About London

Noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is a megalopolis of people, ideas and frenetic energy. The capital and largest city of both England and of the United Kingdom, it is also the largest city in Western Europe and the European Union. Situated on the River Thames in South-East England, Greater London has an official population of a little over 8 million. However, London's urban area stretched to 9,787,426 in 2011, while the figure of 14 million for the city's wider metropolitan area more accurately reflects its size and importance. Considered one of the world's leading "global cities", London remains an international capital of culture, music, education, fashion, politics, finance and trade.

london skyline

Climate

Despite a perhaps unfair reputation for being unsettled, London enjoys a drier and milder climate than the rest of Britain on average. Only one in three days on average will bring rain and often only for a short period. In some years, such as 2010, there was no rain for several weeks.

river thames

Winter in London is mild compared to nearby continental European cities, due to both the presence of the Gulf Stream and urban heat effect. Average daily maximum is 8°C in December and January. Snow does occur, usually a few times a year but rarely heavy (a few years being exceptions such as the winters of 2009 and 2010, with temperatures dipping down to sub-zeros regularly). Snow in London can be crippling, as seen at the end of 2010. Just 7 cm of snow will cause trains to stop running, airports to see significant delays, and mail service will halt. London is a city which does not cope well with snow; walkways, stairs, and streets will not be cleared by shovels or ploughs. The streets will be salted/gritted, but will remain slick and snow/slush covered until the sun melts it away. Daylight hours are short with darkness filling up the sky by 4pm in December.

snowy london

Summer is perhaps the best season for tourists as it has long daylight hours as well as mild temperatures. The average daily high temperatures in July and August are around 24°C The highest temperature since 2000 was recorded once in August at 38°C. This means London can feel hot and humid for several days in the summer months. Also, because of urban heat effect, during night time it could feel muggy. Regardless of which time of the year, the weather in London could change quickly from sunny to rain and from hot to cold.


Buckingham Palace

There's no icon more British than the Queen (though Stephen Fry must be a close second), so no wonder we're all so interested in visiting her gaff. Buckingham Palace is more than 300 years old and has 775 rooms, and although only 19 of these are available for the public to explore there's always a photo (or three) to be taken in front of its impressive facade and stoney-faced guards.

buckingham palace

As it's royal family's home, Buckingham Palace isn't always open, but during summer you can visit the interior while they're off on holiday. Don't expect to get a nose around the Queen's knicker drawer; you'll only get to access the State Rooms. These are the 19 rooms in the palace built as public rooms, so are ordinarily used to host audiences with the Queen and official visits, but are open daily to the public from 9.30am until 7pm during August, and from 9.30am until 6pm September 1-29. A typical visit lasts just over two hours, so last admissions are two hours and fifteen minutes before closing.


Big Ben

The Houses of Parliament and Elizabeth Tower, commonly called Big Ben, are among London's most iconic landmarks. Technically, Big Ben is the name given to the massive bell inside the clock tower, which weighs more than 13 tons (13,760 kg). The clock tower looks spectacular at night when the four clock faces are illuminated.

big ben

A massive bell was required and the first attempt (made by John Warner & Sons at Stockton-on-Tees) cracked irreparably. The metal was melted down and the bell recast in Whitechapel in 1858. Big Ben first rang across Westminster on 31 May 1859. A short time later, in September 1859, Big Ben cracked. A lighter hammer was fitted and the bell rotated to present an undamaged section to the hammer. This is the bell as we hear it today.


London Eye

The London Eye is London's newest major tourist attraction. It is a huge wheel designed to celibrate the Millenium year 2000. It stands at Millenium Pier, on the South Bank of the River Thames, close to the south end of Westminster Bridge, and within an easy walk of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Visitors climb aboard glass-encased capsules for a leisurely circular orbit, high above the Thames, allowing spectacular views across London and far beyond. Though it looks like a huge ferris wheel, the London Eye is no fairground thrill-ride, but a slow and stately way to experience London in a unique way.

london eye

The Eye was built between 1998 and 2000. It seems remarkable that a site that has so quickly become a symbol of modern London has been around for such a short time! It took fully seven years from start of the design process to create the Eye. It was intended to stand for only a few years, but it proved to be such a popular attraction that the decision was made to make the wheel a permanent feature of the London landscape.

london eye

Each rotation of the wheel takes about 30 minutes, which translates to a speed of about 0.9km (0.6 miles) per hour, or approximately twice the speed of a land tortoise in top gear! In practice this means that you get plenty of time to enjoy the view.


London Tube

The London Underground rail network, or or "the Tube" is a great way to travel to and from Central London and will be an integral part of most people's stay in the UK capital.

london tube

Greater London is served by 12 Tube lines, along with the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and an interconnected local train network. Underground trains generally run between 5am and midnight, Monday to Saturday, and operating hours are reduced on Sunday.

london tube

London's public transport network is divided into nine travel zones. Zone 1 is in Central London and zones 6-9 are on the outskirts of the city.