The city is divided into north, south, east, and west zones, which are usually indicated by the first letters of the postal code. I.e., N1 = north, SW7 = southwest. The city's streets are a maze, and it's not uncommon for Cadogan Place, which runs parallel to Cadogan Lane, to intersect Cadogan Gate, which runs into Cadogan Square and Cadogan Gardens. All within a three-block radius. (Cadogan is pronounced ker-dug-un, by the way, not cad-oh-gan. Just one of a million pronunciations you will find baffling. And Leicester is les-ter, not lie-chest-her.)
Most Londoners navigate their city by districts: The City is the financial center; Soho is a central London area cluttered with bars, restaurants, and a thriving gay scene.
The major divide in London is between north and south of the River Thames. If you fancy a lively conversation with a Londoner, ask him or her which is better.
IN AND OUT OF THE CITY
Heathrow (LHR) is London's largest international airport, but the city also serviced by Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, and London City. There are five terminals, all a considerable distance from each other, so you want to double-check which terminal is yours. Terminal Five only runs British Airways flights.
From the airport, Heathrow Express is the fastest way to get to central London. Trains leave for Paddington station every 15 minutes, stopping at all terminals, and take between 15-20 minutes. Heathrow Connect also ends up at Paddington. It's cheaper, but there are stops along the way and the journey is longer. Don't even think about paying extra for first class. It's not even a little bit worth it. Other options include an hour-ride on the tube along the Piccadilly line, a black cab costs £45-£65 and takes 30-60 minutes depending on where you're going, or the National Express bus that drop passengers at Victoria station.
Gatwick (LGW) has two terminals: North and South, connected by a two-minute monorail. Gatwick Express leaves Victoria station every 15 minutes and arrives at the South Terminal in 30 minutes. Southern runs the same route for a lower fare but makes more stops. As with Heathrow Express, don't bother with first class. Depending where you're going, a black cab costs £100 and takes about an hour, and National Express coaches drop passengers at Victoria Station. Alternatively, EasyBus goes to central London every 15 or 20 minutes and only costs £2.
Getting to London from Luton (LTN): First Capital Connect trains run between the airport and St. Pancras Station. A black cab costs £75-85 and takes about an hour. Green Line coaches drop passengers at Victoria station and EasyBus goes to central London every 15 or 20 minutes and only costs £2.
Getting to London from Stansted (STN): Stansted Express runs between the airport and Liverpool station. Black cabs costs £100 and take about an hour. Several bus companies have service between the airport and Liverpool Street, Victoria, Baker Street, and Kings Cross stations.
Getting to London from London City (LCY): Docklands Light Railway connects the airport with the tube in East London. Black cabs to central London cost about £30 and take about a half hour. Bus routes 473 and 474 connect to London.
Subways and buses: The underground and bus systems are well connected, convenient, and efficient. Invest in a pre-paid Oyster card; it's cheaper than paying by fare. Because fares are paid by zone, you need your card to exit the underground, so don't throw it away en route. Locals call the subway "the tube," and you should, too. Plan your journey online before you go.
Taxis: Black cabs are available when the yellow "For Hire" light is on. The drivers are famously well-versed in the intricacies of London's complicated typography, but it's a knowledge you'll pay for dearly. The complex charging scale is posted in every cab; there is a minimun fee of £2.20, and you will pay more at night.
Mini cabs will get you wherever you're going for considerably less, but you need to book them in advance; they can't be flagged on the street. Ask your hotel or restaurant to call you a mini cab, and you shouldn't have to wait more than 15 minutes. Never take a min cab from the street. Touts operate throughout central London, and while it can be tempting late at night, they are unlicensed and often uninsured and unsafe.
Bicycles: London recently instituted the brilliant Barclay Cycle Hire program. They're easy to use and pay-as-you-go, and depots are scattered throughout the city.
CASH AND TIPS
Cash machines are everywhere and, depending which cash card you have, banks can charge a nominal fee to withdraw money.
The standard tip in taxis, minicabs, and salons is ten percent, and up to fifteen at restaurants. Some restaurants include the service charge, so check your bill.