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A global powerhouse, the ancient city of London is packed with history and culture and is a perennial favourite with travellers of all kinds:
England's historic capital was the centre of the British Empire for generations, and is imbued with an incredible sense of history; visitors to London often feel that the city is familiar because of all the iconic landmarks and famous buildings. Modern London has moved with the times and in addition to its proud ancient heritage it is a truly cosmopolitan city which continues to host prestigious world events. Anyone wishing to understand and explore the origins of Western culture will revel in a holiday in London, where traditional attractions still amaze and astound, but they will also be entertained by contemporary London, with its excellent restaurants, energetic nightlife, and enjoy world-class shopping.
A holiday in London is enjoyable for anyone and everyone. Families will find plenty to intrigue and delight children; couples can revel in the romance still imbued in this old city; and culture vultures will be in heaven.
Best time to visit London
The best time to holiday in London is during spring (April and May) when its famous parks erupt in a profusion of flowering bulbs, early autumn (September and October) when the trees turn into golden hues and skies are often blue, or summer (July and August) when the long evenings are a joy. Winters can gloomy, dark and cold but the cosy pubs and brilliant museums still beckon.
GMT (GMT +1, Apr - Oct)
The electrical current in the UK is 240 volts, 50Hz. Flat, three-pin plugs are standard.
English is the official language, though visitors will be astonished by the variety of regional accents.
There are no specific health risks associated with travel to the UK and food and water can be considered safe. The British National Health Service is excellent. A number of countries have reciprocal health agreements with the UK including Australia, New Zealand, and EU countries. Visitors from other countries (including Canada, South Africa, and the US) are advised to take out comprehensive medical insurance.
Tips of 10 to 15 percent are expected in restaurants and upmarket hotels in the UK if a service charge hasn't been included. Hotel service staff receive an optional amount. Taxi drivers are usually given 10 to 15 percent of the fare. Tipping for other services is discretionary.
It is generally safe to travel throughout the UK. There is some risk of international terrorism in the UK and security has been increased at transport hubs; airports in particular have seen a heightening of security measures over recent years.
Handshaking is customary when introduced to someone new. Smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces, including pubs and restaurants, and on public transport. Queue barging is frowned upon and there is strict etiquette on escalators: stand on the right, walk on the left. Visitors may find Londoners more rushed and less friendly than locals in other parts of the country, particularly on London transport, where tourists are often the only people who talk.
With iconic landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Tower Bridge, visitors will be kept busy with a multitude of attractions to explore. In fact, the vast majority of the UK's most popular tourist attractions can be found in London. Visit the stoic lions on Trafalgar Square, be bowled over by the grand interior of St Paul's Cathedral, or take a stroll through St James Park and watch the famous changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, all this won't even scratch the surface of London's historic appeal.
Venturing more into the heart of the West End, follow the crowds to the bright montage of lights and billboards at Piccadilly Circus and from there take in Chinatown, Soho and Covent Garden. For those with an appreciation for history and the natural world, the superb British Museum and Natural History Museum in South Kensington are a must on any London vacation. The south bank of the Thames draws visitors with the London Eye, the London Aquarium and the über-cool Tate Modern.
An easy and pleasurable way to see the major sights is on one of London's red buses or, weather permitting, on foot. Many visitors use the underground to travel the short distances from sight to sight, missing the opportunity to gain a better picture of this vibrant city. A boat tour down the river Thames is also a great way to view some major sights and to learn more about the central role this river has played in London life, or just relax while you ponder what next to see and do in London.
A melting pot of cultures, eating out in London is an international affair. Renowned for its curries, there are hundreds of Indian restaurants to choose from, from upmarket Mayfair to the trendy Brick Lane. Head to Chinatown in Soho for Chinese, or Brixton for African or Caribbean.
A city synonymous with celebrity big name chefs like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Yotam Ottolenghi, visitors to London can also sample some of the country's finest cuisine, but at a price. For a special gourmet evening out head to one of the famous restaurants in Mayfair, Covent Garden, Soho or Chelsea, but expect to pay for the privilege.
For the ultimate English experience, traditional fish and chips are the order of the day. Get it wrapped up for take away and head to the nearest park for a greasy snack. If the weather is doing its usual thing then head to a cosy gastro pub instead and sample some heart-warming English fare. Although London is home to some hugely impressive restaurants and chefs the city is probably still most famous for its simple pub grub.
Eating out in London is expensive but a lunchtime sandwich and soft drink shouldn't cost more than £8 and an evening meal at a standard restaurant, excluding drinks, can be had for £15.
The nightlife in London is some of the best in the world, offering pulsating dance floors at famous clubs and more chilled out and intimate music lounges and bars. Hardcore party animals will love the clubbing scene, complete with well-known local and international DJs, while the countless bars and cosy independent theatres feature an impressive mix local and international live music acts. London is arguably the best possible travel destination for lovers of live music, and on any given night there will be an international or local band playing in more than one of the many venues.
The West End in particular is home to many bars, clubs and restaurants, and Soho is one of the trendiest and coolest places to drink. This is also where most of London's gay bars and clubs can be found. The perpetually cool Notting Hill and Portobello Road areas still draw large crowds.
Those in the mood for a quiet drink and some conversation should head down to one of the many traditional English pubs scattered around this cosmopolitan city, where they can enjoy some of the finest ales, stouts, ciders, and malt whiskies on offer in the world. It's also often possible to combine pubbing and clubbing as many of London's bars these days have clubs and dance floors inside them, transforming them into miniature nightclubs and ushering in a new era for those 'heading down to the pub'.
The West End is also known as 'Theatreland' and those in the mood for Broadway-style theatre shows should head down to the Lyceum Theatre or the Queen's Theatre to catch a show or musical. And while in the area, culture lovers can enjoy an evening at Covent Garden watching the Royal Opera or the Royal Ballet, while lovers of classical music can sample the delights of Albert Hall. There is also plenty of fringe theatre outside of the West End with young professionals and amateurs performing anything from classic plays to cabaret. Common fringe venues range from well-respected miniature theatres to cramped rooms above some of the city's local pubs. Other non-commercial theatres include the world-renowned National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Globe Theatre and the Old Vic.
London has a temperate climate without the extremes found in continental Europe. There are four distinct seasons, although the weather can be unpredictable, with out-of-season storms, icy spells, and even heatwaves. Summer temperatures range from 57°F (14°C) to 75°F (24°C), while average winter temperatures range from 37°F (3°C) to 46°F (8°C). July is the hottest summer month, averaging 66°F (19°C), and January is the coldest winter month, averaging 39°F (4°C). London is a great city to visit whatever the weather, but most visitors prefer to visit between April and October, when the temperature is usually warm and the days are long and frequently sunny.