Nuts-and-bolts information to plan your trip, plus a checklist of essentials to include when you pack and a list of links to local media

Planning

Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a valid passport to enter the UK. No visa required for stays up to six months.

Time: London is 5 hours ahead of U.S. eastern standard time.

Money: Local currency is the pound sterling. For current conversion rates go to OANDA Currency Converter: www.oanda.com/converter/classic

Phone Calls: The prefix for central London numbers is 0207; for outer suburbs, it's 0208. When dialing from a local phone, simply add a 7 or an 8. When dialing from the U.S., dial 44, 20, and the eight digit number.

When to Go: Tourism in London never lulls. The best time to visit is spring or summer, so you can enjoy the parks, the river, and outdoor theatre and music festivals.

Getting There: Most international flights arrive at Heathrow or Gatwick Airports. Express trains to central London (Paddington and Victoria respectively) are pricey but worth it—local train services are often delayed and overcrowded.

Getting Around: London's public transport is pricey, so your best bet is to walk whenever possible. Buses are relatively affordable and a good way of getting your bearings, but if you're in a hurry take the subway or "tube." Pay less per trip by buying an Oyster Card www.oystercard.com.

Black cabs are an expensive treat. Radio taxis (or minicabs) are marginally cheaper, but never pick up a minicab off the street. Hire minicabs by phone or at one of many street offices, noticeable for their flashing orange light.

Driving is on the left side of the road. There is a Congestion Charge for all cars entering central London between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Pay online (www.cclondon.com) or call 0845 900 1234, or face a fine.

Checklist

Tips: Bring travel adaptors—U.K. plugs are a law unto themselves. The standard voltage is 230/240V AC, 50 Hz. Plugs have three prongs.

Security: The specter of terrorism has made flying in and out of London a hassle. Arrive at the airport early, prepare to queue, and don't try to take any liquids over 100ml on board as they will be confiscated. The U.K. Department for Transport (www.dft.gov.uk) only allows one item of hand baggage, including a laptop. The U.K. has an extensive network of surveillance cameras, but this doesn't deter pickpockets and muggers: Watch your purse and avoid nocturnal strolls except in busy areas.

Packing: London has notorious wet weather so take an umbrella, trench coat, and waterproof walking shoes.

The London Pass: This 1-6 day pass offers free admission to 56 top attractions, reduced prices at some restaurants, and queue-jumping privileges. Free public transport is also included in some passes, for a few extra pounds. www.londonpass.com

Web Links

Blue Plaques

Index of plaques commemorating the capital's remarkable residents of yore. Visitors can nominate new plaques. www.english-heritage.org.uk/blueplaques

Diary of Samuel Pepys

Daily installments from London's most famous diarist. www.pepysdiary.com

Greater London Authority

The Mayor's office. Local politics, community activities, calendar of events. www.london.gov.uk

Historic Royal Palaces

Games, history, and visitor information for royal buffs. www.hrp.org.uk

London 2012

Get the lowdown on preparations for the 2012 Olympics. www.london2012.com

London Parks and Gardens Trust

Guide to London's green spaces—from sculpture gardens to private squares—with walks and cycle routes. www.londongardenstrust.org

Museum of London

Virtual exhibitions of London through the ages, lively history section, online games. Record your own experiences of the city at the interactive http://www.mylondonmap.com/ or www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

New London Architecture

Latest developments in architecture and urban planning. www.newlondonarchitecture

Old Bailey Online

Illuminating, often grisly accounts of trials held at London's Central Criminal Court from 1674 to 1834. www.oldbaileyonline.org

Transport for London

Journey planner, route maps, timetables, and online booking facility. www.tfl.gov.uk

View London

The Londoner's guide to London.  www.viewlondon.co.uk

Visit London

London Tourist Board's user-friendly site includes guides to London's "villages," budget options, movie location maps, and hotel reservations. www.visitlondon.com

Local Media

Evening Standard

London's daily newspaper focuses on local politics and society gossip, but the website has useful entertainment listings and reliable reviews. www.thisislondon.co.uk

le cool London

Off-beat, free weekly newsletter offering eclectic picks of the best events around town, from roller discos to underground gigs. www.lecool.com/London

The Robert Elms Show

Cultural highlights, music beyond the mainstream, and fascinating local history each weekday from noon to 3 p.m. on BBC Radio 1 (94.9 FM). Features guests from the arts, entertainment, and politics. www.bbc.co.uk/london/radio/presenters/robert_elms/

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