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London is the capital of and largest city in England and the United Kingdom, with the largest municipal population in the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

London is considered to be one of the world's most important global cities and has been termed the world's most powerful, most desirable, most influential, most visited, most expensive, innovative, sustainable, most investment friendly, most popular for work, and the most vegetarian-friendly city in the world. London exerts a considerable impact upon the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, tourism and transportation. London ranks 26 out of 300 major cities for economic performance. It is one of the largest financial centres and has either the fifth or sixth largest metropolitan area GDP. It is the most-visited city as measured by international arrivals and has the busiest city airport system as measured by passenger traffic. It is the leading investment destination, hosting more international retailers and ultra high-net-worth individuals than any other city. London's universities form the largest concentration of higher education institutes in Europe. In 2012, London became the first city to have hosted three modern Summer Olympic Games.

Featured article

18th-century drawing of the first Marshalsea prison

The Marshalsea was a prison on the south bank of the River Thames in Southwark, now part of London. From at least 1329 until it closed in 1842, it housed men under court martial for crimes at sea, including "unnatural crimes", political figures and intellectuals accused of sedition or other inappropriate behaviour, and—most famously—London's debtors, the length of their stay determined largely by the whim of their creditors. Run privately for profit, as were all prisons in England until the 19th century, the Marshalsea looked like an Oxbridge college and functioned largely as an extortion racket. For prisoners who could afford the fees, it came with access to a bar, shop, and restaurant, and the crucial privilege of being allowed to leave the prison during the day, which meant debtors could earn money to pay off their creditors. Everyone else was crammed into one of nine small rooms with dozens of others, possibly for decades for the most modest of debts, which increased as unpaid prison fees accumulated. The prison became known around the world during the 19th century through the writings of the English novelist Charles Dickens, whose father was sent there in 1824 for a debt of £40 and 10 shillings. Much of it was demolished in the 1870s, though some of its buildings were used into the 20th century. (more...)

Featured picture

Kew Gardens Temperate House - Sept 2008.jpg
Photo credit: David Iliff

Built in 1859 and at 4,880 square metres (52,500 sq ft) in area, the Temperate House in Kew Gardens is the largest surviving Victorian glass structure in the world, and houses an extensive collection of temperate plants, including the world's largest indoor plant, the Chilean wine-palm.

Featured biography

Henry Wood

Sir Henry Wood was a conductor best known for his association with London's annual series of promenade concerts, known as the Proms. Born in modest circumstances on Oxford Street, central London, to parents who encouraged his musical talent, Wood started his career as an organist. During his studies at the Royal Academy of Music, he came under the influence of the voice teacher Manuel Garcia and became his accompanist. After similar work for Richard D'Oyly Carte's opera companies on the works of Arthur Sullivan and others, Wood became the conductor of a small operatic touring company. He was soon engaged by the larger Carl Rosa Opera Company. One notable event in his operatic career was conducting the British premiere of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin in 1892. From the mid-1890s until his death, Wood focused on concert conducting and made recordings. He was engaged by the impresario Robert Newman to conduct a series of promenade concerts at the Queen's Hall, offering a mixture of classical and popular music at low prices. The series was successful, and Wood conducted annual promenade series until his death in 1944. He had an enormous influence on the musical life of Britain over his long career: he and Newman greatly improved access to classical music, and Wood raised the standard of orchestral playing and nurtured the taste of the public, presenting a vast repertoire of music spanning four centuries.

Selected quotation

George Bruce, 7th Lord Balfour of Burleigh, quoted, Sayings of the Week, The Observer, 1 October 1944.

Did you know...

V&A Museum of Childhood.jpg
  • ...that the Dulwich Picture Gallery opened in 1817 with a collection assembled for a never-realised Polish national gallery, and that it was first purpose-built public art gallery in England?
  • ...that the remains of London's Roman amphitheatre can be found in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery?
  • ...that the Secretum was the name given to a cupboard in the British Museum containing a collection of supposed ancient erotica, which in fact largely consisted of Victorian fakes?

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Transport

London has one of the oldest and largest public transport systems in the world. Many components of its transport system, such as the double-decker bus, the Hackney Carriage black taxi and the Tube, are internationally recognised symbols of London.

The majority of transport services in the capital are provided by Transport for London (TfL), an executive agency of the Mayor of London. The Oyster card is accepted as payment across most TfL-controlled transport modes. In the past ten years TfL has invested heavily in walking and cycling to promote more sustainable travel choices in London, including a Velib-style bike hire scheme which opened in Summer 2010.

Routemaster LDS402A.jpg Hackney carriage.jpg Westminster.tube.station.jubilee.arp.jpg Tramlink-Beckenham Jn.jpg BA Planes T4 2004.jpg

London has a comprehensive rail network with several major railway stations. London has two international train stations, at St. Pancras railway station and Stratford International, which connect London to mainland Europe through the Eurostar service. London also has six international airports.

In addition to public transport, London is the start point for a number of motorway routes. The M25 is an orbital motorway which enables vehicles to avoid travelling through central London and is one of the busiest motorways in Europe.


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