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Rent a car to visit London

Whether you're arriving in the UK's capital from its international railway station at Saint Pancras or one of its six airports, renting a car for your onward journey makes a lot of sense. The biggest and – some would say – most vibrant city in the country, London also has a reputation for unreliable public transport which means that driving makes a lot of sense even if you have never driven on the left-hand side of the road before.

By road, you can get to all of the major sights that the city has to offer. A short drive along Upper and Lower Thames Street, for example, will mean being able to see everything from the Houses of Parliament to Tower Bridge. When driving in from one of the airports that lie outside of the city, or in its suburbs, there are major arterial roads which make that sometimes tricky first part of navigating an onward journey a breeze.

People travel to London for many reasons – some for business and some for pleasure. Either way, you can only get to know a truly remarkable metropolis like London by being master of your own destiny and, for many, that means driving themselves about with a convenient car rental.

Driving and parking in London

The first thing you need to know about driving a rental car in London is that it is likely to be nowhere near as hectic as you might have imagined. Londoners might take to the road in great numbers but this usually means that the traffic is slow enough to respond to changing road conditions with ease. All of the city's major routes, including its motorways and A-roads, are well signed so you should find it simple enough to get from A to B without going wrong.

Central London is covered by a congestion zone. You will see this signposted ahead if you want to avoid the area. Once you drive over a red C on the road, you have entered the zone and must pay a fee for so doing. This is not expensive and you have until the following day to pay online at Transport for London's website. You just enter the car registration number and your payment details.

Parking is undeniably a problem in London, however. It is possible to find on-street parking in parts of London but this is becoming rarer. Instead, it is usually better to head for a secure car park where you can stow your car with a great deal of confidence. There are many operators in the city that run these facilities - such as NCP, for example – and, in some, they'll even park your car for you.

Visiting the city

London has some of the best attractions in Europe for visitors, let alone the UK. To begin with, the capital city has a theatrical tradition which is unsurpassed anywhere in the world, Broadway in New York included. The West End of London is choc-a-bloc with productions to attract all sorts of tastes, from serious dramas to musicals and comedy shows. Shakespeare fans should not miss out on a visit to the Globe either, located on the South Bank of the Thames.

Other popular visitor destinations include the London Eye which is a huge Ferris wheel that sits next to the Thames close to other attractions, such as the London Aquarium. If you head a little further west, then you can also reach the Royal Albert Hall, London's most prestigious music venue which stages a series of summer concerts every year, known as the Proms. If you are driving in this part of London, then don't miss out on some of the more exclusive shops in the capital, such as Harrods or Harvey Nichols.

For people who are looking for an exciting music scene with plenty of pop culture on offer, then a trip to Camden Town, just north of central London, is well worth it. Here you will find vibrant independent shops and stall traders by the canal. There are plenty of live music venues in this part of the city with regular blues, reggae, rock and pop music events being staged.

London also has some rightly famous sporting venues. Many visitors to the city choose to come for a sporting event. Travelling by public transport to Wembley or Twickenham, where international football and rugby games are staged, is often problematic at busy times so car hire is definitely preferable. The same can be said of Wimbledon which stages its world-renowned tennis championships each summer.

Day trips by car near London

From London to Brighton: 50 miles, about 120 minutes

Often referred to as London-by-the-sea, Brighton is a bustling city in its own right. From central London, you will need to spend around two hours travelling unless you go on the weekend when the roads are often less busy. The drive over the South Downs, a rolling stretch of hills, is worth it in its own right. Brighton is full of history and entertainment with a great pier and some top-quality restaurants, as well. The city has a pebble beach and there are plenty of activities to keep everyone happy, old and young alike. Go in the summer.

From London to Cambridge: 60 miles, about 100 minutes

Perhaps the quintessential English city, Cambridge is full of wonderful mediaeval architecture. The colleges that make up its university are dotted around the city and you can visit some unless it happens to be exam season, in early summer. The Cam River is beautiful and there are plenty of places to enjoy it with parking nearby. If you visit just one picture postcard city while staying in London, then make it Cambridge. Go in the spring when the city is in blossom.

From London to Bishop's Stortford: 35 miles, about 50 minutes

Although in many ways Bishop's Stortford is an unremarkable market town, this is what it makes it of interest to visitors. Located in East Hertfordshire, it is a short drive north on the M11 motorway and an ideal place to visit if your onward journey is to Stansted Airport which is only a few miles away. The town has an old-fashioned feel about it despite recent growth and it holds regular street markets several times a week. Go in the run-up to Christmas when the town comes alive with festive cheer.

Car rental for business travel in London

The most centrally located air hub in the capital is London City Airport. It only takes a 20-minute drive to reach the City of London, the capital's main business district from there. Allow for a 45-minute journey if you are driving in from the outer air hubs at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted. A drive from London Luton Airport would take about an hour if you avoid the rush hour and from Southend Airport, about an hour and a half. Most routes will lead you to the City of London if you keep heading towards the congestion charge zone. If you are heading to the Canary Wharf business area, to the east of the City of London, then pick up the A12, the A11 or the A13 which all pass close by to it.

Additional tips when driving in London

Always stop on a red light. No allowance is made for turning on a red light in the UK, unlike other places around the world.

Look out for the artwork of Bansky in the city. There are plenty of examples of his work dotted around.

Don't enter a yellow box junction unless you can exit it without stopping. Many are monitored remotely by cameras, these days.