London sprawls. To make any sense of it as a visitor it helps to break it down into sections. Most of the sites of gay and tourist interest are in an area roughly 10 miles wide by six miles north-south. Main focus for gay life, shopping, theatres and hotels is the West End (W1, WC1 and WC2 postal codes, taking in Soho, Covent Garden and Mayfair), although Vauxhall, in London's southeast has become a major gay destination (SE11), with an ever increasingly number of clubs.
West London (W2, W6, W8, W11, SW1, SW3, SW5, SW10 and SW6) is traditionally the high-status area -- London's Upper East Side -- and it takes in tourist haunts like Kensington and Chelsea, fast-fading gay favorite Earl's Court and newly trendy Notting Hill.
Much of the City of London (EC1, EC2, EC3, EC4, E1, plus some of N1) is interesting only to bankers and brokers, because it's the British version of Wall Street. Here you'll find the Tower of London and St Paul's Cathedral. But its fringes take in Clerkenwell, Hoxton, Shoreditch and Spitalfields. These are London's equivalents of SoHo or Tribeca and well worth checking out.
London's Riverside districts (SE1, E1, E14) are among its fastest developing for tourists and include Shakespeare's Globe, the vast Tate Modern art gallery and the London Eye Ferris wheel.
If there's time, try to discover some of the neighborhoods where lesbian and gay Londoners live -- in North East London's Islington and lesbian favorite Stoke Newington (N1, N5, N7, N 16 postal codes), North London's Camden and Hampstead (NW1, NW3) and South London's Brixton and Clapham (SW2, SW4, SW9).
The best investment you'll make in London is a copy of the A to Z street map, available at newsstands and in bookstores like Borders, Waterstones or WH Smith. Also, pick up a copy of the free Official London Gay and Lesbian Guide, full of glossy pictures and extensive information.
The tube is convenient and quick (if pricey), but remember: It stops running between midnight and 1 a.m., depending on the day of the week, at which point your only choices short of a taxi are the night buses, which start out from Trafalgar Square. Multi- or one-day travelcards are your best buy when sightseeing (they're also good on the buses). All tube stations carry maps of the vast network. London has several major rail stations where the tube links up with the national rail network; for Scotland and Northern England Euston and King's Cross are important; Waterloo and Victoria link London to the South Coast (plus Paris, Lille and Brussels, via the Channel Tunnel) and Paddington is the station for the West of England and Wales. All these stations also serve the suburbs through a vast network of suburban railroads.
Bus travel is a bit trickier, as streets in London change names as they pass through what used to be separate townships. That said, it's one of the best ways (after walking) to get to know how London fits together. The best way to keep track of where you are on a bus is to note the names of the tube stations you pass on your way. Make note of what night-buses you may want to use -- and any other travel questions you might have -- by calling London Travel Information (+44-20-7222-1234, 24 hours). Many rail cards also work on buses and several bus lines, such as the 73 to Stoke Newington, require that tickets are bought at machines at the bus stop, not on board (these routes are indicated by their number being on yellow on the list of services noted on the bus stop itself). For taxi service, flag down a classic black cab when you see its light on, or call London's only gay-owned taxi (and limo!) service Freedom Cars (+44-20-7734-1313).
Remember that the international dialing code for London from the states is 011-44, and that the area code for London is 020. London numbers are eight figures in two groups of four, starting 7 or 8 depending on whether the number is inner or outer London. To call any of the numbers in this document from within the UK, replace the +44-20 with 020, followed by the rest of the number. Directory assistance is 192, the operator is at 100, and emergency services are at 999.
Finally, the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard is staffed 24 hours a day with friendly volunteers to answer any of your questions at +44-20-7837-7324. Business directory www.yell.com is a U.K. search engine akin to the Yellow Pages.