London is an enormous noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural city - a megalopolis of people, ideas and frenetic energy. The capital and largest city of both the United Kingdom and of England, it is also the largest city in Western Europe and the European Union. Situated on the River Thames in South-East England, Greater London has an official population of a little over 8 million.
Weather in London
Winter in London is mild compared to nearby continental European cities, due to both the presence of the Gulf Stream and urban heat effect.
Summer is perhaps the best season for tourists as it has long daylight hours as well as mild temperatures. The average daily high temperatures in July and August are around 24°C (75°F) The highest temperature since 2000 was recorded once in August at 38°C (100°F). This means London can feel hot and humid for several days in the summer months. Also, because of urban heat effect, during night time it could feel muggy.
What to see in London
London is a huge city, so all individual listings are in the appropriate district articles and only an overview is presented here.
- 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 featuring a drawbridge and 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 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 its definitely somewhere worth visiting. Sometimes there are guided ghost walks of the building.
- Trafalgar Square - Home of Nelson's Column and the 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.
London hosts an outstanding collection of world-class museums. Although London can be expensive, many of the best museums and galleries are partially free including:
- British Museum
- National Gallery
- National Portrait Gallery
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Tate Modern
- Tate Britain
- and most museums in Greenwich.
London also hosts some of most amazing parks:
- 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.
What to do in London
- 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.
- The Science museum, located right next to the Natural History museum is a very popular museum. It is enormous and is a fascinating place to visit.
- Another great place to walk is through Regents Park. It is full of some fantastic cafe's, bars and tennis courts. London Zoo is just on the other side of the park from the tube station. There are cycle and footpaths so it is definitely a place worth visiting
- Live Music London is one of the best cities in the world for concerts, spanning from new musical trends to well known bands.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Go to Wimbledon - it is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is widely considered the most prestigious. Naturally it is a regular feature on the Tennis calendar. London goes "tennis crazy" for two weeks when the competition commences in late June and early July. One of the greatest traditions is to eat Strawberries and Cream, with sugar.
- Open House London Weekend. 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.
Shopping in London
London is also one of the world's most fashion conscious cities, which explains the abundance of clothing shops from the flagship shops of Oxford Street to the tiny boutiques of Brick Lane.
Though not particularly known for bargain shopping, nearly anything you could possibly want to buy is available in London.
- 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.
- Borough is a great (if expensive) food market, offering fruit, veg, cheese, bread, meat, fish, and so on, much of it organic.
- 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.
What to eat in London
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.
Some of traditional London's food are:
- Pie and Mash with Liquor Sauce
- Bacon Butty
- Chelsea Bun
- Sticky Toffee Pudding
- Toasted Cheese Sandwich aka Cheese Toastie
- Scotch Egg
- Roast Bone Marrow
- Potted Shrimps
- Meat Fruit
Nightlife is an integral part of London life and there are countless nightclubs in and around Central London with music to suit even the most eclectic of tastes. Districts in London tend to specialize to different types of music.
The Farringdon/Hoxton/Shoreditch area has many clubs playing drum and bass, house and trance music and is home to the superclub Fabric. The clubs in this area are often home to the world's top DJ's and attracts a lively, hip and friendly crowd.
The area around Mayfair is home to the more upmarket clubs in London. This area attracts a rather more showy crowd who love to flaunt what they have and is a must go to celebrity spot. Beware that drinks are ridiculously expensive and many clubs operate a guestlist-only policy. Music played here is often of the commercial chart, funky house, hip hop and R&B genre. Notable clubs include China White, Luxx, Maddox, Jalouse, Funky Buddha, Whisky Mist, Mahiki, No 5 Cavendish Square, Embassy, Vendome and Maya.
Nightclubs around the Leicester Square area hold the same music policy, but are rather more accessible, with numerous club and pub crawl promoters scattered around the area offering deals on entry. Notable clubs are Cafe De Paris, 1 Big Night Out pub crawl, Penthouse, Sound, Tiger Tiger, Zoo bar and Ruby Blue.
The Camden area is home to clubs which play Indie, metal and rock music and notably the Electric Ballroom, the world famous Koko (Fridays) and Underworld, however be aware that Camden clubs are mostly shut (or empty) on the weekdays.
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