A Guide for Tourists in London
Amusing and useful tips for visitors to London
Below is a list of the main tourist sites to be seen. There are many more sites for a longer visit.
London is so old that it is NOT based on a grid system. Asking "how many blocks is so-and-so?" will often elicit a blank stare. Distances are usually given in how long a walk it is ("it's ten minutes along this road") or how many bus stops. Directions are given in terms of landmarks (like shops, pubs, train stations or traffic lights).
Traffic drives on the left.
When asking directions remember:
Be careful when posting letters - British letter boxes are red. The boxes that resemble North American post boxes are rubbish bins!
London's Underground system is called the tube.
Do not refer to London's Underground lines as the blue line or the red line. Many underground lines have similar colours and Londoners won't know what you are referring to. Use the names (Piccadilly Line, Bakerloo Line, etc). Maps can be obtained from tube stations or at the main railway stations. There are some peculiarities to the system, mainly because it is the oldest in the world (first line 1863). Check the destination on the front of the train since most lines have branches and not all trains go to the end. Trains are usually very frequent unless there is a problem. Many escalators don't work.
On the escalators remember to stand on the right as the left side is used by people walking up or down. Don't stop at the foot of the escalator as people following will have nowhere to go. Try avoiding travelling during the rush hour. If you're confused, ask. Many Londoners are polite.
For commuter or intercity trains, there is no central London Railway station. There are several termini serving different parts of the country. Before setting off for a trip out of London, make sure you know which station the train leaves from (Victoria, Waterloo head south; Paddington heads west; Liverpool Street heads east; Euston, Kings Cross and St Pancras head north).
The word bus is reserved for city transport - the ones travelling between cities tend to be called coaches.
A good way to see London is from the top deck of a double decker bus. In London, routes to try include 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 19, 24. Free bus maps can be obtained from many tube stations.
All London transport fares are zonal - daily or weekly tickets can be bought. These allow travel on buses, tubes and trains within certain zones. Most tourist attractions in London are in zones 1 and 2. Daily tickets are valid after 9:30am (Monday to Friday) and all day at weekends. Try to avoid travelling during the rush hours.
London has five airports none of which is commonly referred to as London Airport.
The largest is Heathrow. It has four large terminals, two tube stations on the Piccadilly Line, and a railway link to Padington Station. It is the world's busiest international airport with the largest variety of airlines and flights. Regular buses and tubes (fastest option) run to the centre of London. Taxis are expensive.
Gatwick is the city's second airport. Many charter flights leave from here as well as long haul. This has two terminals and its own railway station. It is reached by train from Victoria Station.
Stanstead is the third airport and is a train ride away from Liverpool Street Station. Many cheaper airlines use this airport. Most flights are to Europe or the UK.
The fourth airport is Luton. This is reached by train from Kings Cross followed by a free shuttle bus. Used by cheaper airlines to Europe.
City Airport is the fifth and smallest airport. It is close to the city but with no train service as yet. The nearest station is Silvertown on the Silverlink Railway (known as the North London Line to most Londoners). It is mainly for very short haul flights within the UK or to Europe.
Passenger Boats travel along the River Thames (Americans put the word river after the river's name as in The Hudson River, in the UK the word river comes first). A good ride is from Westminster to Greenwich (pronounced gren - ich).
The term downtown is not used in Europe and means nothing in London. London has built up over a very long period so that there are a number of different centres.
The political centre is in Westminster (once a separate city). This area includes Parliament Square with the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and Whitehall (the street containing government buildings and 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister's office), Trafalgar Square (with the National Gallery and Nelson's Column). Buckingham Palace (don't pronounce the h), the London residence of the monarch, is to the south west of this area.
The business centre is in the original historical London, now called The City of London (or more usually just The City). The Tower of London and Tower Bridge are at the eastern edge of this area. There are bits of London's Roman wall and walks associated with Jack The Ripper in nearby Whitechapel. Many offices have now moved east of the City to Docklands, the area of the old docks.
The entertainment centre is called The West End. It includes the shopping areas of Oxford Street, Regents Street, Saville Row, and Carnaby Street. The theatres and cinemas are centred around Leicester Square (pronounced lester) and Piccadilly Circus. Some museums and art galleries (British Museum, National Gallery) are to be found here as well. Good areas for pubs, restaurants and night life are Covent Garden and Chinatown. The northern boundary of this area includes Baker Street (of Sherlock Holmes fame) with the famous Madam Tusaud's Wax Museum and Planetarium.
London's legal area lies between the West End and The City. St Paul's Cathedral, the Tate Modern gallery and the concert area of Waterloo Southbank are close by.
Kensington, in fashionable West London, has a number of museums (Victoria and Albert, Natural History, Science, Geological), the famous Albert Hall concert venue, as well as many embassies. Good restaurants can be found in Bayswater and Earls Court.
In North London, Islington and Camden Town are popular areas for eating and drinking.
Talking of eating, Indian food is very popular and good in London (try Brick Lane in London's East End or Drummond Street near Euston). Street markets are good in Notting Hill and Camden Lock.
London has a large area (1500km2 or 619 sq miles). In the suburbs can be found such sites as Greenwich Observatory (through which runs the zero meridian of longitude), Kew Gardens, Windsor Palace and Hampton Court. Sports fans may want to visit Wembley Stadium (football - soccer to our friends in the USA), Twickenham (rugby), Lords and The Oval (cricket) and Wimbledon (tennis).
Coming to London gives the tourist an excellent opportunity to try Indian food. Indian food is spicy and tasty and is very popular with Londoners. The phrase "fancy a curry?" is an invitation to indulge in this highly recommended London activity.
There are many Indian restaurants in London. Some of the best are in Brick Lane close to Aldgate East tube station or Drummond Street close to Euston station. They can, however, be found all over London.
This section gives a glossery of terms.
|curry||An all purpose name meaning "Indian food" but actually meaning a dish with a medium hot sauce. A curry can be vegetarian, chicken, lamb or prawn.|
|korma||Mild sauce dish. Chicken or lamb are the most popular.|
|passanda||Mild creamy sauce dish. Usually lamb but can be chicken.|
|kashmiri||Mild to medium sauce dish with fruit. Chicken or lamb.|
|dupazia||Medium sweet sauce dish with onions. Usually chicken.|
|rogon josh||Medium sauce dish with pimento, garlic and tomatoes. Lamb or chicken.|
|bhuna||Medium sauce dish with onions, garlic and tomatoes. Lamb or chicken.|
|dansak||Hot sauce dish with lentils, garlic, lemon and sugar. Lamb or chicken.|
|madras||Fairly hot sauce dish. Chicken or lamb are the most popular.|
|vindaloo||A very hot sauce dish. Chicken or lamb are the most popular.|
|phall||The hottest sauce dish. Chicken or lamb are the most popular.|
|raita||Yoghurt with cucumber side dish. Used to cool the mouth if the food is too spicy.|
|lassi||Yoghurt drink. Can be sweet or salty. Very refreshing and cools the food if it is too hot.|
|falluda||Fruit drink with ice cream, pistachio and vermicilli.|
|chicken tikka masala||Chicken marinated in mixed spices and cooked in a clay oven. Eaten with rice or nan or roti. One of the most popular meals in the UK.|
|nan, roti||Types of oven made bread. Nan is thicker than roti.|
|keema nan||Oven bread with mince meat centre.|
|peshwari nan||Sweet oven bread.|
|tandoori grill||Grilled dishes: usually chicken and lamb. The tandoor is the clay oven.|
|basmati rice||Long thin rice used in Indian food.|
|pilau rice||Yellow rice with safron.|
|pani puri||Balls of pastry in a spicy sauce with chickpeas.|
|biryani||Fried rice dish. Chicken, lamb, prawn or vegetarian. Often comes with a curry sauce.|
|sheekh kebab||Minced meat skewered and grilled.|
|bhaji||Deep fried battered starter. Can be potato or onion. Eaten with chutney|
|chutney||A side sauce for dipping starters in. Can be sweet, sour or hot.|
|balti||Dish served in hot metal container.|
|sag||Spinach. A delicacy in Asia.|
|gobi||Cauliflour. Vegetables are often mixed as in "aloo gobi" (potatoes and cauliflour) or "muttar paneer" (peas and cheese).|
|daal||Lentils. Tarka daal is fried lentils.|
|bindhi||Ladies fingers (okra).|
|thali||A mixture of dishes. Can be meat or vegetarian.|
|dosa||Pancake with vegetables. Many different types. the most common is "massala dosa".|
|idli||Rice balls with sauce.|
|popadoms||Crunchy, thin starter eaten with chutney.|
|shrikand||Yellow, saffron based creamy desert.|
|kulfi||Sweet ice cream.|
|gulabjamen||Sweet syrupy cake.|
|jelabi||Fried orange coloured sticky sweet.|
|kheer||Rice pudding with cardamon and nuts.|
If your name is Randolph, do not shorten it to Randy as this means a state of sexual excitement. And don't use the word fanny as you would in the USA! In England, it means the female sexual organs.
Outside of the USA, dates are written in the format DD/MM/YY rather than than the specifically USA MM/DD/YY. Thus, 11 August 1999 would be written 08/11/99 in the USA and 11/08/99 in all other countries. This is important when buying tickets and filling in forms.
The British Phrasebook is an amusing and accurate account of British English from Lonely Planet. Check out my book recommendations.
The British tend to make understated, ironic jokes about most things. They tend to avoid boasting (at least when sober!), familiarity with strangers, excessive sentimentality or queue jumping. Pubs are good places to meet people.
© 1997, 2005 KryssTal
London Event Calendar
An online event calendar containing events of interest to both visitors to the area and to community residents alike. Includes a Dining Guide. Food from most of the world's countries can be found in London.
UK Travel Guide
A directory of London museums, pubs, and other London activities with links.
The British Broadcasting Corporation - the major TV station in the UK - a very large and informative site - including news and cult TV pages.
Search for the best restaurants in London.
London Theatre Tickets
Buy tickets for London's many theatres.