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WestminsterOne of the world’s four alpha cities, London abounds in superlatives—it is not only the biggest city in England, but it is also the biggest city in the United Kingdom, in Western Europe, and of all the cities in the European Union.  It is also one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and is the biggest financial center in the world.  Its Heathrow airport is the busiest in the world as well, which means more people and more planes land and take off on its runway than any other urban area in the entire planet.  And yet, however modern and global this city seems, with over 300 languages spoken within its territory, London remains characteristically British. 

These are the first few images that come to mind when one who has not been to London thinks about the city—the Big Ben, those red double-decker buses, the bad weather, the red phone booths, the Buckingham Palace—but these things barely even scratch the surface.  While the city is edging towards reinventing itself in various ways—whether it’s by having the largest museum for modern and contemporary art, or by having the largest observation wheel in the world—what gives London its character, is its pride in its glorious history.  While the London skyline is a smorgasbord of different eras of architecture, in some areas of the city, the building of new structures is strictly controlled by the city so that it wouldn’t obscure St. Paul’s Cathedral.  This is just one of the few reflections of Londoners’ great pride in their city in its entirety—which may seem extreme as to be interpreted as snobbery. 


UK London Gherkin buildingOne thing about London, though, is that it’s overwhelmingly big, even for its residents.  While the old city of London still maintains its ancient boundaries from when it was first founded, the metropolis that eventually grew around it, and the Greater London administrative district, now makes up what is now known as London.  One way to simplify the area is to divide the region into three sub-regions: Central London, the Inner boroughs, and the Outer boroughs.

The “Square Mile”, as the city of London is sometimes called, is not only home to the financial district, but also to the Tower of London—a nine-hundred year old structure built originally as a fortress, and is considered to be the most haunted building in the region.  St. Paul’s Cathedral, the highest point in the city and also one of the highest domes in the world, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire.  It is still a working church, and is actually the home to the Bishop of London.

Aside from the financial district, Central London contains within its boundaries, Bloomsbury—which is known in history as a hub for many influential writers such as EM Forster and Virginia Woolf.  It is also home to the British Museum, which boasts of having the best collections of antiquities in the world, as well as having free entrance.  There are so many more museums in this area, as well as historic homes.  A walk down the Bedford Square is a must in this district, to get a feel for well-preserved Georgian architecture.

In Leicester Square or the West End as it is most known, marvel at the vast collection of art works that date from the 13th century in the National Gallery.  The Leicester Square is also home to many cinemas, the Trafalgar Square, and London’s Chinatown.  The West End is also famous for its theater, so be sure to check out a performance in one of the many theaters.  Near the Chinatown is Soho, home to London’s vibrant gay culture.

UK LONDON Big Ben and Palace of WestminsterIn Westminster and South Bank, get in line with the tourists to see the Palace of Westminster, the Westminster Abbey—the center of British government—and the London Eye, at the south side of the river Thames.  The Buckingham Palace, the official royal residence is another essential landmark that travelers must see in London.  In South Bank also, visit Tate Modern, the museum with the largest collection of contemporary art in the world, which is also surprisingly free. 

The Inner boroughs contain the East End, where the heart of London lies—its working class.  In the boroughs you will also find Greenwich, where the zero Meridian in the Maritime Greenwich is marked.  In Hampstead, there is a thriving arts scene that travelers looking for something different should check out. The rest of the Inner boroughs is consisted of mostly residential areas.

The Outer boroughs is popular among backpackers because it contains Heathrow Airport.  Also in this area is the Middlesex county, a historic county.  Richmond Kew is a restful green area south of the river Thames so diverse from the metropolis that people residing in it don’t really consider themselves Londoners.  This area is filled with historic parks, such as the Hampton Court Palace, home to
London phone boxsome English kings, and the Richmond Palace, which has a historic cricket ground.  The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew combines the art of gardening, its history, and the study of plant diversity.  For tennis-fanatics, a trip to Wimbledon in the Outer boroughs, is a must.

Aside from its great sights, London’s thriving scene is indebted to its vibrant people who come from all corners of the globe, and has made the city very global indeed.  They may be snobby, but they are that way for a reason, as you will see upon exploring their city.   Do not be afraid to venture out of the tour groups—in fact, get yourself an oyster card and explore the city riding the tube.  In every nook and cranny of London, you will find a great pub, or a fascinating flea market, or a rocking indie music scene with some of the best new music.  To avoid the crowds during summer, visit during spring and autumn.  You are bound to encounter rain either way, but no amount of rain can dampen London.  When visiting London, expect rain, but more than that, expect to be overwhelmed by its awesomeness. 


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Writer:  Kannika Pena

London Roman WallLondoners have the ancient Romans to thank for building the wall around the olden city of Londinium that still marks the boundaries of what is now the city of London.  The Romans built the wall a century after establishing the port of Londinium, when foreign invaders started taking an interest in the bourgeoning economy of the area, including Queen Boudicca who massacred the residents and demolished the area.  Fragments of this wall can still be found in some parts of the modern-day city, and the names of the gates are commemorated by being place names in present-day London.  Aside from starting the tradition of mercantilism and trade in the city, the Romans also gave Christianity to the then-pagan Londinium, during the reign of the Emperor Constantine.  Years later, the fall of Rome resulted in the fall of Londinium as well, and the years that directly followed are still disputed among historians, as there is not much evidence as to what exactly happened during the years that followed.

After the Danish rule in 1042, Edward the Confessor took the throne.  He eventually built the palace and abbey at Westminster, and his contributions to London’s history were to make Westminster the center of politics and governance, for strengthening the trade and mercantilism of the area, and setting up the divisions that would, in the future, be the boundaries of London.  

London Viking axeDuring the rule of the Normans over England, the London merchants were becoming a strong class, and were much feared by William of Normandy.  Because of this, he built several forts, which includes the White Tower, the Tower of London’s core.  He also imposed taxes on the merchants in exchange for their independence.  

This fierce love of independence is further evidenced by the sealing of the Magna Carta of 1215, by King John.  One of the people who forced him to seal the Great Charter of Liberty, which stated that the royalty was subject to law, was the city’s mayor.

Robert Peake 'Elizabeth 1'During the Elizabethan ages, London continued to develop as an economic superpower.  During the height of the English Renaissance, the first map of London was created, as well as the first written history of London.  After Queen Elizabeth’s reign, she was succeeded by James I, who would later be subject to a plot to burn the House of Parliament by Guy Fawkes.

The English Civil War (or a series of it) against Charles I, who disregarded the Magna Carta and believed that the monarch was only answerable to God, was backed by London’s ever-expanding merchant class, along with the Puritans and the Protestants.  The result of the Civil War was the rule of Oliver Cromwell, who ruled over England as a republic.  

However, old habits die hard.  After Cromwell’s rule, the royalty was reinstated in 1660.  The restoration of royalty was then followed by one disaster after another.  Despite the fact that the city was very wealthy, it still had problems in sanitation, overpopulation, and poverty.  Therefore, despite the fact that the city had experienced other disease outbreaks in the past, it felt its full impact finally explode during the Great Plague of 1665.  Many people, as well as cats and dogs who were believed to be the carriers of the plague, perished during this dark time in London’s history.  The many people who died were disposed in what was called ‘plague pits’.  Until now, these pits are empty of any structure.

Great Fire of LondonWhen the plague was slowly starting to disappear, the Great Fire of 1666 occurred, starting from a small bakery in Pudding Lane.  From what was dismissed as a small fire that could easily be put out, it grew to the extent that it managed to destroy eighty percent of London’s great structures that date from London’s medieval past.  This forced many people, now homeless, to leave for the countryside, or for the New World.

The demolished city was then slowly rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, now recognized as one of the greatest architects who ever lived.  Studying the things that contributed much to the outbreak of the plague and the great fire, Wren made the city streets wider, and the structures built were then made with brick and stone.  The greatest achievement of the great rebuilding was the St. Paul’s Cathedral which was finished in 1710.

London Tower BridgeLondon during the Victorian period saw the building of many great structures that would define London’s skyline—the Big Ben, Royal Albert Hall, and the Tower Bridge.  It was also during this time that the first underground sewage system was built by Bazalgette, as a way to remedy the unsanitary ways of Londoners.  

Following Queen Victoria’s death and World War I, the roaring 20s increased the gap between the rich and the poor in London.  The poor greatly suffered because of the rising cost of living.  In fact, the economy of the city was so bad that the city seemed to have virtually stopped functioning.  This was, however, the era in which the Bloomsbury Group, a group which included Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes, started to gain more prominence.  The British Broadcasting Corporation first began broadcasting radio shows at about the same time.  

The World War II saw many German bombings destroying London once more.  The Underground became a temporary bomb shelter for people during the Blitzkrieg.  The royal family gained even more respect by staying with its people during this time in London.  The city was attacked once again after the Blitzkrieg, this time by unmanned V-1 bombers which ultimately killed more than thirty thousand residents, and destroyed much of the City and East End.  

London Gherkin BuildingPostwar London saw more immigrants than ever settling in the city.  The economy was only restored during the late fifties.  The sixties saw the bloom of popular culture all around London, when the city was reborn as a cool city, known for its fashion sense and cool music.  Following the mod lifestyle was punk –the complete antithesis of the mod aesthetic, with the predominance of black, uncouth language, and anarchy.  

When Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister of England, London’s economy grew, which meant great things for the rich, and adversity for the working class.  During Blair’s reign, London finally had a mayor and a local government.  

In 2005, London became the first city to be the host of the Olympics for the third time.  In 2012, it will host the games for the third time, which can only mean great things for the already great city.

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UK London Underground




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