Traveling to London doesn't pose any specific health risks. Common drugs widely available throughout the Western world are generally available over the pharmacy counter and in large supermarkets, although visitors from overseas should note the generic rather than brand names of any medicines they rely on. If you're flying into London, pack prescription medications in carry-on luggage and carry prescription medications in their original containers, with pharmacy labels -- otherwise they won't make it through airport security. Also bring along copies of your prescriptions, in case you lose your pills or run out. Don't forget an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses. The general purpose painkiller known in North America as acetaminophen is called paracetamol in the U.K.
North American travelers can contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT; tel. 716/754-4883, or 416/652-0137 in Canada; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 888/232-6348; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on health hazards by region or country. If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before departure. All travelers with conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, or heart problems, should consider wearing a MedicAlert Identification Tag (tel. 888/633-4298 or 209/668-3333; www.medicalert.org; www.medicalert.org.uk in the U.K.), which will immediately alert doctors to your condition should you become incapacitated, and give them access to your records through MedicAlert's 24-hour hotline.
Deep vein thrombosis, or as it's known in the world of flying, "economy-class syndrome," is a blood clot that develops in a deep vein. It's a potentially deadly condition that can be caused by sitting in cramped conditions -- such as an airplane cabin -- for too long. During a flight (especially a long-haul flight), get up, walk around, and stretch your legs every 60 to 90 minutes to keep your blood flowing. Other preventative measures include frequent flexing of the legs while sitting, drinking lots of water, and avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills. If you have a history of deep vein thrombosis, heart disease, or another condition that puts you at high risk, some experts recommend wearing compression stockings or taking anticoagulants such as aspirin before and after you fly; always ask your family doctor about the best course for you. Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis include leg pain or swelling, or even shortness of breath.
It's always worth consulting the following official travel health websites before leaving home: In Australia, www.smartraveller.gov.au; in Canada, www.hc-sc.gc.ca; in the U.K., www.nathnac.org.
Few places in London are unsafe. Some locals are made nervous by a few parts of the East End, but there’s not much evidence of random violence to back up that fear. Neighborhoods that pessimistically might be called sketchy are usually distant from the Tube lines, and they only feel tense after dark, when shops close. London is like anyplace; simply be sensitive to who’s around you and you’ll do fine.
The biggest nuisance tourists might encounter—besides tipsy locals—is pickpockets. As chronicled in Oliver Twist, London, like all cities of size, is home to a skilled subspecies of crooks eager to lift your valuables. Oxford Street and the Tube are the prime picking grounds. Simply be smart about where you put your cash and about who’s pressing up against you.
Surveillance is the new British national pastime; there are more cameras per person than in any other country. Guns are banned—even on most police officers—so you don’t often see the kind of violence taken for granted in the United States. Londoners cite increasing knife crime as a problem, but the victims are almost always young men who themselves carry knives. Some male tourists have gotten fleeced at some of the “hostess bars” in Soho. If you do suffer a lapse of judgment and accept the barker’s invitation to go into one, understand that you might have cash exacted by lunkheaded yobs with tattooed fingers.
Should you find yourself on the business end of the legal system, you can get advice and referrals to lawyers from Legal Services Commission (www.legalservices.gov.uk; [tel] 084/5345-4345). Victims of crime can receive volunteer legal guidance and emotional fortification from Victim Support (www.victimsupport.org.uk; [tel] 0845/30-30-900). In the unlikely event of a sexual assault, phone the Rape Crisis Federation (www.rapecrisis.org.uk; [tel] 0808/802-9999).
Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square are the focal points for British political protest, and the casual visitor is advised to stay out of the area during any demonstrations. However, only very occasionally does such protest turn violent, so if you stumble into something unexpected, there's probably no cause for alarm.
Traffic is perhaps your greatest mortal danger in the city center. Be careful crossing all roads, and be on your lookout for bikes, mopeds, delivery trucks, cars, buses, even rollerbladers when you step onto the road.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.