The modern city with a traditional soul, London is one of the most fascinating – and best-value – destinations. As with the other top-ranking European cities, there is a heady mix of old and new. The ancient Tower of London, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and other royal residences stand beside modern edifices such as City Hall, the Gherkin and Shard London Bridge. Add in the capital’s parks and masterpiece-stuffed museums and galleries (most of which are free to visit) and it’s little wonder why millions of tourists book flights to London each year.
In 2011 all eyes were on London for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s nuptials. The oohs, aahs and rousing renditions of “God Save the Queen” kicked off what is set to be an exciting couple of years for the capital.
This year, London will host the Olympic Games, we’ll mark Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday and we’ll rejoice in Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee with a 1,000-boat flotilla on the Thames, jolly street parties and an extra bank holiday.
July and August are usually the warmest months, however, the Great British summer has a reputation for being a washout. January is the coolest month with temperatures in the low single digits (Celsius). Spring and autumn can be very pleasant, as the temperatures are usually higher than the rest of the UK. The rain is heaviest during November when the city averages 6cm (2.5 inches).
Most visitors arrive on flights to London between June and September. Christmas and Easter are other peak times. School holidays – half-term weeks in October, February and May – are very busy. Families flock to the museums and attractions.
Shoulder season is from April to May (excluding Easter) and early September to October. September/October is a great time of year to get cheaper flights and it can be the best time to visit: fewer crowds, cheaper hotel rooms, and better light for photography and bringing out the scenery.
As London is a four-season destination there’s not much of an off-season. The weeks following Christmas and New Year until Easter are fairly quiet.
There are tons of options, the best being the Tube. London’s underground system is the fastest and easiest way to get around. Avoid rush hour though unless you like the sardine-in-a-can crush.
London’s iconic double-decker red buses are slower, but they can be found everywhere and won’t be as crowded. Look into getting an Oyster card or Travelcard for travelling on London’s public transport – it will save you money. You can find them at tube stops or newsagents.
Black cabs are everywhere and very comfortable, but very expensive. Minicabs are a cheaper taxi option, but you have to order them ahead of time. Watch out for illegal minicabs that trawl the theatres and nightspots. They might seem like the only late-night option, but single women or those unfamiliar with the area should and find a different way to stay safe.
London is a big city, but many of the tourist attractions are within walking distance or along the River Thames. Take advantage of a sunny day by walking or taking a riverboat.
Driving is not recommended, as parking is near impossible to find and a Congestion Charge will cost you extra when driving into the city’s centre Monday to Friday between 7am and 6pm. Rent a car only if you’d like to head out into the country. You will need to be over 25 and have a licence and a credit card. For more information visit www.tfl.gov.uk.