The Definitive London Travel Guide HTML version

With a population of just under eight million, London is Europe's
largest city, spreading across an area of more than 620 square
miles from its core on the River Thames. Ethnically it's also
Europe's most diverse metropolis: around two hundred
languages are spoken within its confines, and more than thirty
percent of the population is made up of first, second- and third-
generation immigrants. Despite Scottish, Welsh and Northern
Irish devolution, London still dominates the national horizon, too:
this is where the country's news and money are made, it's where
the central government resides and, as far as its inhabitants are
concerned, provincial life begins beyond the circuit of the city's
orbital motorway. Londoners' sense of superiority causes
enormous resentment in the regions, yet it's undeniable that the
capital has a unique aura of excitement and success - in most
walks of British life, if you want to get on you've got to do it in
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For the visitor, too, London is a thrilling place - and since the
beginning of the new millennium, the city has also been
overtaken by an exceptionally buoyant mood. Thanks to the
lottery and millennium-oriented funding frenzy of the last few
years, virtually every one of London's world-class museums,
galleries and institutions has been reinvented, from the Royal
Opera House to the British Museum. With the completion of the
Tate Modern and the London Eye, the city can now boast the
world's largest modern art gallery and Ferris wheel; there's also
a new tube extension and the first new bridge to cross the
Thames for over a hundred years. And after sixteen years of
being the only major city in the world not to have its own
governing body, London finally has its own elected mayor and
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In the meantime, London's traditional sights - Big Ben,
Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral
and the Tower of London - continue to draw in millions of
tourists every year. Monuments from the capital's more glorious
past are everywhere to be seen, from medieval banqueting halls
and the great churches of Sir Christopher Wren to the eclectic
Victorian architecture of the triumphalist British Empire. There is
also much enjoyment to be had from the city's quiet Georgian
squares, the narrow alleyways of the City of London, the
riverside walks, and the quirks of what is still identifiably a
collection of villages. And even London's traffic pollution - one of
its worst problems - is offset by surprisingly large expanses of
greenery: Hyde Park, Green Park and St James's Park are all
within a few minutes' walk of the West End, while, further afield,
you can enjoy the more expansive parklands of Hampstead
Heath and Richmond Park.