A unique mixture of ethnicities, nationalities, languages and religions, London constitutes a genuine melting pot. A suit-clad yuppie from Kensington Avenue is as much a typical Londoner as an immigrant fast-food shop owner from the East End. The cultural diversity of this amazing city is truly overwhelming, and the feeling grows as you move from district to district, eachfeaturing its very own spirit.
The first major settlement on the site was established in 43 AD by the Romans, after the Roman invasion of Britain. The conquerors named it Londinium, from which the modern name of the city possibly derives. By the end of the next century, the town had bloomed economically and its population had reached 60,000 people. It’s believed that the Roman administrators marked the centre of Londinium with a stone known as the London Stone, still visible today on Cannon Street. However, with the fall of the Roman Empire, the town fell into economic troubles and was consequently abandoned.
However, less than half a century later an Anglo-Saxon settlement was founded on the site of today’s Covent Garden. It became known as Lundenwic, another possible origin of the city’s modern name. By the beginning of the 11th Century, however, London had been firmly established as the largest and fastest-growing English city. Although it wasn’t yet the official seat of the government, it was a favourite of King Edward the Confessor, who chose it as the location for Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster.
Throughout its history, London has faced numerous revolts, plagues and fires. The mid-14th-Century Black Death killed nearly one-third of the city’s population. The Great Fire of London of 1666 ravaged the area, consuming well over 13,000 houses and nearly 90 churches, including the original St. Paul’s Cathedral. Throughout the following decades, most of them were successfully reconstructed.
Home of the Industrial Revolution, London developed at an unequalled pace throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries. From around 1831 to 1925, it was officially the world’s largest city. In 1863, it became the first city on the planet to feature a metropolitan metro system. Today, the British capital is the second-largest financial centre after New York, and boasts the sixth-largest city economy. It’s also the most populous city of the European Union.
The entire metropolitan area of London is estimated to be populated by around 13 million people. Every year, more than double that number arrive to admire the spectacular historical and cultural gems that the British capital proudly displays. The list of absolute must-sees includes the gloomy Tower of London, the breathtaking Houses of Parliament with Big Ben, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and majestic Buckingham Palace. The British capital boasts over 240 galleries and museums. Make sure that you take at least one afternoon to explore the most famous of them, such as the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as the renowned Tate Gallery.
A tiring day of sightseeing is best concluded by a leisurely walk through one of London’s famous parks. Because of its large number of open spaces, the British capital is often referred to as the Green City. The vastest of these are legendary Hyde Park with the adjacent Kensington Gardens, and Regent’s Park. Popular spots also include Green Park and St. James’ Park. After dark, don’t miss a chance to stroll down the River Thames and admire the illuminated shape of the ultra-modern observation wheel, the London Eye.
Shopping fans visiting the British capital are in for a real treat, as London boasts some of the busiest shopping areas in the world, including the nearly two-kilometre-long Oxford Street, the longest shopping mile in the world, home of established department stores such as Selfridges. Nearby are the equally famous Bond Street and Knightsbridge with the legendary Harrods. The home studios of such designers as Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo can all be found along London’s fashionable avenues. Lovers of vintage fashion, antiquities and rare books will be delighted to browse at one of the city’s numerous street markets, such as Camden Market, Portobello Road and Borough Market.
Cuisine connoisseurs shouldn’t miss the chance to indulge in the delightful diversity of London’s menus. While some of the world’s most fashionable establishments can be found in the area of Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Notting Hill, it’s recommended to stray off that beaten path and take a tour of the small ethnic eateries scattered along Brick Lane and throughout Chinatown and Soho. Every summer, you also have a chance to sample traditional Caribbean delights during the colourful Notting Hill Carnival.
Regardless of the number of times you visit the British capital, you’re bound to start planning yet another trip as soon as it’s time leave your comfortable hotel and board your flight back home. London holds more things in store than you can even imagine, and an unexpected treasure awaits you at every street corner.