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Frommer's EasyGuide to London 2017

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Named “Best Guidebook of the Year” by the Society of American Travel Writers in a previous edition, this fiercely opinionated guide not only tells travelers what to see and do, but also what’s not worth their time. In a city with an overwhelming number of attractions, lodgings, restaurants, museums, and shops. Cochran, as the judging panel noted, is also unusually talented at bringing culture and history to life, in an accessible and fun-to-read fashion. Whether your budget is large or tight, Cochran shows you London like a local—something many guides claim but few do as well as this one.

This book is fully updated yearly, has large easy-to-read type, and contains:

-Exact prices and tube stops for every listing in the book, so there’s never any nasty surprises
-A handy pull-out map, with helpful bulleted maps throughout, including a London Tube map
-Insightful discussions of London’s history and culture
-Opinionated reviews of attractions, nightlife, hotels, restaurants and shops in all price ranges

List price: $16.95

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10 Chapters

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1 THE BEST OF LONDON

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The Best of London

Whether you realize it or not, London shaped your destiny. There’s hardly a quarter of the globe that London, as the seat of England’s government, hasn’t changed. The United States was founded in reaction to London’s edicts. Australia was first peopled with London’s criminals. Modern Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand were cultivated from London. India’s course was irrevocably changed by the aspirations of London businessmen, as were the lives of millions of African slaves who were shipped around the world while Londoners lined their pockets with profits. That you bought this book, written in English ­somewhere other than in England, is evidence of London’s reach across time and distance. And its dominion continues to this day: London is the world’s most popular destination for foreign tourists.

London is inexhaustible. You could tour it for months and barely get to know it. Few cities support such a variety of people living in remarkable harmony. In 2016, this historically Christian country even elected a Muslim mayor—one who earned a fatwa for ­supporting LGBT rights. That diversity makes London like a cut diamond; approach it from a different angle each day, and it ­presents an entirely fresh shape and color. From famous stories to high style, London is many things in every moment.

 

2 SUGGESTED ITINERARIES & NEIGHBORHOODS

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Suggested Itineraries & Neighborhoods

Few great modern cities are as multilayered, intricate, and, yes, messy as London, Western Europe’s most populous city (8.7 million in 2016), and that’s because history was knitted into its very layout. London is mostly the haphazard product of blind evolution, which piled up over successive generations to produce a complicated ­metropolis. One could say that London simply happened.

As recently as the early 1800s, London—and by London, I mean what we now call The City, between St Paul’s and the Tower—was a compact, teeming monster where many lives, birth to death, were carried out within the same few blocks. Within that frenzied cluster, districts developed out of logic or bias—the main streets ran south to the river and not east or west, for example, the smoke of industry was banished downwind, and kings lived near the Thames for easy transportation. All around The City were dozens of villages, many of which retain their names as modern neighborhoods and, if you’re lucky, a whiff of their original personalities.

 

3 WHERE TO STAY

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Where to Stay

From 19th-century grand hotels to boutique inns hatched by design firms to family-run B&Bs, London’s range of accommodations is as diverse as the city it serves. ­However, since London is the third-most expensive hotel city in the world, lodging will be the single biggest outlay of your trip—so make sure the place you choose spotlights the city at its best.

London’s housing market is diseased—and the affliction is ­foreign cash. The city has always attracted the richest of the rich, but recently, they began parking their fortunes in its real estate en masse. Russian oligarchs, Middle Eastern magnates, and Chinese officials are snapping up prime real estate—in 2014, a 16,000-square-foot flat at One Hyde Park sold for an insane £140 million—squeezing out the middle class, shutting down family-run B&Bs, and turning a place to sleep into a major financial drain for ­everyone else. There are more than 11,000 five-star rooms in London, but a dwindling number of inexpensive or even modestly priced ones, so it’s rougher on budget-minded travelers than it has ever been before.

 

4 WHERE TO EAT

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Where to Eat

In 1957, Arthur Frommer visited London for his seminal Europe on $5 a Day. His report was gloomy: “With great despair, this book recommends that you . . . save your money for the better meals available in France and Italy. Cooking is a lost art in Great Britain; your meat pie with ­cabbage will turn out just as tasteless for 40¢ in a chain ­restaurant as it will for $2 in a posh hotel.” The report today is happily quite different: Bon appétit!

As it turns out, good English cooking wasn’t a lost art at all. True, there are still plenty of places you’ll find a crap meal, but cabbage is no longer the national affliction, as it was in the days of rationing. Now that London swarms with people from across the world, you’ll find nearly every style of cuisine—food the ­British of 40 years ago were reticent to try. In the past 40 years, British consumption of sugar, potatoes, and flour have halved. Countless restaurants now serve ingredients fresh from the farm. Fish and chips, for a time relegated to the suburbs, made a ­comeback, and Indian restaurants, or “curry shops,” now serve the country’s unofficial comfort food. Thai food and burgers are more common than them all. Even most of the major museums (the best attractions are listed on p. 1) run cafes that, surprisingly, more than pull their weight.

 

5 EXPLORING LONDON

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Exploring London

England has been a top dog for 500 years, and London is where it keeps its bark. Many of the world’s finest treasures came here during the Empire and never left. Most cities store their best goodies in one or two top ­museums. In London, riches hide everywhere. The major attractions could by themselves occupy months of ­contemplation. But the sheer abundance of history and wealth—layer upon layer of it—means that London boasts dozens of exciting smaller sights, too. You could spend a lifetime seeing it all, so you’d better get started.

Sightseeing discounts, such as 2-for-1s, are sometimes offered at LastMinute.com under Experiences. The heavily promoted (www.londonpass.com) gets you into a bevy of attractions and a Golden Tours sightseeing bus for a fixed price (such as £59 a day or £79 for 2 days), but is unlikely to pay off in the small amount of time you’re given to use it. Only the version that lasts 6 days (£129 adult, £89 child) would potentially pay off, but still only marginally and only if you don’t take much time for meals.

 

6 LONDON SHOPPING

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London Shopping

Blame Elizabeth I. Sure, the old girl loved her baubles and gold-embroidered bodices, but her biggest ­contribution to English consumerism was defeating the Spanish Armada. You see, that established England as the dominant player on the high seas, which opened up channels of international trade and soon, the Thames was more jammed with bounty than the parking lot at the mall on Christmas Eve. Ever since then, London has had a hankering for the finer things. Gird your pocketbook!

Stores across the city generally open at 9 or 10am daily and close at 7 or 8pm, although boutiques may close at 6pm and the department stores and Oxford Street shops are often open as late as 9pm. On Sunday, relatively new terrain for British shopping, 11am or noon to 6pm is common (although arcane laws mean some stores won’t make a sale until noon); very few places stay open past then. Expect crowds on weekends, when people pour into town from the countryside.

The Great Shopping Streets

 

7 LONDON NIGHTLIFE

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London Nightlife

Let no one tell you that London tucks itself into bed early. Perhaps that was true in your grandfather’s day. Now, the U.K. rocks ’til dawn. The Tube may shut down after ­midnight on weeknights, but as of last year, the main lines go all night on weekends, so for the intrepid, the entertainment can rollick until morning. With hundreds of theaters, nightclubs, cinemas, and music halls, London has more to offer on a single night than many cities can muster in an entire year, and its output influences the whole world.

That said, London’s nights aren’t perfect. The city’s prevailing liquor laws force places to sometimes unceremoniously dump their clientele on the streets in mid-toast. Whereas in Spain, Greece, and New York, the night rarely begins before 1am, that’s usually when the DJ packs up even at many of London’s top clubs. If you require just one more cocktail to close the deal, a very few clubs will serve until 3am; ask your new friends at the bar which place is the cool one right now (in Soho, it’s the Shadow Lounge at 5 Brewer St.). The Night Bus system (p. 309) assuages some financial pain, but it’s a buzzkill to end a festive night of drinking with your legs crossed on a slow-moving bus.

 

8 WALKING TOURS OF LONDON

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Walking Tours of London

Paying for a bus tour seems smart in principle. You glimpse monuments, briefly, and you hear one or two eye-glazing facts about them as they whiz past. But no coach tour, no hokey sightseeing boat, goes at your speed. None convinces you the things you’re seeing are quite real, allowing you to mull what’s before you, or lets you breathe in the atmosphere. Get up close to London. Don’t pass it. Touch it—so that it can touch you.

Walking Tour 1: Westminster, Whitehall & Trafalgar Square

Start:

Westminster Tube station

Finish:

Trafalgar Square

Time:

Allow 60 minutes, not including time spent in attractions

Best time:

Be at the starting line just before noon to hear Big Ben deliver its longest chime of the day

Worst time:

After working hours, when energy drains out of the area

When most people hear the word “London,” this is the area they picture: the Houses of Parliament, the wash of the Thames, the gong of Big Ben, and the Georgian facade of No. 10 Downing Street. Kings and queens, prime ministers and executioners, ­despots and assassins—this is where they converged to shape a ­millennium of events, at the command center for England and the British Empire. History buffs, lace up.

 

9 DAY TRIPS FROM LONDON

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Day Trips from London

You’ve flown all the way to England. It would be a shame to miss seeing some of the sights that make it special—the rolling countryside, the stately mansions cradled by ancient trees, the ageless villages built on slow-flowing rivers. An excursion enriches you with two experiences for the price of one: You’ll taste everyday English life while you immerse yourself in world-famous landmarks.

Britain has comprehensive transport, but it’s not quick as mercury. Because of traffic and a dearth of superhighways, you can expect a 48km (30-mile) trip to take an hour, so a spot that’s 129 to 161km (80–100 miles) each way, such as Stonehenge or Bath, will require you to rise at dawn if you want to buy yourself much touring time at all. Going by bus is often less expensive than by rail, but the inefficient journey will involve narrow roads.

The tourist offices listed will be able, for a fee (£4–£5, plus 10% of the room rate), to hook you up with a bed for the night, should you decide that you’d rather not trek back to London right away. You can find lots more information at Visit England (www.visitengland.com) and Visit Britain (www.visitbritain.com).

 

10 PLANNING YOUR TRIP

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Planning Your Trip to London

First of all, relax. Getting to London isn’t as tricky as it used to be. Some 31.5 million international visitors journeyed to London in 2015, a 20% increase over 2010—making it the most popular destination for travelers from abroad. The London hospitality and tourist industries know a thing or two about helping foreigners. Finding airfare isn’t much harder than finding a cross-country flight. Being ready for the rest (money, electricity) is simply a matter of having the facts.

Getting There

By Plane

From the Airport

Transatlantic flights almost always land at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest international airport (LHR; 17 miles west), or Gatwick, perhaps the most disliked (LGW; 31 miles south). With a few minor exceptions, the other four airports, Stansted (STN; 37 miles northeast), Luton (LTN; 34 miles northwest), London City (LCY; in London’s Docklands area), and Southend (SEN; 42 miles easy) serve flights from Europe, and they’re where cut-rate flyers and executive jets tend to go. Every airport offers some kind of rail connection to the central city, and that’s the smart way to go. Tickets can be bought at windows in the arrivals halls, at machines, or online, where you get a discount. You’ll rarely have to wait more than 20 minutes for the next train, and it’s not necessary to pre-book any of them.

 

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