Navigating London

London offers wonderful opportunities for rambling exploration—but it's also easy to lose your bearings if you're not careful. Fortunately, the web offers some terrific navigation tools and maps to help you find your way.

Search Engine Strategies London opens tomorrow, and we have attendees and exhibitors at the conference from all over the world. This got me thinking—why not put together an article about search tools, navigation aids and maps for attendees to use while they're enjoying the city away from the conference.

London is a huge, sprawling city, and good maps are a necessity. Three good mapping services for London include:

I think London one of the best cities in the world for taking endless walks, exploring neighborhoods that can date back hundreds of years. Fortunately, London's public transportation system makes it easy to get back to your starting point when the point of exhaustion takes hold.

Transport for London is the official page for information on just about every type of transportation available in London.

The excellent interactive journey planner suggests various alternatives for getting to and from one location to another. This can be a Station or stop, post code, address or place of interest. Once you'e entered your start and stop points, enter the time you want to go and you'll get several alternatives to consider.

Click on a result, and you'll get a figurative map showing details of your journey, with options to get more detailed maps in PDF format. You can also check out ticket options and fare prices.

London's Underground (aka the Tube) is one of my favorite forms of transit in London, especially for random exploration. Get a day pass and you can pop on and off trains at will. Even though all Tube stations and trains have maps of the system, you'll want to spend some time with Transport for London's tubes maps. Here you'll find standard maps, accessible maps, large print maps, and versions of tube maps in a dozen non-English languages.

The Tube Guru is a cool Flash application that helps you get around on the Underground and find things once you've arrived at your chosen station. Drag the map around until you find the station you're looking for and then click on it; you'll get a menu with links to information about the station, and restaurants, pubs and bars, shopping and other nearby attractions.

The London tube map is famous for its design. Its creator, Harry Beck, was an electrical engineer who based the design on an electric schematic. This made the map simple and clean, but geographically incorrect. If you don't know London well, these distortions in the map can lead you to spend a lot of time on the tube, transferring between stations unnecessarily. To avoid this, check out the London Transport Museum Underground Map which morphs between Beck's map and the geographically correct map of the tube.

To avoid unnecessary trips between stations that are close to one another but appear far apart on Beck's map, use this map to find 500 meter walk lines between tube stations.

For fun, take a look at animals on the underground, where clever punters have overlaid the outlines of animals "found" on the underground map.

A great collection of historical maps of London going back to 1600 is available at The Bolles Collection on the History of London. These maps feature a lot of interactive controls, allowing you to zoom, pan, overlay modern boundaries and so on. One of my favorite historical maps of London is Greenwood's Map of 1827.

Hungry after all of your rambling? Check out Toptable.co.uk, a restaurant finder that not only shows you how to get to an eatery, but offers 360 degree views of the interiors as well.

And don't forget the search engines. Of the majors, only Google has implemented Google Local UK. But you can limit search results to pages only from the UK with Ask Jeeves UK, MSN Search UK and Yahoo UK. 192.com is a homegrown UK search service that also features local search.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was About.com's Web Search Guide.