• Tue
  • Sep 30, 2014
  • Updated: 8:36pm

London

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 12:00am

TOP TIP I'd highly recommend a visit to Greenwich, where the Royal Observatory (which sets worldwide Greenwich Mean Time); the beautiful Royal Park; the Cutty Sark (the last surviving tea clipper); Gypsy Moth IV (in which Sir Francis Chichester was the first person to sail solo round the world); and the excellent National Maritime Museum are all within strolling distance [www.greenwichengland.com]. Have lunch in the famous 19th-century Trafalgar Tavern on the river, visited by Charles Dickens and William Thackery, and where leading politicians have entertained over 'Whitebait Dinners' [www.trafalgartavern.co.uk].


For a lovely walk along the Thames, start at the southern end of Tower Bridge, walk down the stone steps to the river bank and backtrack a little to Shad Thames and the Design Museum. Then forward again past HMS Belfast; the London Dungeon; Southwark Cathedral; the Golden Hind (full-sized replica of the ship sailed by Sir Francis Drake); Shakespeare's Globe Theatre; Tate Modern; Oxo Tower (with lots of swanky shops and restaurants); Gabriel's Wharf; London Eye (the world's biggest ferris wheel); and the London Aquarium. Across the river you get great views of the Tower of London, Houses of Parliament and Millennium Bridge [www.riverthames.co.uk].


A London A-Z street atlas is a worthwhile investment, especially if you're planning to visit many different places. All the cabbies use it and the mini version, which fits in your pocket, is only #3.95/HK$43 [www.azmaps.co.uk].


Vinopolis is great fun and definitely worth a visit. It's a vast wine museum with lots of interactive exhibits: you can sit on Vespas while a film plays on the windshield so it feels like you're riding through Chianti, or sit in a plane to tour the Australian wine regions. Best of all, you get to sample five wines at the end [1 Bank End, SE1. Tel: 4487 0241 4040; www.vinopolis.co.uk].


Multi-award-winning restaurant Club Gascon is divine. It's one of the only places the notoriously caustic critic AA Gill of The Sunday Times has ever raved about. The food is exquisite (perfect little dishes from Gascony, like French tapas) and about a dozen different foie gras dishes are served; the service faultless (and not condescending as in many London restaurants); the room, romantic and comfortable; and though not cheap, it's much better value than all those Conran joints [57 West Smithfield, EC1. Tel: 4420 7796 0600].


Those planning a theatre visit should forget the ubiquitous Time Out magazine - the reviews sound like they're written by students for students. If you want to know whether a play is worth seeing, far better to log on to the Web sites of the major broadsheets [www.telegraph.co.uk; www.guardian.co.uk; www.independent.co.uk; www.thetimes.co.uk] for reviews written by experienced theatre critics.


If you're feeling daunted by the number of major shopping areas, head straight to Selfridges, which has the best of everything under one roof, especially since its revamp. Rather than slog through the entire length of Oxford Street, the ground floor groups together concessions of all the best high-street fashion stores such as Oasis, Karen Millen, Quiksilver and Ted Baker. Then there are floors devoted to every top designer label you can think of (men's, women's and kids'); terrific interiors and cosmetic departments and, at Christmas, London's best decorations floor [400 Oxford Street, W1. Tel: 4420 7629 1234; www.selfridges.co.uk].


If you're in the Piccadilly area, a wonderful spot for a drink is the St George's Bar in Brown's Hotel. It's a really cosy, wood-panelled room with roaring fires, studded leather armchairs and doddery waiters. Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone, made the world's first ever call from here [Albemarle Street, W1. Tel: 4420 7493 6020; www.brownshotel.com].


Save money by buying a three, four or seven-day Visitor Travelcard, which you can use on the Tube, buses and trains on the National Rail and Dockland Light Railways networks [www.transportforlondon.gov.uk]. They can only be bought before you arrive - in Hong Kong from either the British Tourist Authority (tel: 2882 9967) or Reliance Travel (tel: 2731 2098).


Visitors from outside the European Union can claim back the whopping 17.5 per cent VAT that is automatically added to purchases. If a shop operates the 'Retail Export Scheme', fill in the claim form when making your purchase and make sure you get a receipt (some shops charge an administration fee and some set a minimum purchase level). Allow yourself extra time at the airport, present the form at Customs and have the goods ready for inspection. It's probably only worth the hassle on items over #100.


Do you have any tips on travelling to Paris? What places are worth seeing or avoiding, and what should visitors bring? Do you have any favourite hotels, restaurants, bars or shops? E-mail suggestions by Friday to travel@scmp.com or fax 2562 2485.


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