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London's mayor, Boris Johnson, is a real cycling enthusiast and keen to make the capital more bike-friendly. A 24-hour cycle-for-hire scheme, the Barclays Cycle Hire, was introduced in 2010 to enable Londoners to pick up a bicycle at one of more than 400 docking stations and return it at another. The first 30 minutes are free. After that, charges rise incrementally from £1 for one hour up to £50 for the entire 24 hours. There is also a £1 per-day access charge. Fees are payable online, by phone or at docking stations, by credit or debit cards only—cash is not accepted. To sign up, a user goes to the TfL (Transport for London) website and then receives a bike key in the mail, so this scheme is really meant for locals, not tourists. But whether you join the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme or just, per usual, hire a bike for rent from a rental shop, remember that London is still a busy metropolis: unless you're familiar with riding in London traffic, the best way to see it on two wheels is probably to contact one of the excellent cycle tour companies that aim to take you around town, avoiding all the busy routes and traveling along cycle lanes and river paths, down quiet backstreets and through parks.
Barclays Cycle Hire (0845/026-3630 within U.K.; 208/216-6666 from outside U.K. www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers.)
Cycle Tours of London (0778/899-4430. www.biketoursoflondon.com.)
Fat Tire Bike Tours (0788/233-8779. www.fattirebiketours.com.)
London Bicycle Tour Company (020/3318-3088. www.londonbicycle.com.)
Year-round, but more frequently from April to October, boats cruise the Thames, offering a different view of the London skyline. Most leave from Westminster Pier, Charing Cross Pier, and Tower Pier. Downstream routes go to the Tower of London, Greenwich, and the Thames Barrier via Canary Wharf. Upstream destinations include Kew, Richmond, and Hampton Court (mainly in summer). Most of the launches seat between 100 and 250 passengers, have a public-address system, and provide a running commentary on passing points of interest. Some include musical entertainment. Depending upon the destination, river trips may last from one to four hours.
Details on all other operators are available as a PDF from Transport for London's River Services page. www.tfl.gov.uk
River Cruise Operators
Bateaux London (020/7695-1800. www.bateauxlondon.com.)
London Duck Tours (020/7928-3132. www.londonducktours.co.uk.)
Thames Cruises (020/7928-9009. www.thamescruises.com.)
Thames River Boats (020/7930-2062. www.wpsa.co.uk.)
Thames River Services (020/7930-4097. www.thamesriverservices.co.uk.)
Bus, Coach, and Taxi Tours
Guided sightseeing tours from the top of double-decker buses, which are open-top in summer, are a good introduction to the city, as they cover all the main central sights. Numerous companies run daily bus tours that depart (usually between 8:30 and 9 am) from central points. In hop-on, hop-off fashion, you may board or alight at any of the numerous stops to view the sights, and reboard on the next bus. Most companies offer this hop-on, hop-off feature but others, such as Best Value, remain guided tours in traditional coach buses. Tickets can be bought from the driver and are good all day. Prices vary according to the type of tour, although £20 is the benchmark. For that more personal touch, try out a tour in a guided taxi. Other guided bus tours, like those offered by Golden, are not open-top or hop-on, hop-off, but enclosed (and more expensive) coach bus versions.
Bus Tour Operators
Best Value Tours (0870/803-1316. www.bestvaluetours.co.uk.)
Big Bus Tours (020/7233-9533. www.bigbustours.com.)
Black Taxi Tour of London (020/7935-9363. www.blacktaxitours.co.uk.)
Golden Tours (0844/880-5050 in U.K.; 800/509-2507 in U.S. www.goldentours.co.uk.)
Original London Sightseeing Tour (020/8877-1722. www.theoriginaltour.com.)
Premium Tours (020/7713-1311; 888/990-1209 from the US. www.premiumtours.co.uk.)
The tranquil side of London can be found on narrow boats that cruise the city's two canals, the Grand Union and Regent's Canal; most vessels operate on the latter, which runs between Little Venice in the west (nearest Tube: Warwick Avenue on the Bakerloo line) and Camden Lock (about 200 yards north of Camden Town Tube station). Fares start at about £8.50 for 1½-hour round-trip cruises.
Canal Tour Operators
Canal Cruises (020/8440-8962. www.londoncanalcruises.com.)
Jason's Trip (020/7286-3428. www.jasons.co.uk.)
London Waterbus Company (020/7482-2550. www.londonwaterbus.co.uk.)
Evan Evans, Green Line, and National Express all offer day excursions by bus to places within easy reach of London, such as Hampton Court, Oxford, Stratford, and Bath.
Evan Evans (020/7950-1777; 800/422-9022 in U.S. www.evanevanstours.co.uk.)
Green Line (0844/801-7261. www.greenline.co.uk.)
National Express (0871/781-8178. www.nationalexpress.com.)
One of the best ways to get to know London is on foot, and there are many guided and themed walking tours from which to choose. Richard Jones's London Walking Tours includes the Jack the Ripper Walk following in the footsteps of the titular killer, as does the Blood and Tears Walk. Other tours include Secret London, the West End with Dickens, and Hampstead—A Country Village. Context London's expert docents lead small groups on walks with art, architecture, and similar themes. The London Walks Company hosts more than 100 walks every week on a variety of themes, including a Thames pub walk, Literary Bloomsbury, and Spies and Spycatchers. For more options, pick up a copy of Time Out magazine and check the weekly listings for upcoming one-off tours.
Walking Tour Operators
Blood and Tears Walk (07905/746-733. www.shockinglondon.com.)
Blue Badge (020/7403-1115. www.blue-badge-guides.com.)
Context London (020/3514-1780; 800/691-6036 in U.S. www.contexttravel.com/london.)
London Walks (020/7624-3978. www.walks.com.)
Richard Jones's London Walking Tours (020/8530-8443. www.walksoflondon.co.uk.)
Shakespeare City Walk (07905/746-733. www.shakespeareguide.com.)
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