Instant expert: London

27 Jun 2016

History, pubs, culture and hordes of people. Whether you live in London or are just visiting, you'll never run out of things to do - however long you spend. Here's your one-page guide to the UK's capital city...

London at a Glance

Population: 8.6 million
Official language: English
Currency: British pound
Time zone: GMT
Tipping: A discretionary 12.5% service charge will often be added to your restaurant bill. It is not necessary to tip in bars (unless there’s table service), for taxis or hotel staff.

10 Things You Need to Know

1. With 8.6 million residents and 17.5 million visitors annually, the city can feel crowded - even more so on the Underground in summer.

2. Londoners are always in a hurry. Be sure to stand on the right-hand side of escalators so they can run past. 

3. They are, however, largely very polite. Expect them to queue nicely, give up their seats for women and elderly passengers on the Tube, and wait for those disembarking to exit before they get on. 

4. Queen Elizabeth II has been on the throne since 1952 and is the UK’s longest reigning monarch. Worldwide, she is surpassed only by HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. 

5. London’s Big Ben is not the name of the clock tower; it is the bell inside it, which dates back to 1858. The bell chimes every 15 minutes. 

6. To be a London black cab driver, you must know more than 25,000 roads and pass an exam called The Knowledge. The rise of Uber and GPS technology has understandably caused uproar among cabbies in recent years. 

7. An estimated 300 languages are spoken in London, making it one of the most multicultural cities in the world. 

8. London has four UNESCO World Heritage Sites - the Tower of London, Maritime Greenwich, Westminster Palace/Westminster Abbey, and Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens. 

9. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is not the original building, but is very near the site of the first, which burned down in 1613. It is also the only structure in the city with a thatched roof. These have been banned in London since the Great Fire of 166. 

10. London can be confusing. The famous Abbey Road crossing, which featured in the Beatles’ album cover is near St John’s Wood Tube station, not Abbey Road DLR station; the Tate Modern and Tate Britain are two completely separate art galleries; and what you always thought was London Bridge (from the nursery rhyme) is actually Tower Bridge

When to visit London

The city is truly a year-round destination. Sunshine is never guaranteed and rain is always a possibility, but the climate is relatively mild (7°C in winter and 19°C in summer). Around Christmas, the festive decorations, mulled wine in pubs, outdoor ice-skating and positively cheery atmosphere make it a fun place to visit, but the sun sets at 4:30pm. From April, the clocks go forward and the days are longer - Londoners celebrate by drinking al fresco at the first sign of sunshine. You can often bag a good deal in December and August, when hotels reduce their prices because of the natural decline in business travel.

Click here for an in-depth, season-by-season look at London's weather.

London is Best For…

Pubs. Home to 16,700 pubs at last count, London is intrinsically intertwined with its pub culture. Some of the oldest buildings stretch back to the 16th century.

Pop-ups. Want a café that only serves cereal? A restaurant where you can pet cats? A spot to try more than 600 board games? Of course you do. London loves a good pop-up and something for even the quirkiest of tastes. But do your research before you arrive - the problem with pop ups is they never last very long.

Free stuff. Thanks to a government initiative in 2001, most of London’s main museums are free to enter (although you may have to pay to visit temporary exhibits). This includes the V&A, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery and the Tate Modern. You can also watch Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament (if you book in advance) or a trial at a criminal court; visit St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey (by attending an evening song service); and you can even ride a Boris Bike for free if you keep it for under 30 minutes (it will however cost £2 for you to "access" the bike initially).  

Culture. London has theatres, museums and art galleries galore. Wilton’s Music Hall is the oldest in the world, dating back to 1743. Music fans should investigate which artists are playing at the O2 Arena in North Greenwich, and during the summer the open-air theatre in Regent’s Park is highly recommended. The West End features shows such as Wicked, Les Misérables, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, War Horse, The Book of Mormon and more.  

Parks. For such a large city, it may surprise visitors to learn that 40 per cent of Greater London is green space. Locals flock to Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and St James Park when the sun comes out. Further afield, Richmond Park is the largest of the Royal Parks at 2,360 acres and has herds of deer.

Ready to book? Check out Travelzoo’s latest deals for London. Alternatively, see below for a selection of our favourite hotels in the capital. 

5 Hotels We Love in London

K West Hotel & Spa
Location: Shepherd’s Bush, West London
Why we love it: This deluxe 4-star hideaway has it all: fine dining, a chic cocktail den and one of the best spas in the city. The location provides easy access to the sights of central London and instant access to the vast Westfield shopping centre.  
Click here for rates and availability (inc extras for Travelzoo members)

The Milestone Hotel
Location: Kensington, West London
Why we love it: This 5-star property is renowned for its exceptional service and hard-to-beat location – Hyde Park is just over the road, while Knightsbridge, Kensington Palace and the Royal Albert Hall are just a short walk away. Kids’ bonus: free colouring books and behind-the-scenes tours. 
Click here for rates and availability (inc extras for Travelzoo members)

Devonport House
Greenwich, East London
Why we love it: A well-priced option given the 4-star rating and location in historic Greenwich. Nearby attractions include The O2, the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark. Central London is 20 minutes away – a little longer if you take the boat.
Click here for rates and availability (inc extras for Travelzoo members)

Chesterfield Mayfair
Location: Mayfair, Central London
Why we love it: This boutique property within walking distance of Knightsbridge and Buckingham Palace is renowned for its refined English atmosphere, superb afternoon tea and exclusive surroundings. Butlers Restaurant holds a prestigious 2-AA-Rosette rating.
Click here for rates and availability (inc extras for Travelzoo members)

Hotel Xenia
Location: Fulham, Southwest London
Why we love it: This white-pillared Victorian building in South Kensington is a few minutes' walk from Earls Court, Kensington Gardens and attractions such as the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the V&A Museum. Bonus points for the Living Wall cocktail bar with a heated terrace in the herb garden.
Click here for rates and availability (inc extras for Travelzoo members)

This post was written by guest blogger Emma Sheppard

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