What are some things to know before visiting London?

Joseph Reaney

Here are three very useful things you should know before visiting London:
 
1. It takes a long time to get around
London is the most populated city in the EU by a country mile – more than twice as crowded as second-placed Berlin – and is one of the world’s biggest business and tourist destinations. So whether you’re traversing the city by Tube, bus or on foot, prepare for it to be slow going.
 
2. The museums are enormous
It is common knowledge that London is a museum capital, with more than 250 permanent exhibitions within the city limits, but what many visitors fail to realize is the sheer scale of some of them. Three of London’s most visited museums – The British Museum, The National Gallery and the Natural History Museum – have a combined collection of around 80 million items, so if you want to see a fraction of them you'll need to leave yourself plenty of time.
 
3. The weather is unpredictable
While the cliché that it always rains in London is a little unfair (believe it or not, Milan has more annual rainfall) it’s true that the weather in the British capital can change several times in a single day. The trick is to be prepared for every eventuality - pack both an umbrella and a pair of sunglasses - and don’t let the weather rule your day.

  • On July 25, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are London’s best nature experiences?

    London may offer the ultimate metropolitan experience but life in the capital is about more than the merely urban. Visitors seeking to reconnect with nature will find plenty of opportunities at the following sites and attractions.

    Red and fallow deer roam freely at Richmond Park, while Clissold Park has goats, rabbits, deer and chickens, plus an aviary with cockatiels, lovebirds and more. Hampstead Heath is big enough to make you feel like you've left the city altogether. Nature reserves such as Camley Street Natural Park in King's Cross and former railway line Parkland Walk offer an enormous diversity of animal and plant life and more exotic plant species can be found at Kew Gardens.

    Get hands-on at the London Wetland Centre, which offers activities such as pond-dipping and bat walks, and at the city's urban farms. Mud Chute Farm and Park is one of the biggest in Europe, with farm animals from ducks to llamas. Hackney City Farm is a smaller affair with a fantastic cafe. Both are ideal for children.

    The Sea Life London Aquarium, meanwhile, has touch pools where visitors can get up close and personal with crabs, starfish and rays. Another London institution offering an animal experience is the Natural History Museum: Sensational Butterflies, which lets you wander through a tropical butterfly house holding over 50 species of butterflies and moths, runs through September 15.

    There are even more species to meet at ZSL London Zoo. Among the nearly 20,000 animals that call the zoo home are many endangered species that are extremely difficult to spot in the wild. Daily shows and talks feature spiders, penguins, predatory birds and more.
  • On July 23, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    Where are the best cycle routes in London?

    When it comes to exploring the capital, nothing beats a bicycle. Public transport may get you from A to B but cycling gives you the freedom to stop along the way and experience the quirks that make London unique. Here are three routes to get you started.

    High Street Kensington to Trafalgar Square
    Check out the shops on Kensington High Street and Kensington Church Street, admire St. Mary Abbots, the 19th-century church on the corner where the two streets meet, then cycle east along the high street until you reach the southwest corner of Kensington Gardens. Enter the park for Kensington Palace, the Diana Memorial Playground, the Serpentine Gallery, the Albert Memorial and the Peter Pan Statue. Cross the road into Hyde Park for the Diana Fountain and swimming and boating on the Serpentine. Exit the park at Hyde Park Corner, cycle underneath Wellington Arch and along Constitution Hill until you reach Buckingham Palace. Visit the palace and the Queen's Gallery, then take Birdcage Walk past the Guards Museum, keeping St. James's Park on your left. At Parliament Square, admire the Houses of Parliament before turning left into Whitehall. Keep your eyes peeled for Downing Street, the Cenotaph and the Memorial to Women of World War Two as you cycle up Whitehall before arriving at Trafalgar Square for Nelson's Column, the National Gallery and the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

    The Regent’s Canal from Islington to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
    Access the towpath via the ramp at Danbury Street and turn left towards the lock. Browse at the floating shops and cafes moored on the canal at City Road Basin, then continue past The Narrow Boat pub. A bit further on and across the canal you'll see first Holborn Studios, where all manner of famous photography, film and musician types have worked over the years, then Gainsborough Studios, a housing development built on the site of the studios that produced Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes. Next up is Towpath, a lovely cafe that's open from March to November. As the landscape gets grittier, keep your eyes peeled for street art by the likes of Bansky and Bob & Roberta Smith. Broadway Market, coming up on the left, is great for shopping, including a buzzing street market on Saturdays. A few minutes later you'll find yourself cycling alongside Victoria Park – there's a boating lake not far from the towpath. Just past the park, take the lefthand branch of the canal, then turn left again at the end for the entrance to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

    Parkland Walk
    Finally, for a magical route that's very little known even among Londoners, head to Finsbury Park. This is where you'll find the start of Parkland Walk, a former railway line that's now London's longest nature reserve. Operating for around 100 years from the 1870s, the line is now home to hundreds of species of wildflowers, as well as large numbers of butterflies, mammals and birds. It runs for four and a half miles in two separate sections between Finsbury Park and Muswell Hill. To connect the two, turn right up Holmesdale Road at the end of the first section, then right again onto Archway Road, then right again after Highgate station onto Muswell Hill Road, keeping Highgate Wood on your left. The second section can be accessed from Cranley Gardens, which is the first right turn after the wood. If you're still looking for a challenge at the end of the route, cycle up to the top of Alexandra Park for great views over London.

  • On July 23, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What are the best places to spot celebrities in London?

    In almost all cases, celebrity status and enviable wealth go hand in hand – so the best way to spot celebrities in London is to head to its most exclusive and expensive locations.

    You are all-but-guaranteed to notice a famous face if you opt for a lavish dinner at haute cuisine restaurants like The Ivy or Nobu, choose to spend a night at five star hotels such as The Savoy or Claridge's, or enjoy an evening drink at a chic joint like Mahiki in Westminster or Chinawhite in Soho (or, if you can somehow manage to get in, at The Groucho Club).

    However, celebrity-spotting doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. You can also run into the odd celebrity simply by hanging around in the vicinity of Leicester Square on a Friday night (there's bound to be at least one major Hollywood premiere on) or strolling up and down Portobello Road in Notting Hill (a fashion street popular with the likes of Kate Moss and Sienna Miller).

    And if that fails, try the traditional British pubs The Hawley Arms in Camden (a popular haunt for everyone from Kirsten Dunst to Simon Pegg, and the one-time regular of Amy Winehouse) and St Margarets in Twickenham (it's close to a major film studio, so a regular with several movie directors and actors).
  • On July 23, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What are the best makeup stores in London?

    There are a plethora of wonderful makeup stores available right across the British capital, from time-honored locations like Liberty Beauty Hall in Great Marlborough Street, Soho to more contemporary additions like Being Content in 14 Bulstrode Street, Marylebone.

    However, if you're looking for a one-stop shop for all things makeup, the best option is a trip to Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd's Bush. This enormous retail cathedral is home to a range of beauty stores where you can not only buy high-quality make up products, but also have cosmetics applied by professional beauticians. Our top three picks in this huge shopping mall are the British specialists MAC Cosmetics (which can be found on the first floor), Italian makeup brand KIKO MAKE UP MILANO (on the second level), and the ever-popular Swedish concept cosmetics space Make Up Store (also on the second level).
  • On July 20, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are London’s best long-running shows?

    London's West End is known for its record-breaking long-running productions, some of which have been playing for over 25 years. From large-scale musicals to straight plays, there's plenty of choice out there, with tickets available on the day of the performance for most shows.

    Mamma Mia!, the all-singing, all-dancing musical based on the songs of Swedish pop group ABBA, opened in the West End in 1999 and has since spawned productions all over the world. Set on a Greek island in the run up to the wedding of a young woman who doesn't know who her father is and wants to find out, this is a fun feelgood story with a sentimental ending. Acclaimed British director Phyllida Lloyd went on to make a film adaptation of the show starring Meryl Streep in 2008.

    Billy Elliot the Musical made the journey the other way around, the 2005 stage production based on the non-musical film of the same name from 2000. This story of a motherless boy from the north east of England who secretly takes up ballet against the wishes of his father is set in the gritty context of the coal miners' strikes of the 1980s. Featuring music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Billy Elliot screenwriter Lee Hall and direction by Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry, it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical and is a real tearjerker.

    Another option for audiences looking for something with a bit of historical bite is War Horse, a production that began life at the National Theatre in 2007 before transferring to the West End. This stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's novel about a boy and his horse who end up in the trenches during the First World War features innovative puppetry and offers a compelling route into a difficult subject, particularly for younger viewers.

    The longest runner on my list is thriller The Woman in Black, which opened at the Fortune Theatre in 1989. Two actors play all the roles in this still terrifying adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 novel. The show tells the story of a solicitor who travels to a remote country house to tie up the affairs of a deceased client and discovers that it's haunted by a mysterious woman in black. Expect plenty of tense moments punctuated by the screams of fellow audience members.
  • On July 20, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are London’s best long-running shows?

    London's West End is known for its record-breaking long-running productions, some of which have been playing for over 25 years. From large-scale musicals to straight plays, there's plenty of choice out there, with tickets available on the day of the performance for most shows.

    Mamma Mia!, the all-singing, all-dancing musical based on the songs of Swedish pop group ABBA, opened in the West End in 1999 and has since spawned productions all over the world. Set on a Greek island in the run up to the wedding of a young woman who doesn't know who her father is and wants to find out, this is a fun feelgood story with a sentimental ending. Acclaimed British director Phylidda Lloyd went on to make a film adaptation of the show starring Meryl Streep in 2008.

    Billy Elliot the Musical made the journey the other way around, the 2005 stage production based on the non-musical film of the same name from 2000. This story of a motherless boy from the north east of England who secretly takes up ballet against the wishes of his father is set in the gritty context of the coal miners' strikes of the 1980s. Featuring music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Billy Elliot screenwriter Lee Hall and direction by Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry, it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical and is a real tearjerker.

    Another option for audiences looking for something with a bit of historical bite is War Horse, a production that began life at the National Theatre in 2007 before transferring to the West End. This stage adaptation of Michael Murpurgo's novel about a boy and his horse who end up in the trenches during the First World War features innovative puppetry and offers a compelling route into a difficult subject, particularly for younger viewers.

    The longest runner on my list is thriller The Woman in Black, which opened at the Fortune Theatre in 1989. Two actors play all the roles in this still terrifying adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 novel. The show tells the story of a solicitor who travels to a remote country house to tie up the affairs of a deceased client and discovers that it's haunted by a mysterious woman in black. Expect plenty of tense moments punctuated by the screams of fellow audience members.
  • On July 19, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are London’s best long-running shows?

    London's West End is known for its record-breaking long-running productions, some of which have been playing for over 25 years. From large-scale musicals to straight plays, there's plenty of choice out there, with tickets available on the day of the performance for most shows.

    Mamma Mia!, the all-singing, all-dancing musical based on the songs of Swedish pop group ABBA, opened in the West End in 1999 and has since spawned productions all over the world. Set on a Greek island in the run up to the wedding of a young woman who doesn't know who her father is and wants to find out, this is a fun feelgood story with a sentimental ending. Acclaimed British director Phylidda Lloyd went on to make a film adaptation of the show starring Meryl Streep in 2008.

    Billy Elliot the Musical made the journey the other way around, the 2005 stage production based on the non-musical film of the same name from 2000. This story of a motherless boy from the north east of England who secretly takes up ballet against the wishes of his father is set in the gritty context of the coal miners' strikes of the 1980s. Featuring music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Billy Elliot screenwriter Lee Hall and direction by Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry, it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical and is a real tearjerker.

    Another option for audiences looking for something with a bit of historical bite is War Horse, a production that began life at the National Theatre in 2007 before transferring to the West End. This stage adaptation of Michael Murpurgo's novel about a boy and his horse who end up in the trenches during the First World War features innovative puppetry and offers a compelling route into a difficult subject, particularly for younger viewers.

    The longest runner on my list is thriller Woman in Black, which opened at the Fortune Theatre in 1989. Two actors play all the roles in this still terrifying adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 novel. The show tells the story of a solicitor who travels to a remote country house to tie up the affairs of a deceased client and discovers that it's haunted by a mysterious woman in black. Expect plenty of tense moments punctuated by the screams of fellow audience members.
  • On July 18, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are the best traditional pubs in London?

    A visit to London just isn't complete without a drink – a pint ideally – in a traditional pub. The following are some of the best around.

    Central
    You can hear the crowd of drinkers that congregates outside The Lamb and Flag long before you turn the corner into the Covent Garden alley the pub calls home. From the narrow downstairs snug, a rickety staircase leads up to a dining room-style first floor with comfy leather banquette seating. As well as a range of beers and ales on tap, there are a large number of whiskies to choose from, making this a cosy place for a warming winter tipple.  

    City of London
    The most impressive feature of Fleet Street drinking den Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (145 Fleet Street; 020 7353 6170) is probably its vaulted cellars, but the higgledy-piggledy corridors, ancient panelling and snug sittings rooms are worth a mention too. Rebuilt just after the Great Fire of London, the pub boasts a remarkable roster of literary patrons, including Charles Dickens and Y.B. Yeats.

    North
    The Spaniard's Inn is the perfect place for a pick-me-up after a long walk on nearby Hampstead Heath. It's one of London's oldest pubs, dating back to the 16th century. The wood-panelled interior has a homely feel, or you can relax in the sunshine in the enormous beer garden.

    South
    Tucked away down an unremarkable looking Southwark side street, The Boot and Flogger (10-20 Redcross Way; 020 7407 1184) is the sort of place you don't find unless you're looking for it. Some might argue that Southwark is in central rather than South London, but as this eccentric place is a true hidden gem and it's technically south of the river, I'm including it here. The abundance of wooden barrels behind the bar evoke The Boot and Flogger's past as a wine merchant, as do the range of wines on offer by the glass.

    East
    The Dove manages to combine trendiness with traditional charm, its exciting international beer offering and cool staff making a nice contrast to the old school interior – all dark wood and nooks and crannies. There's no garden but drinkers spill out onto the pavement of Broadway Market all year round. Punters playing board games make for a convivial atmosphere.  

    West
    The grandparents of wartime prime minister Winston Churchill used to frequent this Kensington pub, which was renamed in his honour after the end of the war and is now full of fascinating Churchill memorabilia. Dozens of hanging baskets adorn the exterior of The Churchill Arms, creating a blaze of color on the corner of picturesque Kensington Church Street.
  • On July 17, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    Where is the best outlet shopping in London?

    The best fashion outlet in London is Aquascutum Factory Shop in Hackney. This great store sells a plethora of designer threads from super-smart suits to on-trend chunky cardigans – and everything in between – in a wide range of sizes, styles and brands.

    It isn't just men's, women's and kids' clothes either; you can also find stunning accessories ranging from bags, scarves and hats to belts, ties and cufflinks. You can even find specialist items like golf gear, business and travel gifts and the occasional item of homeware. And everything in the store is discounted by as much as 30 percent.

    Looking for a specific designer brand? No problem - several fashion designers have outlet stores in London. Two of the best include Paul Smith Outlet Store in Mayfair and The Burberry Factory Store in Hackney.
  • On July 17, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What are the best stores for designer clothes in London?

    If you're looking for fine designer fashion in London, you should focus your attention in one of three areas. The first is the famous Oxford Street, where you can venture into one of its many department stores (including Selfridge's and John Lewis) and find large clothing sections awash with designer labels. The second is Bond Street, where you can find an eye-watering selection of big-name designer boutiques, including Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Ralph Lauren. And the third is King's Road, where you'll find a wealth of alternative fashions from truly individual designers.

    When it comes to choosing particular stores, we would recommend picking up threads born and bred in London. Some famous flagship London fashion design stores include Vivienne Westwood at 44 Conduit Street in Mayfair, Stella McCartney at 30 Bruton Street in Mayfair, Paul Smith on Floral Street in Covent Garden, Alexander McQueen at 4-5 Old Bond Street, and Jimmy Choo at 32 Sloane Street in Knightsbridge.
  • On July 16, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    Where are the best places to hear live music in London?

    London has a top class venue specialising in practically every genre of music you can think of. Major gigs tend to book up in advance, particularly at the smaller venues, but if you're in the mood for live music, there are always plenty of last minute options.

    Jazz fans will love historic Soho establishment Ronnie Scott's, nearby Pizza Express Jazz Club and avant-garde Dalston venue The Vortex. The Wigmore Hall and King's Place are both worth a visit for their chamber concerts, while the Barbican, Southbank Centre and Royal Albert Hall all boast excellent auditoria for large-scale classical and pop gigs. When it comes to small to mid range pop and rock concerts, iconic venues The Garage in Highbury, The 100 Club on Oxford Street and the Jazz Café in Camden all welcome important British and international groups. Koko, the O2 Brixton Academy and the O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire are great examples of traditional proscenium arch venues presenting the best of rock and pop. And for folk music, Cecil Sharp House, the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, is the place to be.
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