London Facts for Kids
London Was Important 2000 Years Ago As a Roman Settlement
With 620 square miles, London is the biggest city in Britain, and in Europe. It was established as a Roman settlement, called Londinium, in 43 AD, almost 2000 years ago.
Of course at that time, it was much smaller than it is now. Londinium occupied the area where the financial centre of London, often simply called "The City" or "The Square Mile," is now found.
Eventually it spread out and now includes 32 boroughs, 13 in "Inner London" and 19 in "Outer London." These include the City of Westminster with its many famous buildings such as the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and the Westminster Abbey.
London now has the tallest building in the European Union, the Shard, which is 1,016 ft tall. It was opened to the public in February 2013.
The location of the British capital on the River Thames is no coincidence. The river played a very important role in allowing trade ships to bring goods to the city, which caused its growth.
The City, at the site of the original Londinium settlement, has many modern skyscrapers, as befits a financial centre. The most famous perhaps is the officially called "30 St Mary Axe," which is far better known as "The Gherkin," for pretty obvious reasons when you consider its architecture.
London is in the Southeast UK
12.5% of the population of the United Kingdom live in London, one of the most densely populated cities in the World.
Facts About the River Thames
The Thames is the longest river running completely in England. It is 215 miles long. Its source is in the Cotswolds, near the village of Kemble, and it spills into the North Sea near Southend.
The river appears very brown and dirty. This is because of strong tides constantly stirring up its muddy bottom.
The river's name is pronounced as "Temz". Of course this is not the only word in the English language that is not pronounced as it is spelt, but it is curious for such an important landmark.
One theory I had heard was that Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, could not pronounce "Thames," being German. So as not to embarrass His Highness, everybody said the name the way he did.
However, a more likely explanation is that the name of river was always said with a "t" from Celtic times. The change to a "th" was made by some intellectual snobs who wanted to make it sound more Greek. But the change never took hold in spoken English.
The oldest bridge crossing the Thames is London Bridge. Until 1209 it was wooden, but was then replaced by a stone bridge, then granite and finally concrete.
The newest bridge is the Millennium Bridge, opened in June 2000 to commemorate the new millennium. It was quickly closed 2 days later because it was very wobbly, but reopened in February 2001. I have been on it and it doesn't seem to wobble now.
London is the only modern city to have hosted the Summer Olympic Games three times: in 1908, 1948 and 2012.
In the 2012 Olympic Games, 205 nations took part. The Paralympics were remarkable in that they were given as much prominence and were as popular with the spectators as the games with healthy athletes.
My favourite part of the Olympics opening ceremony was the Queen parachuting into the stadium with James Bond! You can see that again below.
Have you been to London?
The Royal Parks
In the past the Royal Parks were owned by the kings and queens of England (hence they are called Royal). They were mostly used for hunting. Presumably in those days there was more forest and less flower beds.
There are eight Royal Parks: Regent's, St. James, Kensington Gardens, Greenwich, Bushy, Richmond, Hyde and Green Park.
They became open to the public by the Crown Lands Act, in 1851. Before this, unauthorised access and poaching were punishable by death, and worse.
There are many ponds in the Parks, with a variety of waterfowl. All the swans in England, not just in the Royal Parks, are the property of the Queen. Catching and eating swans is technically an act of treason!
St. James Park is pretty special because it has pelicans. The first pelicans to live there were a gift from the Tsar of Russia to King Charles II. The latest gift, three great white pelicans, came from Prague in March of this year.
Westminster Abbey is officially "the Collegiate Church of St. Peter." It is right next to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, and is a "Royal Peculiar" since the days of Elizabeth the First, which means that only the monarch has jurisdiction over it, rather than Bishops.
It started as a Benedictine community in the 10th Century, and was then rebuilt in 1042 by Edward the Confessor, who wanted to have the abbey serve as his burial place.
The Gothic building that survives today was built by Henry III in 1245.
The abbey acted as the place of coronations of British monarchs since William the Conqueror was crowned in it, in 1066. Since 1308 every monarch would sit in King Edward's chair when they were crowned.
Westminster Abbey has also been the venue for many royal weddings, including that of William and Kate Middleton in 2011.
As well as a burial site for royalty, it is also the resting place of many famous British military figures, scientists and writers. It is one of the greatest honours to be buried in the Abbey. Some of the famous people include Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and Winston Churchill.
The Tower of London
The tower of London is an enormous castle and fortress on the north bank of the Thames, built by William the Conqueror in 1078.
Although initially it was used as a royal residence, it soon became better known as a prison, in which various important figures who had fallen into disgrace were held.
Some of the famous prisoners include the Princess Elizabeth, who later became queen and was imprisoned by her sister Mary.
Ravens have traditionally been kept at the Tower. Legend has it that if the birds ever abandon it, London will fall.
The London Underground was the first underground system in the world. The first tube train journey took place on 9th January 1863.
Only 45% of the network is actually in underground tunnels. Most of the journeys in Outer London are overground.
The total length of the Underground tracks is 249 miles.
The shortest journey you can make on the tube is between Leicester Square and Covent Gardens. It is only 0.16 miles. You would still have to buy a Zone 1 ticket for it, which if you paid cash would work out at £4.50. This would make the cost £28 (about $42) per mile, making it one of the most expensive journeys out there.