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London city guide

London is the capital of the United Kingdom and has a world reputation for historic sites, arts, green spaces and – not least since the 2012 Olympics – sport.

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London city guide

London is the capital of the United Kingdom and has a world reputation for historic sites, arts, green spaces and – not least since the 2012 Olympics – sport.

Population: 8 million (approx.)
Area: 1,570 km²

The capital of the United Kingdom, London has a world reputation for historic sites, arts, green spaces and sport – not least since the 2012 Olympics.


The area around the river Thames has been populated for at least 3,000 years but the city was properly established as Londinium around 50AD by the occupying Romans only to be quickly destroyed by the native Iceni. A century later, though it was the largest city of Roman Britain after the empire's collapse, London began a decline. Under the Saxons the county of Middlesex grew in importance, and London was the de facto English capital by the 11th century.

London's subsequent growth was rapid, far exceeding the 'City of London' under the Lord Mayor. By the 18th-century Industrial Revolution, London was the centre of the British Empire and the world's largest city. Burnt in the 17th century and bombed in the 20th, London remains a famed world city and in 2000, for the first time, elected a single executive mayor for the whole of Greater London, a collection of 33 boroughs in historic Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Essex which had become part of the metropolis with the building of the London Underground or tube system, the first underground railway in the world.


London was once an industrial centre and world-leading dockyard. Now it is dominated by services, especially the financial institutions based around the City and eastern Docklands area.

Champions Festival: International Quarter, Stratford
Next to the Olympic Park built for the 2012 Games, the free four-day football celebration, featuring a series of family-friendly activities, will be the first in the area since the Paralympics ended last summer. The area is adjacent to Stratford and Stratford International stations, accessible by tube, overground, national rail, light rail and Eurostar.


To and from
London has several international airports. Within Greater London there is Heathrow to the west and City to the east. To the south lies Gatwick and to the north are Stanstead and Luton. All have rail links to central London.

In and around
The underground and overground services are widespread and reliable, and Wembley (Wembley Park, Wembley Central and Wembley Stadium), Stamford Bridge (Fulham Broadway and West Brompton) and the International Quarter (Stratford and Stratford International) are each on several lines. With a top-up Oyster card, available for a small deposit, cashless payments are available for use on underground, overground, bus, tram, light rail and national rail within the Greater London zones. See the Transport for London (TfL) website for more details and a journey planner.


Wembley, the national stadium, is not home to a club side but does stage all of England's matches. The original ground, featuring the famous twin towers, stood from 1923 to 2003 and the modern arena opened in 2007. Virtually every major football showpiece has been staged there, including matches at the 1948 and 2012 Olympic Games.

London boasts six clubs in the 2012/13 Premier League – Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Fulham FC, Queens Park Rangers FC, Tottenham Hotspur FC and West Ham United FC. There are numerous other professional clubs, including Crystal Palace FC and Charlton Athletic FC who have both had recent spells in the top flight. London clubs have between them won many English titles, FA Cups and European trophies, though the European Cup did not go to the English capital until Chelsea FC's 2012 triumph.


London is home to national arenas in England's other biggest sports: Twickenham for rugby union, Lord's and the Oval for cricket and Wimbledon for tennis. The North Greenwich Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome) is a regular venue for the biggest indoor sports like tennis, basketball, boxing and darts, while the Olympic Stadium is due to be converted for athletics and other events. The London Marathon, through the streets of east and central London each April, attracts tens of thousands of runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators, raising millions for charity.