London

London
London – the grand resonance of its very name suggests history and might. Its opportunities for entertainment by day and night go on and on and on. It’s a city that exhilarates and intimidates, stimulates and irritates in equal measure, a grubby Monopoly board studded with stellar sights.
It’s a cosmopolitan mix of Third and First Worlds, chauffeurs and beggars, the stubbornly traditional and the proudly avant-garde. But somehow – between ‘er Majesty and Boy George, Damien Hirst and JMW Turner, Bow Beells and Big Ben – it all hangs together.
The city is so enormous visitors will need to make maximum use of the underground train system: unfortunately, this dislocates the geography and makes it hard to get your bearings. A ride on a red double-decker bus (a quintessential London experience) will help piece things together.
Area: 1,572 sq km
Population: 7.2 million
Country: England
Time Zone: GMT/UTC 0 (Greenwich Mean Time)
Telephone Area Code: 020
Orientation
The main geographical feature of the city is the river Thames, which meanders through central London, diividing it into northern and southern halves. The central area and the most important sights, theatres and restaurants are within the Underground’s Circle Line on the north bank of the river. The trendy and tourist-ridden West End lies within the we

estern portion of the loop and includes Soho, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Regent St. The East End, so beloved of Ealing comedies, lies east of the Circle Line; it used to be the exclusive preserve of the Cockney but is now a cultural melting pot. There are interesting inner-city suburbs in North London, including Islington and Camden Town. South London includes a mess of poor, dirty, graffiti-ridden suburbs, such as Brixton, which have vibrant subcultures of their own and are in many ways where the real vitality of London lies.
When to Go
London is a year-round tourist centre, with few of its attractions closing or significantly reducing their opening hours in winter. Your best chance of good weather iss, of course, at the height of summer in July and August, but there’s certainly no guarantee of sun even in those months – plus it’s when you can expect the biggest crowds and highest prices.

Events
Most businesses close on public holidays such as New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, May Day Bank Holiday (the first Monday in May), Spring Bank Holiday (the last Monday in May), Summer Bank Holiday (the last Monday in August), Christmas Day and Boxing Day (26 December).
There ar

re countless festivals and events in London. It all kicks off with the New Year’s Eve fireworks and street party in Trafalgar Square, followed by the New Year’s Day Parade. On Shrove Tuesday pancake races are held in Covent Garden, and in early May more serious racers take part in the London Marathon.
All London gets its colours on for the FA Cup Final in mid-May. There’s even more colour at the Chelsea Flower Show, held in the last week of May.
Trooping the Colour, the Queen’s birthday parade, is held in June; Wimbledon runs for two weeks in the same month and London Pride, Europe’s biggest gay and lesbian festival, also hits the streets. In July the world’s biggest military tattoo, the Royal Tournament, is held in Earl’s Court, and the raucous Notting Hill Carnival takes over the streets in August.
Horsy folks can’t resist late-September’s Horseman’s Sunday in Hyde Park, with more than 100 horses receiving the blessing from a vicar on horseback, followed by show jumping in Kensington Gardens.
Things wind down as the weather gets colder, though there are plenty of bonfires on Guy Fawkes Night, on the 5th of November. The Lord Mayor’s Show is held in late November, co
omplete with floats, bands and fireworks. Trafalgar Square lights up in December with the Lighting of the Christmas Tree.
26 Dec – Boxing Day
25 Dec – Christmas Day
last Monday in Aug – Summer Bank Holiday
1 Jan – New Year’s Day
Mar/Apr – Good Friday
first Monday in May – May Day Bank Holiday
Mar/Apr – Easter Monday
last Monday in May – Spring Bank Holiday

Attractions
British Museum
The UK’s largest museum is the most visited tourist attraction in London, with over 6 million annual visitors. Millennium renovations led to the inner courtyard – hidden from public view for 150 years – being transformed into a spectacular, light-filled Great Court. It is the oldest, most august museum in the world.
Highlights include the weird Assyrian treasures and Egyptian mummies; the exquisite pre-Christian Portland Vase and the 2000-year-old corpse found in a Cheshire bog. With the removal of the British Library to St Pancras, the Reading Room is now open to the public, sadly making Reader’s Tickets a thing of the past.
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, built in 1705 for the Duke of Buckingham, has been the royal family’s London home since 1837 when St James’s Palace was judged too old-fashioned and insufficiently impressive. Nineteen of the 661 staterooms are open to visitors for two months each year. Don’t miss the changing of the guard.
The Queen opened Buckingham Palace to th

he public for the first time in 1993 to raise money for repairs to Windsor Castle. The interiors range from kitsch to tasteless opulence and reveal nothing of the domestic life of the Royal Family apart from a gammy eye when it comes to interior decoration.
Camden Market
The huge Camden Markets could be the closest England gets to free-form chaos outside the terraces of a football stadium. They stretch between Camden and Chalk Farm tube stations, incorporating Camden Lock on the Grand Union Canal, and get so crowded on weekends that you’ll feel like a sardine in a straitjacket.
The markets include the Camden Canal Market (bric-a-brac, furniture and designer clothes), Camden Market (leather goods and army surplus gear) and the Electric Market (records and 60s clothing).
Covent Garden
Once a vegetable field attached to Westminster Abbey, Covent Garden became the low-life haunt of Pepys, Fielding and Boswell, then a major fruit and veg market, and is now a triumph of conservation and commerce. The piazza is surrounded by designer gift and clothes shops, hip bars and restaurants. Stalls sell overpriced antiques and bric-a-brac.

British Museum
The UK’s largest museum is the most visited tourist attraction in London, with over 6 million annual visitors. Millennium renovations led to the inner courtyard – hidden from public view for 150 years – being transformed into a spectacular, light-filled Great Court. It is the oldest, most august museum in the world.
Highlights include the weird Assyrian treasures and Egyptian mummies; the exquisite pre-Christian Portland Vase and the 2000-year-old corpse found in a Cheshire bog. With the removal of the British Library to St Pancras, the Reading Room is now open to the public, sadly making Reader’s Tickets a thing of the past.
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, built in 1705 for the Duke of Buckingham, has been the royal family’s London home since 1837 when St James’s Palace was judged too old-fashioned and insufficiently impressive. Nineteen of the 661 staterooms are open to visitors for two months each year. Don’t miss the changing of the guard.
The Queen opened Buckingham Palace to the public for the first time in 1993 to raise money for repairs to Windsor Castle. The interiors range from kitsch to tasteless opulence and reveal nothing of the domestic life of the Royal Family apart from a gammy eye when it comes to interior decoration.

Camden Market
The huge Camden Markets could be the closest England gets to free-form chaos outside the terraces of a football stadium. They stretch between Camden and Chalk Farm tube stations, incorporating Camden Lock on the Grand Union Canal, and get so crowded on weekends that you’ll feel like a sardine in a straitjacket.
The markets include the Camden Canal Market (bric-a-brac, furniture and designer clothes), Camden Market (leather goods and army surplus gear) and the Electric Market (records and 60s clothing).
Covent Garden
Once a vegetable field attached to Westminster Abbey, Covent Garden became the low-life haunt of Pepys, Fielding and Boswell, then a major fruit and veg market, and is now a triumph of conservation and commerce. The piazza is surrounded by designer gift and clothes shops, hip bars and restaurants. Stalls sell overpriced antiques and bric-a-brac.

Off the Beaten Track

Hampstead Heath
Hampstead Heath is one of the few places in London where you can actually forget that you’re in the middle of a huge, sprawling city. There are woods, meadows, hills, bathing ponds and, most importantly of all, lots of space. Lose the 20th century altogether in Church Row, Admiral’s Walk and Flask Walk, which have intact Georgian cottages, terraces and houses.
After a brisk walk on the heath, pop into the Spaniard’s Inn for a tipple or have a look at Robert Adam’s beautiful Kenwood House and wander around its romantic grounds.
Holland Park
Holland Park is both a residential district, full of elegant town houses, and an inner-city haven of greenery, complete with strutting peacocks and scampering bunnies, the restored remnants of a Jacobean mansion (now set aside for the world’s backpackers), two exhibition galleries and formal gardens.
History
Although a Celtic community settled around a ford across the River Thames, it was the Romans who first developed the square mile now known as the City of London. They built a bridge and an impressive city wall, and made Londinium an important port and the hub of their road system. The Romans left, but trade went on. Few traces of London dating from the Dark Ages can now be found, but the city survived the incursions of both the Saxons and Vikings. Fifty years before the Normans arrived, Edward the Confessor built his abbey and palace at Westminster.
William the Conqueror found a city that was, without doubt, the richest and largest in the kingdom. He raised the White Tower (part of the Tower of London) and confirmed the city’s independence and right to self-government. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the capital began to expand rapidly – in 40 years the population doubled to reach 200,000. Unfortunately, the medieval, Tudor and Jacobean parts of London were virtually destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666. The fire gave Christopher Wren the opportunity to build his famous churches, and the city’s growth continued apace.
By 1720 it contained 750,000 people, and as the seat of Parliament and focal point for a growing empire, it was becoming ever richer and more important. Georgian architects replaced the last of medieval London with their imposing symmetrical architecture and residential squares. The population exploded again in the 19th century, creating a vast expanse of Victorian suburbs. As a result of the Industrial Revolution and rapidly expanding commerce, it jumped from 2.7 million in 1851 to 6.6 million in 1901.
War in the first half of the 20th century destroyed many of the gains achieved by the previous century. Georgian and Victorian London was devastated by the Luftwaffe in WWII – huge swathes of the centre and the East End were totally flattened. After the war, ugly housing and low-cost developments were thrown up on the bomb sites. The docks never recovered – shipping moved to Tilbury, and the Docklands declined to the point of dereliction. In the heady 1980s, that decade of Thatcherite confidence and deregulation, the Docklands were rediscovered by a new wave of property developers, who proved to be only marginally more discriminating than the Luftwaffe.
London briefly regained its swinging reputation in the 1990s, buoyed by Tony Blair’s New Labour, a rampaging pound and a swag of pop, style and media ‘names’. Blair’s bane, Ken Livingstone, donned the mayoral robes in May 2000, opposing plans to sell off the Tube and pushing for improved public transport and safety. The face of the city changed with the construction of the costly white elephant Millennium Dome, the London Eye observation wheel, the Tate Modern (linked by the structurally unsound Millennium Bridge) and the creation of the British Museum’s Great Court. But some things never change: London’s cost of living outdoes itself year after year, its chic quotient continues to soar and the gap between the haves and have-nots looms ever larger.

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