London is one of the world’s most famous cities, attracting around 21 million visitors every year. The cultural and historical significance of London means that many of its attractions are familiar to people across the globe. But when a city has origins reaching back thousands of years into the deep past, you can bet that it has a great many secrets to share with the curious traveller.
So, join us today as we explore some lesser known facts about London. And while you’re here, please be sure to check out our selection of dedicated Tours of London, each one led by our experienced and endlessly knowledgeable Blue Badge Guides.
The Romans Built London
There is evidence of Bronze Age settlements on the site of what is today London dating as far back as 4,500 BC. However, it is the Romans who are credited with first establishing the city we recognise today. Founded in around 47 AD the Romans named the town Londinium and it quickly became a prosperous centre of trade. At its height, Londinium even hosted a visit from the Roman Emperor Hadrian. What may be surprising for travellers today, and especially great news for history buffs, is that there are several surviving fragments of Londinium.
Take a walk down Cannon Street and at number 111, inconspicuously tucked inside an alcove, is the London Stone, a mysterious stone of Roman origins that was a significant tourist attraction in the middle ages, but today is often overlooked. At Tower Hill, the Barbican estate, and the London Museum, sections of the Roman city walls remain standing.
A portion of Roman road can be observed at Southwark Cathedral, while the remains of a Roman house and baths can be seen at Billingsgate. But our highlights for exploring Roman London would have to be the Temple of Mithras (located today within the Bloomberg building) and the London Museum, where you can see a large selection of artifacts from the period. And, of course, the British Museum houses a world-class assortment of Roman items; those planning a visit may wish to consider our British Museum Highlights Tour.
London is Green
According to UN definitions, London could be regarded as a forest. London has 8.4 million trees, almost one for every citizen. This extraordinary amount of greenery helps to detox the city of pollution and, importantly for residents and visitors alike, creates green spaces for rest and relaxation.
There are 3,000 parks of varying sizes across London, a diverse range to satisfy any traveller. For wildlife, visit Richmond Park which is home to 650 deer, its 955 acres of greenery making it three times the size of New York’s Central Park. For a taste of history, visit St James Park which borders Buckingham Palace and offers striking views of the Queen’s residence.
St Dunstan in the East is a green space that flourishes around the shell of a haunting 13th century church, left abandoned since the London Blitz. Or why not visit a UNESCO World Heritage site and marvel at the beauty contained in the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. We’re only scratching the surface with this entry — don’t let the city’s size fool you, London has green credentials.
There’s a World Beneath London
The London Underground is one of the oldest subway systems in the world, transporting passengers since 1890. But did you know there’s a whole host of underground (and we mean that literally) attractions in London? The Silver Vaults on Chancery Lane were opened in 1885 as rentable spaces for citizens to store valuable possessions, before later becoming vaults used exclusively by silver dealers. Today this wonderful underground space is home to 40 silver shops, making it the largest single collection of silver for sale anywhere in the world.
Elsewhere, pedestrians can escape the bustle above-ground and make use of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, tile-lined early 20th century tunnels that take you underneath the Thames river. Those interested in WW2 history can visit the Churchill War Rooms at Whitehall, where the British government planned operations during the war. The museum has been expertly preserved to give an accurate feel for the time period. We offer our own WW2 London & Churchill War Rooms Tour that’ll give an expert insight into the workings of the WW2 government.
London is an Excellent City for Markets
While London may not be as famous for its markets as the likes of Guadalajara or Istanbul, the city has a range of historic markets catering to all shoppers’ needs. On Gracechurch Street you will find the Leadenhall Market, a magical covered market dating from the 14th century — the enchanting atmosphere made it a perfect filming location for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. For clothing, Spitalfields Market is sure to offer treasures; for street food, Brick Lane offers a variety of delights; for London gifts and souvenirs, the gorgeous Covent Garden is an excellent choice, and for anything you can think of, visit Portobello!
London’s Peter Pan Hospital
A fascinating and little-known London fact is that the Great Ormond Street Hospital for children has been receiving royalties from the copyright of Peter Pan since 1929. The book’s author JM Barrie kindly gave the copyright of the character to bring them funds to support their great work. Other literary spots to visit in London include Sherlock Holmes’s residence at 221b Baker Street, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and Fitzrovia, the bohemian area located near the British museum once haunted by the likes of Dylan Thomas, George Orwell, and Arthur Rimbaud.
London Has More than 170 Museum
London is home to an extraordinary number of museums, over 170 the last time we checked. There are museums in church crypts and operating theatres, museums in the former homes of illustrious people such as Ben Franklin and William Morris, and museums dedicated to a dazzling mix of subjects including, football, magic, comedy, tea, rugby, cartoons, and zoology. Whatever your interests, London will have a museum just for you. The Victoria & Albert Museum is one of the city’s best known institutions, with collections that range from Buddhist art to medieval carvings, Victorian clothing to Italian Renaissance paintings. Be sure to take a look at our dedicated Victoria & Albert Museum Highlights Tour, a private tour with one of our Blue Badge Guides who’ll really bring the collection to life for you.
We hope this blog managed to shine a light on some lesser known facts about London and that when you’re ready to visit, you can join us for one of our tours. If you have any questions about this article, or any of our tours, please contact us.