London Travel Guide
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London is a cosmopolitan mix of Third and First Worlds, chauffeurs and beggars, the stubbornly traditional and the proudly avant-garde. But somehow, between 'er Majesty and Boy George, Damien Hirst and JMW Turner, Big Ben and Bow Bells, it all hangs together. the grand resonance of its very name suggests history and might.

The city has much opportunities for entertainment by day and night go on and on and on. It's a city that exhilarates and intimidates, stimulates and irritates in equal measure, a grubby Monopoly board studded with stellar sights.

London is so enormous that visitors will need to make maximum use of the underground train system: unfortunately, this dislocates the geography and makes it hard to get your bearings. A ride on a red double-decker bus will help piece things together.

Facts at a glance

Area: 1,572 sq km
Population: 7.2 million
Country: England
Time Zone: GMT/UTC 0 (Greenwich Mean Time)
Telephone Area Code: 020

History

It was the Romans who first developed the square mile now known as the City of London, although a Celtic community settled around a ford across the River Thames.

Romans built a bridge and an impressive city wall, and made Londinium an important port and the hub of their road system.They left, but trade went on. Few traces of London dating from the Dark Ages can now be found, but the city survived the incursions of both the Saxons and Vikings.

Edward the Confessor built his abbey and palace at Westminster, fifty years before the Normans arrived.

William the Conqueror raised the White Tower (part of the Tower of London) and confirmed the city's independence and right to self-government. He found a city that was, without doubt, the richest and largest in the kingdom.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, the capital began to expand rapidly, in 40 years the population doubled to reach 200,000. Unfortunately, the medieval, Tudor and Jacobean parts of London were virtually destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666. The fire gave Christopher Wren the opportunity to build his famous churches, and the city's growth continued apace.

1720: London contained 750,000 people, and as the seat of Parliament and focal point for a growing empire, it was becoming ever richer and more important. Georgian architects replaced the last of medieval London with their imposing symmetrical architecture and residential squares.

19th century: The population exploded again, creating a vast expanse of Victorian suburbs. As a result of the Industrial Revolution and rapidly expanding commerce, it jumped from 2.7 million in 1851 to 6.6 million in 1901.

20th century: War destroyed many of the gains achieved by the previous century. Georgian and Victorian London was devastated by the Luftwaffe in WWII, huge swathes of the centre and the East End were totally flattened. After the war, ugly housing and low-cost developments were thrown up on the bomb sites. The docks never recovered, shipping moved to Tilbury, and the Docklands declined to the point of dereliction.

1980: In that decade of Thatcherite confidence and deregulation, the Docklands were rediscovered by a new wave of property developers, who proved to be only marginally more discriminating than the Luftwaffe.

1990: London briefly regained its swinging reputation , buoyed by Tony Blair's New Labour, a rampaging pound and a swag of pop, style and media 'names'. Blair's bane, Ken Livingstone, donned the mayoral robes in May 2000, opposing plans to sell off the Tube and pushing for improved public transport and safety.

London's cost of living outdoes itself year after year, its chic quotient continues to soar and the gap between the haves and have-nots looms ever larger.The face of the city changed with the construction of the costly white elephant Millennium Dome, the London Eye observation wheel, the Tate Modern (linked by the structurally unsound Millennium Bridge) and the creation of the British Museum's Great Court.

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