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Monday, 16 April 2007

London: An Overview


London, the capital of England and the UK, is the world's ninth-largest city. Its history spans over 2,000 years, which began with the arrival of the Romans soon after their invasion of Britain in AD43. London is situated on the banks of the river Thames and consists of two ancient cities which are now joined together:

The City of London is known simply as 'the City' which is the business and financial heart of the United Kingdom. It is also known as the Square Mile (2.59 sq km/1 sq mi) and was the original settlement (ancient Londinium).
The City of Westminster is where Parliament and most of the government offices are located. Also Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the Queen and the Royal family are located there too.

London is a huge multi-cultural city (almost 8 million residents) which supports a wide range of different cultures and lifestyles. Although most of the population is white and Anglo-Saxon, over a quarter are not, making it the largest non-white population of any European city. As a result the average Londoner is a tolerant, friendly and open-minded character. The English that is spoken in London today is a mix of borrowed foreign words, traditional cockney rhyming slang and a standard south-eastern accent.

London is an exciting place for a tourist and since winning the right to host the 2012 Olympics the general mood of Londoners has been positive. In the last ten years almost every one of London's world-class museums, galleries and institutions has been renovated or reinvented, from the Royal Opera House to the British Museum. The city now has the world's largest modern-art gallery: the Tate Modern, the tallest observation wheel: the London Eye, and two new pedestrian bridges that have attracted many people to the south bank of the Thames. London now has its own elected assembly, situated in an eye-catching building within sight of Tower Bridge, and a mayor who's trying to solve one of London's biggest problems: transport.

London's traditional sights – Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London – continue to attract millions of tourists every year. Monuments from the capital's past are everywhere to be seen, from medieval banqueting halls and the great churches of Christopher Wren to the Victorian architecture of the British Empire. There is also much enjoyment to be had from the city's quiet Georgian squares, the narrow streets of the City of London, the riverside walks, and the benefits of what is still identifiably a collection of villages. There are also surprisingly large areas of greenery: Hyde Park, Green Park and St James's Park are all within a few minutes' walk of the West End, while, further away, you can enjoy the larger parklands of Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park.

You could spend days just shopping in London too, mixing with the upper classes in Harrods, or the offbeat weekend markets of Portobello Road, Brick Lane, Greenwich and Camden. The music and clubbing scenes are second to none and in the arts there are regular opportunities to see brilliant theatre companies, dance troupes, exhibitions and opera. London has a lot of high-quality restaurants, as well as a large range of low-cost, high-quality Chinese restaurants and Indian curry houses. Meanwhile, the city's pubs have a lot of atmosphere, especially away from the centre – and exploring the communities away from the centre is essential to get the complete picture of this metropolis.

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