London is the most populous city in the United Kingdom, with a metropolitan area of over 13 million inhabitants. Standing on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia.
London is a leading global city, with strengths in the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, tourism and transport all contributing to its prominence. It is one of the world's leading financial centres and has the fifth-or sixth-largest metropolitan area GDP in the world depending on measurement. London is a world cultural capital. It is the world's most visited city as measured by international arrivals and has the world's largest city airport system measured by passenger traffic.
London has a diverse range of peoples and cultures, and more than 300 languages are spoken within its boundaries.
London contains four World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London; Kew Gardens; the site comprising the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St Margaret's Church; and the historic settlement of Greenwich (in which the Royal Observatory, Greenwich marks the Prime Meridian, 0° longitude, and GMT). Other famous landmarks include Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, and The Shard.
London is home to numerous museums, galleries, libraries, sporting events and other cultural institutions, including the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, British Library and 40 West End theatres. The London Underground is the oldest underground railway network in the world.
Buckingham Palace is the official London residence and principal workplace of the British monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is a setting for state occasions and royal hospitality. It has been a focus for the British people at times of national rejoicing and crisis.
Originally known as Buckingham House, the building which forms the core of today's palace was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1705 on a site which had been in private ownership for at least 150 years. It was subsequently acquired by George III in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte, and known as "The Queen's House".
During the 19th century it was enlarged, principally by architects John Nash and Edward Blore, forming three wings around a central courtyard. Buckingham Palace finally became the official royal palace of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. The last major structural additions were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the East front, which contains the well-known balcony on which the royal family traditionally congregates to greet crowds outside. However, the palace chapel was destroyed by a German bomb in World War II; the Queen's Gallery was built on the site in 1962 to exhibit works of art from the Royal Collection and was opened to the public in 2002 in celebration of Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee.
Tower Bridge (built 1886–1894) is a combined bascule and suspension bridge in London, over the River Thames. It is close to the Tower of London, from which it takes its name. Contrary to popular belief, the song, "London Bridge is Falling Down" has nothing to do with Tower Bridge. They are completely different bridges. It has become an iconic symbol of London.
The bridge consists of two towers tied together at the upper level by means of two horizontal walkways, designed to withstand the horizontal forces exerted by the suspended sections of the bridge on the landward sides of the towers. The vertical component of the forces in the suspended sections and the vertical reactions of the two walkways are carried by the two robust towers. The bascule pivots and operating machinery are housed in the base of each tower. The bridge's present colour scheme dates from 1977, when it was painted red, white and blue for the Queen Elizabeth II's silver jubilee. Originally it was painted a mid greenish-blue colour.
The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Commonly known as the Houses of Parliament after its tenants, the Palace lies on the Middlesex bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London.
Its name, which derives from the neighbouring Westminster Abbey, may refer to either of two structures: the Old Palace, a medieval building complex that was destroyed by fire in 1834, and its replacement New Palace that stands today. For ceremonial purposes, the palace retains its original style and status as a royal residence.
The first royal palace was built on the site in the eleventh century, and Westminster was the primary London residence of the Kings of England until a fire destroyed much of the complex in 1512. After that, it served as the home of Parliament, which had been meeting there since the thirteenth century, and the seat of the Royal Courts of Justice, based in and around Westminster Hall. In 1834, an even greater fire ravaged the heavily rebuilt Houses of Parliament, and the only structures of significance to survive were Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St Stephen's, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower.
St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. St Paul's sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the mother church of the Diocese of London.
The present church dating from the late 17th century was built to an English Baroque design of Sir Christopher Wren, as part of a major rebuilding program which took place in the city after the Great Fire of London, and was completed within his lifetime.
The cathedral is one of the most famous and most recognisable sights of London, with its dome, framed by the spires of Wren's City churches, dominating the skyline for 300 years. At 365 feet (111 m) high, it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1962, and its dome is also among the highest in the world. In terms of area, St Paul's is the second largest church building in the United Kingdom after Liverpool Cathedral.
The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames in London, England. The entire structure is 135 metres (443 ft) tall and the wheel has a diameter of 120 metres (394 ft).
It is the tallest Ferris Wheel in Europe, and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over 3.5 million people annually. When erected in 1999 it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, until surpassed first by the 160 m (520 ft) Star of Nanchang in 2006 and then the 165 m (541 ft) Singapore Flyer in 2008. Supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike the taller Nanchang and Singapore wheels, the Eye is described by its operators as "the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel". It offered the highest public viewing point in the city until it was superseded by the 245-metre (804 ft) observation deck on the 72nd floor of The Shard, which opened to the public on 1 February 2013.
The London Eye, or Millennium Wheel, was officially called the British Airways London Eye and then the Merlin Entertainments London Eye. Since 20 January 2011, its official name is the EDF Energy London Eye following a three-year sponsorship deal.
The London Eye adjoins the western end of Jubilee Gardens, on the South Bank of the River Thames between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge, in the London Borough of Lambeth. The site is adjacent to that of the former Dome of Discovery, which was built for the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Piccadilly Circus is a road junction and public space of London's West End in the City of Westminster, built in 1819 to connect Regent Street with the major shopping street of Piccadilly. In this context, a circus, from the Latin word meaning "circle", is a round open space at a street junction.
Piccadilly now links directly to the theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue, as well as the Haymarket, Coventry Street (onwards to Leicester Square), and Glasshouse Street. The Circus is close to major shopping and entertainment areas in the West End. Its status as a major traffic intersection has made Piccadilly Circus a busy meeting place and a tourist attraction in its own right.
The Circus is particularly known for its video display and neon signs mounted on the corner building on the northern side, as well as the Shaftesbury memorial fountain and statue of the Greek god Anteros (popularly mistaken for his brother Eros). It is surrounded by several noted buildings, including the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre. Directly underneath the plaza is Piccadilly Circus tube station, part of the London Underground system.
The British Museum is a museum in London dedicated to human history and culture. Its permanent collection, numbering some eight million works, is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence and originates from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present.
The British Museum was established in 1753, largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. The museum first opened to the public on 15 January 1759 in Montagu House in Bloomsbury, on the site of the current museum building. Its expansion over the following two and a half centuries was largely a result of an expanding British colonial footprint and has resulted in the creation of several branch institutions, the first being the British Museum (Natural History) in South Kensington in 1887. Some objects in the collection, most notably the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, are the objects of intense controversy and of calls for restitution to their countries of origin.
Until 1997, when the British Library (previously centred on the Round Reading Room) moved to a new site, the British Museum was unique in that it housed both a national museum of antiquities and a national library in the same building. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and as with all other national museums in the United Kingdom it charges no admission fee, except for loan exhibitions. Since 2002 the director of the museum has been Neil MacGregor.