London is an exhilarating holiday destination, never more so than for the first time visitor. Between the historical landmarks, opulent Royal Palaces, medieval attractions, vibrant nightclubs, pubs and the most diverse gastronomic choices in Europe, one would need to rob a bank and move to London before one has a chance to experience it all. Oh, and we forgot to mention the shopping and the lively theatre scene too.
Yet there’s another side to London, a complex and contradictory side most tourists don’t even notice. They’ll put it down to the shonky weather, or the big city stresses. Or whatever. Most will brush aside that feeling of chronic fatigue the city sometimes seems to suffer from.
London is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is also one of the most socially diverse, playing second fiddle only to New York City perhaps. There are over eight million souls living here, almost half which weren’t even born in the country. There are at least two dozen nationalities represented in London, and over 300 different languages spoken. The resulting concoction is a mind-boggling insanity. For the tourist, this simply translates to an infinite choice of different restaurants; an unbelievable amount of ethnic diversity, and the feeling that one could almost do a round the world trip by taking the Tube around town for a day.
To Londoners, of course, the challenges are many. Not only are they dealing with the stresses of living in one of the most expensive cities on earth, they’ve got to deal with dubious weather most of the time, excessive smog, an overcrowded and overaged public transport system, as well as an extremely competitive social scene dictating that if you’re not ‘in’ the latest-whatever, your life must be one big flop. Make no mistake about it: London is one tough bitch to live with. So spare a thought for the grumpy guys on the Tube, the chick that steals your cab, or the lady that won’t accept a hand getting on the bus. After all, they’re not as lucky as you…they’re not on holiday!
If you really want to experience all that London is, not only has, then we suggest you take some time out of your busy sightseeing schedule; the most authentic London experiences can be found in the most mundane of tasks. A leisurely riverside walk, an overcrowded peak-hour Tube ride or an afternoon tea in a rustic suburban cafe’, away from the bustle of the city centre. Sometimes, London is all about the little things. Just when you think you’ve got a swanky brilliant plan for doing London in a week, you may be pleasantly surprised by just how little it takes to really absorb the atmosphere of this most contrasting of cities.
You may then understand why even with all of the challenges and all of the struggles, Londoners would never dream of living anywhere else.
London Guide – Getting in
Being the foremost financial hub of Europe, London is one of the easiest cities to reach from every corner of the globe.
The city is serviced by five airports, Heathrow and Gatwick being the most popular. The Greater London Area is also easily reached via smaller, regional airports which are used mainly by discount airlines. Some airports may be more convenient than others, depending on which area of London you’re planning on staying in. The airports are as follows:
Heathrow: West London
Gatwick: South London
London City Airport: East London
Luton: North London
Stansted: North-East London
All the airports are well equipped with city link buses, underground and aboveground trains and all the airports are linked with each other via the National Express Bus Service.
Getting out and about
Being such an important and busy metropolis was always going to be a two-edged sword. London has a very comprehensive public transport system, yet making sense of it can be daunting for the first-time visitor. Nevertheless, unless you plan to drop the equivalent of a small country’s GDP on cab fares, this is still the best way to get out and about in the big smoke.
Your best friend, when visiting London, will be the Transport for London website where you’ll find a handy and invaluable journey planner as well as an online link to the Oyster Card. The card gives you access to ALL of London’s public transport lines, and can be topped up just about everywhere.
London’s Tube (underground rail) covers the entire metropolitan area and will most probably be your preferred mode of transport. There is also a light railway which runs in the eastern suburbs, a tram network for the city’s southern hoods and an over-ground train service for the northern areas. Of course, the world-famous double-decker red buses still ply plenty of routes around town, and are definitely worthwhile for shorter distances and for novelty value!
If you’re feeling particularly energetic during your London stay, check out the TFL site for bicycle-hire schemes. Cycling around London can be a lot of fun, just make sure you stick to marked pathways and do keep an eye out for that traffic! Bike pick-up and drop-off points are scattered throughout the city. If you use them for less than 30 minutes it’s free!
Nuno Silva via Flickr
Chris via Flickr
Metrocentric vis Flickr