Frommer's Irreverent Guide to London

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Looking for a travel guide that goes where other guides fear to tread? One that rides roughshod over ad-copy puffery to smartly deliver the real scoop on a destination's sites and attractions? One that dares to be honest, hip, and fun? Look no more. Frommer's Irreverent Travel Guides are wickedly irreverent, unabashedly honest, and downright hilarious, and provide an insider's perspective on which attractions are overrated tourist traps and which are the secret gems that locals love. You'll get the lowdown on ...
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Overview

Looking for a travel guide that goes where other guides fear to tread? One that rides roughshod over ad-copy puffery to smartly deliver the real scoop on a destination's sites and attractions? One that dares to be honest, hip, and fun? Look no more. Frommer's Irreverent Travel Guides are wickedly irreverent, unabashedly honest, and downright hilarious, and provide an insider's perspective on which attractions are overrated tourist traps and which are the secret gems that locals love. You'll get the lowdown on restaurants, lodging, and shopping, and even find out what the locals think of you. "Like being taken around by a savvy local," said the New York Times. "Hipper and savvier than other guides," concurred Diversion magazine. Never shy about confronting the issues, the Irreverents are guides to real travel in the real world.

London swings once again in the smart, savvy Frommer's Irreverent Guide to London, a deliciously honest insider's look at Great Britain's Gotham. Want to know where the royals kick back? What the locals really think of Tony Blair's Millennium Dome? The biggest shocker about tony London hotels? The neighborhood that's the capital of cool? You'll discover the best spots to savor curry, England's new national cuisine, how to find designer clothes at rock-bottom prices, and how to get theater tickets when the shows are sold out.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764542985
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/15/2004
  • Series: Frommer's Irreverent Guides Series , #20
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 5
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 4.44 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald Olson is a novelist, playwright, and travel writer. His novel The Confessions of Aubrey Beardsley was published in the United Kingdom by Bantam Press, and his play, Beardsley, was produced in London. His travel stories have appeared in the New York Times, Travel & Leisure, Sunset, National Geographic guides, and many other national publications. He is also the author of England For Dummies and London For Dummies, and has written guidebooks to Italy, Berlin, and Oregon.
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Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION.

YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T KNOW.

1. ACCOMMODATIONS.

2. DINING.

3. DIVERSIONS.

4. GETTING OUTSIDE.

5. SHOPPING.

6. NIGHTLIFE.

7. ENTERTAINMENT.

HOTLINES & OTHER BASICS.

GENERAL INDEX.

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First Chapter

Frommer's Irreverent Guide to London


By Donald Olson

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-4298-2


Chapter One

Basic Stuff

As with any big-city vacation, a London visit demands a strategy-maybe more so than most, because this city's so big and sprawling and there's so much to see. Decide what your priorities are. Does history turn you on? Is art your interest, or are you happiest just hanging? Time spent here is weather-dependent, too, since everything from the mood on the streets to the choice of activities changes in the rain. Fortunately, since rain can set in for 3 weeks without respite, there's plenty of scope for lousy weather.

Getting Your Bearings

The most important thing to do is to buy a copy of the pocket street atlas London A to Z (called simply "the A to Zed"-even Londoners themselves usually have one on hand). Buy it at the airport or at a newsagent in town (it's available everywhere) and navigating the city will become much easier. What follows here is a potted geography of London, containing the only parts of the A to Z you need to know.

West End: the center-you'd call this downtown. It's the younger of the two historic centers from which London grew, dating from 1050, when Edward the Confessor moved his court here and founded an abbey at Westminster (SW1), where the Houses of Parliament are. St. James's (SW1), now a posh area of shops and hotels, is named after the (Tudor) Court of St. James's; dignitaries arestill said to be ambassadors to St. James.

Mayfair (W1) includes Bond Street and Oxford Street and most of the grand hotels. Soho (W1), east of Mayfair, is a small area packed with restaurants, bars (including gay bars), and nightclubs. Covent Garden (WC2) is the easternmost part of the West End, a target zone for shopping, museums, and restaurants. These last two areas also contain much of London's diverse theater scene-but don't dismiss what is staged at "fringe" venues in other districts.

In between Covent Garden and the City is the legal district, which contains the Inns of Court (WC2), the historic barristers' quarters and courts. Holborn ("Hoe-bn") borders this, an in-between area; Bloomsbury (WC1) is also here, with the British Museum and the University of London.

The City (EC2, EC4): The far older, Roman-founded center of town, dating from the first century A.D., it's still the financial center and still an autonomous entity. It is the City of London, with a capital C, aka "the Square Mile," although it isn't square. The Tower of London and St. Paul's Cathedral are here, also the Barbican (a concert-and-theater complex within one of the ugliest '70s redevelopment areas ever built) and the worth-seeing Museum of London. Plus a lot of churches designed by Christopher Wren, and a bunch of hideous skyscrapers from the 1980s, Norman Foster's just-opened "glass gherkin" rising among them.

West London: not West End. You'll spend a lot of time in neighborhoods like Knightsbridge (SW3), for Harrods, shopping, ladies lunching, and Hyde Park; and adjacent South Kensington (SW5), for the big museums (Science, Natural History, V&A). You'll probably spend less time in residential Kensington (W8); and Chelsea (SW3, SW10), though the former is worth visiting for its High Street Kensington shopping and the latter for King's Road shopping.

Notting Hill (W11) is the hip place for restaurants, gastropubs, and Portobello Market; it's bordered by residential Holland Park (W11), which has a park and restaurants. Hammersmith (W6) offers pleasant Thames-side walks and some restaurants.

The East End, where Cockneys come from (which makes it the true center, some say), is rough-and-tumble, with gentrified bits, and is definitely not touristy. Neighborhoods here include Whitechapel (EC1) and Spitalfields (E1), where you'll find art galleries, Georgian houses, and Petticoat Lane market. Clerkenwell (EC1) and Farringdon (EC4) are not really East End-they're trendy, with restaurants. In fact, Clerkenwell is so trendy, it's become a dining, shopping, drinking, hanging-out, art-gallery destination in itself. Spitalfields, too, has spawned a youthful art subculture that's fast dominating the neighborhood. Check them out.... The Docklands (E14), London's newest section, was reclaimed from industrial wasteland and old warehouses. A weird place with de Chirco-like empty urban landscapes is adjacent Canary Wharf (E19), a megabucks postmodern fake town containing Europe's tallest office tower, shops, and a concert hall. Don't make a special trip, though: The U.S. does this kind of development so much better.

North London: Here you'll find Regent's Park (NW1), which is not only a big green park that contains the zoo, but also the bordering streets, including Marylebone, with Madame Tussaud's. Camden Town (NW1) has the vast Camden Lock market; it's a grungy youth mecca. Mainly residential Islington (N1), which borders on Clerkenwell, has restaurants and the Almeida Theatre. It's indicative of changing times that this arty area was the stamping ground of Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair, who sold his house for £615,000 ($1,014,750) when he came to power. (Margaret Thatcher hailed from suburban Grantham.) Hampstead (NW3) is a quaint, expensive hilltop village hemming a vast heath.

South of the River: This fast-evolving area first attracted Londoners to the South Bank (SE1), an arts complex that includes the National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall. Great views. Bankside (SE1) comes next, the site of the new Tate Modern, the OXO Tower and its surrounding activity, and the Globe Theatre.... Butler's Wharf (SE1) has the Design Museum, "Gastrodrome," and Tower Bridge; Brixton (SW2) is a funky neighborhood once synonymous with drugs and crime, now a byword for a rapidly increasing youth culture into music, art, and ... well ... drugs and crime. It must be said that SW2 is home to some great cheap eats and cool bars.

Getting from Here to There

London is usually described as being a good walking city, but you must add a coda to that: It's great to walk from, say, St. James's up Bond Street and across Regent Street to Soho, but it's a day's hike to go on foot from Chelsea to Regent's Park. London's a very big place. Also, the climate has not been exaggerated in folklore: You may find your entire stay is too damp and chilly to enjoy even a window-shopping stroll. However, using your trusty street atlas, London A to Z, walking is still the best way to see the details that make London a fun city.

Taking a bus costs less than the tube in money, but it can cost you much more time, especially during rush hour. The scarlet double-decker bus, however, is one of those features that screams "London," and when you're not in a hurry, the top deck provides the cheapest and best tour, especially for seeing residential nontourist neighborhoods. All you need to do is stay on the bus and when you've had enough, cross the street and take the same route back to where you started. Bus routes, of which there are some 300, are somewhat tough to decipher (pick up free maps at travel information centers). The bus stops are marked by concrete posts, each with a white or red sign on top and a rectangular one at eye level. A white sign means the bus stops automatically; at a red "Request" stop, you have to stick out your arm to flag a bus down. The rectangular sign shows the major stops on the route. Pay the conductor, or (usually) the driver/ conductor, as you board; the fare if you're traveling anywhere within Central London is £1 ($1.65), otherwise 70 pence ($1.15). "N"-prefixed buses are Night Service buses. They run less frequently and cost £1.50 ($2.50). Thrifty night owls will also be glad to know that 1-day Travelcards are now valid on buses until 4:30am on the day after purchase.

The tube, aka the underground (but never called the subway), is far easier than the buses to negotiate-once you've decoded the system's rather beautiful, stylized map (unchanged since Harry Beck designed it in 1933), usually posted on station walls at just the points where you need to consult it. Get your own free map from any station, along with a booklet that explains the ticket price system. Fares are based on zones traveled. You can buy tickets for individual journeys, but at £1.60 ($2.65) a pop within Central London (up to £3.70/$6.10 for Zone 6), you'll save quite a bit by buying a Travelcard. The card works for buses and tubes (after 9:30am weekdays), and costs from £5.10 ($8.40) for a day within Central London. For £8 ($13), the LT Card covers all zones and is good for early risers because it's valid as long as the tubes are running-which is from 5am to about midnight. For buses only, a 1-day bus pass costs only £2 ($3.30), which makes it the most cost-effective way to travel London. Travelcards and bus passes are available from newsagents and at tube station windows and vending machines. You can also get weekly and monthly Travelcards (at tube stations, and requiring a photo), and the Visitor Travelcard, which you can buy only in the U.S. or Canada, for 3, 4, or 7 days ($31, $42, and $62, respectively). Basically it's the same as the all-zone LT Card, with a booklet of discount vouchers thrown in. Get it from your travel agent or Rail Europe (tel 877/257-2887 in the U.S.; 800/361-RAIL in Canada; raileurope.com).

You have to take a taxi (aka a "black cab," although they're not always black) at least once during your stay in London, just for the experience. Unlike taxi drivers in most cities, London cabbies have "the Knowledge"-they must pass an exhaustive exam to get their license, for which they memorize every single cul-de-sac, one-way system, and clever backstreet route in the entire metropolitan area. Many London cabbies are immensely proud of their encyclopedic memories and will regale you with information about the sights you pass; most will bore you senseless with some inane chitchat or other, anyway. Taxis have chuggy diesel-powered motors, doctored-up steering that enables them to make U-turns on a dime, and signs that say "Sit well back in your seat for safety and comfort." They cost £1.40 ($2.30) for the first 81.6 seconds or 378.6m (1,242 ft.), then 20p (30¢) for every 4.8 seconds or 189.3m (621 ft.) until the fare display hits £11.20 ($18), when your 20p (30¢) will only buy you 126.2m (208 ft.) or 3.7 seconds. "But that is completely illogical, captain," we hear you cry. Yup. What can I say, they're British and they do things weird. Oh yeah, and they also add an incomprehensible surcharge of anything from 20p to £2 (30¢-$3.30) depending on luggage, number of passengers, pickup point, and so on. Don't try to understand; just pay up. What you end up paying is, of course, dependent on London's erratic traffic flow, but you'll be lucky to go anywhere for less than £8 ($13). While tipping is not obligatory-like in New York, for example-a meager 10% is always a good idea. A taxi is available when the yellow FOR HIRE sign on the roof is lit-though try an unlit one when desperate; sometimes they cruise without the light to skip drunks. Taxis have a way of not being there when you need them. When that happens, unlicensed minicabs come in handy. Minicabs belong to privately owned car services and must be ordered by phone or by stopping in at the office, since they can't be hailed on the street. The toll-free phone number (tel 0800/654-321) connects you with the nearest minicab operator-or look for a flashing orange light by the side of many of London's busier streets. Restaurants will usually call their pet service for you. Minicab fares may be about 20% lower than black cabs, but be prepared to bargain and give directions-although, before panic sets in, we should stress that most drivers carry a London A to Z, so a spot of map reading should be the only directions required.

The Lowdown

Is this your first time? ... Where should you point your camera so that everyone knows you were in London? These places may be corny and crammed with visitors, but they are essential London sights. Start with the Tower of London, and to get an idea of the sheer age of this city, ogle the Beefeaters and the Crown Jewels. Next to that is the familiar silhouette of Tower Bridge, clad in Portland stone to make it seem as old as the neighboring Tower, though it is several centuries younger. Three more of the big sights are also strung along the banks of the Thames: St.Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament. The latter includes probably the most famous thing of all, the Clock Tower, better known as Big Ben, although Ben himself is actually a bell housed in the tower, which is really named after St. Stephen. The adjacent Westminster Abbey was founded by Edward the Confessor in 1067 and was the structure around which London grew. St. Paul's, with its distinctive dome, is the great architect Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece. If you had to choose only one museum, one art collection, and one park, you should make it the British Museum, the National Gallery, and Hyde Park, although you ought to also throw in one of the great Victorian museums of South Kensington-probably the V&A, which is almost never given its full title, the Victoria & Albert. It's not very cool to be fascinated by royalty, but, let's face it, we all are. Therefore you must look at the not especially beautiful Buckingham Palace (its fairly boring staterooms now open daily from July through September for a hefty fee) and catch the Changing of the Guard. Also, you'd better see the revamped and more pedestrian-friendly Trafalgar Square, containing Nelson's Column, another of those London landmarks you've seen in a million establishing shots in movies and on TV. And, of course, wend your way 'round Piccadilly Circus for a hit of neon and mostly sham-glam geared to tourists. Before you do any of this, though, you might want to catch a ride on the British Airways London Eye, a giant observation wheel that's been revolving across from the Houses of Parliament since 2000 and is so popular it will probably continue to revolve a few years more. It takes half an hour, and from the passenger pods you have incredible views over the entire city. London's special moments ...]

Continues...


Excerpted from Frommer's Irreverent Guide to London by Donald Olson Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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