London has one of the most comprehensive public transport systems in the world. Despite residents’ constant, and sometimes justified, grumbling about unreliability, public transport is often the best option for getting anywhere for visitors and residents alike.
In central London use a combination of the transport options listed below – and check your map! In many cases you can easily walk from one place to another or use the buses. Don’t be a Londoner and only use the tube as a way of travelling longer distances – you’re here to see London – you can’t see it underground!
Transport for London (TfL) is a government organisation responsible for all public transport. Their website contains maps plus an excellent journey planner. They also offer a 24-hour travel information line, charged at premium rate: ☎ 0843 222 1234 (or text 60835) for suggestions on getting from A to B, and for up to the minute information on how services are running. Fortunately for visitors (and indeed residents) there is a single ticketing system, Oyster, which enables travellers to switch between modes of transport on one ticket.
The main travel options in summary are:
- By tube / underground 11 colour-coded lines cover the central area and suburbs, run by TfL.
- By Docklands Light Railway (DLR) Runs only in the east of the city, providing links with London City Airport, Canary Wharf/Docklands, Stratford (For Westfield Stratford City and the Olympic site) and Greenwich, privately run but part of TfL’s network.
- By boat Commuter boats and pleasure cruises along the River Thames, privately run but part of TfL’s network.
- Airport Express Rail services run to Heathrow, Gatwick, Southend, Stansted and Luton airports. The trains to Heathrow are privately operated and require a premium fare. The trains to the other airports are part of the UK rail network, but are beyond the TfL network, so Oyster is not valid.
- By tram (Tramlink) A tram service that operates only in southern suburbs around Wimbledon and Croydon.
- By Overground Orange-coloured lines circling the northern suburbs; connecting Stratford (For Westfield Stratford City and the Olympic site) with Richmond Upon Thames. At Highbury and Islington it is possible to connect to Croydon and Crystal Palace in South London via the East End. There is also an interchange for Barking in East London at Gospel Oak and a line connecting Euston Station with Watford Junction in Hertfordshire. Another line runs from Willsden Junction in North West London to Clapham Junction in south via Shephard’s Bush (For Westfield). At Clapham you can connect to Brighton,Gatwick Airport, Southampton and other points south. Part of TfL’s network.
- By National Rail A complex network of suburban rail services, mostly running in the southern suburbs, but also connecting to some areas to the north. privately run and not part of the TfL network, although all operators now accept Oyster payments.
Oyster is a contactless electronic smartcard run by Transport for London. In general, Oyster is the more cost effective option than paper tickets if you plan to be in London for any more than a couple of days, or if you intend to make return visits to the city – the savings quickly recover the initial purchase cost. You can buy an Oyster Card from any Tube station for a deposit of £5 and load it with a 7 Day Travelcards. You can “charge up” an Oyster card with electronic funds. This cash is then deducted according to where you travel. The cost of a single trip using the Oyster card is considerably less than buying a single paper ticket with cash. Prices vary depending on distance travelled, whether by bus or tube, and on the time of day. You can also add various electronic 1 week, 1 month and longer-period tickets onto the card, and the card is simply validated each time you use it. The deposit is refundable if you hand it in at the end of the trip, though if your stay is short your refund will be reduced by £3. However, there is no expiry date on the Oyster Card or any pay-as-you-go credit on the card. If you have any pay-as-you-go credit left this will also be refunded. You will get refunds in cash only if you paid in cash. Be prepared to give your signature on receipts or even show ID for refunds over a few pounds.
You can charge up your Oyster card with electronic cash at any tube station ticket machine or ticket desk (you can even use a credit card to do this if your credit card has a PIN number) with Oyster pay-as-you-go, also known as PrePay. This money is then deducted from your card each time you get on a service. The fare is calculated based on your start and end points. Pay-as-you-go is much cheaper than paying in cash for each journey. For instance, a cash tube one way in Zone 1 is £4.50, while with an Oyster Card it costs £2.30. Furthermore, it is impossible to pay a cash bus fare – the Oyster fare is £1.50. If you are intending to do a lot of travelling in London then a day travel card may be cheaper and offers a whole days free access on London’s public transport. It will cost you £12.00 for anyone over the age of 15 and for 15 and under you can but a travel card for £3.70. These can be purchased at a post office or tube station. Oyster cards are also capped at a lower price than the paper daily travel card.
The amount of PrePay deducted from your Oyster card in one day is capped – for central London this is lower than the appropriate paper day ticket (day Travelcard). For zone 1-2 (central London including everywhere inside the Circle line and some places outside) this is £6.40 (There is no difference in price cap between peak and off peak in central London).
On the tube, be sure to touch in and touch out again at the end of your journey. If you forget to touch your Oyster card at the start and finish you will be charged extra! This is usually a hefty charge of £7.20. This fine can be disputed by calling TFL using the phone number on the back of the card. Just quote your Oyster number and remember where you finished your journey.
Oyster also saves time getting onto buses. If you don’t have an Oyster, you must use a “contactless” bank card or a paper travelcard. You cannot pay cash on London buses.
Buses operated under contract to London buses (that’s most buses within the M25) do NOT accept cash.
If you have a National Railcard, such as the 16-25 year old Railcard, you can register this with your Oyster card at a Tube ticket office and then continue to receive special discounts on your TFL travel. So for every journey on the Underground/DLR/Overground you get 34% discount and also qualify for a daily price cap. Do note the discount applies only during off-peak times.
A Travelcard may be loaded onto an Oyster card (not day tickets) or may be purchased as a paper ticket.
- Day Travelcard – Zones 1-6 – Anytime: £12
- 7 Day Travelcard Zones 1-2 – £30.40 (2014 price)
- Monthly Travelcard Zones 1-2 – £116.08 (2014 price)
- Annual Travelcard Zones 1-2 – £1,216.00 (2014 price)
The above prices are Adult prices and only for Zones 1 & 2. However, one-day travelcards are only issed as zone 1-6 (changed in 2014). The “daily cap” using Oyster is cheaper at £6.40 for zones 1 & 2. For a more comprehensive list of the prices visit the TFL website:
1 Day Travelcards
7 Day, Monthly & Annual Travelcards
Travelcard season tickets
Weekly, monthly and longer-period Travelcard season tickets can be purchased at all tube station ticket offices. These can be used on any tube, DLR, bus, London Overground, National Rail or tram service. You have to select a range of zones when you buy it, numbered 1-9. If you happen to travel outside the zone, you can use PrePay (see above) to make up the difference. Note that they can not be used on any Airport Express trains (Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express and Stansted Express). However, a Zone 1-6 Travelcard can be used on the London Underground (Piccadilly line) to/from Heathrow Airport. Notice a weekly travelcard may be cheaper than PAYG Oyster card if you are looking to travel extensively within London for more than five days in a week.
- Touch the card against a yellow disc, prominently displayed on the entry and exit gates for the Tube (do not try to insert it into the slot!) and on buses and trams.
- On the Docklands Light Railway, and on the Overground railway stations in the outlying parts of the city there are no entry or exit gates (except at interchanges with the Tube like Bank or Stratford), so you have to be sure to touch your Oyster card on the readers (which are clearly signposted) as you enter and leave. Failure to do this when you begin a journey is regarded as fare dodging (carrying a penalty fare or even a fine if you are caught). Equally, failing to touch out when you leave a station will result in you being overcharged for your journey, as the system will make a default deduction of £6.50 since it doesn’t know which station you left at. Do not be tempted to travel without a ticket, a significant number of people are prosecuted for not having a ticket, giving them a criminal record, as well as a large fine.
- Once you have used the tube once, you will recognise the yellow circle oyster card reader where you touch your card in and out from. You may also notice that on some platforms, this is pink coloured. Most tourists can ignore this as it is no use to them. Due to the fact that tickets are priced in zones, if you travel by avoiding a particular zone you can save money. An example of this is if you travel from a zone two station in South London to a zone by taking an alternative route that doesn’t go through zone one. You can find alternative cheaper routes [on the TFL website]www.tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/fares/single-fare-finder, however this will not be of any use to you if you live or visit places in zone 1 (central London) only.
- Many stations in London are very close together (even next door!) but you cannot transfer between train lines within the ticket barriers. This is because historically the train lines were built by competing companies and there was no traveller need, or commercial reason to create interchanges back then. Now we have OSI (Outside Station Interchange), this means that you can touch your oyster card out of a station, walk the 5 minutes to a nearby station and touch in again, without charging you two tickets – you will be charged as if you made an interchange without leaving the station. This is also the case at some large stations which are integrated, but it might be easier to touch out at one entrance and touch back in again at another entrance when changing lines, such as transferring between the Northern and Circle, H&C or Metropolitan lines at King’s Cross St. Pancras station. Be warned that there is a time limit of how long you can stay out of the network before your touch-in is considered a new journey. You are given plenty of time to transfer and can even stop off to buy a snack at a local supermarket. There is a useful guide online listing the stations where OSI exists and the time limit you have to make the change.
- You can use your Oyster Card to pay for tickets on National Rail services that operate within London, however some routes are charged at a slightly higher rate. A mape exists showing which routes are subject to the higher rate. As a general rule, if the journey you are making on a National Rail service either can me made by using the tube, or is within two stations which could be made by taking the tube, you will be charged the local standard TFL fare.
- Theoretically you don’t need to remove your Oyster card from your wallet or bag to do touch in/out – the card reader can work through a bag, but in reality you may need to take the card out to get it to work. Keep other contactless cards such as bank cards separate, as the fare might be deducted from them instead of your Oyster.
- Be careful standing near the readers on some buses, they are often quite sensitive and may read your card from several centimetres away, even if you did not intend this.
- If you keep your Oyster card in your wallet try not to sit on it as sometimes they will crack and stop working.
The following table summarises the validity of the different tickets you can use on Oyster. For most tourists, tubes and buses are the only transport you will use, but be aware that these tickets are not valid on any Rail trains to any of London’s airports.
|Bus||London Underground||London Overground||National Rail||DLR||Tram||Airport Express trains|
- Bus (and Tram) Passes are only available for periods of 7 days and longer.
- Travelcards are valid only within the zones you buy.
- Piccadilly line to Heathrow is a London Underground train, so PrePay and Travelcards are valid.
- Airport Express trains are Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Express.
- Travelcards are valid on Thameslink within London but if you are heading to Luton or Gatwick airports, you will need a ticket between the edge of your travelcard zone and the airport.
London is a surprisingly compact city, making it a walker’s delight and often being the quickest method of transport.
The city is incredibly well signposted so it is very easy to find your way round by foot.
Because Britain drives on the left hand side of the road, for most foreign visitors it can be all too easy to forget that traffic will come at you from the opposite direction than you are used to when crossing a street – for this reason remember to look right when you cross the road.
Particularly on Central London’s busiest streets, it is easy to spot native Londoners as they are able to weave in and out of the large crowds at fast speed. Refrain from walking slowly in tight spaces to avoid annoying any fast walking people that may be trying to pass.
London’s iconic red buses are recognized the world over, even if the traditional Routemaster buses, with an open rear platform and on-board conductor to collect fares, have been phased out. These still run on Heritage Route 15 daily between about 09:30 and 18:30, every 15 minutes. Buses are generally quicker than taking the Tube for short (less than a couple of stops on the Tube) trips, but for longer ones can be much slower especially when traffic is heavy. For sightseeing, buses are a much more pleasant way to travel than the Tube, and cheaper too for a single journey. Out of central London you’re likely to be closer to a bus stop than a tube station.
Over 5 million bus trips are made each weekday; with over 700 different bus routes you are never far from a bus. Each bus stop has a sign listing routes that stop there. Bus routes are identified by numbers and sometimes letters, for example the 73 runs between Victoria and Seven Sisters, and the C1 (C for Central) runs from Victoria to White City. The letter N before a number designates a night bus, but a few services without the letter N run 24-hours – these are uncommon but clearly indicated and can be very useful!
Importantly, since the 6th of July 2014, it is not possible in London to purchase a bus ticket on the bus, nor can you expect a ticket machine at your bus stop! You must either have a Pay-as-you-go Oyster card with sufficient funds, a Travelcard ticket, a bus pass, or a contactless bank payment card (see note below). For the vast majority of tourists, Oyster cards (either pay-as-you-go or with a Travelcard loaded) remain the best option. TfL now allow you to make one more journey on an Oyster card with positive balance, but not enough to pay the full fare. Your card will go into negative balance, and you must top it up as soon as possible. The rest of the fare will be taken then.
London Transport has recently enabled using contactless bank cards (e.g. Visa payWave, MasterCard PayPass) to pay for transport within London. Simply use your credit or debit card as if it were an Oyster card and pay the usual £1.50 for a single fare. Daily and Monday-Sunday capping also work, but you should be wary of bank charges for foreign transactions. If using contactless, there is one charge to your card per day, so you would only pay one foreign transaction fee per day. Contactless bank cards are accepted everywhere where Oyster is and charged the same way.
Youngsters aged 11-15 travel free on buses with an 11-15 Oyster photocard (which are available for visitors, but unlike Oyster cards, these require an online application form and you must be prepared to wait four weeks). Similarly, if aged 16-18, half-price travel is available, but this again requires an application form and a long wait. Student Oysters (only available to students studying in London) are available from age 18 and provide a 35% discount on weekly and monthly travel cards.
Buses display their route number in large digits at the front, side and rear. All bus stops have their location and the direction of travel on them.
The iBus system has now been rolled out the iBus on every bus and garage in London. This system provides bus times and destination information on a audio-visual display.
Unlike The Tube one way tickets do not allow you to transfer to different buses.
Standard bus services run from around 05:30-00:30. Around half past midnight the network changes to the vast night bus network of well over 100 routes stretching all over the city. There are two types of night buses: 24 hour routes and N-prefixed routes.
24-hour services keep the same number as during the day and will run the exact same route, such as the number 88, for example. N-prefixed routes are generally very similar to their day-route, but may take a slightly different route or are extended to serve areas that are further out. For example, the 29 bus goes from Trafalgar Square to Wood Green during the day; however, the N29 bus goes from Trafalgar Square to Wood Green and on to Enfield.
Night buses run at a 30 minute frequency at minimum, with many routes at much higher frequencies up to every 5 minutes.
Prices stay the same, and daily travelcards are valid until 04:00 the day after they were issued, so can be used on night buses. Most bus stops will have night bus maps with all the buses to and from that local area on it, although it is good to check on the TfL website beforehand, which also has all those maps easily available.
London’s night buses are occasionally used by loud drunks who when provoked, can be quite confrontational but rarely violent. Stay polite and on the bottom deck of the bus to best avoid them although there will be just as many if not more friendly drunks who would be up for a chat. Use your instincts.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a dedicated light rail network operating in East London, connecting with the tube network at Bank, Tower Gateway (close to Tower Hill tube station), Canning Town, Heron Quays (close to Canary Wharf tube station) and Stratford. As the trains often operate without a driver, it can be quite exciting – especially for children – to sit in front and look at through the window, whilst feeling as though one is driving the train oneself. The DLR also runs above ground on much of its route, and travels through many picturesque parts of London, including the Docklands area where most of London’s skyscrapers are located. Apart from the trains looking slightly different and running slightly less frequently than the Tube, visitors may as well treat the two systems as the same.
Unlike the tube, the DLR uses the honour-system at all stations apart from Bank and Stratford. Tickets are available from the machines at stations (most stations are unstaffed so make sure you are armed with a handful of coins or low-denomination notes) and are distance-based. Travelcards are also accepted, as are Oyster cards, which must be validated when entering the platform, and then validated again when exiting the station.
The DLR can be a little confusing as the routes are not easily distinguished – generally trains run between Bank – Lewisham, Stratford – Lewisham, Bank – Woolwich Arsenal, Stratford – Woolwich Arsenal and Tower Gateway – Beckton. Displays on the platform will tell you the destination and approximate wait for the next 3 trains, and the destination is also displayed on the front and side of the train.
The British railway system is known as National Rail (although some older signs still refer to it as “British Rail”). London’s suburban rail services are operated by several private companies under tightly-written government contracts, and mostly run in the south of the city, away from the main tourist sights. Only one line (Thameslink) runs through central London – on a north-south axis between London Bridge or Blackfriars stations, and the underground level of St Pancras main line station. There is no one central station – instead, there are twelve mainline stations dotted around the edge of the central area, and most are connected by the Circle line (except Euston, Fenchurch St and those South of the river like London Waterloo and London Bridge). Most visitors will not need to use National Rail services except for a few specific destinations such as Hampton Court, Kew Gardens (Kew Bridge station), Windsor Castle, Greenwich or the airports, or indeed if they are intending to visit other cities in the UK. Since 2 January 2010, pay-as-you-go Oyster cards are accepted on all routes within London travel zones 1-6.
Visitors are well advised to remember that the quickest route between two stations might be a combination of the Tube as well as the National Rail network. (For example: getting to Wimbledon from central London by Tube using the District Line takes significantly longer (around 45 minutes) than taking the National Rail service from Waterloo to Wimbledon (around 15 minutes).)
Airport Express Rail services run to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports – tickets are generally sold at a premium and Oyster cards not valid.
When you make National Rail journeys in London you can do so in the same way as the tube, however some journeys are charged at a slightly more expensive (or sometimes, but not often) cheaper rate. As a rough guide, if a journey between either your two stations or two stations further along the line where you get on and get off, you will be charged the standard fare, otherwise, you will be charged a higher fare. You can find out what fare you will be charged, as well as alternative routes for cheaper fares on using the TFL fare finder. There is also a map which shows National Rail services running in London coloured by the type of fare they charge. If you are following the route for cheaper fares, when you change trains, you will need to tell the system you are taking that route, by touching a pink oyster card reader at the station you interchange at.
In common parlance, Londoners may refer to travelling by “overground” (or “overland”), meaning going by National Rail (as opposed to going by Underground). However, only one service is officially called Overground – London Overground is a Transport for London rail service. It is operated and promoted just like the Underground, with the logo like the Tube (except orange) on stations and full acceptance of Oyster cards. London Overground appears on the Tube map as an orange line, and services run across North London suburbs from east to west. Overground services can be a useful shortcut for crossing the city, bypassing the centre, for example from Kew Gardens to Camden. London Overground services also connect busy Clapham Junction railway station in the Southwest to West London (Shepherds Bush and Kensington) and Willesden Junction in the Northwest.
By tram (Tramlink)
Tramlink, opened in 2000, is the first modern tram system to operate in London. South London is poorly served by the Tube and lacks east-west National Rail services so the network connects Wimbledon in South West London to Beckenham in South East London and New Addington, a large housing estate in South Croydon. The network is centred on Croydon, where it runs on street-level tracks around the Croydon Loop.
Route 3 (Wimbledon to New Addington – green on the Tramlink map) is the most frequent service, running every 7.5 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 15 minutes at all other times. Beckenham is served by Routes 1 and 2 (yellow and red on the Tramlink map), which terminate at Elmers End and Beckenham Junction respectively. Both services travel around the Loop via West Croydon and run every 10 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 30 minutes at all other times. Between Arena and Sandilands, these two services serve the same stops.
London has two types of taxis: the famous black cab, and so-called minicabs. Black cabs are the only ones licensed to ‘ply for hire’ (ie pick people up off the street), while minicabs are more accurately described as ‘private hire vehicles’ and need to be pre-booked.
The famous black cab of London (not always black!) can be hailed from the curb or found at one of the many designated taxi ranks. It is possible to book black cabs by phone, for a fee, but if you are in central London it will usually be quicker to hail one from the street. Their amber TAXI light will be on if they are available. Drivers must pass a rigorous exam of central London’s streets, known as ‘The Knowledge’, in order to be licensed to drive a black cab. This means they can supposedly navigate you to almost any London street without reference to a map. They are a cheap transport option if there are five passengers as they do not charge extras, and many view them as an essential experience for any visitor to London. Black cabs charge by distance and by the minute, are non-smoking, and have a minimum charge of £2.40. Tipping is not mandatory in either taxis or minicabs, despite some drivers’ expectations! Use your discretion: if you like the service you may tip otherwise don’t. Londoners will often just round up to the nearest pound.
Taxis are required by law to take you up to 12 miles or up to one hour duration, if the destination is in Greater London (20 miles if starting at Heathrow Airport) if their TAXI light is on when you hail them, unless they have a good reason. However some, especially older drivers, dislike leaving the centre of town, or going south of the River Thames. A good way to combat being left at the side of the curb is to open the back door, or even get into the cab, before stating your destination.
Minicabs are normal cars which are licensed hire vehicles that you need to book by phone or at a minicab office. They generally charge a fixed fare for a journey, best agreed before you get in the car. Minicabs are sometimes cheaper than black cabs, although this is not necessarily the case for short journeys. Minicabs can be significantly cheaper for airport journeys – for example, a minicab from Heathrow to South-West London will cost around £36, whereas a black cab will cost over £100. Drivers are not tested as rigorously as black cab drivers, so they will typically not speak English very well and rely on a GPS to find their way, but will still get you from A to B. Licensed minicabs display a Transport For London (TFL) License Plate – usually in the front window. One of the features of the license plate is a blue version of the famous London Underground “roundel”. A list of licensed minicab operators can be found at TfL Findaride. Note that some areas in London are poorly serviced by black cabs, particularly late at night. This has led to a large number of illegal minicabs operating – just opportunistic people, with a car, looking to make some fast money. Some of these operators can be fairly aggressive in their attempts to find customers, and it’s now barely possible to walk late at night through any part of London with a modicum of nightlife without being approached. You should avoid mini-cabs touting for business off the street or outside nightclubs, and either take a black cab, book a licensed minicab by telephone, or take a night bus. These illegal drivers are unlicensed and sadly they are often unsafe: a number of women are assaulted every week by illegal minicab operators (11 reported per month).
- Cabwise is a free service provided by TFL which can text you local licensed minicab numbers if you text CAB to 60835. There’s also an app.
London is now starting to follow the example of cities such as Sydney and Bangkok by promoting a network of river bus and pleasure cruise services along the River Thames. London River Services (part of Transport for London) manages regular commuter boats and a network of piers all along the river and publishes timetables and river maps similar to the famous tube map. While boat travel may be slower and a little more expensive than tube travel, it offers an extremely pleasant way to cross the city with unrivaled views of the London skyline – Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, etc. Sailing under Tower Bridge is an unforgettable experience.
Boats are operated by private companies and they have a separate ticketing system from the rest of London transport; however if you have a Travelcard you get a 33% discount on most boat tickets. Many boat operators offer their own one-day ticket – ask at the pier kiosks. Generally, tickets from one boat company are not valid on other operators’ services. Oyster cards can be used as payment for the ‘Clipper’-styled commuter services but not for tour boats.
Boats run on the following routes:
- Bankside – Millbank
- Barrier Gardens – Greenwich – St. Katharine’s – Westminster
- Blackfriars – Embankment – Cadogan – Chelsea Harbour – Wandsworth (RQ) – Putney
- Canary Wharf – Hilton Docklands
- Canary Wharf – London Bridge City
- Embankment – Blackfriars – Chelsea Harbour – Cadogan
- Embankment – London Eye – Bankside – London Bridge City – Tower – Canary Wharf – Greenland – Masthouse Terrace – Greenwich – QEII for the O2 – Woolwich Arsenal
- Embankment – London Eye – Blackfriars – London Bridge City – Tower – Canary Wharf – Greenland – Masthouse Terrace – Greenwich – QEII for the O2 – Woolwich Arsenal
- Embankment – London Eye – Blackfriars – London Bridge City – Tower – Canary Wharf – Greenwich – QEII for the O2 – Woolwich Arsenal
- Embankment – London Eye – London Bridge City – Tower – Canary Wharf – Greenland – Masthouse Terrace – Greenwich – QEII for the O2 – Woolwich Arsenal
- Greenwich – Tilbury – Gravesend
- Greenwich – Tower – Westminster – London Eye
- Hampton Court – Kingston (Town End Pier) – Kingston (Turk’s Pier) – Richmond (St Helena)
- Hampton Court – Richmond – Kew – Westminster
- Hilton Docklands – Canary Wharf
- London Bridge City – Canary Wharf
- Millbank – Bankside
- Putney – Wandsworth (RQ) – Chelsea Harbour – Cadogan – Embankment – Blackfriars
- Richmond (St Helena) – Kingston (Turk’s Pier) – Kingston (Town End Pier) – Hampton Court
- Tilbury – Gravesend – Greenwich
- Westminster – Embankment – Festival – Bankside – London Bridge City – St. Katharine’s – Westminster
- Westminster – Embankment – St. Katharine’s – Westminster
- Westminster – Kew – Richmond – Hampton Court
- Westminster – London Eye – Tower – Greenwich
- Westminster – St. Katharine’s – Greenwich – Barrier Gardens
- Woolwich Arsenal – QEII for the O2 – Greenwich – Masthouse Terrace – Greenland – Canary Wharf – Tower – London Bridge City – Bankside – Embankment – London Eye
- Woolwich Arsenal – QEII for the O2 – Greenwich – Masthouse Terrace – Greenland – Canary Wharf – Tower – London Bridge City – Blackfriars – Embankment – London Eye
- Woolwich Arsenal – QEII for the O2 – Greenwich – Masthouse Terrace – Greenland – Canary Wharf – Tower – London Bridge City – Embankment – London Eye
Some key tourist attractions that are easily accessible by boat include:
plus all the central London sights in Westminster and the South Bank
As well as the Thames, consider a trip along an old Victorian canal through the leafy suburbs of North London. The London Waterbus Company runs scheduled services (more in summer, less in winter) from Little Venice to Camden Lock with a stop at the London Zoo (pick up only). The 45-minute trip along Regent’s Canal is a delightful way to travel.
The first landmark that any tourist should make a beeline for is any that allows them to get an aerial view of the city. This allows you to familiarize yourself with all of London’s landmarks at once, as well as offering stunning views of the capital. This means a visit to either the London Eye, the Shard or the Monument:
- The London Eye is the world’s largest observation wheel, standing at 135 metres over London’s Southbank. A full rotation of the wheel takes 30 minutes, and costs around £30 per person.
- The Shard offers London in its entirety, with an 82nd floor observation platform offering a 40 mile view of the city and beyond. It costs £25 to reach this platform, with a second visit free if bad weather ruins your view. Situated in London Bridge, the Shard is a landmark in its own right as one of London’s foremost futuristic skyscrapers.
- Built as a memorial to the rebirth of the city following the catastrophic Great Fire of London in 1666, The Monument is perhaps the least well known of the city’s views. Designed by Christopher Wren, its 62m pillar can be climbed by a series of 311 steps, leading to a viewing deck offering great views of the surrounding City of London. It is not as high as either the Shard or London Eye, but at £3 is also a fraction of the price, and equally fun to scale.
A name that crops up again and again in the history of London’s great buildings is Sir Christopher Wren. Tasked with the job of rebuilding London after the Great Fire of London destroyed a third of the medieval city in 1666, his plans were sadly rejected, but he did leave the city with 51 new churches, as well as the world-famous St Paul’s Cathedral in [[Check out our guidelines and learn how to create your own! London/Holborn-Clerkenwell|Holborn]] with its majestic dome and renowned ‘Whispering Gallery’.
Directly across the river from the cathedral are two London landmarks that offer insight into two very different eras in London’s past. Crossing on Millennium Bridge from St Paul’s you will see Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern. The former is a late 20th Century reconstruction of the original theater where many of the Bard’s greatest plays were first performed, a piece of Elizabethan London recreated in 1997. The latter is a striking converted power station, with a large brick tower that looms strikingly over the river.
Following this river west, you come to perhaps London’s most famous landmark — Big Ben, part of the Palace of Westminster (which also includes the Houses of Parliament), although the clock tower is technically called the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben is the name of the bell that chimes every hour). The Palace of Westminster is open to the public for viewing parliamentary debates, tours of the building are available during August-September when Parliament is away on summer recess and every Saturday throughout the year.
Whilst in the Westminster area, Buckingham Palace is a must-see. The official London residence of the Queen, it is open for tours during the summer months only. Even when it is closed to the public, the regular ‘changing of the guard’ is a big tourist draw, a celebration of British pageantry that dates back to 1660.
Long before Buckingham Palace was a royal residence there was the Tower of London in the east of the city next to the famous rising Tower Bridge. It is over 900 years old, contains the Crown Jewels, guarded by Beefeaters, and is a World Heritage site considered by many to be the most haunted building in the world.
From a landmark with nearly a millennium’s worth of history to one that is constantly evolving, Piccadilly Circus is one of the most photographed sights in London. The statue of Eros stands proudly in the middle while the north eastern side is dominated by huge screens showing advertisements. Originally famed for its neon, this has since been mostly updated to become a huge digital billboard, but still remains as awe inspiring and even brighter than it was before.
From here, walk through Leicester Square to encounter Trafalgar Square, the home of Nelson’s Column, the lions, and the ‘Fourth plinth’, a site for modern public art that has seen everything from a giant blue cockerel to a succession of the British public who each got an hour to stand on it. Overlooked by the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, it is the nearest London has to a center.
- Buckingham Palace – The official London residence of the Queen, also in Westminster. Open for tours during the summer months only, but a must-see sight even if you don’t go in.
- The London Eye. The world’s third largest observation wheel, situated on the South Bank of the Thames with magnificent views over London.
- Marble Arch is a white Carrara marble monument designed by John Nash. It is located in the middle of a huge traffic island at one of the busiest intersections in central London where Oxford St meets Park Lane in Mayfair. It used to stand in front of Buckingham Palace, before it was moved to its present location.
- Piccadilly Circus is one of the most photographed sights in London. The statue of Eros stands proudly in the middle while the north eastern side is dominated by a huge, iconic neon sign.
- St Paul’s Cathedral, also in the City, is Sir Christopher Wren’s great accomplishment, built after the 1666 Great Fire of London – the great dome is still seated in majesty over The City. A section of the dome has such good acoustics that it forms a “Whispering Gallery”.
- Tower Bridge – Is the iconic 19th century bridge located by the Tower of London near the City. It is decorated with high towers and features a drawbridge; you can visit the engine rooms and a Tower Bridge exhibition.
- Tower of London – Situated just south east of the City, is London’s original royal fortress by the Thames. It is over 900 years old, contains the Crown Jewels, guarded by Yeoman of the Guard (sometimes erroneously called ‘Beefeaters’), and is a World Heritage site. It is also considered by many to be the most haunted building in the world. If you are interested in that sort of thing it’s definitely somewhere worth visiting. Sometimes there are guided ghost walks of the building.
- Trafalgar Square – Home of Nelson’s Column and the stone lions, and once a safe haven for London’s pigeons until the recent introduction of hired birds of prey. It recently attracted controversy over the ‘Fourth plinth’, previously empty, being temporarily home to a Marc Quin sculpture, ‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’. Overlooked by the National Gallery, it’s the nearest London has to a ‘centre’, and has recently been pedestrianised. Classical music concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields.
- Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament) in Westminster. The seat of the United Kingdom parliament and World Heritage site, as well as setting for royal coronations since 1066, most recently that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The Palace of Westminster is open to the public for viewing parliamentary debates, tours of the building are available during August-September when Parliament is away on summer recess and every Saturday throughout the year.
- 30 St Mary Axe or The Gherkin, a peculiarly-shaped 180 m- (590 ft-) building in the City, which provides a 360-degree view of London on the 40th floor.
- The Shard, a futuristic skyscraper that was topped-out in 2012 and dominates the London skyline. It’s the tallest building in the EU at 310 m (1,017 ft) and features a viewing deck on the 72nd floor.
Museums and Galleries
London hosts an outstanding collection of world-class museums, including three of the world’s most visited. As well as these internationally famous collections you can find nearly 250 other museums across the city. Best of all, many of these let you see their permanent collections for free, including must-visit places like:
- British Museum
- National Gallery
- National Portrait Gallery
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Tate Modern
- Tate Britain
In contrast to this, independent museums will usually charge you to enter. This is also true of temporary exhibitions at the free-to-enter museums above. Although amounts differ, it is usually around £10-£15. However, the money-conscious tourist can see a significant number of masterpieces without having to spend a penny.
At the British Museum (London’s most popular museum and the second most-visited in the world) for example, visitors can see the Parthenon marbles, the Rosetta Stone and one of the world’s biggest collections of mummies all for free. And that is just some of the 80,000 objects on display in the museum at any given time.
Alongside this museum and other renowned collections are over 250 art galleries. Although some require an appointment and/or have limited opening hours, most are open to the public and free to visit. From the classical to the contemporary, all forms of art imaginable can be seen in London. Work from famous artists from Da Vinci to Damien Hirst can be seen in the city, alongside thousands of other world-famous works and the famous works of the future.
Aside from these world famous establishments, there is an almost unbelievable number of minor museums in London covering a very diverse range of subjects. Although the big museums and galleries like the V&A, Tate and British Museum are not to be missed, many of London’s quirkier or lesser known museums are well worth your time.
From the handheld fan to Sigmund Freud, many subjects have surprisingly fascinating museums all of their own, with Greenwich’s Fan Museum and the Freud Museum in Hampstead just two of the many exhibition spaces that fit that description.
Dental equipment, Sherlock Holmes, gardening …all three of these things have museums dedicated to them in the capital, their sites sitting alongside the museums and galleries you might expect in a big city, like the Natural History Museum or Museum of London. And with so many of them free, there really is no excuse but to explore them whilst in London.
The ‘green lungs’ of London are the many parks, great and small, scattered throughout the city including Hyde Park, St James Park and Regent’s Park. Most of the larger parks have their origins in royal estates and hunting grounds and are still owned by the Crown, despite their public access.
Despite a reputation as ‘the Big Smoke’, a sprawling urban metropolis of concrete, and London is surprisingly green. In fact, London is 47% green space, spread out amongst some of Europe’s most beautiful parks.
Most of the biggest began as royal estates and/or hunting grounds, and are still owned by the Crown. These so-called ‘Royal Parks’ cover 5,000 acres, and are all free to enter at any time. There are eight Royal Parks, which are:
- Hyde Park and adjoining Kensington Gardens make up a huge open space in central London and are very popular for picnics.
- Regent’s Park is wonderful open park in the northern part of central London.
- St James’s Park has charming and romantic gardens ideal for picnics and for strolling around. St. James’s Park is situated between Buckingham Palace on the west and Horse Guards Parade on the east.
- Hampstead Heath is a huge open green space in north central London. Not a tended park as such and is remarkably wild for a metropolitan city location. The views from the Parliament Hill area of the heath south over the city are quite stunning.
- Richmond Park also is a huge green space, but has a thriving deer population that is culled in the spring. Excellent place for cycling.
- Holland Park is a large woodland located in the centre of London. It is a great place to go if you are after some peace and quiet. In the middle of the park is Kyoto gardens were you can buy food and drinks.
- Bushy Park, near to Hampton Court Palace, is the second-largest park in London. More low-key than its larger cousin, Richmond Park, it too has a large deer population. Bushy Park contains numerous ponds, bridleways, two allotments, and at its northern edge, the National Physical Laboratory.
Of these, Richmond Park is by far the largest, at more than double the size of even the second biggest park in London, Wimbledon Common. Slightly out of Central London, its 955 hectares are the perfect place for a day trip. As well as great cycling routes, it is famous for its deer population. Richmond Park has been home to a herd of 600 deer since around the 16th Century, and as long as you keep a respectful distance (the recommendation is 50 metres) from them you are welcome to wander amongst them.
Perhaps most famous of the parks is Hyde Park and the Kensington Gardens that back onto them. Although they feature less to catch the eye than many of London’s parks, their large expanses and central location makes them a popular picnic spot for tourists visiting popular nearby attractions like the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum.
In fact, many of these Royal Parks can be found near major tourist attractions, making them ideal for a spot of lunch or just to get away from the bustle around these venues. St James’ Park, for example, is just off of Buckingham Palace, and features a beautiful garden walkway as well as a family of swans.
Regent’s Park can be found in front of the London Zoo, with visitors from the park being able to see a large part of the south side of the zoo for free from the park, including the giraffes. It also has some of the best formal gardens of all the London parks, enclosed by hedges and bursting to life with flowers and fountains.
Hampstead Heath is another popular choice a little out of the centre. Not a tended park as such, it is remarkably wild for a metropolitan city location. The views from the Parliament Hill area of the heath south over the city are quite stunning. It also features a famous outdoor swimming pool for those fancying a dip on a hot day — or for braver souls, you can join the Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club.
Bushy Park, near to Hampton Court Palace, is the second-largest park in London. More low-key than its larger cousin, Richmond Park, it too has a large deer population. Bushy Park contains numerous ponds, bridleways, two allotments, and at its northern edge, the National Physical Laboratory.
There are also many parks in London not part of the Royal Parks well worth exploring. Principal among these is Victoria Park in Hackney. Though a fair walk from either Mile End or Homerton stations, it rewards the walk. Featuring a boating lake and a Chinese Pagoda amongst other sights, it is less well known than the other parks and so tends to be quieter, and offers great walks along the lake and the canal.
However, London also offers all sort of other park spaces both small and large worth exploring. Well-known green areas include both Wimbledon and Clapham Common as well as Holland Park, but there are many where the pleasure lies in discovering them out of the blue in an otherwise urban environment.
With nearly 900 of them found in all but three of London’s boroughs, Blue Plaques are among the most familiar features of the capital’s streetscape. The first Blue Plaques were erected to celebrate great figures of the past and the buildings they inhabited, but in the 150 years since the first was put up this has widened to include plaques that commemorate famous events. Visitors to London can now find the homes or workplaces of everyone from Clement Attlee to Emile Zola, and the sites of famous events like the forming of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood or the first broadcast from the BBC.
After the Society of Arts founded the scheme in 1866, the first Blue Plaque (at the birthplace of Lord Byron at Cavendish Square) was put up a year later. Initially, the scheme was designed to mark out notable buildings to save them from demolition, but ironically the site of this first plaque was demolished in 1889. However, around 15 of these early plaques still survive, including ones for military leader Lord Nelson , poet John Keats and French Emperor Napoleon III, whose plaque at 1c King’s Street is the oldest still standing.
Although widely known as ‘Blue Plaques’, it should be noted that it is only since the 1960s that they have been in that color as standard. Some Royal Society of the Arts plaques are blue, but the colors vary, and those put up when the London County Council took over the program in 1901 were brown or a shade of blue-grey very different from the royal blue of today’s plaques.
To confuse matters even further, there are some plaques that are not blue and are not Blue Plaques. The term ‘Blue Plaques’ describes the plaques erected by the Royal Academy or any of the three organizations that took over from them: the London County Council (1901-1965), the Greater London Council (1965-1986) and English Heritage from 1986 onwards. Due to a deal with the Corporation of the City of London, the mile stretch of the City of London itself has its own commemorative notices which are also blue, except for one red Blue Plaque in tribute to author and dictionary-writer Samuel Johnson at his home in Gough Square. Transport for London also has its own plaques that are red.
For those interested in finding London Blue Plaques, they can be found in all boroughs except Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Hillingdon. The most concentrated area for them is the borough of Westminster, which has a third of all Blue Plaques, commemorating figures as diverse as Samuel Pepys and Chopin. However, they can be found as far afield as Croydon to the North and Enfield to the North. Additionally, the selection panel of experts are committed to giving Blue Plaque status to around twelve new buildings every year, meaning the number to discover is ever-growing.
To make the most of the city’s tremendous cultural offerings (performing arts, museums, exhibitions, clubs, eateries and numerous others), visitors will do well to pick up a copy of a cultural magazine like Time Out London (available at most corner shops and newsagents) which gives detailed information and critiques on what’s around town including show times and current attractions. Their website also has major shows listed and there is also an iPhone/iPod app available – though these tend to not be as detailed as the print version.
- Take a walk through London’s Royal Parks. A good walk would start at Paddington station, and head through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park (passing Buckingham Palace) and St James Park before crossing Trafalgar Square and the River Thames to the South Bank and Waterloo Station. At a strolling pace this walk would take half a day, with plenty of places to stop, sit, drink, eat en-route. A good pictorial description of this walk can be found online at Trips By Trains Royal Parks Walk.
- Live Music London is one of the best cities in the world for concerts, spanning from new musical trends to well known bands. Popular classical concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square.
- Between huge concert facilities and small pubs, there are hundreds of venues that organise and promote live music every week. Many concerts, especially in smaller or less known places are free, so there is plenty of choice even for tourists on a budget. London has long been a launchpad for alternative movements, from the mods of the 60s, punks of the 70s, new romantics of the 80s, the britpop scene of the 90s and in recent years the indie rock movement spearheaded by The Libertines and their ilk. It has one of the world’s most lively live music scenes: any band heading a British, European or World tour will play London, not to mention the local talent.
- London’s Music Scene is incredibly diverse, covering all genres of music from electro-jazz to death-metal, and all sizes of bands, from the U2s and Rolling Stones of the world to one man bands who disband after their first gig.
- This diversity is reflected in prices. As a rough guide: £20+ for ‘top 40’ bands in arena sized venues, £10+ for established bands in mid sized venues, £6+ for up and coming bands and club nights in smaller venues, £5- for start up bands in bars and pubs. London has hundreds of venues spread out over the city and the best way to know what’s going on where is to browse on-line ticket agencies and music magazine’s gig directories. One of the easiest to use and most comprehensive listings websites is “LONDONEARS”.
- However, there are a few areas which have higher concentrations of pubs and venues than others. Kilburn is situated in North West London. It’s long been known as an Irish area, and though their numbers have somewhat declined any visit to a local pub will show their influence remains today. Kilburn’s important venue is The Good Ship. Due to its inclusive policies and fair payment system, The Good Ship is a favourite place for young aspiring bands to try to get a foot off the ground. Good for those who would like to see bands “before they were big”, who appreciate £5 entrance fees, good beer and friendly staff.
- Theatre The West End, especially the areas concentrated around Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Shaftesbury Avenue and Haymarket, is one of the world’s premier destinations for theatre, including musical theatre.
- Covent Garden has the only Actor sponsored school in the city called the Actors Centre which also gave way to the London Acting Network, a London acting community support group. In the centre of Leicester Square there is an official half-price TKTS booth.
- For up-to-date listings check the official London theatreland site.
- The South Bank is another area well-known for world class theatre, and is home to both the National Theatre and the Globe Theatre, the latter of which is London’s only thatched building and an attraction in itself. Each Globe performance has over 700 tickets priced at £5. London’s theatre scene outside of these two main districts is known as “the Fringe”. There are tour companies worldwide that take travellers to see London theatre. These companies sell themselves on being able to deliver unique and behind-the-scenes access to some of the world’s greatest theatres.
- Watch a movie As well as the world-famous blockbuster cinemas in the West End, London has a large number of superb art house cinemas. In the summer months, there are often outdoor screenings at various venues, such as Somerset House and in some of the large parks.
- Watch football Take in a home match of one of the city’s 15+ professional football clubs for a true experience of a lifetime as you see the passion of the “World’s Game” in its mother country.
- London often has six clubs in the top Premier League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers (QPR), Tottenham Hotspur, and West Ham United. A level down, in the Football League Championship, finds Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, and Millwall. Five other clubs are in lower levels of the professional league system—Brentford and Leyton Orient in Football League One; and AFC Wimbledon, Barnet and Dagenham & Redbridge in Football League Two. Many of the bigger clubs will require booking in advance, sometimes many months ahead, but smaller clubs allow you to simply turn up on match day and pay at the gate. You will be able to find a ticket to a quality football match on any Saturday during the season.
- Open House London Weekend lets you explore many of the city’s most interesting buildings during the London Open House Weekend – usually held on the third weekend of September. During this single weekend, several hundred buildings which are not normally open to the public are opened up. See website for details of buildings opening in any given year – some buildings have to be pre-booked in advance – book early for the popular ones!
- Winter Skating. London has a number of outdoor ice rinks that open in the winter months. Considered by some to be somewhat overpriced and overcrowded, they nonetheless have multiplied in recent years, easing congestion and increasing competition. Most charge from £10-12 (adults) for an hour on the ice, including skate hire. See the district articles for the City of London, East End and Leicester Square.
- Summer Skating. In summer (and also in winter, for the more dedicated) there is also a thriving roller skating (on inline and traditional “quad” skates) scene in London, catering to many disciplines including street hockey, freestyle slalom, dance, general recreational skating (including three weekly marshalled group street skates) and speed skating. This mostly centres around Hyde Park (on the Serpentine Road) and Kensington Gardens (by the Albert Memorial). See the district articles for Mayfair-Marylebone and South West London.
- Do-it-yourself bus tour If you don’t feel like splashing out on one of the commercial bus tours, you can make your own bus tour by buying an Oyster card and spending some time riding around London on the top deck of standard London buses. Of course you don’t get the open air or the commentary, but the views are very similar. You will likely get lost but that is half the fun; if it worries you go for a commercial tour.
- For a guided tour of London check out The Literary London Walking Tour – an interesting, informative and funny walk through London and its literary hotspots of the past and present. Meet local writers and poets and listen to them perform their works (£15 per person).
- London Pub Quiz One of the most popular events on a Sunday thru Thursday evening is a British style pub quiz. You can find a local quiz at hundreds of pubs around London. For a comprehensive list and map of quizzes through out London check out Question One, The real social network. Entry fees vary, but are usually between £1-2 per person and teams can be from 2-8 people.
- Discover Walks, 4 Coney Way London SW8 1LW, ☎ +44 20 3514-0211. Meet actual Londoners in addition to exploring major landmarks. Join a walk with locals who will “decode” the city with you, and also learn from an insider about local events and festivals, about where to shop, good places to eat or drink, secret places locals keep to themselves.
- Photo tours and Portrait sessions. By appointment, tours last from 3.5 hours to several days. Instructional tours that combine hands-on learning of essential photographic techniques with guiding to, and commentary about, photogenic spots in London. Led by English-speaking photographers and instructors, these photos tours are open to all skill levels and interest. Portrait sessions are perfect to capture some unique moments in London. Conducted by professional photographers, these sessions are good for special occasions or just for the fun of it. From £245 per 90min session. From £160/half day; £240/full day
Almost anything you could possibly want to buy is available in London. Its flagship store, Harrods in Knightsbrige once famously boasted they could source anything you could desire from anywhere in the world – at a price. The largest department store in Europe its motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique – All Things for All People, Everywhere. Harrods once even sold exotic animals to anyone who could pay, including elephants and tigers, though their pet department closed after 90 years in 2014.
London is an enormous city, and many of its suburbs qualify as small cities in themselves with similar concentrations of chain stores to those you would find in the West End. Some Londoners prefer not to shop along Oxford Street and eschew “shopping in town” in favour of local malls. Westfield shopping mall near Shepherd’s Bush, for example is the biggest shopping mall in Europe, with over 300 retail outlets. Because of the city’s comprehensive public transport, getting out to the suburbs is very easy and fast.
In Central London, the main shopping district is the West End (Oxford St, Regent St, Bond St, and Covent Garden). Many West End stores open late on Thursdays, typically until 8 – 9pm.
The archetypal high street and the busiest shopping street in Europe, Oxford Street takes in four tube stations: It stretches from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Rd, via Bond Street and Oxford Circus, which is roughly in the middle. There are around 300 stores on Oxford Street, including major high street department stores like John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and Selfridges. Set on three floors, Topshop’s flagship Oxford Street branch is billed as Britain’s largest fashion store. Very busy at weekends, Oxford Street is less daunting after the rush hour on weekday mornings.
Several notable shopping streets run off Oxford Street. At the junction of Oxford Circus lies Regent Street, home to Hamley’s, which at seven levels is arguably the largest (and oldest) toy shop in the world. The flagship London Apple Store is also based on Regent Street. Liberty’s, with its Tudor style frontage and famous Art Nouveau printed fabrics is adjacent to Regent Street on Great Marlborough Street. Nearby is Carnaby Street, world famous for its swinging Sixties explosion of fashion. It now houses independent fashion outlets and Kingly Court, a small and pretty piazza, home to cafes and vintage boutique shops.
Bond Street runs from Oxford Street to Piccadilly. Some of the world’s most luxurious designer stores such as Cartier, D&G, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton and Versace are sited here.
Tottenham Court Road runs from Tottenham Court Road tube station on Oxford Street, to Euston Road. The Northern section contains some of the world’s most luxurious designer interior stores such as Heals, whilst the southern end is famous for its large concentration of hi-fi, computer and electronics stores.
Leading off Piccadilly, Burlington Arcade is a Regency passage with a glass roof. With wrought iron lamps and over thirty mahogany fronted shops it sells high-end goods, from fashion and fine fabrics to jewellery. It closes at 5.30pm to the chime of the Burlington Bell. Iconic department store Fortnum and Mason is nearby, famous for its quality goods and afternoon teas.
On the south side of Piccadilly, historic Jermyn Street sells high quality men’s haberdashers and toiletry shops like Turnbull & Asser. Nearby is world famous Saville Row, housing the finest bespoke men’s tailors in London, since its inception in 1803.
Covent Garden is centred around a fashionable neo-classical piazza, designed by Inigo Jones in 1631 and it is home to quirky outlets and trendy designer stores. There is a street market in the piazza and the London Transport Museum gift shop sells souvenirs (old maps, vintage Tube posters). Adjoining streets are filled with vintage, fashion and designer shops. Around Seven Dials chains include Adidas Originals, All Saints, Carhartt, Fred Perry, G Star Raw and Stussy. Trendy Neal Street is renowned for shoe shopping, and Neal’s Yard Dairy sells healthy, organic food. Monmouth Street is a very fashionable location, with outlets for British fashion designers selling both new and used clothes.
Near to Covent Garden, Charing Cross Road is a book lovers’ haven. New, second-hand, antiquarian and specialist book shops abound, and it also contains the flagship Foyles store, once the largest book shop in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records.
Soho offers alternative music outlets and vintage vinyl. It now houses Chappell of Bond St’s historic music shop. Traditionally known for its sex shops, Soho also has more up high-end market offerings like the flagship store Agent Provocateur, selling provocative designer lingerie
Knightsbridge and Chelsea are up-market shopping areas. Many stores in Kensington and Chelsea close late on Wednesdays, typically from 8 – 9pm. Department stores include the world famous Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Chelsea’s King’s Road is noted for fashion, home wares and trendy children’s goods.
Beauchamp Place has a strong reputation as one of London’s most distinctive streets, housing some of the best known names in London fashion and frequented by royalty and celebrity shoppers. It is interspersed with noted restaurants, jewellers and speciality shops including the world famous trademark Fortuny.
Camden Town is renowned for alternative clothing/shopping, especially popular with teenagers and young adults. On the banks of Regent’s canal, Camden Lock markets sell quirky, affordable new and vintage clothes and artefacts. Forbidden Planet sells unusual ‘geeky’ gifts and Cyberdog fashion store is like shopping in a night club.
Angel, Islington is south east of Camden. It is noted for independent clothes shops from luxury designer to vintage. Camden Passage is good for vintage buys and also for antique shops. Nearby Upper Street and Essex Street are lined with designer, high street and specialist shops.
Kensington High Street is the perfect shopping hangout for kids who aren’t particularly bothered about the price tag. The clothes stores target fashion-savvy young adults with an eye for edgy, designer clothes. Nearby Kensington Church Street is a mecca of high-end antique shops.
- Oxford Street. Main shopping street home to flagship branches of all the major British high street retailers in one go including Selfridges, John Lewis (includes a food hall), Marks & Spencer and other department stores. Really overcrowded and has pretty ordinary shops actually.
- Regent Street (between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus). Includes such gems as Hamleys, considered to be London’s flagship toy store, on seven levels, and the London Apple Store.
- Bond Street. Some of the world’s most luxurious designer stores such as Cartier, D&G, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton and Versace.
- Tottenham Court Road. Contains some of the world’s most luxurious designer interior stores such as Heals, whilst the southern end is famous for its large concentration of hi-fi, computer and electronics stores.
- Covent Garden. Fashionable area home to quaint outlets and relatively expensive designer stores. Around Seven Dials chains include Adidas Originals, All Saints, Carhartt, Fred Perry, G Star Raw and Stussy. For shoes head for Neal St. Also the London Transport Museum whose gift shop has some of the best souvenirs in the city (old maps, vintage Tube posters, etc). But the vendors are now not allowed to sell merchandise with Union Jacks on. Sad.
- Charing Cross Road (near Covent Garden). A book lovers haven! New, second-hand, antiquarian and specialist.
- Soho . Offers alternative music and clothes. Now home to Chappell of Bond St’s historic music shop.
- Camden Town. Alternative clothing and other alternative shopping, popular with teenagers and young adults. Also nearby Camden Lock market. Has lots of really cool and affordable stuff but kind of gothish.
- Chelsea. The King’s Road is noted for fashion, homeware and kids. On Wednesday many stores close late.
- Knightsbridge. Department stores include the world famous Harrods (includes a food hall) and Harvey Nichols. On Wednesday many stores close late.
- Beauchamp Place.Shop where royalty and celebrities shop.One of the world’s most unique and famous streets. Over the years it has developed its strong reputation as one of London’s most fashionable and distinctive streets, housing some of the best known names in London fashion, interspersed with trendy restaurants, jewellers and speciality shops including the world famous trademark Fortuny .
- Westminster. Some of the world’s most famous shirts are made on Jermyn St. Savile Row is home to some of the world’s best men’s bespoke tailors including Henry Poole, Gieves & Hawkes, H. Huntsman & Sons, Dege & Skinner and many other.
- Westfield. In Shepherd’s Bush and now Stratford. Hard to miss. Has designer shops in with the more affordable chain shops. It’s the biggest shopping centre in Europe. Has lots of good places to eat. It can get very busy on weekends though. Has its own train station.
Borough (tube: London Bridge) is a great (if expensive) food market, offering fruit, veg, cheese, bread, meat, fish, and so on, much of it organic. Th-Sa (best to go in the morning, since it gets unpleasantly crowded by around 11:00).
Old Spitalfields Market is an excellent market for clothes from up-and-coming designers, records, housewares, food, and all things trendy, it was once the London fruit markets. Find it at 65 Brushfield St London E1 6AA (Straight down Bell Lane past 66-68 and keep walking). Visit 66/68 Bell Lane nearby to see a wealthy merchants house, rumor has it John Lennon once played on the roof of this building with Yoko Ono. Also checkout Brick Lane, Greenwich and Portobello
It is a huge task for a visitor to find the ‘right place’ to eat in London – with the ‘right atmosphere’, at the ‘right price’ – largely because, as in any big city, there are literally thousands of venues from which to choose, ranging from fast food joints, pubs, and mainstream chains all the way up to some of the most exclusive restaurants in the world which attract the kind of clientele that don’t need to ask the price. Sorting the good from the bad isn’t easy, but London has something to accommodate all budgets and tastes. Following is a rough guide to what you might get, should you fancy eating out:
- Up to £5 – you can get a good English pub or cafeteria breakfast with a rack of bacon, beans in tomato sauce, egg, sausage, orange juice and coffee or tea. Most pubs stop this offer at 11:00, but there are literally hundreds of backstreet cafes (collquially known as “greasy spoons”) which will serve this sort of food all day.
- £7 – will buy you a couple of sandwiches and a soft drink, some takeaway fish and chips, or a fast food meal. There are also a number of mostly Chinese restaurants which serve an all you can eat buffet for around this price. These are dotted about the West End and it is well worth asking a member of public or a shopkeeper where the nearest one is. These restaurants make much of their revenue on drinks although these are usually still moderately priced. The food whilst not being of the finest standard is usually very tasty and the range of dishes available is excellent. There are literally thousands of so called takeaways in London and a cheap alternative to a restaurant meal. Check with your hotel management if they allow food deliveries before ordering in. Most takeaways will offer some form of seating, but not all do.
- £6-10 – will get you a good pub meal and drink or a good Chinese/Indian/Italian/Thai/Vietnamese buffet. Be aware that many pubs have a buy-one-get-one-free offer, and you can either order two main dishes for yourself or bring a friend.
- £15 – some more expensive French, Mediterranean and international restaurants do cheaper two or three course lunch menus.
- £25 – offers you a lot more choice. You can have a good meal, half a bottle of wine and change for the tube home. There are plenty of modest restaurants that cater for this bracket.
- £50 (to almost any amount!) – with more money to spend you can pick some of the city’s finer restaurants. It may be a famous chef (like Michel Roux, Jr or Gordon Ramsay) or simply a place that prides itself on using the finest ingredients. Worth the splurge to impress a special someone. Note that these establishments often need to be booked well in advance, and most will enforce a dress code of some sort, like Rules of Covent Garden, the oldest resturant still extant.
Prices inevitably become inflated at venues closest to major tourist attractions – beware the so-called tourist traps. The worst tourist trap food is, in the opinion of many Londoners, is served at the various steak houses (Angus Steak House, Aberdeen Steak House etc – they are all dotted around the West End and near to the main train stations). Londoners wouldn’t dream of eating here – you shouldn’t either! Notorious areas for inflated menu prices trading on travellers’ lack of knowledge are the streets around the British Museum, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Even the major fast food chains charge a premium in their West End outlets – so watch out.
Pubs within the touristy areas of London are usually a poor choice for food although there are some brilliant ‘gastro-pubs’ hidden away – use the internet or a good guide (such as Time Out or Datemojo) to find them. In general avoid all pubs that have graphic-designed and printed menus – it’s peoples experiences in these kind of places that gives Britain a bad name for food! Look around you – see any locals tucking in? No? – then you shouldn’t either. The other rule to follow when avoiding poor food is the same as in any other part of Europe – is the menu available in multiple languages? If yes then start running!!
In the suburbs, the cost of eating out is reduced drastically. Particularly in large ethnic communities, there is a competitive market which stands to benefit the consumer. In East London for example, the vast number of chicken shops means that a deal for 2 pieces of chicken, chips (fries) and a drink shouldn’t cost you more than £3 especially on Brick Lane. Another good (and cheap) lunch option is a chicken or lamb doner (gyro) at many outlets throughout the city, though meat quality is often poor.
For more authentic Cockney food, try pie and mash, which originates from the working-class in the East End. Usually minced beef and cold water pastry pie served with mashed potato, mushy peas and ‘liquour’ gravy, it tastes a lot better then it sounds. Some of the best pie houses are M. Manze in Peckham or F. Cooke in Hackney Broadway Market. Water Souchet and London Particular (green-pea and ham) are classic Cockney soups, though hard to find on menus. For those game, jellied eels, pickled-cockles and whelks are all traditional London seafood. For cheap, quality fish and chips frequented by many black cab drivers, try Super Fish near Waterloo station.
Tipping may also be different than what you’re used to. All meals include the 20% VAT tax and some places include a service fee (10-12%). The general rule is to leave a tip for table service, unless there’s already a service charge added or unless the service has been notably poor. The amount tipped is generally in the region of 10%, but if there’s a figure between 10 and 15% which would leave the bill at a conveniently round total, many would consider it polite to tip this amount. Tipping for counter service, or any other form of service, is unusual – but some choose to do so if a tips container is provided.
Many Londoners, especially in the evenings, eat out in their local neighborhood or a nearby restaurant hub, rather than eating in central London. The reasons are simple; the the quality of the food will be better, the quality of the service is better, and the cost is significantly lower. Generally in zones 2-6 you will get a much more pleasant, better value, and less crowded eating experience than you will find in the West End. The suburbs are home to many independent restaurants that keep standards high in order to attach repeat custom. Even the chain restaurants tend to be better outside zone 1 serving identical menus to their West End outlets but without tourist premiums being added to the prices.
Restaurant streets are best visited in the evenings as many places are closed or very quiet during the day.
European / British Cuisine
- Upper Street – Head to Highbury & Islington (Victoria line) or Angel (Northern line). Dozens of excellent restaurants, popular with young professionals.
- Stoke Newington Church Street – has a fantastic range of independent restaurants and cafes. Stoke Newington Rail Station or the 73 bus.
- Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia has a wide range of chain and independent restaurants covering all cuisines. It is particularly popular with workers in the media industry, especially during weekday lunchtimes. Goodge Street Tube
- Clapham Junction is not just a train station (lots of quick trains from Victoria and Waterloo) – but also home to many good restaurants and bars, in three clusters, all within 10 minutes walk of the station: Northcote Road / Battersea Rise, Lavender Hill, and St Johns Hill
- Lordship Lane in the southern suburbs – head to East Dulwich station – a good selection of European restaurants and a few award winning gastropubs
- Kings Street extends on to Chiswick High Road from Hammersmith Tube Station and is one long road of a choice of restaurants at very reasonable prices, some bargain mentions are the Thai restaurants offering 2 course lunch for £7. Nearby Shepherds bush is about a 15min walk and is alive with bars and pubs in the evening.
- South End, Croydon Croydon is derided by most Londoners as the end of the earth, however this suburban gem of a road has at least 30 decent restaurants, including three Argentinians, a Peruvian, a fish restaurant, and a couple of fancy modern European brassieres. Sadly chain restaurants are moving in (Zizzi’s, Pizza Express) but most of the places are still independent. Get a quick train to East Croydon station from Victoria or London Bridge (or South Croydon station, slower but nearer).
East Asian, South Asian, Middle-Eastern, Caribbean, and other
As one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, you can find restaurants serving food cuisine from nearly every country, some of it as good as, if not better than in the countries of origin. Indian food in London is especially famous and there is hardly a district without at least one notable Indian restaurant.
If you are looking for other particular regional foods these tend to be clustered in certain areas and some examples are:
- Brick Lane in the East End is famous for Bangladeshi curries. Aldgate East or Shoreditch High Street tube stations.
- Brixton for African/Caribbean. Brixton tube.
- Drummond Street (just behind Euston railway station in the London/Camden district) has a fine mix of Indian / vegetarian restaurants – a short walk from Euston railway station.
- Chinatown just off Leicester Square for Chinese.
- Edgware Road in Marylebone and Paddington is popular for Middle Eastern cuisine.
- Golders Green for Jewish fare.
- Kingsland Road for good cheap Vietnamese.
- Finsbury Park and nearby areas for Greek and Turkish.
- Tooting, East Ham, Wembley and Southall for authentic & cheap Indian eateries including authentic South Indian restaurants serving hot pongal, dosas, idlis and other South Indian “tiffin” items.
- New Malden in south west London (zone 4) for Korean food.
Other nationalities are equally represented and randomly dotted all over London. It is usually wisest to eat in restaurants on main thoroughfares rather than on quiet backstreets.
Like other capitals in the world, London has the usual array of fast food outlets. Sandwich shops are the most popular places to buy lunch, and there are a lot of places to choose from including Eat and Pret a Manger. Some Italian-style sandwich shops have a very good reputation and you can identify them easily by looking at the long queues at lunchtime. If all else fails, Central London has lots of mini-supermarkets operated by the big British supermarket chains (e.g. , Sainsbury’s, Tesco) where you can pick up a pre-packed sandwich.
Fast food with an Asian flair is easy to find throughout the city, with lots of Busaba Eathai, Wagamama, and Yo! Sushi locations throughout the city. Nando’s has spicy peri peri style grilled chicken.
London has plenty of vegetarian-only restaurants many of them championing organic foodstuffs, and a quick search in Google will produce plenty of ideas, so you never have to see a piece of cooked meat all week.
If you are dining with carnivorous friends most restaurants will cater for vegetarians and will have at least a couple of dishes on the menu. Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants are generally fruitful, as they have plenty of traditional dishes (good Indian/Bangladeshi options can be found in the Brick Lane area of Spitalfields or further afeild in East Ham, Tooting Broadway and Southall. These also tend to be very cheap eats with authentically prepared dishes with a true local ambience). There are also many vegetarian Thai buffet places where you can eat fake meat in tooth-achingly sweet sauces for under £5. These can be found on Greek and Old Compton Sts in Soho and Islington High Street.
Due to the mix of cultures and religions, many London restaurants cater well for religious dietary requirements. The most common signs are for Halal and Kosher meat, from burger joints to nice restaurants. There are lots of Halal restaurants and shops all over London including Whitechapel Rd and Brick Lane in the East End, Bayswater, Edgware Rd and Paddington and in many parts of north London. There are plenty of Kosher restaurants in Golders Green, Edgware and Stamford Hill along with some central delis such as on Charing Cross Road. There is also Hare Khrisna vegan resturant just off Charing X in Soho Square.
Convenience stores and supermarkets
Convenience stores such as Tesco Metro, Sainsbury Central/Local, Budgens, Costcutter, SPAR, Cooperative as well as privately-run ‘corner shops’ sell pre-made sandwiches, snacks, alcohol, cigarettes, drinks etc. Most are open from 05:00-23:00 (5 AM-11 PM) although some such as Tesco Metro or convenience stores located at petrol stations may open 24 hours although they will stop selling alcohol after 23:00 (11 PM). Be aware that Whistlestop convenience stores (located in or around train stations) are notoriously overpriced and should be avoided. If using a petrol-station convenience store late at night (i.e. after 23:00/11 PM) the store will be locked and you should order and pay through the external service window.
Full-size superstores such as Tesco, Asda and Morrisons are rare in the city centre and usually require a 15-20 min tube ride to reach them. One of the closest is the ASDA store close to Crossharbour DLR Station on the Lewisham line – about 15-minute ride from Bank Station or at the end of the 135 24-hour bus line. There is also a Tesco in the Surrey Quays shopping mall which is next to Canada Water station on the Jubilee line – again about 10-15 minutes from the centre of town. If you plan on buying lots of groceries it’s worth the trip as prices are much lower than in any downtown supermarkets.