Image: Savoy
London's Savoy hotel has opened its doors again following a $340 million renovation.
updated 10/18/2010 9:24:19 AM ET 2010-10-18T13:24:19

London is a city with a whole lot of self-confidence. While some destinations have had to tighten their belts during the recession, this trendsetting metropolis continues to captivate a never-ending stream of visitors with new hotels, restaurants, boutiques, and galleries. The downside? It can be outrageously expensive. Catch the Heathrow Express from the airport into the city, and a round trip for the short 15-minute journey will set you back $50. And many of the city's most talked-about attractions, from the London Eye to Madame Tussauds, cost a small fortune to get in (if you can face the tediously long lines first).

To help you navigate the pitfalls less savvy tourists encounter, here is our potted guide to where to go and what to avoid.

1. Don't… head for Harrods
A lavish, over-the-top temple to conspicuous consumption, Harrods touts itself as having become a tourist attraction in its own right, with whole areas seemingly geared to parting tourists from their cash (tiny plastic totes with the Harrods logo for around $40, anyone?). Unless you want to see its gawdy Egyptian escalator, depicting the story of the Valley of the Kings (built during former owner Mohamed Al Fayed's tenure for a cool $30 million), we suggest you steer clear.

Instead… shop at Liberty
Spend some quality shopping time at Liberty, a unique and utterly charming department store that has a mock-Tudor facade, wood-paneled interiors, balconies, glass atriums, and a quirky layout. You can still find rolls of the store's famous historic fabrics, but nowadays in-the-know Londoners come for its fashion-forward clothing, well-crafted accessories and handsome home furnishings created by leading and emerging designers and artists (ceramicist Grayson Perry recently designed a fabric collection, and Ronnie Wood a wild ready-to-wear line). Check out Liberty's scarf room (London's largest selection), its just-launched men's clothing line, and its recently expanded jewelry room.

2. Don't… hop on a sightseeing bus
Aboard one of the Original London Sightseeing Tour's open-top buses, you'll spend an inordinate amount of time staring at the backside of other buses while inhaling noxious fumes, and, if you're a family of four, pay $130 for the privilege. Many claim it is difficult to hear the tour guide over the noise of the traffic. The upper deck (where viewing is unhindered) is also often full, and the stops are not anywhere near as close to the attractions as they should be.

Instead… get on your bike
July 2010 saw the launch of London's first two cycle superhighways (dedicated bike lanes that bring you from outer London into the center) and the city's much-delayed and much-anticipated cycle hire scheme (modeled on the successful Paris Vélib program). Ten more superhighways will be launched by 2015; the self-service cycle hire offers 6,000 bikes that can be removed from around 400 docking stations, which are never more than 1,000 feet apart. In recent months, London has spawned a new breed of cycle repair shops-cum-cafés, such as Look Mum No Hands! in Clerkenwell.

Slideshow: London calling (on this page)

3. Don't… mke a beeline for Oxford Street
The United Kingdom is awash in chain stores, and London's Oxford Street is no exception. Impressive as its array of shops is, an extended stay on this crowded strip, particularly on a weekend, can bring about a serious case of claustrophobia. A notorious magnet for jostling crowds, the Oxford Circus end is dominated by tacky gift boutiques and cheap clothes emporiums. If you can't resist the street's forward-thinking Selfridges department store, or the iconic multistory Topshop flagship, aim to get in and out quickly (just avoid weekends).

Instead… head for the edgier East End
Hip Shoreditch in London's East End is where you'll discover independent boutiques selling all things creative and edgy. Scout for some unique pieces by English product and furniture designer Jasper Morrison in his studio/shop on a rather downtrodden section of Kingsland Road. Redchurch Street is fast becoming the place to be: Look to Caravan, an interior design and gift shop, for pretty and surreal vintage charms; Hostem, for fashion-forward urban menswear; and Aubin & Wills, for quintessentially English fashion (cool tweeds and sophisticated knitwear), a top-floor art gallery, and a luxurious independent cinema downstairs.

4. Don't… seek tranquility in Hyde Park
True, Hyde Park is large, central, and offers boats for hire, summer swimming, horseback riding, tennis, bowling, the Serpentine Gallery, and two restaurant-cafés. But the thing about Hyde Park is, you're unlikely to meet many Londoners there. And while Speakers' Corner was once a place for serious public debate in the 19th century, these days it attracts the kind of folk you'd usually cross the street to avoid.

Instead… watch deer in Richmond Park
At 2,500 acres, Richmond Park, in South West London, is the city's largest. Its diverse landscape — rolling hills, woodland, grassland, ponds, gardens, and ancient trees — is a haven for wildlife, including around 650 deer. You can rent bikes at the Roehampton Gate entrance year-round or have fortifying tea and scones in the elegant Georgian Pembroke Lodge, while looking out over the Thames Valley.

5. Don't… succumb to the glitz of London's Theaterland
It's not that the over-hyped musicals and plays in the city's West End are bad — many of them enjoy great production values and star-studded casts — but they are safe, cater to mainstream tastes, and, forgive the recurring theme, far too pricey. According to the London Evening Standard, theatergoers paid £43.07 ($67.16) on average for a ticket to a West End show last year, compared with £21.36 ($33.30) in 1995 (a 100 percent rise).

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Instead… catch some radical local theater
Try the Tricycle, in North London, a theater committed to politically themed and culturally diverse writing (it recently hosted a season of 12 short plays exploring the history and culture of Afghanistan). Or check out what's on at the Arcola Theatre in up-and-coming Dalston, located in a former textile factory in London's East End. Brilliantly produced, original world theatre, music, comedy, and dance all compete for time at this emerging theatrical powerhouse. The fair pricing policies extend to "pay what you can" on Tuesday nights.

6. Don't… visit Madame Tussauds
If the lines lasting up to three hours don't suck the life force out of you, the price of getting in to Madame Tussauds just might (around $42 for an adult). Once inside, you might enjoy the interactive exhibits, scary-as-hell Chamber of Horrors, and the Spirit of London ride (which takes you from Tudor times to the present) if it weren't for the jostling and frustrated crowds and staff. The biggest problem here seems to be that the management has no concept of crowd control or full capacity.

Instead… check out the brand-new galleries at the Museum of London
Revamped to the tune of over $30 million, the five new interactive galleries at the Museum of London recount 350 years of the city's history. Highlights are a Victorian shopping street and the Lord Mayor's gaudy gold State Coach. But the absolute must-see exhibit is a reconstructed Georgian pleasure garden, with mannequins adorned in wigs, masks, and period dress as well as digital projections re-creating the entertainment on offer at the time. Not only will you learn something and have fun, this museum, unlike Madame Tussauds, is entirely free.

7. Don't… eat at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant (if you're on a budget)
Petrus, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's newest venture in London, is, according to The Observer's restaurant critic, Jay Rayner, "a terrific restaurant in search of a menu." The general consensus is that Ramsay is fresh out of ideas, and at Petrus is charging too much for food that is not memorable. Whether he's spreading himself too thin by building his empire at home and abroad (he's also been losing Michelin stars and has had to close restaurants in recent years), Ramsay is hanging in there. And even if you don't (or can't afford to) eat at one of his many restaurants, you may unwittingly find yourself dining at an eatery helmed by one of his protégés, such is this chef's influence in London.

Instead… eat at one of Ramsay's protégés' restaurants
Up-and-coming chef Gemma Tuley, just 27 years old, started out under Ramsay but is now wooing critics with her remarkably confident and sophisticated cooking at Manson. Swiss-born Bjorn Van der Horst, 37, has worked with Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse, and he's won two Michelin stars — one of them as chef patron at Gordon Ramsay Holdings' former restaurant La Noisette. Now that he has his own restaurant, Eastside Inn, the food is gasp-out-loud good. And a Tuley or Van der Horst meal is decidedly more affordable than a Ramsay night out.

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8. Don't… go on the London Eye if you balk at paying for a view
Sure, the view from the Millennium Wheel is fabulous, but it's marred by having to endure a long wait in line and the steep ticket price ($28 if you just turn up, or you can arrange online for priority boarding, but pay around $42 for the privilege). Then there's the brevity of the "flight" (a mere 30 minutes). What's more, there is no audio accompaniment explaining what you are seeing, just a cheesy female voice telling you to get ready for "takeoff."

Instead… Visit glorious Hampstead Heath
Locals head for 320-foot-high Parliament Hill on the southern end of the Heath (also dubbed Kite Hill) for thrilling views of London icons, including St. Paul's Cathedral, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, and Westminster Palace. Once you're done, take a dip in one of the three bracingly cool open-air swimming ponds. Another top vantage point for city views and skylines in London is Primrose Hill, the 206-foot-high continuation of Regent's Park.

9. Don't… have a night out in the West End
By West End, we mean Leicester Square and its environs, which have become rip-off central, with outrageously pricey restaurants and cinemas (up to $30 for a Saturday-night screening) — and pickpockets galore. Piccadilly Circus, a sensory overload of gridlocked streets, packed sidewalks, and neon billboards, fares little better. And Covent Garden is now a touristy shopping and entertainment destination, with mainstream megastores (the biggest Apple shop in the world opened here in August 2010) and street performers on every corner (no more silver-sprayed "living statues," please). Because of these places' tourist status, it's almost impossible to find a restaurant or pub that isn't a chain, or a cocktail that won't cost the price of a meal.

Instead… head east (again)
The bars, clubs, and restaurants in London's East End are quirkier, cooler, and altogether more authentic. Construction and face-lifting in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics (most of the event's venues and the Olympic Village will be located in East London) means that some areas will undoubtedly lose character, but on the whole, this neighborhood is bound to retain its gritty edge. Local highlights include the hip and lively four-story Luxe for food, drinks, and live music; Lounge Bohemia for Eastern European beer and canapés; Loungelover, for eccentric interiors and impressive cocktails; and the Star of Bethnal Green for a laid-back vibe, eclectic live music, and cool DJ sets.

Related: Experience London ahead of the 2012 Olympics

10. Don't… bed down in the latest design hotel
One of 2010's much-talked-about hotel openings was the minimalist Town Hall Hotel, which takes shabby chic to a whole new level in terms of setting. Located in the fast-gentrifying East End neighborhood of Bethnal Green, it has been carved out of a former Edwardian town hall, with varying degrees of success. Some of it works well (most notably the pool, the all-glass top floor, the meeting room — a former council chamber — and some of the suites), but a lot of it will leave you cold, especially the endless corridors, gloomy breakfast room, and many of the charmless rooms and apartments.

Instead… Soothe yourself in a classic grande dame
One of London's most iconic accommodations, the Savoy, will open its doors again in October 2010 after a staggering $340 million refurb (almost twice the original budget). The hotel closed in December 2007 for an ambitious restoration of its common areas and 268 guest rooms and suites. Guests will be able to enjoy high tea and fresh pâtisseries in the stunning winter garden, dine at the Savoy Grill (run by none other than Gordon Ramsay) or River Restaurant, and swim in the hotel's rooftop pool (a rarity in the city). If you can afford it, choose one of the 38 River Suites — in this case, the experience is definitely worth the splurge.

Photos: London calling

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  1. A view from the top in London

    London is home to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which will be held July 27 to Aug. 12, 2012. Visitors will be able to see all this wolrd-class city has to offer in the summertime - -everything from plays in Shakespeare's Globe Theater to bird's-eye views of the city on the London Eye. Pictured here, a passenger travels on the London Eye observation wheel which stands 135 meters high and is the tallest such wheel in Europe, on Oct. 22, 2010 in London. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Millennium Bridge

    Pedestrians cross the Millennium Bridge, spanning the River Thames in London, on Feb. 15, 2012. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Double-decker bus

    A double-decker bus travels through Piccadilly Circus on March 19, 2012 in London. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Buckingham Palace

    At the end of The Mall is Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace, where Her Majesty The Queen resides. (George Rose / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Great Court

    Visitors walk in the Great Court of the British Museum on Feb. 22, 2011 in London. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Treetop walkway

    A woman walks across the new Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop walkway, with a view of the Temperate House behind, at Kew Gardens in London on May 22, 2008. The 18-meter high structure gives visitors the opportunity to view the tree canopy at Kew. (Luke MacGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. St. Paul's Cathedral

    Tourists look towards St. Paul's Cathedral while riding on an open-top bus through central London on April 15, 2012. Despite a short-term tourism boom at the time of the Olympics, economists are warning that it won't be enough to prevent a sharp slowdown in the economy this year. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Inside St. Paul's Cathedral

    A verger pauses to look at one of the statues in St. Paul's Cathedral after its recent major restoration, in London on June 16, 2011. The St. Paul's Cathedral program of cleaning and repair cost 40 million pounds, has taken 15 years and is the first time in its history that the building has been comprehensively restored inside and out, it was reported on the Cathedral website. (Paul Hackett / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Oxford Circus

    Traffic at the Oxford Circus junction at the intersection of Oxford Street and Regent Street on May 1, 2012 in London. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Trafalgar Square

    Tourists enjoy the sunshine in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square on March 28, 2012 in London. (Matthew Lloyd / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The Tower of London

    The Tower of London is a historic castle that early in its history served as a royal residence. It's probably most well-known for its use as a place of imprisonment. King Henry VIII executed two of his wives there, and before she became queen, Elizabeth I was held captive there by her half-sister, Queen Mary I. (Scott Barbour / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. River Thames

    An aerial view of the River Thames in London, with the Shard at left and Tower Bridge in the foreground, on September 5, 2011 in London. (Tom Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Tate Modern

    Visitors to Tate Modern walk through sunlight shining through the windows, in London on July 30, 2009. (Andrew Winning / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Walking across the bridge

    People cross the Millennium Bridge in wet weather in front of the newly-restored St. Paul's Cathedral on June 16, 2011 in London. A prominent feature in the London skyline and one of the world's most beautiful buildings, St. Paul's Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th Century, and is celebrating its 300th anniversary with the completion of a 40 million pound restoration project. (Matthew Lloyd / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Graffiti art

    A woman walks past an ornately-painted building in the Shoreditch area of London on Jan. 14, 2012. Ornate graffiti appears on many buildings and structures in areas of the east London borough of Shoreditch. (Andrew Winning / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Time for soccer

    People play soccer during a warm autumn weather spell on Hampstead Heath, with the City of London in the background, on Oct. 29, 2009. (Jas Lehal / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Fish and chips

    Chelsea soccer fans eat fish and chips outside The Cafe Fish Bar in west London on May 13, 2012. Deep-fried fish in a crispy batter, with fat golden chips, is still as popular as ever with the British public, ranked alongside roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and chicken tikka masala as the nation's favorite dish. (Eddie Keogh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Shopping spree

    Selfridges department store is illuminated on Oxford Street on December 5, 2011 in London. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Royal Albert Hall and Albert Memorial

    An aerial view of the Royal Albert Hall and Albert Memorial on July 26, 2011 in London. (Tom Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Shakespeare's Globe Theater

    Actors Dominic Rowan and Miranda Raison perform as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in Shakepeare's "Henry VIII" at the Globe Theatre in London on July 6, 2010. William Shakespeare's Globe Theater, on the south bank of the River Thames, burned to the ground during the staging of a play about Henry VIII in 1613 and was rebuilt in the late 1990s. (Luke MacGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Westminster Abbey

    A view of Westminster Abbey on Nov. 19, 2010 in London. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The Shard

    The Shard towers over St. Thomas Street, on July 5, 2012 in London. A new addition to the London skyline, It is the European Union's tallest building. (Peter MacDiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Borough Market

    A woman walks through Borough Market in London on Dec. 9, 2011. (Luke MacGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Houses of Parliament

    A car travels along Westminster Bridge past the Houses of Parliament on March 27, 2012 in London. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A classic pub

    Patrons drink at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in London, on Dec. 19, 2011. This is one of London's oldest pubs and one of Charles Dickens' favorites, alluded to in "A Tale of Two Cities." (Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. London's West End

    Cars travel at night, along Shaftesbury Avenue past West End theatres, on March 29, 2012 in London. The city's West End is synonymous with theater productions, containing over forty venues showing plays, musicals and operas. The theaters typically play host to over 14 million spectators that view over 18,000 performances each year. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. The 'Gherkin'

    The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' is pictured in the City of London on August 12, 2010. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A day in the park

    Visitors enjoy summer sunshine as they row boats on the Serpentine in Hyde Park. One of King Henry VIII's former hunting grounds, the 350-acre park in the middle of London features more than 4,000 trees, a lake and a meadow. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Bouquets of flowers

    A woman carries sunflowers at the Columbia Road flower market in East London as summer weather hit the United Kingdom on May 24, 2009. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Street art

    A woman walks past street art by Banksy on Pollard Street on Nov. 1, 2007 in London. Recent works of art by Banksy have been bought for hundreds of thousands of pounds by celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The Tower Hamlets Council recently said that they had a duty to remove all graffiti in the area, including anything done by Banksy. However, the public in Bristol recently voted over 90 percent in favor of keeping a piece of graffiti art by Banksy as it was deemed so popular. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A tribute to a princess

    The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park opened on July 6, 2004, in London. The fountain was designed by American Kathryn Gustafson as a tribute to the former princess, who died in a car crash in 1997. (Scott Barbour / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A famous crossing

    Tourists pose for a photograph on the pedestrian crossing at Abbey Road in St. John's Wood, North London on Dec. 22, 2010. The crossing, sited outside Abbey Road Studios in North London and made famous by The Beatles, was designated a site of national importance by the British government. (Andrew Winning / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Brick Lane

    Signs for businesses on Brick Lane, which is synonymous with curry restaurants, on March 16, 2011 in London, England. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. The heart of London

    Summer crowds gather in Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery. At the center of Trafalgar Square is Nelson's Column, which commemorates the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. (George Rose / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A cultural center

    A view down Camden High Street on March 31, 2012 in London. Camden in North London has been one of the city's cultural centers since the 1960s, and is home to the famous Camden Market. The borough is rich in musical heritage with a variety of theatres, art galleries and world famous musical and comedy venues. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Official timekeeper

    The historic Royal Observatory, Greenwich, is the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian of the world, making it the official starting point for each new day and year. (Visit London) Back to slideshow navigation
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