London is the capital of England and the United Kingdom, but many also consider it a global capital because of its prominence in the fields of commerce, finance, retail, politics, entertainment, and fashion. London is a mega city with a metropolitan population of over 14 million. It is one of the most multicultural cities you’ll find, with more than 35 distinct immigrant groups and 300 languages spoken in the city. A visit to London and you should expect not only great shopping and entertainment, but also a cultural experience of museums and historic landmarks and sites. Of course, everything is expensive in London, how much of an experience you’ll get can depend somewhat on how much you’re willing or able to spend.
London is situated around the River Thames and spans several kilometers both west and east of the river. Technically, the actual ancient city of London is itself one square mile but the metropolitan area stretches close to 600 square miles. There are mainly two districts: Outer London and Central and Inner London. Central and Inner London includes the City of London, the City of Westminster, and the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea (where the residential area, Notting Hill, is located), Camden (where the residential area, Hampstead, is located), Hackney (where the residential area, Hoxton, is located), Islington, Greenwich, Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington, Lambeth, Southwar, Tower Hamlets, and Wandsworth. Outer London, on the other hand, comprises Barking and Dagenham, Newham, Sutton, Richmond, Redbridge, Waltham Forest, Barnet, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Haringey, Havering, Hillingdon, Hounslow, and Kingston upon Thames. As big as London is, it is easily accessible via its underground system, the London Underground, which is the world’s oldest.
Most of the tourist attractions and entertainment areas in London, including such areas as Soho and Knightsbridge, are located between the City of Westminster and the City of London. There are a number of world-class art galleries and museums in London and most of them are free. The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square is a must-visit. It houses well over 2,000 paintings from the 13th to the 20th century, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Jan van Eyck, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, and Van Gogh, among others. The National Gallery building is itself a landmark with its famous elegant dome, glowingly illuminated at night. The British Museum is another must – considered one of the world’s greatest museums. It houses more than 13 million art items, including the famous Rosetta Stone, the Amarna Tablets, the Mummy of Cleopatra, the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, the Parthenon Marbles, fragments from the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Rubens, and Rembrandt, and collections of artifacts from the Incans, Mayans, and Aztecs.
There are also a number of landmarks in London, most of them free. Trafalgar Square, for example, is worth checking out. Besides being the location of the National Gallery, the square is home to a number of statues, columns, sculptures, fountains, buildings, and past political demonstrations. The square was originally built to commemorate the British naval victory at the Battle of Trafalgar over Napoleon and the French. Leicester Square is another famous tourist area. It is home to the largest cinemas, restaurants, and cafes and is one of London’s busiest areas. Other icons of London include the Tower of London, a royal palace and fortress built by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century. The Tower Bridge is another famous icon. It is a suspension bridge over the River Thames with over 80,000 tons of concrete and steel. Other landmarks include the Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster, the Clock Tower of Westminster, and the Houses of Parliament all located on the same blocks in Westminster. Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the Queen is also a must and is open for tours in the summer. Hyde Park is also worth checking out. It is a famous park in London, its largest, and is often the scene of major music events, concerts, and various recreational activities. It is also known for its Speakers’ Corner, an area of the park where the public is allowed to speak, demonstrate, protest, or otherwise voice their opinions on various matters. Perhaps the highlight of London's landmarks is the London Eye, which was only recently completed and opened to the public in 2000. It is the world's largest observation wheel, and its 32 rotating capsules provide visitors with a comprehensive view of the city.
Like New York, plays, musicals, and shows are popular in London. London’s “Theatre land” is situated around Strand, Shaftesbury Avenue, and streets in the West End. There are dozens upon dozens of theatres and there are a large variety of productions to choose from – operas, ballets, plays, musicals, comedies, dances, etc.
The shopping in London is the best in the world, if not the best – although also the most expensive. There are a number of famous shopping areas in London, including at Oxford Street, Bond Street, Camden Town, Soho, Knightsbridge (where you’ll find the famous Harrods), and Leicester Square.