The story of London really is a tale of two cities. To the east of the centre, there is the City of London (AKA The Square Mile or The City), where the financial power sits. Butting against The City is its younger sister, the City of Westminster, home to parliament and royalty. Surrounding the two cities is the mass of areas that make up London as a whole. The way London has developed has shaped the character of the city. London has always welcomed visitors and many people from different cultures have made the city their home. Each of these cultures has added to London’s flavour like a rich mixture of exotic spices. It is these people, along with London’s history as a political, financial and cultural centre that has made it a city with so many exciting and varied things to offer.
With so much on offer, it can be difficult to know what to do first. We’ve put together our A to Z of London to inspire you on your holiday in London.
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
"In London, everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in."
Afternoon Tea began as a little snack to bridge the gap between luncheon and dinner. Anna Maria Russell, the Duchess of Bedford is widely credit as starting the fashion of taking Afternoon Tea. It started off with her taking a slice of bread and a pot of tea in her rooms at Woburn Abbey, to get her through the what she called her afternoon "sinking feeling". Gradually, the duchess began to invite friends to join. When she returned to London, she kept the practice going.
The idea caught on amongst upper class ladies. They were an informal private event and evolved into a mini meal. Then, Queen Victoria started hosting much larger and more formal events, that were known as 'tea receptions'. The receptions hosted up to 200 guests, who received an invitation to attend any time between 4:00pm and 7:00pm. And so, the tradition of Afternoon Tea as we know it was born.
Afternoon Tea usually consists of sandwiches (with the crusts removed and cut delicately into fingers or triangles). Alongside these, there are sweet pastries and cakes, traditionally slices of Battenburg or Victoria Sponge. Scones with clotted cream and jam were a bit of late arrival at the party only introduced in the later twentieth century.
In the UK today, Afternoon Tea is usually enjoyed as an occasional indulgence or to celebrate a special event such as a birthday. Often, champagne or prosecco can be added to the tea to up the indulgence level. There are places all across London to take Afternoon Tea, from grand hotels like the Savoy to small cafes. You can even combine the Afternoon Tea experience with a trip on one of London’s iconic Routemaster Buses on the Brigit's Afternoon Tea Bus Tour. This unique experience combines a delicious Afternoon Tea with a tour around London.
Officially known as as Yeoman Warders, Beafeaters live at the Tower as its guards and are also one of its star attractions. There are 36 Yeoman Warders plus the Chief Yeoman and Yeoman Gaoler.
Their guided tours of the Tower are legendary, with tales of intrigue, imprisonment, execution, torture and lots of laughs along the way. With bags of personality and humour, the Beefeaters make history interesting and intriguing. The tours are included for free with all Tower of London tickets. They begin every 30 minutes at the main entrance to the Tower, and last around an hour.
Top tip: As the tours are so popular, we recommend arriving early as they can get very busy later in the day.
They are a London icon; watch any film set in London and you will see them in every shot. Yes, the London Black Cab is world famous.
The first taxicab licenses were issued in 1639 to the Corporation of Coachmen. Hackney carriages, the first horse-drawn carriages for hire, were issued their licenses in 1662, and later became Hansom Cabs in 1834. The first motorised cabs were introduced to London in 1908 and by the 1920s they had superseded hansom cabs as the primary taxi vehicle. By law, taxicabs had to be tall enough for a passenger to sit comfortably while wearing a bowler hat.
Black cabs have a turning circle of only 25 feet – this requirement stems from the exceptionally small roundabout in front of the Savoy Hotel. The reason for this is supposedly to accommodate the small roundabout at the entrance of the Savoy Hotel. This turning radius later became legally required of all London taxis. Savoy Court is also one of the only places in London where vehicles drive on the right.
Adverts first appeared on London taxis in 1928 but were scrapped a few years later after the bus companies complained it was denting their advertising revenue. It was only in 1982 that they returned, after a Royal Parks Act was amended to enable the carrying of advertising through the parks. In recent years it’s really taken off and now most carry black cabs carry advertising – most are wrapped with all-over advertising.
It comes as a surprise to most people that ‘Black Cabs’ actually come in 12 different colours: Black, City blue, Diamond white, Sunburst yellow, Sherwood green, Atlantic blue, Thistle blue, British racing green, Nightfire red, Oxford blue, Storm grey and Platinum silver.
London’s famous blue plaques link the people of the past with the buildings of the present. Now run by English Heritage, the London blue plaques scheme was started in 1866 and is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the world.
Across the capital over 900 plaques, on buildings humble and grand, honour the notable men and women who have lived or worked in them.
The first blue plaque was awarded to the poet Lord Byron in 1867, but his house in Holles Street, near Cavendish Square, was demolished in 1889. The oldest surviving plaque goes to the last French Emperor, Napoleon III, whose plaque was installed in 1867.
The British Library is the national library of the UK. It is one of the world’s largest libraries.
Spanning nearly 3,000 years, the British Library holds over 150 million items representing every age of written civilisation. As well as books, you’ll find illuminated manuscripts, maps, stamps, photographs, music and much more. From the Lindisfarne Gospels and Magna Carta to Shakespeare’s First Folio, you can peek into the wonders of their vast collection.
Change of the Guard
Watch the Change of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, a striking display of British pageantry, when the New Guard takes over from the Old Guard. It’s a formal ceremony in which the group of soldiers currently protecting Buckingham Palace are replaced by a new group of soldiers. The guard that looks after Buckingham Palace is called The Queen’s Guard and is made up of soldiers on active duty from the Household Division’s Foot Guards. The guards are dressed in traditional red tunics and bearskin hats.
The Buckingham Palace Old Guard forms in the palace’s forecourt from 10:30am. They is joined by the St James’s Palace Old Guard at around 10:45am. The New Guard then arrives from Wellington Barracks and takes over the responsibilities of the Old Guard in a formal ceremony accompanied by music. The ceremony is free to watch.
Charles Dickens' House
48 Doughty Street is the only surviving London home of Charles Dickens. The author wrote many of his best known stories at this address.
Dickens and his wife Catherine moved to 48 Doughty St, London, a few months before Queen Victoria began her reign in 1837. The couple raised the eldest three of their ten children in the house. They also hosted many of the period’s leading figures with dinners and parties.
Visit the Charles Dickens Museum and you’ll uncover the private world behind the author’s public image. Explore his study, the family bedchambers, and the servants’ quarters below stairs. See treasures including Dickens’s desk, handwritten drafts from the novels he wrote here, and his young wife’s engagement ring. Walk through rooms dressed with their furniture, table ware, portraits, marble busts, china ornaments and paintings.
Geographically, Chinatown is bound by Shaftesbury Avenue to the north, Rupert Street to the west, Charing Cross Road to the east and Leicester Square to the south. The main focal point is Gerrard Street, which runs through its centre. Chinatown is part of London's West End.
Enjoy a taste of the far east by exploring London's Chinatown. This bustling neighbourhood is home to a large East Asian community, who gather together for events and activities throughout the year, in particular during London’s Chinese New Year celebrations.
Once home to Huguenot and Maltese immigrants, the area of Chinatown as we know it today started to form in the 1950s, when a handful of Chinese restaurants opened. Originally, Chinatown was based in Limehouse in London's East End, catering mostly to Chinese sailors who arrived in the London docks. The area was extensively bombed in the second world war and with the rise in the popularity of Chinese cuisine in the 50s, the move to a more central location made sense. With other businesses and services moving in, by the 1960s and 1970s the neighbourhood has become a hub for Chinese culture.
Treat your tastebuds and dine at the finest Chinese spots the London’s Chinatown has to offer.
Many people think that the term 'Cockney' applies to anyone born in London’s East End. However, any true Cockney will tell you that to be a Cockney, you have to be born within the sound of the Bow Bells. This again causes confusion as the Bow Bells aren’t in Bow. They are in fact in the City of London and the Bow Bells are the bells at the church of St Mary-le-Bow. In the past, the bells could be heard from quite a distance, but the wind conditions in London meant that the sound travelled east but not in any other direction.
The East End of the city has its own unique cockney food delicacies to offer. At one time it was a place renowned for terribly poverty, and many of the dishes were created out of a necessity for cheap food. Also, the history of the East End and its traditional food are a mixture of the various ethnic groups who have settled there over the years. The Bangladeshi community have most recently turned Brick Lane into "Bangla-Town", known the world over as one of the best places to go out for a good ole 'Ruby Murray' (curry). The locals call it 'luvverly grub' and you can't call yourself a cockney until you've tried a plate of Cockney Becks and Posh (Nosh!). These include Bartelmans Beef, Jellied Eels, Pie and Mash, Steak and Oyster Pie.
One thing that Cockneys are famous for is rhyming slang. Originally it was used among market traders as a way of talking amongst themselves without customers understanding them. Like any language, rhyming slang changes over time, so there are always new phrases coming along, like 'Britney Spears' which could be tears or beers.
Often, people using rhyming slang will only use the first word of a rhyming phrase, like using "my plates are killing me", meaning "my feet hurt", where 'plates' is short for 'plates of meat'. So, is you’re in the East End and someone asks you if you want to 'go to the rub-a-dub', go and brush your Barnet, put on your daisies and join them and then maybe head to Brick Lane for a Basil after. Just remember not to have too many Britneys or you’ll end up Brahms and start talking Jackson.*
*Rub-a-dub = Pub
Barnet Fair = Hair
Daisy roots = Boots
Basil Fawlty = Balti
Britney Spears = Beers
Brahms and Liszt = P****d (very drunk)
Jackson Pollocks = Bollocks
You want to listen to classical music in London, but where to go? Whether it's catching performances of the world's most famous composers by the world’s greatest musicians, hearing work by cutting edge composers, or just seeing some free classical music, London is packed with opportunities.
London is home to nine major concert halls: Barbican Centre, Purcell Room, Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Royal Opera House, Queen Elizabeth Hall, St John's Smith Square, Wembley Arena and Wigmore Hall. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – there’s also quirky places like such as Rough Trade Records and Wilton’s Music Hall you probably wouldn’t have thought about, here are some of the best places to listen to classical music in London.
The Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom is made up of 23,578 precious and semi-precious stones, which are embedded into 140 different items, which include robes, plates, sceptres, orbs, swords and of course, crowns. Amongst the jewels are the Coronation Regalia and robes, the only working Coronation Regalia in Europe. (Other European have replaced Coronations with civic ceremonies). The Crown Jewels are on display at the Tower of London.
The jewels trace their origin back to the 12th century. Unfortunately, many of the original Crown Jewels were sold or melted down after the monarchy was abolished in 1649 during the English Civil War. Only four items survive from before the Civil War. These include a 12th-century anointing spoon, which is the oldest item in the collection.
Amongst the jewels are stones cut from the Cullinan diamond (the largest diamond ever found). The Cullinan was cut to make the Cullinan I, along with 96 brilliants. Most of these brilliants are part of the Crown Jewels. The Cullinan I, which at 530 carats is the world’s largest clear cut diamond, sits in the set in the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross.
The Cullinan was discovered near Pretoria in South Africa on 26 January 1905 and is named after the chairman of the mining company, Thomas Cullinan. In its uncut state, it weighed 3,106 metric carats and boasted a size of 10.1 x 6.35 x 5.9 cm. This scale, coupled with its extraordinary blue-white colour and exceptional clarity, made it the most celebrated diamond in the world.
In 1907 the Cullinan was presented to King Edward VII by the Government of the Transvaal. It was a symbolic gesture intended to heal the rift between Britain and South Africa following the Boer War. After initial hesitation, the King accepted the gift on the recommendation of the British Government. The stone was taken under heavy police escort to Sandringham, and formally presented on the King’s 66th birthday.
The Crown Jewels have been kept in the Tower of London since the 14th century. Before that they were stored in the Jewel Tower at the Place of Westminster. During World War II, parts of the collection were stored in a biscuit tin and buried at Windsor Castle. Despite numerous attempts the Crown Jewels have only ever been stolen once, by Colonel Thomas Blood, in 1671. For his sins, he was given a Royal Pardon and given land in Ireland worth £500 a year (about £115,000 in today’s money)!!!
Located in a 1960s grade ii listed building in Kensington, the Design Museum houses a massive collection of items relating to design. The exhibits cover product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design. As well as the permanent exhibition, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions and runs educational workshops. They award an annual design prize and sponsor a design prize for school students. In 2018, they named as the European Museum of Year.
London’s major galleries host a wide range of exhibitions. Infact, on any given day they will be around 50 of them running. Get ready to admire amazing artworks with some of these top exhibitions currently on in London.
As well as art exhibitions, London is a major centre for trade shows. There are 17 major exhiition centres in the city. These include Alexandra Palace, Business Design Centre, Central Hall Westminster, Excel, Royal Horticultural Halls and Olympia. They hosts shows ranging from World Travel Market, the world’s largest travel industry trade fair, to the Ideal Home Show, which has been showcasing new the latest innovations in home technology and design since 1908. (It’s the worlds longest running annual exhibition).
The first ever couturier was British. Granted, Charles Frederick Worth worked in Paris, but he was born in Bourne, England in 1825 before heading to the French capital to become the favoured designer of Napoleon III’s court, where he drew upon the history of costume to create elaborate, lavish gowns. Over the past 150 years fashion has moved way beyond Worth’s spangled silk tulle and corsets, and some of the most progressive style movements have been down to British designers. They were responsible for the Swinging Sixties and Punk after all.
There are over 15,900 licensed restaurants in London with menus from 53 major country styles. London really is one of the most exciting and diverse restaurant capitals in the world.
From the classics to the latest game-changers… make sure you’re in the know which are causing the biggest stir in town, the ones which reviewers are thrilled about, where tables are like gold dust or places that are just serving the most interesting & inventive food in town right now!
There are 63 Michelin star London restaurants in total, ranging from one-star restaurants to two and three-star restaurants, including Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, which has held three stars since 2001.
Other awards come and go but no restaurant rating has lasted as long as the Michelin star. The categorisation dates back to 1926, when Michelin wanted to broaden the appeal of the guide it had launched in 1900 as a way of directing French drivers to amenities such as restaurants and garages. Michelin is first and foremost a tyre manufacturer, lest anyone forget, and the red guides are its most valuable marketing tool.
The second and third stars were introduced in 1933 and have been causing chefs sleepless nights ever since. Put simply: winning a Michelin star is the life’s goal of many chefs. And once one star has been won, the second and third stars are the next pinnacles of success to climb.
There are eighty seven ghost stations in London. These are Underground and mainline stations that have opened and then closed. Some of them are visible in plain sight, dejectedly propped up on busy street corners. Only bits of others remain, buried deep below the ground, or barely visible out of the windows of trains passing by.
Some were showing their advancing age, some just weren’t necessary anymore, but all have a story behind them. They lie forgotten beneath our feet for now, but here’s a little peak inside…
Lying 6.4 km northwest of central London, Hampstead is an area of London that is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations. It has some of the most expensive houses in London and has more millionaires per square kilometre than any other area in the UK.
Hampstead has been the home of the rich and famous both past and present. Notable Hampstead residents include pop stars Harry Styles and Sting, actress and National Treasure Dame Judi Dench, and novelist Ian Fleming. The Hampstead area has about 60 buildings bearing the famousBlue Plaque.
Hampstead Heath, known to most Londoners as The Heath, is a 790 acres of heathland, and woods that has been a heath since the 10th century. The boundary of The Heath has changed over time as pieces of land were sold and then acquired. It includes one of the highest points in London, a chain of ponds, which include three public swimming pools, and woods. The Hampstead Heath woods are an Site of Special Scientific Interest. Interestingly, although The Heath sits in the London Borough of Camden, it is managed by the Corporation of the City of London. The Heath even has its own police force, the Hampstead Heath Constabulary.
Hampstead Station is the deepest London Underground station at 58.5 metres. The Northern Line station sits on the picturesque but thigh-aching Hampstead Hill, the tube platforms may not be that far below sea level but they are an awful long way below the ground. The southbound platform is about 0.8m deeper than the northbound platform, according to TfL figures, but they’re both about 58.5m below ground level.
London has some of the finest hotels in the world. Overall there are around 159,000 rooms in the capital. During 2020, 7,995 hotel rooms across 65 new hotels will open, adding to the 158,956 existing rooms. This compares with 6,845 in 2019 and 3,222 in 2010 – London is a truly dynamic city with a new hotels opening all the time. As of October 2020, there were 92 five-star hotels*, offeing plenty of choice for lovers of luxury.
*Expedia – October 2020
If you fancy a day at the races, London has three horse racing tracks, where you can indulge your passion for the sport of kings. The three tracks are Epsom (home to The Derby), Kempton Park and Sandown Park.
Houses of Parliament
Although everyone refers to the building as the House of Parliament, it's actually called the Palace of Westminster.
Imperial War Museum
In 1917, while the First World War was still being fought, a Member of Parliament proposed a national museum to record people’s experiences of the war. He wanted it record the experience of everyone, including civilians. The proposal was accepted and in June 1920, the Imperial War Museum opened its doors. Since it opened, the museum has moved twice, gained a few additional sites and increased its collections. However, it stays true to its objective – to tell the story of war using the experience real people.
The Imperial War Museum's main site is in Lambeth, and in London there are also the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast.
Before they moved to their current home at the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels were housed in the Jewel Tower. The tower is one of only two parts of the original Palace of Westminster, which burned down in 1512. It also survived a second fire in 1834 and bombing in the Second World War, so it was definitely built to last.
Originally called 'King’s Privy Wardrobe', the Jewel Tower has been used to store the archives of the House of Lords and then became the offices of the Standard Weights and Measures Department. Today, the Jewel Tower is managed by National Heritageand houses an exhibition dedicated to the history of the Palace of Westminster and another about the history of weights and measures.
Kew Gardens, or to give it its full name, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, houses the "largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world". Situated in south-west London, the gardens have been welcoming visitors since 1840 and is one of London's UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
A trip to Kew Gardens is a great day out and it really can take you more than a day to see everything there, so plan ahead. As well as the plants, the gardens are home to the world's largest compost heap. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew also run the world's biggest online plant and fungus databases.
The London Assembly is an elected body that supervises the running of London with the Mayor.
In total, there are Twenty five members of the London Assembly. Eleven represent the whole capital and fourteen are elected by constituencies. As the most powerful directly-elected politician in the UK, it is important the Mayor is held publicly and democratically accountable. The Assembly holds the Mayor and Mayoral advisers to account by publicly examining policies and programmes through committee meetings, plenary sessions, site visits and investigations. In addition, the Assembly questions the Mayor ten times a year at Mayor’s Question Time.
Assembly meetings are open to the public so Londoners can stay informed about the activities of the Mayor and the Assembly can publicly review their performance.
The structure of the London Eye stands at 135 metres, and the wheel itself has a diameter of 120 metres. When the London Eye was first put in place, it was the tallest ferris wheel in the world but it has since been superseded by wheels in Nanchang, Singapore and Las Vegas. However, the London Eye is differentiated from the others by the fact that it is maintained by an A-Frame on just one side of the wheel which means that the wheel is often referred to being the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel.
In 2005 it was voted the world’s best tourist attraction, above the likes of the Sydney Opera House and the Vatican in Rome.
Just when you thought ‘millennial pink’ was over, things are looking rosy for one of London’s most famous landmarks. The London Eye’s new sponsor is travel company Lastminute.com, who have shaken things up by reworking the Eye’s night-time illumination with its hot-pink brand colour.
London has its very own dedicated TV station. London Live is broadcast 24 hours a day on Freeview channel 8, Sky channel 117, Virgin channel 159 & YouView channel 8. Since the channel first launched, London Live has commissioned a varied portfolio of programmes which include Drag Queens of London, Good Morning Breakfast, CTRL Freaks, Can You Cook It, Food Junkies, Fresh Fantasy, Jeff Leach +1, Place Invaders, F2 Kicks Off and Nihal’s City Swagger.
Every year 46,500 people attempt to complete the London Marathon. The first London Marathon was held on 29 March 1981, more than 20,000 applied to run. 6,747 were accepted and 6,255 crossed the finish line on Constitution Hill. The Marathon’s popularity has steadily grown since then. As at 2020, a whopping 1,125,728 people have completed the race since its inception. In 2019, 42,549 people crossed the line, the biggest field since the race began.
Guinness World Records partners with the Virgin Money London Marathon to give participants in the world’s greatest marathon the chance to become official record title holders. At the 2019 event there were 40 new Guinness World Records titles achieved from 79 attempts, ranging from the Fastest marathon dressed in a tent to the Fastest marathon with two runners handcuffed together!
A small number of runners, known as the "Ever Presents", have completed each of the London Marathons since 1981. When the list was first established in 1995, there were 42. After 2019, their number has shrunk to 10. At the running of the 2019 event, the oldest runner was 85-year old Kenneth Jones, whilst the youngest runner was 60-year-old Chris Finill.
Mayors of London
Yep, the 'S' isn't a typo, London has two Mayors. One, The Mayor of London, is directly elected every four years, (currently Sadiq Kahn) the other is the Lord Mayor of London (currently William Russell).
The Mayor of London leads the London and is a political office controlling a budget which covers the large area of Greater London.
One of the world’s oldest continuously elected civic offices , the Lord Mayor of London is The City’s mayor and the leader of the City of London Corporation. Within the City of London, the Lord Mayor is accorded precedence over all individuals except the sovereign and retains various traditional powers, rights and privileges, including the title and style The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of London.
The Lord Mayor is elected at Common Hall each year on Michaelmas, and takes office on the Friday before the second Saturday in November, at The Silent Ceremony. The Lord Mayor’s Show is held on the day after taking office; the Lord Mayor, preceded by a procession, travels to the Royal Courts of Justice at the Strand to swear allegiance to the sovereign before the Justices of the High Court.
Misleading Underground stations
You would expect that you could rely on the station’s name to tell you where you are, right? London’s rail and Underground network exploded in growth during the 19th and early 20th centuries but in those wild west days, train companies were able to name the then newly created stations pretty much whatever they wanted. Even today, there is sometimes a "close enough for jazz" approach to station names.
Anyone who has ever fancied a night out in Clapham and ended up more than a mile away at Clapham Junction station would be furious. Technically, the station is in Clapham, just not the bit of Clapham where the action is.
One station that causes a lot of confusion (a gets quite a few tourists lost) is Abbey Road DLR. While the station is on an Abbey Road, it isn't on the Abbey Road that tourists are looking for.
More than a couple of people have gone to Bromley By Bow thinking they were headed for Bromley. There are two Bethnal Green stations and two Edgware Road stations (neither of which are on Edgware Road), Euston Square Station isn’t on the square. Stratford International has absolutely no international services, Goodge Street Station is on Tottenham Court Road and Watford Underground station is about a thirty minute walk from the centre of Watford!.
The Monopoly board game has been keeping people entertained since 1935 The locations on the standard British version of the Monopoly board game are set in London and were selected in 1935 by Victor Watson, managing director of John Waddington Limited. In early ’35 Parker Brothers sent a pre-release version of the original US game to Waddingtons to see if they would be interested in producing the game in the UK. Watson gave the game to his son Norman, who tried it and told his father Waddingtons should make it.
Watson felt that for the game to sell well in the UK, they would need to replace the American place names. Watson sent his son Victor and his secretary Marjory Phillips, to London to find suitable locations. Interestingly, the British Monopoly board has a street that doesn’t exist. The Angel, Islington isn’t a road, but a building. By the 1930’s The Angel, Islington was a J Lyon's & Co Tea Room. According to legend it was here that Victor and Marjory met up to finalise the list of London locations.
Monopoly has been perennially popular around the world and the chosen locations have become familiar to millions. Tourists from as far as Canada, Singapore and Saudi Arabia have been known to visit specific locations in London because of their presence on the Monopoly board.
The game has been celebrated by the Monopoly pub crawl, which attempts to visit all the locations on the board and have a drink at a pub in each one.
The Mousetrap is not only the longest-running West End show, but the longest running production in the world. Having played in London since 25th November 1952, Agatha Christie’s mysterious whodunit has been performed in London almost 29,000 times, as of October 2020! Keeping up the mystery, audience members are asked to not spoil any of the secrets and withhold from telling anyone who committed the murder. So, the only way you’ll find out what happens in The Mousetrap is if you book your tickets and step inside St Martin’s Theatre to see just why this production has developed an astounding legacy.
Museums and galleries
Enjoy the best of London’s culture completely free; from the many world-class free exhibitions London has to offer, to stunning art galleries and historic houses. Entry to the permanent collections of these museums and galleries is free; while charges may apply for special exhibitions.
Charging for entry to national museums has been a contentious issue since the 1960s. Successive governments have changed the policy, with Labour governments in favour of universal free admission and Conservative governments opposed to it. The Labour government of 1997 promised to reintroduce free admission and finally did so in 2001, since when it has become an accepted fact of cultural life and admissions have risen massively.
The National Archive
By 2020 it now takes 185km of shelving to store all of their records at the National Archive, and that keeps increasing every year. The National Archives at Kew is a non-ministerial government department. It's the official archive of the UK government and for England and Wales; and "guardian of some of the nation’s most iconic documents, dating back more than 1,000 years from Domesday Book to the present", with records from parchment and paper scrolls through to digital files and archived websites.
Notting Hill Carnival
Taking place over two days in August, the Notting Hill Carnival traces its roots back to the mid 1960s. Today, it gets 2.5 million attendees and is all made possible by the 40,000 volunteers who give up their time to organise and run it.
Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s biggest street party, is about many things — it’s a celebration of history, community, food, fashion and dance — but it’s the music that fuels it all. Sound systems are an integral part of the experience and last year there were a whopping 36 of them dotted around the area, blasting out all the classic Carnival sounds – Reggae, Dancehall, Soca, Dub, Drum ‘n’ bass, Rare groove and all the rest.
The Number 11
London Buses Route 11 was introduced by the London General Omnibus Company in August 1906, and is amongst the oldest routes to have operated continuously in London, although its route has changed on several occasions. The route has a cameo appearance in the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code, where the protagonists take a number 11 bus from near Temple Church to get to "Chelsea Library", though they get off at Westminster Abbey; this is the same route the bus takes in real life.
Old Bailey Central Criminal Court
There has been a courthouse on Old Bailey since at least the 1580s. Today, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales sits proudly on the corner of the street and is known to everyone simply as The Old Bailey. The current building dates from 1902 and sits on the site of London’s notorious Newgate Prison. Above the entrance door is the inscription "Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer". On the dome above the court there is a statue of Lady Justice. The statue is often referred to as blind justice, but the statue doesn’t depict a blindfold.
The courts of the Old Bailey have seen many famous trials, including the Kray Twins and Dr Crippen. If you want to see the court in action, you visit and sit in the public gallery. The court also runs tours and you can even book a lunch session with a top lawyer.
The Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster serves as the meeting place for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Informally known as the Houses of Parliament after its occupants, the Palace lies on the north bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London, England.
Its name, which derives from the neighbouring Westminster Abbey, may refer to several historic structures but most often: the Old Palace, a medieval building-complex largely destroyed by fire in 1834, or its replacement, the New Palace that stands today. The palace is owned by the monarch in right of the Crown and, for ceremonial purposes, retains its original status as a royal residence.
Pearly Kings and Queens
The London tradition of Pearly Kings and Queens began in 1875. Originally Pearly Kings and Queens came from East London, but now several pairs reign over different London. Pearly titles are hereditary, with children being raised in the family’s Pearly traditions. Sometimes, if a Pearly family has moved out of London, the title is 'rested'. If a person living in a London becomes not for charity work, they can be invited to hold a Pearly tile. They can ask permission from families with rested titles to borrow the title.
Pearly Kings and Queens are an iconic image of London, easily recognised by their distinctive suits and accessories covered with patterns of mother-of-pearl buttons. They've inspired fashion designers, costume makers, and been featured in everything from films to the London Olympics opening ceremony.
The very first Pearly King is accepted to have been Henry Croft, an orphan and street sweeper. In the mid- to late 1870s Croft completely covered his suit in mother-of-pearl buttons, creating the first pearly 'smother' suit. He did this to draw attention to himself when collecting money for orphanages and hospitals and so the pearly mission to support charitable organisations was born.
The lights of Piccadilly Circus have been one of London’s icons for over a century and is unmissable for the 100 million people who pass through Piccadilly Circus every year. The Piccadilly Circus large advertisements have been a famous feature of central London since 1908 when they hosted the first Perrier advertisement which was created with lightbulbs.
Since then, the logos of many household names have been up in lights, and the vista has featured in numerous films and TV programmes. The brand longest history of advertisements at Piccadilly Circus is Coca-Cola, who have and ad there since 1954.Over the years, the technology has evolved too – from simple lightbulbs to neon signs in the 1920s, then to digital projectors in the 1990s and on to LEDs in 2011. In January 2017, the LED screens were switched off for 10 months as they were replaced with one large Ultra-High definition flat screen.
Poems on the Underground
Sitting on the tube, you will sometimes look up to find a poster of a poem. The poem may make you think, make you smile or just leave you a bit confused. Whatever you feel, the poem has touched you and that was the aim when the idea for “Poems on the Underground” was developed.
The poems are carefully selected and the posters are crafted to match the poems. The posters are for sale at the London Transport Museum. A book of the poems was only published after a Publisher’s Representative tried to buy a copy of a book of the poems only to find it didn’t exist. He convinced his employers to publish it. They did so on the condition that he sold 5,000 copies of it by Christmas that year. As it turned out, the initial print run sold out on presales and they had to do a second printing before it was released.
London is a uniquely green city with a patchwork of open spaces. Overall, green spaces account for about 40% of the city. There are around 40 public parks in Greater London, These 'green lungs' are hugely popular for leisure and recreation.
The centrepieces of Greater London's park system are the eight Royal Parks of London. These lands were originally owned by the monarchy of the United Kingdom for the recreation, mostly hunting, of the royal family. They are part of the hereditary possessions of The Crown.
With increasing urbanisation of London, some of these were preserved as freely accessible open space and became public parks with the introduction of the Crown Lands Act 1851. There are today eight parks formally described by this name and they cover almost 2,000 hectares of land in Greater London: Bushy Park, Green Park, Greenwich Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regent's Parks, Richmond Park and St James’s Park.
Of these, Regent's Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens (which are adjacent), Green Park and St James’s Park (also close to each other) are the largest green spaces in central London. Bushy Park, Greenwich Park and Richmond Park are in the outer boroughs.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, aka Queen Elizabeth II, has been the Queen of the United Kingdom since 1952. She holds a few records for the length of her reign. She is the longest-lived and longest-reigning British monarch. She is the longest-serving female head of state in world history, and the world’s oldest living monarch, longest-reigning current monarch, and oldest and longest-serving current head of state.
Long before Netflix was even a distant dream, The Queen was being broadcast into living rooms around the country. When she came she continued the tradition of the Royal Christmas Day message and in 1957 she was the first monarch to broadcast a televised message to the people. In another technological first, she was the first member of the Royal Family to make a transatlantic telephone call.
The history of the River Thames and the development of London are completely intertwined. The Thames, known alternatively in parts as the River Isis, is 346 kilometres long – it’s the longest river entirely in England and the second-longest in the United Kingdom, after the River Severn. It flows through Oxford (where it is called the Isis), Reading, Henley-on-Thames and Windsor. The river rises at Thames Head in Gloucestershire, and flows into the North Sea via the Thames Estuary.
Within the London borders the River Thames extends to 68km.
It may be perhaps surprising to know but a large portion of the River Thames is actually tidal, and hence subject to tides. Of the Thames’ total length, 160km is in fact tidal, that’s close to half of the length. This section of the Thames, known as the Tideway, stretches all the way from the sea until stopping at the first lock on the river in Teddington. The Tideway includes the Thames Estuary, the Thames Gateway and the Pool of London. The tide rises and falls twice a day, with the highest and lowest tidal changes occurring during the spring.
As long as we have been living by side of the Thames, we have trying to cross it. Today there are 33 bridges and four tunnels that will get you from one side to the other within London. (Of course, that doesn’t include the network of Underground and railway tunnels). The River Thames is the second-longest river in the United Kingdom. If you look along its entire length, it is crossed by over 200 bridges, 27 tunnels, six public ferries, one cable car link, and one ford along its 346 kilometre course.
Many of the present road bridges over the river are on the sites of earlier fords, ferries and wooden structures. The earliest known major crossings of the Thames by the Romans were at London Bridge and Staines Bridge. During the 18th century, many stone and brick road bridges were built from new or to replace existing structures, both in London and further up the river. These included Westminster Bridge, Putney Bridge, Datchet Bridge, Windsor Bridge and Sonning Bridge.
Several central London road bridges were built in the 19th century, most conspicuouslyTower Bridge, the only bascule bridge on the river, designed to allow ocean-going ships to pass beneath it. The most recent road bridges are the bypasses at Isis Bridge and Marlow By-pass Bridge and the motorway bridges, most notably the two on the M25: Queen Elizabeth Bridge and M25 Runnymede Bridge.
The classic Routemaster buses are definitely a design icon of London transport. They are the double-decker buses with an open platform at the back that allow passengers to jump on and off. The buses used to operate with a conductor on board who would sell tickets (from a machine they had hung round their neck), while the driver was tucked away in a small compartment at the front.
The buses have been part of London life since 1956, but sadly, the buses went out of general service at the end of 2005 as they were not accessible to all passengers. Newer buses have lower floors and wider doors to make it easier for people in wheelchairs and those with baby strollers to get on and off.
Heritage Route 15 is their last preserve – running on bank holidays and weekends between the last Saturday in March until the last weekend in September. The route runs from Tower Hill to Trafalgar Square. This is a shortened version of the regular route 15, designed for sightseers or anyone who wants to ride a distinctive old bus for the fun of it.
St Paul's Cathedral
The present Cathedral, the masterpiece of Britain's most famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, is at least the fourth to have stood on the site. It was built between 1675 and 1710, after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, and services began in 1697.
For more than 1,400 years, a Cathedral dedicated to St Paul has stood at the highest point in the City of London. Frequently at the centre of national events, traditions have been observed here and radical new ideas have found expression under the iconic dome. In many cases these events have left some physical record as well as echoes in the intangible memory of the building.
Savile Row is renowned as 'the place' for tailoring. The term "bespoke" as applied to fine tailoring is understood to have originated in Savile Row, and came to mean a suit cut and made by hand.
In 1846, Henry Poole, later credited as the creator of the dinner jacket or tuxedo, opened an entrance to his tailoring premises at 32 Savile Row. In 1969, Nutters of Savile Row modernised the style and approach of traditional Savile Row tailoring; a modernisation that continued in the 1990s with the arrival of designers like Richard James, Ozwald Boateng and Timothy Everest.
As Saville Row became THE destination for bespoke clothing in London, competition for space meant that tailors shops sprung up in the surrounding streets. In the 21st Century, Savile Row is more modern and accessible than ever – with a range of tailors providing bespoke tailoring to customers in suit styles ranging from traditional to modern to cutting edge.
Huntsman served as the inspiration for Matthew Vaughn’s blockbuster Kingsman movies The Secret Service, The Golden Circle and The Secret Service. During an appointment with his cutter, Vaughn imagined moving beyond the walls of his fitting room, with the legendary premises acting as a smokescreen for his team of spies, the Kingsmen.
The action-packed and hilarious spy caper plays tongue-in-cheek homage to other "secret service" movies but stands head and shoulders above them in its close attention to sartorial elegance. James Bond may have cut a dash, but Colin Firth, in his role as dapper Harry Hart, and Taron Egerton, his protégé Eggsy, really up the ante in the style stakes.
With over half a million square foot of space, Selfridges is the largest store on Oxford Street.
Selfridges was founded by Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1908. The basis of Harry Gordon Selfridge's success was his relentlessly innovative marketing, which was elaborately expressed in his Oxford Street store. Originally from America himself, Selfridge attempted to dismantle the idea that consumerism was strictly an American phenomenon. He tried to make shopping a fun adventure and a form of leisure instead of a chore, transforming the department store into a social and cultural landmark that provided women with a public space in which they could be comfortable and legitimately indulge themselves.
Emphasising the importance of creating a welcoming environment, he placed merchandise on display so customers could examine it, moved the highly profitable perfume counter front-and-centre on the ground floor, and established policies that made it safe and easy for customers to shop. These techniques have since been adopted by modern department stores around the world.
The 60 original Sherlock Holmes stories were written between 1887 and 1926 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and consist of four novels and 56 short stories. All were published in journals and most were serialised, meaning they were made available to the public one chapter, or story, at a time.
Any Sherlock Holmes pilgrimage should start with a visit to Baker Street. Take the Marylebone exit to come face-to-face with a nine-foot bronze statue of the great detective. It might take a bit of detective work to find the famous 221B Baker Street address where Sherlock Holmes lived and worked – it's actually located between 237 and 241 Baker Street.
Here, you'll find The Sherlock Holmes Museum. On arrival, you can expect to be heartily greeted by one of Victorian London’s most recognisable figures, the famous British 'Bobby'. You’ll enter through the iconic 221B front door, following in the footsteps of many troubled, yet hopeful people seeking the assistance of consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, and make your way up the narrow staircase to the first floor.
Smithfield or, to give it its official name, London Central Markets, is the largest wholesale meat market in the UK and one of the largest of its kind in Europe. Located within the Square Mile of the City of London it is housed in three listed buildings.
It is a place packed with history there has been a livestock market on the site for over 800 years and yet is as modern as tomorrow with its state of the art facilities for the receiving, storing and despatching of meat and poultry. The market is open Monday to Friday from 2am but are closed on Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays. Although some selling takes place until mid-morning, to see the market at its best and find the full range of stalls open, visitors and buyers should arrive by 7am.
An act of Parliament in 1872 established Speakers' Corner on the north-east edge of Hyde Park as a place for free speech.
Historic figures such as Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell were known to often use the area to demonstrate free speech. Even today, on a Sunday morning, it's not unusual to find crowds gathering at Speakers' Corner to listen to enthusiasts expounding their views. Anyone can turn up unannounced to speak on any subject, as long as the police consider their speeches lawful.
In total there are 147 theatres in London. In 2019 around 15 million people attended one of London's theatres.
The glamorous, buzzing West End we know and love today is at the heart of London's cultural scene. But entertainment wasn't always legal in London. In 1642, the Puritans closed all London theatres – a ban that lasted 17 years. But when the ban was lifted in 1660, London theatres started to thrive, and London's West End has been entertaining residents and visitors ever since – that's over 350 years.
The West End's oldest theatre which is still in use today is Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which opened in 1663. It was a huge success with the King, Charles II, and it's been a royal favourite ever since. In fact, it’s the ﬁrst place people heard both the National Anthem and Rule Britannia.
Slowly, more and more theatres opened in what we now call the West End. In 1720, the Theatre Royal Haymarket opened, followed by the Adelphi in 1806. Then, thanks to the Theatres Act 1843, laws on performing plays relaxed and even more London theatres opened and Theatreland was born.
Tower Bridge has stood over the River Thames in London since 1894 and is one of the finest, most recognisable bridges in the world. A visit to London just isn’t complete until you see Tower Bridge open for a passing ship. On average, it takes 61 seconds to open the bridge.
In 2019, Tower Bridge opened 725 times, while a few years earlier, in 2015, its bascules raised 777 times. An average of twice a day. You might feel these numbers are high enough, but in 1894, Tower Bridge’s opening year, its bascules were lifted 6,194 times. An average of 17 times per day!
London Underground's history dates back to 1863 when the world's first underground railway, the Metropolitan Railway, opened between Paddington and Farringdon serving six intermediate stations. Since then the Underground network, affectionately nicknamed the Tube by generations of Londoners, has grown to 270 stations and 11 lines stretching deep into the Capital's suburbs, and beyond.
Tube, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), London Overground and National Rail services in London are divided into zones. Most services operate in zones 1-6, with Tube, London Overground and National Rail also operating in zones 7-9. If you use a Travelcard on any of these services, it must be valid for every zone you travel through.
For the best value when using the London transport network, use either a contactless debit/ crid card or get an Oyster Card. The fares are cheaper than cash fares and if you are taking a bus in central London, they no longer take cash!!
The London Underground zips around the city and, in pretty much all occasions, is the quickest way of travelling in the capital. Yes, there may be the odd occasion when walking is actually quicker, the riding one stop between Covent Garden and Leicester Square, but most of the time it’s the fastest form of travel.
Sometimes, when you are traveling around on the Underground network, you will come across a singer with a heavenly voice or an amazing guitar player. Busking on the Underground has long been a tradition, but until 2003 it was illegal, not that it ever stopped anyone. Some major artists started their careers as buskers, like George Michael and Ed Sherran. In 2003, Transport for London stopped fining buskers and started awarding busking licences.
The oldest licensed busker playing on the Underground was ‘Busker Bill’, who was still busking at 89. Julian Lloyd Webber was the tube’s first official busker – the cello-playing younger brother of jowly impresario Andrew launched London’s licensed busker scheme in 2003. Since then, change-hungry musos have been required to undergo a rigorous audition process, conducted on a disused platform under Charing Cross station.
UNESCO World Heritage sites
Although London is one of the world's great modern capitals, it has a history stretching back to Roman times. London's four UNESCO World Heritage sites are: Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey & St. Margaret's Church, the Tower of London, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and Maritime Greenwich.
London is the most popular tourist destination in the whole world, attracting around 30 million visitors from other countries each and every year. People travel here from every corner of the globe to admire London's many impressive monuments, explore the richly vibrant culture of the city and perhaps take in a theatrical performance in the West End.
Buckingham Palace is by far the most popular tourist attraction in London attracting around 15 million tourists each year. A whopping 13 percent of the people who work in London are employed in the tourism sector in one way or another.
Londoners have a reputation for being a bit stand-offiah with tourists. However, contrary to popular belief, eight in ten visitors find Londoners friendly or very friendly.
Wembley Stadium is the national stadium of England and the home of English football. With 90,000 seats, it is the largest sports venue in the UK and the second-largest stadium in Europe. It’s internationally-recognised as an iconic, world-class venue that hosts the biggest and best events including UEFA Champions League Finals in 2011 and 2013, Gold medal matches at the 2012 Olympic Games, England internationals, Emirates FA Cup Finals, NFL, RFL, concerts and much more!
The London Wetland Centre offers visitors the chance to see rare wetland wildlife just outside central London. Roam the beautiful walkways amongst the lakes and pools of this wildlife haven, perfect for spotting birds, amphibians, bats, butterflies and a colony of water voles. Watch wild birds from numerous hides or from the comfort of the observatory. With flat paths and plenty of benches the entire site is easily accessible.
Run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the centre includes a variety of habitats making it the ideal place to watch wildlife. In 2012 it was voted Britain’s Favourite Nature Reserve in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards.
Wimbledon Tennis Championships
Held every year since 1877, The Championships, Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world. It is one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments and is the only one to be played on grass courts. There are 38 courts in total. 18 Championships grass courts (Centre Court + Courts 1 to 18, less 13) plus 20 grass court practice courts.
Every year, 256 starry-eyed tennis players flock to the smooth grass courts of Wimbledon. At the start of the two-week-long extravaganza, the lush grass glistens, each blade on the 54 million individual plants trimmed to a neat eight millimetres in height. By the end of the tournament, that grass will have taken a beating of epic proportions – stomped on, slid over, sometimes salinized with frustrated tears – but somehow, still alive.
If you’ve ever wanted to sit on the bench used by Roger Federer in the Gentlemen’s Dressing Room, flick through the pages of Arthur Ashes’ diary, and witness the power of Martina Navratilova… you can when you wander through the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.
Once upon a time, the area known as Soho was a fashionable area for the aristocracy. As they moved west to Mayfair, they were replaced by the middle classes. The middle classes then pretty much abandoned the area following a major cholera outbreak in 1854. From that point, Soho began to develop into and entertainment district.
Despite being a fashionable area, Soho always had a connection with the sex industry. In 1778 The White House brothel opened its doors at 21 Soho Square. Described as "a notorious place of ill-fame", it was closed down in 1801. In the early part of the 20th century rival gangs controlled the prostitution and drugs scenes in Soho. This pretty much was the way things continued until the 1980s. In 1982 there were 185 sex industry premises in Soho.
During the 1980s the area started to become more gentrified and by 1991 the number of sex industry premises had dropped to 30. Today, Soho is the place where Londoners come out to play. It is packed with bars, restaurants and clubs and is a great place to party. You can still find a few places where ‘models’ offer French Polishing services (often along with having a large chest for sale). However, Soho’s X-rated reputation is prety much a thing of the past.
London has a long history of brewing beer. Young’s brewery have been quenching the thirst of Londoners since 1831. However, their old main brewery, The Ram Brewery in Wandsworth started producing beer in the 1550s. Alas, the Ram Brewery has now closed, but its memory lives on in the Young’s logo and the 200 pups they run in London. You can easily spot a Young’s pub – just look out for the ram’s head carving (aka Roger the Ram) above the door.
ZSL London Zoo
London Zoo is the world’s oldest scientific zoo. Set up by Zoological Society of London in 1828, it was intended to be a place for scientific study. In 1831, the animals of the Tower of London menagerie were given to the zoo. It opened to the public in 1847 and today has a collection of 673 species of animals, with 19,289 individuals, making it one of the largest collections in the United Kingdom.