The official London residence of the monarch of the United Kingdom, Buckingham Palace...Buckingham Palace
As British as Beefeaters and as multicultural as anywhere else in the world, London’s got it all. Catch a show in the world-famous West End, wander the banks of the historic River Thames, enjoy acres of public parks and discover gastronomic delights down every side street. Whatever you like, and whatever it is that brings you here, just one visit to London will never be enough.
The city centre is crammed with iconic landmarks, old and new. The Shard, Docklands and the London Eye dominate the skyline, but they’re never too loud to overpower the centuries-old dome of St Paul’s or the clock tower of Big Ben. Winding streets and regal avenues trace a map that’s been evolving for hundreds of years, altered by plague and fire but never defeated. London just keeps on building itself, as the legions of cranes bending over its patchwork silhouette attest. And somehow, it all just works.Read more
by Moyan Brenn
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It’s impossible to do justice to London in a lifetime of visits. But you’ll have a lot of fun trying.
Visit London at any time of year and you’ll find a major cultural event going on: from the colour and chaos of the Notting Hill Carnival, one of the biggest on earth, to the pageantry of the Lord Mayor’s Show. The city hosts regular film and music festivals, is home to five of the most important art galleries in the world (the Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy, the Tate Britain and the National), and has a collection of museums to rival New York, Washington DC and Paris.
But there’s much more to the capital city than its sights. London is a unique world metropolis, as much a collection of individual villages and fiefdoms as it is a coherent whole. Every point of the compass, every postcode and Tube zone has its own character, its own food, and its own fiercely proud local communities. Take a turn through the leafy streets of Primrose Hill and Hampstead and you’ll run into movie stars, writers and musicians. Just down the road in Camden Town, the emo kids and goths rule the streets. Golder’s Green and Stoke Newington house large Jewish communities. Wood Green and Bounds Green, bordered by the impressive structure and park at Alexandra Palace, are bursting with Greek and Cypriot restaurants. Wherever you get off the bus, whatever Underground line you pick, the traditions and obsessions of diverse ethnic and social groups have influenced the food and the names of the streets.
London’s history is immense – stretching back, like the river, over thousands of years. Its bankside theatres created modern drama. Its revolutions changed the course of world history. Glance upwards on any street and you’ll see gargoyles that have stared down on Jack the Ripper and architecture that overlooked Winston Churchill. Dive down a cluttered alleyway to stumble on an old temple, an plague house, or the site of the Great Fire.
There’s more genuine multicultural food here than almost anywhere else in the UK, and you can eat just as well for a fiver as you can for £500. The nightlife covers every taste and musical style, with underground bars and superclubs alike serving up a smorgasbord of floor fillers. Bands flock to the city to make their mark. Artists start controversial careers here.
Central London is surprisingly small, and walking is an ideal option if you want to get lost in the sights, sounds and historic buildings.
London is served by two vast international airports – Heathrow and Gatwick, both of which receive flights from every major destination in the world. London City Airport operates within the UK and Europe, and the city is also served by satellite airports in the nearby towns of Luton and Stansted.
You can visit London by train from anywhere in the UK, and the city is also connected to European rail services via Paris. There are five major train stations in London – King’s Cross, Euston, Waterloo, Paddington and Liverpool Street – plus dozens of central, urban and suburban stops. Other major UK cities are connected to London by rapid services
The notorious M25 motorway surrounds the city’s 32 boroughs, and access into the centre is via numerous motorways and A roads including the A1 and the M4.
London’s public transport network is large, all-encompassing and generally reliable, despite what you might hear to the contrary from the locals. The Underground, the Docklands Light Railway and the buses all come under the purview of Transport For London, meaning you can buy tickets that get you around the city using multiple vehicles.
Travelcards are an excellent way to make use of the London transport system, and may be bought in denominations valid for one day, one week or longer. Extended stays are better served with an Oyster card – a blue plastic travel pass onto which you load prepaid credit at machines in most Underground stations.
The Underground system is constantly undergoing refurbishment, but is still mainly a good way to get around. It’s divided into Zones, which tell you how close you are to the centre: Zone 1 is the middle of the city, and Zone 6 is the edge of the suburbs.
London is synonymous with British and world history. Many of its buildings, place names and streets still carry the marks of the wars, political upheavals and cultural events that have shaped the city.
St Paul’s cathedral
St Paul’s cathedral is a visible reminder of the Great Fire, which demolished huge parts of the city in 1666: St Paul’s was one of the buildings Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to build in the great reconstruction that followed. Across the river on the South Bank, the recreated Globe reminds visitors what Southwark would have looked like in Elizabethan times. An even earlier theatre, the Rose, still exists in the foundations of an office building around the corner.
Down the river at Greenwich, the history of modern timekeeping is made flesh. The Greenwich meridian, which sits at 0 degrees longitude and circumnavigates the world, is a physical reminder of the place Britain once held in global affairs – the Age of Empire, which lasted almost uninterrupted from Elizabethan times to the end of the Second World War.
Wartime has left its own mark on London. The statue of Churchill in Parliament Square, Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, the secret War Rooms – now a museum – under the Clive Steps of the George Street Public Offices: these, like the rebuilt streets in many of the city’s residential boroughs, are just a few of the monuments to London’s involvement in world history.
Royal and Political History
There’s plenty of royal and political history on show too. The Palace of Westminster, which includes the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, retains the Gothic lines of its Middle Ages origins, though it was rebuilt in the mid 19th century. Buckingham Palace overlooks the Mall, down which successive British kings and queens have come after their coronation. And 10 Downing Street, with its instantly recognisable front door, has remained unchanged through the reign of dozens of Prime Ministers.
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