London, England

Guide for the rail traveller

Information

CurrencyPound Sterling
Local languageEnglish
Country England

Introduction

London is not a place to do in a day or even a week. To experience all this cosmopolitan and historically rich city has to offer would challenge even the most cultured of locals! Lying in the south-east of England on the river Thames, Greater London is home to 9 million people. With world-famous landmarks such as the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Nelson’s Column and more recently the London Eye, it is a city which continues to pull the tourists eager to experience the great variety which London offers.

London is no stranger to destruction, mourning and reconstruction. The Great Fire of London struck in the seventeenth century and gave Londoners no chance to recover from the great plague which swept the city just before. In the twentieth century, it was the first and second World Wars which claimed their toll on the nation’s capital and its people. Despite this, the ever-present resilience of the Londoners has seen the rebuilding of this grand, exciting and prosperous capital to be enjoyed by all its visitors in the new millennium.

London has never made much of an attempt to be one of the most beautiful European capitals and nor does it pretend to be such. Instead, as the architect Piers Gough put it, “London is a dirty, gritty, hard-working city”, which is seen by many as one of its endearing characteristics. The gradual growing together over centuries, of towns, villages, peoples and cultures has made London into the exciting, unpredictable and varied place it is today.

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Things to do

Clearly London has too much to offer to be able to provide even a comprehensive summary of the best attractions to see. For those wanting shopping, Oxford Street, Covent Garden and Knightsbridge are the more obvious destinations, whilst Kingston and Lakeside on the outskirts provide a slightly less hectic experience.

Museum lovers may wish to head for the museumland of South Kensington which offers the architecturally spectacular Victoria and Albert, Natural History and Science Museums, all within a stone’s throw of each other. The theatre and arts fanatics have two prime destinations to aim for; the West End centered around Leicester Square for all London’s famous musical offerings and the South Bank Complex on the Thames for the National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall and National Film Theatre amongst many others. The restored Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Tate Modern are further temptations for the discerning tourist! Contact 020 7960 4242 for the booking office.

Those who want to experience London’s rich past may wish to start at the stunning Palace of Westminster which, as the modern center of government, still finds itself in the Royal backyard as it has done since the end of the 11th century. Many generations of Kings and Queens have lived here including the current Queen who resides at Buckingham Palace for much of the year, just half a mile from Westminster.

Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, St James’ Park, and Kensington Gardens to name but a few, prove that even in this bustling city, greenery and a hint of tranquility are never too far away where necessary.

Local transport

Even arriving in London is an experience unto itself. Despite Britain’s notoriously bad public transport system, London offers many options for crossing and exploring the city; the underground also known as the Tube, is clearly the most famous, yet the buses often offer a far less expensive and more tourist-friendly option. Overland trains are also an often-neglected option but well worth considering.

Two of the largest tourist information centers can be found at Victoria Station and Piccadilly Circus in London’s West End. For further tourist information you can also call the London Tourist Board’s around-the-clock service on 020 7932 2000.

Day Trips

In the unlikely event that you run out of things to do and see in London, there are plenty of day trips to surrounding destinations which are well worthwhile.

Windsor which lies just 20 miles west of London has been home to the British monarchy since the 11th century. Windsor castle dominates this very quaint and sleepy town. Trains go direct from Waterloo Station and take approximately 1 hour.

Bath is perhaps the best preserved 18th century city in Britain and is easily explored on foot. Splendid town houses, the Royal Crescent, Roman Baths and Pump Rooms all provide a taste of historical English elegance and justify its status as World Heritage City. A journey of approximately 1½ hours from Paddington Station will take you to the beauty of Bath and the West Country.

Recommended places and events to visit in London

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