Few modern metropolises are steeped in as much history yet possess the diverse culture and modern conveniences quite like London. No matter what kind of tourist you are, London offers something unique. Gaze at historical architecture and contemporary engineering in one skyline, marvel in its 200 museums, find zen in the more than 3,000 parks or seek inspiration in one of over 200 theaters.
But before you arrive, here are 21 facts about London you should definitely know:
- London became the first city to surpass a population of one million in 1811. It remained the largest city in the world until it was overtaken by Tokyo in 1957. It’s now 27th in the world by population.
- In London, it is illegal to beat a carpet ‘in any thoroughfare’ (but doormats are fine before 8:00 a.m.).
- Postman’s Park is home to the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice. Originally proposed by painter and sculptor G.F. watts, the monument commemorates ordinary men, women, and children who died trying to save the lives of others. After the death of Watts’ wife, the Watts Gallery refused to add any more tablets, despite there being room for 67 more. Finally, in June 2009, the first new tablet in 78 years was added to the memorial.
- St Pancras International train station roof is home to 4 6-foot high beehives owned by tea company Fortnum and Mason. The hives each have an ornamental arch entrance in Roman, Mughal, Chinese and Gothic style.
- The clock face above the entrance to The Horse Guards (official ceremonial entrance to St James’s and Buckingham Palace) has a black blot at 2:00 p.m., marking the hour that King Charles I was executed in 1649.
- The world’s first traffic light was erected outside the House of Commons in 1868. It blew up the following year from a gas leak, injuring the policeman operating it.
- J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, gifted its copyright to the Great Ormond Street Hospital. Thanks to former Prime Minister Lord Callaghan, an amendment to British copyright law gives the hospital the unique right to royalties from stage performances of Peter Pan (and any adaptation of the play) as well as from publications, audiobooks, ebooks, radio broadcasts and films of the story of Peter Pan, in perpetuity.
- The smallest statue in London is of two mice eating cheese on Philpot Lane in London’s historic centre.
- The London Zoo in Regents Park was founded after the close in 1835 of the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London, which had been there for 600 years. Historic Royal Menagerie residents included a polar bear on a long chain to swim in the Thames and a now-extinct lion subspecies.
- 40 people have escaped from the Tower of London since it was built in 1066. The most recent was Private LC Wheeler of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in 1945. The tower stopped housing prisoners in 1952.
- Royal Navy ships entering the Port of London are still required by law to give a barrel of rum or similar cargo to the Constable of the Tower. The tradition continues with an occasional Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues.
- Philosopher, jurist, and social reformer Jeremy Bentham’s skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon,” with the skeleton padded out with hay and dressed in his clothes. It was acquired by University College London in 1850, and made an appearance at the 2013 College Council meeting as “present but not voting.”
- Christ Church, Lambeth, has a spire decorated with stars and stripes to commemorate President Lincoln’s abolition of slavery.
- In an 1884 review of the opening of the Circle line, the first Underground line, The Times of London described it as “a form of mild torture, which no person would undergo if he could conveniently help it.”
- Ye Olde Mitre in Ely Court purports to be the oldest pub in the City of London, founded in 1546 for the Bishops of Ely. English Heritage documents indicate that the pub was actually built about 1773, and remodelled internally in the early 20th century.
- In January 2005, in an attempt to alleviate a problem with loitering young people, the London Underground announced it would play classical music at problem stations. It worked; robberies fell 33% at those stations within months.
- London has over eight million trees, and 47% of the city is green space, making it the world’s largest urban forest.
- The Great Beer Flood of 1814 killed eight people after a giant vat of porter exploded at the Horse Shoe Brewery. The brewery received a waiver for excise taxes already paid on the lost beer.
- A single penny will change the speed of the clock in Elizabeth Tower, home to the famous Big Ben bell, by two-fifths of one second per day.
- In 1952 a double-decker bus was crossing Tower Bridge when it started to open. The bus driver, Albert Gunton had to accelerate and jumped a 3-foot gap. His bravery awarded him £10 (about £200, or $265, in today’s money).
- London is the second-most visited city in the world behind Bangkok; 19 million tourists passed through The Big Smoke in 2017.
With these facts about London in mind, grab your carry on and book a London day use hotel to visit this captivating city for yourself.
Featured Photo by Darren Coleshill via Unsplash