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Lonely Planet London

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Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet London is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Check out cutting-edge art at the Tate Modern, wander the historic Royal Parks and explore riverside pubs and the bars of Shoreditch; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of London and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet London Travel Guide:

  • Full-colour maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - covering history, literary London, music, theatre, architecture, art, fashion and film
  • Free, convenient pull-out London map (included in print version), plus over 50 colour maps
  • Covers the West End, the City, the South Bank, Kensington & Hyde Park, the East End and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

  • Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges
  • Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews
  • Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience
  • Seamlessly flip between pages
  • Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash
  • Embedded links to recommendations' websites
  • Zoom-in maps and images
  • Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet London, our most comprehensive guide to London, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

  • Looking for just the highlights of London? Check out Lonely Planet Discover London, a photo-rich guide to the city's most popular attractions, or Lonely Planet Pocket London, a handy-sized guide focused on the can't-miss sights for a quick trip.
  • Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out our Lonely Planet England guide for a comprehensive look at all the country has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

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Need to Know

ePub

Pound sterling (£). 100 pence = £1.

English (and more than 300 others).

Not required for US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand or South African visitors for stays of up to six months. European Union nationals can stay indefinitely.

ATMs are widespread. Major credit cards are accepted everywhere. The best place to change money is in post office branches, which do not charge a commission.

Buy local SIM cards for European and Australian phones, or a pay-as-you-go phone. Set other phones to international roaming.

London is on GMT; during British Summer Time (BST; late March to late October), London clocks are one hour ahead of GMT.

Visit London can fill you in on everything from attractions and events to tours and accommodation.

When to Go

Summer is peak season: days are long and festivals are afoot, but expect crowds. Spring and autumn are cooler, but delightful. Winter is cold but quiet.

ADorm bed: £10-32

AMarket-stall lunch: £5, supermarket sandwich £3.50-4.50

 

First Time London

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AMake sure your passport is valid for at least six months past your arrival date

ACheck airline baggage restrictions (liquids and fresh products in particular)

AArrange travel insurance and, if you're from the EU, a European Health Insurance Card

AInform your debit/credit card company of your travel plans

ABook tickets for popular plays, shows or festivals to avoid disappointment

AAn umbrella (yes, the rumours about the weather are true)

AGood walking shoes – the city is best explored on foot

AUK plug adaptor

AA few extra layers – it can be cool, even in summer

AA small day pack

ALondon is huge – work by neighbourhood to avoid wasting time (and money) on transport.

AAn Oyster Card is a cheaper and convenient way to use public transport, but you can also pay by credit or debit card provided it has a contactless function indicated by a symbol of four wavy lines.

 

Getting Around

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The quickest (but most expensive) form of public transport; trains run from 5.30am to 12.30am (7am to 11.30pm Sunday). Selected lines run all night Friday and Saturday.

Slow-going but cheap, with ace views from double-deckers. Large number of night buses.

Santander Cycles are the ideal way to get around central London on a dry day. Cheap, fast and scenic.

Free, healthy and immersive, you can't beat it for neighbourhood exploration.

Runs all the way around London across Zones 2 and 3. Similar operating hours to the Underground but less frequent trains (every five to 20 minutes).

Available everywhere and round-the-clock. Hail in the street (black cabs) or book ahead (minicabs).

Best to get to/from the airport, go to Hampton Court or on day trips to places further afield, such as Oxford or Windsor.

Black Cab London’s signature clunky taxi, which can be hailed anywhere in the city. Note that despite the name, they are not all black!

 

Top Itineraries

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MFirst stop, Trafalgar Sq for its architectural grandeur and photo-op views down Whitehall and of Big Ben. Art lovers will make an instant break for the National Gallery and its unrivalled collection of European paintings. Alternatively, if you're here during Buckingham Palace's summer opening, visit the royal residence.

5Lunch Portrait for views or Inn the Park for the leafy surroundings of St James's Park.

RWith your pre-booked ticket for the London Eye, walk across the pedestrian Hungerford Bridge to the South Bank and enjoy a revolution in the city skies and unrivalled views, notably of the Houses of Parliament. Afterwards, sashay along the river and head down the ramp into the bowels of the Tate Modern for some grade-A art. Aim your camera at St Paul’s Cathedral on the far side of the elegant Millennium Bridge.

 

If You Like...

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Tower of London Castle, tower, prison, medieval execution site and home of the dazzling Crown Jewels.

Buckingham Palace The Queen Mother of all London’s royal palaces, with lovely gardens and – the popular drawcard – the Changing of the Guard.

Hampton Court Palace Magnificent Tudor palace, located within beautiful grounds on the Thames.

Kensington Palace Princess Diana’s former home, this stately and stunning royal palace is the highlight of Kensington Gardens.

Windsor Castle Magnificent and ancient royal fortress within easy reach of London.

London Eye For gently rotating, tip-top views of London – but choose a fair-weather day.

View from the Shard The highest – and most expensive – views in London.

Parliament Hill Skyscraping views across London from Hampstead Heath.

Greenwich Park Clamber up to the statue of General Wolfe for superlative views of Canary Wharf, the Thames and the O2.

Sky Pod Phenomenal views of London, a roof garden and not a sight of the awkward Walkie Talkie, since you're in it!

 

Month by Month

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Top Events

Notting Hill Carnival, August

Chelsea Flower Show, May

Trooping the Colour, June

Guy Fawkes Night, November

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships, June

January in London kicks off with a big bang at midnight. London is in the throes of winter, with short days: light appears at 8am and is all but gone by 4pm.

On 31 December, the famous countdown to midnight with Big Ben is met with terrific fireworks from the London Eye and massive crowds.

More than 100 major galleries participate in this contemporary art fair (www.londonartfair.co.uk), now one of the largest in Europe, with thematic exhibitions, special events and the best emerging artists.

February is usually chilly, wet and even snow-encrusted. The Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) is fun, and Londoners lark about with pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

In late January or early February, Chinatown fizzes, crackles and pops in this colourful street festival, which includes a Golden Dragon parade, eating and partying.

 

With Kids

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London is a fantastic place for children. The city’s museums will fascinate all ages, and you’ll find theatre, dance and music performances ideal for older kids. Playgrounds and parks, city farms and nature reserves are perfect for either toddler energy-busting or relaxation.

London’s museums are nothing if not child friendly. There are dedicated children or family trails in virtually every museum. Additionally, you'll find plenty of activities such as storytelling at the National Gallery, thematic backpacks to explore the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, pop up performances at the Victoria & Albert Museum, family audioguides at the Tate Modern, or art and crafts workshops at Somerset House. Even better, many of these activities are free (check websites for details).

* Museum Sleepovers

What better fun than sleeping at the feet of a dinosaur? Museum sleepovers are very popular and must be booked at least a couple of months in advance.

Dino Snores at the Natural History Museum (held monthly; for ages seven to 11) offers the opportunity to snooze under the watchful eye of the 150-million-year-old diplodocus, having first explored the museum’s darkest nooks and crannies with only a torch to light your way. Or head for the stars at the Science Museum, for a night of hands-on workshops, science shows and an IMAX 3D film. Held monthly; ages seven to 13.

 

Like a Local

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Local life envelops you in London, but you might notice it only in glimpses. Londoners know how to avoid the tourist crowds – waiting until late-opening nights before slipping into museums or galleries, swarming to parks as soon as the sun pops out – so go where they go and be surprised.

Londoners, and the British in general, get bad press for binge drinking. But most drinking in London is actually warmly sociable, gregarious and harmless fun. Londoners drink at the ‘local’, shorthand for the ‘pub around the corner’. Prices may be high but generosity is commonplace and drinkers always step up to buy the next round. Despite the fickle weather, alfresco drinking is commonplace, be it in beer gardens, or on patios or pavements.

As a rule of thumb, Londoners will dine at their local fish and chip shop or enjoy Sunday roast at their local gastropub rather than trek across town for dinner, but they'll readily go out for a meal further afield for special occasions. You’ll also find them piling on the peri-peri sauce at Nando’s, enjoying a fry-up (full English breakfast) at a 'greasy spoon' (a no-frills cafe) or grabbing a sandwich from Marks & Spencer to lunch outside in Hyde Park. Food markets are incredibly popular, be they the gourmet likes of Borough Market or smaller farmers markets across town.

 

For Free

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London may be one of the world’s most expensive cities, but it doesn't always cost the earth. Many sights and experiences are free or cost next to nothing.

When parliament is in session, it’s free to attend and watch UK parliamentary democracy in action.

London’s most famous open-air freebie, the Changing of the Guard in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace takes place at 11.30am from April to July (and alternate days, weather permitting, August to March). Alternatively, catch the changing of the mounted guard at Horse Guard’s Parade at 11am (10am on Sundays).

Daily ritual performed at the Tower at 9am (10am on Sundays). The more elaborate closing Ceremony of the Keys daily at 9.30pm is also free, but you’ll have to apply in writing months in advance.

For one weekend in September, Open House London opens the doors to some 850 buildings for free.

All legal proceedings – even celebrated murder trials – are open to the public (space permitting) on weekdays at the Old Bailey, otherwise known as the Central Criminal Court.

 

Museums & Galleries

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London’s museums and galleries top the list of the city’s must-see attractions – and not just for rainy days. Many display incomparable collections that make them acknowledged leaders in their field. A trinity of top-name museums awaits in South Kensington, and there is a similar concentration in the West End, especially around Trafalgar Sq.

London’s most famous museums are all central, easy to get to and – best of all – free. The National Gallery on Trafalgar Sq displays masterpieces of Western European art from the 13th to the early 20th centuries, with everyone represented from Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt to Turner and Van Gogh. Just behind the gallery, the National Portrait Gallery celebrates famous British faces through a staggering collection of 4000 paintings, sculptures and photographs from the 16th century to the present day. A 20-minute walk to the north is the British Museum in Bloomsbury, housing an astonishing assembly of antiquities representing 7000 years of human civilisation.

 

Eating

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Once the laughing stock of the cooking world, London has got its culinary act together in the last 20 years and is today an undisputed dining destination. There are plenty of top-notch, Michelin-starred restaurants, but it is the sheer diversity on offer that is head-spinning: from Afghan to Vietnamese, London is a virtual A to Z of world cuisine.

English Food

England might have given the world baked beans on toast, mushy peas and chip butties (French fries between two slices of buttered and untoasted white bread), but that’s hardly the whole story. When well prepared – be it a Sunday lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (light batter baked until fluffy, eaten with gravy) or a cornet of lightly battered fish and chips sprinkled with salt and malt vinegar – English food can be excellent. And nothing beats a fry-up (or full English breakfast) with bacon, sausages, beans, eggs and mushrooms the morning after a big night out.

Modern British food has become a cuisine in its own right, by championing traditional (and sometimes underrated) ingredients such as root vegetables, smoked fish, shellfish, game, sausages and black pudding (a kind of sausage stuffed with oatmeal, spices and blood). Dishes can be anything from game served with a traditional vegetable such as Jerusalem artichoke, to seared scallops with orange-scented black pudding, or roast pork with chorizo on rosemary mash.

 

Drinking & Nightlife

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You need only glance at William Hogarth's Gin Lane prints from 1751 to realise that Londoners and alcohol have more than a passing acquaintance. The metropolis offers a huge variety of venues to wet your whistle in – from neighbourhood pubs to all-night clubs, and everything in between.

The pub (public house) is at the heart of London life and is one of the capital’s great social levellers. Virtually every Londoner has a ‘local’ and looking for your own is a fun part of any visit to the capital.

Pubs in central London are mostly after-work drinking dens, busy from 5pm onwards with the postwork crowd during the week and revellers at weekends. But in more residential areas, pubs come into their own at weekends, when long lunches turn into sloshy afternoons and groups of friends settle in for the night. Many also run popular quizzes on weeknights. Other pubs entice punters through the doors with live music or comedy. Some have developed such a reputation for the quality of their food that they've been dubbed 'gastropubs'.

 

Entertainment

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Whatever it is that sets your spirits soaring or your booty shaking, you'll find it in London. The city's been a world leader in theatre ever since a young man from Stratford-upon-Avon set up shop here in the 16th century. And if London started swinging in the 1960s, its live rock and pop scene has barely let up since.

A night out at the theatre is as much a must-do London experience as a trip on the top deck of a double-decker bus. London’s Theatreland in the dazzling West End – from Aldwych in the east, past Shaftesbury Ave to Regent St in the west – has a concentration of theatres only rivalled by New York’s Broadway. It's a thrillingly diverse scene, encompassing Shakespeare’s classics performed with old-school precision, edgy new works, raise-the-roof musicals and some of the world's longest-running shows.

There are around 40 theatres in the West End alone, but Theatreland is just the brightest facet of London's sparkling theatre world, where venues range from highbrow theatrical institutions to tiny fringe stages tucked away above pubs.

 

Shopping

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From charity-shop finds to designer bags, there are thousands of ways to spend your hard-earned cash in London. Many of the big-name shopping attractions, such as Harrods, Hamleys, Camden Market and Old Spitalfields Market, have become must-sees in their own right. Chances are that with so many temptations, you’ll give your wallet a full workout.

Perhaps the biggest draw for visitors are the capital’s famed markets. A treasure trove of small designers, unique jewellery pieces, original framed photographs and posters, colourful vintage pieces and bric-a-brac, they are the antidote to impersonal, carbon-copy shopping centres.

The most popular markets are Camden, Old Spitalfields and Portobello Road, which operate most days, but there are dozens of others, such as Brick Lane's excellent Sunday Upmarket, which only pop up on the weekend. Camden and Old Spitalfields are both mainly covered, but even the outdoor markets are busy, rain or shine.

British designers are well established in the fashion world and a visit to Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, Burberry or Mulberry is an experience in its own right. The fashion house started by the late Alexander McQueen is now under the creative direction of Sarah Burton, perhaps most famous as the designer of Princess Catherine's wedding dress.

 

Sports & Activities

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The 2012 Olympic Games put a spring in London's step and left the city with a sudden embarrassment of world-class sports facilities in the east of town, some of which are now open to the public. The rest of London boasts a well-developed infrastructure for participatory and spectator sports to get your heart racing and the endorphins flowing.

London parks and commons swarm with joggers, but when the skies open overhead runners hit the treadmill. For a rather large organised run, check out the Virgin Money London Marathon (www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com) in spring.

Fitness FirstGYM

( MAP GOOGLE MAP ; %0844 571 3400; www.fitnessfirst.co.uk)

Branches all over the city.

La FitnessGYM

( % 01302-892455 ; www.lafitness.co.uk )

With over 25 gyms in town.

Virgin ActiveGYM

( % 020-7717 9000 ; www.virginactive.co.uk )

 

Gay & Lesbian

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The city of Oscar Wilde, Quentin Crisp and Elton John does not disappoint its queer visitors, proffering a fantastic mix of brash, camp, loud and edgy parties, bars, clubs and events year-round. A world gay capital on par with New York and San Francisco, London’s gay and lesbian communities have turned good times into an art form.

Protection from discrimination is enshrined in law. Civil partnerships allowed gay couples the same rights as straight ones from 2005 and bona-fide gay marriage came into force here in 2014. That’s not to say homophobia does not exist.

The queer drinking scene in London is wonderfully varied. Whether you fancy a quiet pint in a traditional boozer that just happens to be gay, or want a place to wet your whistle before going out dancing, you’ll be spoiled for choice.

London has some fun and very varied gay clubs, from Fire London in Vauxhall to White Swan in the East End. But it’s a moveable feast, as the clubbing scene is about club nights rather than venues, meaning a club that was fantastic and full of hunks one night might well be straight and full of goths the next.

 

Neighbourhoods at a Glance

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With many of London’s premier postcodes, and superlative restaurants, hotels and shops, the West End should be your first port of call. Iconic sights (Trafalgar Sq, Piccadilly Circus), buildings and museums (Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, British Museum), nightlife (Soho), shopping (Oxford St, Covent Garden, Regent St), parks (St James’s Park) and theatres – they are all here.

London's historic core is a tale of two cities: all go during the week and eerily quiet at weekends. But there are ancient streets and spectacular architecture, with history awaiting at every turn. St Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London are hallmark sights, as are the daring and amusingly named skyscrapers – the Gherkin, the Walkie Talkie and the Cheese Grater.

The Tate Modern has done much to re-energise the South Bank, a must-visit area for art lovers, theatre-goers and culture hounds. There are also iconic Thames views, great food markets, first-rate pubs, dollops of history, striking examples of modern architecture and a sprinkling of fine bars and restaurants.

 

The West End

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1Paying your respects to Westminster Abbey, church of coronations, royal burials and weddings.

2Enjoying a fabulous night out in all singin', all dancin' Soho.

3Hiring a deckchair in St James’s Park and enjoying regal views of London.

4Exploring the history of ancient civilisations at the excellent (and free) British Museum.

5Hitting the shops and boutiques of Covent Garden before stopping to watch the street performers.

It may be a compact area, but the West End packs in a lot when it comes to sights. You’ll need to allow half a day for each of the big museums (the British Museum and the National Gallery), and at least a couple of hours for places like Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace.

One of the delights of the West End is its energy and there is no better way to enjoy it than by walking around and taking it all in. Atmospheric places for a breather include Covent Garden, Trafalgar Sq and St James’s Park.

 

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