General Information about London
What would be a journey without any information about the destination? One wants to know some things in advance before starting the tour, many things are explored during the journey and some information is added during the evaluation of the trip. But it is surely an advantage to get some tips that help to prepare oneself for the journey.
As strange as it sounds, one first has to get clear that it is about the capital of Great Britain; What is considered to be self evident is actually not self evident at all. Anyhow, there are numerous cities called London, among others also in America and Africa.
Geography and Population
London is the capital of England. This is basically right but not fully true. It is the capital of the United Kingdom Great Britain to which also Scottland, Wales and North Ireland.
The city is located at the south east of the British island at the Thames, the river that had a big significance in the developement of the city. This river was also the reason why London mainly spread at the northern shore. The original habitation, the City of London of today, not too big with a surface of approximately 2,6 square km, was originated at the northern shore and up to the year 1739 there was only one bridge that was the die London Bridge. In diesem Zentrum wohnen gerade einmal etwa 5200 Menschen, aber rund 400.000 Pendler halten sich Tag für Tag hier auf.
In the 19th century, the big expansion of the city started advantaged by the industrialization, the building of the railway lines and not least by the landscape. The landscape is flat and due to this, the unhindered growth of the city was possible.
Beside the City of London the are 32 other city districts and the total number of inhabitants is of stately 7,5 millions and additionally, approximately 20 million tourists come over every year. With the conurbation, the British metropolis London is the most populated city of the European Community. lso, it is one of the most diversified in population, as London is what is so called multiculti. The history of the former worldpower plays an important role in this concern, as people came to Great Britain and mainly to London from former colonies. In the street life it is common to see beside white people also black people, people from Asia and islamic women wearing veils. What caught our atrtention during our last tour was that, according to our opinion, the number of women wearing burqas significantly increased. This could be wrong, but in our previous tours we saw less of them.
The groups of people that strongly increased are from India, the former crown colony, and from Africa. This of course also presupposes that all kinds of religions are represented; According to the latest census, there are approximately 58% christians, 8,5 % moslems,4,1% hindoos, 2,1 % jews, 1,5% sikhs and 0,8% buddhists. Additionally, the poeple without any concrete religion are of course also to be considered.
As a capital, London is also the domicile of the British royal house. Even if the belief in the monarchy decreased during the last years due to some bigger and smaller scandals, generally, the British are convinced followers of their queen.
The geographical location of the city is a special one. Greenwich by London is the point at which the zero meridian has been determined. From here, the degrees of longitude are initiated and the time zones are related to this place. Great Britain is member of the European Union but did not introduce the common currency, the euro. Thus, the travelers fromothe Eu-countries still have to change their money as it was the case before.
As it is the case in every journey, at the beginning, it has to be prepared. This is a very important matter, as England and London do refer in many things from the rest of Europe.
London is not a cheap city at all, just the opposite, it is considered as the most expensive city of Europe. By this way, there is to think about the type of journey one books. The most easy variant is a booked group tour, but this is most of the times also of a higher price level. Apart from that, nowadays it is not a problem to arrange such a city tour in an indiidual way. Either in the travel agency as also on the internet there are enough possibilities and variants.
London is a cosmopolitan city in the truest sense of the word, also in respect of sightseeings and cultural offers. Those who think 3-4 days are enough to get introduced into the city will soon notice they are wrong. Even 1 or 2 weeks are not enough for this purpose. Thus, one should previously decide in what to focus and what will be left for the next visit. It is relatively sure that it will not be just one side trip, as the city offers so many interesting things that one simply has to come back. We were so fascinated from London that we went several times there and we are still far away from having seen everything of London.
In the age of cheap flights one will of course try to get a bargain ticket. Those who are flexible in the flight dates are definitely in advantage. Sometimes, one day makes a big difference. We already booked from Germany the ticket for the stansted-express, the London-passport and the travel-card. According to our experience we can say that it surely makes sense to doso, as then in London, one does not have to care about these things and go ahead straight away.
The fewest visitors will be in London with their own vehicle. In any case, it makes more sense to explore the city with public means of transport. Therefore, the travel-card is to some extent a must. With this card, one can use the subway and the bus service. The price depends on the included zones, the validation time and validation days. In most of the cases, a limitation to the zones 1-2 are fully sufficient. Most of the touristical destinations are accessible with it and if one's accommodation is not located in a far city district, oned can abstain from a travel-card that includes the zones 1-6. But if one wants to continue outside the allowed area, it is better to pay then a supplement.
One can also choose between peak and off-peak. Take preferably peak, even if it is a little more expensive. But then you can use the public transportation around the clock, while during the week, the off-peak option is only valid from 09.30 a.m. It depends of course on the time of the journey if one chooses the card for one, three or seven days. We experienced the travel-card to be very useful, as with it we practically got to all places we wanted to for a relatively cheap price - converted to seven days.
It is worth considering if one should book a London-passport, this also depends on what one has planned to do. With this passport, one has free entrance to a lot of sightseeings and gets discounts for many others. Additionally, in some places one can get in straight away without having to queue for the tickets. This can be very helpful considering the long queues, for example at the Tower. But it is also not cheap, so that it has to be used in the right way so that it pays off. Also, it is not valid for some well known attractions, as for example the London Eye, London Dungeon and Madame Tussaud.
It depends on the arrival place whether one needs a travel card from the airport to the city. From London Stansted to London one has to pay additionally, the two-way trip with the stansted express costs approximately 40 Euro. We also ordered these tickets in advance through HTS, so that we did not have to take care about it in London. The company HTS Touristik offers a lot of service for the trip to London on the internet. There, it is possible to order some cards for the different means of transport and sightseeings, information about the traffic lines and schedules as also about events and bank holidays are available.
In the case of a trip to London, the money exchange also belongs to the travel preparations. Meanwhile, we are very spoiled, as in wide parts of Europe the euro is the valid currency, a thing that is very useful and comfortable for a journey. But it is different in the case of visiting London, as England is in dit a member of the EU but did not join the eurozone. Thus, the money has to be converted in pounds and pennies. By rule of thumb, a pound is approximately 1,40 euros. This of course depends on the exchange rate of the day and can be changed at any time.
We found it would make sense to change at least a part of our money in advance. It is in dit not a problem to get some cash money with the EC-card or in a bank, but it is simply easier and more safe to have already some cash in the pocket.
By travelling to England, thus London included, there is to consider that the electrical connections have different plugs. It is very useful to take an adapter in the luggage. This is also availble in London, but who wants to spend the first excursions looking for an adapter.
The financial part, the money exchange, is more laborious in the case of a trip to London, but the entry itself is absolutely unproblemaic for German citizens. The identity card or the passport is sufficient.
In any case, one should not abstain from concluding an additional travel health insurance. Basically, one is covered by one's health insurance, but only in relation to the costs in Germany. Otherwise, in case of a particular situation one has to pay in addition, in problematic cases significantly.
Arrival to London
Those who plan to travel to London with the own vehicle should reconsider this. The practical benefit is small and the disadvantages strongly overbalance. But if it is necessary for any reason, one has two possibilities to get to the island from the continent. One is by the use of a ferry, the other by the eurotunnel with the car transport train that departs any 15 minutes; No matter if one chooses the ferry or the tunnel, it is recommendable to make a reservation. For both possibilities, the capacities are limited.
The arrival by bus is another possibility that is reserved for the all-inclusive travelers who booked the respective bus tour.
It is also possible to travel by train, either via Belgium, Holland or France, but at the channel, one has to change to a ferry. This change can be avoided with the eurostar, the high velocity train that uses the eurotunnel. From Cologne, it is possible to take the Thalys, which is also a high velocity train, to Brussels and change there to the eurostar, it takes 6 hours in total to get to the destination. If one does not live in Cologne or in the proximity, one of course has to get first to Cologne. As these train connections are also not very cheap, this variant is also not the most recommendable one. But it is surely the most comfortable one.
The fastest and many times also the cheapest is a flight to London, specially these days in the age of cheap flights.If one catches a real bargain, one can get a two-way ticket for less than 100 euros. But one has to pay a lot of attention during the booking, as some providers attract their clients with prices below 10 euros, sometimes even for 0 euros, but they discretely conceal in the advertisement the other costs as kerosene surcharge, airport fees, handling charges and sometimes a surcharge for the luggage. If all this is considered and if one is a little flexible with the date of the flight, one can absolutely get for 70 or 80 euros per person to London and back. But the use of the internet is practically a condition for that.
London has 5 airports, Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, City Airport and Stansted. The most known airports that also are used the most for these flights are Heathrow and Stansted. For the cheap airlines, specially Ryanair, Stansted is of special significance. But Stansted is also the most far airport from London city, approximately 55 km at the north east of London. Many times, we heard people moaning about the unconvenience of this and that it takes much too long time to get to the city. Actually, we cannot confirm this. From Stansted to Liverpool Street Station, the final station of the Stansted Express, it takes approximately 45 minutes, thus, considering it is the connection to an airport, it is surely still in the normal range. As this express train departs any 15 minutes, there is barely a problem. But what is a disadvantage is that for this trip there is to pay additionally, so that some bargain flights do not result to be so cheap any more.
On the Way in London
There are a lot of possibilities to move around in London. The bus and subway lines are well arranged, one practically gets everywhere. But what should also be mentioned is that this net is also very prone to breakdowns and sometimes some problems might occur. There is also a big abundance of taxis and those who love an original style can choose a trishaw, mainly available in the evenings.
Those who came to London with the own car will surely want to use it. But driving the own car on the streets of London is far from being a pleasure. As it is the case in most of the cities of this category, the streets are continuosly congested. Specially during the rush hours, one barely gets forward. London is one of the first world cities that decided to charge a fee for entering the city centre with the own vehicle. Between 07.00 a.m and 06.30 p.m., 8 euros are to be paid each day. A travel-card for the zones 1-2 is clearly cheaper and one is surely faster by bus or subway.
The subway net of London is a legend. The line net called "tube" expands all over London and by changing the line at many points of intersection, nearly all destinations are accessible. Additionally, there is the "central line", a circular line around the wider area of the city centre; Generally, the time intervalls between the trains are short, so that there are barely long waiting times. Once oriented oneself in the system of connections, directions and points of intersection, the use of the tube is not a problem. There are also no guards or inspectors, at the entrance and exit of the respective lines there are automats with turnstiles in which one introduces the card. But one has to get used to partly very long ways between the lines at the intersection points, there, it goes up and down and in between a few hundred metres straight forward.
But it is noticeable that the subway of London got old. Many stations are, discretely expressed, not according to a world city. It repeatedely happens that some technical breakdowns occur, at many spots, seak water drops into the tunnels and some stations look as they were currently demolished. Anyway, for the London people and the guests, the "tube" is still the most important mean of transport; Everywhere in the city, the white-red signposts with the blue bar and the inscription "UNDERGROUND" indicate the entrance of a subway station.
Almost as importnat as the subway are the bus lines that also connect whole London. The legendary red double-decker buses with the conductor on an open platform are almost completely removed, therefore, some modern versions are circleling and on some lines also articulated buses, unfortunately. This surely makes sense in relation to the environment, but somehow it is a pity...
Double-decker buses, either the new or the old variant, are a special experience for the tourists, as one has a fantastic view to the city and the sightseeings from them. Compared to this, the trip in an articulated bus is so boring!
If one wants to make use of the bus service, one has to consider that there are bus stops signs highlighted in white, at which the bus will stop in any case. The red highlighted bus stop signs with the add on "request" point the request stops. At those stops, one should signalize the driver that one wants to get in, otherwise one will wait eternally. Many streets of London have a separated bus trail and this is the reason why they can get forward relatively fast despite of the huge traffic. But still, there is no fixed time schedule with good cause. The time schedules indicate an approximate time interval at which the bus will prospectively arrive.
But one is not always safe from surprises. We experienced several times that it was announced : "My next stop is…" and then the driver dashed through up to the point x ignoring the bus stops in between and the passengers who were desperately pushing the stop-button. If one is not alert enough to get out of the bus immediately after the announcement, one has to stay in the bus up to the obligatory stop and then return the stretch.
Everywhere, one comes across the double-decker buses of the sightseeing tours, of which two companies compete. Whether one chooses the Original London Sightseeing Tour or the Big Bus Company, is relatively the same. Both offer mainly the same routing, the same prices and the possibility of "Hop-on/hop-off" tours, thus getting out and into the bus during the tour at interesting spots. The audio equipment and German comments make the tour also for non-english speakers to be an exciting experience. We think that the tour is very useful for the first introduction to the city, but it of course cannot replace the individual exploring of the city. By the way, in this sightseeing tour also a boat trip on the Thames is included that can be done without an additional charge.
Considering the amount of the taxis one could think that whole London only uses this means of transport. After all, there are approximately 21 000 taxis registered. But these vehicles are interesting in any case. It is about a very special type of car that stands out from the rest of the vehicles so that it is easy to recognize it. In former times known as "black cab", in the meantime, they also are of different colours and with advertisement. The hilighted sign "FOR HIRE" indicates that it is available. If one wants to put one's luggage in the trunk, as it is usual in Germany, one will notice that there is no trunk at all. The passenger cabin is quite spacious so that one takes the luggage into it.
The trishaws are an interesting alternative one comes across to in the evenings. It is understandable that they only circulate in the evenings when the other means of traffic are not so frequent any more and the streets are relatively free.
Of course, there are also many pedestrians. But as a German, one has to get used to the left-hand driving in England. Also after some time, one catches oneself looking to the wrong direction. But the London people make a good effort for helping, as in almost all crossovers there are directional arrows with the inscription "Look left" or "Look right" arranged on the pavement. This is helpful due to the reason that the red traffic lights give a certain indication, but people just start walking as soon as there is a gap in the car traffic.
As conclusion it can be said that the traffic of London can make sensitive people slightly nervous. But considering all negative effects, it is amazing how the administration of London has this problem under control and how easy it is as a tourist to handle the traffic just after a short period of introduction.
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Author: Michael Nitzschke, Copyright: Patrick Wagner, www.tourist-guide.biz