While you're here, you should take advantage of some of the many activities and attractions that London offers. London is a vibrant capital city boasting world-class cultural attractions, famous sights, historic buildings, gracious parks and exciting street life plus shopping and eating to suit all budgets and all tastes. One of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and host of the 2012 Olympics, London is composed of villages that gradually became part of the city as it expanded from its original Roman foundations in what is now the City, the financial district. This gives a distinctive character to different parts of the city, and wandering round the various areas can be a good way of soaking up some of the atmosphere, history and contemporary life.
A few tasters are given here but detailed information can be found on many websites, including the London Tourist Board and London, run by the Mayor of London. Up-to-date details of what's on where can be found in the weekly listings magazine Time Out or on LondonTown.com.
The best ways to get around town and make the journey part of the experience is to walk or take the bus while the Underground - the Tube - is the best transport for longer distances. A great way to see London is from the river - boats go up and down the Thames. Transport for London has details of all public transport.
Driving in central London is inadvisable, with the £8 daily congestion charge levied on standard cars, complex one-way systems and expensive, restricted parking facilities.
London has a thousand years of recorded history, demonstrated by historical buildings, churches and monuments dating from throughout this period as well as avant-garde architectural buildings. Some of the top tourist sights and experiences are given here but there are plenty of others to discover.
Famous sights include Trafalgar Square, St Paul's Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch, Whitehall and Downing Street, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Perhaps less famous but just as interesting are the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the nearby Cutty Sark tea clipper, Tower Bridge, Cleopatra's Needle, the Bank of England, the Monument and the Albert Memorial; to the west of London are Hampton Court Palace and Syon Park. More modern sights include the Lloyds Building, City Hall, the Millennium Bridge, the 'Gherkin', the British Library, St Katharine Dock, Canary Wharf, the Millennium Dome, Battersea Power Station and the Thames Barrier.
Well-known entertainments include Madame Tussaud's, the London Planetarium, London Dungeons, London Zoo, the London Eye and London Aquarium. The best views up and down the Thames are from Waterloo Bridge, just south of the conference venue.
With around one-third of Londoners born outside the city, London is a richly multicultural place and for hundreds of years has attracted immigrants and refugees from around the globe. This continuing legacy can be seen in such areas as Chinatown in Soho; Brixton, with West Indian and African markets; Southall, where many Indians live; Brick Lane, dominated by Bangladeshi Londoners; the southern part of Edgware Road, where many Arabs congregate; and Golders Green and Stamford Hill, with many Orthodox Jewish residents. Wherever you go there will be Londoners speaking many languages, wearing elements of their national dress and eating traditional food.
London has theatre for all tastes. Theatreland is centred around the West End of Covent Garden, the Strand and Shaftesbury Avenue, with musicals, drama, comedy and classics galore. The National Theatre and the Barbican arts complex are the main theatres outside the West End, staging classics and new works. Elizabethan-style Shakespeare is performed at Shakespeare's Globe. Well-known venues for contemporary drama include the Royal Court, the Donmar Warehouse, the Almeida, the Young Vic and the Old Vic. There are also hosts of smaller, fringe theatres often putting on more experimental work, such as the Tricycle, the King's Head, Battersea Arts Centre, the Southwark Playhouse, the Arcola, the Hackney Empire, the Bridewell, the Lyric, the Pleasance and the Hen and Chickens.
The Royal Ballet is based at the Royal Opera House. Sadler's Wells stages ballet and contemporary dance. The touring contemporary Rambert Dance Company frequently performs at Sadler's Wells. Other venues to watch contemporary dance include the Laban, The Place and the Barbican.
Comedy and cabaret
London has a strong comedy circuit, with established clubs such as the Comedy Store, Jongleurs, the Comedy Cafe, the Canal Cafe, Up the Creek, the Backyard Comedy Club, the Chuckle Club and Big Night Out. There are also regular performances in pubs and theatres, such as the twice-weekly Banana Cabaret.
There is an extraordinary diversity of live music performed all around London. There is a thriving gig scene for musicians of all kinds in all sizes of venues. The city is home to five symphony orchestras - the London Symphony Orchestra, based at the Barbican, the London Philharmonia, the London Philharmonic, both resident at the Royal Festival Hall, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra - and numerous chamber orchestras, such as the City of London Sinfonia, the London Chamber Orchestra, the Camerata of London and the London Primavera. Scores of restaurants, pubs, bars and theatres host live music of all kinds and there is regular free music in the foyers of arts complexes such as the Barbican, the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre, a few minutes' walk from the conference venue, and there are often free recitals in churches.
Pop, jazz and contemporary music
Large pop and rock venues such as Wembley Stadium, Wembley Arena, the London Arena and the Hammersmith Apollo co-exist with smaller places, often converted theatres, such as Shepherd's Bush Empire, Koko, Brixton Academy, the Garage and the Astoria.
Most venues stage music of all genres, although Ronnie Scott's, the Jazz Cafe and Pizza Express are more associated with jazz. Unsigned bands and musicians of all kinds can be found in small venues such as the 12Bar Club, the 100 Club, the Dublin Castle pub and the Troubadour.
Major venues for classical music include the Royal Albert Hall, Wigmore Hall, the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall, and the churches of St John's and St Martin-in-the-Fields. Conservatoires such as the Royal Academy of Music, the Guildhall and the Royal College of Music stage recitals and concerts that are often free.
There are over 200 museums in London covering all interests. This brief overview of the major museums and some interesting smaller ones gives an idea of what you can find.
London's world-famous museums are probably the British Museum in Bloomsbury and the South Kensington museum complex, consisting of the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum. Other interesting museums include the Museum of London, the Imperial War Museum, the Design Museum, the Wallace Collection, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the Geffrye Museum and Sir John Soane's Museum.
Lesser-known museums such as the Theatre Museum, the Clink Prison, the Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret, the Horniman Museum, Dickens House Museum, Dr Johnson's House, Freud's Museum, the Jewish Museum and the Museum of Garden History are well worth seeking out too.
London has a score of internationally distinguished galleries holding regular exhibitions in addition to their impressive holdings, such as the National Gallery, Tate Modern and Tate Britain, connected by a regular boat service, the Royal Academy of Arts, the National Portrait Gallery and Somerset House (next to the conference venue), which houses the Courtauld Institute of Art, the Gilbert Collection and the Hermitage Rooms. Contemporary art-lovers are well served by the established spaces of the Hayward, the Saatchi Gallery, White Cube, the Whitechapel, the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Serpentine Gallery.
There are many other art galleries such as the Photographers' Gallery, the Guildhall, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace, the Estorick Collection and the Barbican arts centre. New work is shown particularly in small dealer-owned galleries in Mayfair, such as the Cork Street Galleries, and in Shoreditch, such as the Victoria Miro Gallery.
London is a very green place, with the Royal Parks in central London often described as the lungs of the city. They include Hyde Park, St James's Park, Green Park and Regent's Park, while further afield lie the extensive parklands of Hampstead Heath, Greenwich Park, Richmond Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Other popular green spaces are Holland Park and Primrose Hill, while Victoria Park, Battersea Park, Clapham Common, Brockwell Park, Clissold Park and Chelsea Physic Garden are less known to many tourists. There are also plenty of other parks in London, along with public spaces and private squares tucked away for the visitor to come upon unexpectedly.
There are shops and markets to suit all tastes and bank balances and a few of the most celebrated are given here.
Oxford Street, Regent Street, Kensington High Street and the King's Road in Chelsea are probably the best for high-street shopping. Covent Garden, Soho, Islington and Shoreditch have lots of funky boutiques while Knightsbridge, Sloane Street, Bond Street and Chelsea are more exclusive.
The famous department stores of Harrods and Harvey Nichols are in Knightsbridge. Liberty, Dickins & Jones and the toy store Hamleys are on Regent Street while Fenwick of Bond Street is nearby. Marks & Spencer's flagship Marble Arch store and the department stores of Selfridges, John Lewis and House of Fraser are on Oxford Street.
Fortnum & Mason sells gourmet food and wine while furniture and homewares can be found in Habitat, Heal's and a plethora of shops along Tottenham Court Road. Antique dealers abound in Chelsea, Mayfair and Islington and in markets such as Portobello and Bermondsey. Huge selections of books are available at Foyles and Waterstones and second-hand books along Charing Cross Road. Hatton Garden specialises in watches and jewellery and Savile Row and Jermyn Street have become bywords for traditional English tailoring. Soho boasts numerous independent music shops.
London has a multitude of markets selling almost anything you could want. Most sell a bit of everything but some are known for their specialities. Portobello, Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Covent Garden, Camden and Greenwich have lots of vintage and new clothing and jewellery, bric-à-brac and furnishings. Columbia Road sells plant and flower bargains, Smithfield sells meat, cheese and delicatessen goods, while Leadenhall Market and the weekend Borough Market specialise in fine food and drink. The Caribbean ambience of Brixton and the 'Banglatown' feel of Brick Lane make them among two of the more interesting markets in the city.