There are only a few cities in the world that can live up to the oft-made claim of offering everything to everyone. London is one of these great metropolises. With incredible shopping, one-of-a-kind historical opportunities and unrivalled nightlife, London is one of those destinations you have to make it to at some point in your life. With Londoners also looking forward to hosting the Olympics in 2012, it's an especially exciting time to visit this international icon.
The city also makes a great starting off point if you're planning on travelling to the rest of Europe, particularly as international flights are often less expensive to here than to other destinations on 'the Continent', as the mainland is known.
The currency in London is the British pound, it has a population of 7.5 million people from all over the world, so you will find nearly every language you can imagine spoken here.
Getting in and around London
A major international hub, London is serviced by hundreds of airlines with connections to destinations across the world. The most popular airport is Heathrow (LHR), where most flights coming from overseas, land. Heathrow's reputation for delays and long queues is undergoing improvement with the addition of a fifth terminal in March 2008. For flights coming from the Continent, you'll more likely fly into one of the auxiliary airports: Stansted, Gatwick, or Luton. This is especially true if you're flying on one of Europe's budget airlines such as Ryanair or EasyJet.
Transport from the airports is easy, with a constant schedule running 24 hours a day. The Heathrow Express takes only 15 minutes to run from Paddington Station to Heathrow Terminals 1,2, and 3. A slower commuter train takes about 40 minutes to reach Heathrow from the city centre. The Gatwick Express leaves for Gatwick Airport from Victoria Station, with an average journey time of 30 minutes. To Stanstead Airport, the Stansted Express leaves from Liverpool St, and takes about 45 minutes.
For getting around town, your best bet really is utilising London's great mass transportation system. You'll save money, and the hassle of weaving your way through London's crowded streets. London's train system, aka "The Tube".
London's famous black cabs are another option for transport. They're a bit quicker than the Tube, and are worth a ride if only for their quirky tourist value.
You can also make use of London's extensive bus system, with many services offering the classic red double-decker design.
London Car Hire
Of course if you are after a hire car to go out and explore the country side, you will find your car hire companies around London.
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Accommodation prices vary widely by location. To save on costs, consider staying just outside of the city centre: you'll have quick access to all attractions via the Tube, but won't spend a fortune on a hotel.
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- The Dorchester: Located right in the heart of Mayfair, one of London's most prestigious districts, the Dorchester is known for its fantastic spa treatments.
- The Hempel, A gorgeous boutique hotel in West London, complete with a private Zen garden.
- Luna and Simone Hotel Vacationers rave about this family-run hotel close to Victoria Station.
- The Euro Hotel A 35 room hotel right next to the British Museum, this gorgeous hotel is right in the city centre!
- The Premier Inn is centrally located in King's Cross. It's a fairly no-frills hotel, but clean and with a friendly staff.
- The Ridgemount Hotel is highly recommended for families travelling with teenagers. The staff are reported to be fantastic.
- Generator Hostels With over 800 beds at each location, this hostel chain is one of the largest in London.
Things to do in London
You could spend weeks exploring London's attractions. There are a million of things to do in London, but the spots that are considered 'must-sees' for a week-long vacation are the following.
Red double-decker buses. While the open-platform Routemaster buses have, for the most part, been phased out, two "heritage routes" through the city centre still make use of these icons. For just a couple of pounds you can go for a rile and along the way pass the Tower of London, Monument, St Paul's Cathedral and Trafalgar Square.
London architecture. Make sure you take in all the wonderful architecture around London during your exploring.
Buckingham Palace. London architecgture can all be attributed to one select group: the Royal Family. The most famous (and perhaps most impressive) is Buckingham Palace. Many visitors come here to observe the changing of the guard, which happens in the forecourt at 11:30am.
London Tower has a history all its own. This tall, imposing structure has held its fair share of famous prisoners, including Queen Elizabeth I. Today, the Tower is still charged with making sure its contents stay inside, though instead of people, the Crown Jewels are now the focal point of attention.
Regent Park and Hyde Park. London has a number of beautiful urban parks, the two most popular being Regent Park and Hyde Park. The former is known for its vast expanse of green space, while the latter is famous for its Speakers' Corners, where it's legal for speakers to show up and speak to the public without police interference, and where speakers gather each morning to espouse their (sometimes) controversial views. It's a long-time site of debate, protest and assembly, and a symbol of free speech that's been visited over the years by the likes of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell and William Morris.
West End of London Together with New York City's Broadway, the West End of London is considered to have the best live theatre entertainment on the planet, after all, this is the place that brought us Shakespeare!
London's nightlife is some of the best in the world.
Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square are the establishments where the focus is on the liquid!
Westend or Camden. If you're after a more upscale environment where cocktails are offered "shaken, not stirred".
Soho is your best bet for clubbing and dancing.
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Day trips in and around London
Piccadilly Circus is Londons 'Time Square', with lots of neon, tourist shops, and casinos. Famous also for its statue of Eros, its position at the junction of five busy London Streets guarantees it's always busy, in the day-time with tourists and shoppers and in the night-time with clubbers, theatre-goers, and those out to sample London's cuisine.
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