top of page
Search

Cities in the Spotlight: London, England

Updated: May 24, 2023

Today we will be taking another trip to Europe, this time to London, England.

 

London City Information

London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom, with just under 9 million population. It stands on the River Thames in southeast England at the head of a 50-mile (80 km) estuary down to the North Sea and has been a major settlement for two millennia. The City of London, its ancient core and financial centre, was founded by the Romans as Londinium and retains its medieval boundaries. The City of Westminster, to the west of the City of London, has hosted the national government and parliament for centuries. Since the 19th century, the name "London" has also referred to the metropolis around this core, historically split between the counties of Middlesex, Essex, Surrey, Kent, and Hertfordshire, which largely comprises Greater London, governed by the Greater London Authority.

As one of the world's major global cities, London strongly influences its arts, entertainment, fashion, commerce and finance, education, health care, media, science and technology, tourism, and transport and communications. Its GDP makes it the largest urban economy in Europe, and it is one of the major financial centres in the world. With Europe's largest concentration of higher education institutions, it is home to some of the highest-ranked academic institutions in the world—Imperial College London in natural and applied sciences, the London School of Economics in social sciences, and the comprehensive University College London. London is the most visited city in Europe and has the busiest city airport system in the world. The London Underground is the oldest rapid transit system in the world. London is home to the most 5-star hotels in any city.

London has four World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London; Kew Gardens; the combined Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St Margaret's Church; and also the historic settlement in Greenwich, where the Royal Observatory, Greenwich defines the prime meridian (0° longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time. Other landmarks include Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, and Trafalgar Square. London has many museums, galleries, libraries, and cultural venues, including the British Museum, National Gallery, Natural History Museum, Tate Modern, British Library, and numerous West End theatres. Important sporting events held in London include the FA Cup Final (held annually at Wembley Stadium), Wimbledon Tennis Championships, and the London Marathon. In 2012, London became the first city to host three Summer Olympic Games.

 

London Historical Significance

In 1993, remains of a Bronze Age bridge were found on the south foreshore upstream from Vauxhall Bridge. This either crossed the Thames or reached a now-lost island in it. Two of the timbers were radiocarbon dated to 1750–1285 BCE. In 2010, foundations of a large timber structure, dated to 4800–4500 BCE, were found on the Thames's south foreshore downstream from Vauxhall Bridge. The function of the mesolithic structure is unclear. Both structures are on the south bank of the Thames, where the now-underground River Effra flows into the Thames. In 1300, urban area of the City was still largely confined within the Roman walls.

Despite the evidence of scattered Brythonic settlements in the area, the first major settlement was founded by the Romans about four years after the invasion of 43 AD. This only lasted until about 61 AD, when the Iceni tribe led by Queen Boudica stormed it and burnt it to the ground. The next planned incarnation of Londinium prospered, superseding Colchester as capital of the Roman province of Britannia in 100. At its height in the 2nd century, Roman London had a population of about 60,000.

With the early 5th-century collapse of Roman rule, London ceased to be a capital and the walled city of Londinium was effectively abandoned, although Roman civilisation continued around St Martin-in-the-Fields until about 450. From about 500, an Anglo-Saxon settlement known as Lundenwic developed slightly west of the old Roman city. By about 680 the city had become a major port again, but there is little evidence of large-scale production. From the 820s repeated Viking assaults brought decline. Three are recorded; those in 851 and 886 succeeded, while the last, in 994, was rebuffed. The Vikings applied Danelaw over much of eastern and northern England, its boundary running roughly from London to Chester as an area of political and geographical control imposed by the Viking incursions formally agreed by the Danish warlord, Guthrum and the West Saxon king Alfred the Great in 886. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Alfred "refounded" London in 886. Archaeological research shows this involved abandonment of Lundenwic and a revival of life and trade within the old Roman walls. London then grew slowly until a dramatic increase in about 950. By the 11th century, London was clearly the largest town in England. Westminster Abbey, rebuilt in Romanesque style by King Edward the Confessor, was one of the grandest churches in Europe. Winchester had been the capital of Anglo-Saxon England, but from this time London became the main forum for foreign traders and the base for defense in times of war. In the view of Frank Stenton: "It had the resources, and it was rapidly developing the dignity and the political self-consciousness appropriate to a national capital."

After winning the Battle of Hastings, William, Duke of Normandy was crowned King of England in newly completed Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. William built the Tower of London, the first of many such in England rebuilt in stone in the south-eastern corner of the city, to intimidate the inhabitants. In 1097, William II began building Westminster Hall, close by the abbey of the same name. It became the basis of a new Palace of Westminster. In the 12th century, the institutions of central government, which had hitherto followed the royal English court around the country, grew in size and sophistication and became increasingly fixed, for most purposes at Westminster, although the royal treasury, having been moved from Winchester, came to rest in the Tower. While the City of Westminster developed into a true governmental capital, its distinct neighbour, the City of London, remained England's largest city and principal commercial centre and flourished under its own unique administration, the Corporation of London. In 1100, its population was some 18,000; by 1300 it had grown to nearly 100,000. Disaster struck in the form of the Black Death in the mid-14th century, when London lost nearly a third of its population. London was the focus of the Peasants' Revolt in 1381.

London was also a centre of England's Jewish population before their expulsion by Edward I in 1290. Violence against Jews occurred in 1190 when it was rumored that the new king had ordered their massacre after they had presented themselves at his coronation. In 1264 during the Second Barons' War, Simon de Montfort's rebels killed 500 Jews while attempting to seize records of debts. During the Tudor period, the Reformation produced a gradual shift to Protestantism. Much of London's property passed from church to private ownership, which accelerated trade and business in the city. In 1475, the Hanseatic League set up the main trading base (kontor) of England in London, called the Stalhof or Steelyard. It remained until 1853 when the Hanseatic cities of Lübeck, Bremen, and Hamburg sold the property to South Eastern Railway. The woolen cloth was shipped undyed and undressed from 14th/15th century London to the nearby shores of the Low Countries, where it was considered indispensable.


In 1637, the government of Charles I attempted to reform administration in the London area. This called for the Corporation of the city to extend its jurisdiction and administration over expanding areas around the city. Fearing an attempt by the Crown to diminish the Liberties of London, coupled with a lack of interest in administering these additional areas or concern by city guilds of having to share power, caused the Corporation's "The Great Refusal", a decision which largely continues to account for the unique governmental status of the City. In the English Civil War, the majority of Londoners supported the Parliamentary cause. After an initial advance by the Royalists in 1642, culminating in the battles of Brentford and Turnham Green, London was surrounded by a defensive perimeter wall known as the Lines of Communication. The lines were built by up to 20,000 people and were completed in under two months. The fortifications failed their only test when the New Model Army entered London in 1647, and they were leveled by Parliament the same year. London was plagued by disease in the early 17th century, culminating in the Great Plague of 1665–1666, which killed up to 100,000 people, or a fifth of the population.

The Great Fire of London broke out in 1666 in Pudding Lane in the city and quickly swept through the wooden buildings. Rebuilding took over ten years and was supervised by polymath Robert Hooke as a surveyor for the City of London. In 1708 Christopher Wren's masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral, was completed. During the Georgian era, new districts such as Mayfair were formed in the west; new bridges over the Thames encouraged development in South London. In the east, the Port of London expanded downstream. London's development as an international financial centre matured for much of the 18th century. In 1762, George III acquired Buckingham House, which was enlarged over the next 75 years. During the 18th century, London was said to be dogged by crime, and the Bow Street Runners were established in 1750 as a professional police force. A total of more than 200 offenses were punishable by death, including petty theft. Epidemics during the 1720s and 30s saw most children born in the city die before reaching their fifth birthday. Coffee-houses became a popular place to debate ideas, as the growing literacy and development of the printing press made news widely available, with Fleet Street becoming the centre of the British press. The invasion of Amsterdam by Napoleonic armies led many financiers to relocate to London and the first London international issue was arranged in 1817. Around the same time, the Royal Navy became the world's leading war fleet, acting as a major deterrent to potential economic adversaries. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 was specifically aimed at weakening Dutch economic power. London then overtook Amsterdam as the leading international financial centre.


With the onset of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, unprecedented growth in urbanization took place, and the number of High Streets (the primary street for retail in Britain) rapidly grew. London was the world's largest city from about 1831 to 1925, with a population density of 325 per hectare. In addition to the growing number of stores selling goods such as Harding, Howell & Co. on Pall Mall—a contender for the first department store—the streets had scores of street sellers loudly advertising their goods and services. London's overcrowded conditions led to cholera epidemics, claiming 14,000 lives in 1848, and 6,000 in 1866. Rising traffic congestion led to the creation of the world's first local urban rail network. The Metropolitan Board of Works oversaw infrastructure expansion in the capital and some surrounding counties; it was abolished in 1889 when the London County Council was created out of county areas surrounding the capital.

Starting mainly in the mid-1960s, London became a centre for worldwide youth culture, exemplified by the Swinging London sub-culture associated with the King's Road, Chelsea and Carnaby Street. The role of the trendsetter revived in the punk era. In 1965 London's political boundaries were expanded in response to the growth of the urban area and a new Greater London Council was created. During The Troubles in Northern Ireland, London was hit in 1973 by bomb attacks by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. These attacks lasted for two decades, starting with the Old Bailey bombing. Racial inequality was highlighted by the 1981 Brixton riot. Greater London's population declined in the decades after the Second World War, from an estimated peak of 8.6 million in 1939 to around 6.8 million in the 1980s. The principal ports for London moved downstream to Felixstowe and Tilbury, with the London Docklands area becoming a focus for regeneration, including the Canary Wharf development. This was born out of London's increasing role as an international financial centre in the 1980s. The Thames Barrier was completed in the 1980s to protect London against tidal surges from the North Sea.


The Greater London Council was abolished in 1986, leaving London with no central administration until 2000 and the creation of the Greater London Authority. To mark the 21st century, the Millennium Dome, London Eye and Millennium Bridge were constructed. On 6 July 2005 London was awarded the 2012 Summer Olympics, as the first city to stage the Olympic Games three times. On 7 July 2005, three London Underground trains and a double-decker bus were bombed in a series of terrorist attacks. In 2008, Time named London alongside New York City and Hong Kong as Nylonkong, hailing them as the world's three most influential global cities. In January 2015, Greater London's population was estimated to be 8.63 million, its highest since 1939. During the Brexit referendum in 2016, the UK as a whole decided to leave the European Union, but most London constituencies voted for remaining.

 

Travel to London

*taken from Lonely Planet*


Instantly recognizable icons like Big Ben and St. Paul's Cathedral welcome you to history-laden London, the UK's multicultural capital that's a tireless innovator of art and culture.

 

Must See Sites

Westminster Abbey; A splendid mixture of architectural styles, Westminster Abbey is considered the finest example of Early English Gothic. It's not merely a beautiful place of worship – the Abbey is still a working church and the stage on which history unfolds. Never a cathedral (the seat of a bishop), Westminster Abbey is what is called a "royal peculiar", administered by the Crown.

Tate Modern; One of London's most amazing attractions, Tate Modern is an outstanding modern- and contemporary-art gallery housed in the creatively revamped Bankside Power Station. A spellbinding synthesis of modern art and capacious industrial brick design, this gallery has been extraordinarily successful in bringing challenging work to the masses, both through its free permanent collection and fee-charged big-name temporary exhibitions.

The original gallery lies inside what was once the boiler house for the power station, now called the Natalie Bell Building in recognition of a local community activist. The stunning Blavatnik Building, with a panoramic 10th-floor viewing terrace, opened in 2016, increasing the available exhibition space by 60%.

Natural History Museum; With its thunderous, animatronic dinosaur, riveting displays about planet earth, outstanding Darwin Centre and architecture straight from a Gothic fairy tale, the Natural History Museum is astonishing. Kids are the target audience, but adults will be equally mesmerized. Go on a journey through the times of dinosaurs with a visit to the Dinosaurs Gallery in the Blue Zone, an absolute must for those traveling with children. It's packed with specimens from tiny fossils to a colossal triceratops skull, but it's the animatronic T-rex that steals the show.

St. Paul's Cathedral; Sir Christopher Wren’s 300-year-old architectural masterpiece is a London icon. Towering over diminutive Ludgate Hill in a superb position that's been a place of Christian worship for more than 1400 years (and pagan before that), St Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s most magnificent buildings. For Londoners, the vast dome is a symbol of resilience and pride. Seeing this stunning structure from the inside and climbing to the top for sweeping views of the capital is a celestial experience.

Tower of London; Few parts of the UK are as steeped in history or as impregnated with legend and superstition as the titanic stonework of the Tower of London. Not only is this fabulous fortress an architectural odyssey, but also there are the world's largest diamond, free tours from magnificently attired Yeoman Warders (better known as "Beefeaters"), a dazzling array of armor and weaponry, and a palpable sense of ancient history at every turn. It has been a royal residence, a treasury, a mint, an armory and a zoo, but it's perhaps most remembered as the prison where a king, three queens and many nobles met their deaths. Most visitors head straight to the Waterloo Barracks, which contains the spectacular Crown Jewels, including the platinum crown of the late Queen Mother, set with the 106-carat Koh-i-Nûr (Persian for "Mountain of Light") diamond, and the Imperial State Crown, worn by the monarch at the State Opening of Parliament. Slow-moving walkways slide wide-eyed visitors past the collection.

British Museum; With almost six million visitors trooping through its doors annually, the British Museum in Bloomsbury, one of the oldest and finest museums in the world, is Britain’s most visited attraction. Through the varied (and occasionally controversial) collection, you'll see some of the world's greatest treasures, and learn a little more about how England sees the world today. You could spend a lifetime navigating this vast and hallowed collection of artefacts, art and age-old antiquity and still make daily discoveries. If you're not sure where to start, join a tour or pick up a Highlights map, a self-guided hour-long tour, for a precis of the museum’s treasures. Whatever your approach, there are several blockbusters you don't want to miss: the Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics (head upstairs for the Egyptian mummies); the controversial Parthenon sculptures, taken from Athens' Acropolis by Lord Elgin (British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire); and the vast Etruscan, Greek, Roman, European, Asian and Islamic galleries. Other must-see items include the Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo Ship Burial relics and the winged bulls from Khorsabad.

Hyde Park; One of London’s best parks, Hyde Park spreads itself over 142 hectares of neat gardens, wild expanses of overgrown grass and glorious trees. As well as being a fantastic green space in the middle of the city, it's home to a handful of fascinating sights, and hosts live concerts and events through the year. The eastern half of the park is covered with expansive lawns, which become one vast picnic-and-frolic area on sunny days. The western half is more untamed, with plenty of trees and areas of wild grass. If you're after somewhere more colorful (and some shade), head to the Rose Garden, a beautifully landscaped area with flowers year-round. A little further west, you'll find the Holocaust Memorial Garden, a simple stone marker in a grove of trees. You won't want to miss the Serpentine or the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain either.

Buckingham Palace; Built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham, Buckingham Palace replaced St James's Palace as the monarch's official London residence in 1837. Queen Elizabeth II divides her time between here, Windsor Castle and, in summer, Balmoral Castle in Scotland. If she’s in residence, the square yellow, red and blue Royal Standard is flown; if not, it's the Union Flag. The 19 lavishly furnished State Rooms are open to visitors when Her Majesty is on vacation from mid-July to September. (taken from Lonely Planet, hasn't been updated since the Queen passed.)

Tower Bridge; It doesn't matter from where you first glimpse Tower Bridge, with two neo-Gothic towers rising gracefully from either side of the Thames: London's emblematic river crossing, with its lifting road section, is astonishing. These days Tower Bridge is electrically powered, and lifts around 800 times a year (as often as 10 times a day in summer). The best spot to see it raised is at the 11m-long glass walkways of the Tower Bridge Exhibition, 42m above the river. Views plunge into the Thames, outshining the story of the bridge's construction, which is also recounted here.

Houses of Parliament (Big Ben); Both the elected House of Commons and the House of Lords, who are appointed or hereditary, sit in the sumptuous Houses of Parliament, officially called the Palace of Westminster. This neo-Gothic building dates from the mid-19th century – its oldest part is 11th-century Westminster Hall, one of only a few sections that survived a catastrophic 1834 fire. A visit to the Houses of Parliament is a journey to the very heart of British democracy. The palace's most famous feature is its clock tower, Elizabeth Tower (better known as Big Ben), covered in scaffolding until restoration works are finished. Big Ben is actually the 13.7-tonne bell hanging inside and is named after Benjamin Hall, the first Commissioner of Works when the tower was completed in 1859.

London Eye; It’s hard to imagine South Bank without the London Eye (officially named the lastminute.com London Eye after its current sponsor), the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel, which began twirling in 2000 to mark the turn of the millennium. It was originally a temporary attraction, intended to be dismantled after five years, but its unceasing popularity has ensured its longevity. Standing 135m tall in a fairly flat city, it has fundamentally altered London's skyline and is visible from various viewpoints.

 

Must Try Food & Drink

Fish & Chips; Most Brits would agree that there is nothing more British than fish and chips. This comforting, widely loved national dish consists of a freshly fried, hot, white fish fillet and large, sliced and fried potatoes. Cod, haddock, and flounder are the most common types of fish that is fried for the dish, and the customers can choose which type of fish they want, with cod being the most popular choice. The fillets get dipped in a batter made from eggs, milk, and flour, and are then fried in oil, lard, or beef drippings along with the potatoes. The origins of this dish go back to the 17th century, when potatoes were fried as a substitute for fish in the winter months, while fried fish was introduced into the country by Jewish refugees. Fish and chips are a favorite takeaway dish, with numerous chippies (fish and chips shops) popping up all over the country and offering a few accompaniments and sides, such as salt, vinegar, mushy peas, curry sauce, ketchup, brown sauce, and a cup of sweet, milky tea. Traditionally, the dish is served wrapped in greaseproof paper and a layer of newspaper in order to make eating outside easier, and if you want to do as the Brits do, it is the only acceptable way to eat it. Interestingly, in Yorkshire, a cup of tea is the perfect beverage pairing for fish and chips.

English Breakfast; Also known as the full breakfast, this traditional British dish appears everywhere with a few essentials and some regional additions. First, there is the meat – usually a combination of sausages and bacon. The sausage is plain pork sausage, while the bacon can be streaky or back bacon. Then there are vegetables and legumes – baked beans and tomatoes, both cooked over high heat. The balance of sweetness and acidity in the tomatoes nicely balances out the fattiness on the other side of the plate. Lastly, there is a crispy piece of fried bread and two or three over-easy eggs to tie the whole meal together. Alongside this hearty breakfast, you will usually find a cup of tea, ketchup or brown sauce, and a nice fruit jam. Optionally, black pudding, kidneys, mushrooms, and potatoes can be added to the fry-up, depending on personal taste and regional preferences. Although it is traditionally a breakfast dish, a full English breakfast is more than hearty enough to serve as a mid-day meal.

Shepherd's Pie; One of the most popular comfort foods in the United Kingdom is called shepherd's pie, a hot and savory dish reminiscent of a casserole, consisting of minced lamb or mutton meat, onions, carrots, Worcestershire sauce, thick gravy, and seasonings such as marjoram, parsley, and black pepper. All of the ingredients are placed under a roof of buttery, creamy mashed potatoes, and baked in an oven until the pie is ready for consumption. This simple delicacy was invented by shepherds in the 18th century in England and Scotland. The pie became extremely popular in the 1870s, and not by coincidence, as mincing machines became widely available to the public in those years. Today, shepherd's pie is a great way of using up leftover cooked meat, but it is generally recommended to use fresh meat for a better flavor and texture of the pie. This hearty pie is a favorite in numerous pubs, homes, and restaurants throughout the United Kingdom.

Tom Collins; Tom Collins is a classic cocktail hailing from London. It's made with a combination of gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup, and soda water poured into an ice-filled glass. It is believed that this refreshing drink was created by the head waiter at a London restaurant, and the drink was named after him. Although it was originally made with jenever, these days the cocktail should ideally be made with Old Tom Gin, which is a bit sweeter than London Dry Gin used for John Collins. The first recipe for Tom Collins was printed in Jerry Thomas' book The Bartender's Guide in 1876. If desired, garnish it with a lemon slice or a maraschino cherry.

Porn Star Martini; Contrary to its name, this cocktail does not have much in common with a classic Martini. Porn Star is a version that combines vanilla-flavored vodka, passion fruit liqueur, lime juice, and passion fruit purée, while a shot of Champagne (sometimes Prosecco) is served on the side. To prepare it, all the ingredients, except sparkling wine, are poured in a shaker filled with ice and are shaken, and then strained into a chilled glass. The cocktail was created in the early 2000s by Douglas Ankrah at The Townhouse bar. Ankrah initially named it Maverick but decided to change it as the drink reminded him of something a porn star would drink. Soon after its invention, this luscious cocktail became a staple at UK bars. In 2018, it was supposedly the most popular cocktail in Great Britain. This cocktail is usually served in a coupe or a martini glass and comes garnished with a half of fresh passion fruit. Sparkling wine is served in a shot glass, and the drinks should be sipped alternatively.

Sticky Toffee Pudding; Sticky toffee pudding is a rich, moist sponge cake filled with dates, covered in a sticky toffee sauce. The dessert is traditionally served with custard or a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Its origins are quite murky as some claim it originates from the Sharrow Bay Hotel in the Lake District, some report that it's especially popular in Cartmel, while others say that it was invented at the Udny Arms Hotel in Aberdeenshire. Today, the dessert is also popular in Australia, Ireland, and Scotland.

Beef Wellington; Beef Wellington is a dish consisting of a whole filet of beef that is coated with a pâté and duxelles, a combination of minced mushrooms, herbs, and shallots. The concoction is then wrapped in puff pastry and baked in the oven. Traditionally, slices of beef Wellington are accompanied by madeira sauce. It is believed that the dish was named after Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. However, the dish was not known in Wellesley's lifetime, so the origins of beef Wellington still remain murky, and some believe that the dish got its name because it resembles a Wellington boot. This delicacy soared in popularity during the 1960s, when it became hugely popular in North America, even more so than in the United Kingdom, due to its luxurious, expensive ingredients and precise preparation methods.

Mince Pie; Mince pie is a staple Christmas snack in England, consisting of a crumbly pastry shell filled with dried fruits and spices (often called mincemeat). Originally, the pies contained both sweet and savory ingredients such as ground meat, lard, and cheese. Due to their original, rectangular shape, people used to associate the pies with the manger Jesus had been laid in, and the snacks were prepared for Easter and Christmas, while the number of spices and ingredients were used as a way to show off the cooks' wealth to other people. By the 20th century, no meat products were incorporated into the pies apart from suet. Today, mince pies are made in a round shape and served either hot or cold.

British Burrito; Who needs tortillas when you have Yorkshire pudding? That's probably what James Dempsey, a restaurant director at the Long Can Hall in Halifax thought when he created this English take on the Mexican burrito. The wrap consists of one large Yorkshire pudding that's rolled flat and filled with succulent pieces of roast beef, accompanied by coleslaw, homemade chips, and a big dollop of gravy on the side. Dempsey said he got the idea for a British burrito after a large number of customers asked for sandwiches on Sundays, instead of traditional roasts.

Bangers & Mash; Both a regular favorite for either lunch or dinner in many English pubs and a filling homemade meal, bangers and mash consist of large pork or beef sausages filled with savory juices, served on top of buttery mashed potatoes and accompanied by a bittersweet onion sauce that is golden brown in color. The sausages started to be called bangers just after World War I, due to the fact that water was added to stretch the meat, so the fried sausages would burst loudly with a bang. It is recommended to use the bangers made by butchers who use natural casings and a mix of pork and just enough fat to preserve the flavorful juices. Aromatic pork bangers with hints of nutmeg and sage are a Cumberland specialty, while Yorkshire and Lancashire versions are based on beef. The potatoes should not be puréed, but broken down by hand with a potato masher, while butter and milk are added during the mashing process. Quick, cheap, substantial, and easy to prepare, bangers and mash remain a staple of English food, especially when accompanied by a thick, rich gravy.

 
 

3 views0 comments
bottom of page