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Receiving more annual visitors than any other city in Europe, London is one of the most popular destinations in the world. The English capital is a true global city, with a massive influence on music, politics, fashion, finance, art, education and commerce. The effects of its 2000-year history are still felt throughout the world today, yet for many visitors, the city of London somehow seems younger than ever before.
The first thing many will notice, even before landing in London, is how the huge city is carved neatly in two by the river Thames. This 350-kilometre long river has played a vital role in shaping the city and remains one of its most iconic landmarks. On either side of the river sprawls one of the greenest capitals in the world. London is rich with green spaces; in fact, the Royal Parks of London (which includes Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, St. James’s Park, and Kensington Gardens) are often listed among the city’s top attractions. Less than 10 km west of the CBD, the WWT London Wetland Centre is an oasis of gardens, lakes, and abundant wildlife. Explore more than 40 hectares of wetlands to discover birds, amphibians, insects, otters and more.
London really is a tourist’s dream, with more famous landmarks in one place than you can poke a stick at. Start off by taking in the amazing views from the London Eye, the Shard, or magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral. Gaze across the river to spot Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern, the latter of which houses one of the world’s leading collections of contemporary art. Next, travel west along the Thames to lay eyes on the Palace of Westminster and its iconic bell tower, Big Ben. Round it all off with a visit to the royal residence, Buckingham Palace, before discovering the best of London’s music scene and nightlife in Soho, Brixton, Shoreditch and beyond.
Parking in London is both difficult and expensive, and with the added Congestion Charge, it’s best to leave the car at home. With so much to see and do in the CBD, walking and cycling are often the best ways to get around. London’s 8,000-strong fleet of public bicycles, Santander Cycles, are a cheap and fun way to see the sights on a clear day. Rain or shine, millions of people use London’s extensive underground railway system every day. Although quite costly and crowded during peak hours, the London Underground is certainly the fastest way to cover longer distances across the city. For shorter journeys, the city’s iconic red buses are a cheaper and more scenic option, especially if you get to ride a double-decker. Whatever mode of transport you choose, you can travel cheaper and faster by pre-loading credit onto an Oyster Card, available for a £5 deposit.
London might have a reputation for dreary weather, but that’s not necessarily the case. Spring is generally the best time to visit, since temperatures are cool but not frosty, and the parks and gardens are alive with greenery. Late spring and summer, though significantly warmer, come bundled with peak season prices.
Visiting during autumn and winter may provide better rates, but be warned that December—despite being one of the coldest months in London—will see the streets swarming with both domestic and international tourists, particularly around Christmas.
London is serviced by six international airports. Heathrow and Gatwick Airport are the busiest of these, together handling about 77% of London’s air traffic. Flights travel to London from a wide range of destinations, including New York, Moscow, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Dublin and Istanbul. Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport are located about 22 and 53 km from the centre of London; express rail services to the city take about 16 and 30 minutes, respectively.