The Definitive London Travel Guide HTML version

Introducing the City
Stretching for more than thirty miles at its broadest point,
London is by far the largest city in Europe. The majority of its
sights are situated to the north of the River Thames, which loops
through the city from west to east. However, there is no single
predominant focus of interest, for London has grown not through
centralized planning but by a process of agglomeration - villages
and urban developments that once surrounded the core are now
lost within the amorphous mass of Greater London.
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One of the few areas that you can easily explore on foot is
Westminster and Whitehall , the city's royal, political and
ecclesiastical power base, where you'll find the National Gallery
and a host of other London landmarks, from Buckingham Palace
to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. The grand streets and
squares of St James's , Mayfair and Marylebone , to the north
of Westminster, have been the playground of the rich since the
Restoration, and now contain the city's busiest shopping zones.
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East of Piccadilly Circus, Soho and Covent Garden are also
easy to walk around and form the heart of the West End
entertainment district, containing the largest concentration of
theatres, cinemas, clubs, flashy shops, cafés and restaurants.
To the north lies the university quarter of Bloomsbury , home to
the ever-popular British Museum, and the secluded quadrangles
of Holborn's Inns of Court, London's legal heartland.
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The City - the City of London, to give it its full title - is at one and
the same time the most ancient and the most modern part of
London. Settled since Roman times, it is now one of the world's
great financial centres, yet retains its share of historic sights,
notably the Tower of London and a fine cache of Wren churches
that includes St Paul's Cathedral. Despite creeping
trendification, the East End , to the east of the City, is not
conventional tourist territory, but to ignore it entirely is to miss
out a crucial element of contemporary London. Docklands is
the converse of the down-at-heel East End, with the Canary
Wharf tower, the country's tallest building, epitomizing the
pretensions of the Thatcherite dream.
Lambeth and Southwark comprise the small slice of central
London that lies south of the Thames. The South Bank Centre,
London's little-loved concrete culture bunker, is enjoying a new
lease of life thanks to its proximity to the new Tate Gallery of
Modern Art in Bankside, which is linked to the City by a new
pedestrian bridge.
The largest segment of greenery in central London is Hyde
Park, which separates wealthy Kensington and Chelsea from