London is home to many world-class museums and art galleries. There are over 300 to choose from, ranging from the traditional to the hi-tech. Most of the main London museums are free to enter. If you have a London Pass, www.londonpass.com/visitlondon.php, it will give you free entry to other exhibitions, free audio tours, and free museum guidebooks. The best museums in my view are the British Museum, Natural History Museum, Tate Gallery, National Gallery, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Imperial War Museum, and Transport of London Museum.
West End Shows
These are a must, if you can spare the time. Each theater has special features, and some are historical works of art. Cheap and on-the-day bookings can be obtained from the TKTS Leicester Square theater ticket booth, www.tkts.co.uk/leicester-square. Otherwise, select from the many shows and book directly with the particular theater. Restaurants in the West End offer excellent pre- and post-theater meals.
London has three major international airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stanstedt. Hotel shuttles and bus services go to central London hotels and drop-off locations.
London Heathrow Airport is about 15 miles west of the city. The quickest way of traveling to Central London is by the Piccadilly Line Underground or by Airbus, which runs every 20 minutes. The journey takes about 60–70 minutes; tickets cost approximately £6 single (one-way) and £10 return. A taxi ride to Central London costs about £30–50. Heathrow has the Heathrow Express service to Paddington station.
London Gatwick Airport is about 28 miles south of the city. The Gatwick Express runs a train service between the airport and Victoria station in central London 24 hours a day. The journey takes 30 minutes; tickets cost about £9 single or £18 return. The Flightline 777 Bus also runs a daily service from the airport to Victoria Coach Station. Tickets cost about £8 single and £11 return.
London Stansted Airport offers Terravision-operated, dedicated, direct coach service to London Victoria. Services run up to every 20 minutes.
London’s unique Black Cabs can be hailed off the street (by lifting your hand) if the yellow light on the top is lit. Black Cabs also use taxi ranks in the street or at major train or bus stations. Using the cab rank rule, the first available cab in line should always be taken.
Pricing can vary but is usually on a time/mileage basis. Ensure the meter is running or agree on a fixed price for longer journeys in advance. Not all cabs accept credit cards; cash in English sterling is the norm. Should it be raining, taxis may be in short supply!
Minicabs also operate in London and the suburbs. Order these in advance from recognized companies. For safety reasons, do not hail them on the street or take an unbooked minicab.
London is proud of its ability to cater to cyclists but offers only few designated cycle lanes. Those intrepid enough should beware of lorries (trucks), taxis, and buses in particular. Bicycles known as “Boris bikes” after the mayor of London can be hired at convenient locations. Either online (see www.tfl.gov.uk) or at docking stations, buy access with a credit card. Biking can be a beautiful and therapeutic way of travel, particularly across London’s many parks, including Green Park; St. James Park; Hyde Park; Regents Park, with boating lakes; or, further afield, Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park.
Buses, The Underground, and the Docklands Light Railway System
Buses can be a good alternative to taxi travel. London has an extensive bus network with over 17,000 bus stops. However, it is often difficult to know when you should get off if you do not know the area well. After midnight, night buses, which have the prefix N, are the only public transport in London; most start from Trafalgar Square. Find bus routes on www.tfl.gov.uk.
The quickest way of getting around is by London Underground (the “Tube”), now celebrating its 150th birthday. London has one of the oldest and most comprehensive underground systems in the world, with 11 Tube lines, each assigned its own name and color. Be sure to check running times. The Tube can become extremely congested at rush hour (roughly 7–9.30 a.m. and 4–6.30 p.m., Monday–Saturday), and sometimes the quickest way between two stations may be to walk!
London offers cuisine from around the world. Britain is also famed for its pubs, and London has literally thousands. You can sample a pint of British beer, enjoy good-value bar meals, and savor the friendly atmosphere.
It is difficult to choose even a sample of restaurants to recommend. My personal favorites are the little-known Joe Allen restaurant in Covent Garden, a classic American restaurant with English flair; the OXO Tower, with great views across the Thames; Le Caprice; Kensington Roof Gardens; and Nobu, a Japanese restaurant in Park Lane.
Business Culture and Etiquette
It is usual in England to greet people in meetings with a handshake and possible exchange of business cards. Try to maintain eye contact. Personal space is important, and English people are more reserved in their body language. For example, you would only hug or kiss someone you know, and fewer hand gestures are used to communicate.
It is customary for a meeting host to provide refreshments, coffee, tea, etc. Smoking is prohibited inside most buildings and on all transport except in specifically designated areas.
Dress codes are flexible. For business meetings, usual business attire or smart casual is expected; however, smart jeans can also be acceptable. “Black tie” usually means a black, or sometimes white, dinner jacket (not tails) and cocktail or full-length dresses for ladies. An actual black tie is not necessary unless explicitly required!
For personal safety, try not to venture out extremely late in tourist areas such as Soho–China Town. In case of queries, trouble, or anxiety, the English police, whether on foot or on horseback, are usually happy to help and can be asked for assistance generally. In an emergency, dial 999 for police, ambulance, or fire brigade.
Use zebra road crossings or pelican crossings with flashing orange lights. Traffic will stop for anyone in a zebra crossing, but ensure you’re seen before stepping out. You might want to take a turn on the Beatles’ famous Abbey Road zebra crossing!
The water in London is drunk from taps by locals but is not guaranteed safe from impurities. Best to stay on bottled water, including in the hotel.
Queuing is an art perfected by many English people and should be respected in shops and sandwich bars (even when busy, noisy, and overcrowded). It is polite to ask if someone is queuing and stand behind the end of the line. It is difficult to reserve your space in your absence! People will generally be friendly but reserved (and some may not speak to anyone when traveling).
Queuing is also obvious on public transport, and you are expected to let those off the Tube/bus/train, etc. first before boarding. Some limited pushing and shoving occurs in rush hour when you feel as if you have been squashed into a line of sardines in a metal can.
Tipping in the U.K. is widespread. In restaurants, it is discretionary, but the menu may specify expected levels and tips may be added automatically. Only tip for good service; do not if you are dissatisfied for good reason. Tips are usually 10–20 percent of the price paid; they are often given in cash so the waiter or waitress can receive it personally. Taxi drivers usually receive 10–20 percent of the fare. In hotels, tipping is common, but not obligatory; the amount is discretionary. It is courteous, however, to thank everyone.
Don’t forget that British English may differ from American English. Here are some important examples!