What are some things to know before visiting London?

Helen Ochyra

London can be the greatest city in the world; but it can also be the most frustrating. Here are a few points to bear in mind for your visit to make it as pleasant as possible:

Getting around
Once you are in the city centre, walking is by far the best way to get around. Bear in mind though that distances between attractions can be huge and so comfortable, practical shoes are a must if you plan to get around on two legs - as are plenty of pitstops! The tube is an excellent way to travel but avoid rush hours (before 9.30am and between 5pm and 7pm) if at all possible. Use the online Journey Planner to plan your journey (there's also an app). Keep to the right on escalators and move along the platform away from the entrances to avoid incurring the wrath of busy locals!

The weather
It rains in London all the time, right? Actually, no. London gets less rain than Rome or Paris, not to mention the rest of the UK, and short, sharp showers are far more common than prolonged drizzle. Pack an umbrella and then forget about it - the weather is unlikely to do any harm to your trip.

Eating
Food in London is varied, plentiful and not as expensive as you might imagine. However, costs can rack up if you aren't careful. A good tip is to eat your main meal in the middle of the day. Many of the top restaurants offer cut-price fixed menus for lunch and you are more likely to be able to get a table as a walk-in.
Pubs make a great choice for a simple dinner, though try to pick one where locals are eating to avoid tourist traps, particularly in the West End where mediocre pubs are - in my opinion - largely to blame for the poor reputation of London's food abroad! Reservations are recommended in well-known or popular restaurants and on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Drinking
Londoners like a drink and pubs and bars will be very busy most evenings, especially on Friday nights when the weekend gets started for most people with a few after-work drinks. If you don't like crowded bars, spending a little more per drink will often buy you a quieter environment and hotel bars can be a good choice. But pubs are an integral part of our culture and no visit to London is complete without joining the locals at the bar one evening.

Tipping
Tipping is less ubiquitous in London than it is in America, but is more customary than it is in many other places, and there are some important rules to bear in mind. Taxi drivers should be tipped by rounding up the fare slightly. In restaurants, 10% is a standard tip, and increasingly 12.5% is added on automatically as a service charge; it is not necessary to tip in addition to this. Tips are not expected in pubs but are appreciated when ordering food - just add 10% or so to the bill.

  • On January 22
    Caroline Patek answered the question: Caroline Patek

    What are the best fine jewelry stores in London?

    If you find yourself in London looking for a special piece of jewelry, you’re in the perfect location: Graff Diamonds’ flagship store is located on the city’s historic Bond Street. Originally opened in 1993, the store underwent an extensive renovation and reopened in 2012. The result? Floor-to-ceiling windows, Italian marble floors and lacquered walnut panels create the ultimate atmosphere for the purchase of the very finest jewels.

    Graff Diamonds also has an outpost on Sloane Street near Hyde Park, and a third store located within The Fine Jewellery Room at Harrods will open in spring 2014.
  • On November 13, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best hotels in London?

    London has hundreds of top-class hotels to choose from and selecting the right one for you is a question of taste. Nothing is more subjective than hotel preference so pick your style from the list below and check in to see if you agree.

    Fun and funky
    Step into the lobby of MyHotel Bloomsbury and you've arrived. Not just at a cool hotel but also at a buzzing restaurant and a cosy cafe – a real home away from home. Spend the night in your spacious suite before enjoying breakfast as you watch London life passing by the large windows. Then get out among it yourself, using your location just off Tottenham Court Road as an unbeatable base from which to explore. 

    Old-school British
    Located at Hyde Park Corner, the Lanesborough is a hushed palace of British style, where service standards are second to none and discretion is guaranteed. Repeat visits are more than 60% and it's easy to see why - faultless butler service, utterly personal amenities and a restaurant that is as glamorous at breakfast time as it is for dinner. Like staying in a stately home, that feels like it could be yours.

    All-out glamour
    The recently refurbished Savoy is a lesson in style for a thousand other hotel, marrying the weight of tradition and expectation with a thoroughly modern new look. As soon as you set foot in the lobby you know this is somewhere special. The bedrooms are opulent and showcase the hotel’s two main aesthetics: English Edwardian and Art Deco. No two are the same and many have river views. Don't miss a drink in the American Bar which harks back to the cocktail age of the 1920s.

    Modern chic
    For those who prefer a contemporary feel, Myhotel Chelsea is the perfect destination. This boutique hotel is understated yet luxurious with a sense of fun – check in to the Thai suite and your shower even turns into a steam room. You're just a few minutes walk from the Kings Road, too.

    Quirky opulence
    There's nowhere quite like the Zetter Townhouse, which styles itself as the home of your eccentric yet indulgent aunt Wilhelmina. Set in two Georgian townhouses the style is all mismatched furniture and quirky design touches – look out for the taxidermy – and the lounge bar is one of the most laidback spaces in London. Try one of the signature cocktails, made with tinctures and bitters you'll have never heard of.

  • On September 9, 2013
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best luxury hotels in London?

    If you’re looking for the best luxury hotels in London, you won’t find ones better than Forbes Travel Guide’s Five-Star properties. From the attentive, thoughtful service to top-notch, exclusive amenities, our Five-Star hotels consistently deliver a luxurious, memorable experience.

    Most of our winners are located in the tony Mayfair neighborhood. Try to reserve one of The Dorchester’s gorgeous suites — The Harlequin was a favorite of actress Elizabeth Taylor’s. Dine on contemporary French food at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester — one of the city’s top restaurants — and schedule an appointment for a massage at Four-Star The Dorchester Spa. Across the way is 45 Park Lane, The Dorchester’s sister property. Inside 45 Park Lane, you’ll see art-deco splendor, but the rooms are ultra-modern, with iPads, cordless touch-screen phones and Bang & Olufsen TVs in the bedroom. Not only is Four Seasons Hotel Park Lane a Five-Star property, it has a Five-Star spa. It also offers one of the best amenities for travelers: a 10th-floor arrival lounge with great views of Big Ben and the London Eye and showers, in case you arrive early and want to freshen up before check-in. Mayfair hotel Claridge’s showcases its art-deco heritage in its stunning Foyer restaurant, with its arched doorways and elaborate silver screens. The guest rooms have the same look, but if you want something different, book one of the suites designed by Diane von Furstenberg. The Connaught has the feel of a boutique hotel with just 123 rooms, and a glamorous design that makes the guest rooms feel residential.

    The Savoy, located in Convent Garden, is one of the most iconic of the Five-Star hotels. Learn more about its storied past at its onsite Savoy Museum. An important part of that past is its American Bar. A number of famous cocktails, like the dry martini, were created at that very bar.

    If you make Knightsbridge your base, try The Lanesborough, a St. Regis Hotel. The luxurious hotel caters to business travelers — every room comes with a Sony Vaio laptop and personalized business cards — but it has amenities everyone can appreciate, including a guests-and-members-only outdoor cigar lounge that has the city’s largest walk-in humidor.
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  • On September 9, 2013
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best hotels in London?

    You will find some of the world’s best hotels in London. After all, there’s a reason Forbes Travel Guide chose the city to be its first star-rated destination in Europe. If you are visiting London, stay in one of our Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotels.

    Most of them are located in the tony Mayfair neighborhood. Try to reserve one of The Dorchester’s gorgeous suites — The Harlequin was a favorite of actress Elizabeth Taylor’s. The storied hotel's rooms are undergoing renovations that will bring a new dose of glamour, with a striking platinum color palette that whispers luxury. Across the way is 45 Park Lane, The Dorchester’s sister property. Inside 45 Park Lane, you’ll see art-deco splendor, but the rooms are ultra-modern, with iPads, cordless touch-screen phones and Bang & Olufsen TVs in the bedroom. Not only is Four Seasons Hotel Park Lane a Five-Star property, it has a Five-Star spa. It also offers one of the best amenities for travelers: a 10th-floor arrival lounge with great views of Big Ben and the London Eye as well as showers, in case you arrive early and want to freshen up before check-in. The Mayfair hotel Claridge’s showcases its art-deco heritage in its stunning Foyer restaurant, with its arched doorways and elaborate silver screens. The guest rooms have the same look, but if you want something different, book one of the suites designed by Diane von Furstenberg. Also in the tony Mayfair area is the Five-Star hotel The Connaught, which has hosted some of London's most prominent guests since 1815.

    The Savoy, located in Convent Garden, is one of the most iconic of the Five-Star hotels. Learn more about its storied past at its onsite Savoy Museum. An important part of that past is its American Bar. A number of famous cocktails, like the dry martini, were created at that very bar.

    If you make Knightsbridge your base, try The Lanesborough, a St. Regis Hotel. The luxurious hotel caters to business travelers — every room comes with a Sony Vaio laptop and personalized business cards — but it has amenities everyone can appreciate, including a guests-and-members-only outdoor cigar lounge that has the city’s largest walk-in humidor.
  • On July 31, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are London’s best house museums?

    Behind their modest exteriors, London's house museums conjure up bygone eras in the city's history and offer fascinating insights into the lives of their former owners. If you're looking for a more intimate museum experience than that available at the city's national institutions, step this way...

    Sir John Soane's Museum
    Architect and parliamentarian Sir John Soane built this house between 1792 and 1824 and gradually filled it with an eclectic collection of art, architecture and antiquities. It's been open as a museum ever since and is the sort of place you can visit again and again, getting something new from it each time. It's quietest first thing in the morning but at its most atmospheric on the monthly candle-lit evening openings.

    Charles Dickens Museum
    A short walk away in Holborn is the house occupied by 19th-century author Charles Dickens between 1837 and 1839. It reopened in 2012 following a major renovation; as well as the addition of a proper giftshop and cafe, this refurbishment allowed the curators to restore the house to its former Victorian glory, as it might have been in Dickens' day. Letters and portraits complete the picture.

    Sherlock Holmes Museum
    Another great literary figure to have a house museum dedicated to him is Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective and his ever patient companion Doctor Watson lived at 221b Baker Street and the team behind this museum have created a shrine to him on very nearly that exact spot (the museum is actually at number 239). Fans of the stories, and of Victoriana in general, will love the intricately styled interiors and waxwork recreations of well loved scenes.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are the best palaces to visit in London?

    For a glimpse of royal life past and present, you can’t beat London’s palaces, especially this year, the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Here are three not to be missed.

    Buckingham Palace
    The public rooms of the Queen’s London residence are now open to visitors for the annual Summer Opening (through September 29). Explore the 19 State Rooms including the Picture Gallery and the magnificent ballroom – which this summer is home to a display of robes and uniforms worn by the Royal Party during the Queen’s Coronation ceremony on June 2, 1953, as well as the jewels Elizabeth II wore that day.

    Kensington Palace
    You can’t visit the Kensington Palace home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their new baby George (their 21-room house is known as Apartment 1A), but you can see many other areas of the sumptuous 17th-century mansion that borders Kensington Gardens. Highlights include the State Apartments of Queen Mary II, William Kent’s elaborately painted King’s Staircase and the fascinating Victoria Revealed exhibition about Queen Victoria, England’s longest reigning monarch.

    Hampton Court Palace
    The home of King Henry VIII provides a compelling recreation of life in Tudor England. From the enormous kitchens, which used to feed up to 600 people twice a day, to the extraordinary Great Hall and the world’s oldest surviving hedge maze, there’s enough going on to occupy a whole day, particularly for family visitors.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are some things to know before visiting London?

    London can be the greatest city in the world; but it can also be the most frustrating. Here are a few points to bear in mind for your visit to make it as pleasant as possible:

    Getting around
    Once you are in the city centre, walking is by far the best way to get around. Bear in mind though that distances between attractions can be huge and so comfortable, practical shoes are a must if you plan to get around on two legs - as are plenty of pitstops! The tube is an excellent way to travel but avoid rush hours (before 9.30am and between 5pm and 7pm) if at all possible. Use the online Journey Planner to plan your journey (there's also an app). Keep to the right on escalators and move along the platform away from the entrances to avoid incurring the wrath of busy locals!

    The weather
    It rains in London all the time, right? Actually, no. London gets less rain than Rome or Paris, not to mention the rest of the UK, and short, sharp showers are far more common than prolonged drizzle. Pack an umbrella and then forget about it - the weather is unlikely to do any harm to your trip.

    Eating
    Food in London is varied, plentiful and not as expensive as you might imagine. However, costs can rack up if you aren't careful. A good tip is to eat your main meal in the middle of the day. Many of the top restaurants offer cut-price fixed menus for lunch and you are more likely to be able to get a table as a walk-in.
    Pubs make a great choice for a simple dinner, though try to pick one where locals are eating to avoid tourist traps, particularly in the West End where mediocre pubs are - in my opinion - largely to blame for the poor reputation of London's food abroad! Reservations are recommended in well-known or popular restaurants and on Friday and Saturday evenings.

    Drinking
    Londoners like a drink and pubs and bars will be very busy most evenings, especially on Friday nights when the weekend gets started for most people with a few after-work drinks. If you don't like crowded bars, spending a little more per drink will often buy you a quieter environment and hotel bars can be a good choice. But pubs are an integral part of our culture and no visit to London is complete without joining the locals at the bar one evening.

    Tipping
    Tipping is less ubiquitous in London than it is in America, but is more customary than it is in many other places, and there are some important rules to bear in mind. Taxi drivers should be tipped by rounding up the fare slightly. In restaurants, 10% is a standard tip, and increasingly 12.5% is added on automatically as a service charge; it is not necessary to tip in addition to this. Tips are not expected in pubs but are appreciated when ordering food - just add 10% or so to the bill.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are some things to know before visiting London?

    London can be the greatest city in the world; but it can also be the most frustrating. Here are a few points to bear in mind for your visit to make it as pleasant as possible:

    Getting around
    Once you are in the city centre, walking is by far the best way to get around. Bear in mind though that distances between attractions can be huge and so comfortable, practical shoes are a must if you plan to get around on two legs - as are plenty of pitstops! The tube is an excellent way to travel but avoid rush hours (before 9.30am and between 5pm and 7pm) if at all possible. Use the online Journey Planner to plan your journey (there's also an app). Keep to the right on escalators and move along the platform away from the entrances to avoid incurring the wrath of busy locals!

    Eating
    Food in London is varied, plentiful and not as expensive as you might imagine. However, costs can rack up if you aren't careful. A good tip is to eat your main meal in the middle of the day. Many of the top restaurants offer cut-price fixed menus for lunch and you are more likely to be able to get a table as a walk-in.
    Pubs make a great choice for a simple dinner, though try to pick one where locals are eating to avoid tourist traps, particularly in the West End where mediocre pubs are - in my opinion - largely to blame for the poor reputation of London's food abroad! Reservations are recommended in well-known or popular restaurants and on Friday and Saturday evenings.

    Drinking
    Londoners like a drink and pubs and bars will be very busy most evenings, especially on Friday nights when the weekend gets started for most people with a few after-work drinks. If you don't like crowded bars, spending a little more per drink will often buy you a quieter environment and hotel bars can be a good choice. But pubs are an integral part of our culture and no visit to London is complete without joining the locals at the bar one evening.

    Tipping
    Tipping is less ubiquitous in London than it is in America, but is more customary than it is in many other places, and there are some important rules to bear in mind. Taxi drivers should be tipped by rounding up the fare slightly. In restaurants, 10% is a standard tip, and increasingly 12.5% is added on automatically as a service charge; it is not necessary to tip in addition to this. Tips are not expected in pubs but are appreciated when ordering food - just add 10% or so to the bill.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best restaurants in London?

    London has a dining scene that is second to none with cuisine from every corner of the globe and a restaurant for every occasion. The choice can be overwhelming so here's my pick of the very best.

    For a quick bite
    You can't beat diner food for speed and convenience and The Diner has the classic American ambience down to a tee. Sit in a booth to order chilli cheese fries and a chocolate shake, or perhaps an all-day breakfast washed down with a craft beer. There are branches in Soho, Covent Garden, Islington, Camden, Shoreditch and Gloucester Road with Spitalfields coming soon.
     
    For a casual pub dinner
    English pub food has come on leaps in bounds in recent years but my favourite London pub food remains the Thai menu at Churchill's in Kensington. Packed with flavour, served speedily and costing well under a tenner, the curries and stir fries available here offer unbeatable value – and at this time of year the pub itself couldn't be more pleasant, covered from top to toe in vibrant hanging baskets full of flowers.
     
    For dinner with friends
    Tapas is the perfect sharing food, and Camino has a particularly authentic selection. Try the calamari, pata negra ham and patatas bravas, or sample the daily special. The always-packed bar is a great place for drinks too, and serves what is surely the most wide-ranging selection of Spanish wines in the capital.
     
    For a lively night out
    La Perla on Maiden Lane is ideally located for Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square. This fun restaurant has delicious Mexican food and a lively up-for-it atmosphere, plus a bar area serving cracking margaritas. The fajitas are a particular favourite — and generously sized.
     
    For date night
    Impress your date with lobster – without breaking the bank. At Burger and Lobster in Soho, burger and lobster are the only options on the menu, or you can combine the two on one delicious plate. Fries and a salad come as standard, and the wine list has been chosen specifically to be a perfect match. There's no awkward mathematics with the bill either - it's £20 a head whether you choose the burger or the lobster.

    For a truly special occasion
    If you can afford to splash the cash, there's no better place than Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. Book far in advance, dress up, order the tasting menu and settle in for several hours of lip-smacking, mind-bending food. There's no wine matching package but there are sommeliers on hand to tailor your drinks to the food you order, and the waiting staff couldn't be more professional.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What language is spoken in London?

    London can claim to be the most multicultural city on the planet and, as a result, one of the most multilingual. It is hard to put an exact figure on just how many different languages are spoken in the city, but we can be sure that it is more than 300 - so you could hear just about any language, anywhere in the city.

    Some of the most common languages spoken in London are Polish, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Cantonese and Mandarin - which gives you a clue as to where our residents are coming from!

    That being said, English is the city's primary language and it remains the mother tongue of the majority of people living here. It is almost impossible to find anywhere that English is not understood.

    English is used as the main language in all the major tourist attractions and few places translate live speech into any other language. However, attractions offering audio guides will always have these in a wide range of languages and most attractions also provide information in numerous different languages, especially the major European languages, Chinese and Japanese. Many of London's central pubs and restaurants also have staff who speak more than one language.
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