London is the capital and most populous city of England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its founding by the Romans, who named it Londinium.
A Tale of Two Cities
London is as much about high-density, sight-packed exploration (the West End, South Bank, the City) and urban dynamism as it is about wide-open spaces and leafy escapes. Central London is where you will find all the major museums, galleries and most iconic sights, but escape to Hampstead Heath or Greenwich Park to flee the crowds and put the city’s greener hues into gorgeous perspective. Or venture even further out to Kew Gardens, Richmond or Hampton Court Palace for effortlessly good-looking panoramas of riverside London.
English may be the national tongue, but over 300 languages shape London’s linguistic soundscape. These languages also represent cultures that season the culinary aromas on London’s streets, the clothing you glimpse and the music you hear. It can seem like the whole world has come to town. Museums, such as the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, have collections as diverse as they are magnificent, while flavours at markets such as Notting Hill and Maltby Street range across the gourmet spectrum. London’s diverse cultural dynamism makes it quite possibly the world’s most international city, while still being somehow intrinsically British.
London is immersed in history. Not so much that it’s intimidating, but there’s sufficient antiquity and historic splendour (Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court) to blow you away. London’s buildings are eye-catching milestones in the city’s unique and compelling biography. There’s more than enough funky innovation (the Shard, the Aquatics Centre, the Gherkin) to put a crackle in the air, but it never drowns out London’s well-preserved, centuries-old narrative. Architectural grandeur rises up all around you in the West End, ancient remains dot the City and charming pubs punctuate the Thames riverside. Take your pick.
Art & Culture
A tireless innovator of art and culture, London is a city of ideas and the imagination. British people are fiercely independent thinkers (and critics), so London’s creative milieu is naturally streaked with leftfield attitude, from theatrical innovation to contemporary art, pioneering music, writing and design. And that’s even truer in these testing recessionary times. The 2012 Olympic Games, and their attendant opening and closing ceremonies, have also inspired new artistic vigour and confidence.
Visit the official London residence of the Queen during the Buckingham Palace summer opening. Explore the extravagant State Rooms and don't miss this year's special exhibition, celebrating the 70th birthday of the Prince of Wales.
The London Eye is a major feature of London's skyline. It boasts some of London's best views from its 32 capsules, each weighing 10 tonnes and holding up to 25 people. Climb aboard for a breathtaking experience, with an unforgettable perspective of more than 55 of London's most famous landmarks – all in just 30 minutes.
At Madame Tussauds, you'll come face-to-face with some of the world's most famous faces. From Shakespeare to Lady Gaga you'll meet influential figures from showbiz, sport, politics and even royalty. Strike a pose with Usain Bolt, get close to One Direction or receive a once-in-a-lifetime audience with Her Majesty the Queen.
Tower of London
Take a tour with one of the Yeoman Warders around the Tower of London, one of the world's most famous buildings. Discover its 900-year history as a royal palace, prison and place of execution, arsenal, jewel house and zoo! Gaze up at the White Tower, tiptoe through a medieval king's bedchamber and marvel at the Crown Jewels.
It offers a glimpse into the lives of its past royal residents. Discover stories from Queen Victoria's life in the Victoria Revealed exhibition; master courtly games in the King's State Apartments; glimpse a modern princess in an exhibition of Diana's dresses; and uncover the secrets of a fragile dynasty in the Queen's State Apartments.
The Big Ben, tower clock, famous for its accuracy and for its massive bell. Strictly speaking, the name refers to only the great hour bell, which weighs 15.1 tons (13.7 metric tons), but it is commonly associated with the whole clock tower at the northern end of the Houses of Parliament, in the London borough of Westminster. The tower itself was formally known as St. Stephen’s Tower until 2012, when it was renamed Elizabeth Tower on the occasion of Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, celebrating 60 years on the British throne. The hands of the clock are 9 and 14 feet (2.7 and 4.3 metres) long, respectively, and the clock tower rises about 320 feet (97.5 metres). Originally in coordination with the Royal Greenwich Observatory, the chimes of Big Ben have been broadcast—with a few interruptions—since 1924 as a daily time signal by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Food in London
For some, this is the only way to start your day. A full English, or a fry up, is the heartiest, highest-carb breakfast you’ll find anywhere, but it is truly delicious. A full English breakfast can also work as brunch and is the perfect way to kickstart the morning after the night before. Created by the affluent classes of the 18th century, it typically includes fried or scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, fried bread (yes, bread fried in oil), fried potatoes, chips or hash browns, black pudding, mushrooms and tomatoes. Naturally, this is accompanied by a cup of tea, or perhaps coffee and juice. But there are many variations on the theme and you can add or exclude any items you would like.
Pie and mash
It's an East End favourite – a meat pie with mashed potato and liquor. The liquor is a non-alcoholic green sauce made from parsley and the water used to cook another Cockney dish, served alongside pie and mash – stewed eels.
Fish and chips
A serious British comfort food. It’s usually a white fish – the most popular being cod and haddock deep fried in batter and served with chips and likely a side order of mushy (or pureed) peas, onion rings and tartar sauce. It is thought to have been brought to Britain by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain in the 17th century. The first fish and chip shop opened in London in 1860.
Sunday Roast in London
Prepare for a feast – a roast dinner, most commonly served at Sunday lunchtimes, is a meal of grand proportions. Be it roast beef, chicken, pork or lamb, you’ll find meat served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding (a batter-based accompaniment), various vegetables and gravy.