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London Tourist Board

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Sightseeing bus tours are run by several rival companies, their open-top double-deckers setting off every thirty minutes from Victoria station, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, and other tourist spots. Tours take roughly ninety minutes (though you can hop on and off as often as you like) and cost around...

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Arrival

London's international airports are all less than an hour from the city centre, and the city's train and bus terminals are all pretty central, and have tube stations close at hand

Information

The
London Tourist Board (LTB; www.londontown.com) has a desk in the arrivals section of Heathrow Terminal 3 (daily 6am-11pm), and another in the Underground station concourse for Heathrow Terminals 1, 2 and 3 (daily 8am-6pm), but the main central office is in the forecourt of Victoria Station (Easter-April Mon-Sat 8am-7pm, Sun 8am-6pm; May Mon-Sat 8am-8pm, Sun 8am-6pm; June-Sept Mon-Sat 8am-10pm, Sun 8am-7pm; Oct-Easter daily 8am-7pm). Other centrally located offices can be found near Piccadilly Circus in the British Visitor Centre ( www.visitbritain.com), 1 Regent St (June-Oct Mon 9.30am-6.30pm, Tues-Fri 9am-6.30pm, Sat & Sun 9am-5pm; Nov-May same times except Sat & Sun 10am-4pm), in the arrivals hall of Waterloo International (daily 8.30am-10.30pm), and in Liverpool Street Underground station (Mon-Fri 8am-6pm, Sat & Sun 8.45am-5.30pm).

Individual boroughs also run tourist offices at various prime locations. The two most central ones are on the south side of St Paul's Cathedral (April-Sept daily 9.30am-5pm, Oct-March Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm, Sat 9.30am-12.30pm; tel 020/7332 1456; www.cityoflondon.gov.uk), and at the south end of London Bridge (Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 10.30am- 5.30pm; tel 020/7403 8299; www.southwark.gov.uk). The above offices will answer phone enquiries ; LTB can only offer Visitorcall (tel 0839/123456), a spread of pre-recorded phone announcements - these are a very poor service, and the calls are charged at an exorbitant rate.

Most of the above offices hand out a useful reference map of central London, plus plans of the public transport systems, but to find your way around every cranny of the city you need to invest in either an A-Z Atlas or a Nicholson Streetfinder, both of which have a street index covering every street in the capital; you can get them at most bookshops and newsagents for under ?5. The only comprehensive and critical weekly listings magazine is Time Out, which costs ?1.95 and comes out every Tuesday afternoon. In it you'll find details of all the latest exhibitions, shows, films, music, sport, guided walks and events in and around the capital.

Guided tours

Sightseeing
bus tours are run by several rival companies, their open-top double-deckers setting off every thirty minutes from Victoria station, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, and other tourist spots. Tours take roughly ninety minutes (though you can hop on and off as often as you like) and cost around ?12. Alternatively, you can hop aboard one of the bright yellow World War II amphibious vehicles used by Frog Tours (tel 20/7928 3132; www.frogtours.com) for a combined bus and boat tour . After fifty minutes driving round the usual sights, you plunge into the river and go on a half-hour cruise. Tours set off every half-hour from behind County Hall, from 10am to dusk, with tickets costing ?13. Another money-saving option is to skip the commentary by hopping on a real London bus - the #11 from Victoria will take you past Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, up Whitehall, round Trafalgar Square, along the Strand and on to St Paul's Cathedral.

Walking tours are infinitely more appealing, mixing solid historical facts with juicy anecdotes in the company of a local specialist. Walks on offer range from a literary pub crawl round Bloomsbury to a tour of places associated with the Beatles. Tours tend to cost ?4-5 and usually take two hours. To find out what's on offer for the week, check in the "Around Town" section of Time Out. The widest range of walks on offer are run by Original London (tel 020/7624 3978).

Books

Given the enormous number of books on London, our list is necessarily a very selective one. The recommendations we've made are in print and in paperback. Publishers are detailed with the British publisher first, separated by an oblique slash from the US publisher, in cases where both exist. Where books are published in only one of these countries, UK or US follows the publisher's name; where the book is published by the same company in both countries, the name of the company appears just once. UP designates University Press. If you want to find the cheapest copy to buy online, try
www.bookbrain.co.uk.

London by balloon

If the London Eye hasn't given you enough of a lift, you can go even higher, to over 500ft (weather permitting) in the
hot-air balloon situated behind Vauxhall tube station in Spring Gardens. Though the Skyview Balloon (daily 10am-dusk; ?9.95; www.skyviewballooning.com) is the largest tethered helium balloon in the world, it remains to be seen whether it can withstand the competition from the wheel.

Galleries

The vast
permanent collections of the National Gallery and the two Tates, the fascinating miscellanies of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the select holdings of such institutions as the Courtauld and the Wallace Collection make London one of the world's great repositories of Western art. However, the city is also a dynamic creative centre, with young British artists such as Rachel Whiteread, Sarah Lucas and Steve McQueen maintaining the momentum established by the likes of Hockney, Caro, Auerbach and Freud.

In the environs of Cork Street, behind the Royal Academy, you'll find various commercial galleries showing the best of what's being produced in the studios of Britain and further afield, while numerous other private showcases are scattered all over London, from the superb Saatchi Gallery in St John's Wood to the consistently challenging space run by Flowers East over in the East End.

London fails to compete with Berlin, Paris and New York in only one respect - it doesn't have a designated exhibition space good enough to handle the blockbuster shows. Nevertheless, at any time of the year, London's public galleries will be offering at least one absorbing exhibition, on anything from the art of the apocalypse to Soviet supremacists.

Annual fixtures include the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition , when hordes of amateur artists enter their efforts for sale, and November's controversial Turner Prize , devoted to new British work, which is preceded by a month-long display of work by the shortlisted artists at the Tate. More exciting than these, however, are the art school degree shows in late May and June, when the current crop of student talent puts its work on display. Pick up a copy of Time Out in mid-May for the times and locations of the student shows.

Shops and markets

Whether it's time or money you've got to burn, London is one big shopper's playground. And although chains and superstores predominate along the high streets, you're still never too far from the kind of oddball, one-off establishment that makes shopping an adventure rather than a chore. From the
folie de grandeur that is Harrods to the frantic street markets of the East End, there's nothing you can't find in some corner of the capital.

In the centre of town, Oxford Street is the city's most frantic chain store mecca, and together with Regent Street , which crosses it halfway, offers pretty much every mainstream clothing label you could wish for. Just off Oxford Street, high-end designer outlets line St. Christopher's Place and South Molton Street , and you'll find even pricier designers and jewellers along the very chic Bond Street .

Tottenham Court Road , which heads north from the east end of Oxford Street, is the place to go for electrical goods and furniture and design shops. Charing Cross Road , heading south, is the centre of London's book trade, both new and secondhand. At its north end, and particularly on Denmark Street , you can find music shops selling everything from instruments to sound equipment and sheet music. Soho offers an offbeat mix of sex boutiques, records and silks, while the streets surrounding Covent Garden yield art and design shops, mainstream fashion stores and designer wear.

Just off Piccadilly, St James's is the natural habitat of the quintessential English gentleman, with Jermyn Street in particular harbouring shops dedicated to his grooming. Knightsbridge , further west, is home to Harrods, and the big-name fashion stores of Sloane Street and Brompton Road .

Directory

AIDS HELPLINE tel 0800/567123.

AIRLINES Aer Lingus tel 0645/737747 ( www.aerlingus.ie); Aeroflot tel 020/7355 2233 ( www.aeroflot.co.uk); Air France tel 0845/084 5111 ( www.airfrance.com); Alitalia tel 0870/544 8259 ( www.alitalia.co.uk); American Airlines tel 08457/789789 ( www.aa.com); British Airways tel 08457/222111 ( www.britishairways.com); Buzz tel 0870/240 7070 ( www.buzzaway.com); Canadian Airlines tel 020/8577 7722 ( www.cdnair.ca); Delta tel 0800/414767 ( www.delta-air.com); EasyJet tel 0870/600 0000 ( www.easyjet.com); Go tel 0845/605 4321 ( www.go-fly.com); KLM tel 0870/575 0900 ( www.klm.com); Lufthansa tel 08457/737747 ( www.lufthansa.co.uk); Qantas 08457/747767 ( www.qantas.com); Ryanair tel 0541/569569 ( www.ryanair.com); United Airlines tel 0845/844 4777 ( www.ual.com); Virgin tel 01293/747747 ( www.fly.virgin.com). 

AIRPORT ENQUIRIES Gatwick tel 01293/535353 ( www.baa.co.uk); Heathrow tel 0870/000 0123 ( www.baa.co.uk); London City Airport tel 020/7646 0000 ( www.londoncityairport.com); Luton tel 01582/405100 ( www.london-luton.com); Stansted tel 01279/680500 ( www.baa.co.uk). 

AMERICAN EXPRESS 30-31 Haymarket, SW1 tel 020/7484 9600; www.americanexpress.com. Mon-Sat 9am-6.30pm, Sun 10am-5pm. Piccadilly Circus.

BANKS Opening hours for most banks are Mon-Fri 9.30am-4.30pm, with some staying open half an hour later, and some high street branches opening on Saturday mornings.

BIKE RENTAL Bikepark, 14 Stukeley St tel 020/7430 0083; www.bikepark.co.uk. Mon-Fri 8.30am-7pm, Sat 10am-6pm Covent Garden. There's also a branch at 151 Sydney St, SW3 (tel 020/7565 0777), which is open on Sundays.

CAR RENTAL Avis tel 0870/606 0100 ( www.avis.com); Global Leisure Cars tel 0870/241 1986 ( www.globalleisurecars.com); Hertz tel 0870/599 6699 ( www.hertz.com); Holiday Autos tel 0870/530 0400 ( www.holidayautos.com). 

CONSULATES AND EMBASSIES Australia, Australia House, Strand, WC2 tel 020/7379 4334 ( www.australia.org.uk); Canada, MacDonald House, 1 Grosvenor Square, W1 tel 020/7258 6600 ( www.canada.org.uk); Ireland, 17 Grosvenor Place, SW1 tel 020/7235 2171; New Zealand, New Zealand House, 80 Haymarket, SW1 tel 020/7930 8422 ( www.newzealandhc.org.uk); South Africa, South Africa House, Trafalgar Square, WC2 tel 020/7451 7299 ( www.southafricahouse.com); USA, 24 Grosvenor Square, W1 tel 020/7499 9000 ( www.usembassy.org.uk). 

CULTURAL INSTITUTES French Institute, 17 Queensberry Place, SW7 tel 020/7838 2144 ( www.institut.ambafrance.org.uk); Goethe Institute, Princes Gate, Exhibition Rd, SW7 tel 020/7596 4000 ( www.goethe.de/london); Italian Cultural Institute, 39 Belgrave Square, SW1 tel 020/7235 1461 ( www.italcultur.org.uk). 

DENTISTS Emergency treatment: Guy's Hospital, St Thomas St, SE1 tel 020/7955 4317 (Mon-Fri 8.45am-3.30pm).

ELECTRICITY Electricity supply in London conforms to the EU standard of approximately 230V.

EMERGENCIES For police, fire and ambulance services, call 999.

HOSPITAL For 24hr accident and emergency: Charing Cross Hospital, Fulham Palace Rd, W6 tel 020/8846 1234; Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, 369 Fulham Rd, SW10 tel 020/8746 8000; Royal Free Hospital, Pond St, NW3 tel 020/7794 0500; Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Rd, E1 tel 020/7377 7000; St Mary's Hospital, Praed St, W2 tel 020/7886 6666; University College Hospital, Grafton Way, WC1 tel 020/7387 9300; Whittington Hospital, Highgate Hill, N19 tel 020/7272 3070.

LAUNDRY There are self-service launderettes all over London. Duds'n'Suds is a good central outfit with TV, pool and pinball: 49-51 Brunswick Shopping Centre, WC1 tel 020/7837 1122 (Mon-Fri 8am-9pm, Sat & Sun 8am-8pm; Russell Square).

LEFT LUGGAGE AIRPORTS Gatwick: North Terminal tel 01293/502013 (daily 6am-10pm); South Terminal tel 01293/502014 (24hr). Heathrow: Terminal 1 tel 020/8745 5301 (daily 6am-11pm); Terminal 2 tel 020/8745 4599 (daily 6am-10.30pm); Terminal 3 tel 020/8759 3344 (daily 5.30am-10.30pm); Terminal 4 tel 020/8745 7460 (daily 5.30am-11pm). London City Airport tel 020/7646 0000 (daily 6.30am-10pm). Stansted Airport tel 01279/680500 (24hr). TRAIN STATIONS Charing Cross tel 020/7839 4282 (daily 7am-11pm); Euston tel 020/7320 0528 (Mon-Sat 6.45am-11.15pm, Sun 7.15am-11pm); Victoria tel 020/7928 5151 ext 27523 (daily 7am-10.15pm, plus lockers); Waterloo International tel 020/7928 5151 (Mon-Fri 4am-11pm, Sat & Sun 6am-11pm).

LOST PROPERTY AIRPORTS Gatwick tel 01293/503162 (daily 7.30am-5.30pm); Heathrow tel 020/8745 7727 (Mon-Fri 8am-5pm, Sat & Sun 8am-4pm); London City Airport tel 020/7646 0000 (Mon-Fri 6am-9.30pm, Sat 6am-1am, Sun 10.30am-9.30pm); Stansted tel 01279/680500 (daily 5.30am-11pm). BUSES tel 020/7222 1234. HEATHROW EXPRESS tel 020/8745 7727. TAXIS (black cabs only) tel 020/7833 0996. TRAIN STATIONS Euston tel 020/7922 6477 (Mon-Sat 6.45am-11pm, Sun 7.15am-11pm); King's Cross tel 020/7922 9081 (daily 8am-7.45pm); Liverpool Street tel 020/7928 9158 (Mon-Fri 7am-7pm, Sat & Sun 7am-2pm); Paddington tel 020/7313 1514 (Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm); Victoria tel 020/7922 9887 (Mon-Fri 7.30am-10pm); Waterloo tel 020/7401 7861 (Mon-Fri 7.30am-8pm). TUBE TRAINS London Regional Transport tel 020/7486 2496.

MOTORBIKE RENTAL Scootabout, 1-3 Leeke St, WC1 tel 020/7833 4607; www.hgbmotorcycles.co.uk. Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-1pm.

POLICE Central police stations include: Charing Cross, Agar St, WC2 tel 020/7240 1212; Holborn, 70 Theobalds Rd, WC1 tel 020/7404 1212; King's Cross, 76 King's Cross Rd, WC1 tel 020/7704 1212; Tottenham Court Road, 56 Tottenham Court Rd, W1 tel 020/7637 1212; West End Central, 10 Vine St, W1 tel 020/7437 1212. City of London Police, Bishopsgate, EC2 tel 020/7601 2222.

POSTAL SERVICES The only late-opening post office is the Trafalgar Square branch at 24-28 William IV St, WC2 4DL tel 020/7484 9304 (Mon-Fri 8am-8pm, Sat 9am-8pm); it's also the city's poste restante collection point. For general postal enquiries phone 08457/740740, or visit the Web site: www.royalmail.co.uk 

POLICE HOLIDAYS January 1, Good Friday, Easter Monday, First Monday in May, Last Monday in May, Last Monday in August, December 25, December 26; if January 1, December 25 or 26 fall on a Saturday or Sunday, the holiday falls on the following weekday.

TELEPHONES A variety of companies have public payphones on the street, the largest one being British Telecom (BT). Most phones take all coins from 10p upwards, though some only take phonecards, available from post offices and newsagents, and/or credit cards. International calls can be made from any phonebox, by dialling 00, then the country code; to reach the operator, phone 100, or for the international operator phone 155. London phone codes changed in 2000, and all London numbers are now prefixed by the new area code 020. The old 0171 numbers are now prefixed with a 7, while 0181 numbers have an 8 in front of them.

TIME Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is used from October to March; for the rest of the year the country switches to British Summer Time (BST), one hour ahead of GMT.

TRAIN ENQUIRIES For national train enquiries, call 08457/484950.

TRAVEL AGENTS Campus Travel, 52 Grosvenor Gardens, SW1 tel 0870/240 1010 ( www.usitcampus.co.uk); Council Travel, 28a Poland St, W1 tel 020/7437 7767 ( www.destination-group.com); STA Travel, 86 Old Brompton Rd, SW7 tel 020/7361 6161 ( www.statravel.co.uk); Trailfinders, 42-50 Earl's Court Rd, SW5 tel 020/7938 3366 ( www.trailfinders.co.uk).

Sports

As a quick glance at the national press will tell you,
sport in Britain is a serious matter, with each international defeat being taken as an index of the country's slide down the scale of world powers. Many of the crucial domestic and international fixtures of the football , rugby and cricket seasons take place in the capital, and London also hosts one of the world's greatest tennis tournaments, the Wimbledon championships.

For up-to-the-minute details of sporting events in London, check the Evening Standard or Time Out, or ring the London Sportsline on 020/7222 8000.

Festivals and special events

This is simply a rundown of the principal
festivals and annual events in the capital, ranging from the upper-caste rituals of Royal Ascot to the sassy street party of the Notting Hill Carnival, plus a few oddities like Horseman's Sunday. Our listings cover a pretty wide spread of interests, but they are by no means exhaustive; London has an almost endless roll-call of ceremonials and special shows, and for daily information, as always, it's well worth checking Time Out or the Evening Standard. 

JANUARY 1 

London Parade To kick off the new year, a procession of floats, marching bands, clowns, American cheerleaders and classic cars wends its way from Parliament Square at noon, through the centre of London, to Berkeley Square, collecting money for charity from around one million spectators en route. Information tel 020/8566 8586; www.london parade.co.uk. Admission charge for grandstand seats in Piccadilly, otherwise free.

LATE JANUARY 

London International Mime Festival Annual mime festival which takes place in the last two weeks of January on the South Bank, and in other funky venues throughout London. It pulls in some very big names in mime, animation and puppetry. Information tel 020/7637 5661; www.mimefest.co.uk. 

LATE JANUARY/EARLY FEBRUARY 

Chinese New Year Celebrations The streets of Soho's Chinatown explode in a riot of dancing dragons and firecrackers on the night of this vibrant annual celebration, and the streets and restaurants are packed to capacity.

MARCH 

Head of the River Race Less well known than the Oxford and Cambridge race, but much more fun; there are over 400 crews setting off at ten-second intervals and chasing each other from Mortlake to Putney. Information tel 01932/220401; www.horr.co.uk. 

LATE MARCH/EARLY APRIL 

Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race Since 1845, the rowing teams of Oxford and Cambridge universities have battled it out on a four-mile, upstream course on the Thames from Putney to Mortlake. It's as much a social as sporting event, and the pubs at prime vantage points pack out early. Alternatively you can catch it on TV. Best source of information is the current sponsor's Web site: www.aberdeen-asset.com. 

THIRD SUNDAY IN APRIL 

London Marathon The world's most popular city marathon, with some 35,000 runners sweating the 26.2 miles from Greenwich Park to Westminster Bridge. Only a handful of world-class athletes enter each year; most of the competitors are club runners or obsessive flab-fighters. There's always someone dressed up as a gorilla, and you can generally spot a fundraising celebrity or two. Information tel 020/7620 4117; www.london-marathon.co.uk. 

MAY BANK HOLIDAY WEEKEND 

IWA Canal Cavalcade Lively celebration of the city's inland waterways held at Little Venice (near Warwick Avenue), with scores of decorated narrowboats, Morris dancers and lots of children's activities. Information tel 020/8874 2787.

SUNDAY NEAREST TO MAY 9 

May Fayre and Puppet Festival The garden of St Paul's church in Covent Garden is taken over by puppet booths to commemorate the first recorded sighting of a Punch and Judy show, by diarist Samuel Pepys in 1662. Information tel 020/7375 0441.

MID-MAY 

FA Cup Final This is the culmination of the football (soccer) year: the premier domestic knock-out competition, played to a packed house at Wembley Stadium. Tickets are pretty much impossible to obtain if you're not an affiliated supporter of one of the two competing clubs, though they are often available at inflated prices on the black market. The game is also shown live on television. Information tel 020/8902 0902.

THIRD OR FOURTH WEEK IN MAY 

Chelsea Flower Show Run by the Royal Horticultural Society, the world's finest horticultural event transforms the normally tranquil grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea for four days, with a daily inundation of up to 50,000 gardening gurus and amateurs (the general public are allowed in on the last two days only). It's a solidly bourgeois event, with the public admitted only for the closing stages, and charging an exorbitant fee for the privilege. Information tel 020/7834 4333; www.rhs.org.uk. 

MAY 29 

Oak Apple Day The Chelsea Pensioners of the Royal Hospital honour their founder, Charles II, by wearing their posh uniforms and decorating his statue with oak leaves, in memory of the oak tree in which the king hid after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Information tel 020/7730 5282.

LATE MAY/EARLY JUNE 

Beating of the Retreat This annual display takes place on Horse Guards' Parade over three evenings, and marks the old military custom of drumming the troops back to base at dusk. Soldiers on foot and horseback provide a colourful, very British ceremony which precedes a floodlit performance by the Massed Bands of the Queen's Household Cavalry. Information tel 020/7739 5323.

FIRST OR SECOND SATURDAY IN JUNE 

Derby Day Run at the Epsom racecourse in Surrey, the Derby is the country's premier flat race - the beast that gets its snout over the line first is instantly worth millions. Admission prices reflect proximity to the horses and to the watching nobility. The race is always shown live on TV. Information tel 01372/726311; www.epsomderby.co.uk. 

EARLY JUNE TO MID-AUGUST 

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition Thousands of prints, paintings, sculptures and sketches, most by amateurs and nearly all of them for sale, are displayed at one of the city's finest galleries. Information tel 020/7300 8000; www.royalacademy.org.uk. 

JUNE 

Fleadh Pronounced "flaa", this is a raucous (by no means exclusively) Irish music festival in Finsbury Park, North London. Van Morrison has pitched up here on more than a few occasions, but then so too have Bob Dylan and the briefly reformed Sex Pistols. Information tel 020/8963 0940; www.meanfiddler.com. 

JUNE 

Spitalfields Festival Classical music recitals in Hawksmoor's Christ Church, the parish church of Spitalfields, and other events in and around the old Spitalfields Market for a fortnight or so in June. Information tel 020/7377 0287; www.spitalfieldsfestival.org.uk. 

SECOND SATURDAY IN JUNE 

Trooping of the Colour This celebration of the Queen's official birthday (her real one is on April 21) features massed bands, gun salutes, fly-pasts and crowds of tourists and patriotic Britons paying homage. Tickets for the ceremony itself (limited to two per person) must be applied for well in advance; phone 020/7414 2479. Otherwise, the royal procession along the Mall lets you glimpse the nobility for free, and there are rehearsals (minus Her Majesty) on the two preceding Saturdays.

MID-JUNE 

Royal Ascot A highlight of the society year, held at the Ascot racecourse in Berkshire, this high-profile meeting has the Queen and sundry royals completing a crowd-pleasing lap of the track in open carriages prior to the opening races. The event is otherwise famed for its fashion statements, and there's TV coverage of both the races and the more extravagant headgear of the female racegoers. Information tel 01344/622211; www.ascot.co.uk. 

LAST WEEK OF JUNE AND FIRST WEEK OF JULY 

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships This Grand Slam tournament attracts the cream of the world's professionals and is one of the highlights of the sporting and social calendar. Tickets are hard to get hold of, but as they are valid for the whole day you could always hang around outside in the hope of gleaning an early leaver's cast-off. Don't buy from touts, even if you can afford to, as the tickets may well be fakes. Information tel 020/8946 2244; www.wimbledon.org. 

LATE JUNE TO MID-JULY 

City of London Festival For nearly a month, churches (including St Paul's Cathedral), livery halls and corporate buildings around the City play host to classical and jazz musicians, theatre companies and other guest performers. Information tel 020/7377 0540; www.colf.org. 

MID-JULY 

Greenwich & Docklands Festival Ten-day festival of fireworks, music, dance, theatre, art and spectacles at venues on both sides of the river, plus a village fayre in neighbouring Blackheath. Information tel 020/8305 1818; www.festival.org. 

MID-JULY TO MID-SEPTEMBER 

BBC Henry Wood Promenade Concerts Commonly known as the Proms, this series of nightly classical concerts at the Royal Albert Hall is a well-loved British institution. Information tel 020/7765 5575; www.bbc.co.uk/proms. 

MID-JULY 

Doggett's Coat and Badge Race The world's oldest rowing race, from London Bridge to Chelsea, established by Thomas Doggett, an eighteenth-century Irish comedian, to commemorate George I's accession to the throne. The winner receives a Hanoverian costume and silver badge. Information tel 020/7626 3531.

MID-JULY 

Mardi Gras Gay and lesbian march through the city followed by a huge (ticketed) party in the park.

THIRD WEEK OF JULY 

Swan Upping Five-day scramble up the Thames, from Sunbury to Pangbourne, during which liveried rowers search for swans, marking them (on the bill) as belonging to either the Queen, the Dyers' or the Vintners' City liveries. At Windsor, all the oarsmen stand to attention in their boats and salute the Queen. Information tel 020/7236 1863.

MID-AUGUST 

Summer Rites Relaxed annual gay and lesbian festival.

LAST BANK HOLIDAY WEEKEND IN AUGUST 

Notting Hill Carnival The two-day free festival in Notting Hill Gate is the longest-running, best-known and biggest street party in Europe. Dating back 35 years, Carnival is a tumult of imaginatively decorated floats, eye-catching costumes, thumping sound systems, live bands, irresistible food and huge crowds. Information tel 020/8964 0544; www.nottinghillcarnival.net.uk. 

SATURDAY IN EARLY SEPTEMBER 

Great River Race Hundreds of boats are rowed or paddled from Ham House, Richmond, down to Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs. Starts are staggered and there are any number of weird and wonderful vessels taking part. Information tel 020/8398 9057.

THIRD SUNDAY IN SEPTEMBER 

Horseman's Sunday In an eccentric 11.30am ceremony at the Hyde Park church of St John & St Michael, a vicar on horseback blesses a hundred or so horses; the newly consecrated beasts then parade around the neighbourhood before galloping off through the park, and later taking part in show jumping. Information tel 020/7262 1732.

THIRD WEEKEND IN SEPTEMBER 

Open House A once-a-year opportunity to peek inside over 400 buildings around London, many of which don't normally open their doors to the public. You'll need to book in advance for some of the more popular places. Information tel 0891/600061; www.londonopenhouse.org. 

LATE SEPTEMBER/EARLY OCTOBER 

Soho Jazz Festival Headed by Ronnie Scott's, this is a week-long celebration of one of Soho's most famous attributes - its jazz culture. Information tel 020/7437 6437.

FIRST SUNDAY IN OCTOBER 

Costermongers' Pearly Harvest Festival Service Cockney fruit and vegetable festival at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. Of most interest to the onlooker are the Pearly Kings and Queens who gather at around 3pm in their traditional pearl-button studded outfits. Information tel 020/7930 0089.

LATE OCTOBER/EARLY NOVEMBER 

State Opening of Parliament The Queen arrives by coach at the Houses of Parliament at 11am accompanied by the Household Cavalry and gun salutes. The ceremony itself takes place inside the House of Lords and is televised; it also takes place whenever a new government is sworn in. Information tel 020/7219 3000; www.parliament.uk. 

NOVEMBER 

London Film Festival A three-week cinematic season with scores of new international films screened at the National Film Theatre and some West End venues. Information tel 020/7928 3232; www.bfi.org.uk or (nearer the time) www.lff.org.uk. 

EARLY NOVEMBER 

London Jazz Festival Big ten-day jazz fest held in all London's jazz venues, large and small. Information tel 020/7405 5974.

FIRST SUNDAY IN NOVEMBER 

London to Brighton Veteran Car Run In 1896 Parliament abolished the Act that required all cars to crawl along at 2mph behind someone waving a red flag. Such was the euphoria in the motoring community that a rally was promptly set up to mark the occasion, and a century later it's still going strong. Classic cars built before 1905 set off from Hyde Park at 7.30am and travel the 58 miles to Brighton along the A23 at the heady maximum speed of 20mph. Information tel 01753/681736.

NOVEMBER 5 

Bonfire Night In memory of Guy Fawkes - executed for his role in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up King James I and the Houses of Parliament - effigies of the hapless Mr Fawkes are burned on bonfires all over Britain. There are also council-run fires and fireworks displays right across the capital; Parliament Hill in Hampstead provides a good vantage point from which to take in several displays at once. Information tel 020/7971 0026.

SECOND SATURDAY IN NOVEMBER 

Lord Mayor's Show The newly appointed Lord Mayor begins his or her day of investiture at Westminster, leaving there at around 9am for Guildhall. At 11.10am, the vast ceremonial procession, headed by the 1756 State Coach, begins its journey from Guildhall to the Law Courts in the Strand, where the oath of office is taken at 11.50am. From there the coach and its train of 140-odd floats make their way back towards Guildhall, arriving at 2.20pm. Later in the day there's a fireworks display from a barge tethered between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges, and a small funfair on Paternoster Square, by St Paul's Cathedral. Information tel 020/7606 3030; www.corpoflondon.gov.uk. 

NEAREST SUNDAY TO NOVEMBER 11 

Remembrance Sunday A day of nationwide commemorative ceremonies for the dead and wounded of the two world wars and other conflicts. The principal ceremony, attended by the Queen, various other royals and the Prime Minister, takes place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, beginning with a march-past of veterans and building to a one-minute silence at the stroke of 11am.

CHRISTMAS 

Each year since the end of World War II, Norway has acknowledged its gratitude to the country that helped liberate it from the Nazis with the gift of a mighty spruce tree that appears in Trafalgar Square in early December. Decorated with lights, it becomes the focus for carol singing versus traffic noise each evening until Christmas Eve.

NEW YEAR'S EVE 

The New Year is welcomed en masse in Trafalgar Square as thousands of inebriated revellers stagger about and slur to Auld Lang Syne at midnight. For the millennium, there was a big firework display along the Thames, and it remains to be seen whether the show will be repeated or if the crowds will once more return to their traditional haunt. Whatever happens, London Transport runs free public transport all night, sponsored by various public-spirited breweries

History, society and politics

Angus Calder , The Myth of the Blitz (Pimlico, UK). A timely antidote to the backs-against-the-wall, "London can take it" tone of most books on this period. Calder dwells instead on the capital's internees - Communists, conscientious objectors and "enemy aliens" - and the myth-making processes of the media of the day.

Roy Porter , London: A Social History (Penguin/Harvard UP). This immensely readable history is one of the best books on London published since the war. It's particularly strong on the continuing saga of London's local government, and includes an impassioned critique of the damage done by Mrs Thatcher's administration.

Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert , The London Encyclopaedia (Papermac/St Martin's Press). More than 1000 pages of concisely presented information on London past and present, accompanied by the odd illustration. The most fascinating book on the capital.

Art, architecture and archeology

Felix Barker and Ralph Hyde , London As It Might Have Been (John Murray). A richly illustrated book on the weird and wonderful plans that never quite made it from the drawing board.

Samantha Hardingham , London: A Guide to Recent Architecture (Ellipsis/ Knickerbocker Press). Wonderful pocket guide to the architecture of the last ten years or so, with a knowledgeable, critical text and plenty of black-and-white photos.

Niklaus Pevsner and others , The Buildings of England (Penguin). Magisterial series, started by Pevsner to which others have added, inserting newer buildings but generally respecting the founder's personal tone. The latest of the London volumes (there are now five in the series) is a paperback edition devoted to London Docklands.

Richard Trench and Ellis Hillman , London under London (John Murray). Fascinating book revealing the secrets of every aspect of the capital's subterranean history, from the lost rivers of the underground to the gas and water systems.

London in fiction

Peter Ackroyd , English Music (Penguin, UK); Hawksmoor (Penguin, UK); The House of Doctor Dee (Penguin, UK); The Great Fire of London (Penguin, UK); Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (Minerva, UK). Ackroyd's novels are all based on arcane aspects of London, wrapped into thriller-like narratives, and conjuring up kaleidoscopic visions of various ages of English culture. Hawskmoor, about the great church architect, is the most popular and enjoyable.

Martin Amis , London Fields (Vintage/Random House). "Ferociously witty, scabrously scatological and balefully satirical", it says on the back cover, though many regard Amis Jnr's observation of lowlife London as pretentious drivel, written by a man who lives in comfortable Notting Hill.

Anthony Burgess , A Dead Man in Deptford (Vintage, UK). Playwright Christopher Marlowe's unexplained murder in a tavern in Deptford provides the background for this historical novel, which brims over with Elizabethan life.

Angela Carter , The Magic Toyshop (Virago, UK). Carter's most celebrated novel, about a provincial woman moving to London.

G.K. Chesterton , The Napoleon of Notting Hill (Wordsworth). Written in 1904 but set eighty years in the future, in a London divided into squabbling independent boroughs - something prophetic there - and ruled by royalty selected on a rotational basis.

Liza Cody , Bucket Nut; Monkey Wrench; Musclebound (all Bloomsbury, UK). Feisty, would-be female wrestler of uncertain sexuality, with a big mouth, in thrillers set in lowlife London.

Joseph Conrad , The Secret Agent (Penguin). Conrad's wonderful spy story based on the botched anarchist bombing of Greenwich Observatory in 1894, exposing the hypocrisies of both the police and the anarchists.

Charles Dickens , Bleak House; A Christmas Tale; Little Dorritt; Oliver Twist (all Penguin). The descriptions in Dickens' London-based novels have become the cliches of the Victorian city: the fog, the slums and the stinking river. Little Dorritt is set mostly in the Borough and contains some of his most trenchant pieces of social analysis; much of Bleak House is set around the Inns of Court that Dickens knew so well.

Arthur Conan Doyle , The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Penguin). Deer-stalkered sleuth Sherlock Holmes and dependable sidekick Dr Watson penetrate all levels of Victorian London, from Limehouse opium dens to millionaires' pads. A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four are set entirely in the capital.

Graham Greene , The Human Factor; It's a Battlefield; The Ministry of Fear; The End of the Affair (all Penguin). Greene's London novels are all fairly bleak, ranging from The Human Factor, which probes the underworld of the city's spies, to The Ministry of Fear, which is set during the Blitz.

Nick Hornby , High Fidelity (Indigo/Riverhead). Hornby's extraordinarily successful second book focuses on the loves and life of a thirty-something bloke who lives near the Arsenal … rather like Hornby himself.

Hanif Kureishi , The Buddha of Suburbia; The Black Album; Love in a Blue Time (all Faber & Faber). The Buddha of Suburbia is a raunchy account of life as an Anglo-Asian in late 1960s suburbia, and the art scene of the 70s. The Black Album is a thriller set in London in 1989, while Love in a Blue Time is a set of short stories set in 1990s London.

Jack London , The People of the Abyss (Pluto Press). London's classic London novel.

Timothy Mo , Sour Sweet (Vintage). Very funny and very sad story of a newly arrived Chinese family struggling to understand the English way of life in the Sixties, written with great insight by Mo, who is himself of mixed parentage.

Iris Murdoch , Under the Net; The Black Prince; An Accidental Man; Bruno's Dream; The Green Knight (all Penguin). Under the Net was Murdoch's first, funniest, and arguably her best novel, centred on a hack writer living in London. Many of her subsequent novels are set in various parts of middle-class London and span several decades of the second half of the twentieth century. The Green Knight, her last novel, is a strange fable mixing medieval and modern London, with lashings of the Bible and attempted fratricide.

George Orwell , Keep the Aspidistra Flying (Penguin). Orwell's 1930s critique of Mammon is equally critical of its chief protagonist, whose attempt to rebel against the system only condemns him to poverty, working in a London bookshop and freezing his evenings away in a miserable rented room.

Edward Rutherford , London (Arrow/Fawcett). A big, big novel which stretches from Roman times to the present and deals with the most dramatic moments of London's history. Masses of historical detail woven in with the story of several families.

Iain Sinclair , White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings (Granta, UK); Downriver (Vintage, UK); Radon Daughters (Granta, UK). Sinclair's idiosyncratic and richly textured novels are a strange mix of Hogarthian caricature, New Age mysticism and conspiracy-theory rant. Deeply offensive and highly recommended.

P.G. Wodehouse , Jeeves Omnibus (Hutchinson, UK). Bertie Wooster and his stalwart butler, Jeeves, were based in Mayfair, and many of their exploits take place with London showgirls, and in the Drones gentlemen's club.

Virginia Woolf , Mrs Dalloway (Penguin). Woolf's novel relates the thoughts of a London society hostess and a shell-shocked war veteran, with her "stream of consciousness" style in full flow.

Permanent collections

Below is a list of London's principal permanent art collections, with a brief summary of their strengths.

British Museum 

Great Russell St, WC1 tel 020/7636 1555; www.british-museum.ac.uk. Tube: Russell Square or Tottenham Court Road. 

The BM owns a stupendous collection of drawings and prints, a small sample of which is always on show in room 90; it also stages excellent one-off exhibitions, sometimes with free entry.

Courtauld Institute 

Somerset House, Strand, WC2 tel 020/7848 2526; www.courtauld.ac.uk. Tube: Covent Garden or Temple (Mon-Sat only). 

Excellent collection of Impressionists and post-Impressionists, with several masterpieces by Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

Dulwich Picture Gallery 

College Rd, SE21 tel 020/8693 5254; www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. West Dulwich train station from Victoria. 

London's oldest public art gallery has recently been refurbished, and houses a small but high-quality selection of work ranging from Poussin and Gainsborough to Rembrandt.

Estorick Collection 

39a Canonbury Square, N1 tel 020/7704 9522; www.estorickcollection.com. Tube: Highbury & Islington. 

Georgian mansion with a small but interesting collection of twentieth-century Italian art, including Modigliani, di Chirico and the Futurists.

Guildhall Art Gallery 

Gresham St, EC2. tel 020/7332 1632; www.cityoflondon.gov.uk. Tube: Bank or St Paul's. 

New purpose-built gallery housing the Corporation of London's collection, which contains one or two exceptional Pre-Raphaelite works by the likes of Rossetti and Holman Hunt.

Iveagh Bequest 

Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, NW3 tel 020/8348 1286. Bus #210 from Archway Tube:, or walk from Hampstead or Archway tube station. 

Stately home overlooking Hampstead Heath, that's best known for its pictures by Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Reynolds and Vermeer. Free entry.

Leighton House 

12 Holland Park Rd, W14 tel 020/7602 3316. Tube: High Street Kensington. 

The house itself is a work of art, but it also contains several works by Lord Leighton himself and his Pre-Raphaelite chums.

Lothbury 

41 Lothbury, EC2 tel 020/7762 1642. Bank. 

Changing exhibitions from NatWest bank's vast art collection, which is especially strong on twentieth-century British art. Free entry.

National Gallery 

Trafalgar Square, WC2 tel 020/7306 0055; www.nationalgallery.org.uk. Tube: Charing Cross or Leicester Square. 

The country's premier collection; it's difficult to think of a major artist born between 1300 and 1850 whose work isn't on show here.

National Portrait Gallery 

2 St Martin's Place, WC2 tel 020/7306 0055; www.npg.org.uk. Tube: Leicester Square or Charing Cross. 

Interesting faces, but only a few works of art of a quality to match those on display in the neighbouring National Gallery, despite the NPGs snazzy redevelopment.

Tate Britain 

Millbank, SW1 tel 020/7887 8000; www.tate.org.uk. Tube: Pimlico. 

The old Tate is now devoted to British art from the sixteenth century onwards (the British tag is fairly loosely applied), with several galleries permanently given over to Turner.

Tate Modern 

Bankside, SE1 tel 020/7887 8000; www.tate.org.uk. Tube: Southwark. 

Housed in a spectacularly converted power station on the South Bank, the new Tate is the largest modern-art gallery in the world, and displays the cream of the international modern art collection.

Victoria and Albert Museum 

Cromwell Rd, SW7 tel 020/7942 2000; www.vam.ac.uk. Tube: South Kensington. 

The city's principal applied arts museum boasts a scattering of European painting and sculpture, a fine collection of English statuary, two remarkable rooms of casts, Raphael's famous tapestry cartoons, works by Constable, Turner and Rodin, and a photography gallery.

Wallace Collection 

Hertford House, Manchester Square, W1 tel 020/7935 0687; www.wallace-collection.org.uk. Tube: Bond Street. 

A country mansion just off Oxford Street, with a small, eclectic collection, including fine paintings by Rembrandt, Velazquez, Hals, Gainsborough and Delacroix.

William Morris Gallery 

Forest Rd, E17 tel 020/8527 3782; www.lbwf.gov.uk/wmg. Tube: Walthamstow Central. 

Covers every aspect of Morris & Co's work, and there's a small gallery of Pre-Raphaelite work by Morris and his colleagues' upstairs

Major galleries and exhibition spaces

Expect to pay around ?7 for entry to one of the big exhibitions at the Barbican or Hayward. Similar prices are charged for special shows at the National Gallery, the Tates and V&A and at the Royal Academy. Students, senior citizens and the unemployed are eligible for concessionary rates. Hours vary so it's always best to check
Time Out or ring the gallery before setting off.

Barbican Art Gallery 

Barbican Centre, Silk St, EC2 tel 020/7638 8891; www.barbican.org.uk. Tube: Barbican or Moorgate. 

The Barbican's two-floor gallery is badly designed, but its thematic exhibitions - ranging from African bush art to the latest photography - are often well worth the entrance fee.

Hayward Gallery 

South Bank Centre, Belvedere Rd, SE1 tel 020/7960 5226; www.hayward-gallery.org.uk. Tube: Waterloo. 

Part of the huge South Bank arts complex, the Hayward is one of London's most prestigious venues for major touring exhibitions, with the bias towards twentieth-century work.

ICA Gallery 

Nash House, The Mall, SW1 tel 020/7930 3647; www.ica.org.uk. Tube: Piccadilly Circus or Charing Cross. 

The Institute of Contemporary Arts has two gallery spaces, in which it displays works that are invariably characterized as "challenging" or "provocative" - occasionally, they are. To visit, you must be a member of the ICA; a day's membership costs ?1.50 (Mon-Fri) or ?2.50 (Sat & Sun).

Royal Academy of Arts 

Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1 tel 020/7300 8000; www.royalacademy.org.uk. Tube: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. 

The Royal Academy is best known for its one-off exhibitions - its recent Monet extravaganza was the most popular art exhibition of all time. From early June to mid-August, the RA also stages its Summer Exhibition, when the public can submit work to be displayed (and sold) alongside the work of Academicians. Tasteful landscapes, interiors and nudes tend to predominate, but there's the odd splash of experimentation. For the most popular shows here, you're best advised to pre-book a ticket.

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) 

66 Portland Place, W1 tel 020/7307 3770; www.riba.net. Tube: Oxford Circus. 

Regular architectural exhibitions by the leading lights, housed in a beautiful 1930s building, with an excellent cafe.

Saatchi 

98a Boundary Rd, NW8 tel 020/7624 8299. Tube: Swiss Cottage. 

First-rate exhibition space owned by Charles Saatchi, the Mr Big of Britain's art world who made his money in advertising. Shows change twice-yearly, and a couple of Saatchi's youngsters usually hit the headlines straight after the opening.

Serpentine Gallery 

Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, W2 tel 020/7402 6075; www.serpentinegallery.org. Tube: Lancaster Gate. 

This fine gallery displays dynamic work by new and established modern artists, as well as hosting interesting Sunday afternoon lectures, and a performance-art festival in the summer. It's free, too.

Whitechapel Gallery 

Whitechapel High St, E1 tel 020/7522 7888. Tube: Aldgate East. 

The Whitechapel is a consistently excellent champion of contemporary art, housing major shows by living or not-long-dead artists. It's also the focal point of the Whitechapel Open, a biennial summer survey (the next one is in 2002) of the work of artists living in the vicinity of the gallery; the show spreads into several local studios too

Commercial galleries

The galleries listed below are at the hub of London's modern-art market. Most are open Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm, plus a few hours on Saturday morning, and many are closed throughout August, but you'd be best advised to ring to check the latest hours, as rehangings or private viewings often interrupt the normal pattern of business. Some of these places can seem as intimidating as designer clothes shops, but all at least are free.

Annely Juda 

23 Dering St, W1 tel 020/7629 7578; www.annelyjudafineart.co.uk. Tube: Oxford Circus or Bond Street. 

One of the city's best modernist galleries; specializing in early twentieth-century avant-garde works, but equally strong on contemporary painting and sculpture.

Anthony d'Offay 

Dering St and Haunch of Venison Yard, W1 tel 020/7499 4100; www.doffay.com. Tube: Oxford Circus or Bond Street. 

Several galleries on Dering Street, and a new one round the corner in the delightfully named Haunch of Venison Yard, all run by one of the real powerbrokers in the world of art politics. Works exhibited here range from recently dead greats of Pop Art, to pieces by leading contemporary artists such as Rachel Whiteread.

Entwistle 

6 Cork St, W1 tel 020/7734 6440. Tube: Green Park. 

Box-like space often featuring small shows by major figures in the contemporary British and American art scenes.

Flowers East 

199-205 and 282 Richmond Rd, E8 tel 020/8985 3333; www.flowerseast.com. London Fields train station, from Liverpool Street. 

This outstanding, ever-expanding East End gallery complex shows a huge variety of work, generally by young British artists.

Helly Nahmad 

2 Cork St, W1 tel 020/7494 3200. Tube: Green Park. 

A gallery where you're guaranteed a glimpse at some very expensive works by very famous artists, from Monet to Picasso.

Lisson 

52-54 Bell St, NW1 tel 020/7724 2739; www.lisson.co.uk. Tube: Edgware Road. 

An extremely important gallery whose regularly exhibited sculptors - among them Anish Kapoor and Richard Deacon - are hugely respected on the international circuit.

Marlborough Fine Art 

6 Albemarle St, W1 tel 020/7629 5161; www.marlboroughfineart.com. Tube: Green Park. 

This is where you'll find the latest work of many of Britain's most celebrated artists, many in one-person shows. Essential viewing for anyone interested in modern British art.

Waddington's 

11, 12 and 34 Cork St, W1 tel 020/7437 8611; www.waddington-galleries.com. Tube: Green Park. 

No. 11 is the largest of three Cork Street premises owned by Leslie Waddington, and tends to concentrate on the established greats of the twentieth century. At the others you'll find newer international stars and younger upcoming artists.

White Cube 

44 Duke St, W1 tel 020/7930 5373; www.whitecube.com. Tube: Green Park. 

Open Friday and Saturday only, this is a gallery that likes to grab the headlines, with the latest YBAs (Young British Artists). Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and various other Turner Prize artists display here

Department stores

Fortnum & Mason 

181 Piccadilly, W1 tel 020/7734 8040. Tube: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. 

Beautiful and eccentric store featuring heavenly ceiling murals, gilded cherubs, chandeliers and fountains as a backdrop to its perfectly English offerings. Justly famed for its fabulous, gorgeously presented and pricey food, plus upmarket clothes, furniture and stationery.

Harrods 

Knightsbridge, SW1 tel 020/7730 1234; www.harrods.com. Tube: Knightsbridge. 

Put an afternoon aside to visit this enduring landmark of quirks and pretensions, most notable for its fantastic Art Nouveau tiled food hall, obscenely huge toy department, and supremely tasteless memorial to Diana and Dodi in the basement. Wear jeans and you may fail the rigorous dress code for entry.

Harvey Nichols 

109-125 Knightsbridge, SW1 tel 020/7235 5000. Tube: Knightsbridge. 

All the latest designer collections on the scarily fashionable first floor, where the shop assistants look better dressed than most of the customers. The cosmetics department is equally essential, while the food hall offers famously frivolous and pricey luxuries.

John Lewis 

278-306 Oxford St, W1 020/7629 7711; www.johnlewis.com. Tube: Oxford Circus. 

Famous for being "never knowingly undersold", this reliable institution can't be beaten for basics, from buttons to stockings to rugs, along with reasonably priced and well-made clothes, furniture and household goods. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly, too.

Liberty 

210-220 Regent St, W1 tel 020/7734 1234; www.liberty-of-london.com. Tube: Oxford Circus. 

This fabulous and rather regal emporium of luxury is most famous for its fabrics and accessories, but is also building an excellent reputation for both mainstream and new fashion. The perfume, cosmetics and household departments are good, too.

Marks & Spencer 

458 Oxford St, W1 tel 020/7935 7954. Tube: Marble Arch. 

The flagship store of this British institution offers a huge range of well-made own-brand clothes (the lingerie selection is fancier than in local branches), food, homeware and furnishings.

Selfridges 

400 Oxford St, W1 tel 020/7629 1234. Tube: Bond Street. 

This huge, airy mecca of clothes, food and furnishings was London's first great department store, and remains one of its best, with a fashionable menswear department and a solid womenswear floor; the food hall is impressive, too

Street and clubwear

AdHoc/Boy 

10-11 Moor St, W1 tel 020/7287 0911. Tube: Leicester Square. 

Party gear for exhibitionists: plenty of PVC, lycra, feathers and spangles, with fairy wings and magic wands to match your outfit, and a body-piercing studio downstairs.

Burro 

19a Floral St, WC2 tel 020/7240 5120. Tube: Covent Garden. 

Funky but with an air of studied nonchalance, this is for boys who want to look cool without looking like they want to look cool.

Cyberdog 

9 Earlham St, WC2 tel 020/7836 7855. Tube: Covent Garden. 

Club ambience for club gear, with a UV light showing off the goods to good effect: funky T-shirts, combat ski pants, and glowing accessories to show you the way home.

Diesel 

43 Earlham St, WC2 tel 020/7497 5543; www.diesel.com. Tube: Covent Garden. 

Still cool despite the hype, this industrial-looking store for label-conscious men and women continues to offer that retro-denim look in a dazzling variety of colours and styles.

Duffer of St George 

29 Shorts Gardens, WC2 tel 020/7379 4660. Tube: Covent Garden. 

Covetable own-label boys' casuals and streetwear, plus a range of other hip labels in the land of jeans, shoes, jackets and so on.

Home 

28a Floral St, WC2 tel 020/7240 7077; www.paulfrankisyourfriend.com. Tube: Covent Garden. 

The cheeky monkey featured on some of the capital's cooler streetwear accessories originated here. Jeans, shirts, trainers, shoes, bags, wallets and hats all serve to produce a one-stop, Paul Frank-style combo.

Mambo 

2-3 Thomas Neal Centre, 37 Earlham St, WC2 tel 020/7379 6066; www.mambo.com.au. Tube: Covent Garden. 

Surf, skate and graffiti gear, including a range of books, mugs and hats.

Shop 

4 Brewer St, W1 tel 020/7437 1259. Tube: Piccadilly Circus. 

Lots of cabinets stuffed with fashion accessories, some cushions and bedding, plus blaxploitation mugs and plates, and clothes: fleeces, jeans, T-shirts, slip dresses and more

Vintage, second-hand and army surplus

The Emporium 

330-332 Creek Rd, SE10 tel 020/7305 1670. Tube: Greenwich or train. 

Elegant retro store specializing in 1940s to 1960s clothes for both men and women, and featuring kitsch displays in its beautiful glass-fronted cases. Well-kept bargains start at a tenner.

Laurence Corner 

62-64 Hampstead Road, NW1 tel 020/7813 1010. Tube: Warren Street. 

London's oldest and most eccentric Army surplus shop, with lots of bargains and an extensive theatrical and fancy-dress hire section.

Oxfam Originals 

26 Ganton St, W1 tel 020/7437 7338. Tube: Oxford Circus. 

Oxfam's well-kept retro branch offers cleaned-up clothes which appeal to hip, clubby bargain-hunters. There's another branch at 22 Earlham St, WC2 (tel 020/7836 9666)

Shoes

Buffalo Boots 

47-49 Neal St, WC2 tel 020/7379 1051; www.buffalo-boots.com. Tube: Covent Garden. 

Everything from the practical to the clubby via spike-heeled boots and enormous platform shoes.

Dr Marten Department Store 

1-4 King St, WC2 tel 020/7497 1460. Tube: Covent Garden. 

Five floors featuring every kind of Dr Marten for every kind of Doc-lover, from traditional black and oxblood to metallic, pastel or playground colours.

Office 

57 Neal St, WC2 tel 020/7379 1896 (and many other branches). Tube: Covent Garden. 

Good, broad range of basics, including many own-label creations, at reasonable prices, plus some more frivolous fashion moments, too.

Pied a Terre 

31 Old Bond St, W1 tel 020/7629 0686 (and many other branches). Tube: Green Park. 

Elegant but pricey women's footwear, with an interesting combination of classic and modern styles.

Shellys 

266-270 Regent St, W1 tel 020/7287 0939 (and many other branches). Tube: Oxford Circus. 

Offering pretty much everything from the sensible to the silly and with a good deal in between, this always madly busy store has a huge range over several floors and at every price, for both men and women

Bookshops

As well as the big-name
chain bookstores , most of which have branches throughout the city, London is blessed with a wealth of local , independent and specialist bookshops , many of which are located on or around Charing Cross Road. They may not have everything stocked by the chains, but they will almost certainly be more interesting to browse around, and may well have some hidden jewels on their shelves.

Secondhand books are also sold at the Riverside Walk stalls, under Waterloo Bridge on the South Bank, SE1 (Sat & Sun 10am-5pm, and occasionally midweek); Waterloo or train.

Any Amount of Books 

56 and 62 Charing Cross Rd, WC2 tel 020/7240 8140; www.anyamountofbooks.com. Tube: Leicester Square. 

Sprawling secondhand bookshop spread over two neighbouring sites, stocking everything from obscure 50p bargains to rare and expensive first editions. Especially strong on fiction, the arts and literary biography.

Arthur Probsthain Oriental & African Bookseller 

41 Great Russell St, WC1 tel 020/7636 1096. Tube: Tottenham Court Road. 

Connected to the nearby School of Oriental and African Studies, this impressive academic store covers all relevant aspects of art, history, science and culture.

Atlantis Bookshop 

49a Museum St, WC1 tel 020/7405 2120; www.atlantisbookshop.demon.co.uk. Tube: Tottenham Court Road. 

Splendid occult-oriented place with the perfect ambience for browsing through books and magazines covering spirituality, psychic phenomena, witchcraft and so on.

Blackwell's 

100 Charing Cross Road, WC2 tel 020/7292 5100 (and other branches); www.bookshop.blackwell.co.uk. Tube: Tottenham Court Road or Leicester Square. 

The London flagship of Oxford's best academic bookshop has a wider range than you might expect; academic stock is unsurprisingly excellent, but so is the range of recent computing, travel and fiction titles.

Books for Cooks 

4 Blenheim Crescent, W11 tel 020/7221 1992. Tube: Ladbroke Grove. 

Anything and everything to do with food can be found on the drooling shelves of this wonderful new and second-hand bookshop, which also has a tiny cafe offering cookery demonstrations, coffee for browsers, and lunch.

Books Etc 

120 Charing Cross Rd, WC2 tel 020/7379 6838 (and other branches). Tube: Tottenham Court Road. 

Large, laid-back and user-friendly, with an on-site coffee shop and a wide and well-stocked range of mainstream and specialist titles, and especially good on contemporary fiction.

Borders Books & Music 

203-207 Oxford St, W1 (and other branches) tel 020/7292 1600; www.borders.com. Tube: Oxford Circus or Tottenham Court Road. 

Enormous London flagship of the American import, boasting four floors of book, music and CD titles alongside a huge range of magazines and a coffee bar. Good range of titles, with staff recommendations and reviews, and a solid children's section.

Cinema Bookshop 

13-14 Great Russell St, WC1 tel 020/7637 0206. Tube: Tottenham Court Road. 

Close to the British Museum and in the heart of Bloomsbury, this small outlet has every new and second-hand cinema title you might want somewhere on its towering shelves.

Daunt Books 

83 Marylebone High St, W1 tel 020/7224 2295 (and other branches). Tube: Bond Street or Baker Street. 

Wide and varied range of travel literature as well as the usual guidebooks, presented by expert staff in the beautiful, galleried interior of this famous shop.

Forbidden Planet 

71-75 New Oxford St, WC1 tel 020/7836 4179. Tube: Tottenham Court Road. 

Two permanently-packed floors of all things science-fiction and fantasy-related, ranging from books and comics to games and ephemera.

Foyles 

113-119 Charing Cross Rd, WC2 tel 020/7437 5660. Tube: Tottenham Court Road. 

Endearingly (sometimes irritatingly) antiquated, this huge and famous London bookshop is best avoided if you're short of time. Pretty much everything you might want is here, but finding it is one adventure, and paying for it another; you queue once to part with your money, and again to pick up the book.

Gay's the Word 

66 Marchmont St, WC1 tel 020/7278 7654; www.gaystheword.co.uk. Tube: Russell Square. 

Extensive collection of lesbian and gay classics, pulps, contemporary fiction and non-fiction, plus cards, calendars, magazines and more. Known for the weekly lesbian discussion groups and readings held in the back of the shop.

Gosh! 

39 Great Russell St, WC1 tel 020/7636 1011. Tube: Tottenham Court Road. 

All kinds of comics for all kinds of readers, whether you're the casually curious or the serious collector. Check out the Cartoon Gallery in the basement.

Politico's 

8 Artillery Row, SW1 tel 020/7828 0010; www.politicos.co.uk. Tube: St James's Park. 

Mainstream political fare, new and secondhand, with plenty of big biographies. A cosy cafe, board games and irreverent window displays give it a more frivolous edge.

Silver Moon Women's Bookshop 

64-68 Charing Cross Rd, NW1 tel 020/7836 7906; www.silvermoonbookshop.co.uk. Tube: Leicester Square. 

Large, well-stocked and spread over two floors, boasting the biggest lesbian department in the country and knowledgeable staff. Good selection of magazines, periodicals, cards, T-shirts, etc too.

Souls of Black Folks 

407 Coldharbour Lane, SW9 tel 020/7738 4141. Tube: Brixton. 

Dedicated black bookshop specializing in African, Caribbean and African-American literature, with regular readings, a buzzing cafe and late opening hours.

Stanford's Map and Travel Bookshop 

12-14 Long Acre, WC2 tel 020/7836 1321. Tube: Leicester Square or Charing Cross. 

The world's largest specialist travel bookshop, this features pretty much any map of anywhere, plus a huge range of travel books and guides.

Unsworths Booksellers 

12 Bloomsbury St, WC1 tel 020/7436 9836. Tube: Tottenham Court Road. 

Good for bargains, including recent and just-out-of-print novels and academic titles. Specializes in the humanities, and features an interesting antiquarian selection.

Waterstone's 

121-123 Charing Cross Rd, WC2, tel 020/7434 4291 (and other branches). Tube: Tottenham Court Road. 

Flagship store of the huge, quality book chain, with technical and travel titles as well as fiction. The Waterstone's Arts store, at 8 Long Acre, WC2 (tel 020/7836 1359; Tube: Leicester Square or Covent Garden) covers all aspects of the graphic and fine arts, media and music.

Zwemmer Media Arts 

80 Charing Cross Rd, WC2 tel 020/7240 4157 (and other branches); www.zwemmer.com. Tube: Leicester Square. 

Specialist art bookstore with a fantastic and expert selection across several neighbouring branches. This branch specializes in film, design and photography

Megastores

HMV 

150 Oxford St, W1 tel 020/7631 3423; www.hmv.co.uk. Tube: Oxford Circus. 

All the latest releases, as you'd expect, but also an impressive backlist, a reassuring amount of vinyl, and a good classical section downstairs. Dance music is also a strength.

Tower Records 

1 Piccadilly Circus, W1 tel 020/7439 2500; www.towerrecords.co.uk. Tube: Piccadilly Circus. 

Fantastic range, although it's not always easy to find what you're looking for, and genre classifications sometimes seem a little random. The jazz, folk and world music department upstairs is especially impressive.

Virgin Megastore 

14-16 Oxford St, W1 tel 020/7631 1234. Tube: Tottenham Court Road. 

The mainstream floor here is better stocked than the specialist sections: the bias is rock-heavy, but there's a little of everything else, and plenty of books, magazines, T-shirts and assorted music ephemera

Markets

Bermondsey (New Caledonian) Market 

Bermondsey Square, SE1. Tube: Borough or London Bridge. Fri 5am-2pm. 

Huge, unglamorous but highly regarded antique market offering everything from obscure nautical instruments to attractive but pricey furniture. As the real collectors arrive at dawn to pick up the bargains, you should get here before midday.

Camden 

Camden High St to Chalk Farm Rd, NW1. Tube: Camden Town. Mainly Thurs-Sun 9.30am-5.30pm. 

On the high street, Camden Market (Thurs-Sun 9.30am-5.30pm) offers a good mix of new and second-hand clothes and records, while the Electric Market (Sun 9am-5.30pm) and Camden Canal Market (Sat & Sun 10am-6pm) has cheap fashion, hippywear and souvenirs. Camden Lock, off Chalk Farm Road (Sat & Sun 10am-6pm) offers arts, crafts and clothes, with some shops (Wed-Sun, 10am-6pm) adding a few hip designers, antique dealers and booksellers to the mix. Leading off from Camden Lock, the Stables Yard (Sat & Sun 10am-6pm) is a sprawling adventure of clubwear, young designers, furniture, trinkets and antiques.

Covent Garden 

Apple Market and Jubilee Market, off Southampton St, WC2. Tube: Covent Garden. Daily 9am-5pm. 

The Apple Market has rather twee handmade craft most days, while Jubilee offers endless cheap T-shirts, jewellery, souvenirs and so on - the Jubilee antiques market on a Monday is more enjoyable. Street performers are found in the piazza every day, and it's an amiable area to wander about in.

Greenwich 

Greenwich High Rd, Stockwell St, and College Approach, SE10. Tube: Greenwich or train, or Cutty Sark DLR. Mainly Thurs-Sun, 9.30am-5pm. 

The covered College Approach section sells mostly twentieth-century antiques on a Thursday (7.30am-5pm), and handmade goods and clothes from Friday to Sunday (9.30am-5.30pm), while the Central Market off Stockwell Street has funky second-hand clothes, bric-a-brac and furniture. Shops inside the covered market and in the surrounding streets offer obscure maritime devices.

Portobello Road 

Portobello Rd, W10, and Golborne Rd, W11. Tube: Ladbroke Grove or Notting Hill Gate. Antique market Sat 7.30am-6.30pm; general market Mon-Wed 8am-6pm, Thurs 9am-1pm & Fri-Sat 7am-7pm; organic market Thurs 11am-6pm. Golborne Rd market Mon-Sat 9am-5pm. 

Start at the Notting Hill end and make your way through the antiques and bric-a-brac down to the fruit and veg stalls, and then under the Westway to the seriously hip new and secondhand clothes stalls and shops around which local style vultures circle and swoop. The Golborne Road market is cheaper and less crowded, with some very attractive antiques and retro furniture

Miscellaneous

Anything Left-Handed 

57 Brewer St, W1 tel 020/7437 3910; www.anythingleft-handed.co.uk. Tube: Piccadilly Circus. 

The place to go for left-handed tools, implements and gifts.

Davenport's Magic Shop 

7 Charing Cross Tube Arcade, Strand WC2 tel 020/7836 0408. Tube: Charing Cross or Embankment. 

The world's oldest family-run magic business, stocking marvellous tricks for both amateurs and professionals.

Flying Duck Enterprises 

320-322 Creek Rd, SE10 tel 020/8858 1964. Tube: Greenwich or train, or Cutty Sark DLR. 

Kitsch aplenty, whether you're after tacky 1970s board games, Elvis soap or a 1950s polka-dotted dinner service.

Neal Street East 

5 Neal St, WC2 tel 020/7240 0135. Tube: Covent Garden. 

Beautiful crafts, jewellery, books, clothes, puppets and knick-knacks from a loosely defined Orient.

Radio Days 

87 Lower Marsh, SE1 tel 020/7928 0800. Tube: Waterloo. 

A fantastic collection of memorabilia and accessories from the 1930s to the 1970s, including shoes, shot glasses, cosmetics and vintage magazines, plus a huge stock of well-kept ladies' and menswear from the same period

Football

English
football (or soccer) is passionate, and if you have the slightest interest in the game, then catching a league or FA Cup fixture is a must. The season runs from mid-August to early May, when the FA Cup Final at Wembley rounds things off. There are four league divisions: one, two, three, and, at the top of the pyramid, the twenty-club Premier League . There are London clubs in every division, with around five or six in the Premiership at any one time.

The highlights of the day's best games are shown on BBC TV's Match of the Day , on Saturday nights. Most Premiership fixtures kick off at 3pm on Saturday, though there are always a few midweek games (usually 7.30pm on Wednesday), and one or two each Sunday (kick-off between 2 and 4pm) and Monday (kick-off around 8pm), broadcast live on Sky TV.

London's top club at the moment is Arsenal (tel 020/7704 4000; www.arsenal.co.uk), who won the double (league and FA Cup) in the 1997-98 season. Meanwhile, in west London, Chelsea (tel 020/7386 7799; www.chelseafc.co.uk) waltzed away with the last-ever European Cup Winners' Cup. It's reasonably easy to get tickets , if booked in advance, for most London Premier League games, unless two London sides are playing each other. The biggest of these "derby" fixtures are the meetings of North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur (tel 020/8365 5000; www.spurs.co.uk). Tickets for Premiership matches don't come cheap, however, with most charging a minimum of ?15-20.

Cricket

In the days of the Empire, the English took
cricket to the colonies as a means of instilling the gentlemanly values of fair play while administering a sound thrashing to the natives. These days, the former colonies - such as Australia, the West Indies and India - all beat England on a regular basis, and to see the game at its best you should try to get into one of the Test matches between England and the summer's touring team. These international fixtures are played in the middle of the cricket season, which runs from April to September. Two of the matches are played in London: one at Lord's (tel 020/7289 1611; www.lords.org), the home of English cricket, in St John's Wood, the other at The Oval (tel 020/7582 6660; www.surreyccc.co.uk), in Kennington. In tandem with the full-blown five-day Tests, there's also a series of one-day internationals, two of which are usually held in London.

Getting to see England play one of the big teams can be difficult unless you book months in advance. If you can't wangle your way into a Test, you could watch it live on television, or settle down to an inter-county match, either in the county championship (these are four-day games) or in one of the three fast and furious one-day competitions. Two county teams are based in London - Middlesex , who play at Lord's, and Surrey , who play at The Oval.

Tennis

Tennis in England is synonymous with Wimbledon (tel 020/8946 2244; www.wimbledon.com), the only Grand Slam tournament in the world to be played on grass, and for many players the ultimate goal of their careers. The Wimbledon championships last a fortnight, and are always held during the last week of June and the first week of July. Most of the tickets , especially seats for the main show courts (Centre and No. 1), are allocated in advance to the Wimbledon tennis club's members, other clubs and corporate "sponsors" - as well as by public ballot - and once these have taken their slice there's not a lot left for the general public.

On tournament days, queues start to form around dawn - if you arrive by around 7am, you have a reasonable chance of securing one of the limited number of Centre and No. 1 court tickets held back for sale on the day. If you're there by around 9am, you should get admission to the outside courts (where you'll catch some top players in the first week of the tournament). Either way, you then have a long wait until play commences at noon - and if it rains you don't get your money back.

If you want to see big-name players in London, an easier opportunity is the Stella Artois men's championship at Queen's Club (tel 020/7385 3421) in Hammersmith, which finishes a week before Wimbledon. Many of the male tennis stars use this tournament to acclimatize themselves to British grass-court conditions. As with Wimbledon, you have to apply for tickets in advance, although there is a limited number of returns on sale at 10am each day.

For the unlucky, there's the consolation of TV coverage, which is pretty all-consuming for Wimbledon

Ice skating

London has just one centrally located indoor ice rink, plus the outdoor Broadgate rink - located in the heart of the City near Liverpool Street station. Session times tend to vary quite a lot, but generally last for around two to three hours.

Broadgate Ice Rink 

Broadgate Circus, Eldon St, EC2 tel 020/7505 4068; www.broadgateestates.co.uk/ice/frameset.htm. Tube: Liverpool Street. 

A little circle of ice open from October to March. It's fun (in fine weather), but can get crowded during the weekend. Mon-Wed evenings are for "broomball" matches. Admission ?5; skate rental ?2.

Leisurebox 

17 Queensway, W2 tel 020/7229 0172. Tube: Queensway or Bayswater. 

The whole family can skate at this rink, which has ice-discos on Fri & Sat evenings. Admission ?5; skate rental ?1

Swimming, gyms and fitness centres

Below is a selection of the best-equipped, most central of London's multipurpose
fitness centres . We haven't given the addresses of the city's many council-run swimming pools, virtually all of which now have fitness classes and gyms. Wherever you go, however, a swim will usually cost you around ?2.50.

If you fancy an alfresco dip, then the Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park, or the open-air pools on Hampstead Heath are your best bet.

Ironmonger Row Baths 

Ironmonger Row, EC1 tel 020/7253 4011. Tube: Old Street. Men: Tues & Thurs 9am-9.30pm, Sat 9am-6pm. Women: Mon, Wed & Fri 9am-9.30pm, Sun 10am-6pm. 

An old-fashioned kind of place that attracts all classes, with a steam room, sauna, small plunge pool, masseurs, a lounge area with beds, and a large pool. Admission for a three-hour session is a bargain at ?10.

Oasis Sports Centre 

32 Endell St, WC2 tel 020/7831 1804. Tube: Covent Garden. Indoor pool: Mon-Fri 6.30am-5pm, Sat & Sun 6.30am-4.30pm. Outdoor pool: Mon-Fri 7.30am-9pm, Sat & Sun 7.30am-4.30pm. 

The Oasis has two pools, one of which is the only heated outdoor pool in central London. Other facilities include a gym, a health suite with sauna and sunbed, massage, and badminton and squash courts.

Porchester Spa 

225 Queensway, W2 tel 020/7792 3980. Tube: Bayswater or Queensway. Men: Mon, Wed & Sat 10am-10pm. Women: Tues, Thurs & Fri 10am-10pm, Sun 10am-4pm. Mixed: Sun 4-10pm. 

Built in 1926, the Porchester is one of only two Turkish baths in central London, and is well worth a visit for the Art Deco tiling alone. Admission is around ?20 and entitles you to use the saunas, steam rooms, plunge pool, jacuzzi and swimming pool.

The Sanctuary 

11-12 Floral St, WC2 tel 08700/630300; www.thesanctuary.co.uk. Tube: Covent Garden. Non-members: Mon, Tues & Sun 10am-6pm, Wed-Fri 9.30am-6pm, Sat 10am-8pm. 

For a serious day of self-indulgence, this women-only club in Covent Garden is a real treat: the interior is filled with lush tropical plants and you can swim naked in the pool. It's a serious investment at around ?50, but your money gets you unlimited use of the pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, plus one sunbed session

Airports

Flying into London, you'll arrive at one of the capital's five
international airports : Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton or City Airport.

Heathrow , twelve miles west of the city, has four terminals, and two train/tube stations: one for terminals 1, 2 and 3, and a separate one for terminal 4. The high-speed Heathrow Express trains travel non-stop to Paddington Station (every 15min; 15-20min) for ?12 each way or ?22 return. A much cheaper alternative is to take the slow Piccadilly Underground line into central London (every 2-5min; 50min) for ?3.50. If you plan to make several sightseeing journeys on your arrival day, buy a multi-zone One-Day Travelcard for ?4.70. There is also Airbus #2, which runs from outside all four Heathrow terminals to several destinations in the city (every 30min; 1hr) and costs ?7 single, ?12 return. From midnight, you'll have to take night bus #N97 to Trafalgar Square (every 30min; 1hr 10min) for a bargain ?1.50. Taxis are plentiful, but cost at least ?35 to central London, and take around an hour (longer in the rush hour).

Gatwick , thirty miles to the south, has two terminals, North and South, connected by a monorail. The non-stop Gatwick Express train runs day and night between the South Terminal and Victoria Station (every 15-30min; 30min) for ?9.50. Other options include the Connex South Central service to Victoria (every 30min; 40min) for ?8.20, or Thameslink to King's Cross (every 15-30min; 50min) for ?9.50. Airbus #5 runs from both terminals to Victoria Coach Station (hourly; 1hr 30min) and costs ?8 single, ?10 return. A taxi ride into central London will set you back ?50 or more, and take at least an hour.

Stansted , London's swankiest international airport, lies 34 miles northeast of the capital, and is served by the Stansted Express to Liverpool Street (every 15-30min; 45min), which costs ?12 single, ?22 return. Airbus #6 or #7 also runs to Victoria Coach Station (hourly; 1hr 15min), and costs ?8 single, ?10 return. A taxi into central London will cost ?50 or more, and take at least an hour.

Luton airport (tel 01582/405100; www.london-luton.com) is roughly thirty miles north of the city centre, and mostly handles charter flights. Luton Airport Parkway station is connected by rail to King's Cross and other stations in central London, with Thameslink running trains every fifteen minutes, plus one or two throughout the night; the journey takes thirty to forty minutes; the single fare is ?9.50, returns are ?16.90. Green Line (tel 0870/6087261) buses run approximately every hour from Luton to Victoria Station, taking around an hour and a half, and costing ?7.50 single, ?12 return. A taxi will cost in the region of ?70 and take at least an hour from central London.

London's smallest airport, City Airport , is situated in Docklands, nine miles east of central London. It handles European flights only, and is connected by shuttle bus with Canning Town (every 5min; 5min), and Canary Wharf (every 10min; 10min) for ?2, plus Liverpool Street (every 10min; 25-35min) for ?5. A taxi into central London will cost around ?15 and take half an hour or so.

Train and coach stations

Eurostar trains arrive at
Waterloo International , south of the river. Trains from the Channel ports arrive at Charing Cross or Victoria train stations; boat trains from Harwich arrive at Liverpool Street . Arriving by train from elsewhere in Britain, you'll come into one of London's numerous main-line stations, all of which have adjacent Underground stations linking into the city centre's tube network. Coaches terminate at Victoria Coach Station , a couple of hundred yards south down Buckingham Palace Road from the train station and Underground.

The GoSee Card and London Pass

For the really serious museum addict, the
GoSee Card gives you entry into around twenty museums and galleries, from the Design Museum and the Hayward Gallery to the National Maritime Museum and Shakespeare's Globe Museum. The three-day card costs ?16 (though this gives you too little time to visit all the above); the seven-day card costs ?26. Even better value is the Family Card, which covers two adults and up to four children and costs ?32 for three days or ?50 for seven. The cards are available from any of the above museums or galleries, and at LTB and LT offices; for more information, phone 020/7923 0807 or visit www.london-gosee.com. 

An alternative to the GoSee Card is the new London Pass , which not only gives you entry to a whole range of attractions from the London Aquarium and Buckingham Palace to St Paul's Cathedral and Windsor Castle, but also throws in an all-zone Travelcard, ?5 worth of free phone calls and various other perks and incentives. The pass costs ?22 for one day, ?49 for three days, and ?79 for six days. However, the London Pass is currently in its infancy, more sights need to be added to its portfolio if it's going to compete for value with the GoSee Card. The London Pass can be bought over the phone (tel 0870/242 9988) or on the Internet ( www.londonpass.com).

Travel, journals and memoirs

James Boswell , London Journal (Edinburgh UP). Boswell's diary, written in 1762-3 when he was lodging in Downing Street, is remarkably candid about his frequent dealings with the city's prostitutes, and a fascinating insight into eighteenth-century life.

John Evelyn , The Diary of John Evelyn (Oxford UP/Boydell & Brewer). In contrast to his contemporary, Pepys, Evelyn gives away very little of his personal life, but his diaries cover a much greater period of English history and a much wider range of topics.

George Orwell , Down and Out in Paris and London (Penguin). Orwell's tramp's-eye view of the 1930s, written from first-hand experience. The London section is particularly harrowing.

Samuel Pepys , The Shorter Pepys (Penguin); The Illustrated Pepys (Unwin/University of California). Pepys kept a voluminous diary while he was living in London from 1660 until 1669, recording the fall of the Commonwealth, the Restoration, the Great Plague and the Great Fire, as well as describing the daily life of the nation's capital. The unabridged version is published in eleven volumes; Penguin's Shorter Pepys is abridged though still massive; Unwin's is made up of just the choicest extracts accompanied by contemporary illustrations.

Iain Sinclair , Lights Out for the Territory (Granta). Sinclair is one of the most original London writers of his generation. Lights Out - a series of ramblings across London starting in Hackney - is his most accessible yet.

Opening hours

Opening hours for central London shops are generally Monday to Saturday 9.30am to 6pm, although some stay open later, especially on Thursdays. Many are now open on Sundays, although hours tend to be shorter, from around noon to 5pm. The cheapest time to shop is during one of the two annual sale seasons , centred on January and July, when prices can be slashed by up to fifty percent. Credit cards are almost universally accepted by shops. Always keep your receipts: whatever the shop may tell you, the law allows a full refund or replacement on purchases which turn out to be faulty.

Clothes and accessories

Our listings concentrate on the home-grown rather than the ubiquitous international names, but if you're after designer wear, bear in mind that nearly all of the department stores we've listed stock lines from both major and up-and-coming designers. For designer-style fashion at lower prices, try the more upmarket high street chains: there are branches of Gap, French Connection, Karen Millen, Jigsaw, Monsoon, Kookai, Warehouse, Hobbs and Whistles all over the capital. Marks & Spencer and BHS are a good bet for even cheaper versions of the same styles. For street, clubwear, secondhand and vintage gear, London's markets also have plenty to offer

Designer

Amazon 

Kensington Church St, W8 tel 020/7937 4692. Tube: High Street Kensington. 

Several branches along the Kensington High Street end of Church Street, offering both designer and quality brand-name gear at huge discounts, with one stocking a great range of strictly designer labels.

Browns 

23-27 South Molton St, W1 tel 020/7514 0016. Tube: Bond Street. 

Huge range of designer wear for men and women, with big international names under the same roof as the hip young things. Browns' Labels for Less , at 50 South Molton St, W1 (tel 020/7514 0052) could save you precious pennies.

Burberry 

165 Regent St, W1 tel 020/7734 4060. Tube: Oxford Circus or Piccadilly. 

The quintessential British outdoors label has hit the catwalk and relaunched itself as a fashion essential. Get the traditional stock at a huge discount from Burberry's Factory Shop, 29-53 Chatham Place, E9 (tel 020/8985 3344; Hackney Central train).

Ghost 

36 Ledbury Rd, W11 tel 020/7229 1057; www.ghost.co.uk. Tube: Notting Hill Gate. 

Romantic, floaty and hugely popular modern Victoriana in pastel shades.

Jean Paul Gaultier 

Galerie Gaultier, 171-175 Draycott Ave, SW3 tel 020/7584 4648. Tube: South Kensington. 

Outrageous, extravagant and fun, JPG's designs continue to raise a smile. Here you can get the mid-price (which still doesn't mean cheap) range, too.

Jones 

13 and 15 Floral St, WC2 tel 020/7240 8312; www.jones-clothing.co.uk. Tube: Covent Garden. 

Formal, casual and street menswear from all the big names and some of the smaller ones. Sharp tailoring, jeans and everything in between.

Joseph 

23 Old Bond St, W1 tel 020/7629 3713 (and many other branches). Tube: Bond Street. 

Offering classic cuts in imaginative styles, Joseph is the last word in luxury fashion for men as well as women. The Joseph Sale Shop at 23 Avery Row, SW3 (tel 020/7730 7562; Sloane Square) offers good discounts on womenswear.

Koh Samui 

65 Monmouth St, WC2 tel 020/7240 4280. Tube: Leicester Square or Covent Garden. 

The leading promoter of young British designers, stocking a highly selective range of womenswear with an elegant, eclectic and urban feel.

Nicole Farhi 

158 New Bond St, W1 tel 020/7499 8368 (and other branches). Tube: Bond Street. 

Classic designs and cuts for women, invariably in the shades of a chameleon resting on a sandy rock, but no less elegant and popular for that.

Paul Smith 

Westbourne House, 122 Kensington Park Rd, W11 tel 020/7727 3553 (Tube: Notting Hill Gate); and 40-44 Floral St, WC2 020/7379 7133 (Tube: Covent Garden); www.paulsmith.co.uk. 

The Covent Garden store is more accessible, but the Notting Hill shop-in-a-house is worth a visit, selling Smith's whole range of well-tailored, very English clothes for men, women and children. The Smith Sale Shop, at 53 Avery Row, W1 (tel 020/7493 1287; Tube: Bond Street) offers huge discounts.

Vexed Generation 

3 Berwick St, W1 tel 020/7729 5669. Tube: Piccadilly Circus. 

Created in all kinds of new fabrics and coatings, the clothes here are so cool it hurts.

Vivienne Westwood 

6 Davies St, W1 tel 020/7629 3757 (and other branches). Tube: Bond St. 

Somewhat eccentric but revered by the international fashion pack, this quintessentially English maverick is still going strong

Rugby

Rugby gets its name from Rugby public school, where the game mutated from football (soccer) in the nineteenth century. A rugby match may at times look like a bunch of weightlifters grappling each other in the mud - as the old joke goes, rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentlemen, while football is a gentleman's game played by hooligans - but it is in reality a highly tactical and athletic game. England's rugby team tends to represent the country with rather more success than the cricket squad, though they can't quite match the power and attacking panache of the sides from the Southern Hemisphere.

There are two types of rugby played in Britain: fifteen-a-side Rugby Union , which has upper-class associations (though the game is also very strong in working-class Wales) and only became a professional sport in 1995; and thirteen-a-side Rugby League , which has long been a professional game played almost exclusively in the north of England (though the final of one of its knock-out trophies is traditionally played at Wembley), and which has moved into a new era with the formation of Super League, featuring the big name northern clubs and one London club, the London Broncos (tel 020/8410 5000; www.londonbroncos.co.uk), which shares a ground with Charlton football club. Games traditionally take place on Sundays at 3pm, but there are also matches on Friday and Saturday nights. The season runs from March to September, thus enabling players to play Union in the winter.

In London, virtually all rugby clubs play Rugby Union, with the two biggest teams being Harlequins (tel 020/8410 6000; www.quins.co.uk) and London Wasps (tel 020/8902 4220; www.wasps.co.uk). The season runs from September until May, finishing off with the Tetley Bitter Cup , rugby's equivalent of the FA Cup. The cup final and international matches are played at Twickenham (tel 020/8892 2000; www.rfu.com), in southwest London. Unless you are affiliated to one of the 2000 clubs of the Rugby Union, or willing to pay well over the odds at a ticket agency, it is tough to get a ticket for one of these big Twickenham games. A better bet is to go and see a Harlequins or Wasps league game, where there's bound to be an international player or two on display - you can usually get in for around ?12.

Pool and snooker

Pool has replaced darts as the most popular pub sport in London. There are scores of pubs offering small-scale pool tables, even in the centre of the city, where space is at a premium. Real American pool , played on a larger table than pub pool, is also moving into halls once dedicated to snooker , the equivalent British game.

Elbow Room 

103 Westbourne Grove, W2 tel 020/7221 5211; www.elbow-room.co.uk. Tube: Bayswater or Notting Hill Gate. Mon-Sat noon-11pm, Sun noon-10.30pm. 

The capital's trendiest pool club by far, with designer decor, purple-felt American pool tables, and better-than-average grilled fast-food and beer. No membership fee; you simply pay ?6-9 per hour for use of the tables, depending on the time of day.

Ritzy's Pool Shack 

16 Semley House, Semley Place, SW1 tel 020/7823 5817. Tube: Victoria. Mon-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun noon-10.30pm. 

Situated behind Victoria coach station, Ritzy's was exclusively a snooker hall but has now added 17 pool tables to its facilities. It's now another of the city's trendier pool clubs, with a cocktail bar and American-style diner. Day membership for the downstairs snooker club is ?5; for pool you just pay the ?6-9 fee per table per hour - the later the hour the pricier it gets

Photography

The Barbican and the Hayward both host
photographic exhibitions from time to time. The galleries listed below are places you can guarantee will always have photos on show. Apart from the V&A, entry is free.

Hamilton's 

13 Carlos Place, W1 tel 020/7499 9493; www.hamiltonsgallery.com. Tube: Bond Street or Green Park. 

Classy Mayfair exhibition space for the most famous and fashionable contemporary photographers. Loads of pricey prints for sale as well.

National Portrait Gallery 

2 St Martin's Place, WC2 tel 020/7306 0055; www.npg.org.uk. Tube: Leicester Square or Charing Cross. 

The NPG has lots of exceptional photos in its collection, with a fair sampling on permanent display; it also regularly holds special (fee-charging) exhibitions on internationally famous photo-portraitists.

Photographers' Gallery 

5 and 8 Great Newport St, WC2 tel 020/7831 1772; www.photonet.org.uk. Tube: Leicester Square. 

The capital's premier photography gallery shows work by new and established British and international photographers, often with a couple of exhibitions running concurrently. The prints are often for sale.

Victoria and Albert 

Cromwell Rd, SW7 tel 020/7942 2000; www.vam.ac.uk. Tube: South Kensington. 

The V&A now has a permanent gallery devoted to photography, though it's way too small to do justice to its vast collection. There's an admission charge for the museum

Music

To begin, select a topic in the navigation bar to the left

Independent stores

Caruso & Company 

10 Charlotte Place, W1 tel 020/7636 6622. Tube: Goodge Street. 

Comfortable, well-stocked shop specializing in opera, but with much else besides.

Daddy Kool 

12 Berwick St, W1 tel 020/7494 10181. Tube: Oxford Circus or Tottenham Court Road. 

Lots of collectable reggae vinyl, most of it classic roots and Studio One, as well as the latest ragga and drum'n'bass.

Deal Real Records 

6a Noel St, W1 tel 020/7734 8689. Tube: Oxford Circus. 

UK and US hip-hop specialist for those who know exactly what they're after.

Eukatech 

49 Endell St, WC2 tel 020/7240 8060. Tube: Covent Garden. 

House, techno and trance on two floors, both vinyl and CD.

Gramex 

25 Lower Marsh, SE1 tel 020/7401 3830. Tube: Waterloo. 

A splendid find for classical music lovers, this new and secondhand record store features both CDs and vinyl, and offers comfy leather armchairs to sample or discuss your finds at leisure.

Honest Jon's 

276 Portobello Rd, W10 tel 020/8969 9822. Tube: Ladbroke Grove. 

Jazz, soul, funk, R&B, rare groove, dance and plenty more make this a browser's delight, with current releases, secondhand finds and reissues on vinyl and CD.

MDC Classic Music 

437 Strand, WC2 tel 020/7240 2157 (and many other branches). Tube: Charing Cross or Embankment. 

Big and brassy, this central chain store has an impressive range of stock, but specializes in special offers and cut-price CDs.

Mr Bongo 

44 Poland St, WC1 tel 020/7287 1887. Tube: Oxford Circus. 

Good on 12" singles, and equally reliable for hip-hop, jazz, funk, Latin American and Brazilian sounds.

Ray's Jazz Shop 

180 Shaftesbury Ave, WC2 tel 020/7240 3969. Tube: Leicester Square or Tottenham Court Road. 

Essential jazz territory, lovingly curated and full of collectors and browsers poring happily over its well-stocked bins. New and old releases on CD, plus an extensive vinyl collection, a good blues basement, some choice world and folk music, and expert staff.

Sister Ray 

94 Berwick St, W1 tel 020/7287 8385. Tube: Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus. 

Up-to-the minute indie sounds, with lots of electronica and some forays into the current dance scene, most on vinyl as well as CD.

Stern's African Record Centre 

293 Euston Rd, NW1 tel 020/7387 5550. Tube: Euston Square. 

World famous for its global specialisms, this knowledgeable store has an unrivalled stock of African music and excellent selections from pretty much everywhere else in the world

Horse racing

There are five
horse racecourses within easy reach of London: Kempton Park (tel 01932/782292; www.kempton.co.uk), near Sunbury-on-Thames; Sandown Park (tel 01372/463072; www.sandown.co.uk), near Esher in Surrey; and Windsor (tel 01753/865234; www.windsorracing.co.uk), in Berkshire, which hold top-quality races on the flat (April-Sept) and over jumps (Aug-March). There's also Ascot (tel 01344/622211; www.ascot.co.uk), in Berkshire, and Epsom (tel 01372/726311; www.epsomderby.co.uk) in Surrey, which are the real glamour courses, hosting major races of the flat-racing season every June.

Thousands of Londoners have a day out at Epsom on Derby Day, which takes place on the first or second Saturday in June. The Derby , a mile-and-a-half race for three-year-old thoroughbreds, is the most prestigious of the five classics of the April to September English flat season, and is preceded by another classic, the Oaks , which is for fillies only. The three-day Derby meeting is as much a social ritual as a sporting event, but for sheer snobbery, nothing can match the Royal Ascot week in mid-June, when the Queen and selected members of the royal family are in attendance, along with half the nation's bluebloods. The best seats are the preserve of the gentry, who get dressed up to the nines for the day; but, as is the case at most racecourses, the rabble are allowed into the public enclosure for a mere ?5.

Greyhound racing

A night out at the
dogs is still a popular pursuit in London. It's an inexpensive, cheerful and comfortable spectacle: a grandstand seat costs less than ?5 and all six London stadiums have one or more restaurants, some surprisingly good. Indeed, the sport has become so popular that you'd be best advised to book in advance if you want to watch the races from a restaurant table, particularly around Christmas. Meetings usually start around 7.30pm and finish at 10.30pm, and usually include around a dozen races. The two easiest stadiums to get to are in South London: Catford (tel 020/8690 8000; www.thedogs.co.uk) and Wimbledon (tel 020/8946 8000; www.wimbledondogs.co.uk).

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