- Cityscape Pretty, gritty and green
- City life Cultural kaleidoscope
England's capital has got it all. And she flaunts it.
From the revived East End to the swish haunts of Notting Hill, London accessorises its heritage beauty with couldn’t-give-a-damn street cred. This feisty lady is effortlessly cool: glorious parks and historic squares, monuments galore, museums piled with colonial swag, galleries where art soothes or surprises, and stages attracting theatre’s hottest talent. A multi-ethnic English eccentric, the British capital lets you eat and shop your way around the globe, sending you home sated and satisfied. The Routemaster buses, King’s Road punks and Carnaby Street swingers may be long gone, but this shoppers’ Valhalla has reinvented itself as a modern metropolis. And, while architectural icons the Gherkin, the London Eye and Wembley Stadium provide a skyline for the new renaissance.
Do go/Don’t go
London empties out in August, but tourist sites still get crowded. Spring and summer can be lovely, even if the weather is reliably unreliable.
Planes London has several international airports: Heathrow to the west is on the Piccadilly Line or 15 minutes from Paddington on the Heathrow Express train (£22 each way if purchased online, or £27 each way when purchased on board; return tickets are also available). Gatwick to the south is 30 minutes from Victoria via the Gatwick Express (from £19.90 each way; return tickets from £31.10). Stansted and Luton to the east are where most of the budget carriers land. There are trains to Liverpool Street four times an hour (£31 for a return ticket) from Stansted and a regular rail service to King’s Cross from Luton. City Airport in Docklands is dominated by European business flights and is on the DLR line.
Boats There are commuter and leisure boats all along the river: the main service runs from Putney with regular stop-offs all the way to Greenwich Pier. See www.tfl.gov.uk/river for timetables and routes.
Trains International trains arrive at St Pancras (www.stpancras.com), which has good links via the Underground. The Tube network will be your saviour, taking you anywhere you need to go (www.tfl.gov.uk/tube); your best bet is to use your chip-and-pin card to touch in and out, or to buy an Oyster card from any station for reduced-price journeys (valid on buses too) across the capital.
Automobiles On weekdays from 7am to 6pm there’s an £11.50 daily Congestion Charge payable to drive into and around central London (www.cclondon.com); parking is easy but pricey. Beware overzealous traffic officials.
- Taxis You can hail one of London’s trademark metered hackney cabs anywhere, or ring Zingo (0870 070 0700) from your UK mobile, and the nearest one will find you. Avoid unlicensed minicabs; we recommend Climatecars (+44 (0)20 7350 5960), whose carbon‑neutral minicabs operate in central London.