London is divided administratively into two areas:
- 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 City of London
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 on the entire island of Great Britain; older than the empire Victoria ruled, older than the Kingdoms and United, and much, much, much older than (Greater) London (which surrounds the City of London. Confused yet? Don't worry, you will be soon enough), 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 "sometime before 6th July 1189 AD" (the date of the death of Henry II Curtmantle and accession of Richard I Lionheart). The City's long history has also left it with some highly unusual street names such as New Change, Poultry, Eastcheap, Crutched Friars and St. Mary Axe (named for a medieval church long since disappeared).
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. Of course, if you were any good at it, eight years is enough to make obscene amounts of money and leverage yourself into a job anywhere you want. 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) (then again, most government functions are in Westminster), 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 (although apparently spacious enough for some passengers to conceive a child in the ticket queue). 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 and government. It has a separate police service to the rest of Greater London, the smallest police force in the UK (but with the largest fraud squad).
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 Ford plant.
Recently has become an immigration hotspot which lead to the area going from having a mainly white working class population to one of the more diverse parts of London in a relatively short time. This briefly lead to the borough becoming the area with the strongest support for the BNP.
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").
Since February 2013, home to the Saracens rugby union club (although they have their headquarters outside the GLA in St Albans).
On the eastern edge of London, but south of the river. Includes Sidcup and Bexleyheath, as well as Bexley. Not a tremendous amount here.
For what it's worth, Kate Bush is from Bexleyheath, as is Boy George. Sidcup has also given the world John Paul Jones and Quentin Blake, legendary illustrator of Roald Dahl's books. (Dahl himself lived in Bexley for a while during and after his time at boarding school.)
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" land.
Currently has no Underground station but Anerley, Crystal Palace and Penge West are served by the London Overground.
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, as well as the British Museum, one of the finest museums in the world with an extensive collection, much of which was acquired during the heyday of the British Empire, back when 'cultural appropriation' meant 'appropriate as many cultural artefacts as possible'. 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 illusionist 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. There's an attempt to redevelop the area into a sort of edge city and give the borough City status (joining the City and Westminster), which Boris Johnson has supported.
Home to the famous Ealing Studios, filming location for Shaun of the Dead, a large number of comedies and The Ladykillers (1955) among others. Ealing is where The Sarah Jane Adventures is set (however, like all Doctor Who related things these days, it's filmed in Wales).
The northern-most borough, and the site of the infamous Enfield Poltergeist, but 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 League One 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.
Freema Agyeman 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.
Was home to BBC Television Centre until its closure and conversion to luxury flats (most of the Corporation then moved 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 (UK) presenter James May currently resides in Hammersmith, a fact that comes up frequently when his co-presenters are teasing him.
The area was been in the UK press a lot recently after a baby, Peter Connelly, 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, Screaming Lord Sutch (the founder of the goofy political party The Monster Raving Loony Party), Marco Pironi, and centre of the 1980 rockabilly revival that attracted a still Swindon-accented Mark Lamar. 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. although pockets of long-standing poverty remain in areas like Wealdstone.
Now home to rugby league's London Broncos, who are groundsharing with League Two football club Barnet. The latter club had played in Barnet for over a century, but left in 2013 after a row with their borough council.
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".note
With that groan aside, the area is on the edge of Greater London. Indeed, many residents still see themselves as more Essex than London, and the area is traditionally far less diverse than anywhere else in London, though both of these facts are gradually changing.
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 Marenghis 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), usually running at 99% of its capacity. The place is prone to fog and its location means that airliners have to fly over the city to land. It was also home to a large Nestle factory so there was a smell of either roasting coffee or aviation fuel depending on which way the wind was blowing.
Borders Hackney and shares its "Silicon Roundabout" and Old Street Station. Contains Islington (of course), Pentonville (home to a famous prison), Highbury, 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. The rich-poor disparity became a matter of public focus after the 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower in north Kensington killed 72 people, most of them poorer ethnic minorities. In the aftermath of the tragedy the council received criticism for their lack of action before and after the fire, despite being the single wealthiest local authority in the United Kingdom.
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. For now, home to the League One football club AFC Wimbledon, founded in 2002 by Wimbledon F.C. supporters angered over that club's impending move to Milton Keynesthough they are now preparing to build a new ground in the original club's home of Merton.
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. London County Hall, seat of the government of the old forms of Greater London from 1922 (when it was opened) to 1986 (when the Greater London Council was abolished), is in Lambeth almost directly across from Parliament; the Labour-controlled Greater London Council's habit of posting giant opposition slogans from the side of County Hall may have played a significant role in the Thatcher government's decision to abolish the Council. 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 onenote 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 London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury; it is just across and upstream the Thames from Parliament. Historically, the decennial Lambeth Conferences (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 for the duration of the Conference).
Also known for The Lambeth Walk, a 1939 musical featuring the titular song.
South West. Contains Wimbledon, Mitcham, Morden, Raynes Park, Colliers Wood and is most well known for the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. Divided between a predominantly wealthy west and a more deprived east.
It has the River Wandle running through it. It was the home of William Wilberforce and Horatio 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 its 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. The Wimbledon railway station also provides the only interchange between the London Underground (a branch of the District line) and the Croydon Tramlink.
Mitcham is occasionally mentioned in the news because of stabbings that have taken place there. Although Mitcham is not so unique in that aspect, sadly.
AFC Wimbledon will return to their predecessor's home of Merton in 2020 at a new ground to be built at a former greyhound racing track.
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 4 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 were held here. The plan for afterwards was to remove 55,000 of the 80,000 seats from the main stadium and turn it over for community use. That or give it to Leyton Orient Football Club. Emphasis on WAS. It was later decided to keep the stadium at a capacity of 60,000, and West Ham United, which have been based in the area now known as Newham since their creation, took over the stadium in 2016.
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.
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 such as 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. The Harlequins rugby union club play across the road at the Twickenham Stoop, and the London Broncos of rugby league used to play there as well until they moved to Harrow.
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 was amalgamated from the villages of the area and has the lowest crime rate of any of the London Boroughs. A 2014 report put Sutton as one of the best places to live in the UK.
- 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 (including the one Rose Tyler grew up in) and City Hall. Pronounced "Suth-erk". Includes the London Bridge area, Rotherhithe and 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, Limehouse, 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 ("Canary Wharf" in particular is now synonymous with "skyscrapers and businessmen" and is basically the City's younger brother); this area is served by the Docklands Light Railway, which serves as an adjunct to The London Underground.
All the East End tropes apply - nay, originate - here.
Call the Midwife is set in Poplar.
Home of Leyton Orient football club.
Includes Walthamstow and part of Epping Forest(known as Waltham Forest in medieval times). 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 with an extension of the Northern Line's Charing Cross branch.
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 (twice), Lost and in a brown version in Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies. The Beeb blew it up for a nuclear documentary in the The '80s. Perhaps most famously, it's featured on the album art for Pink Floyd's Animals, with a photograph (yes, it's a photograph) of the Power Station with a helium balloon of a flying pig over it.
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, Marylebone, Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square, as well as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament - the latter two of which are in Parliament Square). The northern reaches of the City of Westminster include most of Regent's Park, the Lord's Cricket Ground and the Abbey Road Crossing. Americans should think of Washington, D.C. 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.
- Canley- The Bill
- Walford- EastEnders
- Northam - Grange Hill
- Flydale North - Doctor Who (constituency of Harriet Jones, former Prime Ministernote )
Areas often associated with the capital
The following areas are often associated with the capital but lie outside the GLA area.
Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead
Directly to the west of Heathrow Airport. Home to LEGOLAND Windsor as well as Windsor castle (one of the main royal residences) and Eton College (the poshest public school in Great Britain).
A large town to the north of Windsor and just outside of the M25. Famous for being the setting of The Office as well as for having one of the largest ethnic minority populations (in percentage terms) outside the capital. It has all the problems of an inner-city area without actually being in the inner city. Benjamin Britten famously wrote a poem about Slough. [[Understatement It's less than complimentary.]]
The largest town inside the M25 which lies outside the Greater London Area. The town is notable for its football club Watford FC. Visitors might pass through Watford Junction Overground station on their way to the Harry Potter Studio Tours in Leavesden Studios.
A Hertfordshire district that lies mostly inside the M25 and is just west of Watford. It is notable for the famous Elstree film studios and for its large Jewish population. Americans can (sort of) think of Hertsmere and the entire county of Hertfordshire as being a bit like Long Island.
City of St Albans
Lying just outside the M25. The city is rather wealthy with notoriously high house prices. The city is named after a Christian martyr who was executed by the Romans. The city also saw not one, but two battles occur during the Wars of the Roses.
A county just to the South of London. The county is mostly suburban with most of the county's population living in areas inside London's urban sprawl but outside the formal city boundaries. The county has a reputation for poshness and is a Tory stronghold. A few London boroughs used to be inside this county and still associate themselves with it. Americans can think of it as what Westchester County is to New York.
A county just to the East of London. It can be thought of as London's New Jersey equivalent. The county is considerably more working class than other counties surrounding London mainly because Essex is where a lot of the White Working Class Londoners were pushed to with the arrival of large numbers of immigrants into the capital in the 1960s and onwards. As a result of this, the area is home to a large number of marginal seats come election time. Some London Boroughs such as Havering and Barking and Dagenham, used to be inside this county and still associate themselves with it. The county's North and South are often though of separately as the South is more Londony containing a couple of new towns (Harlow and Basildon) and large amounts of urban sprawl especially along the Thames Estuary whilst the North is much more rural and is often considered part of East Anglia.
Famous London Streets
Some individual streets in London are well-known around the world:
- Baker Street, Westminster, NW1. Home to Sherlock Holmes.
- Downing Street, Westminster, SW1. Home to the British Prime Minister (at Number 10) and the British Chancellor (at Number 11).
- Leicester Square, Westminster, WC2. Home to several major cinemas and the usual site of major British film premières, as well as being part of the West End. Americans, think Times Square minus the screens.
- Trafalgar Square, Westminster WC2. Home of Nelson's Column, the four giant lions around it, Charing Cross Station, the National Portrait Gallery, St. Martins-in-the-fields Church, Canada House (the Canadian High Commission i.e. Embassy), South Africa House (ditto previous) and formerly, an absurd amount of pigeons. Following the ban on feeding them and deployment of trained birds of prey, there are now considerably fewer. At Christmas time, it is occupied by a vast Christmas tree, given annually by Norway as thanks for Britain's part in its liberation during WWII.
- Whitehall, Westminster, SW1, home to most of the British Civil Service (especially the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Office).
- 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).
- Warning - If you are looking for the Beatles' Abbey Road, do NOT go to the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) Abbey Road station. It is nowhere near your intended destination (St John's Wood on the Jubilee Line is probably your best bet) - there's even a Beatles-referencing poster at the station advising visitors◊ how to find it.
General Notes and Advice on London for Visitors
- 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, leading to it resembling a rabbit's warren.
For much the same reason, it is very easy to get lost - it's one of the few cities in the world where you can walk in what you think is a straight line and find yourself going around in circles. Partly for this reason, the centre of London has a number of mini maps depicting the area with five and fifteen minutes walk, which are largely, but not entirely, situated next to the famous 'Boris Bikes', bicycles that can be rented by credit or debit card. That said, cycling in London is not recommended for tourists unless you are a die hard adrenaline junkie, absolutely have no other option or genuinely wish to depart this world laminated to the front of a bus.
- There's a lot of parks out there, including in the centre of town, notable examples of latter including Battersea Park and Hyde Park.
- 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, and eddys, especially around the bridge abutments. 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 either half a mile downstream or dragged to the bottom in very short order. Anyone who does manage to keep their head above water risks the rapid onset of hypothermia.
- 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. Also, watch out for the people running shell games on Westminster Bridge and their attendant (and pushy) fake flower sellers on Westminster Bridge. There is a reason that both tend to vanish when the police wander by.
- The ubiquitous bagpipers along the bridge, however, don't. Even if you wish that they would.
- 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 (UK) for details. (It's ideally viewed from a smallish center in Flyover Country with free parking downtown.)
- Get an Oyster card or use a contact-less payment debit/credit card (the prices are the same). Public transport is much cheaper with either. Likewise, short journeys are often accomplished quicker (and more entertainingly) on a bus instead of the tube - unless it's in and around rush hour. Then, the tube is probably quicker, though only marginally less jam packed than the average Japanese subway - and like the latter, is generally passed in stony silence while everyone onboard tries to pretend that none of their fellow travellers exist. People from outside London have claimed that they can spot each other on the grounds that they're the only people on the train who acknowledge the presence of other human beings in all but the most extreme circumstances.
- Entry to parks, churches and museums is, by and large, free. Particular recommendation goes to the British Museum, which is conveniently situated within five minutes of both Russell Square and Holborn tube stations and about ten minutes from Charing Cross (and thereby, Trafalgar Square). However, it should be noted that while entry is free, food, drinks and memorabilia are far from 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. In fact, the more central you get, the more likely a round of drinks will you cost you your soul, while a meal would require a down payment of your firstborn. London cuisine is highly cosmopolitan (you can find Thai noodle bars rubbing shoulders with Jamaican restaurants, Italian cafés next to French bistros, all surrounded by the ubiquitous Pret a Manger/Costa Coffee/Café Nero), often excellent and usually absurdly expensive.
- The boundaries of the City of London are marked by cast-iron dragon statues placed at all the major entrances to the City.