London has a special place in my traveller’s heart. Maybe because it was one of the first Western European cities I visited in 1994 after the collapse of the USSR. Since then, I kept going back to London often and, honestly, I lost count of my visits. I tried to explain in this article why I love London, but it wasn’t an easy task. If you are looking for ideas why to visit, what to see in London or looking for hidden gems in London, don’t worry! I got you covered. So here are 10 reasons why I love London and I hope you will feel the same.
1 London is a cosmopolitan city and very British at the same time
A visit to London is literally like exploring the entire world since you will find communities from all parts of the world living there. Around 300 different languages are spoken in London and there are at least 14 different faiths practised in the city. In fact, almost 40% of the population in London were born outside of the United Kingdom. By the way, did you know that London is one of the biggest French cities in the world? More French people live in London than in Bordeaux, Nantes or Strasbourg.
2 Historic landmarks
I guess almost everyone is familiar with the historic landmarks of London whether they have visited the city or not. Here are just a few examples:
This building is perhaps most synonymous with London, as it has a truly memorable image. Big Ben is a tower clock and strictly speaking, the name refers only to the bell, which weighs almost 14 metric tons, but it is commonly associated with the whole clock tower. The official name of the tower in which Big Ben is located was originally the Clock Tower, but it was renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
Built at the end of the 19th century, it’s one of London's defining landmarks, an icon of London and the United Kingdom.
St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul's Cathedral is one of London's most recognisable historic buildings. The present cathedral, designed in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren, dates from the late 17th century. The cathedral sits on Ludgate Hill — the highest point of the City of London. St Paul's is an Anglican cathedral and the seat of the Bishop of London.
Buckingham Palace is the home of The Queen and has served as the official London residence of the UK’s sovereigns since 1837. With 775 rooms, the palace is 108 metres (354 ft.) long, 120 metres (394 ft.) deep and 24 metres (79 ft.) tall. Although used for the many official events and receptions held by The Queen, the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to visitors every summer.
Trafalgar Square got its name in 1830 and is named after the Battle of Trafalgar. William Railton designed a column and statue to honour Admiral Nelson, who won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The lions are said to protect Nelson’s Column. The fountains, mermaids, dolphins and tritons were installed some years later. Today, Trafalgar Square is a centre of national democracy and protest.
St Pancras Station
St Pancras Station was originally opened in 1868. The station is a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic architecture and one of the most elegant railway stations in Europe and the world.
3 Skyscrapers of London
There are more than 100 buildings or structures that are at least 100 metres (328 ft) tall in the Greater London metropolitan area, with 22 of these being in the City of London and 25 being in the Canary Wharf and Isle of Dogs district.
The tallest building in London is The Shard. Built in 2012, it is 310 metres (1,017 ft.) tall and has 87 floors. On a clear day, you can observe things as far as 64 kilometres (40 mi.) from Shard’s viewing platform.
30 St Mary Axe, informally known as the Gherkin, is a commercial skyscraper in the City of London. It was completed in December 2003. With 41 floors, it is 180 metres (590 ft) tall.
Walkie talkie building and Sky garden
160-metre (525 ft.) tall building known as Walkie talkie was designed in 2004 by world-renowned Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly. At the top of the tower is the sky garden offering uninterrupted views across London. The garden was designed using mainly Mediterranean and South African species flourishing all year round in full colour. Access to the Sky Garden is free of charge, but spaces are limited and visits must be booked in advance.
Skyscrapers in Canary Wharf
As of 2021, Canary Wharf has 5 out of the top 10 tallest buildings in the UK, including One Canada Square skyscraper. Keep an eye out for a building with a triangle roof! It is the third tallest building in the United Kingdom at 235 metres (770 ft.) above ground level containing 50 storeys. One Canada Square is primarily used for offices.
Tip! If you are visiting London at the weekend and are interested in seeing South East London, it's a good idea to look for accommodation in Canary Wharf. It might be cheaper then because it's busy on weekdays and empty on weekends.
4 Hidden gems
Keep in mind that London is big, so if you visit it quite often, you’ll realise that there are equally enough big touristy areas as well as less popular places but still worth exploring nevertheless. I have visited some of the hidden gems, but many more are left to explore in future, like Little Venice, Brown Hart Gardens, Stephen Wright's House of Dreams and Chelsea Physic Garden. From the lesser-known places in London, some of my favourites are as follows:
Sir John Soane's Museum
The former residence of Sir John Soane, architect of the Bank of England, is one of London's finest public museums. His historic house contains an abundant collection of paintings, architectural drawings and antiquities, plus the original sarcophagus of Seti I. I wasn't allowed to take photos inside, so I just have an outside view.
I love visiting interesting bookshops and The Marylebone branch of Daunt Books is one of them. Visiting it will make you feel like you’re stepping back in time as you get lost in the beautiful wooden interior and floors of books. Best known for its extensive travel book section, you can also find books on just about any other subject.
One of London‘s finest seven man-made marvels, according to Time Out London guide, is BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir — popularly known as the Neasden Temple — a Hindu Temple in the Neasden neighbourhood of London. It’s well worth travelling an hour from the London city centre to see it.
When in Greenwich, see the beautiful Painted Hall in the Old Royal Naval College. Painted in the early 18th century by Sir James Thornhill, the hall features more than 3.700 square meters of walls and ceilings. These surfaces are covered in striking paintings depicting 200 figures, including royals and mythological creatures. The Painted Hall reopened in 2019, following a two year long, award-winning conservation project.
Seeing one of the best musicals in London is truly a unique experience. Some of the most famous musicals in London, such as The Lion King, Wicked, Les Miserables and Mamma Mia, have been running in London’s best theatres in the West End for years. My favourite is The Phantom of the Opera because of its wonderful music and great performance.
6 Many free of charge museums
There are more than 170 museums in London and at least 26 of them are free of charge, including the British Museum, National Gallery, Museum of London, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate, Tate Modern, Maritime Greenwich and Britain Queen's House. The Natural History Museum has stunning exhibits and the building itself is impressive. Recommended. If you visit Greenwich, pay a visit to National Maritime Museum and Queen's House. Set in historic Maritime Greenwich, the National Maritime Museum showcases Britain’s naval history, from sea battles to exploratory expeditions. See ancient maps and ship models, and don’t miss the iconic uniform Nelson wore the day of the Battle of Trafalgar.
Step inside Queen's House, and you'll discover rare works of Greenwich from Canaletto, Lowry and Turner, plus the unique Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. Don't miss the stunning Tulip Stairs for the Insta-perfect shot.
7 Parks and gardens
I love spending time in the parks of London. Here are just some of my favourites:
St James's Park
St James's Park is suitable for all wildlife and you are allowed to feed most of the animals and birds. I enjoy feeding squirrels there. As most people know, the grey squirrel we commonly spot around London is an American species, released in England at the end of the 19th century. Because of that, there are no native red squirrels in London any longer — they died out in the 1920s. Grey squirrels can be found all over the park, basically cute rats with big tails. They like nuts.
Hyde Park is London’s heart. It’s where Londoners go to express themselves — to rally, protest and speak their mind at Speakers’ Corner or to share the excitement of the big event. Most of the time, however, the park is simply a huge and peaceful place to jog, ride, rollerblade, practise tai chi, have a picnic or do whatever you wish.
Kensington Gardens is for refinement, elegance, culture and family fun. With intersecting avenues of lime trees and elegant formal planting firmly behind prim black railings, Kensington Gardens has retained a different atmosphere from neighbouring Hyde Park. It's maybe also because of the subtle princess Diana presence...
Laid out over 120 hectares with over 30,000 species of plants, this botanical garden in London is really something. If you're looking to visit the most famous London garden — this is probably your best bet.
Hampton Court Palace Gardens
The world-famous gardens of Hampton Court Palace include 24 hectares of spectacular formal gardens and 304 hectares of parkland, all set within a loop of the River Thames. The gardens are home to the world's oldest puzzle maze, a record-breaking grapevine, three National Plant Collections, over one million flowering bulbs in the Wilderness, and a huge variety of wildlife.
8 Street art
London has one of the biggest and best collections of uncommissioned street art in the world. Local and international artists have decorated the streets of London with a staggering array of creative works, from miniature bronze statues to painted murals several storeys high. One of the most famous street artists to date is the anonymous Banksy, whose distinctive stencil artwork has regularly appeared in London for more than a decade. I did a self-guided London Street Art Walking Tour and really enjoyed it.
9 Greenwich and Prime Meridian
The line in Greenwich, London, represents the historic Prime Meridian of the World, Longitude 0º. Every place on Earth is measured in terms of its distance east or west from this line. The line itself divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the Earth — just as the Equator divides the northern and southern hemispheres. If you stand with one foot on one side and the other on the left, you are perfectly in the middle of east and west. Visiting the Royal Observatory will help you to learn more about it and also enjoy stunning views of London.
10 Afternoon tea
Afternoon tea is a British tradition of sitting down for an afternoon treat of tea, sandwiches, scones and cake. Afternoon tea is served around 4 p.m. Legend has it that afternoon tea dates back to the middle of the 19th century by the Duchess of Bedford. Today, there are many variations on this tea-centric meal, including cream tea, strawberry tea, light tea and full tea. One renowned place to find a true afternoon tea is the Ritz in London. Their afternoon tea service is in such high demand that bookings generally must be made months in advance. I haven’t been to Ritz afternoon tea yet, so one more reason to go back.
Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about shopping in London!
I usually don't go shopping when I travel, but London is one of few exceptions. I guess any shopper can find what they want in London. Even though Liberty department store is not my usual shopping place in the city, it’s nice to visit it because of its incredible historical feel and stunning interior. It was established in 1875 and welcomes shoppers also today.
Long story short, I just love London!
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What did you think? Have you visited London? What is your favourite city? I’d love to hear from you so please add your comment below.
Author: Anita Sāne
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