London is divided administratively into two areas:
The City of London
- The City of London
- The Greater London Authority (GLA) area, split into 32 boroughs, although the people in the former can vote for the latter.
The de jure
capital of Britain and its financial and legal centre. For Americans, think of Manhattan
, particularly Lower Manhattan (and most especially Wall Street) and to a lesser extent Midtown. Its boundaries are defined by the old London Wall, hence places like Moorgate, Aldgate and Bishopsgate. The government for the City of London is the oldest continuous governmental institution in England, it is so old that no one's quite sure when the thing started (for simplicity's sake, the date for the founding of the City is defined as time immemorial
, which English Law defines as "sometimes before July 6th, 1189 AD").
Home to a lot of banks and the former home to the UK press, the latter being in Fleet Street. The place has naturally suffered a lot of unemployment recently because of the "credit crunch". City bankers used to have the reputation for working hard and playing harder, blowing huge sums of money on strippers and drugs. The average career length of a City Trader is about 8 years before you burn out from stress. Americans, again—Wall Street.
In recent years, many financial institutions have migrated eastwards to high-tech offices in the reconstructed docklands of Tower Hamlets and Newham, with the hedge funds going where the big money is, in Mayfair.
Unless you're interested in high-end clothing or Costa Coffees, or you work there, there's not really a lot to do- although there are some nice old churches, many of which put on free organ recitals and other musical events at lunchtime. The Central Criminal Court, better known as the Old Bailey, is in Newgate, on the site of the old Newgate Gaol. Don't even think about nightlife; The City is closed in the evening and at weekends.
Only has 7,800 permanent residents, making it one of Europe's smallest capital cities (only Vaduz, Liechtenstein, is smaller), the smallest city in England (Wells in Somerset has 3,000 more residents and Ely, Cambridgeshire, has twice as many), the second smallest education authority (after the Isles of Scilly; it has one primary school) and the smallest police authority. The crime figures therefore end up being slightly skewed as a result. Most of the workers commute via The London Underground
or the mainline stations. Fenchurch Street station, in the heart of the city is what estate agents would call "cosy"- four platforms and some shops. Liverpool Street is far roomier.
Run by the City of London Corporation, it has a very unusual and byzantine electoral system, which has been widely called undemocratic (it is probably the only place on Earth where humans, modern Fortune 500 corporations and medieval Guilds with names like The Worshipful Company Bowyers and Fletchers all come together to vote for mayor). See here for an breakdown of the city's history
. It has a separate police service to the rest of Greater London.
According to law, the Royal Family is not allowed to interfere with the City of London. Although they don't hold much power these days, the law is still in effect - the Queen can't enter the City of London without permission from the Lord Mayor, even in processions.
Often just called "The City". It's also called "The Square Mile", because it's that large.
The modern area was created in 1965, merging a lot of smaller boroughs together. Most of the boroughs, bar noted exceptions, are called "The London Borough of X"
Barking and Dagenham
East of the East End this is home to:
- Becontree- the world's largest Council Estate, with 100,000 residents.
- A League Two football team (Dagenham and Redbridge)
- A Ford plant.
North London. Includes Golders Green, a highly Jewish area and Finchley, former seat of Margaret Thatcher.
Barnet is Cockney rhyming slang for hair ("Barnet Fair").
On the eastern edge of London, but south of the river. Includes Sidcup and Bexleyheath, as well as Bexley. Not a tremendous amount here.
- As a troper from this borough, I must protest. That's not nearly strong enough - there's nothing here.
For what it's worth, Kate Bush
is from Bexleyheath.
Home to Wembley Stadium and the oft-dreaded "Dollis Hill Loop" in "Mornington Crescent"
Has a considerable and varied ethnic minority population.
Not to be confused with Brentford, which is in not-particularly-nearby Hounslow.
An Outer London borough, on the South-Eastern edge. Became part of London in 1965. Includes Biggin Hill, site of a former RAF base which is now a commercial airport and home to an annual air show. The majority is "Green Belt
Has given the world a disproportionate number of music stars
, such as David Bowie
, Billy Idol
, and Siouxsie And The Banshees
Currently has no Underground station, but the East London Line extension will change this.
Encompasses districts called Pratt's Bottom and Elmer's End. Some people apparently find this amusing.
A bit of a misleading name, as the borough actually stretches into a good part of Central London, including Holborn, King's Cross (which has a reputation for homeless people gathering round there and a famous train station
) and Bloomsbury. In fact it reaches right down to Covent Garden and Strand, so it almost reaches the Thames to separate the Cities of London and Westminster.
Home to the famous market, where hip people show off their clothes and hang out in the ancient World's End pub. Also home to the BT Tower, which people like to knock over in fiction, as in The Goodies
. Doctor Who
did have a mad computer there back in the 1960s, but didn't destroy the place. The tower (known as the Post Office Tower until 1981), rather bizarrely, was omitted from Ordnance Survey maps until the mid-1990s under, of all things, the Official Secrets Act
. The existence of a building over 180 metres tall in the middle of London was an official secret
Hampstead and Hampstead Heath are here too.
The southern-most borough, Croydon is home to a tram system, Tramlink, and not an awful lot else. It has the largest population of all the boroughs and is famed for being ethnically diverse, with over 100 languages spoken. It does have a decent-sized shopping centre, named after John Whitgift like almost everything else in the town. It was historically home to the Archbishops of Canterbury and the original London Airport (now a park), and has the city's oldest continuously running market. Croydon's BRIT school for perfoming arts has produced such shining lights of entertainment as Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis and Dane Bowers; however its main gift to British culture (sometimes exhibited by Croydonian Kate Moss) is the Croydon Facelift, where the hair is pulled back into a pony tail so tightly that wrinkles formed from years of smoking since adolescence are slightly diminished. Other famous residents include erstwhile Guantanamo Bay inmate Feroz Abassi, Sherlock Holmes
author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Doctor Who
companion Sarah Jane Smith, The Mighty Boosh
star Noel Fielding, "artist" Tracy Emin, smaller of The Two Ronnies
Ronnie Corbett and con artist Derren Brown. Ripped on by Mock the Week
"You are now leaving Croydon - well done!"
Home to Crystal Palace FC, on the site of the first World's Fair. One of the few boroughs of London that isn't served by the Tube, with the function performed by the aforementioned Tramlink and lots of rail lines.
Where The Sarah Jane Adventures
is set. Home to the famous Ealing Studios, filming location for Shaun of the Dead
, a large number of comedies and the original version of The Ladykillers
among others. (But not The Sarah Jane Adventures
; which like all Doctor Who
related things these days, is filmed in Wales).
The northern-most borough, that's about as exciting as information on Enfield gets.
Royal Borough of Greenwich
An Eastern-central borough situated just south of the River Thames. The further west you go in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, the posher the area. Greenwich itself is a relatively small area to the far west, so is poshest. It contains most of the historical tourist attractions, such as Greenwich Park, the old Royal Observatory, Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark, and others. Other possible places of interest in the wider borough are Charlton Athletic (a Championship football team), The Thames Barrier and Bellmarsh (a maximum security prison).
Greenwich became a Royal Borough
in 2012. Allegedly this put the civic noses of Kensington and Chelsea and Kingston upon Thames somewhat out of joint because their mayors are now only the fourth- and fifth-ranked mayors in town; the royal boroughs being ranked in alphabetical order.
Maryon Park in Charlton was the main location for the Antonioni 1966 film Blow Up
. Greenwich is also often used for location filming for films set in the 17th and 18th centuries, notably Pirates of the Caribbean
Borough in North London consisting of Stoke Newington and Shoreditch (Lots of artists did stuff there.). Has a 700 year old church and a popular theatre (The Hackney Empire). The majority of residents are working class people, with some pockets of cockney in the older areas, and has the highest drop of crime rate in the city. Shoreditch is the home of the "Silicon Roundabout" near Old Street Station, so-called because of the amount of tech companies who set up shop there, such as last.fm and 7Digital.
The Stamford Hill area is home to Europe's largest community of Hassidic Jews.
was also born here.
Hammersmith and Fulham
An inner London borough, just west of the city centre, including areas like White City, Shepherd's Bush and West Kensington. It is a mix of wealthy and deprived areas.
Home to BBC
Television Centre, although this may soon close down (plans are to move to an expanded Broadcasting House).
Three top football clubs – Chelsea, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers – have their homes in the borough, making it not only the only local government district home to three Football League or Premiership sides but at the end of the 2012-2013 season home to three premiership sides.
- Famous British sitcom Steptoe And Son is set in a fictional street in Shepherd's Bush- it was worked out some years that the yard they owned would be worth a fair amount today for a property developer.
- The closing theme song of Only Fools And Horses states that Derek Trotter has "Trevor Francis tracksuits, from a mush in Shepherd's Bush".
- Richie and Eddie from Bottom live in a flat in one of the less-pleasant parts of Hammersmith.
- The Who and The Sex Pistols originated in Shepherd's Bush.
- Top Gear presenter James May currently resides in Hammersmith, a fact that comes up frequently when his co-presenters are teasing him.
Home of Tottenham Hotspur and Shaun Riley
. Features Crouch End, Muswell Hill, Harringay (The Long Good Friday
) and Alexandra Palace (Doctor Who
, "The Idiot's Lantern").
The area was been in the UK press a lot recently after a baby, Peter Donnelly, known as "Baby P" or "Baby Peter" as he was referred to until press restrictions were lifted, was killed by his mother and her boyfriend, with Social Services failing to do their job properly.
- In the Doctor Who episode, the Doctor climbs the transmitter mast there. An excised line had him commenting that he doesn't like radio masts, since he fell off one once- in "Logopolis", where it caused his regeneration.
A Northwestern borough. The current home of Matt Smith
, and the birthplace of musicians Kate Nash, Ian Dury and Screaming Lord Sutch (the founder of the goofy political party The Monster Raving Loony Party). Also home to Harrow School, the (slightly less) famous rival of the (slightly more) famous Eton. Traditionally seen as an area for (over-)ardent social climbers; it has since gentrified and lost this reputation.
Romford, Hornchurch, Upminster and Rainham. The odd name (from the village of Havering-atte-Bower) appears to derive from a legend where Edward the Confessor helped an apparent beggar. He had no money, but he said "I have a ring
- 'Havering' can also mean 'returning home'.
With that groan aside, the area is on the edge of Greater London.
It has a long-running market (Romford Market), an old windmill (Upminster), a church with horns on the east end (in Hornchurch, hence the name) and was home to a famous RAF airfield (RAF Hornchurch). The airfield is now a housing estate and country park. The Airfield Estate has aviation related street names and there is a local school named after an American volunteer called Raimond Sanders Draper, who possibly performed a real life Heroic Sacrifice
to avoid hitting the school in his crashing Spitfire.
In media, Romford is Chav-Land, as well as the setting for Garth Marenghi's Darkplace
Home to Heathrow Airport. Heathrow is a five-terminal, two-runway job, but those are large terminals and it's the world's second busiest airport (1st for international passengers). The place is prone to fog and its location means that airliners have to fly over the city to land.
Borders Hackney and shares its "Silicon Roundabout" and Old Street Station. Contains Islington (of course
), Pentonville (home to a famous prison), Finsbury and Kings Cross (although the train station that bares this district's name is actually in nearby Camden). Home to George Orwell
and (for a time in the 1970's and 80's) Douglas Adams
, which is why quite a bit of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
that takes place on Earth takes place in Islington.
Home of Arsenal football club. Also the alleged home of the "intellectual left" in British politics, taking over from Hamstead following extensive gentrification from the 1970s onwards.
Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
The most densely populated local authority in the UK, Kensington and Chelsea is on the west side of Central London. It includes a lot of high-end shops, a lot of high-end museums and a lot of very high-end housing. In sharp contrast, North Kensington contains some of the poorest areas of London although astronomical property prices mean gentrification pushes ever northwards. Notting Hill
, a district whose fortunes have changed immensely since the 1950s is here too and the Notting Hill Carnival, Europe's biggest street party, takes place on the last Monday in August every year.
The Earl's Court and Olympia exhibition centres are located here, as is Harrod's department store. Confusingly enough, not the home of Chelsea FC, whose ground is in neighbouring Hammersmith & Fulham.
Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
Note, no hyphens. On the south-west edge of London, Kingston is home to the factory that produced the Sopwith Camel and was where the Hawker Hurricane was designed. Formerly part of Surrey, the County Council for that still sits there.
Not a place that most visitors will visit. Surbiton is part of the borough, a byword for sprawling suburbia and the setting for The Good Life
South central, directly across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster and has been a focus of political radicalism. Contains Brixton, Vauxhall, the South Bank, and the Oval cricket ground. Also the more middle-class district of Streatham. The home of Waterloo Station.
Former PM John Major
is from Brixton. Otherwise the area is slightly more known for its multiethnic population and occasional riots - the 1981 one was motivated by poor economic conditions, while the 1985 and 1995 ones were started in protest against police misconduct.
Lambeth also contains Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury; it is just across and upstream the Thames from Parliament. Historically, the quadrennial Lambeth Confernces (Great Big Meetings of bishops of the global Anglican Communion) met in Lambeth, although these days the bulk of the Conference is held at the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent (the bishops live in the dormitories).
South West. Contains Wimbledon, Mitcham, Morden, Raynes Park, Colliers Wood and is most well known for the Wimbledon Tennis Championships.
It has the River Wandle running through it. It was the home of William Wilberforce and Nelson and is also home to Kings College School, where various members of Mumford & Sons as well as Noah and the Whale spent some of their formative years. One of it's towns, Wimbledon, is often used by commuters because it is the furthest into London (from the south west) one can get without encountering traffic lights.
Mitcham is occasionally mentioned in the news because of stabbings that have taken place there.
The District line terminates at Wimbledon.
The East End. West Ham and East Ham, but no other hams, Large
or otherwise- Newham was a created name. The second most Muslim area in the UK, Channel Four
determined it was the third worst place in the UK to live, due to urban deprivation. Officially an Outer London borough, due to not being a part of the former London County Council area, the council are trying to make it Inner London to get more funding from Whitehall.
Also features Stratford. The 2012 Olympics will be here. The plan for afterwards is to remove 55,000 of the 80,000 seats from the stadium and turn it over for community use. That or give it to Leyton Orient Football Club.
Has a directly elected mayor and a long tradition of civic independence, having been until 1965 the two county boroughs of East Ham and West Ham in Essex.
Home of West Ham United football club.
An East London borough including Ilford, Redbridge and Woodford, with a mixed population and historically a large Jewish presence. The name refers to a (long-gone) bridge over the River Roding.
Traditionally home to many of London's black-cab drivers.
The council's logo is a green leaf. Go figure.
Richmond upon Thames
The only London borough to straddle the Thames, it includes some very affluent areas, the old royal palace of Hampton Court and a lot of parkland (although most of the huge Richmond Park is in adjacent Wandsworth and Kingston).
The home of English Rugby Union is at Twickenham Stadium.
Richmond was the birthplace of the very British style of rhythm'n'blues music best exemplified by The Rolling Stones
, who played early gigs at the Crawdaddy Club in the Station Hotel, and later at Eel Pie Island, both venues in the borough.
A suburb of absolutely no note whatsoever. It has a generic High Street, and an oddly large number of Grammar Schools. It also has a Holiday Inn, which for reasons that escape comprehension is always full
- It is half way between Kingston and Croydon in more ways than one
- The village of Cheam, which lies within the borough, did enjoy some importance during the 16th and 17th centuries since Henry VIII built his magnificent hunting lodge, Nonsuch (ie None Such as this) there, wiping the hamlet of Cuddington off the map in the process - how very Henrician. Elizabeth I loved the palace, but it went downhill under the Stuarts and was eventually burnt to the ground after Charles II gave it to one of his mistresses... Tony Hancock's character was supposed to live in East Cheam (which has not existed as a recognised location for a couple of hundred years in fact).
Inner city area on the south bank of the river, directly opposite the City of London. Home to some deprived council estates and City Hall. Pronounced "Suth-ark". Includes the London Bridge area, Rotherhithe and The Borough.
Southwark grew up as a place where one could do things that were banned in the City; that's why it was the original theatre district and home of William Shakespeare
's company. The Tate Modern art gallery is here, built in a restored power station.
There's a T-34 tank too◊
- Several Charles Dickens works are set here- he lived there when he was young. The area has a Little Dorrit Park.
- You can tell when something is filmed in Southwark- the street signs are fairly distinctive.
- The original and the reconstructed Globe Theatre are built there.
The heart of the East End- Whitechapel, Wapping, Poplar, Stepney etc. A "minority-majority" borough, with ethnic minorities now more than 50% of the population.
The Docklands, the former port area, is now mostly offices and expensive flats.
All the East End tropes apply - nay, originate- here.
An outer London borough, but historically part of the East End, it was where Alfred Hitchcock
, David Beckham and Derek Jacobi
were born. The Kray Twins are also buried here.
Home of Leyton Orient football club.
Includes Walthamstow and a distinct lack of forest. It has nothing to do with Waltham Cross (in Hertfordshire) or Waltham Abbey (in Essex).
A borough in inner South West London, including Battersea, Tooting, Putney and a bit of Clapham. The Northern Line runs through here, including a station called Tooting Bec.
Conservative stronghold on local level (due to low council tax), the Putney constituency was the first gain of theirs in 2005, although the Tooting seat is Labour. Proof that demographics can't always tell you a likely election result at local level.
Includes the busiest interchange station in the UK, Clapham Junction (first one after Waterloo), which may get an Underground link in the near future.
Also features the Grade II listed and no longer operating Battersea Power Station, due for a refurbishment for other use, as it is in rather poor condition. A nice looking backdrop, it's featured in a fair number of movies, TV shows and music videos, including The Dark Knight
, Doctor Who
and in a brown version in an Ace Combat 4
. The Beeb
blew it up for a nuclear documentary in the The Eighties
City Of Westminster
Home to Whitehall
, this is west of the City. It covers many of the areas that one thinks of as the heart of London (Soho, Hyde Park, Mayfair, Oxford Street as well as Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament). Americans should think of Washington, DC
mashed with large swathes of Manhattan's West Side (including the part of Midtown that constitutes the Theatre District—the West End is here).
Had an infamous "homes for votes" scandal in the 1980s, which resulted in convictions. Also has the dubious honour of issuing more parking tickets than any other authority in the country, the money from which adds up to more than is raised through council tax by about half.
Famous London Streets
Some individual streets in London are well-known around the world:
General Notes and Advice on London for Visitors
- Baker Street, Westminster, NW1. Home to Sherlock Holmes.
- Whitehall, Westminster, SW1.
- Abbey Road, Camden/Westminster, NW8. Made famous by The Beatles with their album of the same name. The cover features the zebra crossing outside the recording studios, which is still visited by fans to this day (although it has been relocated since 1969).
- The architecture has a tendency to change very rapidly, up to Hong Kong levels in some places. London wasn't developed to any sort of coherent plan, swallowed up other towns suffered two acts of largely random destruction (the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz during World War II), plus lacks the grid system of US cities.
- There's a lot of parks out there, including in the centre of town.
- The mainline railways generally terminate on the edge of the city centre. The only exception is the Thameslink route, and soon Crossrail.
- The River Thames, although much improved, is still only recommended for fish, corpses and winning coxes in The Boat Race. The Red Bull Flugtag uses the Serpentine, part of a river that is mostly now underground.
- The Central London sections of the Thames have especially vicious currents. It's not so much the quality of the water (which is muddy, but reasonably safe) - it's the high probability that anyone jumping in the Central London section of the Thames will find themselves half a mile downstream in very short order.
- London lacks any serious no-go areas, but some of the sink estates should be avoided unless necessary.
- Beware of pick-pockets. Unless they look like the Artful Dodger.
- Advice on driving in Central London? Don't. There's the Congestion Charge and the impossibility of finding a good parking space.
- Or a bad one, for that matter. If you're lucky, you may find an illegal one.
- See the vintage-luxury-cars episode of Top Gear for details. (It's ideally viewed from a smallish center in Flyover Country with free parking downtown).
- Get an Oyster card. Public transport would be much cheaper with it.
- Despite what the British Monopoly board may tell you, £200 won't buy you a round of drinks in Mayfair, let alone real estate property.
- The boundaries of the City of London are marked by cast-iron dragon statues placed at all the major entrances to the City.