'Dynamic' London gets Lonely Planet plaudits

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The Independent Online

To many of its inhabitants, as well as visitors, London is a mostly dirty and overcrowded city, with impossibly high house prices and a creaking transport system that is a prime terrorist target.

Not so, says the latest edition of the Lonely Planet Guide to London. The capital, it proclaims, has become "dynamic and forward-looking" - full of great places to visit, eat and stay, chic inner-city neighbourhoods, excellent architecture - and is therefore richly deserving of its Olympic success.

Previous editions of the Guide have criticised London for being the home of dirty pigeons, lager louts and hotels so awful "they made Fawlty Towers look like a documentary''.

But the current guide's author, Sarah Johnstone, says all this has changed: "Given recent events ... it is very easy for Londoners themselves to get tunnel vision about the negatives. However, in the past few years the city has just continued to improve. This guide is a reminder that Londoners should get out and see more of their own city. With new sights and attractions opening almost every day, the evolutions of neighbourhoods from humdrum to hip and a plethora of designer restaurants, what are Londoners waiting for?''

The Guide adds: "What's amazing is that the capital - ancient and modern, sprawling and compact, angry and indifferent, stolidly English and increasingly multicultural - works quite as well as it does."

It is the new "hip" neighbourhoods that are at the core of the "revived and buzzing city". Everyone knows about Hoxton, in east London and Clapham, in south London, but now, says the Guide, new areas such as Haggerston and Borough/Bermondsey, with their foodie markets and creative comunities, must be added to the list.

The Guide says eating out in London is as "diverse, stylish and satisfying" as anywhere in the world. "It's no exaggeration to call London a foodie destination,'' it adds. This is not simply confined to celebrity chefs and West End "destination" restaurants, says the Guide, singling outthe "dazzling" eating of Marylebone High Street and the culturally diverse Stoke Newington.

Plaudits are also given to the increase in high quality "budget boutique" hotels. Hoteliers everywhere, says Ms Johnstone, have initiated a design revolution and taken Ikea's advice to "chuck out the chintz ... It seems the days of paying through the nose for a grease-laden fry-up served with a scowl and a sagging mattress are happily long gone.''

The city's architecture is also praised: "Millennium structures like Tate Modern and the London Eye now represent the city as much as St Paul's Cathedral or the Houses of Parliament ... The "Gherkin" has won a rather unexpected place in the public's heart and while some Londoners aren't keen about the handful of record-breaking sky-scrapers planned for the centre ... these really underline the image of a dynamic, forward-looking city.''

Tired of London, tired of life

THE GOOD

* Chic neighbourhoods such as Hoxton and Clapham and emerging areas like Haggerston and Borough/Bermondsey, already attracting celebrities including Zandra Rhodes and Marc Almond.

* Architecture such as the Gherkin, Tate Modern and the London Eye, now seen as equally symbolic of London as more traditional and historic buildings.

* Eating out in districts as diverse as Stoke Newington, Marylebone High Street and even places such as Maida Vale and Primrose Hill, with their "knock-out" local restaurants.

THE BAD

* Decaying districts like "unattractive" Victoria and "plain" Pimlico, while Chelsea has "lost much of its stylish oomph" and Mayfair has become "the first port of call for tabloid paparazzi".

* Overpriced attractions such as the London Dungeon - "a camped up gothic gorefest rather more underwhelming than even sceptics might suspect" and "overrated" Madam Tussauds.

* The Underground remains "horrendously overpriced and crowded in the rush-hour" while the new "Bendy-buses ... lack style and grace" and have fewer seats.

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