Our great capital rivals any in the world in terms of culture, history, architecture and diversity. People have chosen to settle here for more than two thousand years; it was the Romans who gave the city its name, Londinium. A couple of millennia on and London has grown into a sprawling metropolis of nearly eight million people; a city that receives the most international visitors of any in the world and where more than 300 languages are spoken by its inhabitants.
In the 18th century, Dr. Johnson summed up the city by observing that, 'when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford'. With its superlative museums and galleries; vast array of restaurants, bars and shops; and magnificent setting straddling the mighty River Thames, his words still ring true nearly three centuries on.
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City at War
London has survived plague, fire and war to emerge as the city we see today. The Bubonic Plague or 'Black Death' struck London in 1665 and swiftly wiped out a fifth of the population. The following year, just as the plague outbreak was tailing off, the Great Fire reduced most of the city's timber-built centre to ashes. The Monument, standing 61 metres tall in the modern City – London's business heart – commemorates the blaze that started supposedly 61 metres away from its base, in a bakery in Pudding Lane. The fires raged again in the forties during the Blitz, when more than a million London homes were destroyed by the Luftwaffe's bombs.
World Class Museums and Galleries
London is home to some of planet's finest museums, whatever your interests. In South Kensington, the Victoria & Albert Museum – or 'V&A' as Londoners know it – is one of the many grandiose buildings ordered by Queen Victoria after the death of her beloved Albert. Nowadays it's the place to go to see a fabulous parade of historical costume. The Natural History Museum – and its 70 million exhibits – is nearby, as is the fascinating Science Museum. For something completely different, cross to the South Bank via the Millennium Bridge and visit the Tate Modern – dramatically housed in the former Bankside Power Station. These are some of the city's big-hitters but London's smaller, more eccentric museums are no less interesting – the Old Operating Theatre near London Bridge offers a glimpse of how grisly 18th and 19th century surgery must have been.
Like most of the world's foremost cities, London has grown up around the banks of its river and many of its most iconic buildings, vistas and attractions are found close to the water. The variety of architecture alone provides a snapshot of the city's colourful history – from the reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (a facsimile of the 1614 original) to the Victorian wharf buildings built in Britain's industrial heyday, to the 1960s Brutalist hulk of the National Theatre. Look out for the striking windows of the Oxo Tower, which the clever architect used to spell out 'OXO' after being banned from erecting an illuminated sign. One of the most recent additions to the iconic skyline here is the London Eye. Threatened with closure in its early days it's now one of the city's most visited attractions.
You Shouldn't Miss...
- St Paul's Cathedral
Climb up to the circular Whispering Gallery of Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece and put your ear to the wall to hear the whispers of someone directly opposite.
- Department Store Shopping
Harrods might be the most famous but savvy Londoners love Selfridges, on Oxford Street – Europe's busiest shopping street. It was opened in 1909 by the eccentric American Gordon Selfridge and introduced London to the concepts of the sale and window dressing.
- Maritime Greenwich, home of GMT
A little further away from the centre, Greenwich is definitely worth a visit, as the home of the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum and clipper ship the Cutty Sark, now preserved in dry dock.
- Historic shopping arcades
Around Bond Street and Piccadilly are some exquisite shopping arcades, dating from the earliest days of fashion and consumerism. The Burlington Arcade, guarded by a uniformed Beadle since 1819, is probably the finest.
- The Tower of London
As the scene of so many imprisonments and executions, the Tower is steeped in atmosphere. In contrast to the poignant memorial dedicated to those who died here, including Anne Boleyn, are the fabulous Crown Jewels on display.
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