walking Tours. | 020/8530-8443 |
Shakespeare City Walk. | 07905/746733 |


When you arrive in London, you can get good information at the Travel Information Centre near the Eurostar arrivals area at St. Pancras International train station and at Victoria and Liverpool Street stations. These are helpful if you’re looking for brochures for London sights, or if something’s gone horribly wrong with your hotel reservation—if, for example, you don’t have one—as they have a useful reservations service. The Victoria station center, opposite Platform 8, is open Monday-Saturday 7:15 am-9:15 pm, Sunday 8:15 am-7 pm; the St. Pancras center Monday-Saturday 7:15 am-9:15 pm, Sunday 8:15 am-8:15 pm; while Liverpool Street and Euston station centers open Saturday-Thursday 8:15 am-7:15 pm, Friday 8:15 am-8:15 pm. The one at Piccadilly Circus Tube station is open daily 9:15 am-7 pm. The Travel Information Centre at Heathrow is open Monday-Saturday 7:15 am-8 pm and Sunday 8:15 am-8 pm. There are also London Tourist Information Centres in Greenwich and some other Outer London locations.

Official websites |,

Other websites |; the Evening Standard online,; and the BBC,

Entertainment Information |,

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