At a Glance
When to Go
Naturally, London is well served by airports, even if a pricey train ticket is needed to access the city from most of them. If you’re arriving late-night, know that the trains stop running around 11 p.m., so a night at an airport hotel may be more economical than an expensive taxi ride. The Heathrow and Gatwick express trains will get you into the city within 30 minutes, but if you’re looking to save money, and you’ve got the time, take the Piccadilly line from Heathrow or the Southern stopping service from Gatwick. Stansted and Luton airports are located in towns outside the city. London City Airport caters mostly to business and short-destination flights, but it can offer a spectacular low-flying approach over the city.
London’s public transportation may be the number-one topic of grouching for locals, but it’s still one of the best systems in the world. You’ll need an Oyster card, which you can pick up for a small deposit at any Underground station. The tube is good for most journeys, so long as you remember that trains stop running around midnight. Buses are plentiful, but it’s worth spending a quid or two on a London Bus Checker app to help you plan journeys and give you (live) waiting times. London taxis are as good as their reputation, although they can get expensive for long journeys. Mini-cabs should always be prearranged, and there are information lines and apps to help you find local companies—never get into a car with someone soliciting for business on the street. Cycling’s a good clean alternative; plan your route ahead and use the backstreets and bike lanes. Main roads are very busy, and you should be a confident cyclist to attempt them.
Food and Drink
The West End (for theater) and the South Bank (for theater, music, the Tate Modern, and the British Film Institute) are the two absolute must-visits. The Tate Britain in Pimlico, and the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery on Trafalgar Square, house some of the greatest collections of art in the world; the Barbican is a fantastic arts center for contemporary music, theater, and film. London boasts a burgeoning, year-round fringe, so keep an eye out for the bars, pubs, warehouses, and other unlikely buildings all over the city that offer alternative creative spaces.
London celebrates every kind of music known to man, from the rock-and-roll weekend festival of Lovebox to the classical season of the BBC Proms and the alternative strains of Meltdown festival at the Southbank Center. London Fashion Week, part of the couture world’s "Big Four", takes place in September, as does Totally Thames festival, an excuse for a giant street party on the banks and bridges of the river. The Lord Mayor’s Show, in November, is a piece of grand pageantry held every year since 1215 with processions and fireworks. But these are just a few highlights—London guarantees some kind of festival every week.