June 2017


London Calling
June 2017




Westminster Abbey, where England's monarchs have been crowned since 1066
© Jim Dyson

The British capital has been a city of colliding cultures since it began life as a Roman settlement on the banks of the River Thames in 43 AD. This rich history has created an urban landscape that offers surprises around every corner, as well as being one of the most dynamic places you'll ever visit.


Words: Jo Caird


London is now a sprawling city of over eight million inhabitants, but it had modest beginnings: Londinium, as the Romans called it, occupied a single square mile and was home to just 60,000 people. Almost all of Londinium has been destroyed over the intervening two millennia, but portions of the old Roman wall that once enclosed the city remain to this day, broadly following the boundaries of The City, the UK's main finance district.


The best place to see part of the wall is at the Museum of London, which also has excellent exhibits on the history of Roman London and its development into the vibrant world capital it is today. Relatively little is known about London in the centuries immediately following the departure of the Romans in AD 410, but it was certainly a much sought after prize, attacked by successive waves of northern European invaders eager to extend their dominion into Britain.


Royal London

London has been the main seat of power in the UK since around the 11th century, when William the Conqueror was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey in 1066. Most of the Abbey you see today dates from the 13th century but some elements from William's time remain. After his coronation, William built the Tower of London as one of a series of fortifications to safeguard his rule, and this imposing castle still stands strong nearly 1000 years later. It's just one of a number of spectacular former royal residences in London that are now famous visitor attractions. Hampton Court Palace, for example, where Henry VIII once lived, gives a sense of life in Tudor times. Its riverside gardens, including the world's oldest puzzle maze, make this a wonderful summertime day trip. The Queen's official residence, the Buckingham Palace, meanwhile, opens up to the public for a limited period each summer, showcasing the building's 19 glorious ‘State Rooms', which are used by the Royal Family during the rest of the year to receive and entertain guests.

Hampton Court Palace, for example, where Henry VIII once lived, gives a sense of life in Tudor times.


Cultural London

The palace first became the official London residence of British monarchs when Queen Victoria came to power in 1837, when it was expanded at great expense. It wasn't the only ambitious project undertaken by Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, who also founded the Royal Albert Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) as well as the Science Museum as part of their grand vision to open up culture, history, music, science and art to the people. The area of South Kensington where these institutions are located was known as ‘Albertopolis', after the prince, and is now also home to the Natural History Museum, the Royal College of Art and the Royal College of Music, all of which are open to the public for exhibitions and events.


A huge number of London's leading cultural institutions and tourist attractions were built during the reign of Queen Victoria, in fact, from the Houses of Parliament to the glittering theatres of the West End, and much of the city's architecture dates from the 19th century. Take a look around you, almost anywhere in the city, and you're certain to see evidence of the building boom of the 1900s, a symbol of a society at the peak of its power on the world stage.


Gourmet London

There's much more to London than grand palaces and public buildings. Central to its identity is its diversity, with hundreds of communities from all around the globe colonising different neighbourhoods. The result is an incredibly rich restaurant scene with enough options to last you a life time of dinners out.

There’s Chinatown, of course, a riot of colour right in the centre of town,


There's Chinatown, of course, a riot of colour right in the centre of town, while Edgware Road is home to dozens of Middle Eastern eateries. For Vietnamese cuisine head to Shoreditch, where Vietnamese refugees settled after the Vietnam War; and for fans of Turkish food, it's got to be Dalston, now also London's hippest nightlife destinations.


In offering a literal taste of real London life, they're an essential element of any visit to this historic yet ever-changing city.

 

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    The old London Wall
    © Museum of London

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    The gatehouse at Hampton Court Palace, home to King Henry VIII
    © Historic Royal Palaces

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    The maze at Hampton Court Palace
    © Historic Royal Palaces

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    Victoria and Albert Museum
    © Victoria and Albert Museum London

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    Café at the Victoria and Albert Museum

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    Albert Memorial and north entrance to the Royal Albert Hall
    © Marcus Ginns

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    The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

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    Chinatown in the centre

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