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London is the capital of England and the United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located 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. London's ancient core, the City of London, largely retains its square-mile mediaeval boundaries. Since at least the 19th century, the name London has also referred to the metropolis developed around this core. The bulk of this conurbation forms the London region and the Greater London administrative area, governed by the elected Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
London is a leading global city, with strengths in the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, tourism and transport all contributing to its prominence. It is the world's leading financial centre alongside New York City and has the fifth-largest metropolitan area GDP in the world, and the largest in Europe. London has been described as a world cultural capital. It is the world's most-visited city and has the world's largest city airport system measured by passenger traffic. London's 43 universities form the largest concentration of higher education in Europe. In 2012 London will become the first city to host the modern Summer Olympic Games three times.
London has a diverse range of peoples and cultures, and more than 300 languages are spoken within its boundaries. In March 2011, London had an official population of 8,174,100, making it the most populous municipality in the European Union, and accounting for 12.5% of the UK population. The Greater London Urban Area is the second-largest in the EU with a population of 8,278,251, while London's metropolitan area is the largest in the EU with an estimated total population of between 12 million and 14 million. London had the largest population of any city in the world from around 1831 to 1925.
London contains four World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London; Kew Gardens; the site comprising the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St Margaret's Church; and the historic settlement of Greenwich (in which the Royal Observatory marks the Prime Meridian, 0° longitude, and GMT). Other famous landmarks include Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square and Wembley Stadium. London is home to numerous museums, galleries, libraries, sporting events and other cultural institutions, including the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, British Library, Wimbledon, and 40 West End theatres. The London Underground is the oldest underground railway network in the world and the second-most extensive (after the Shanghai Metro).

Greater London is the top-level administrative subdivision covering London. The small, ancient City of London at its core once contained the whole settlement, but as the urban area grew the City Corporation resisted attempts to amalgamate it with its suburbs, causing "London" to be defined in a number ways for different purposes; and the situation was once open to legal debate. Forty per cent of Greater London is covered by the London post town, within which 'LONDON' forms part of postal addresses.

The London telephone area code (020) covers a larger area, similar in size to Greater London, although some outer districts are omitted and some places just outside are included. The area within the orbital M25 motorway is normally what is referred to as 'London'. and the Greater London boundary has been aligned to it in places.
Outward urban expansion is now prevented by the Metropolitan Green Belt, although the built-up area extends beyond the boundary in places, resulting in a separately defined Greater London Urban Area. Beyond this is the vast London commuter belt. Greater London is split for some purposes into Inner London and Outer London. The city is split by the River Thames into North and South, with an informal central London area in its interior. The coordinates of the nominal centre of London, traditionally considered to be the original Eleanor Cross at Charing Cross near the junction of Trafalgar Square and Whitehall, are approximately 51°30′26″N 00°07′39″W.

Within London, both the City of London and the City of Westminster have city status and both the City of London and the remainder of Greater London are the ceremonial counties. The current area of Greater London has incorporated areas that were once part of the historic counties of Middlesex, Kent, Surrey, Essex and Hertfordshire. London's status as the capital of England, and later the United Kingdom, has never been granted or confirmed officially—by statute or in written form.[note 3]
Its position was formed through constitutional convention, making its status as de facto capital a part of the UK's unwritten constitution. The capital of England was moved to London from Winchester as the Palace of Westminster developed in the 12th and 13th centuries to become the permanent location of the royal court, and thus the political capital of the nation. More recently, Greater London has been defined as a region of England and in this context known as London.

London's vast urban area is often described using a set of district names, such as Bloomsbury, Mayfair, Wembley and Whitechapel. These are either informal designations, reflect the names of villages that have been absorbed by sprawl, or are superseded administrative units such as parishes or former boroughs.
Such names have remained in use through tradition, each referring to a local area with its own distinctive character, but without current official boundaries. Since 1965 Greater London has been divided into 32 London boroughs in addition to the ancient City of London. The City of London is the main financial district and Canary Wharf has recently developed into a new financial and commercial hub, in the Docklands to the east.
The West End is London's main entertainment and shopping district, attracting tourists. West London includes expensive residential areas where properties can sell for tens of millions of pounds. The average price for properties in Kensington and Chelsea is £894,000 with similar average outlay in most of central London.
The East End is the area closest to the original Port of London, known for its high immigrant population, as well as for being one of the poorest areas in London. The surrounding East London area saw much of London's early industrial development; now, brownfield sites throughout the area are being redeveloped as part of the Thames Gateway including the London Riverside and Lower Lea Valley, which is being developed into the Olympic Park for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

London's buildings are too diverse to be characterised by any particular architectural style, partly due to their varying ages. Many grand houses and public buildings, such as the National Gallery, are constructed from Portland stone. Some areas of the city, particularly those just west of the centre, are characterised by white stucco or whitewashed buildings. Few structures in Central London pre-date the Great Fire of 1666, these being a few trace Roman remains, the Tower of London and a few scattered Tudor survivors in the City. Further out is, for example, the Tudor period Hampton Court Palace, England's oldest surviving Tudor palace, built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey circa 1515. Wren's late 17th century churches and the financial institutions of the 18th and 19th centuries such as the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England, to the early 20th century Old Bailey and the 1960s Barbican Estate form part of the varied architectural heritage.
The disused, but soon to be rejuvenated, 1939 Battersea Power Station by the river in the southwest is a local landmark, while some railway termini are excellent examples of Victorian architecture, most notably St. Pancras and Paddington. The density of London varies, with high employment density in the central area, high residential densities in inner London and lower densities in the suburbs.
The Monument in the City of London provides views of the surrounding area while commemorating the Great Fire of London, which originated nearby. Marble Arch and Wellington Arch, at the north and south ends of Park Lane respectively, have royal connections, as do the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall in Kensington. Nelson's Column is a nationally recognised monument in Trafalgar Square, one of the focal points of the city centre. Older buildings are mainly brick built, most commonly the yellow London stock brick or a warm orange-red variety, often decorated with carvings and white plaster mouldings.

In the dense areas, most of the concentration is achieved with medium- and high-rise buildings. London's skyscrapers such as 30 St Mary Axe, Tower 42, the Broadgate Tower and One Canada Square are usually found in the two financial districts, the City of London and Canary Wharf. High-rise development is restricted at certain sites if it would obstruct protected views of St Paul's Cathedral and other historic buildings. Nevertheless there are a number of very tall skyscrapers to be found in central London (see Tall buildings in London), including the 72-storey Shard London Bridge, the tallest building in Europe.
Other notable modern buildings include City Hall in Southwark with its distinctive oval shape, and the British Library in Somers Town/Kings Cross. What was formerly the Millennium Dome, located by the Thames to the east of Canary Wharf, is now used as an entertainment venue called The O2 Arena.

The largest parks in the central area of London are the Royal Parks of Hyde Park, its neighbour Kensington Gardens at the western edge of central London and Regent's Park on the northern edge. Regent's Park contains London Zoo, the world's oldest scientific zoo, and is located near the tourist attraction of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.

Closer to central London are the smaller Royal Parks of Green Park and St. James's Park. Hyde Park in particular is popular for sports and sometimes hosts open-air concerts. A number of large parks lie outside the city centre, including the remaining Royal Parks of Greenwich Park to the south-east and Bushy Park and Richmond Park to the south-west, as well as Victoria Park, London to the east. Primrose Hill to the north of Regent's Park is a popular spot to view the city skyline.

Some more informal, semi-natural open spaces also exist, including the 320-hectare (790-acre) Hampstead Heath of North London. This incorporates Kenwood House, the former stately home and a popular location in the summer months where classical musical concerts are held by the lake, attracting thousands of people every weekend to enjoy the music, scenery and fireworks.

London is home to many museums, galleries, and other institutions, many of which are free of admission charges and are major tourist attractions as well as playing a research role. The first of these to be established was the British Museum in Bloomsbury, in 1753. Originally containing antiquities, natural history specimens and the national library, the museum now has 7 million artefacts from around the globe. In 1824 the National Gallery was founded to house the British national collection of Western paintings; this now occupies a prominent position in Trafalgar Square. In the latter half of the nineteenth century the locale of South Kensington was developed as "Albertopolis", a cultural and scientific quarter. Three major national museums are located there: the Victoria and Albert Museum (for the applied arts), the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. The national gallery of British art is at Tate Britain, originally established as an annexe of the National Gallery in 1897. The Tate Gallery, as it was formerly known, also became a major centre for modern art; in 2000 this collection moved to Tate Modern, a new gallery housed in the former Bankside Power Station.
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