Christmas in London can be a magical experience, as the dark nights arrive the city’s night life takes on a more vibrant feel. Seasonal illuminations and shop displays across the capital help to recapture a sense of wonder in a city which can often appear stark and harsh in daylight.
Traditional events and attractions such as the Regent and Oxford Street lights and the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree (a gift from the Norwegian capital Oslo as a token of gratitude for Britain’s support during World War II) connect the present day with the city’s rich history.
Despite their reputation Londoners are a welcoming lot, always eager and wiling to help visitors to the city with directions and advice and the season goodwill brings this under-acknolwedged trait to the fore.
For those who find the current threat of terrorism off-putting London is, as befits the city which gave the world the phrase ‘Blitz Spirit’, a calm city with a reassuringly low-key police presence. The majority of police are unarmed with most firearms officers based around government buildings.
The city provides for some excellent holiday snaps and memories and visitors are guaranteed a holiday experience of a lifetime.
London also serves as an excellent ‘staging post’ for short-stay trips to Paris and Brussels via one of the many low-cost airline operators or the Eurostar which has its London terminal at Waterloo.
Shopping in the capital provides an excellent source of gifts for family and friends with many shops offering VAT free shopping for overseas visitors.
HOTELS AND ACCOMMODATION
With tourism levels ever growing the city is currently seeing a wave of new hotel construction and all the internationally recognised groups are present.
With the city as popular with backpackers and large groups as it is with businessmen and couples looking for a romantic break there’s accommodation to suit all budgets.
As a general rule the further the hotel from Central London the cheaper it is likely to be however this cost saving need not require a drop in standards with several of the big chains operating premises outside of the traditional tourist areas.
London’s fully integrated transport network allows for easy travel between all areas of the city.
Hotels can be booked as part of a package deal with many hotels and travel agencies able to put together packages which include a trip to a West End play or a meal in a top class restaurant.
Considerable savings can be made by booking well in advance which is always advisable for venues in Central London if you wish to be sure of a room in a specific hotel or area.
Many hotels offer internet connectivity either for the traveler’s own computer via an in-room connection or public access.
If you’re looking to stay on a small budget London offers a number of hostels, guest houses and low-cost hotels. These will naturally lack some of the facilities of the larger and more expensive venues but generally offer good standards of hygiene and customer care. In London ‘cheap’ doesn’t mean poor-quality!
ACTIVITIES IN LONDON
As with accommodation London’s entertainment sector caters for all tastes, budgets and ages.
Access to the capital’s rich selection of museums is generally free although there may be charges for specific exhibitions.
A slow walk or a bus ride is the perfect way to enjoy the world-famous Regent and Oxford Street lights or marvel at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace.
For the adventurous willing to leave the tourist areas of Central London other parts of London hold some of the capital’s real treasures such as Hampton Court, the Cutty Sark and Kew Gardens.
For many no trip to London would be complete without a trip to the theatre, opera or ballet.
Tickets for many performances can be bought on the day although booking ahead is advisable especially during peak tourist periods such as Christmas.
Specialist retailers such as the ticket kiosk on Leicester Square are able sell tickets for same-day performances of many popular shows.
If it’s cooked and eaten somewhere in the world you can bet there’s a restaurant in London selling it so it’s never hard to find somewhere to enjoy your favourite dish.
London also serves as an excellent ‘staging post’ for short-stay trips to other areas of the UK such as Windsor Castle and, thanks to the many low-cost airline operators flying from London’s airports and the Eurostar, European cities such as Paris, Brussels and Berlin.
TRANSPORT AND FARES IN LONDON
London’s transport services include a citywide bus network, an underground train service (the Tube), overground rail services including the Docklands Light Railway, taxis and mini-cabs and, in some areas, trams and river buses.
Most of these accept fare payment via several means and on the Tube, tram, DLR and bus the cheapest way of paying is with an Oyster card – a smart ticketing system issued by London’s transport body.
A Pay-As-You-Go version of the Oyster is available to purchase from many highstreet retailers as well as bus, tube and selected train stations. Some overseas visitors can purchase Oyster cards before arrival via their local Visit Britain website.
Cabs in London fall in to two distinct groups, the traditional ‘black taxi’ which is licensed to pick up passengers on the street and minicabs which are only allowed to pick up where booked in advance.
Central London suffers from touting from unlicensed cars trying to pick up fares, often from outside popular tourist attractions. These should always be avoided as such cars are sometimes unroadworthy and may not be properly insured.
Genuine licensed mini-cabs will display a distinctive hologram badge on their windscreen (see right) and should never solicit trade in this fashion.
Although some do, this is breach of their license and you should never accept a ride from any vehicle other than a traditional London ‘black cab’.
Black cabs work to a fixed fare tariff which is calculated automatically by the taxi’s meter. Some cabs will accept payment by credit and debit card as well as cash.
The concierge desk in most hotels will be able to assist with booking a taxi which can save time waiting around on colder nights. When out and about the best place to catch a taxi is often at the taxi-rank found at mainline rail stations. Hailing a cab away from the ranks at night can result in a long wait as most pubs, theatres and restaurants tend to close at the same time leading to high demand.
Of course one of the best ways to enjoy the city and get around is to walk. If you’re staying in Central London a night time stroll along the River Thames or amongst famous landmarks can be inspiring.