London is a cosmopolitan mixture of the Third and First Worlds, of chauffeurs and beggars, of the establishment, the avowedly working class and the avant-garde. Unlike comparable European cities, much of London looks unplanned and grubby, but that is part of its appeal. Visiting London is like being let loose on a giant-sized Monopoly board clogged with traffic. Even though you probably won't know where you are exactly, the names will at least look reassuringly familiar. The city is so enormous, visitors will need to make maximum use of the underground train system: unfortunately, this dislocates the city's geography and makes it hard to get your bearings. Doing some travelling by bus helps fit the city together.


The main geographical feature of the city is the River Thames, which meanders through central London, dividing it into northern and southern halves. The central area and the most important sights, theatres and restaurants are within the Underground's Circle Line on the north bank of the river. The trendy and tourist-ridden West End lies within the western portion of the loop, and includes Soho, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Regent St. The East End, so beloved of Ealing comedies, lies east of the Circle Line; it used to be the exclusive preserve of the Cockney but is now a cultural melting pot. There are interesting inner-city suburbs in North London, including Islington and Camden Town. South London includes a mess of poor, dirty, graffiti-ridden suburbs, like Brixton, which have vibrant subcultures of their own.
Accommodation in London is ridiculously expensive and in short supply in July and August. There's the usual mix of hostels, university colleges, B&Bs and hotels. Earl's Court is a major centre for cheap hostels and hotels, but there are other good centres in Bloomsbury and Notting Hill. Less-cheap alternatives are Paddington, Bayswater and Pimlico. Eating out is also expensive, though Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurants are less threatening to your wallet. Culinary hunting grounds are Covent Garden, Soho and north of Leicester Square.


London map

When To Go