London's showstopping royal palaces, its street markets, ancient landmarks, skyscraping glass towers and masterpiece-stuffed museums and galleries enchant all who visit the city. The "wonderful immensity of London", as Samuel Johnson put it in the 18th century, ensures that it is a stop for most travellers at least once.

London might not be the cheapest destination on the planet but there is lots of it that's beyond cash. Getting lost among the lanes and cobbled-stone squares, old churches and garden squares, sitting in the royal parks and soaking up the timeless art and culture is priceless.

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London climate

The Great British Summer has a reputation for being slightly damp so pack a rain jacket if you're taking flights to London during July and August. Summer temperatures can hit 30 degrees and rarely do winter temperatures plummet to zero. London is generally warmer than the rest of the UK and spring and autumn temperatures are pleasant.

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When to fly to London

Peak season:

London is busy year round but the high summer season is June-September when Wimbledon takes place and children are on their long, school holidays. Christmas and New Year (the sales are as popular as the celebrations) is another peak time.

Shoulder season:

April to May (excluding Easter) and early September to October (excluding the school half-term holidays). This is the best time to find cheap flights to London and a great time to visit, with fewer crowds, cheaper accommodation rates and better light bringing out the city's most photogenic side.

Off season:

January (after the sales have ended) and February are low season months when it's easier to get a good deal on flights and accommodation.

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Getting into town London

London Heathrow Airport (LHR)

The underground (tube) takes you to central London in just over an hour, or take the Heathrow Express (15 minutes to Paddington). There's a slew of coaches and hotel shuttles. Taxis are also available, but the priciest option at between £45 and £70 to Central London.

London Gatwick Airport (LGW)

The Gatwick Express train takes 30 minutes to get to London Victoria. National Express coaches, buses (including easyBus, part of the easyJet family) and taxis are also available.

London Stansted Airport (STN)

Stansted Express trains take 45 minutes to London Liverpool Street. Coach services (National Express, easyBus and Terravision) operate a frequent service but can take up to two hours to get to the centre of London. Taxis are available outside the terminal building.

London City Airport (LCY)

The Docklands Light Rail departs London City Airport every 8 to 15 minutes, whizzing to Stratford International (for the Olympic Village) in less than 20 minutes. Buses (Transport for London) travel to a couple of points in East London from where there are connections throughout the city. Taxis are also available.

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Getting around London

There's only one way to get around London cheaply and that's by buying an Oyster card (available while you're still at home in Australia from tfl.gov.uk). Cash fares on public transport are expensive but with an Oyster card Zone 1 (Central London) fares are £2. Boris Bikes, named in honour of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, are available to visitors (as long as they have a credit card). Docking stations are plentiful across the capital and renting a bike costs £1 for 24 hours. 

However, to really get the measure of London, start walking. From Buckingham Palace to Dalston, the Bank of England to Stratford it's the best way to explore the city.

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London insider information

  • Afternoon tea is a classic British tradition and there's no shortage of places to enjoy a cucumber sandwich and a slice of cake. Some of the most highly rated are: The Langham on Oxford Street, The Goring in Grosvenor Gardens, The Lanesborough in Knightsbridge, The Milestone Hotel in Kensington.
  • London is renowned for its High Street fashion. Top Shop at Oxford Circus is a magnet for the fashion conscious, Primark (Oxford Street) for those on a budget and Selfridges for investment dressing. Camden Market might be good for tie-dyed and slogan teeshirts but visit Covent Garden, Neal Street and Seven Dials for a bustling swirl of fashionable shops. Shoreditch and Brick Lane are great for vintage and quirky fashions.
  • The markets in London are amazing and hugely popular. Put aside your personal space for a couple of hours. Columbia Road Flower Market in East London is a riot of colour at the weekend. Borough Market in South London is a foodie's delight. It's home to some of the country's best food producers. Brick Lane is great for a rummage through the stalls and a freshly baked bagel (salt beef or smoked salmon and cream cheese) from the Beigel Bakery.
  • London is an expensive city it's true, but there are lots of free museums and galleries. The big hitters are the Imperial War Museum, Science Museum, V&A and National Portrait Gallery, but there are plenty of quirky - and free to enter - spaces to explore such as the Geffrye Museum (a series of rooms decorated in period style from 1600 to present - IKEA - day), the Bank of England Museum (not as dry as it sounds), Ragged School Museum (school - Victorian style) and Sir John Soane’s Museum (stuffed with curios).
  • When the sun goes down the hottest clubs are under ... railway arches and in car parks. Great Suffolk Street Warehouse near London Bridge attracts the ravers, out-of-towners, Techno and House crowd. Dalston Superstore in E8 brings in the hip and gay crowd. Corsica Studios in the railway arches of Elephant & Castle is a magnet for locals, art students and techno heads.

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London airports

There are several airports serving the capital, which makes finding cheap flights to London - whether direct or via another European airport - relatively easy:

London Heathrow (the international hub 24km west of Central London)

London Gatwick (in West Sussex, 46km south of Central London)

London Stansted (home to low-cost airlines Ryanair, easyJet and AirAsia X, 48km northeast of Central London)

London Luton (another base for low-cost airlines such as easyJet, Ryanair, Flybe and Monarch) is 56km north of Central London.

London City (preferred by business people, LCY is the most centrally located - just 10km from the City of London)

London Southend (transfer times to Central London from the Essex airport are about 50 minutes. Southend is served by easyJet and Irish regional carrier Aer Arann)

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Kara Segedin
Writer, traveller, Tweeter, blogger and part-time adventurer. A kiwi living in London off to explore the world! I can never travel enough!
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