What are some things to know before visiting London?

Jo Caird
  • Jo Caird

  • Correspondent

  • London, England, UK

You’re coming to London and you’re excited about it. But before you arrive, there are a couple of things you should know.

First, there are practical concerns to think about. London is enormous, but the centre of town is actually quite compact and the best way of getting around is therefore either on foot or by bike. Walking is easiest – and you’ll be helped along by the blue and yellow signposts of the Legible London scheme – but cycling allows you to cover greater distances in a shorter time. You can hire the famous Boris bikes (named for London Mayor Boris Johnson, under whose tenure they were introduced) for short periods and drop them off at docking points across the city. If you’re planning on using public transport, it’s wise to get an Oyster Card, as cash journeys are prohibitively expensive. Charge it up and then use it to pay for travel across the transport network.

Which brings me neatly to my next point: there’s lots of London to explore, so don’t just stick to the centre of town. Areas such as Highgate and Hampstead in north London, Dalston in east London, Brixton and Dulwich down south and Richmond in the west have all got a unique character that you won’t find elsewhere. London is really just a series of villages with overlapping boundaries, so to get a proper sense of the place, you need to do some travelling.

Finally, a word about Londoners themselves. It’s not that we’re grumpy by nature, it’s just that living surrounded by so many millions of busy people tends to bring out a certain brusqueness that visitors from elsewhere may not be accustomed to. So don’t take it personally if we don’t smile, say hello or ask you how you are. We’re lovely when you get to know us.

  • On July 16, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What are the best places to buy shoes in London?

    Those who desire designer shoes on their feet, but don't have much time on their hands, should head straight to Selfridges on Oxford Street. The shoe department of this historic store is the largest in the world, and boasts extensive collections from designers including Jimmy Choo, Louboutin, Vans, Prada, Givenchy, Manolo Blahnik and Balenciaga. If you're planning to do a lot of walking in London, Oxford Street is also the perfect place to pick up a pair of casual shoes, with high street shops including Mango, Dune, Esprit, Bershka and Walk.

    Alternatively, if you do have the time to seek out individual stores, you'll be rewarded. Take a trip to the celebrity-favorite Church's on Regent's Street in the West End, or head for top shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood on Mount Street in Mayfair. Or if you're looking for something a little less conventional, consider a trip to Irregular Choice in Carnaby Street, Soho.
  • On July 16, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What are the best fine jewelry stores in London?

    There are a wealth of fine jewelry stores spread throughout the British capital. However, if you are looking for the widest selection within the smallest area, you should take a trip to Hatton Garden. Located between Chancery Lane and Farringdon, in the central district of Holborn, this long street and the area around it has been the center of London's jewelry since medieval times. To this day, it remains one of the world's great hubs for the diamond trade. And it is somewhere to pick up exquisite jewelry for exceptionally reasonable prices.

    There are almost 300 businesses in Hatton Garden that revolve around on the jewelry industry, and of these more than 55 of these are retailers. So the best policy is to put aside half a day to browse the various stores, speak to the various experts and wait for something to catch your eye.

    However, if you're really looking for a particular piece, there are certain stores to seek out. For stunning diamond engagement rings made by artisan designers, head to Savvy and Sand at 88-90 Hatton Garden. For incredible handmade gold wedding bands, try Ivan Dvorak at 63-66 Hatton Garden. And for contemporary pieces in various designs, metals and stones, make a beeline for Durrants on the adjacent Greville Street.
  • On July 15, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are the best places for a late-night snack in London?

    You're in London, it's late and your belly is rumbling. Never fear, there are lots of options for midnight snacks in the capital.

    Tokyo Diner
    Tucked away in the heart of busy China Town, Tokyo Diner is open until midnight 365 days a year, and although it's often packed, you'll rarely have to wait more a few minutes to be seated. The simple menu comprises sushi, sashimi, curries and other hearty rice dishes. Prices are very reasonable and there's no tipping allowed. 

    The Troubadour
    The Troubadour in Earl's Court has been an institution on London's dining and culture scene since it opened in the 1950s. The downstairs venue has hosted acts including Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Paul Simon and is still going strong today. At the restaurant – which is open until midnight seven days a week – you'll find a wide range of European and British dishes.

    Beigel Bake – Brick Lane Bakery
    Beigel Bake (159 Brick Lane, 020 7729 0616) has been delighting hungry East London revellers for over 35 years now. Open 24 hours a day, its specialty is hot salt beef bagels with gherkin and English mustard. Classic smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels are another favourite. It's takeout only, but no one will judge you for tucking in to your late-night treat as soon as you get out the door.
  • On July 15, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What are the best antique shops in London?

    Often the best places to find antiques in London are within the dedicated auction houses (such as Sotheby's) and the antique markets (like Camden Passage). If you're lucky, you'll also occasionally find an ancient gem tucked away in bric-a-brac or charity shop.

    But if you want the increased security and broad selection of an antiques dealer, here are three suggestions for great places to go.

    Gray's Antiques
    Home to one of the largest and most varied collection of antiques on earth, this sprawling two-level building is home to over 200 antiques dealers. That makes it the best place in London to pick up collectables ranging from antique fashion and jewelry to time-honored furniture and objets d'art – and from any era ranging from the 1st century BC to the 20th century.

    Pendulum of Mayfair
    For clock lovers, there is nowhere better in Europe than Pendulum. This antique store specializes in historic hand-made pendulum clocks, from grandfathers to brackets, carriages to wall clocks, and its long-list of prestigious clients including the British Royal Family. So find time to pay them a visit while in London.

    Guinevere Antiques
    Specializing in decorative arts, this eye-catching store sells great works from almost every age, from 2,000-year-old Chinese Han Dynasty Figures to 20th century Art Deco French furnishings – and everything in between.
  • On July 15, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What are the best golf courses in London?

    The protected status of Royal Parks and the ever-expanding population means there's no space for golf courses anywhere near central London. However, hop on a train to the 'burbs – or a little further – and you'll find more great golfing options than you can swing a club at.

    The most famous golf course anywhere near London is undoubtedly Wentworth Club in Surrey – home to three Championship 18-hole courses. The West Course, commonly considered the finest of the three, plays host to the annual PGA Championship, and has previously been used for the World Match Play Championships and even Ryder Cup matches; so it's a regular haunt for current pros such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

    Other great tee-off options around London include: Walton Heath Golf Club (the Old Course, just 20 miles from the city, is consistently voted among the top 100 courses in the world); Sunningdale Golf Club (the Old Course here is short-but-sweet, with stunning scenery and elevated drives, and just 25 miles from central London) and Royal St. George's Golf Club (a rather-more-ambitious 80 miles from the center of London, but worth the journey - this spectacular course that was the first English host of The Open in 1894).
  • On July 15, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What are the best yoga studios in London?

    For visitors to London, one of the finest yoga studios is Yotopia. Located at the heart of the city, just off Covent Garden, the center offers a range of programs, from classic 'vinyasa flow' to hot Pilates, and they are all designed to adhere to the latest physiological research. Best of all, the studios themselves boast state-of-the-art heating and humidification systems, so there's nowhere better to work up a sweat.

    Other great yoga studios within easy reach of the British capital's tourism hotspots include Indaba in Marylebone (close to Regent's Park and Baker Street) and Blue Cow Yoga in Moorgate (within walking distance of St. Paul's Cathedral). For something more unique, and perhaps more taxing, you can also take a trip to The London Dance Academy near Old Street. This brand new dance studio is London's only exponent of 'AntiGravity Yoga'.
  • On July 15, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What new dance shows are in London?

    Whatever kind of dance shows you like, you'll find them on offer in London. Ballet lovers should head to the 'Bolshoi Ballet: Sleeping Beauty', which is being shown at London's Royal Opera House from 5 through 9 August. Thrill-seekers should make a beeline for the 'Cirque du Soleil: Alegría' show at the O2 Arena from 18 through 21 July. Street dance and contemporary dance fans should try 'Swan Lake Reloaded' at the London Coliseum, from 6 through 10 August, and for those who like a sprinkle of Shakespeare with their dance, 'West Side Story' is making a return to Sadler's Wells from 7 August through 22 September. Finally, if you aren't completely sold on a dance at all, we'd recommend a trip to 'New Movement Collective: Nest' at 136 Shaftesbury Avenue from 15 through 26 July. Its heady blend of music, animation, design and light displays means even dance-sceptics are guaranteed a great time.
  • On July 15, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What new museum exhibits are in London?

    Without doubt, the most popular and critically-acclaimed museum exhibition in London right now is 'David Bowie is'; a retrospective of the life and career of a true pop legend... soon after his critically-acclaimed comeback. It started on 23 March at the Victoria and Albert Museum and runs until 11 August. Some other newsworthy exhibitions currently underway are 'A Royal Arrival' (at the Museum of London, June 28 to October) – a history of babies in the Royal Family, just as a new one arrives this summer – and 'Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait' (at The Jewish Museum, July 3 to September 15), two years on from her death.

    Some less-covered but extremely interesting exhibits include 'Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' (at the British Library, May 17 to September 17), 'Visions of the Universe' (at the National Maritime Museum, June 7 to September 15) and 'Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s' (at the Victoria and Albert Museum, July 10 to February 16).
  • On July 15, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What are the best adventure outings in London?

    Thrill-seekers arriving in the British capital have a wealth of options for things to do. The most heart-hammering fun is to be had upon the capital's iconic river, with various options ranging from supercharged speedboat tours (with Thames Rib Experience) to half-day kayaking excursions (courtesy of London Kayak Tours).

    But that's just the tip of the iceberg. You can also join a host of other adventure activities, from Segway Rallies around the RAF Museum in Hendon to tree-top rope walks around Trent Park. And if you're feeling ultra-adventurous, how about taking a deep breath and trying a bungee jump? History-lovers can take the leap right beside Tower Bridge, while those of a more modern disposition can jump off a platform adjacent to the O2 Arena.
  • On July 15, 2013
    Joseph Reaney answered the question: Joseph Reaney

    What are the best adventure outings in London?

    Thrill-seekers arriving in the British capital have a wealth of options for things to do. The most heart-hammering fun is to be had upon the capital's iconic river, with various options ranging from supercharged speedboat tours (with Thames Rib Experience) to half-day kayaking excursions (courtesy of London Kayak Tours). But that's just the tip of the iceberg. You can also join a host of other adventure activities, from Segway Rallies around the RAF Museum in Hendon to tree-top rope walks around Trent Park. And if you're feeling ultra-adventurous, how about taking a deep breath and trying a bungee jump? History-lovers can take the leap right beside Tower Bridge, while those of a more modern disposition can jump off right beside the O2 Arena.
  • On July 10, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are the best art house cinemas in London?

    The rise of digital projection technology means that what was once a stark divide between mainstream cinemas and independent picture houses is much more of a blurred line these days. You can now see a range of art house movies, foreign films and documentaries at even the most commercial of exhibitors, but London's historic independent cinemas are still the bet best for an all round alternative movie experience.

    The Electric Cinema, in trendy Notting Hill, is one of the UK's oldest indy cinemas, having opened to the public in 1910. Now run by Soho House, it's much more comfortable than it used to be and even features an onsite diner too.

    In North London, the Everyman Hampstead is the place to be for art house movies. The group that runs it now has 10 cinemas, but this is the one that started it all, pioneering luxurious touches like sofa seating and waiter service. Another really special member of the portfolio is The Screen on the Green in Islington, a single-screen picture house that in 1976 hosted The Sex Pistols with support from The Clash and the Buzzcocks.

    Not far away, in Dalston, is the Rio Cinema, a grand building that opened as a purpose-built picture house in 1915. Unusually among small London screens, its auditorium is set up like a theatre, with stalls and a balcony. Down south, meanwhile, the Ritzy Picturehouse has a buzzing bar, making this a great hang-out whether you're seeing a film or not.

    In central London, the Curzon is your best bet. Its six branches – my favourites are in Mayfair and Soho – specialise in European and art house movies. The nearby Prince Charles Cinema offers an eclectic programme that include infamous singalong events and marathon screenings.
Next