London is a curious place. One of the world’s old cities, today 10 million people from across the globe have found it a place to call home.
London is one of my favorite places on earth, and I’m endlessly fascinated by all the city has to offer. From history to culture to food and more, there’s no end to nooks, crannies, and corners you can explore to keep discovering new parts of the city to love.
If you’re ready to learn more about London, read on. I’ve pulled together some of the most fascinating London facts I could find to inspire you to plan your London itinerary – or just be way more knowledgeable than your friends.
London Geography Facts
To start learning about London, it helps to get oriented – literally. That’s why these facts about London’s geography are so important (and interesting).
- For over a hundred years – from 1831 to 1925 – London held the title of the world’s largest city, with a population density of 325 people per hectare. By 1914, the big city boasted a population of 7,419,000. Today, Tokyo stands on the podium, with more than 37 million residents!
- In all honesty, given its population and urbanization, the amount of green spaces London has is truly astounding. In fact, London fits into the UN’s definition of a forest, with over 8.4 million trees – almost one for each inhabitant. You can grab a map and see the big green dots to give you an idea if you’ve never visited.
- The British didn’t just reserve their love for irony for their sense of humor; they spread it to other areas of life, like transportation. More than 50% of the London Underground runs above ground. You might as well call it the Overground if it weren’t for the fact there’s already one in the city!
- Built in 1863, the London Underground is the first and the oldest underground train network in the world.
- You can say London is the center of the world. Yes, I know it sounds a bit conceited, but it’s true. The Prime Meridian, the mark for zero longitude, passes through London’s neighborhood Greenwich. You can stand on the Prime Meridian; just pay a visit to the Royal Observatory.
London History Facts
London has a long history behind it, and so does the name. In this section, you’ll learn a bunch of London facts that are all related to history. And your middle school history teacher said you’d never learn anything!
- Romans first named the city Londonium; it has evolved, with variants like Ludenwic and Ludenberg. Several linguists have proposed “Londinous,” an old Celtic word, as another possible etymology of the name.
- One of London’s famous tragedies, The Great Fire Of London, started in Thomas Farriner’s bakery on Pudding Lane. It started at 1 am on Sunday, September 2nd, 1666. A tiny spark from the oven quickly spread over the city, which had experienced a dry and hot summer.
- The Great Fire lasted four days and destroyed a quarter of London’s metropolis, including 13,000 tightly packed wooden houses, 87 churches, and the iconic landmark, St Paul’s Cathedral. However, only six people died during the horrible event.
- Police never caught London’s infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Thus, his identity remains a mystery, but here are a few suspects: Prince Albert, Lewis Carroll, and Queen Victoria’s doctor, Sir William Gull.
- The Great Plague, which killed a third of Europe’s population, hit London particularly hard due to the city’s poor sanitation and narrow streets. Parishes hired Searchers to look for dead bodies and take them to plague pits. There were also dead carts that transported the dead bodies to the pits. The drivers traveled the streets calling, “Bring out your dead .”
- Speaking of the dead, Aldgate Station has 1000 bodies that Searchers buried underneath it during the Great Plague.
- The Tube, or the London Underground (although no one calls it that in London), is the oldest underground railway network globally. Its first service started operating in 1863, although it differed quite a bit from the present, with steam locomotives that pulled wooden carriages. (More on the Tube in the Transportation Facts section below!)
- Number 10 Downing Street is the UK’s version of the White House. The prime minister’s official residence and executive office is over 300 years old and has approximately 100 rooms.
- Just when you thought Britain’s royal tradition couldn’t go any further, you find out Larry, the official resident cat of Number 10, has a noble title. In 2011, the British Government granted Larry the title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.
- While London is ripe with old buildings, much of London’s infrastructure disappeared after The Blitz, a bombing campaign by Nazi Germany in WW2.
- Brits love pubs as much as they love afternoon tea. Their love for beer is nothing new and dates back to the Roman taverns in Britain. In London, the pub that first appeared was The Seven Stars in Holborn, with its origins going back to 1602. It still shocks most people how the pub survived the Great Fire of London in 1666.
- London hosts the oldest tennis tournament globally, The Championships, Wimbledon. The tournament started in 1877 and took place in the All-England Club.
- London has a tumultuous history, no doubt about that. Plagues, riots, famines, everything has occurred in the English city. There’s even a historic period dubbed the Gin Craze. What’s the Gin Craze? you wonder. Well, from 1720 to 1751, people went over the top consuming one of London’s loved spirits. The average consumption hit a peak of two gin pints per week per person, including children.
Cultural Facts about London
It’s hard to describe how important London’s cultural heritage is to the experience f the city. From the food to the theatre to the other arts… there’s no shortage of ways to experience culture in its many forms, in London.
- London’s multiculturalism showers every nook of the city. The many languages you hear on the streets are a testament to that. With so many expats, it’s no wonder that more than 300 languages are spoken in London.
- Don’t deny it; we’ve all attempted (mostly unsuccessfully) to replicate the British accent. However, the UK is home to a wide and diverse repertoire of accents. In London’s case is the Cockney. Well, it’s actually from the East of the city, but it has spread to other parts of London.
- London alone has more inhabitants than Austria, with over 8.9 million people living in the city of Greater London.
- English food doesn’t enjoy a good reputation. Nonetheless, London’s gastronomic scene is fantastic due to the city’s multiculturalism. One type of food stands out, though, Indian. So much so that there are more Indian restaurants in London than in Mumbai. No wonder Londoners are so fussy about their curries.
- Do you like music? Then, you’re in for a treat as London has over 48 orchestras.
Iconic Facts about London’s Icons
London has some iconic sights… and they all have their own history and fascinating facts about them. In this section, I’ll cover some of the most interesting ones – though there’s certainly more to learn about each one!
- The London Eye is one of London’s most beloved landmarks, yet it’s only twenty-two years old. Marks Barfield Architects started the construction of the London Eye in 1998 and it finally opened in December 1999. The first passenger it carried was on February 1st 2000.
- The London Eye used to be the world’s largest Ferris wheel until 2006 (443 feet), when China’s Star of Nanchang surpassed it.
- The workers of The London Eye keep a register of the celebrities that have ridden it the most times. If you wondered who the winner was, it’s Kate Moss in the UK with 25 spins and Jessica Alba for the U.S. with 31 rides!
- The London Eye wasn’t London’s first big wheel. Its predecessor is The Great Wheel, built in 1895 for the Empire of India Exhibition. Unfortunately, you can’t visit it since the city demolished the wheel in 1907.
- Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s official residence. Well, one of many.
- The Queen has a secret door in Buckingham Palace. You may want to discover where the secret door is on your own, but here’s a hint to help you find it: the hidden door is in the White Drawing Room, one of the State Rooms.
- St Paul’s dome is one of the most defining views of London’s skyline. However, Sir Christopher Wren didn’t propose St Paul’s gorgeous dome initially. Instead, he had envisioned a 60 foot stone Pineapple to adorn the cathedral’s top.
- Another iconic landmark, The Houses Of Parliament, have little to do with houses as the building is the largest palace in the UK. Built at the beginning of the 11th century, it served as the residence of many monarchs until 1512, when a fire destroyed a large part of the building.
- London is rich in history and culture, and much of it has to do with the city being home to 170 museums. You won’t visit most of them in one trip. However, make sure you visit at least one.
- London is home to one of the smallest statues in the world. The tiny statue named The Two Mice Statue depicts two tiny mice fighting over a piece of cheese.
- What you call Big Ben isn’t actually Big Ben. Most people refer to the north end of the Palace of Westminster as Big Ben. However, this is entirely wrong. Big Ben is actually the massive bell inside the Elizabethan Tower.
- Workers use pre-decimal pennies to adjust the clock on top of the Elizabethan Tower. They add an old penny to its pendulum if it’s running fast or take one away if it’s running too slowly.
- Westminster Abbey houses the burials of 3000 people, including 30 English Kings and Queens and 8 Prime Ministers. Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin also rest in the famous Abbey.
- It turns out that prisoners weren’t the only thing that Kings and Queens kept in the Tower of London. The monarch also kept animals they got as gifts from foreign royalty. Henry III had his polar bear here!
- Beefeaters aren’t the only ones guarding the Tower of London. Six ravens also protect the fortress. To understand how six ravens came to be a pillar of protection for the tower, we must return to the 1660s. While King Charles II was all about science (he appointed John Flamsteed as “astronomical observator,” setting the ground for the Royal Observatory), he sustained much of the superstitions that dominated his time. As such, he thought keeping six ravens on the grounds of the London Tower would preserve the monarchy and the nation. Since then, six ravens have called the tower home. There’s also a spare one because no one wants to test fate and prove the superstition is true. They even have names: Jubilee, Harris, Gripp, Rocky, Erin, Poppy, and Georgie.
- It took eight years and 432 workers every day to build Tower Bridge.
- The Shard is the tallest building in the EU, jutting out 1,016 feet into the sky.
- The Millennium Dome is the biggest structure of its kind in the world and can fit the Great Pyramids of Giza under its roof.
Facts about the City of London
In this short section, I’ll share a few facts about the City of London, which is, in fact, different than London. Does that count as another fact?
- London is gigantic; however, the City of London is the tiniest city in England, with a population of only 9,123.
- Locals call it the Square Mile, honoring the 1.12 square miles the city of London covers.I
Facts about London Transportation
London is one of the greatest cities in the world for public transportation. Is it any surprise then, that even something as mundane as transport has its own fascinating facts?
- Initially, engineers wanted the London Underground to be water-based. The system filled the tunnels with water and transported people on barges.
- Over 1.2 billion people use the London Underground every year. Of that number, Waterloo Tube Station sees over 100 million passengers every year, making it the busiest station. And you wondered why you never manage to snag a seat.
- London has an excellent transport system, with buses operating in practically every nook of the city. So much so that the London buses drive over 300 million miles each year. That’s twelve times the circumference of the earth each year.
- London’s iconic buses weren’t always red. In fact, they used to have different colors, each one signaling a route. Until the London General Omnibus Company decided to paint its buses red to stand out from the competition in 1907.
- 6.5 million people ride London buses every day, which is half of the total daily bus journeys in the UK.
- Sticking with London’s means of transportation, becoming a black cab driver takes 2 to 4 years. While most countries only require a driving license to be a taxi driver, it might seem excessive. However, black cab drivers have to learn by heart every single street in London and be able to choose the fastest route as soon as you give them your address. Now you know why black cabs are so expensive.
- Londoners drive on the left unless you’re staying at The Savoy. The small street leading in and out of the expensive hotel is the only street where Londoners drive on the right.
Other Fun and Fascinating London Facts
Finally, over my many trips to London, I’ve learned a number of other intriguing and mind-blowing facts about London. I couldn’t figure out how to organize them, so I just put them all here to blow your mind too.
- London receives over 21 million visitors every year. So, yeah, you’ll find lots of travelers here.
- London isn’t known for being buget friendly. However, some things are, like museums and galleries; many are completely free.
- Not sure where it comes from, but an instilled myth states that it is illegal to die in Parliament. However, authorities have gone to great lengths to convince people it is true.
- It is true that it’s illegal to enter the Parliament Houses in London wearing armor suits.
- Rich folks love big cities, and many of them love London. Back in 2014, London had the highest number of billionaires in the world, with over 72 billionaires living in London. Today, Beijing is the city with the highest number of billionaires in the world.
- If London ceases to exist, remember that Cleopatra’s Needle is a time capsule. The Egyptian obelisk on the Victoria Embankment of the Thames has a time capsule buried underneath, including objects like a map of London, a copy of the Bible, ten daily newspapers, a rupee, twelve photographs of English beauties of the time, among other objects.
- It’s illegal to feed pigeons in Trafalgar Square. Before 2003, it was common to see locals and travelers feeding breadcrumbs to the feral pigeons of Trafalgar Square. However, things got out of control as pigeons took over the square. That’s when London Mayor Ken Livingstone banned feeding them or selling feed near the square.
- London is the first capital of the European Union to have elected a Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan. (Does this still count now that Brexit has happened?)
- Get ready for we’re about to debunk one of London’s top myths: its weather isn’t as wet as you think. It turns out that London’s reputation for rain is greater than the reality – just take a look at the statistics. Bordeaux, Naples, Lisbon, New York City, and Tokyo receive more precipitation than London.
- You can tell when the Queen is in residence in Buckingham Palace. You just have to take a look at the flags. Royal Standard flies from the flagpole when she’s home, whereas the Union Flag flies when she isn’t.
- Brits are all about decorum and properness. However, it seems it wasn’t always the case. Just take a look at Cock Lane, the small street in Smithfield. Before you think it’s a bad joke, the street got its name because it housed a number of brothels during medieval times.
- Big cities have their fair share of unwelcoming residents – read: rats and cockroaches. However, London takes it a step further with the Underground having its own mosquito subspecies. Yes, you read right. The ecosystem of the oldest railway in the world has given birth to a breed of mosquito, the Culex Pipiens Molestus.
- London is the only city in the world to have held the Olympics three times, in 1908, 1948, and 2012.
- Norway has gifted London a Christmas tree since 1947 as a symbol of gratitude for their help during WW2. You can see the towering tree all lit up in Trafalgar Square every year.
- “London streets are paved with gold,” reads the 19th-century story Dick Whittington and His Cat. While the character might have been ironic, you can actually find gold beneath London’s pavement. The Bank of England stores eight gold vaults stretching more than 300,000 square feet under the City. The vaults contain around a fifth of the world’s gold ($248 billion) beneath the streets.
These are just a few of the many fascinating facts about London that you can learn on a trip to the city. The only question is: when will you be visiting? Let me know any questions in the comments below, or join the London Travel Tips Facebook group.