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It takes practice to get to know London’s sprawl, and a copy of the A-Z (well-known street map sold at all newsstands and bookshops) is a worthwhile investment. The vastness of London can overwhelm, and the packed traffic may induce despair, but Central London is also a walking city. Stroll through quiet tree-shaded squares, unexpected nooks and corners and great parks. Traffic is usually heavy in the central area and is now banned on Sundays from the area around Buckingham Palace and Pall Mall. Short-term parking on meters is both difficult and expensive; wheel clamping is prevalent. Term parking is available in underground garages—look for yellow NCP (National Car Park) signs—though it may cost between 20-43 per day. Free public transport maps and information are available from London Transport Information offices at the following principal stations and airports: Euston, Kings Cross, Liverpool Street, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, St. James Park, Victoria opposite Platform 8, Heathrow Underground Station, Hammersmith Underground Station. London Transport’s travel information service answers questions 24 hours a day. Phone 222-1234.

Arriving By Air

Heathrow is located 15 mi/24 km west of center off Junction 4 of M4 motorway, 50 minutes’ drive in normal traffic, phone 0181-759-4321. Gatwick is 28 mi/45 km south of center, off Junction 10 of M23 motorway, 70 minutes’ drive in normal conditions, phone 01293-535-353. Stansted, 30 mi/48 km northwest of center off Junction 8 of M11 motorway is 70 minutes distant in normal conditions, phone 01279-680-500. City Airport is 6 mi/10 km east of center in Docklands, with ride to center averaging 25 minutes by airport bus, phone 646-0000. Luton, 32 mi/52 km to the north and off Junction 10a of M1, is used mainly for charter flights, phone 01582-405-100.

Hotel Courtesy Vans—From Heathrow and Gatwick. To find them, follow the illuminated overhead signs from the arrivals lounge.

TaxisBlack Cabs at the taxi stand will take you downtown. Approximate rates: from Heathrow, 37; from Gatwick (nightmare journey), 65; from Stansted, 83; from City Airport, 15. Follow the overhead signs from the arrivals lounge.

Buses—Heathrow Airport is served by two express Airbus lines, with destinations in the center of London. The A1 Airbus goes to the Southwest area, including Hyde Park and Victoria Station. The A2 goes to King’s Cross, Baker Street and other stations on the northern edge of central London. Runs every 15 minutes till midday, then every half hour thereafter. Daily 6:30 am-8:30 pm, trip takes from 85 to 105 minutes to the center of town, depending on traffic. 6 one way. Phone 222-1234.

Gatwick Airport is served by Flightline bus 777 from Victoria Coach Station (two blocks south of the train station on Bucking Palace Road). The bus runs hourly or every two hours at either 35 or 45 minutes past the hour. First bus is 9:45 am. Last bus is 11:35 pm. 7.50 one way, 11 round trip. Allow an hour and 15 minutes. Departs Gatwick from South Terminal Coach Station or North Terminal Arrivals level. Phone 0181-668-7261.

City Airport: B & J Travel runs an express shuttle bus every 20 minutes from Liverpool Station; runs every 20 minutes, takes 25 minutes. Monday-Friday 6:10 am-8:30 pm. 4 one way. Phone 476-6428.

TrainsHeathrow Airport: Piccadilly Line Underground runs approximately 5 am-11:30 pm at 5-minute intervals. 3.20 one way. Phone 222-1234. Gatwick Airport: British Rail from Victoria Station, the Gatwick Express runs every half hour, 24 hours. 8.90 one way. Phone 0345-484-950. Stansted Airport: West Anglia trains, Liverpool Street Station, run every 30 minutes from 5:30 am-11 pm and take 41 minutes. 10 one way. Phone 0345-484-950. Luton Airport: Coachlink buses carry passengers to Luton train station, and trains depart every 15 minutes to King’s Cross. The fare (including coach and train) is 9.70. The journey takes about an hour.

Rental CarsAvis, Budget, Eurodollar, Hertz at Heathrow. Alamo, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz at Gatwick. Avis, Budget, Europcar at Stansted. Alamo, Avis, Budget at Luton. Avis at London City Airport.

Arriving By Car

Drive on the left (the steering wheel on British cars is on the right). Avoid bus-only lanes (usually near the side, with broad white dividing line; hours of operation posted). Speed limit in town is 30 mph/48 kph, unless otherwise indicated. Road signs are in miles. The M25 motorway (freeway) encircles London, and (clockwise from north) the M1, M11, M20, M26, M23, M3, M4, M40 motorways radiate outward. Some of them (M1, 3, 4, 11) penetrate partway into London, but thereafter you’ll find urban highways, city streets and one-way traffic systems. Tolls are assessed on the Dartford bridge and tunnel to the east of London and on very rare private roads, such as the one crossing the grounds of Dulwich College.

Arriving By Train

In the great age of steam, the Victorians built a series of imposing railway terminals around the fringes of central London, with lines slicing boldly outward through the suburbs to the far corners of the island. They include the following (all with phone number 0345-484-950): Euston (trains to Midlands, north England and east Scotland); St. Pancras (trains to northwest England); King’s Cross (trains to Midlands, north England, west Scotland); Paddington (trains to west England, Wales); Victoria (trains to south and southeast suburbs); and Waterloo (trains to south coast and English Channel). Mainly suburban and commuter services from Blackfriars, Cannon Street, Charing Cross, Fenchurch Street, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Marylebone and Moorgate.

Two trains operate through the Channel Tunnel (also known as the Chunnel). On Le Shuttle, passengers are transported within their automobiles. The journey to Calais, on the French coast, is timed at 35 minutes. The train runs three or four times an hour. Prices range from 29-129 depending on length of stay and season. For information, call 0990-353-535. A sleek, new Eurostar passenger train links Waterloo station, London, with both Paris and Brussels, via the Channel Tunnel. Hourly trains to Paris run from 5 am-8 pm, trains to Brussels leave approximately every two hours. Round-trip fare ranges 69-380. For information, call 0345-303-030; in North America, call Rail Europe, 800-387-6782, or Britrail, 888-274-8724.

Arriving By Bus

Most national and international coaches arrive at Victoria Coach Station, 164 Buckingham Palace Rd., SW1, about 400 yds/370 m south of Victoria Station. For schedule information, call 730-3466. National Express is the main carrier for coach service in England, Scotland and Wales, phone 0990-808-080. For service to the Continent, Eurolines operates daily departures, phone 730-8235.

Getting Around

For information and journey-planning advice, phone London Transport 24 hours a day at 222-1234.

Buses—Although buses in contemporary style are making inroads, most London buses are still of the red double-decker variety. These combine intriguing glimpses of everyday London life with the more mundane business of getting from A to B. Buy tickets onboard. Fares start at 60p. Bus fare collectors usually can make change, but not always. An infrequent night bus service supplements the full-day timetable. Look for routes beginning with the letter N. Green buses provide a service to outer London and surrounding towns. A number of privately run tour companies utilize buses with a top deck as well.

Light Rail—The Docklands Light Railway is a high-level rapid transit system from the Tower of London to the newly redeveloped Docklands area. It takes workers from the city into the Docklands office area. Although there’s not much to see once you get there, the train (which runs on an elevated rail) offers an impressive view of the city. It’s overcrowded during the business rush hours. Phone 222-1234.

Subways—The London Underground, otherwise known as the tube, is the system of subways that burrow beneath the center of London and out to the suburbs. Though tending to griminess and occasionally plagued with delays and escalator closures, the Underground is a quick and safe means of getting around between approximately 5:50 am and midnight.

Fares, from 1.20, rise with the distance traveled. Stations in the central area (the inner zone) are equipped with ticket-vending machines—the machines take banknotes and coins and give change—and automatic barriers. Travel Cards, which you can buy at tube stations, can also be used for the bus, the Docklands Light Railway and suburban main-line trains to outer suburbs and satellite towns. Substantial savings can be made with a One-Day Travel Card (from 3.20 for Zones 1 and 2, central area) or Seven-Day Travel Card (from 15.70 for Zones 1 and 2). One-Day Travel Cards are only good after 9:30 am and cannot be used on night buses. You’ll need a passport-size photo, but there are photo machines in most tube stations. Available from stations with information offices. For locations of information offices, advice on discounts for children and seniors, as well as rules relating to zoning, phone 222-1234.

Taxis—Taxis are plentiful in London in the regulated form of the distinctive Black Cab (occasionally red or white). Hail them when the yellow For Hire sign is illuminated or book them (at a charge of up to 2.80 extra) by calling 272-0272 or 286-0286. All drivers are put through an arduous examination, known as “The Knowledge,” which ensures that they know every street and building on their turf. Fares are metered but complex, taking both time and distance into account, with a 1.40 standing charge and extras including 40p for each additional person and 10p for each item of luggage. An unaccompanied individual without baggage should allow 1.40 per mile/85p per km overall as a very approximate guide, with a 40p-60p surcharge on weekends, evenings or holidays.

The 1930s-style Asquith Cabs can sometimes be seen on the streets of London. They’re owned by individuals but group bookings for business or leisure trips can be organized. Phone 01628 487051. Unregulated minicabs should be booked only on local recommendation—by a hotel, for example. Minicabs are not metered and are subject to prior agreement; they might be slightly cheaper at night and for longer distances. Although minicab drivers seek passengers in central London, it’s illegal for them to do so and ill advised for you to accept a ride. Ladycabs offers a late service for women, weekdays to midnight, Saturday to 2 am. Phone 923-2266. Metrocab is a new six-seater vehicle that is more wheelchair accessible than traditional cabs. Phone 328-5656.