London, United Kingdom

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This article is about London, United Kingdom. For other uses of the term London, please see London (disambiguation).
(CC) Image: Stuart Yeates
The London Eye.

London, the capital city of the United Kingdom, is situated in a region of moderate climate in the south-east of England. It is a popular tourist destination, the home of a major part of the global financial system, a major centre of culture and entertainment, and the hub of a national and international transport system. It has extensive sporting facilities, and was the host city of the 2012 Summer Olympics. It has a two-millennium heritage and contains numerous historic sites and buildings.

The term Greater London refers to the region comprising the City of London in the centre and the 32 London boroughs around it, but is also the name of the ceremonial county that excludes the City. The total population of Greater London was about 8.5 million people in 2014. The City of London, an important financial centre, is by contrast home to only about 8,000 people. The name London typically refers to the whole area, i.e. the City and the 32 boroughs.

London is run by the Greater London Authority comprising an elected 25-member London Assembly and the directly-elected Mayor of London. It is also where the Houses of Parliament, the seat of the national government, are situated. The British monarch's most famous residence is Buckingham Palace in central London.


London has been Britain's principal commercial centre ever since its establishment by the Romans at around 50CE, and, in the course of the following twelve centuries, it developed into a centre of international trading. The European merchants of the Hanseatic League set up a trading centre in the City's Steelyard in the 12th century, and they were gradually supplanted by English traders known as "mercers". During the 12th century the mercers, led by Richard Whittington[1] (the "Dick Whittington" of legend) acquired substantial wealth and political influence, and the city of London had the power to elect prospective monarchs or depose reigning monarchs. The city of Westminster, on the western side of London, became the site of a major royal palace and the place of coronations; and by the 13th century it was firmly established as the seat of the country's government. The rapid growth in London's population that occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries caused problems arising from its high housing density and poor water supply, and great damage was done by epidemics and fires, culminating in the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666. The subsequent reconstruction was followed by a massive expansion and a hesitant transition from what had become a brutal and insanitary conurbation into the healthy well-ordered city of the latter 20th century. (Links to accounts of the main events are available on the timelines subpage).

Physical geography

The term London usually refers to the administrative area defined by the Greater London Authority Act, which is formally termed "Greater London". Most of London lies within a roughly circular area about thirty miles in diameter, centred on the river Thames at Westminster. About 38 percent of its area is classified as greenspace and about 24 percent is taken up by domestic gardens. It is sited within the "London Basin", which is bounded to the south by the chalk of the North Downs, and to the north by the chalk outcrop of the Chiltern Hills, and much of it is geologically classified as "London clay". It is surrounded by the "home counties" comprising Essex, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire to the north of the Thames, and Surrey, Kent, and Sussex to the south. It is situated in a region of moderate climate, but is subject to occasional flooding.


The resident population of London was estimated to be 7.83 million in 2010[2] and it has been ranked 32nd in an international comparison of urban populations [3], making it about 40 per cent as populous as New York and with about 80 percent of the population of Paris. Its population density, at 13,200 people per square mile, is three times that of New York and more than 50 percent greater than that of Paris. It is one of the most cosmopolitan cities, with 34 per cent of its population having been born abroad (including 9 per cent born elsewhere in Europe), [4] and 34 percent classified as BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic)[5]. The ethnic mix varies widely: the non-white proportion by parliamentary constituency ranging from 7 percent (Hornchurch and Upminster) to 73 percent (Brent North). About 58 percent of Londoners classify themselves as Christian, 16 per cent say they have no religion, 9 percent say they are Muslim, 4 percent say they are Hindu and 2 percent say they are Jewish. Of its 3.2 million households, 1.4 million were couples, 1.3 million were single person households and 300 thousand were single parents[6]. The age structure of people living in London is not typical of England as a whole. There is a greater proportion of people aged between 20 and 44 in both Inner London (48 per cent) and Outer London (39 per cent) than for England (35 per cent).


London's local authorities have limited discretion over the government of London. Their activities are largely concerned with the execution of duties imposed upon them by Parliament, and most of their spending is paid for by grants from central government. The payments of council tax made to them by the average resident are small compared with their tax payments to central government. The Greater London Authority comprises the Mayor of London and a 25-member Greater London Assembly. It has responsibility, for: - transport, economic development and regeneration, the environment, the overall planning framework, police, fire and emergency planning, and culture, media, sport and tourism. It has four functional bodies: Transport for London, the London Development Agency. the Metropolitan Police Authority, and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority[7]. The 32 London Borough Councils each have responsibility for local planning. housing, local highways, building regulation, environmental health and refuse collection. Until 2010, the Government Office for London coordinated the work of government departments concerning London.


London's economy is estimated to have ranked fifth in GDP and second in GDP per head among the world's cities in 2008[8], and to have had the greatest number of tourist arrivals in 2006[9]. Its output, in terms of gross value added was 21 per cent of that of the United Kingdom in 2009. London's financial and professional services accounted for 28 percent of its gross value added in 2009 and 42 percent of the gross value added of the United Kingdom's financial and professional services[10]. Despite its disproportionate share of financial activity, it did not suffer disproportionately from the financial crisis and the recession that followed. Its output (GDP) fell by only 5.3 percent compared to 6.2 percent for the country as a whole, only 2.6 percent of employee jobs were lost, compared with the country's 3.9 percent, and the (claimant) unemployment rate went up by only 1.7 percent compared with the country's 2.2 percent[11]. However, London's unemployment rate continued to rise after the end of the recession, and had reached 9.5 percent by April-June 2011[12]



London has an extensive internal road network (map] with a network of bus routes, and it is the hub of nine of Britain's major highways (termed "motorways") leading to Canterbury (M2) in the east, Folkestone (M20), Brighton (M23) and Southampton (M3) in the south, Bristol (M4} in the west, and Birmingham (M40), Leeds (M1} and Newcastle (A1(M)) in the north. Those highways are linked by a motorway that encircles London (the M25).


London is served by some 250 miles of (partly) underground railway (map), in addition to a conventional commuter network, and to the high-tech Dockland Light Railway. Among its main line railway stations are six termini of the country's rail network. They are Paddington (for Bristol), Euston (for Glasgow), Waterloo (for southern counties and Exeter), King's Cross (for Birmingham), Victoria (for Brighton) and St Pancras International (for continental Europe by Eurostar).


The five airports serving London are Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and City Airport. (transport links).


Regular river bus services operate between the Embankment (London Eye) and Woolwich Arsenal, calling at Tate Modern, London Bridge, Tower of London, Hilton London Docklands Riverside, the O2 and Greenwich. There are also river cruises.

Major buildings

Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster is on the north bank of the river Thames, adjacent to Westminster Bridge and near to Westminster Abbey. (plan) [13]. Its centrepiece is the Central Lobby (images), a large octagonal hall from which corridors lead north to the House of Commons Lobby and Chamber and south to the Peers' Lobby and House of Lords Chamber. Beyond the House of Lords are the ceremonial rooms used during the State Opening of Parliament - the Queen's Robing Room and the Royal Gallery. To the north of the House of Commons are the Speakers' and Serjeant-at-Arms' rooms, and offices for ministers and officials. Beyond these is the Clock Tower which houses Big Ben. The oldest building in the palace is the 11th century Westminster Hall (virtual tour), which is used for major ceremonial occasions and for Commons adjournment debates.

Westminster Abbey

Besides being a place of worship, Westminster Abbey has been the venue of coronations and royal weddings, and the last resting-place of the famous. Among its features are a lofty (100ft) pillared nave, a richly-decorated choir screen, numerous royal chapels, cloisters and secluded cloister gardens, and the octagonal Chapter House that had once been the meeting-place of the Great Council.

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral (virtual tour) has hosted many major national occasions including Queen Elizabeth's golden jubilee, the service of remembrance for the victims of the 7 July bombings and the funeral of Winston Churchill. Its appearance from without and within is dominated by its 360 foot high dome, beneath which visitors can climb the 258 steps to its "Whispering Gallery" and look down at the nave.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London has variously served as a fortress, a royal palace, a prison, and a place of execution. Its most distinctive feature is the White Tower - a square building, 90 feet high, on the four corners of which are turrets bearing onion-shaped domes. The White Tower originally stood on its own, but it is now encircled by two fortified walls. The spaces enclosed by the walls are termed the Inner Ward and the Outer Ward. The Inner Ward has eleven towers, one of which is the Jewel Tower which houses the Crown Jewels including the Cullinan and Kho-i-Noor diamonds. Beneath the outer wall is an entrance from the river known as the Traitors Gate.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace (virtual rooms) serves as an office and a royal residence, as well as the administrative headquarters of the royal household. It stands within a 42-acre walled garden which is the site of the annual Royal Garden Party. Within the palace are the Grand Hall, the Grand Staircase, the Guard Room and the State Rooms containing paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, and Canaletto. At the southern corner of the gardens are the Royal Mews which house the coaches that are used for coronations, weddings and the state opening of Parliament.

The Monument

The Monument[1] is a 200-foot tall stone column in the heart of the City of London. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and erected between 1671 and 1677, as the City's memorial to the Great Fire in 1666. It contains a spiral staircase leading to a viewing platform that gives a panoramic view of the city.


The Thames is crossed within London by 31 bridges [2] (including railway bridges), of which the best-known are:

  • Westminster Bridge, which links the north bank near Parliament Square with the south bank in the region of County Hall and St Thomas's Hospital.
  • Waterloo Bridge, which links the Victoria Embankment at Somerset House with the region of Waterloo station and the South Bank Centre.
  • London Bridge, which crosses the Thames from near The Monument in the City of London to a road which leads to the Elephant and Castle on its South.
  • Tower Bridge, which links the north bank near the Tower of London with the south bank near London's City Hall'
  • The Millennium Bridge, which is a footbridge that links St Paul's Cathedral on the north bank with Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe in Southwark.

Parks and Commons

Over a third of the land of London is taken up by recreational open spaces.

  • St James's Park[3] is the most central of London's parks, adjacent to Buckingham Palace, and the Palace of St James's, it is dominated by a lake bordered with plane trees, with ducks, geese and pelicans.
  • Hyde Park[4] lies to the west of the West End, with thousands of trees, the Serpentine boating lake, and contains the "Rotten Row" horse riding area. Large open-air concerts are held there, and its north-east corner is the site of Speakers Corner.
  • Kensington Gardens[5] lie beyond Hyde Park to its west. It is a place of ornamental gardens and formal avenues of trees, and it is the site of the Princess Diana Memorial Playground [6], the Albert Memorial and the statue of Peter Pan.
  • Green Park[7]is an area of grassland to the north of St James's Park between Constitution Hill and Piccadilly.
  • Regents Park[8], to the north of the West End is the site of London Zoo. It has a rose garden with 30,000 roses in 400 varieties, extensive sporting facilities, and (occasionally) open-air theatre performances.
  • Primrose Hill[9], just north of Regents Park is a viewpoint commanding most of London's landscape
  • Hampstead Heath[10] is an 800-acre area of moorland and woodland, four miles north of Trafalgar Square. It has a string of ponds, some of which are used for open-air bathing.
  • Greenwich Park[11] is on the south bank of the river Thames several miles to the south-east of central London. It is the site of the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum. In 2012 it hosted the Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events
  • Battersea Park[12] is on the south bank of the Thames in central London. It has a boating lake, a funfair, an adventure playground and a children's zoo.

Entertainment and culture

London has sixty-three theatres [13], an opera house[14], more than a dozen concert halls[15], twelve major art galleries[16], several observatories and planetariums, more than five skating rinks[17] numerous libraries, a major zoo[18], an aquarium[19], thirty sports stadiums[20], more than a dozen gymnasiums[21], over twenty tennis courts[22], about twenty swimming pools[23], and five greyhound racing tracks[24], as well as some unique facilities such as Madam Tussauds[25], the London Dungeon[26], and the London Eye[27].

Literary connections

Descriptions of London appear in the Diary of Samuel Pepys, in Jonathan Swift's "Journal to Stella", in Daniel Defoe's "History of the Plague in London", and Joseph Conrad's "The Mirror of the Sea"; and London figures in Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility", in Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion", in "Oliver Twist", and in many other of Charles Dickens' novels. The "Old Curiosity Shop" and "number 221B Baker Street" did not exist, but the Marshalsea debtors prison, as described in "Little Dorrit" was all too real . Among literary figures who lived or worked in London are Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Lamb, Swift, Pope, Johnson, Boswell, Carlyle, Dickens, and Kipling. Literary figures have expressed a variety of views of London, ranging from Wordsworth's "Earth hath not anything to show more fair", and Samuel Johnson's "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life", to Kipling's "There is no provincialism like the provincialism of London", and William Cobbett's terming it "the Great Wen" (a wen being a tumour).