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LONDON: A brief introdcution
I have worked and lived in London all my life.
My knowledge of London and its wonders has been built of years of visiting it and travelling around it. I have visited all the main "touirsty" attrractions from the Tower of London to Buckingham Palace, i have visited all the art galleries and museums from the Tate Modern to the V&A, been to endless west end shows and their theatres, i have shopped, eaten, studied and worked on famous streets and witnessed many events that have shaped London in the last few years. I breathe and live London, so felt it appropriate to write a review on my own beloved city and share my experiences with others.
London is an incredibly diverse and mulitcultural city, bursting at the seams with tourists, packed with red double deckers buses and taxes and has a notourisly rich history and its own royal Queen residing within in it. Each road has a hidden history (and is usually named after it) whether is was a famous pub, prison or shop, their are famous markets on the weekends, famous yearly parades and carnivals and has never ending drama and nightlife. London is unique compared to other European cities (and i have been to alot of them), has A list celbrities drawn to it, has had some of the most famous paintings and photographs taken here in history and is soon to make more history by being home to the Olympics in 2012.
PLACES TO STAY:
London provides a diverse range to suit every individual from student backpackers, to family vacation on a budget; to a couples romantic weekend away. There are hostels, hotels, b&bs, apartments and flats to rent for a longer stay.
I have stayed in London a few times in hotel overnight for Christmas dinners and late night performances at the theatre.
The most memoriable was the 5* Garden Hotel in Knightsbridge. The hotel was beautiful and the staff were helpful and courteous. The food was outstanding and the rooms were spotless, however watch out for the prices at the mini bar, as a small box of chocolates was £7.
Check out its website: http://www.royalgardenhotel.co.uk/
On the other hand i once stayed in a low budget hotel at Paddington which had no breakfast included in the price. The room was in an old Victorian House that had been modernised, so the room was tiny, they just managed to get a double bed in. The room was basic and the location of the hotel was near the tube, buses and rail. I booked this on lastminute.com
I have also stayed in a regular chain hotel, Premmier Inn, near the famous Clinic Street for one night, this was a great hotel, with great security, parking and was very clean. The staff were also very helpful and courteous, it was next to the waterside and was near some great pubs, art galleries and is a short walk away from the Embankment, London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliment. It was around £60.00 for one night for a double room. www.premierinn.com, which is great value for a couples weekened away.
Other great hotels in london include, the Hilton, the Savoy, London Covent Garden Hotel and the Ritz, although there are hundreds of places from commercial to family run. Check out internet sites for great last minute deals and a price to suit every budget. Always check out the photos on the site and previous customer rating and reviews before booking hotels. Obviously ciao is a great place to start looking for others experiences and stays in London Hotels!!
PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK:
Every other store or building in London is either a five star resturant, cheap take away, a traditional (well, ish) english pub, bistro, a starbucks coffee shop or an independent sandwich place, whether you stick to the main streets or hit the back ones, you will always find a place to grab some munch at any time of day.
The prices vary, if you eat in a hotel you are going to pay obviously more than if you dine in pizza hut. Mac Donalds is a cheap option and Harrods is an expensive one (though well worth a visit), so here is my compiled list of top places to eat in London:
BECKY'S TOP PLACES TO EAT..........ON THE CHEAP
CHINESE AND INDIAN ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFETS
These are great when you are a student. Dotted around in Lecister square and around alot of the back streets off the main busy ones like Oxford and Regent street, are all you can eat buffets. These can be to take away or sit in, and you get a reasonable big plate that you can fill with assortment of noodles, rice, meats and other favourites as high as you can, for about a fiver. Some places you can grab to go. Sometimes these can be a bit grubby, and the food can be a bit greasy, and it is an open all you can eat buffet, so sometimes i avoid them if i think people have not been using the tongs but their hands! Having said that, its a quick hot lunch and its cheap.
The usual places of cheap food, lie in the take away burgers and fries and massive sandwiches. These are havily dotted around train stations, tube, busy shopping streets and main attractions, meal per person ranges in around the £5-£8.00 mark I get subway if i am trying to be a bit healtheir as they offer lower fat products and Mac Donalds and KFC if i am feeling really naughty. Not bad for a quick lunch on a shopping trip. Look out for the guys holding up billboards or those handing out vouchers for these places as sometimes they are advertising free vouchers or a lunchtime meal deal.
A PUB LUNCH
London is notorious for its pubs. The English have been drinking in public houses for hundreds of years, so a trip to London should involve a trip to the pub. There are many historical pubs such as 'Albert' at Westimister or the 'Bunch of Grapes' at Knightsbridge to the modern chain pubs such as Wetherspoons that can be found in the main tourist areas such as covent garden and leceister square.
If you are looking for a more rustic pub you could aways head out of London into historic counties such as Kent for the more traditional pub lunh. Pub lunches range in traditional English foods from roast beef and lamb sunday lunches, fish and chips and 'bangers' and mash (sausages and mash) to mutliculturial influenced cuisine such as indian curry and italian lasagne.
Check out www.pubs.com for the latest information on pubs in London.
BECKY'S TOP PLACES TO EAT.............FOR A LOVELY LUNCH
PONTIS/ PIZZA EXPRESS/ ZIZZIS
A variety of Italian resturants with an array of pastas, salads and pizzas that are freshly baked and made to your order. Pizza and pasta dishes range in the £10 - £15 mark. All are sit down resturants, with a waiter service, holding a range of wines and beers to complement
your meal. Sometimes you can get a lunch time deal or sometimes they do vouchers such as buy one pizza get another free. They also have a range of Italian deserts and coffees, which are around the £5 mark each. These resturants are ususally dotted about around major attractions, and around the west end theatres, and are usually very popular with locals and tourists alike. A nice place for a spot of lunch or pre theatre dinner. My personal favourite is Zizzis, and recommended their cheesy and baslamic onion garlic bread, calamari and their chicken and mushroom ristotto. However I highly recommend any of these resturants as i have eaten in all of them.
If you are like me and love Sushi, the best places in London (i think the best one is in Oxford Street myself) is Yo Sushi! Yo sushi offers the ultimate Sushi experience, this place gets really really busy, so after the mad rush hour of buisness lunchers (between 12 and 2pm) this is a great place to go.
This place can however be expensive and you can easily rack up a quick bill if you are not careful. Sushi is placed on differenet coloured plates and is sent around the restrauant on little conver belts to your table. Each coloured plate represents a differnet style of dish and price (varying from about £2 upwards), you eat from the plates, stack them up and pay your bill at the end. A waiter is on hand for a drinks service and any other specialist dishes you may require on their menu.
Whist you are eating you can watch as sushi is hand prepared by specialist sushi makers, and every half and hour an alarm goes, for all sushi makers to wash their hands. A meal per person can set you back about £15.00 a head, but this is freshly made sushi that literally walks straight to your table and you can pick exactly what you want.
BECKY'S TOP PLACES TO EAT.........FOR A GREAT NIGHT OUT
London has thousands of fantastic places to eat on a great night out from enjoying the famous curries of brick lane to American style cusine such as TGI Fridays, there are lots of places to dine in style. Here is my list of best places to try in London, some of these places are not cheap if your dining for a family of four, but well worth a night out!
There are several in London, one in Covent Garden and another just off of Leceister sqaure. I have visited both of these resturants several times and love the whole experience. We usually head here for birthdays, get togethers or special occasions. The menu is based on an American diner and has a wide variety of selction from ribs, chicken, salads, burgers and amasing starters. Check out the sizzling tower of fraitas, or Jack Daniel ribs. The bar is pretty cool too, with a range of incredible cocktails, which we usually visit before our main meal. My all time favourite cocktail, that i order everytime, is a large glassed baileys, ice cream and oreo cookie combination. You can sit in an American style booth and listen to rock and roll music.
The waiter service here is also impeccable and you feel valued as a customer from first stepping into the resturant to your exit. They also will also get the whole resturant to sing happy birthday for a birthday celebration. These guys also offer a good value lunch time menu for around £15 for burger, drink, and a starter/desert. This place is well worth a visit. For a family of four, you are looking over the one hundred pound mark for a meal and drinks.
Check our there website for bookings: http://www.tgifridays.co.uk/
HARD ROCK CAFE
Another great American Experience in London. The Hard Rock Cafe is a great experience, and is simlar in food to TGI fridays. The walls are adorned with music, film and television memorabila. The place is always packed with tourists and parties for birthdays and special occasions. You can do advanced booking and timed slots if your ring the resturant. They also have a gift shop. Again you are looking at over a hundred pounds for a family of four. Check out its rocking website: http://www.hardrock.com.
London is also centre to an array of mutli cultral cuisine, with superior dining, with hundreds of award winning resturants in London you will not be disapointed, here are a few of my favourites:
1. "Chutney Mary" Indian resturant which has twice received the award for "Best Indian Restaurant in the UK", it is on Kings Road, Chelsea, London.
2. Or Gordon Ramsey's
DINING ON A RIVERBOAT ON THE THAMES
A great experience is dining on a riverboat on the Thames, which can range from a light lunch to a three meal black tie dinner with live music and bar. The best are on New Years Eve, where you can have an exclusive display of the fireworks under the Millenium wheel.
For those not wanting to blow the budget, ride the Tate Modern & Tate Britain boats that interconnect the two art galleries along the river for a few pounds to gain the same experience, but without the dining!!
BECKY'S TOP PLACES TO EAT......BLOWING THE BUDGET
There are many numerous places to for blowing the budget in London as it is not a cheap city, so i have given you the most notourious places to visit that really will blow the budget:
The ritz hotel is famous for its expensive but luxurious hotel service and its immpecable resturant and bar.
They do a great "Afternoon Tea" service, which if you are new to London is worthy of a visit for an English experience. They provide special menus for celebrations such as on mother's day. An afternoon tea is about £50.00 per person and includings a variety of cakes and sandwiches followed by tea.
Make sure you dress smart, jeans and trainers are not permitted.
Check out the posh website: http://www.theritzlondon.com/
TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP
A tip is not generally compulsary In London (though usually expected), for tables of six or more the resturants will put 10% "discretionary" tip on the bill. Personally if i think the food wasnt that good or the service was awful i get them to take it off.
TRANSPORT: GETTING AROUND THE CITY
Their are several ways to get around the city: tube, bus, taxi, bicyle or walk.
I recommened personally walking or the tube these are the best methods to get somewhere quickly and are the cheapest. However the tube gets very easily congested during the "rush hour" peak time, but can get you across London and near to its museums, parks and galleries within minutes. It can be very smelly, dirty and in the summer the heat in can generate is utterly unbearable. (They have taken some measures to conteract this, but i havent noticed a great deal of improvement) However in the winter, it saves the hassle of getting wet!
Walking is a great way to see London, with an A to Z (or an iphone or a savvy satnav) you can find areas of London that are forgotten to the tourists in its backstreets and roads. Its an amasing way to see London's history and culutral diversity.
Getting a taxi is really fun, partically if you have been shopping all day and want to feel "pretty women" in London. I love going to Harrods in a taxi, and at Christmas when i take my Mum or Sister out for a day in London, i take them everywhere by taxi. Many taxis are now adapating, such as being able to get a wheelchair into the back and take credit or debit cards, not just cash, you can also find out alot about London from a true London Cabby!
The other means is to drive around London by car (or be chauffer driven!). I have driven personally in London and do not recommend the experience unless it is during the evening or on the weekends as the traffic peak flow is down. Firstly there is a daily congestion charge that runs from 7am in the morning until 6pm at night Monday to Friday . However this is free after 6pm and is free on the weekends. You can know if you have entered the zone by the big C's on the road and the signs, you can pay over the internet or by telephone prior to your journey or on the day you enter. You can find more information and pay at http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/congestioncharging/.
You can also plan your day out better by vsiting the London transport website: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/ . It will also tell you of any major distrubtions on the trains and tubes, road closures due to events and road workd and and any weekend tube works.
Once you have selected your method of transport the next thing to do is find your nearet museum or attranction to visit!!
THE LONDON BUS TOUR
If you are not used to London, cant speak English, or have a major fear of the underground tubes, the London Bus Tour is great for getting around London's major attractions such as Buckingham Palace. The tour guide will give you
There stops are marked outside train stations and bus stops. You buy a ticket for the day and off you go.
BECKY'S ULTIMATE LONDON DESTINATIONS:
All the major attractions of London have events going on at all times of the Year, predominately becoming family orianted around the easter, summer and Christmas breaks. There are always exhibtions, talks, events, walks, rides, shows, demonstrations, lectures, markets, festivals and street parades. The following list is by no means is comphrensive or defintive it is based on my own experiences of London and what i have head about London from others. There are constantyly new shows, events, exhibitions, art galleries and museums to visit in London, so check out daily newspapers, London based websites and your local tourist office. .
PLACES TO SEE & VISIT
Here is a list of the differnet museums, art galleries, shopping attractions, tourist places and locations to visit on any budget, check out their invidiual websites for exhibitions, contact details and faciltieis for each place:
THE BRITISH MUSEUM THE HOUSES OF PARLIMENT, BIG BEN AND WESTIMINSTER ABBEY THE TOWER OF LONDON THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM THE NATIONAL GALLERY AND THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY TATE MODERN AND TATE BRITAIN THE V & A LONDON ZOO MADAUM TUSSARDS BUCKINGHAM PALACE NOTTING HILL FOR SHOPPING BRICK LANE FOR A CURRY COVENT GARDEN FOR SHOPPING, ENTERTAINMENT AND FOOD A PICNIC IN ST JAMES'S PARK HARRODS THE FAN MUSEUM GREENWICH PARK & THE CUTTY SARK OXFORD STREET, BOND STREET & REGENT STREET LIBERTY & CO THE LONDON EYE WALK ALONG THE EMBANKMENT LONDON AQUARIUM THE LONDON FILM MUSEUM ROYAL OPERA HOUSE A CRUISE ON THE THAMES TROCODERO PICCADILLY CIRCUS NATIONAL THEATRE
There are countless areas, places and hot spots in London for pubs, bars and Clubs. Way too many to mention and place of worthy note here, it all depends on the type of person you are! Camdem, the west end, the embankement, Brick Lane are all great places to chill, hang out, dance or grab a bite to eat in the early hours of the morning.
Major nightlife attractions include the trocodero and the 02. The O2 was the Millenuim dome coverted into an entertainment complex with nightclubs, resturants, a cinema and an arena several years ago. It has now become one of the biggest entertainment places in the world, where some of the biggest names in the Industry have performed. I myself saw Lee Evans perform there in October 2008, his name is followed by Britney Spears, Michel Jackson, Girls Aloud, Beyonce, Neyo and endless other performers. It has held the Body of Time Exhibition and now the amasing Walking with Dinosaurs both of which i saw and are incredible to watch in the massive arena.
Getting to the o2 is really easy from central London, just hop on to the Jubilee line on the tube and get off at Greenwich tube station and its right on its door step.
SUNSHINE London is fantastic when it is sunny, heading out to the local parks and down to the river, eating ice cream from vendor stalls and grabbing lunch in a pub sitting outside. It can be really really nice and alot of Londoners actually smile during this rare months between June and September!
WET WET WET However, when it gets wet (pretty much most of the year) its a disaster. People take to the streets with massive umbrellas and hording in shops doorways, head for the underground in mass droves and feel its acceptable to spray their umbrella on you, to get them dry and cause you to be drenched. The type of wet is either drenching or light spit, so if you are coming to London bring an umbrella.
SNOW AND FROST
We generally get snow in London between Janurary and Febrary, and mostly it doesnt stay except for a thick slosh, though ice and frost we get in absolute abundance. So if your heading out to London this time of year, sensible shoes and clothing is a must.
BEST TIMES TO VISIT
London is an all year round City, there is always something to do and see. There are like most cities peak times, so here is a list of the best times when to visit London:
THE JANUARY SALES
This time of year, just after Christmas, beginning on Boxing Day, is very special to many women such as myself. This mommentous and life alterting period of the year is when one holds the ability to buy an expensive item (like a designer handbag) at a fracion of the cost. People will queue hours or even days before stores open for that ultimate item that they cannot live without in the hope it has been discounted to a meer few pounds in
Pictures of London in general
London in general
the sale. There are many places to grab a bargin in London during the sales, head to Kennsington (Harrods is a great place), Notting Hill, Regent and Oxford Street to grab a bargin. The Best Sales in London:
NEXT: The Next January sale starts really early on Boxing Day, around the 4am mark, you can get some great deals, and usually they cannot get the clothes out quicker than they leave the shelves, watch women carry massive bags out of the store having queued for at least an hour to buy their goodies.
HARRODS: You have to queue early for this one, women have been known to fight tooth and nail to the death for a designer bag that was only discounted by a few hundred pounds.
THE SUMMER HOLIDAYS JUNE- AUGUST
The summer in London is without a doubt has to be one of the best times to visit in all its glory. The best times is around June to the beginning of August, although subject to some rain we do get alot of clear blue skies and sunshine.
London does become hotter than its surrounding towns and is alot busier as the schools are on holidays, meaning alot of people also take time off work, so if your a couple i would probably recommend coming around the "school holidays". However for families there are usual alot of great deals on in resturants, museums and the cinemas, advertising to families.
CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR
Christmas in London is always a magical time. The Christmas lights go up in Oxford and Regent Street, the shops are buzzing with Christmas Shoppers and the Christmas No I music albulm blarring out from all corners of the store, a range of Santa's take to the streets for charity or carol singers singing reditions of Christmas songs, sometimes we get snow, and there is always many Christmas orientated events dotted around London.
Harrods is a great place once again to visit around Christmas, they set up their Christmas floor from July onwards and sell beautiful gifts, ornaments, trees, sweets and a range of Christmas novelty items raning from a few pounds to several thousand of pounds. There is always a resident Father Christmas who you can have your photo taken with, there is generally a long long queue to see him, so get there early!! An afternoon trip is worth a visit to see the splender they put on for Christmas.
NEW YEARS EVE'S FIREWORKS ON WESTMINSTER BRIDGE
Last year my boyfriend and I waited three bitterly cold hours waiting to see the massive fireworks display for New Year that takes place near the Millenuim Wheel on the Thames. You can just about see the fireworks from anywhere along the river and you can even take an expensive boat trip that stops along by the river as the fireworks take hold whilst eating your three course dinner! We managed to get two rows back (lots of people queue early for this one again) of westiminster bridge, with big ben next to us, which was amasing as the clock struck 12!
The only down side to this is the waiting around for ten minutes of fireworks and then the getting home (there are no tubes or buses and taxi fares cost a small fortune) and parking is highly prohibited around the area. However if your only in London the once on New Years Eve, it is definately worth the effort.
The fireworks display is always amasing. For the the not brave hearted, you could always watch it from your hotel room television, or for those lucky enough your own private balcony from your hotel along the Thames.
AN IMPORTANT ISSUE: TOILETS
There are toilets around on the streets of London, however personally i would not use them, from many bad experiences. The best toilets generally are those in the train stations (always take small change, their is usally a fee barrier to get through) and those in the resturants (though again this can vary depending on the type of outlet you visit). All main attractions provide toilets and major department stores such as Marks and Spencer in Oxford Street also provide them, also providing diabled toilets and baby changing facilties.
The best toilets in London however, have to be the amasing department store in Kennsington that is Harrods. If you feel like being Queen for five minutes, will beatifully decorated toilets, a Lady holding out a towel to dry your hands with and then offering perfume and hand lotion afterwards always gets my vote, so if your just window shopping there, you must check them out.
A great way to keep up to date with events and attractions offering deals in London is the free daily newspapers dispatched at most tube and train station corners either the METRO or the Evening Standard. Please remember however, if you pick one up dont drop it on the floor of a tube or train! Please recycle. :o)
DISCOUNTS AND DEALS
* Being a student in London is not easy, it can be very expensive. However it can also have its advantages where alot of places provide student discounts, including food outlets (Subway, Mac Donalds), shopping (Topshop), the cinema (odeon), the west end shows (most of them) and if your a London student you can get 1/3 off rail travel.
* Alot of resturants will have a lunchtime menu deal or alot of the pubs will have a set dinner deal, so keep an eye our for these, as if your in London for two weeks with a family these can help keep the cost down. Sometimes you will find people handing out vouchers promoting meal deals in Mac Donalds or Subway these are usually another good option if your looking for a cheap and quick lunch.
*If you travel from the suburbs of London on Southeastern rail and buy a travelcard, pick up a 2 for 1 leaflet (dont forget to take a pen) as you can get into some of the big and main London attractions for a fraction of the cost. Including the London Aquarim, the Tower of London and west end shows.
*Pick up a free paper: The free papers hold amazing reviews about the latest events and attractions making headway in London, flick through to check out their daily promotions and offers for west end shows, resturants, spa and hair events, check our the back of the paper for the west end and cinema listings. Sometimes their are deals and vouchers lurking in between the pages.
BEING SAFE IN LONDON
Although London is a reasonably safe city, with police on the beat, there are of course several important saftey issues that tourists should be aware of.
1. Keep your bag locked and with you at all times, i have studied in London for three years and i am always cautious of my bag particaully in busy streets.
2. Dont overflash your purse/passport/expensive mobile phone! Believe me, if they think you have something worth taking, they will do!
3. Dont go down dark back streets at night alone, it may sound a bit cliché, but London has many small dark alleyways, keep to well lit streets, especially after a night out, if you are dont travel alone.
4. Dont get into an unlicenced cab! London has many licensed cabs, their are distinguishable from regualr cars, the big lit up sign on the front "TAXI" really helps. If you are not sure, dont get in and women should travel together.
TO LONDON AND BEYOND!!!
London has great network connections, many train stations that can take you across the country in a few hours; to the British sea side for some fish and chips and to many other historical attractions that have big links with London, particaully its neighbouring county Kent. Go after peak time (9:30am and weekends) and the train fares drop by half.
London also has great links to airports, with three in London itself allowing you to access all destinations across the world. These are easily accessible by rail, tube and taxi.