London A-Z


Having fostered innumerable literary genii including Christopher Marlowe, John Milton, and the dictionary’s own Samuel Johnson, it’s perfectly fair that we finally allow London its own alphabetical compendium.  Neither exhaustive nor completely reliable, what follows could quite accurately be regarded as the tip of the iceberg in terms of English attraction and intrigue.  Nevertheless, it will suffice as an introduction to this most worthy of capitals.

A is for….
Aside from sharing a name with the Trotters’ hapless uncle in London-based sitcom ‘Only Fools and Horses’, Prince Albert was husband to England’s Queen Victoria who reigned, coincidentally, throughout the entire Victorian era.  Following Albert’s death, his name was given to Albertopolis, an area directly south of Hyde Park that contains numerous attractions and architectural stunners, including the Royal Colleges of Music and Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, and the UNESCO listed Royal Albert Hall. The Albert Memorial stands across the road from here, just inside Hyde Park.

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (1)

B is for…
The English have been drinking gin for millions and millions of years, even since before the invention of juniper berries.
As the Crown Jewels are held in the Tower of London, the world’s most elite fighting force is required to protect them.
Beefeater therefore has a dual representation; that of the country’s staple beverage and of its most eccentrically dressed security division.  The guards’ actual title is Yeomen Warders, which is much more sensible, and it is thought that their nickname developed because, up until the 1800s, part of their salary took the form of chunks of beef.  Naturally, Beefeater gin took its name because the Yeomen Warders can often be seen patrolling the walls of the Tower of London whilst clutching beef and mustard sandwiches and drinking gin and tonic.


Beefeater (2)

C is for…
Bars, restaurants, cafes, street performers and live music; Covent Garden is a lovely area in which to while away the hours over afternoon tea or a nice spot of Gin.  Rumour has it that John Lennon was discovered here whilst busking to raise rent money.  Several markets sell handmade arts and antiques; the Royal Opera House, home of the Royal Ballet, can be found here, and several theatres and museums are in the surrounding area.

D is for…
Provided you don’t intend to ask awkward questions about MPs expenses or the presence of WMD in Iraq, Downing Street can be an interesting place to look at from behind a large metal gate.  The closed doors behind which the Masters of the Universe shuffle their pawns around the chequered board, numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street are the residences of Britain’s Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer respectively.  Bear in mind that it’s unlikely you can pop in without prior appointment.

Downng Street

Downng Street (3)

E is for…
One of the capital’s most famous attractions, London Eye affords a virtually unparalleled panorama, overlooking Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Canary Wharf and, on a clear day, over to Windsor Castle (40 kilometres away).  135m high, the Eye stands on the Thames’ South Bank in Jubilee Gardens and was once the tallest Ferris wheel in the world.  It is still described as the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel.  Representing each of the London boroughs, the 32 capsules rotate at a speed of 26cm per second; one revolution takes roughly 30 minutes.

London Eye

London Eye (4)

F is for…
If you prefer your fish battered and served with chips, London Aquarium might not be for you.  That said, feeding sessions are held throughout the day, giving you plenty of chance to enjoy gastronomic pleasure by proxy.  One of Europe’s largest, London Aquarium is housed in the early 20th century County Hall, and presents thousands of specimens living in over 2 million litres of water.  The centre is divided into zones that present a variety of habitats; amongst the popular residents are a family of gentoo penguins, a collection of over 40 sharks, and rays that can be touched by visitors via their open tank.

London Aquarium

London Aquarium (5)

G is for…
Shakespeare wasn’t born in London, though he spent the majority of his productive life there.  The Globe Theatre, in Southwark, still presents Shakespeare plays in a reconstructed version of the original theatre.  Financed by James Burbage, the first Globe Theatre was built in 1599 and could hold up to 1500 people.  A source of a variety of entertainment, the original theatre is said to have also played a role as a gambling house and brothel.  The notoriety was short-lived, however: on 29th June 1613, during a production of a play about Henry VII, sparks from a prop canon hit the thatched roof and resulted in a fire that razed the theatre to the ground.  Following numerous reconstructions, the new Globe was opened in 1997 and provides an authentic atmosphere in which the works of Shakespeare are duly played out.

Globe Theater

Globe Theater (6)

H is for…
Following a history of quintessential Englishness, Harrods was previously owned by Mohamed al Fayed – who was famously denied a British passport – who recently sold the shop to Qatar Holding, represented by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, for the sum of GBP 1.5 billion.  If you’re feeling flush, you can use the toilet in Harrods at a cost of GBP 1.  What more is there to say?  Some people like to shop here because it’s famous and expensive.  The architecture of the building itself is quite stunning, actually.

I is for…
The uvula-shaped land mass hanging above Greenwich is the Isle of Dogs, at the heart of the London Docklands.  Now serviced via the Docklands Light Railway, the Thames riverfront in East London was once the world’s busiest port, which was abruptly put out of service by the construction of the Thames Barrier.  The Isle of Dogs is the site of Canary Wharf, which was subject to large-scale business development in the 1980s.  The area has recently seen a boom in luxurious apartment construction and is now an attractive district area for professional residents.  Across the Thames to the south is the now fire-ravaged Cutty Sark, an historical tea clipper on public display, and to the east the O2 Millennium Dome – a combined source of public wonder and scorn.

Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs (7)

J is for…
Long before BBC soap Eastenders began killing off the credibility of London’s East End residents, Jack the Ripper was gruesomely butchering East End prostitutes in a case that remains highly enigmatic to this day.  Many details are contested, so don’t take any of what follows as gospel.  Five women were murdered between August and November 1888, all within a one mile radius.  The killer was never caught; official investigation ceased in 1892, but to this day historians and enthusiasts continue to probe.
Currently several companies offer to walk you around Whitechapel ‘in the shadow of the killer’ – always in the dark, possibly in fog, usually in the rain.

Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper

K is for…
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is a world-renowned site of floral research and spectacle.  Home of the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew hosts the largest ex situ plant conservation project in the world.  Besides being open for visitors to stroll round the stunning gardens, Kew runs events such as guided walking tours and plant photography courses, and is also open as a wedding venue.  The gardens have also recently opened the 18m high Xstrata Treetop Walkway, which offers excellent views of the autumnal foliage currently on display.

L is for…
Originally home to Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and now to Middlesex County Cricket Club, Lord’s Cricket Ground is regarded by many to represent the epitome of English cricket.  A facet of archetypal Englishness, cricket itself may initially seem out of place in a popular collection such as this.  However, following an absolute thrashing of India on home soil this summer, the England cricket team is now the number one test cricket side in the world, and is also a major force in One Day International cricket.
Funded by Thomas Lord, the original ground saw matches that established rules of the modern game, and MCC remains the custodian and arbiter of a number of Laws that apply to the game on an international level.

M is for…
On the surface it might seem like an obvious choice, but one of the factors that make London one of the world’s greatest capitals – and likewise, England one of the greatest nations – is its plethora of museums that are not only world class, but are completely free to enter.  The British Library, British Museum, National Gallery, Natural History Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Science Museum, Tate Britain, Tate Modern and Victoria and Albert Museum all fall under this category, as do the Bank of England Museum, Imperial War Museum, Museum of Garden History, National Maritime Museum and Museum of London.  Free to enter?  That’s EUR 10 cheaper than the Louvre, Picasso and Prado Museums, EUR 12.50 cheaper than the Rijksmuseum, and EUR 15 cheaper than the Sistine Chapel.

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum (8)

N is for…
Besides appearing as the setting for an almost-bearable film featuring a fop and a fraggle, Notting Hill is the site of Europe’s largest free carnival.  Each August, 20 miles of streets close themselves off to traffic in order to host a Caribbean-themed festival featuring colourful processions, delicious dishes such as Jamaican jerk chicken, around 40 static sound systems, and a wide selection of refreshments.  Besides marvelling at the wondrously decorated floats and awesome fancy dress, you can also take in some live music in the form of steel drum band performances, and witness stunning choreography in live street dances.  Strap yourself in for a wild and wonderful experience of the sights, sounds and smells of Caribbean culture.

Nothing Hill Carnival

Nothing Hill Carnival (9)

O is for…
A sought-after property on the Monopoly board, Oxford Street connects Marble Arch and Speaker’s Corner to St Giles Circus, where it becomes New Oxford Street.  Running through London’s famous West End, Oxford Street follows the route of a Roman road and intersects with Oxford Circus.  As Europe’s busiest shopping street, Oxford Street is host to the UK flagship shops of many multinational retailers, and is the location of the world-famous Selfridges shop.  The street is also famous for its Christmas light displays, which are ritually ‘turned on’ by a different celebrity each year.

P is for…
When God created the Earth, he needed a place to be the watershed between its beginning and end.  His only viable choice was of course London, so he dragged his finger through Greenwich and called it the Prime Meridian.  The Prime Meridian begins at the North Pole, heading in a longitudinal direction, and passes through Western Europe and Western Africa on its way to Antarctica and the South Pole.   This line sits at 0 degrees longitude, from which subsequent degrees are established.  Its position is shown at night by a laser beam projected from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.

Prime Meridian (10)

Q is for…
The monarchy remains one of England’s most popular tourist attractions and ambassadorial institutions.  Besides having been the seat of numerous famous English kings, London has changed dramatically thanks to the historical influence of its queens.  Replicas of the Globe Theatre and Vice Admiral Sir Francis Drake’s flagship Golden Hinde represent achievements of England’s growth under Elizabeth I.  Similarly, the Victorian age saw Britain become the most powerful trading nation in the world, and Victoria’s name graces numerous attractions throughout the city.  Today, tourists vie for a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II as she feeds the pelicans in St. James’ Park each morning, and Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor famously used to share a stall on Kensington Market.

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II

R is for…
The Celts called this river Tamesas, which became Temese in Middle English, before evolving into Thames as we know it today.  England’s longest river, the Thames flows just under 350km from Gloucestershire, through London, into the North Sea at the Thames Estuary, and its tidal fluctuation is regulated by the Thames Barrier that crosses the river between Newham and Greenwich.  Up to the English Renaissance period the river separated the North Bank from the less desirable South Bank and, until 1984, performed an important trade and transportation route.  Today, tourist boats and ferries provide excursions on the river, and you can see many famous attractions from here, including the Tower of London, Palace of Westminster, London Eye, and Tower Bridge.

S is for…
Originally destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, the current St. Paul’s Cathedral was completed in 1711 and features the second largest dome in Europe.  The cathedral is famous for the Whispering Gallery, which is the first gallery just inside the dome, and is so named after its wonderful acoustics.  You can enjoy striking views of the surrounding city from the Golden Gallery, which circles the 850 tonne lantern that is perched on top of the dome.  The cathedral’s crypt holds the remains of several historical figures, including the Duke of Wellington, Admiral Horatio Nelson, and Sir Christopher Wren – the cathedral’s architect and a founder of the Royal Society.  Two more things: poet John Donne was Dean of St. Paul’s for a decade from 1621, and Prince Charles married Diana Spencer here in 1981.

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral (11)

T is for…
Popularly regarded as one of Britain’s supreme war heroes, Admiral Horatio Nelson secured a resounding victory over a combined French and Spanish fleet led by Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar, and his achievement is revered in the nomenclature of Trafalgar Square.  This square is the largest in London, and was once named Charing Cross (a name that lives on in the nearby tube station).  It is famous for its pigeon population, for being the location of the National Gallery, and more obviously for Nelson’s Column.  Constructed between 1840 and 1843, Nelson’s Column measures 51.59m from its base to the tip of Nelson’s hat, and has been scaled numerous times, often in the name of political causes.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

U is for…
Once used to convey stone from France to Salisbury Plain in order to construct Stonehenge, the London Underground, or Tube, has been an important transportation network dating back to pre-Roman Albion.  In its modern incarnation the Tube system covers 12 lines and connects to the Docklands Light Railway and numerous National Railway stations, including King’s Cross St. Pancras International Eurostar Terminal.  Subject to strikes, crashes and terrorist attacks, the Tube has also seen its fair share of good times, and a couple of years ago was the venue of trans-capital parties on the eve of the new era of Tubewide alcohol prohibition.

London Underground

London Underground (12)

V is for…
What links a major railway station, a museum, a dock, and a tower that holds the Parliamentary Archives?  From Canning Town to Knightsbridge and beyond, Victoria’s influence is keenly felt throughout the capital more than 11 decades after her death.  Victorian London was the setting for Dickensian novels, the investigations of Sherlock Holmes, and real-life villain Jack the Ripper.  Tours of Victorian London are popular and can be fascinating; the narrow streets and dark shadows are offset by some stunning architecture, including the current Palace of Westminster and Tower Bridge.

Victoria Station

Victoria Station (13)

W is for…
Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St. James’ Park, the Palace of Westminster and Downing Street are all situated within the boundaries of the City of Westminster, which in its present state was created in 1965.  St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Palace are UNESCO World Heritage sites; the Abbey has seen all English monarchs since the 11th century crowned in its hall, and the Palace is home to the Houses of Lords and Commons and to the Clock Tower which holds the famous bell Big Ben.  Westminster Palace was also the target for the famously foiled Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when 36 barrels of gunpowder were discovered under the House of Lords in an assassination attempt against King James I of England; the unraveling of this plot is still celebrated in England on each 5th November.


Westminster (14)

X is for…
As the English language has developed under influences from Norse, Sanskrit, Celtic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, French and Greek (which gives us the word xenos), so too has the country – and its capital as a microcosm – grown to host numerous influences from a multitude of cultures.  Whilst the city’s past includes its fair share of xenophobia – for example, Elizabeth I banned Jews from London during her reign – xenophilia historically prevails and has created a city with one of the richest cultural diversities in the world.  Bump and grind at Notting Hill Carnival, gobble down a delicious curry on Brick Lane, then walk it off on the streets of Chinatown…and you haven’t even scratched the surface.

Y is for…
Though not an invention of London, the 1980s saw a new breed of young, upwardly-mobile professionals armed with mobile telephones and Filofaxes gathering in trendy wine bars across the capital.  This was assisted in part by the development of the Docklands area and construction of Canary Wharf, which hosts the European headquarters of major financial services and media firms such as Thomson Reuters, HSBC, Citigroup and KPMG.  Subject to scorn and ridicule since its recognition, the species has evolved somewhat and now operates a little more covertly, but you can still go yuppie-spotting around the West End and St. Paul’s.

Z is for…
Whilst animals in cages might not be your idea of entertainment, there’s more to London Zoo than low ceilings and pacing cats.  This venue is the base of the Zoological Society of London, which runs conservation projects for endangered animals throughout the world and also performs lobbying and educational functions.  Situated in the north-eastern corner of Regent’s Park, London Zoo thus hosts symposiums on animal conservation as well as conducting extensive research programmes into zoological and ecological issues.  It’s a great place for school and family visits, as many more recent exhibits are more interactive than ever before.

London Zoo

London Zoo (15)

It’s dirty, busy, expensive, the weather is terrible and the people are rude and always in a rush, but you’ve just read 26 pretty good reasons to visit London nonetheless.  The Euro is still in reasonably good shape against the Pound, has a great selection of London hotels to suit all budgets, and there’s also some comprehensive transport information here that can help you to get around.
If you do visit any of the places mentioned above – why not take a photo while you’re there.  Who knows?  It might end up in one of our future competitions.


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About Michael

Arrogance, hostility, parsimony, rapacity, impatience; the five humours of the Englishman abroad are my most positive features and also my guide and solace through tribulations. I delight in coffee, cheese, and the music of Ray Charles, and you can catch me trying to form a queue anywhere from Centraal Station to Hoofddorpplein.

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