London Guide

As one of the world’s largest cities London now has it all. But it wasn’t always that way. Though its beginnings still remain mysterious there is fact supporting the Roman settlement called Londinium in 43AD. Just a few decades later in 61, Queen Boudica’s Iceni tribe burned the village to the ground. The city was rebuilt and a reached soaring height in the 2nd century but, after the fall of the Roman Empire, was all but abandoned by the 5th.

In the 600s, the Anglo-Saxon’s built a new London about 1,000 yards from the abandon Roman city. The area is now known as Covent Garden. However, Viking raiders took over and forced the city back to its original spot. London was finally recaptured for England by Alfred the Great in 866 and it became known as Ealdwic, which still lives today as Aldwych in the City of Westminster.

Again under English rule, the city thrived as a center of trade and politics. Together with Westminster, the City of London continued to build through the Middle Ages as one of the most prospers cities in the world.

In 1066, William the Conqueror, then in his Duke of Normandy position, was crowned the King of England on Christmas Day at the completed Westminster Abbey. He then built the Tower of London as his royal home. William then proceeded to build Westminster hall that still serves its original purpose as seat of the royal court and governing center.

London continued to grow immensely through the medieval period until 1/3 of the population was killed by the Black Death in the 14th century. A century later another plague caused problems as did the Great Fire of London. Rebuilding of the city and the population took years.

By the 18th century, London was back on track. As one of the largest cities of commerce, finances, and business, the first railway was put up to connect London to the rest of the world in 1836. By 1863, traffic congestion was so bad that the first ever metro system, the London Underground, was installed.

The city continued down this path until the World War’s when the city killed nearly 30,000 locals and destroyed much of the city. The city was expanded and restored. Large amounts of immigrants from the Commonwealth’s were allowed in to make up for the war death toll. This is why today, London is one of the most eclectic (nearly 300 languages are spoken here) and cultural cities the world has ever seen. In modern times it is an epicenter of business, finance, culture, arts, fashion, and music.

When to go

London has a temperate maritime climate. It has very light rain throughout much of the year and temperatures average about 2.4C (35.6F) in January and 22.8C (73F) in July. It is much warmer than the surrounding country side due to the urban affects and the climate that is similar to a Mediterranean one.

Getting there

By Eurostar: Eurostar offers inter-capital trips everyday to London St. Pancras International directly from Paris and Brussels. There are also many other destinations
including Ashford, Disneyland Paris, Lille, and Avignon among others.

By Train: Train is one of the fastest ways to get into London. You can reach London in under two hours from Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, York, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, and Sheffield to major stations like Waterloo, St. Pancras, Paddington, Charing Cross, Victoria, London Bridge, Fenchurch Street, Liverpool Street, King’s Cross, and Euston.

By Coach: Coaches to London offer the best bang for your buck, though they are a bit longer than a train ride. Victoria Coach Station is the heart of the coach operations in London that sees the likes of National Express and Euroline coaches as well as smaller companies. There are nearly 1,200 destinations to choose from.

By Car: London is easily accessible by many motorways including M1, M2, M3, M4, M11, M20, M23, M25 and M40 which all intersect to London’s M25 motorway.

By Ferry: There are many ferry opportunities available in London. The quickest is the crossover from Calais to Dover that is run by Sea France and P & O. They run 24 hours a day. Many other companies offer longer trips to France, Spain, Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands.

By Air: London is an airport mecca. There is London Heathrow, London Stansted, and London Gatwick – all of which have local as well as international flights. Each has a tube station to take you where you want to go upon your arrival.

Getting around

Walk: Walking is a recommended way to get around London. It helps traffic congestion, keeps you fit, and allows you take it all in as fast or slow as you’d like. It can even save time versus traveling by bus or metro since many iconic locations are very close. Even the Mayor is committed to making London a walking friendly city with plans already underway.

Board: There are many buses available from point A to B, night services, and sightseeing tours. There are also easy ways to acquire tickets at the ticket machines and a wide variety of passes to suit your needs.

Ride: The London Underground, also known as “the Tube,” is a very quick way to get around if a destination is too far to walk. Transport for London offers free maps and guides that show each Tube station and what surrounds them. There are also stations at each of the airports.

Bike: Cycling is also a great way to get around for the same reason walking is. There are many scenic biking routes around the city which can be found at London Cycling Campaign or Transport for London’s websites.

Event calendar

January: New Year’s Day Parade - Nearly ten thousand participate while hundreds of thousands watch this heart-filled annually event that is dubbed as a “celebration of nations.” The parade begins in Parliament Square at 12pm and winds its way from through London until it reaches its destination at Piccadilly. While watching, spectators make the parade one big street party to add to the fun. Admission is free.

February: The Great Spitalfields Pancake Race – Imagine this – people running up and down the street infront of Old Truman Brewery, most drunk as skunks, and flipping pancakes all in an effort to win some free eats? That’s the exact scene at the Pancake race each February. The fun starts at 12:30pm. This is a child friendly event.

March: Twentieth Century Fashion Auction – Whether fashion fan or not, nearly everyone has heard of the infamous Christie’s auction. Well preserved vintage pieces are bought like Pierre Balmain, early Vera Wang, and Hermes. The auction action begins at 2pm at Christie’s South Kensington.

April: London Marathon – The health nuts run while the drinking nuts party. This sporting event is one of the largest marathons in the country as well as one of the longest street parties in London. Top athletes come to compete and millions are raised for charitable causes. The marathon and events kick off at 9:30am. Spectators can watch free of charge.

May: Chelsea Flower Show & Chelsea Week Garden Tours – Coinciding with one another, these two events show off some of the greatest gardening in the world. The Flower Show is spread over an immense 11 acres at the Royal Hospital Chelsea while the Garden Tours offer an exclusive peek at some of the most esteemed private residences in the area. Tours begin at 10am and finish late afternoon.  Tickets for the Flower Show vary in price. The doors are open from Tuesday – Friday from 8am – 8pm and Saturday from 8am – 5:30pm.

June: Royal Academy Summer Exhibition – The biggest open contemporary art exhibit in the world that’s roots date all the way back to 1769. Everyone and anyone who considers themselves an artist is applicable to submit their pieces to be shown at the Royal Academy of Arts. The exhibit is open in June and July from 10am – 6pm (10pm on Friday’s).

July: London Festival of Architecture – With a new theme every year, this festival focuses on the gorgeous architecture of London’s past as well as the fresh ideas of the international architects of the future. The fest moves between five neighborhoods to study and celebrate with exhibitions, walk and cycle tours, performances, street animations and more.  The festival runs from June – July annually.

August: Carnaval del Pueblo – Latin American culture is known for its vibrant, spicy culture the world over. London’s Burgess Park brings together 10,000 people to celebrate the fact with floats, costumes, music, dancers and a large parade that kicks off at 12pm and arrive at the Park by 3pm. This event is free.

September: Brick Lane Festival – A global marketplace featuring stalls, music, dance, rickshaw rides, Bollywood bands, and more that completely takes over Brick Lane each September. Brick Lane is also known as Bangla Town and is rich with the culture of India. There are also many delicious curry restaurants that spill out onto the Lane with samples too. The Festival is open from 10am – 6pm. It is free of charge.

October: London Restaurant Show & London Bierfest - In October, London kills two birds with one stone so to speak with delicious dishes from renowned restaurants at Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre and a lively beer festival at the Old Billingsgate Market. The Restaurant Show is free with registration and open Monday – Wednesday from 10am – 5:30pm. Bierfest hours and admissions vary.

November: Battersea Park Fireworks Display - One of the most famous fireworks shows in the world, nearly 55,000 people attend while drinking wine to keep warm. There are also other events that accompany the display during daylight hours. Gates open at 6pm, the bonfire is at 7pm, and the fireworks begin at 8pm. The charge is £5 and 1 for under £10’s.

December: Christmas Pudding Race - Covent Garden Piazza floods with celebrities, public figures, and those who just want to dress up for this hilarious relay race. There is also live music and entertainment. All proceeds go to the Cancer Research Campaign; a perfect gift for those in need during the holiday season. The race is on at 11:30am – 1pm. Admission is free.

Attractions and things to do

The City of London, which is the very heart of the urban area, is where all of the historic, cultural, and heritage bests can be found. The boundaries of this area have changed little since the Middle Ages.

The most popular attractions here are the Tate Modern, British Museum, National Gallery, Natural History Museum, London Eye, Science Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Tower of London, St.Paul’s Cathedral, and the National Portrait Gallery.

The East End, although one of the poorest areas of the city, is close to the original Port of London, a cultural site. It was once a bustling industrial district that is now being renovated to accommodate the Thames Gateway which is to be a part of the 2012 Olympics.

The West End is where much of the entertainment and shopping takes place. Top dollar designers and ritzy residential areas line West London areas like Notting Hill, Knightsbridge, and Chelsea. More affordable shopping and fun can be found on Oxford Street, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, and Piccadilly Circus.

More specifically the Cabbages & Frocks Market in Marylebone is an globe mix of fashion and lifestyle. There are nearly 80 more markets like this throughout the city. Duke of York Square in Chelsea is a new pedestrian area that offers shops like Kate Kuba, All Saints and Agnes B. Kingly Court on Carnaby has many flagship stores and a young, hip scene. There are also many brand name favorites like Topshop, Zara, New Look, and H & M closeby.

Because of its diverse cultural mix, London offers some of the best eating and most fun pub experiences travelers may ever have. St. Christopher’s Place in the West End is a perfect day time haunt full of cafes, bars, and restaurants with al fresco dining. There are plenty of other plays to try by night like Heddon Street, West India Quay, and the Terrace in the Field’s in Holburn. 

London has plenty of entertainment and theater. There are Open air spots in places like Regent’s Park and Theatre Square. Child friendly places also abound like The Unicorn Theatre near Tower Bridge and the Puppet Barge in Little Venice. Because of its big city status, there are also many top musicals like Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, the Lion King, and Mamma Mia year round.

Kingly Court on Caranby Street offers many youth oriented bars, cafes, and nightclubs to match up with its young fashion designer shopping stores.

Upper Street, Covent Garden, Camden High, Belsize Park, Greenwich, Richmond, and Portobello Road all have their own immense beer gardens; the perfect place to veg out and have a brew or two.

Night owls can burn the midnight oil at bars like Old Compton Street’s Bar Soho, Giglamesh at Camden’s Stables Market, the West End’s Digress, or Covent Garden’s Detriot.

 

London Web Sites



In our travels around the web, we found these London web pages useful:

A comprehensive and informative guide to Greenwich written by a local resident.
A useful resource for those visiting the Marylebone area. Find out about local club, business and properties and keep up to date with all of the latest offers.
An American perspective on London. Maureen has lived in London for many years and users her blog to discuss the issue of citizenship among other interesting topics.
Some of London's most original walking tours, Rabbit Walks allow you to taylor your walks to the things that interest you, from London's resident historical geniuses to its spookiest haunts. And they meet outside of tube stations, so they're easy to find!
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