For as spread out as London is (you won't see many skyscrapers here, matey!), visitor's London is relatively compact. The boundaries of most things people want to see in London lie between two points - Hyde Park on the west, and the Tower of England in the east...about three miles apart!
Now that you have your reference points, how are you going to get around? There are many options, except, of course, borrowing my car. This issue will focus on taxis.
The Black Cabs
London Taxis are easy to spot. They aren't always black now though, but have become a beacon of advertising hilarity, disguised as giant Snickers bars and so on (see photo opportunity link at the bottom of the article).
All taxis are regulated and inspected, and the drivers all must pass stringent medical and police checks. In addition, each licensed taxi driver has to pass "The Knowledge," a tough exam covering not only streets, but also pretty much anything in London. It takes most drivers up to three years!
If you want to take a cab, look for a lit yellow light above the windscreen, and just stick your arm out to hail it. If there are none about, ask for directions to the nearest taxi stand...but taxis are all over, so don't worry about getting stranded anywhere.
London taxi drivers are very friendly, and lurrrvve Yanks and talking! They can give you some inside tips on what to see, do and eat. 10 minute rides and under should be under £10.00. There are extra legitimate charges levied for things like waiting, and evening hours, but they won't add a great deal to your fare.
You can arrange a taxi to take you on a tour sometimes (be sure to ask the driver how much, etc., before getting in). If you want to arrange this ahead of time, check out Taxi Tours' web site at http://www.taxitours.demon.co.uk. They offer several set price tours that can be pre-arranged by email or phone from your hotel. While they are pricier than a bus tour, it would still be a good value for four people, and might be ideal for those with less time or a more tailored itinerary.
Minicabs have sprung up all over London. They are "unofficial," and generally less reliable on the whole than black cabs, but considerably cheaper. Most aren't metered so be sure to ask the fare before you book one or jump in.
My personal feelings about minicabs here... some are reliable, some will make you late for appointments (can you tell I'm still bitter?). Some of the drivers I can't even understand, so it can be frustrating sometimes. But it is a heck of a lot cheaper if you are trying to save a few pounds.
Minicabs are not allowed to pick you up off of the street. You will find stands all over town that you can walk in to pre-book or wait for the next one, or you'll find business cards for phoning them everywhere.
Now some serious bits. If you are a woman travelling alone in the evening, please take a black cab. There have been some reported problems with rapes, and even murders. I've heard good things about Ladycabs, who guarantee women drivers (telephone: 0171/254 3501).
Top Taxi Tips
* You can hail a taxi travelling on the opposite side of the street as you... U-turns are legal on most roads in the UK!
* Choose taxis when there are 3 or more of you for a short ride. Quite economical and fun too.
Photo Opportunity! - check out the new disguise for the black London cabs