London City Guide
Welcome to London
London is arguably one of the world’s leading cities. Home to more than eight million people, it is steeped in history, a veritable melting pot of cultures and customs, and at the forefront of the commerce, entertainment and fashion industries. Whenever you choose to visit and however long you stay, London will not disappoint.
Things to see and do in London
Plan your time carefully when visiting London, because this vibrant city is positively bursting with things to see and you will be hard pushed to manage even a fraction of it in a single visit. Amongst the unmissable attractions are Buckingham Palace, home to the British Royal Family, Trafalgar Square, with its iconic monument to Admiral Nelson and flanked by the National Gallery, the famous St Martin in the Fields Church and the entrance to St James’ Park, as well as roads leading away down Whitehall, towards Downing Street, and away towards Leicester Square. Head north from Trafalgar and you will find yourself entering the fascinating streets of Soho, home to Chinatown, quirky bars, fashion boutiques and art galleries. Other West End attractions include Piccadilly Circus, the shopping delights of Oxford Street and Regent Street, plus Covent Garden, centre of London’s theatre land.
Day or night, winter or summer, you will never be short of things to do in London. Start by taking a tour on a London bus to get your bearings. There are several companies operating open-topped double-decker services that give you a great vantage point for photos while enjoying some fresh air and sunshine along the way.
Shop, walk in the parks, take in a west-end show, visit the ballet, pop into the Science Museum, National History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum (all are located on the same street if your legs and attention span can handle it). Other museums include the Museum of London at the Barbican, the British Film Museum and the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, plus the British Museum, home (for now at least) to the famously disputed Elgin Marbles.
Parks and leisure spaces in London
London is one of the greenest cities in the world. Despite heavy development over the course of centuries, it has none the less retained many green areas, both wild and manicured, which one stumbles upon at every turn while exploring the city. Hyde Park, with its Serpentine lake, is home to outdoor river bathing during the summer and host to the magnificent Winter Wonderland extravaganza in December and January, while St James’ Park reaches away from Buckingham Palace towards Whitehall and Trafalgar Square. Out to the west are the gentle slopes of Holland Park while to the north are Regents Park, home to London Zoo, and Hampstead Heath, another haven for outdoor bathers. Many more expansive heaths and parks of all shapes and sizes are dotted throughout the capital from centre to suburbs, north to south and east to west.
Shopping in London
Shopping is one of the highlights of the capital. If high-street names are your thing, Oxford Street and Regent Street are a must, or head out to the east for Westfield Stratford, where you can shop to your heart’s content in the shadow of the 2012 Olympic park. If your budget is bigger, head west instead to the streets of Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Kensington, where antique shops and designer boutiques sit side-by-side with iconic names such as Harrods and Harvey Nichols. For markets, Portobello Road operates daily and boasts and eclectic mix of wares for all tastes, as does Covent Garden. Sunday shopping at Camden Lock Market is another fun but busy option, and an early start is recommended.
Eating and drinking in London
London has long shrugged off the British legacy for downmarket dining and is a shrine to all things international, exotic and Michelin starred. Whatever your taste, whatever your budget, you are guaranteed to find it. For street food stalls head to Camden Lock where you will find Asian and British delights, juices, pancakes and much, much more, while for oriental Soho should be your first stop, to sample the dimsum delights of Chinatown. Mexican cantinas, Brazilian barbecues, Indian eateries, Japanese sushi bars, French brasseries and Italian pizzerias can be found at every turn. For a blowout there are options aplenty, such as Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Scotts, Hakkasan, Fera at Claridges, Momo, The Wolseley, Nobu and many, many more. Alternatively settle for a plate of pie and mash or good old fish and chips for a real taste of London.
Like all things London, nightlife offers something for everyone. Comedy clubs are a popular option with big names highlighting nightly at the Comedy Store, Soho Theatre, the Chapel and many other venues throughout the capital. The city’s streets buzz 24-hours a day with bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs, the latter offering everything from Jazz to the latest deep house sounds from world-famous DJs. Check out the many London listing publications for a weekly round up of what’s on. For a touch of bling, head to a Park Lane Casino to rub shoulders with the rich and (sometimes) famous or grab a spot of culture with a west end musical.
When to visit London
There is something to do in London every day of the year. The city is magical during the late autumn and winter months, when the streets are lit up with festive lights, the Winter Wonderland comes to town in Hyde Park and the warmth of the shops and eateries beckons you in from the crisp frost outside. Spring and summer are best for the weather, when you can spend time wandering through the streets and parks and enjoying the English sunshine, while autumn is the perfect time to start your Christmas shopping and admire the russet colours of the falling autumn leaves.
London climate varies considerably from year to year. Summers can see temperatures rise regularly into the high twenties while spring and autumn are more changeable. The winter can be prone to cold snaps, with the odd snow flurry falling throughout the season, but in general the climate is temperate without many extreme fluctuations.
Accommodation in London covers a vast spectrum from five-star luxury to budget backpacker rooms. The areas around Kensington, Chelsea and Knightsbridge are bursting with high-end, traditional hotels while the west end offers more boutique style establishments such as the St Martins Lane and Charlotte Street hotels. Big names such as Claridges, the Waldorf, the Dorchester and the Savoy continue to draw the crowds year after year, or for something a little special, check into the Goring Hotel in Grosvenor Gardens, the quintessentially English establishment in which Kate Middleton spent her final night as a commoner before marrying the future King of the British Realm.