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Exclusive | London: Introduction

Exclusive | London: Introduction

Our travel guides are frequently updated. This guide was last updated 12/08. Still, there are places that are bound to have closed or changed since our last update. Use the listed phone numbers to call ahead, and please let us know of any corrections or new places of interest you discover.

London literally speaks your language and ranks as the most popular European destination for North Americans because of its proximity as a "jumping-off" point for destinations on the Continent and for the sights, nightlife, and unique culture and history that is all its own. With tongues planted firmly in cheek, we are "cousins" either separated or united by a common language -- which is to say you will note as many differences as similarities between our cultures, from fashion (they still lead the pack) to fun (which is why they love us "looser" Americans). Most business travelers as well as tourists will find the gay scene here more convenient, more accessible, and more tolerated (yes, safer!) than stateside.

GAY LIFE

Integration and a general acceptance of all types has long been the norm on this rather isolated island, and given all the resulting gentility, you may think you've stumbled into an entirely "gay country." Yet the Brits are a curious lot. All that queuing up, reserve, politeness, stiff-upper-lip-looking-the-other-way that seems to be a national imperative goes out the door once the boys and girls step foot in a club or disco. Restraining all those wild impulses behind a genteel facade is hard work (just look at the royal family!). Spilling out of pubs, in basement clubs, in warehouse discos and even at summer park fairs you are likely to have some of the most rollicking, sweaty unbridled good times you've ever had!

Pick up a copy of the monthly magazine Gay Times (comparable to Out in the U.S.) or Attitude (comparable to Details or Genre) at a newsstand, or one of the free weekly newspapers: QX, Boyz or The Pink Paper at any gay bar or caf? for maps and happenings. Of them all, QX is the most plugged in to the club scene, while Boyz has a useful area-by-area listing of gay bars, shops, restaurants and businesses. Women should buy a copy of DIVA; it features an exhaustive listings section for the entire country. An excellent London resource for clubs, one off events and community listings is Gingerbeer. The popular Gay to Z which is pronounced 'zed' for some reason) -- also available at some bars -- is a thick and comprehensive gay "yellow pages" for the entire United Kingdom.

Even the weekly entertainment-guide "bible" Time Out (also at newsstands) has a useful gay section.

ORIENTATION
Most U.S. travelers arrive at Heathrow or Gatwick, the two main international airports serving the British capital. Links into town are good but not always cheap. Some U.S. travelers arriving at Heathrow opt for a traditional black London cab, but with fares from ?45 and a journey time of one hour it's not cheap or fast. Fastest into town is the new Heathrow Express rail service into Paddington Station. It's comfortable and takes 15 minutes nonstop. When purchased via ticket machine, one-way fare is ?16.50, round trip ?32.

Heathrow has two stations on the London Underground ("the tube"). You'll get to where you're going, eventually -- but unless you're staying to the west of central London it can be a slow ride, with 21 stations between Heathrow Terminal Four and Piccadilly Circus. And it's not much fun if you're carrying big bags. The fare is ?4 one way. You can get the National Express bus from outside all terminals. It terminates in town at King's Cross, with stops in some of the main hotel districts en route. Fares vary depending on length of trip.

Gatwick Airport is farther from town, beyond the tube system and too far to reach sensibly by cab. Most visitors take the train. Be aware that tickets on Britain's increasingly erratic railroad system are not transferable between competing operators, so be sure to get on the right train. Gatwick Express (?16.90 one-way, ?28.80 round trip) is fast and convenient if you are staying in West London or the West End, with trains to Victoria Station taking 30 minutes. Fast Thameslink trains to King's Cross are ideal if you're staying near the City or in North or East London.

If you're arriving from elsewhere in Europe, the UK or Ireland, you may fetch up at Stansted or Luton airports. From both, the train is the best way into town. The Stansted Express (www.stanstedexpress.com; ?17 one-way, ?24 round trip) takes 40 minutes into Liverpool Street Station. Thameslink trains from Luton route into King's Cross station. Both these airports are hubs for the fast-growing budget airlines Easyjet and Ryanair -- that are opening up short-haul air travel in Europe with amazingly low prices. Stansted is the only London airport that would win any awards for style or architecture.

Finally, London City Airport is the Learjet of London airports -- small, smart and convenient. Closer to town than any other London airport, it serves the financial sector with routes to whiz-kid banking cities like Frankfurt, Zurich and Geneva. Shuttle buses connect to the tube at Liverpool Street Station in 30 minutes or reach the new financial district of Canary Wharf in just 10 minutes.

Part One | Part Two

Related Articles:
London: Where to Stay
London: Where to Eat
London: Where to Play/Meet
London: What to See and Do
London: Resources

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