England follows Greenwich mean time (5 hr. ahead of Eastern Standard Time), For most of the year, including summer, Britain is 5 hours ahead of the time observed in the eastern United States. Due to Daylight-saving time practices in the two nations, there’s a brief period (about a week) in autumn when Britain is only 4 hours ahead of New York, and a brief period in spring when it is 6 hours ahead of New York.
609 sq. miles
Telephone Area Code
When to Visit
British summertime lasting (roughly) from the end of March to the end of October is the time when most tourists visit. Rates are lower during the winter months. Rain is heaviest in November (2 1/2 in. on average). Evenings are cool, even in summer. In the winter, it is customary for the British to keep their thermostats about 10∞ below the American comfort level.
New Year’s Day Jan. 1
Good Friday (Varies: it is the Friday before Easter)
May Day First Monday in May
Whitsun Bank Holiday last Mon. in May
Bank Holiday last Monday in August
Christmas Eve and Christmas DayDec. 24 and 25
Boxing Day December 26
New Year’s Eve Dec. 31
The country code for England is 44. The area code for London is 020.
Business hours are Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. In general, stores are open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5:30pm. In country towns, there is usually an early closing day (often on Wed or Thurs), when the shops close at 1pm.
In Britain, they’re called “chemists.” Every police station in the country has a list of emergency chemists. Dial “0” (zero) and ask the operator for the local police, who will give you the name of one nearest you.
British electricity is 240 volts AC (50 cycles), roughly twice the voltage in North America, which is 115 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles). American plugs do not fit British wall outlets. Always bring suitable transformers and/or adapters : if you plug an American appliance directly into a European electrical outlet without a transformer, you’ll destroy your appliance and possibly start a fire. Tape recorders, VCRs, and other devices with motors intended to revolve at a fixed number of revolutions per minute probably won’t work properly even with transformers.
Dial 999 for police, fire, or ambulance. Give your name, address, and telephone number and state the nature of the emergency.
In England, pubs can legally be open Monday through Saturday from 11am to 11pm, and on Sunday from noon to 10:30pm. Premises with a restaurant license can continue serving until midnight (11:30pm Sun), provided the sale of alcohol accompanies a table meal.
To encourage energy conservation, the British government levies a 25% tax on gasoline (petrol). There is also a 17.5% national value-added tax (VAT) that is added to all hotel and restaurant bills and is included in the price of many items you purchase. This can be refunded if you shop at stores that participate in the Retail Export Scheme (signs are posted in the window).
In October 1994, Britain imposed a departure tax. It is included in the price of your ticket.
To call England from North America, dial 011 (international code), 44 (Britain’s country code), the local area codes, and the seven-digit local phone number. For calls within the same city or town, the local number is all you need. For directory assistance in London, dial 142; for the rest of Britain, 192.
For cab drivers, add about 10% to 15% to the fare on the meter. However, if the driver loads or unloads your luggage, add something extra.
Britain’s decimal monetary system is based on the pound (£), which is made up of 100 pence (written as “p”). Pounds are also called quid by Britons. There are £1 and £2 coins, as well as coins of 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p, and 1p. Banknotes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20, and £50.
The Euro: Since the euro’s inception, the U.S. dollar and the euro have traded almost on par (i.e., $1 approximately equals 1Ä).
Long-haul international flights are usually routed through Heathrow and Gatwick airports. The city’s other three airportsóLondon City, Luton and Stanstedóare used primarily for regional flights and hops to the Continent.
One of London’s major international airports, Gatwick (LGW) is 28 miles south of the city center, off the M23. It’s a 70-minute drive in normal conditions, but allow extra time for traffic delays.
There are two terminals, north and south, so it’s wise to double-check which one your flight is departing from (the newer north terminal is reached by taking a short train ride on an unmanned overhead railway. ) Though extremely busy, the second busiest airport in the U.K. after Heathrow, Gatwick provides a streamlined experience for travelers.
Gatwick Connecting Transportation
Gatwick Express trains are the fastest way into the city. The journey to Victoria Station takes about half an hour, and trains depart every 15 minutes (less frequently between about midnight and 6 am).
Hotel courtesy vans and the Hotelink shuttle are available for arriving passengers. Flightline and Jetlink buses operate between the airport and Victoria Coach Station.
Expanded in stages since its beginnings as a Royal Air Force strip in the 1940s, Heathrow (LHR) is London’s busiest airport and the worldís fourth busiest. It is located 15 miles west of the city, off the M4 motorway. The drive takes 50 minutes in normal traffic, but allow at least 90 minutes if you’re catching a flight out
Heathrow Connecting Transportation
The Heathrow Express runs high-speed trains every 15 minutes to Paddington Station. The journey takes about 15 minutes . One other benefit: Some airlines let you check your bags at Paddington before your return trip, saving time at the airport. Phone 0845-600-1515. If you don’t take the train, the next best option is the Tube. The Piccadilly line serves all four of Heathrow’s terminals. Hotel courtesy vans and taxis are readily available.
Most national and international coaches arrive at Victoria Coach Station, about 400 yds. south of Victoria Station. 164 Buckingham Palace Road, SW1. For schedule information, call 020-7730-3466.
The bus lines to know are National Express (extensive service throughout Britain) and Eurolines (daily departures to the Continent), which share the same phone number Phone 0870-580-8080.
For information and advice on reaching your destination by bus, light rail, Tube or water taxi, call the London Transport Authority’s 24-hour information line. Phone 020-7222-1234, Free public transport maps are available from information offices at train and Tube stations.
BusesóAlthough contemporary-style buses are becoming more common, most London buses are still of the red double-decker variety. Buy tickets on board, except in some parts of central London where new ticket machines have been introduced alongside bus stops. Where these machines exist, you must purchase tickets before boarding. Fares start at 70p for adults, 40p for children. One-day bus passes are available from newsagents. Fare collectors usually can make change, but not always. An infrequent night-bus service supplements the day timetable (look for routes beginning with the letter N). Green buses provide a service to outer London and surrounding towns.
Docklands Light RailwayóThis rapid transit system runs from the Tower of London to the redeveloped Docklands 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
SubwayóThe London Underground, otherwise known as the Tube, is the system of subways in London and out to the suburbs.
Water TaxisóBoats carry passengers from the center of London to destinations along the Thames, including Greenwich, the Tower of London, Kew Gardens, Hampton Court, Canary Wharf and Bankside. A handful of boat operators are used, and timetables vary by route.
Taxis are plentiful in London in the regulated form of the distinctive black cab. Hail them when the yellow “For Hire” sign is illuminated, or call 020-7272-0272 or 020-7286-0286. There are taxi ranks at major train stations such as Victoria, King’s Cross and Waterloo.
All taxi 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. Ask the driver for an approximate fare before getting in. Most will accept credit cards.
In the great age of steam, the Victorians built a series of imposing railway stations 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: 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, English Channel and the Continent). For information on train services, phone 0845-748-4950.
Changing of the Guard
The display by the Queen’s Foot Guards occurs daily at 11:30 am April-July and on alternate days the rest of the year at Buckingham Palace. No ceremonies take place in extremely wet weather. The time sometimes varies on days when state events occur.
Changing of the Horse Guards Parade
The mounted Queen’s Life Guard leaves Hyde Park Barracks and rides to the Horse Guard Parade grounds at Whitehall. Monday-Saturday at 11 am, Sunday at 10 am, daily during the summer and on alternating days the rest of the year. The time sometimes varies on days when state events occur.
Ceremony of the Keys
See the nightly lockup (seven minutes before 10 pm) at the main gate of the Tower of London by the chief warder and an escort of guards. Guests are escorted in promptly at 9:30 pm. Passes are required.
Early-Late January: Harrods Annual Sale. The shopping event of the year at the legendary Harrods. Brompton Road, Knightsbridge (SW1X). For information, call 7730-1234..
1 January: New Year’s Day Festival. London’s New Year’s Day Festival, composed of a parade and concerts, is an international event. More than 1 million people view approximately 10,000 performers from at least 16 countries as they pass along the 2.2-mi/3.5-km route from Parliament Square to Berkley Square. The Music for London concerts feature young artists, including marching bands, chamber-hall musicians, singers, pipers and baton twirlers. For information, call 8566-8586.
Throughout January: Opera. The Royal Opera mounts more than 20 productions each season at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (WC2). For information and tickets, call 7304-4000. Continues through mid July
Throughout January: Concert. The London Symphony Orchestra gives nearly 100 concerts each season at the Barbican Centre, Silk Street (EC2Y). For information, call 7588-1116. For tickets, call 7638-8891. Continues through late June
Throughout January: Concert. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performs frequently at Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore (SW) and at the Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road (SE1). For information, call 7608-8800. For tickets, call 7589-8212 or 7960-4242. Through early June
Throughout January: Dance. The Royal Ballet performs regularly at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (WC2). For information and tickets, call 7304-4000. Continues through late June
Early-Mid February: Flamenco Festival London. This festival hosts performances by some of the best contemporary flamenco dancers and singers from Spain. Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue (EC1R). For information, call 7863-8198. For tickets, call 087-0737-7737.
Late February: Winter Bearfest. More than 150 national and international companies display thousands of teddy bears for sale, in addition to books and bear-making supplies. Kensington Town Hall, Hornton Street, Kensington (W8). For information, call 127-3697-974.
Mid-Late March: BADA Antique Fair. The British Antique Dealers Association (BADA) hosts this annual event showcasing Britain’s leading art and antique dealers. Browse, buy and learn from the experts. Shipping companies are on-site to assist with getting your purchases home. Duke of York’s Headquarters, Kings Road, Chelsea (SW3). For information, call 7589-6108.
Early March: Olympia Spring Fine Art and Antiques Fair. Extensive collections span the ancient past and the present with an unusual mix of decorative artworks and period pieces. Olympia Exhibition Centre, Hammersmith Road (W14). For information, call 7370-8212. For tickets, call 087-0126-1725 or 087-0900-6050.
Late March: Boat Race. More than 250,000 spectators crowd the banks of the Thames River to watch this historic rowing contest between crews from Oxford and Cambridge universities. Starting point for the rowers is University Stone, Putney. Continues through early April
Late March: London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Two weeks of screenings of world cinema, more than 60 features and 100 shorts at the National Film Theatre, Upper Ground, South Bank (SE1) and Odeon West End, Leicester Square (WC2). For information and tickets, call 7928-3232. Continues through early April
Late March: Concert. Resident and visiting musicians give organ recitals in Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square (SW1P). For information, call 7654-4900 or 7222-5152.
Late March: Theater. After a five-year renovation, Almeida Theatre has reopened to present a season of theatrical and operatic productions. Almeida Street, Islington (N1). For information and tickets, call the box office at 7359-4404. Continues through late July
Early-Mid April: Hammersmith and Fulham Festival. This large annual festival celebrates the borough’s multicultural heritage with concerts, art exhibits, theatrical productions, sports events, comedy shows and more at venues throughout the neighborhood. call 8753-6567.
Early-Late April: Only Connect. This genre-breaking arts festival melts the traditional boundaries of music, dance, film and the spoken word. Barbican Centre, Silk Street (EC2). For information, call 7638-4141.
Mid-Late April: Chelsea Art. This intimate fair features contemporary and 20th-century paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures and ceramics from more than 40 well-known British and international galleries. Chelsea Old Town Hall, King’s Road (SW3). For information, call 18257-44074.
Late April: London Original Print Fair. More than 30 galleries, dealers and publishers display their original works at this annual event, established in 1985. Burlington Gardens, behind the Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly (W1). Phone 7300-8000.
Late April: Annual Spring Plants and Gardens Fair. The world’s first museum devoted solely to garden history becomes a visual horticultural feast with plants, flower gardens and the latest gardening products for sale. Museum of Garden History, Lambeth Palace Road (SE1). For information, call 7401-8865.
Early-Mid May: The Prince’s Trust Urban Music Festival. The U.K.’s largest urban music festival is headlined by top hip-hop, rap and R&B stars from the U.S. and U.K.; performers have included Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. Also DJ battles, urban art exhibits, B-boying and music-industry workshops, street soccer games, computer gaming competitions and more. Earl’s Court, Warwick Road (SW5). For information and tickets, call 087-0160-7030.
Early-Late May: Theater. The theater season at Shakespeare’s Globe includes performances of works by England’s famous bard and others. 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside (SE1). For information, call 7902-1400. For tickets, call 7401-9919. http://shakespeares-globe.org. Continues through late September
Mid-Late May: Glyndebourne Festival. This prestigious opera festival takes place on a country estate 54 mi/86 km southeast of London. Custom dictates that operagoers wear evening dress. Tickets are hard to come by, but try calling the box office at 012-7381-3813.. Continues through late August
Mid May: Floral London Marathon. Top international runners compete in one of the world’s most prestigious marathons. Also seven other races, including a wheelchair race and minimarathon. For information, call 016-1703-8161.
Mid May: Royal Windsor Horse Show. One of the U.K.’s largest outdoor horse shows features competitions in show jumping, dressage and carriage driving, as well as military demonstrations and other performances. Home Park, Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire (SL4). For information, call 175-386-0633. For tickets, call 087-0121-5370 or 115-912-9160.
Late May: Theater. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre offers a summer season of classic and comedic theatrical performances. The Ironworks, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park (NW1). For information, call 7935-5756. For tickets, call 087-0060-1811Continues through early September
Late May: Chelsea Flower Show. The self-billed “world’s greatest flower show” features more than 600 exhibitors from at least four continents in show, chic, courtyard, city and street gardens. Sponsored by the Royal Horticulture Society. Royal Hospital, Chelsea (SW3). For information, call 7834-4333. For tickets, call 087-0906-3781.
Early-Mid June: Hampton Court Palace Music Festival. Internationally renowned artists and companies perform in this premier classical-music festival in a beautiful, historic setting. East Molesey, Surrey. For information, call 8233-6400. For tickets, call 8781-9545.
Mid June: Horse Races. At once one of the world’s most prestigious horse races and London’s social event of the year, the five-day Royal Ascot is attended by the cream of London society and members of the royal family. Races start daily at 2:30 pm. Ascot Racecourse, Berkshire. For information, call 013-4462-2211. For tickets, call 013-4487-6876.
Mid June: Trooping the Colour. Massed bands and troops create a colorful parade in honor of the queen’s official birthday. It leaves Buckingham Palace at 11 am and continues to the Horse Guards Parade. For information, call 7414-2479.
Late June: Tennis. The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships is a grand-slam event at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Church Road, Wimbledon (SW19 5AE). Tickets are very hard to come by. Many people line up the night before for the limited number of day-of tickets available at Gate 3 on Church Road. For information, call 8944-1066.
Late June: International Henley Royal Regatta. Ladies in dresses and fancy hats and gentlemen in straw boaters and school ties gather to watch one of the world’s most prestigious rowing events on the Thames, first held in 1839. For information, call 014-9157-2153.
Late June: City of London Festival. The city celebrates the best in classical and world music, theater, dance, the visual arts and poetry. Various venues, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Barbican Centre and other historic sites. Ticket prices vary for different events. For information, call 7377-0540.
Early-Late June: Olympia Summer Fine Art and Antiques Fair. More than 400 British and international dealers exhibit thousands of collectibles at one of the most comprehensive and respected antique and art fairs in the world. Olympia Exhibition Centre, Hammersmith Road (W14). For information, call 7370-8212. For tickets, call 087-0126-1725 or 087-0900-6050.
Throughout June: Glyndebourne Festival. This prestigious opera festival takes place on a country estate 54 mi/86 km southeast of London. Custom dictates that operagoers wear evening dress. Tickets are hard to come by, but try calling the box office at 012-7381-3813. Continues through late August
Mid-Late July: BCC Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. Called the Proms, this internationally renowned music festival draws top artists and orchestras and has been imitated throughout the world. Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore (SW7), Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington (SW7 2RL), and other venues. For information, call 7589-8212. Individual tickets are sold on concert days at Door 7 of the Royal Albert Hall box office. Continues through mid September
Late July: Opening of Buckingham Palace. The state rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to visitors each summer and the beginning of fall. For information and tickets, call 7766-7300. Continues through late September
Early-Late August: Portobello Film Festival. The world’s largest free film festival screens more than 700 new independent shorts, features, documentaries, animations, digital works and more. Various cinemas. For information, call 8960-0996.
1-29 Aug: Glyndebourne Festival. This prestigious opera festival takes place on a country estate 54 miles southeast of London. Custom dictates that operagoers wear evening dress. Tickets are hard to come by, but try calling the box office at 012-7381-3813.
3-7 Aug: The Great British Beer Festival. . London Olympia, Hammersmith Road (W14). For information and tickets, call 017-2786-7201. It features more than 450 British “real” ales, cider, perry, lagers and imported beers, in addition to food, pub quizzes, traditional pub games, roving entertainers, live music and a family room
Late August: Notting Hill Carnival. Europe’s largest street festival includes music, dance, theater, food and parades. Daily events from 10 am. Streets around Ladbrooke Grove. For information, call 8964-0544 or 7937-5464.
Opening of Buckingham Palace. The state rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to visitors each summer and the beginning of fall. For information and tickets, call 7766-7300.
Summer Opening of Parliament. During the summer recess, the House of Lords and the House of Commons are open for guided tours. Tickets can be purchased from mid July at the Abingdon Green ticket office, opposite Parliament and the Victoria Tower Gardens, or by calling 087-0906-3773. For information, call 7219-3000 or 7219-4272.
Early-Mid October: London Festival of Chamber Music. London’s finest classical musicians, including the English String Quartet, give 16 concerts in various churches and concert halls throughout the city. For information and tickets, call 7435-6232 or 018-6530-5305. Mid October
London International Tango Festival and Ball. Events include tango demonstrations by world-class performers, workshops, classes and a formal-dress dance party. Royal Albert Hall and other venues. For information, call 7221-9535 or 221-9538.
Times bfi London Film Festival. Europe’s largest public film festival presents two weeks of features, shorts, animations, experimental films, and world cinema, including many London premieres, in approximately 350 screenings to an audience of more than 100,000. For information and tickets, call 7928-3232. Continues through early November
State Opening of Parliament. In the fall of each year, the queen opens Parliament in the House of Lords. The ceremony dates from the Middle Ages and includes an inspection of both houses of parliament by the royal official bodyguards, the Yeomen of the Guard. The queen, as well as peers and bishops, in traditional garb travel from Buckingham Palace in a royal procession. For information, call 7219-3000 or 7219-4272.
Olympia Winter Fine Art and Antiques Fair. Approximately 250 dealers exhibit antique furniture and fine artworks at this holiday fair held in conjunction with the British Antique Dealers Association. Olympia Exhibition Centre, Hammersmith Road (W14). For information, call 7370-8212. For tickets, call 0870-126-1725 or 0870-900-6050.