By Derek Guzman © 2008
London: The Facts
London is the capital city of England and the United Kingdom. It is the most populous city in the European Union, and one of the world's major business, political, and cultural centers. The city is a leader in international finance, politics, communications, entertainment, fashion, and the arts, and has considerable influence worldwide. Along with New York City, Tokyo, and Paris, it is widely regarded as one of the world's major global cities.
The capital has an estimated population of 7.5 million and a metropolitan area population of between 12 and 14 million. Its population includes an extremely diverse range of peoples, cultures, and religions, making it one of the most cosmopolitan, vibrant, and energetic cities in the world. Over 300 languages are spoken in London, making it the world’s most linguistically diverse city. It has many important buildings and iconic landmarks, including world-famous museums, theatres, concert halls, galleries, airports, stadiums, and palaces.
London is a major tourist destination and an international transport hub. A city where cutting-edge meets tradition, its contrasts are inescapable. It was founded by the Romans during their reign over the land, around AD 43, and is now home to the world’s highest observation wheel, the London Eye. Despite a well-deserved reputation as being expensive for tourists, it also boasts over 238 attractions, including 70 museums, that are free to the public.
Amazingly, 99.9% of London’s immense bus network is wheelchair-accessible, via retractable ramps. One can cover the entire metropolitan area by bus. However, drawbacks include the potential for moving at a very slow pace, and possible difficulty boarding a crowded bus - both especially during rush hour. Despite the fee imposed on private cars, London’s main, bustling roadways are filled with vehicles day and night. This said, positives certainly outweigh negatives – the options to go anywhere at almost any time are virtually limitless.
According to London Underground’s ‘Tube Access Guide’, tube (subway) stations labelled with the wheelchair symbol can be accessed without using stairs or escalators, meaning step-free access to platforms. Many stations carry this designation, notably Heathrow airport (all terminals, though terminal 4’s station is closed until September 2006), Waterloo station (Eurostar to and from Paris), and the Docklands Light Rail line (all its stations are labelled). The bulk of the accessible stations are in the eastern and western parts of the city. Central London has only a handful of labelled stations, such as Westminster, Earl’s Court, and Kensington. Of course, there is the gap to mind – there is space between train and platform that puts power chairs off-limits, and may require some skillful maneuvering/assistance with a manual chair.
London’s official public transportation website is www.tfl.gov.uk Click on ‘site map’ and scroll all the way down the list of options to ‘accessibility”, under ‘real time travel news’ (there are dozens and dozens of options, so be patient!) For a map of accessible London tube stations, click ‘tube’ on the home page, and then ‘maps’. From this site one can request a copy of Rough Guide’s “Accessing London”.
All licensed black cabs now carry a portable ramp to allow for manual wheelchair access, though comfort levels (particularly in older vehicles) can be poor.
Eurostar train (www.eurostar.com) operates daily service between London and Paris. Trip time is between 2 ½ to 3 hours. Wheelchair seating is limited, so it is best to reserve well in advance.
24-hour travel information…020 7222 1234
Visit www.allgohere.com for a directory of UK hotels and other hospitality-related services which are disability-friendly.
Easy Hotel (http://www.easyhotel.com/) of central London offers two rooms for disabled guests. This low-budget, minimalist hotel’s prices are difficult to beat - £10 pounds a night – and it provides the basic comforts of a ‘normal’ hotel. Rooms include double bed with towels, sheets, duvet, and pillows. Private shower, toilet, and washbasin are also part of the deal.
Hotel Ibis London City (www.ibishotel.com), on Commercial St. in east London, offers 20 accessible rooms with roll-in showers. In fact, one can call the restroom in these rooms “state-of-the-art”. They feature a sliding door, two toilet railings, and a seat and special railing in the shower.
One can never run out of things to do in London. Accessible, and free, attractions abound. Notable among these is the London Eye, the Tate Modern Museum, the London Museum (history of London), the Cabinet War Rooms, the London Aquarium, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Zoo, the River Bus (RVI), Harrods and Selfridges department stores…..the list goes on. Check out www.visitlondon.com the city’s official website, and click on “Accessible London” for information on attractions, shopping, transportation, and more.
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