Between pop culture and Victorian chic
London is a world of its own. Home to 7.2 million people (2.8 million in the centre alone), it span167 square kilometres and has massive repertoire of unique neighbourhoods, each with its own atmosphere. Soho, Covent Garden and Leicester Square form the vibrant heart of the capital. Here you will find theatres, concert halls, trendy shopping boutiques and hotels. Bordered by Piccadilly Circus to the south, the north of Soho rubs shoulders with Oxford Street, which ends at beautiful Hyde Park. With its high density of department stores, it is the place to go for shopaholics. Surrounding the historic heart of the capital, Trafalgar Square, is the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. The North Bank has a sort of Wall Street vibe. On the South Bank, old factories have been converted into museums such as the Tate Modern or wine tasting venues such as Vinopolis. At weekends, Borough Market attracts foodies and locals looking for a yummy bite to eat!
Kensington and Chelsea are London’s wealthiest districts and are very pleasant to explore on foot, its tree-shaded streets being lined with elegant Victorian houses. Here, London is painted white: a startling contrast to the red brick facades that define the rest of the city.
Meanwhile, Notting Hill' striking colours give the neighbourhood its signature flair, along with the famous Notting Hill Carnival. To the north, just past Regent's Park, Camden Town is a mecca for punk and alternative culture.
But there is also a post-modern London, with iron and glass buildings giving the capital a new look. Take a stroll along the banks of the Thames to discover this newer facade of London. And don't miss the Gherkin, City Hall and Canary Wharf. London is a true melting pot of architectural styles and cultures!
No visit to London would be complete without a ride on the London Eye, the colossal ferris wheel built to celebrate the turn of the millennium back in 2000. Spectacular as if is safe, the London Eye rises 135 metres above the ground in enclosed capsules with transparent walls that gives visitors breathtaking views over Westminster Palace and Big Ben! After a trip to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard, you can continue your walk along the banks of the Thames to the foot of the Tower of London and then to the Docks. Another option is to cross Tower Bridge and climb to the top of The Shard for an unbeatable view of the whole city!
The permanent collections of the national museums are generally open to visitors free of charge. The National Gallery will delight painting lovers, whilst the British Museum will appeal to those interested in Egyptian or Greco-Roman antiquities. The Natural History Museum has dinosaur skeletons and impressive collections of gemstones, whilst the Science Museum offers an interactive, playful and fun dive into the scientific advances of the last few centuries. Finally, the permanent collections of Tate Britain (featuring British art since the 16th century) and Tate Modern (which focuses on 20th century painters and artists from around the world) are also free.
And some good news for shopaholics: twice a year, the London sales are an unmissable chance to find some goodies for unbeatable prices!
The hottest exhibition in London at the moment: Women in Revolt! at the Tate Britain (open until April 2024).
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How to get there?
Most major UK airports will fly to London regularly and for relatively cheap. You may also wish to take a train or coach as a slightly longer, but more economical and environmental option.
✈️ Fly to London!With 6 airports served by most airlines, you'll have no trouble finding a plane ticket to London!
Where to stay?
London is a city that attracts many tourists every year, so there is no shortage of places to stay to accommodate them all! Be aware that prices can be quite high, especially during holiday periods. Avoid staying too far from the city centre, however: the city is very large and you might end up spending an hour or more each way on public transport.
The currency in England is the pound sterling. Credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) are widely accepted and cash can be withdrawn from cash machines. Check with your bank for details of charges.
Temperatures can be very low in London, which is why the best time to visit the British capital is in the summer, especially the months of June and September. During the Christmas period, it is very cold in London, but the city dresses up in its best illuminations and there is a magical atmosphere that makes it worth braving the often sub-zero temperatures.
Getting around London
The London Underground is very efficient and fast and is the best way to get around the capital. If you are staying for several days, opt for the Visitor Oyster Card as the price of a single Underground ticket can be high (£4.90). You can also opt for hop-on, hop-off buses, which are tourist buses that you can use at will by choosing where you want to get off. In any case, avoid driving in London, where the congestion charge (around £12 per day) is exorbitant. If you do decide to give it a go, remember that you drive on the left and speed limits are in miles, with a maximum of 30 mph (48 km/h) in built-up areas. Before you leave, familiarise yourself with the road signs. Some are similar to those in France, others are unique to England.
As with everything else, the price of London's landmarks and activities will vary.
The London Pass costs £40 per day and the price decreases according to the number of days you choose (up to 10 days)! Visit over 90 London attractions including hop-on hop-off buses. The Go London Explorer Pass allows you to visit 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 iconic sites over 60 days from £50. Finally, there's the London City Card, which costs £80 and includes the Tower of London, The London Eye, a hop-on-hop-off cruise on the Thames and an Audio Guide application with over 150 points of interest!
London is a fairly safe city, but like all big cities it hosts a bit of danger depending on the areas: so be careful with your belongings and stay vigilant! In case of emergency, dial 999.
In Leicester Square there is a box office where you can buy half-price tickets for that evening's events. This is the Half Price Ticket Kiosk, now called Tkts. It is open on weekdays from 10.30am to 6pm and on Sundays from 12pm to 4.30pm. Get there as soon as it opens to get the widest selection.
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