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Six letters for seven million citizens; two syllables encapsulating two thousand years. One word, evoking as many different cities as the people you speak it to: the London of kings and the London of drag-queens, of cockney cabbies and bowler-hatted bankers, neighborhood pubs and underground clubs, fish and chips and filled chaphati, the capital of Britain and a city of the world. The crown jewel of Britain's sceptered isle lives to a beat all its own, where all partake of the hybrid fruits of a thousand cultural cross-fertilizations. Here is where Jinnah and Gandhi studied; where the Mayflower set sail and Thomas Paine wrote The Rights of Man; where Voltaire, Marx, and Freud sought refuge from persecution; where thousands arrive each day to seek a better future. The world's first industrial city, London turned postmodern when her rivals were still modernizing: distinctions between past and future, east and west are meaningless in a place where tradition fuses with innovation and a citizen is as likely to hail from Asia as Essex.

To the visitor, London offers a bewildering array of choices: tea at the Ritz or chilling in the Fridge; Leonardo at the National or Damian at Tate Modern; Rossini at the Royal Opera or Les Mis at the Palace; Bond street couture or Covent Garden cutting-edge---you could spend your entire stay just deciding what to do and what to leave out. This chapter is designed to help put some method into the madness of visiting London. If you know exactly what you want from your trip, skip ahead---otherwise, this introduction should give you some idea of what to expect. Discover London below.


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