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Travel Planner: London

By:
Joanna Hall
 

What can you possibly say about London which hasn't already been said? It's one of the world's great and most visited cities, a place of history and culture, with something to offer every visitor. London is also a city of wide open spaces and high-density sightseeing, divided neatly in half by the famous River Thames. The centre of the city is where most of the top tourist attractions are to be found, including the top museums, galleries and most of the major iconic sights, but you can also venture into some of London's outer suburbs too for a different experience; for example, the rolling hills of Hampstead Heath, the tennis Mecca of Wimbledon, or Hampton Court Palace. London is wonderfully multicultural with a third of locals said to be foreign born, a fact which only adds to its culinary diversity, and fascinating ethnic enclaves. And although it's hard to get past those famous landmarks of Big Ben, Tower Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral, and the Houses of Parliament, if you have long enough to explore London on a visit you'll find alluring gems in almost every district. Rubbing shoulders with the old and iconic are also new attractions such as Shard, and a must for everyone should be a ride on the London Eye just for the views.

Need to Know

Location: England.

Language: English. 

Money: UK pound. There are plenty of ATM’s, and banks tend to offer better exchange rates than currency exchange bureaus, but you may need to have your passport on hand. Credit cards are accepted but check for any additional surcharges. 

Time Difference: GMT.

Getting around: London is huge but fortunately it has a top notch public transport system with plenty of options for getting around, including buses, the underground, trams and trains. Depending on how long you are in the city buying a visitor Oyster Card is a great option, as it's accepted virtually everywhere, it discounts public transport trips, and you can top it up when you need to. It also avoids queuing for tickets, which can be a bonus during rush hour. Taxis are also plentiful but the traditional black cabs can be pricey as they operate on a time basis rather than a distance basis. If you're feeling active and adventurous, rent a Santander Cycle from one of 750 docking stations dotted around the capital.

When To Go: Post-Olympic Games London is always busy. The European summer from June-August tends to have the warmest weather and the longest days, but naturally it's a popular season and there are generally more visitors. April-May and September-October are more of a “shoulder season” with fewer tourists, and the winters are cold with much shorter days and higher rainfall.

Tipping: You’re not obliged to tip in London, even if it’s automatically added to your bill, but most people leave around 10 per cent if the service is good. The basic rule of thumb is the same for many European cities; if someone provides great service, add a bit extra to the bill and it will be appreciated.

Where To Stay 

Hotels are very expensive in London these days like the rest of Europe, but a popular option for stays of more than three days a private apartment rental through a service such as Airbnb or Roomarama, or a quality serviced apartment such as Cheval Residences which has properties in all the key areas. At the top end of the scale, there's a lovely combination of iconic and hip new hotels to check out: The Dorchester, The London EditionThe Shangri-La at The Shard, The Beaumont HotelThe Ned, Number SixteenThe Waldorf Hilton, and The Capital are just a few suggestions.

Sightseeing Essentials

* You'd need a week with no break to get around all of London's top sights, but where museums and galleries are concerned, ones to put on your hit list include the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Britain, the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of London and the Royal Academy of Arts

* When it comes to iconic buildings, check out St. Paul's CathedralBuckingham Palace, and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. 

* A top pick for both an historic building and a museum is the Tower of London. While visiting here, you'll also get to see the ionic Tower Bridge. 

* Also located close together are Westminster Abbey, the Houses of ParliamentBig Ben and across the river, the London Eye

* Outside of the city, worth a visit is Kew Gardens and Hampton Court Palace

Tours

* For first timers, a London Pass Including Hop-on-Hop-off Tour is a great way to get to know the city. You can choose from a 1-6 day pass which gets you transport, entry into attractions and more.

* You can also see London in a day on a fully escorted Sightseeing Tour taking in all the local attractions, and the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Best Happy Snap 

This is an extremely difficult decision as for photo enthusiasts there are classic photos at every turn. For unbeatable panoramas, ones to put on your list include from atop the London Eye and The Shard, and for iconic sights and buildings, from below Big Ben, and in front of Tower Bridge. For wide open spaces, try Trafalgar Square and in front of Buckingham Palace.

Eating And Drinking

This poses most visitors with another dilemma, with the city jam-packed with places to eat and drink to suit all budgets. The restaurants atop the Shard in the new Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard offer fine cuisine with jaw dropping views, and there's also a gorgeous bar where you can make reservations. Icons include Michel Roux Jr’s  Le Gavroche. For great watering holes, the City of London has some fine old pubs, and there's a new trend towards rooftop bars including The Roof Gardens in Kensington and in the summer, the SkyLounge which as views of Tower Bridge, The Shard and more.

Shopping And Souvenirs

Thing of something you are dying to buy and you'll find it in London. From quirky markets to the finest high-end designer the city has it all; you just have to know where to go. Popular department stores include Fortnum and MasonHarrodsHarvey NicholsLibertySelfridges and John Lewis, while popular areas range from the West End to Knightsbridge, with other areas including ChelseaCarnaby StreetCovent Garden and the King's Road. If markets are more your thing, check out Borough MarketBrick Lane MarketCamden Lock MarketPortobello Road Market. 

Hot Tip 

Many of London's top attractions are free, including Tate Modern, the British Museum, and there are free events including the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. If you fancy seeing a show in the West End, you can visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for last-minute, cheap tickets.

Got An Emergency? 

Police and emergency services: 999

Australian High Commission: +44 20 7379 4334

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