Seeking a few facts about London? London needs no introduction, we’ve visited three times over the last five years, and in this post, we share some interesting London facts.
With its two thousand years of history, from a small Roman settlement to the capital city of the largest empire the world has ever seen, London oozes history from streets big and small.
Amazing Facts About London
1. The City of London is ancient – and tiny
The old core of the British capital covers an area of only 1.12 square miles. It’s known locally as the Square Mile. This was London as it was settled by the Romans in the 1st century AD, and as it continued into the Middle Ages. The City of London is now just an eensy, teensy part of the metropolis – and constitutes the smallest county in England.
2. More than 300 languages are spoken in the London area
Thanks to a rich history of immigration, London is home to a diverse range of people and cultures. From Kurdish to Korean, the lingo in London really is hugely varied.
3. London is the center of the world
Well, sort of. And specifically, that’s Greenwich. This historic area is where you’ll find the Royal Observatory. This defines not only 0° longitude (i.e., the Prime Meridian), but also Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). That’s what you probably know as Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, but GMT predates this term by over 300 years.
4. The London Underground is the oldest underground railway network in the world
It may be rough-around-the-edges, lack air-con and cell phone signal, but the London Underground is a pioneer of traveling by train under the ground. In January 1863, a line between Paddington and Farringdon was opened. The carriages were wooden, gas-lit, and pulled by steam locomotives. It caught on.
5. The name “London” is ancient
You know already that London was largely developed by the Romans. That was our first fact about London. But while they called the city “Londinium,” you have to wonder, where did they get that word from? Historians have reconstructed its old Celtic name (which the Romans adapted) as something like Londonjon.
6. London wasn’t a healthy place in the 17th century
There were a lot of diseases going around London at the time – and we’re talking worse than flu. Between 1665 and 1666, the Great Plague – a nasty case of bubonic plague – killed around 100,000 people. At the time, that was almost a quarter of London’s population.
7. The Great Fire of London started in a bakery
… on Pudding Lane, no less. It happened in 1666. Shortly after midnight on Sunday, September 2nd, the fire erupted from the bakery and quickly spread, destroying around a quarter of London’s metropolis. This included St Paul’s Cathedral. The natural outcome was to give the city a brick-and-stone facelift.
8. London was the world’s largest city from 1831 to 1925
That’s right. This interesting London fact states that, for almost a hundred years, it was the largest city in the world, surpassing Beijing’s 1.1 million in the mid-1800s and boasting a population of 7,419,000 by 1914. After that, New York City took the reins. London is now the world’s 33rd largest.
9. London was bombed by the Germans during WWI and WWII
The Blitz, a bombing campaign by Nazi Germany, might be famous for destroying a lot of London and killing over 30,000 of its inhabitants, but Germany also bombed London during WWI. For the most part, this happened from giant airships called Zeppelins, which weren’t very accurate.
10. London is one of the most diverse cities in the world
With the British Empire being a thing for a long time, there were a lot of people from many of the colonies that wanted a slice of the so-called Commonwealth. From the 1940s onward, immigrants from Trinidad, Jamaica, Pakistan, India, and a host of other Commonwealth countries made their way to London to seek their fortunes.
11. London currently has a record-breaking mayor
Sadiq Khan, current Mayor of London, is the first Muslim mayor of a European Union capital city. He also won with the largest number of votes in one election of any politician in British history. The son of an immigrant bus driver and seamstress, and one of eight children, he’s done pretty well for himself.
12. Number 10 Downing Street is over 300 years old
This is the White House of the UK. It’s got approximately 100 rooms, has a private residence on the third floor, and a kitchen in the basement. Other levels contain offices where foreign dignitaries can be met. There’s also a resident mouse-catching cat called Larry.
13. London isn’t as wet and miserable as you might think
London has a reputation for being this perpetually rainy outpost where the skies are always grey. Well, get ready to have your mind blown with this fact about London: it receives less precipitation than Bordeaux, Lisbon, Naples, New York City, Rome, and Tokyo. In fact, with an average 602mm of annual rainfall, it’s actually drier than the world average. Huh.
14. London is “one of the World’s Greenest Cities”
According to the London Natural History Society, anyway. It’s got more than 40% of green space and open water, 2,000 species of flowering plant, 120 species of fish in the Thames, 60 species of birds nesting in Central London, as well as 47 species of butterfly, 270 kinds of spider, and 1,173 moths…. By EU standards, London can be defined as a forest!
15. A bunch of London’s museums and galleries are free
A budget-friendly fact about London is that, yes, many of its fortresses of culture are free. The National History Museum, The Science Museum, The V&A, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, the Imperial War Museum, and many more – ALL FREE!
16. London’s food scene is actually amazing
English food has a bad reputation. Like, not good. But go to London, and you’ll be met with cuisine from all over the world served everywhere from ramshackle eateries to high-end fine dining establishments. Literally – you want it, you got it.
17. Pubs are the best place to get to grips with local life and history
Pub culture is big news in London. It’s where people go after work, where they start a night out, and where they hang out on a sunny day. Some (read: a lot of) pubs are older than the United States. The Hoop & Grapes, for example, in Aldgate, dates back to the 17th century.
18. Herds of red and fallow deer also roam freely within much of Richmond and Bushy Park
To be fair, that’s because they used to be hunting grounds. But now you can still roam around these two sprawling city parks and feel like you’re rambling around the ancient English countryside. Awesome.
19. The London accent is amazing
You’ll probably know it from Mary Poppins or something similar. Cockney is that wide, happy-go-lucky accent associated with London, but really is only from the East of the city. It has since spread and mixed with Caribbean and South Asian accents for an incredible mix of intonations.
20. Europe’s busiest shopping area is London Facts.
At just under one mile long, Oxford Street is the longest shopping street in the UK. It’s here where you’ll find super famous British brands like Harrods, Hamleys, and Selfridges. Head here for the holiday season for some movie-level Christmas illuminations.
21. There’s more to Notting Hill than the rom-com
In the UK, the area of Notting Hill, London, is much more well known for its amazing Carnival than for its association with Hugh Grant. For two days every year in August, members of London’s Caribbean community take to the streets for Notting Hill Carnival, with music, floats, food, and general merriment attracting a million people each year.
22. London is home to the oldest tennis tournament in the world
Officially dubbed The Championships, Wimbledon, and held at the All England Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, this tennis tournament started up 1877. That makes it the world’s oldest – and most prestigious, of course.
23. Black cab drivers know every street in the city
In most countries, you only need a driving license and some sort of taxi registration to be a taxi driver. In London, however, they are another level. It takes actual years to become the driver of one of the British capital’s famed Black Cabs. Part of the 2-4 years of training involves memorizing every single street in London. Every. Single. Street.
24. Jack the Ripper to this day is still unknown
In 1888, notoriously grisly murders occurred in East London attributed to the never-apprehended serial killer Jack the Ripper. While over 100 suspects were named at one time or another – including royalty like Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale – no one’s ever been named as the Ripper.
25. London’s iconic red buses travel a long way
It’s estimated that London’s fleet of buses travels 302 million miles every year. That’s 12,128 times the circumference of the earth. A remarkable fact about London, if we do say so ourselves.
26. There’s a secret mark on the entrance to Buckingham Palace
The official, ceremonial entrance, the Horse Guards, has a weird secret. The clock face above the entrance itself features a little black spot at the 2-o’-clock mark. Apparently, this marks the time when King Charles I was executed (2 pm). Weird.
27. The Houses of Parliament is actually a palace
The Palace of Westminster, no less. It’s the largest in the UK, featuring 1,000 rooms, 100 staircases, 11 courtyards, 8 bars, 6 restaurants, a shooting range, and a hair salon. There was an 11th-century palace here before this one, but it burned down in 1834.
28. It is illegal to die in the Palace of Westminster
Or in any palace. And this only applies to commoners, of course. We wish this were a quirky fact about London, but it’s a myth. Still…
29. The Beatles played their last gig on the roof of Apple Corps at 3 Savile Row
Yep. That was on January 30, 1969. The Apple Corps building is now an Abercrombie & Fitch store.
30. Underneath the Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment, there’s a time capsule from 1878
We thought the fun thing about a time capsule is that you weren’t supposed to know what was in it till you opened it… right? However, the contents of this one are (allegedly) known. There are, apparently, copies of 10 daily newspapers, cigars, a portrait of Queen Victoria, a razor, and pictures of 12 “English beauties of the day.”
31. Everyone knows when the Queen is home
And it’s all about the flags. Yep. If Queen Elizabeth II is chilling at home, you’ll know, because the Royal Standard will be flying. The rest of the time, the Union Flag will be flying. As a fun side fact about London, it’s always the Union Flag, unless it’s out at sea, which is when it’s known as the Union Jack.
32. London Bridge might not be what you think it is
London Bridge? The one with the towers and the cool road thingie that raises when ships need to pass by, right? Wrong! That’s Tower Bridge. London Bridge is much less impressive and spans the Thames upriver between the City of London and Southwark. An Ameican, Robert P. McCulloch, purchased the 1831 version of the bridge in 1967 for $2,460,000. It was dismantled, shipped to the US, and reassembled over the Colorado River in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. It’s a fun rumor that McCulloch thought he was purchasing Tower Bridge (which he vehemently denies).
33. Cock Lane in Farringdon is a very appropriate name
London has some pretty interesting street names, but Cock Lane is a good one. Streets in the city were quite often named after the sort of shenanigans that went on in the, um, establishments that were located in said street. Cock Lane was named for the number of brothels that operated here in medieval times.
34. Great Ormond Street Hospital owns Peter Pan
The famous children’s hospital, Great Ormond Street, was gifted the rights to Peter Pan in 1929 by the story’s creator, J. M. Barrie. It’s fitting, and kind of heartbreaking, knowing that it’s the story of a boy who never grew up.
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