TRAVEL TO LONDON ENGLAND
With a population of just under eight million, London is Europe's
largest city, spreading across an area of more than 620 square miles
from its core on the River Thames. Ethnically it's also Europe's most
diverse metropolis: around two hundred languages are spoken within its
confines, and more than thirty percent of the population is made up of
first, second- and third-generation immigrants. Despite Scottish, Welsh
and Northern Irish devolution, London still dominates the national
horizon, too: this is where the country's news and money are made, it's
where the central government resides and, as far as its inhabitants are
concerned, provincial life begins beyond the circuit of the city's
orbital motorway. Londoners' sense of superiority causes enormous
resentment in the regions, yet it's undeniable that the capital has a
unique aura of excitement and success - in most walks of British life,
if you want to get on you've got to do it in London.
For the visitor, too, London is a thrilling place - and since the
beginning of the new millennium, the city has also been overtaken by an
exceptionally buoyant mood. Thanks to the lottery and
millennium-oriented funding frenzy of the last few years, virtually
every one of London's world-class museums, galleries and institutions
has been reinvented, from the Royal Opera House to the British Museum.
With the completion of the Tate Modern and the London Eye, the city can
now boast the world's largest modern art gallery and Ferris wheel;
there's also a new tube extension and the first new bridge to cross the
Thames for over a hundred years. And after sixteen years of being the
only major city in the world not to have its own governing body, London
finally has its own elected mayor and assembly.
In the meantime, London's traditional sights - Big Ben, Westminster
Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London -
continue to draw in millions of tourists every year. Monuments from the
capital's more glorious past are everywhere to be seen, from medieval
banqueting halls and the great churches of Sir Christopher Wren to the
eclectic Victorian architecture of the triumphalist British Empire.
There is also much enjoyment to be had from the city's quiet Georgian
squares, the narrow alleyways of the City of London, the riverside
walks, and the quirks of what is still identifiably a collection of
villages. And even London's traffic pollution - one of its worst
problems - is offset by surprisingly large expanses of greenery: Hyde
Park, Green Park and St James's Park are all within a few minutes' walk
of the West End, while, further afield, you can enjoy the more expansive
parklands of Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park.
You could spend days just shopping in London, too, hobnobbing with the
upper classes in Harrods, or sampling the offbeat weekend markets of
Portobello Road and Camden. The music, clubbing and gay/lesbian scenes
are second to none, and mainstream arts are no less exciting, with
regular opportunities to catch brilliant theatre companies, dance
troupes, exhibitions and opera. Restaurants, these days, are an
attraction, too. London has caught up with its European rivals, and
offers a range from three-star Michelin establishments to low-cost,
high-quality Indian curry houses. Meanwhile, the city's pubs have heaps
of atmosphere, especially away from the centre - and an exploration of
the farther-flung communities is essential to get the complete picture
of this dynamic metropolis
Introducing the City
more than thirty miles at its broadest point, London is by far the
largest city in Europe. The majority of its sights are situated to the
north of the River Thames, which loops through the city from west to
east. However, there is no single predominant focus of interest, for
London has grown not through centralized planning but by a process of
agglomeration - villages and urban developments that once surrounded the
core are now lost within the amorphous mass of Greater London.
One of the few areas that you can easily explore on foot is Westminster
and Whitehall , the city's royal, political and ecclesiastical power
base, where you'll find the National Gallery and a host of other London
landmarks, from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. The
grand streets and squares of St James's , Mayfair and Marylebone , to
the north of Westminster, have been the playground of the rich since the
Restoration, and now contain the city's busiest shopping zones.
East of Piccadilly Circus, Soho and Covent Garden are also easy to walk
around and form the heart of the West End entertainment district,
containing the largest concentration of theatres, cinemas, clubs, flashy
shops, cafés and restaurants. To the north lies the university quarter
of Bloomsbury , home to the ever-popular British Museum, and the
secluded quadrangles of Holborn's Inns of Court, London's legal
The City - the City of London, to give it its full title - is at one and
the same time the most ancient and the most modern part of London.
Settled since Roman times, it is now one of the world's great financial
centres, yet retains its share of historic sights, notably the Tower of
London and a fine cache of Wren churches that includes St Paul's
Cathedral. Despite creeping trendification, the East End , to the east
of the City, is not conventional tourist territory, but to ignore it
entirely is to miss out a crucial element of contemporary London.
Docklands is the converse of the down-at-heel East End, with the Canary
Wharf tower, the country's tallest building, epitomizing the pretensions
of the Thatcherite dream.
Lambeth and Southwark comprise the small slice of central London that
lies south of the Thames. The South Bank Centre, London's little-loved
concrete culture bunker, is enjoying a new lease of life thanks to its
proximity to the new Tate Gallery of Modern Art in Bankside, which is
linked to the City by a new pedestrian bridge.
The largest segment of greenery in central London is Hyde Park, which
separates wealthy Kensington and Chelsea from the city centre. The
museums of South Kensington - the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Science
Museum and the Natural History Museum - are a must; and if you have
shopping on your agenda, you'll want to check out the hive of plush
stores in the vicinity of Harrods.
The capital's most hectic weekend market takes place around Camden Lock
in North London . Further out, in the literary suburbs of Hampstead and
Highgate, there are unbeatable views across the city from half-wild
Hampstead Heath, the favourite parkland of thousands of Londoners. The
glory of South London is Greenwich, with its nautical associations,
royal park and observatory (not to mention its Dome). Finally, there are
plenty of rewarding day-trips along the Thames from Chiswick to Windsor
, most notably Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle.