London is a big city with a population of 8.6 million people and millions of people from all over the world come here as tourists each year. Catching the tube or just walking, you are almost just as likely to hear Arabic, French, German, Chinese or other language being spoken as you are to hear English – all be that with a Cockney, American, Indian, Australian or other accent.
While this number of people may sound a bit daunting, London has "The Tube" - a mostly underground rail system that will get you in and around London on one of the many Tube lines, and up on the roads there are the famous black London Cabs and red Double Decker buses that have also become a symbol of London Transport. There are also what are called 'Mini-Cabs' – basically unmarked cars, a huge fleet of them in London – google Minicab to see a list of contact numbers and on-line booking options, and Uber is also in London too.
You also have British Rail that runs to places outside of London, and thousands of commuters travel in and out of London on British Rail, so public transport in London is a real plus for the City. It can however be expensive. You don't need a car in London but if you do have one, the biggest issue will be where to park it! There is also a 'Congestion Tax' for cars coming into Central London, and you will also see lots of commuters travelling on bikes too. Santander also have bike sharing stations – bikes that you can pick up from a bike station and then dock it when you are finished using it at one of the many bike docking stations in the City area. Check the condition of the bike before you take it from the station. Most, but not all are in good, but not great condition. While helmets are not compulsory, they do save lives, and many cyclists do get injured too here in London.
In most cases you will buy an Oyster Card –from a Tube Station Ticket Office or machine –and you scan this as you enter and also leave the Tube Station that you are entering or exiting. The Oyster Cards can also be 'topped up' using cash, debit or credit cards once you reach your limit and can be used for paying fares on the Tube, Trams, DLR (Docklands Light Rail) and London buses.
London has six airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Stansted, Southend and Luton and it is important to know which one you are landing at or taking off from – so that you can both plan how to get to or from that airport to where you want to go, and also allow sufficient time to get there too. Don't miss your flight! The best information on Transport Options is to look at www.visitlondon.com/traveller-information. The biggest airport is Heathrow with its five Terminals and the second biggest is Gatwick. You can also download a Tube Map on the Visit London website. Heathrow has tube stations with the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station and London City has a DLR station (Docklands Light Rail) station that connects to the tube stations too. Gatwick is connected to Victoria Station by National Rail (The Gatwick Express), while London City is the closest to central London, and Stansted (close to the City of Cambridge) is said to have the most connections to destinations in Europe. For buses to and from Stansted – see www.easybus.com and Trains – see www.stanstedexpress.com
Most of the 'Big Name' Tourist attractions are in and around Central London, so in selecting a Hotel, Apartment, B&B or other place to stay, check to see how close it is to Central London and a Tube station. Also, many of the Tube Stations have long stairs to climb and no lifts or elevators – so if carrying heavy luggage or needing assistance, check www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/step-freetube-guide to see which Tube Stations have no steps. Only 66 out of the 270 stations have step-free access.
Hotels in the big name areas – like Mayfair, Belgravia, Knightsbridge, St James and others in Central London come with a big price tag, and the further away from Central London, in most cases the cheaper the hotel accommodation.
In many ways, London feels like a familiar city – particularly if you have played the board game, Monopoly – where names like Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Euston Road, Whitehall, The Strand, Fleet Street and other place names that you will immediately know if you have played Monopoly.
An important thing in planning your day is the weather. If it is a great sunny day, plan to do outdoor activities – visit the Zoo, cruise on the Thames, spend time walking, whereas if it is cold or wet, plan to go to places where you will be mostly indoors, and hope that the weather gets better later in the day or tomorrow! Before heading to London, pack a fold up umbrella and a lightweight all-weather jacket or coat in your luggage.
In Central London – the three most visited 'cultural' areas to head to are -
1. Around Westminster Abbey/Big Ben/Parliament House/Whitehall.
2. Around Buckingham Palace
3. Around Tower Bridge/Tower of London.
If you get a Tourist map of central London, mark on these three locations and highlight the nearest tube stations to help plan your day. Also get a Tube map too – and keep it handy, or mark it relative to the main tube stations you are using.