Lay of the Land
“The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane. ”~Stephen Fry
Today’s London is an amalgamation of numerous villages, some dating back to ancient Roman times. As a result, the city’s neighborhoods have distinct personalities and attributes. Traveling from west to east, Notting Hill and Kensington are primarily residential and home to some hidden restaurants and boutiques. Chelsea, South Kensington and Knightsbridge are ideal for strolling and shopping, with some excellent cafés and famed British stores like Harvey Nichols. Mayfair is where you’ll find many of the city’s grandest hotels and restaurants like Claridge’s and The Square. Meanwhile the West End, Soho and Covent Garden districts are famous for theaters, museums and general hubbub (see: Picadilly Circus).
Major historical sightseeing (such as the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye) is located in central London. In the east is “The City,” the financial district and hip neighborhoods like Shoreditch and Clerkenwell, home to some seriously cool restaurants. Directly across the Thames, South Bank is a foodie destination with funky restaurants and the cult favorite Borough Market.
Black Cabs are pricier and harder to come by than taxis in other cities, but the Underground or “tube” is quick, clean and safe. If you plan on staying in the city for more than a couple days and using the underground system, look into purchasing a multi-day card. Be aware that you must present your ticket as you exit the station, so keep it handy.
London is an example of a city that has perfected the airport transfer (New York City, take note). Heathrow and Gatwick Express trains run between the airports and Paddington or Victoria train stations (respectively) multiple times per hour. Tickets can be purchased in advance or just before departure, and they are significantly cheaper than taxis plus avoid London’s legendary traffic.