London is the capital of the United Kingdom and of England, and with over seven million inhabitants in the Greater London area, is the second-most populous conurbation in Europe (after Moscow). From being Londinium, the capital of the Roman province of Britannia, it rose to become the centre of the British Empire and today contributes 17% of the GDP of the UK's economy, the world's fourth largest. London has been one of the world's most important centres of commerce and politics for several centuries.
The term "London" was used for hundreds of years to refer to the conurbation centred on the small City of London in the historic county of Middlesex. Today, it usually refers to the administrative area known as Greater London, but is sometimes used to mean the area within the London postal district, the area covered by the 020 phonecode (formerly 0171 and 0181; before that 071 and 081; even earlier 01), the area covered by an all-zone Transport for London Travelcard, the area within the M25 motorway, or the larger London commuter belt.
Main article: History of London
The city of Londinium was founded by the Romans on the north bank of the River Thames in around AD 50. Although there is no evidence of a large pre-Roman settlement, the name is thought to be pre-Roman. It is believed to have become the capital of the Roman province of Britannia in the early second century. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman city was virtually abandoned and a Saxon town named Lundenwic was established a mile or two west in the Aldwych area in the 7th century AD. The fortified Roman City of London was reoccupied around the late 9th or early 10th century, whereafter it resumed its role as England's biggest city (although not its capital - Winchester served as capital until the 12th century). In 1666, a devastating fire swept through the city, destroying a large part of it. Re-building the city took over 10 years but by the 18th century London was the largest city in the world.
Over the years, London has increased dramatically in size, absorbing meadows, woodlands, villages and towns and spreading outwards in every direction. Outward growth has been physically interrupted (though by no means halted) through the definition of a Green Belt. In recent years development has been concentrated in the London Docklands and Thames Gateway areas of East London.
Today the Greater London administrative area comprises the City of London and 32 London boroughs including the City of Westminster. The City of London, also known as the "square mile", is predominantly the financial centre, and geographically a very small area. Although bustling during the working week, the City of London is usually much calmer on the weekends.
The London that most tourists see is Central London, which comprises the historic City of London, the West End with all its theatres, shops and restaurants, the City of Westminster and its Royal palaces, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea with its museum quarter and Hyde Park and the newly emerging Bankside area of Southwark with the Globe Theatre, Tate Modern and other attractions.
In contrast, the East End has played host to successive waves of immigrants for centuries and contains some of the UK's most deprived areas. The Isle of Dogs is however witnessing unprecedented commercial change and many restaurants, music and comedy clubs are injecting a more varied atmosphere. See also gentrification. The East End is centred on the Borough of Tower Hamlets and Hackney.
Residents of London are known as 'Londoners'. On census day, 2001, the City and the 32 boroughs (some 1579 km2 or 610 sq miles) had 7,172,036 inhabitants, making London one of the most populous cities in Europe alongside Moscow, Istanbul and Paris.
In the 2001 census 71% of these seven million people classed their ethnic group as white, 10% as Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani, 5% as black African, 5% as black Caribbean, 3% as mixed race and 1% as Chinese. The largest religious groupings are Christian (58.2%) and No Religion (15.8%). 21.8% of inhabitants were born outside the European Union.
The London metropolitan area (6,267 sq miles, 16,043 sq kilometers) had a population of 13,945,000 - larger than the combined populations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is the largest metropolitan area in Europe, and one of the World's largest 20. (external references:  (http://www.demographia.com/dm-lonarea.htm),  (http://www.lbwf.gov.uk/demography/census/london/london_boroughs_census2001.pdf))
The Greater London Authority (GLA) is the London-wide body responsible for co-ordinating the boroughs, and is responsible for running London-wide services such as emergency services, transport, and strategic planning.
The GLA consists of the elected Mayor of London and the elected London Assembly which scrutinises the mayor. The assembly is elected by a proportional voting system, which is unusual in the British political context.
The current mayor of London Ken Livingstone was elected as an independent candidate in 2000. Despite opposition from all the main political parties (and the press), his enormous popularity with Londoners made the election a foregone conclusion. Expelled from the Labour Party after standing against the official Labour candidate in the 2000 election, he was re-admitted in 2004, and was re-elected as Mayor under the Labour banner in the election later that year.
The GLA was established in 2000, and is a replacement body for the former Greater London Council (GLC) which was established in 1965 and abolished in 1986 after several high-profile clashes between the GLC (also then lead by Livingstone) and the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher.
Between 1986-2000 there was no central administrative body for London, and it was governed in piecemeal fashion by the individual boroughs and unelected agencies.
There is every likelihood that the Mayor and the Assembly will be in conflict with one or more Boroughs from time to time: they had each enjoyed "unitary status" and a fair degree of autonomy since the GLC was abolished.
London City Airport, Heathrow, Biggin Hill, and Northolt lie within the London boundary. Of these, Heathrow is the city's principal airport and is also a major international hub. It is currently the busiest international terminal in the world, and a fifth terminal (with a sixth being proposed) is currently being built on the site.
Other airports, such as London Gatwick Airport, London Luton Airport, and London Stansted Airport, as well as those at Manston and Southend, incorporate "London" in their name, but the towns where they are situated (Crawley, Luton and Stansted respectively) lie in the Home Counties at some distance from London.
Special train stations built at Gatwick, Luton and Stansted help to offset their distance from the capital and thus spread scheduled airline services in a safe and manageable way across the region.
The London public transport system is one of the few systems in the world to be a tourist attraction in its own right; its infrastructure, however, is, and historically has been, financially stretched and under-resourced, leading to frequent difficulties and delays in making journeys. However, in recent years the London Rail/Tram network has seen substantial spending.
London has a vast rail network, primarily split into four sections:
Transport for London runs the London Underground (the world's first metro or underground rail network), also known as the Tube, Government proposals to place the Underground network under a "public-private partnership" arrangement have encountered widespread opposition.
The famous red double decker buses are now run by private companies, although it is a requirement that the buses still be painted (mostly) red. However the famous "Routemasters" have now mostly been taken out of service. London is also famous for its black cabs.
Transport for London introduced a road pricing scheme called the Congestion Charge in February 2003, which is levied on traffic entering Central London during peak hours. The intention was to help alleviate chronic traffic congestion and initial indications are that traffic levels have dropped by over 10%.
London is home to 11 professional football clubs, which are named after the district in which they play (except for Arsenal, who play in Highbury). Those currently in the top division (the Premier League) are Arsenal, Charlton Athletic, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, and Tottenham Hotspur. The clubs outside the Premier League are Brentford, Millwall, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United - all of whom have at one time played in the top division - plus Leyton Orient. Wimbledon F.C., in an extremely controversial move, left London in 2003 to play in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, changing their name to Milton Keynes Dons F.C., and the newly formed AFC Wimbledon inherited most of their support, despite playing at a much lower level in the football pyramid. London hosted the World Cup Final in 1966, the European Football Championship in 1996 and the European Cup final in 1968 & 1978.
London is also home to many major sporting venues including Lord's, home of Middlesex and the Marylebone Cricket Club, and The Oval, home of Surrey. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which hosts the Wimbledon Championships, is based in Wimbledon. Twickenham is the home of English Rugby Union and Wembley Stadium, currently being rebuilt, is the home for international football and Rugby League. London hosts one of the world's largest mass-participation road races, the London Marathon.
London has five professional symphony orchestras; the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It has the world-famous Royal Opera House and is home to the English National Opera, as well as boasting the Royal Festival Hall, the South Bank and Barbican Centre complexes, and St. John's, Smith Square.
There are over a dozen major theatres, most concentrated in the West End (specifically, Theatreland) including the National Theatre, the London Palladium, the Almeida Theatre, and The Globe, which was the home stage of Shakespeare's troupe. London also boasts a vibrant fringe theatre culture including places such as the Battersea Arts Centre, The UCL Bloomsbury, The Place, and Tricycle Theatre.
There are many art galleries, such as The National Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern, Design Museum, White Cube, Saatchi Gallery, ICA, and the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
The main museums include the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Sir John Soane's house, now a museum of Georgian architecture, the Imperial War Museum, the National Maritime Museum, and London's Transport Museum. There are over 260 museums in London altogether.
Apart from the ubiquitous pubs and generic clubs, there are a number of famous music venues including Shepherds Bush Empire, Brixton Academy, Hammersmith Apollo, Wembley Arena, The Marquee, The UCL Bloomsbury, Mean Fiddler, Albert Hall and the London Astoria.
The City of London or "Square Mile" is the financial centre of London, with many banks and financial institutions.
While the Port of London is now only the third largest in the United Kingdom, rather than largest in the world, it still handles 50 million tonnes of cargo each year.
London's economy generates 116,444 million pounds annually, and accounts for 17% of the UK's Gross Domestic Product - see Economy of the United Kingdom. (external link London Development Authority (http://www.lda.gov.uk/)).
London tourist attractions
Other places of interest:
London in the Arts
Literature featuring London
London has been the setting for many works of literature. The two writers who are perhaps most closely associated with the city are the diarist Samuel Pepys, famous among other things for his eye-witness account of the Great Fire, and Charles Dickens, whose representation of a foggy, snowy, grimy London of street-sweepers and pickpockets is a major influence on people's vision of early Victorian London.
Other famous works that feature London include A Journal of the Plague Year and Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot, The Apes of God by Wyndham Lewis, Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby and White Teeth by Zadie Smith. See London in fiction for the main article.
Films featuring London
London has been the backdrop for many films. Genres of note include Ealing comedy, gangster films and the romantic comedies of Richard Curtis. Many films have also been made based on books set in London, such as those of Charles Dickens and the Sherlock Holmes novels. See the article London in film for further details.
TV shows featuring London