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London is an enormous city. It is divided into thirty-two boroughs, although information on this page is divided between districts, inner boroughs and outer boroughs of the city. These district and borough articles contain sightseeing, restaurant, nightlife and accommodation listings — consider printing them all.
The name London originally referred only to the once-walled "Square Mile" of the original Roman (and later medieval) city (confusingly called the "City of London" or just "The City"). Today, London has taken on a much larger meaning to include all of the vast central parts of the modern metropolis, with the city having absorbed numerous surrounding towns and villages over the centuries, including large portions of the surrounding "home counties", one of which - Middlesex - being completely consumed by the growing metropolis. The term "Central London" is widely used on both signs and by the media to describe the central core of the city, which encompasses The City, most of the City of Westminster, and some of the surrounding boroughs. The term "Greater London" embraces Central London together with all the outlying suburbs that lie in one continuous urban sprawl within the lower Thames valley. Though densely populated by New World standards, London retains large swathes of green parkland and open space, even within the city centre.
Greater London consists of 32 London boroughs and the City of London that, together with the office of the Mayor of London, form the basis for London's local government. The Mayor of London is elected by London residents and should not be confused with the Lord Mayor of the City of London. The names of several boroughs, such as Westminster or Camden, are well-known, others less so, such as Wandsworth or Lewisham. This traveller's guide to London recognises cultural, functional and social districts of varying type and size:
Vibrant historic district made famous by a group of turn-of-the-century writers and for being the location of the British Museum, the University of London and numerous historic homes, parks, and buildings. Part of the Borough of Camden.
City of London
The City is where London originally developed within the Roman city walls and is a city in its own right, separate from the rest of London. One of the most important financial centres in the world with modern skyscrapers standing next to medieval churches on ancient street layouts.
One of the main shopping and entertainment districts. Incorporates some of London's theatreland. Part of the City of Westminster and Borough of Camden.
Buffer zone between London's West End and the City of London financial district, home to the Inns of Court
West End district comprising Leicester Square, Chinatown, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus and the centre of London's cinema and theatre land
Some extremely well-heeled districts of west central London and most of the city's premier shopping street
Notting Hill-North Kensington
Lively market, interesting history, the world famous carnival and diverse population
Largely residential district of northwest central London with lots of mid-range accommodation
Dense concentration of highly fashionable restaurants, cafés, clubs and jazz bars, as well as London's gay village
South side of the river Thames with good views of the city, several theatres and the London Eye
An extremely well-heeled inner London district with famous department stores, Hyde Park, many museums and the King's Road
A city in its own right, the seat of government and an almost endless list of historical and cultural sights, such as Buckingham Palace, The Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey.
Inner London Areas
a diverse area of inner north London which includes eclectic Camden Town
a traditional working class heartland of inner London to the east of The City made famous by countless movies and TV shows, and home to trendy bars, art galleries and parks, especially in the Shoreditch, Hoxton, Old Street area. Now redeveloped and world famous as the setting for London 2012 Olympic Games.
on the pretty southern banks of the Thames, home of the Greenwich Meridian, Observatory and the National Maritime Museum
Hackney has risen the ranks and become fashionable in recent decades and is home to a thriving arts scene as well as many trendy, cafés bars and pubs.
Hammersmith and Fulham
Borough in west London with a diverse population and the home of the BBC, plus a hotbed for professional football
Bohemian and literary north London and the wonderful open spaces of Hampstead Heath
Area to the north of Clerkenwell which has undergone huge gentrification since 1990
a diverse Caribbean-flavoured district to the south of the Thames which includes the buzzing, bright-lights of Brixton
inner southern districts of London, traditionally residential, with a large melting pot of communities. The area retains some leftfield, quirky attractions. You can just about find a resturant from any ethnic group in the world too.
grand Thames-side areas and open green parks in the north and dense housing in south
The City and Westminster
If you ask a Londoner where the centre of London is, you are likely to get a wry smile. This is because historically London was two cities: a commercial city and a separate government capital.
However, the point from which distances to "London" are measured is in Trafalgar Square, where the original Charing Cross stood.
The commercial capital was the City of London. This had a dense population and all the other pre-requisites of a medieval city: walls, a castle (The Tower of London), a cathedral (Saint Pauls), a semi-independent City government, a port and a bridge across which all trade was routed so Londoners could make money (London Bridge).
About an hour upstream (on foot or by boat) around a bend in the river was the government capital (Westminster). This had a church for crowning the monarch (Westminster Abbey) and palaces. As each palace was replaced by a larger one, the previous one was used for government, first the Palace of Westminster (better known as the Houses of Parliament), then Whitehall, then Buckingham Palace. The two were linked by a road called "The Strand", old English for riverbank.
London grew both west and east. The land to the west of the City (part of the parish of Westminster) was prime farming land (Covent Garden and Soho for example) and made good building land. The land to the east was flat, marshy and cheap, good for cheap housing and industry, and later for docks. Also the wind blows 3 days out of 4 from west to east, and the Thames (into which the sewage went) flows from west to east. So the West End was up-wind and up-market, the East End (as well as further down river and beyond) was where the city's heavy industries were based, and thus became the epicentre of the working classes.
Modern-day London in these terms is a two-centre city, with the area in between known confusingly as the West End. However, even this doesn't define the actual central area of London, which extends slightly beyond the City and Westminster, as inner portions of the surrounding boroughs (Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Lambeth) also lie within Central London.
Despite varied weather patterns, the city has an unfair reputation for being drizzly, grey and rainy. This is mostly an unfounded belief. In fact, London enjoys a drier climate than the rest of United Kingdom (and a warmer one) due to it having its own urban microclimate. On average, only one in three days will bring rain and usually then only for a short period. In some cases, 2010 being a well-known example, the city can go without rain for several weeks, leading to hosepipe bans across the city.
As for temperatures, London is far milder than nearby continental European cities due to the presence of the Gulf Stream. Average daily maximum is 8°C (46°F) in December and January (a full 4 degrees warmer than the rest of the United Kingdom on long-term average) and February is usually the coldest month of the year. In summer, temperatures can rise up to 24°C (75°F), and once reached as high as 38°C (100°F), as happened in 2003.
Due to the urban microclimate, inner London can feel hot and humid for several days in the summer months, especially during the evenings. However, summer is still perhaps the best season for tourists as it has long daylight hours as well as mostly mild temperatures.
Heathrow Airport (LHR) is London and Europe's largest airport and the world's busiest airport in terms of international passenger movement, with services available from most major airports world-wide.
There are five separate terminals. During 2015, T1 closed for redevelopment.
Heathrow is dominated by the UK's flag-carrier British Airways, who use the airport as its home base and principal hub, and consequently operate nearly 40% of all the airport's flights. BA have their main base in Terminal 5, but also have a major presence in Terminal 3. Flights landing at Heathrow may be delayed by up to an hour as a simple result of air traffic congestion and waiting for parking slots. To complicate the matter, airlines that fly into Heathrow are currently playing a system-wide game of musical chairs as gate assignments are cycled through the new terminal, making it even more necessary for travellers to check their terminal and gate assignment in advance. Do plan your itinerary to allocate some time needed to get through Heathrow Airport T3, there can be long queues if you are not holding an EEA passport.
(LGW) London's second airport, also serving a large spectrum of places world-wide. It is the world's busiest single runway airport and is split into a North and South Terminal. The two terminals are linked by a free shuttle train (5 minutes). The train station is located in the South Terminal. To get to the centre of the city, there are various rail options and two bus options; please note the wide range of prices. If you need a Travelcard added on, to cover any onward travel that same day on Underground or bus, Tickets valid on trains branded Express are most expensive - £30.10, compared to £15.20 with Southern and only £13 with Thameslink; this cheapest option connects with more Underground lines than the other two, and takes about the same time.
Stansted (STN) is London's third airport, and is dominated by the two low-cost airlines EasyJet and Ryanair who use the airport as a hub, as well as holiday charter airlines Thomson and Pegasus. Stansted also accommodates a few other scheduled carriers within Europe and a small number of inter-continental flights.
Stansted is very distant from the centre of London at Charing Cross - almost 38 mi (60km) away in Essex but less than 29 mi (47km) from either Cambridge or Colchester.
London City Airport
(LCY) A commuter airport close to the City's financial district, and specialising in short-haul business flights to other major European cities. There are a growing number of routes to holiday destinations including Malaga, Ibiza and Majorca. There is also a business class only flight to New York JFK operated by British Airways.
Wikitravel has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.
London is the hub of the British rail network - every major city in mainland Britain has a frequent train service to the capital, and most of the smaller, provincial cities and large towns also have a direct rail connection to London of some sort - although the frequency and quality of service can vary considerably from place to place.
Rail fares to London vary enormously from very cheap to prohibitively expensive - the golden rules are to book Advance tickets for a particular train time, don't travel into the city on Friday afternoons and Sundays, and avoid buying tickets on the day of travel. There are three basic types of ticket, which are summarised below. Note that much of the advice applies to rail travel in general within the United Kingdom.
Most international and domestic long distance bus (UK English: coach) services arrive at and depart from a complex of coach stations off Buckingham Palace Road in Westminster, close to London Victoria rail station. All services operated by National Express or Eurolines (see below) serve Victoria Coach Station, which actually has separate arrival and departure buildings. Services by other operators may use this station, or the Green Line Coach Station across Buckingham Palace Road.
London is the hub of the UK's road network and is easy to reach by car, even if driving into the centre of the city is definitely not recommended. Greater London is encircled by the M25 orbital motorway, from which nearly all the major trunk routes to Scotland, Wales and the rest of England radiate. The most important are listed below.
M1: The main route to/from the North, leading from the East Midlands, Yorkshire and terminating at Leeds. Most importantly, Britain's longest motorway - the M6, branches from the M1 at Rugby, leading to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, the Lake District and onwards to the Scottish border, and ultimately Glasgow.
A1/A1(M) The A1 is the original, historic "Great North Road" between England and Scotland's capital cities and has largely been converted to motorway standard; it runs up the eastern side of Great Britain through Peterborough, York, Newcastle and continues north through Northumberland and the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh.
M40/A40: Arrives in London from a north westerly direction, linking the city with Oxford and providing an additional link from Birmingham.
M4: The principal route to/from the West - leading to Bath, Bristol and cities South Wales (Cardiff and Swansea). It is also the main route towards Heathrow Airport.
M3: The main route to London from the shipping port of Southampton. Additionally, the A303/A30 branches off at Basingstoke, leading to Exeter, Plymouth and through the heart of Devon and Cornwall to finish at Land's End.
M2/M20: Together, these motorways are the main link to the coastal ferry (and Channel Tunnel) ports of Dover and Folkestone from Continental Europe.
M11: The M11 connects Stansted Airport and Cambridge to London, and it terminates on the north eastern periphery of the city.
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: 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 "top up" an Oyster card with electronic funds for any amount starting in increments of 10p, though top ups using credit cards start at £5. 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 the number of zones 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. If you intend to use only the Bus (and/or the tram), there is a daily capping at £4.40. If you use the Tube as well, the daily capping stands at £6.40. If you are not in a hurry, try to use the Bus because of its panoramic view from the top deck. there is no 'Zone demarcation' for Buses as the Bus fares are calculated from start to end (flat fare of £1.50 each journey).
London is a surprisingly compact city, making it a walker's delight and walking is often 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!
What to see
London is a huge city, so all individual listings are in the appropriate district articles and only an overview is presented here.
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 £23 per person.
The Shard offers London in its entirety, with an 72nd floor observation platform offering a 40 mile view of the city and beyond. It costs £25.95 (if booked online, £30.95 on the day) 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 £4 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.
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.