Once upon a time, the sun never sat on the British Empire. It stretched around the entire world, and London was the shining jewel of this colonial crown. Though its geographic imminence has waned, the cultural impact of the United Kingdom on the known world is undeniable, and travelers still flock to this small, rainy island to experience for themselves what the hubbub is all about.
London is a big, cosmopolitan city that defines the phrase "world-class." Like New York City, Paris or Tokyo, the sky is the limit and the options are almost endless for entertainment, dining, shopping and sightseeing. Forget about driving a car in London; besides the surcharge to enter the city center, the traffic is insanity squared. Go local, get a London tube map and hop on the Underground and enjoy this efficient public transportation.
With many indoor museums and attractions, London can be visited at any time of the year, although the winter can be a bit gray and dull, so bring your raincoat. Deciding in which neighborhood to stay is of utmost importance, as hotels in busy Piccadilly Square and those in trendy Mayfair can be as different as night and day. London is one of the more expensive cities to travel in, and many visitors chose budget hostels or cheap hotels to offset the costs of food and sightseeing.
Things to do in
In London, there is so much to see and do that you must prioritize; don't just go to the "must-see" sights because someone said so. Follow your heart, even if your heart leads you to a table full of fish and chips and ale for several hours. London is full of fun attractions like the original Hard Rock Café and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, and there are plenty of green spaces like Hyde Park if you fancy a picnic or a nap on the grass.
The Houses of Parliament with Big Ben can't be missed; these bastions of liberty have watched over the Thames River for hundreds of years. Just as famous is London Bridge, a popular photo op overlooking the sinister Tower of London, where notorious criminals were held and even more notorious crimes were committed. Piccadilly Circus is the buzzing "Times Square" of London and home to shops and restaurants galore. Trafalgar Square holds down the swirling taxi traffic, and nearby the British Museum is one of the best in the world, boasting the Rosetta Stone, marbles from the Parthenon in Athens, and countless other treasures whose value is unimaginable.
For less ancient and more art, head to the London Gallery or the Tate Modern for visual feasts spanning centuries. If you prefer modern diversions, the theatre scene in London is always hopping, and nightlife brings anything you want to the table, from chi-chi wine bars to throbbing underground dance clubs like Fabric. Very popular and very breathtaking, the London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel that slowly rotates over the city, giving riders amazing views of London- and butterflies in their bellies.
Regent Palace: huge hotel in the heart of Piccadilly, very cheap and basic
Ramada Jarvis Kensington: close to museums and art galleries, Victorian décor
Comfort Inn Kensington: small rooms but pleasant feel, in building from 1870
Sloane Square Moat House: in Chelsea, red brick façade, fancy décor, small rooms
Drury Lane Moat House: in theatre district, well-sized, modern rooms in good condition
Mostyn: by Marble Arch and Oxford, 1700 period hotel full of character
Le Meridien Russell: historic building by the British Museum, medium-sized rooms
Swissotel Howard: 5* by Thames and Trafalgar Square, marble bath, fabulous décor
Claridge's: in the heart of Mayfair, exclusive, individually decorated rooms
Raffles Brown: just off Piccadilly in Mayfair, country house feel, very luxurious
The Savoy: absolute luxury on the Thames River, unparalleled service
Cheap Hotels in London – good resource to search for budget hostels and hotels in the City of London