Greater London is an English region containing the cities of London and Westminster. While there’s the obvious temptation to visualise London’s celebrated, world-famous landmarks – such as Big Ben, Westminster Cathedral and Wembley Stadium – the county stretches further out than you might initially realise.
Greater London is organised into 33 districts: the 32 London boroughs comprising the ceremonial county of Greater London and the vibrant City of London (technically a separate county but still part of the region). It’s bounded by the Home Counties of Hertfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent and Surrey.
The county of Greater London was officially created in 1965, divided into Inner and Outer London. The inner boroughs are Camden, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth, the City of Westminster, and the City of London.
The 19 boroughs of Outer London are Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Greenwich, Harrow, Havering, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Redbridge, Richmond upon Thames, Sutton, and Waltham Forest.
The region’s population density is reportedly over ten times greater than any other British region. London is the 25th largest city and the 17th largest metropolitan region on the globe. It also ranks as among the world’s most expensive cities. The Greater London Authority, based in Southwark, is responsible for regional government, consisting of the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
Road: The M25 or London Orbital Motorway is a 117-mile road that encircles most of urban Greater London. The A40, A12 Leyton By-pass, A13 and A2 penetrate central London. (The major radial routes are the A10, M11, A12, A127, A13, A2/M2, A20/M20, A23/M23, A3, A316/M3, A4/M4, A40/M40, M1 and the A1.)
Rail: London’s the hub of the British railway network. Its 18 major stations combine suburban, intercity, airport and international services. It links to Europe through the Channel Tunnel, branded HS1 (High Speed 1). The London Underground – commonly known as ‘The Tube’ – was the world’s first rapid transit system. Its 11 lines cross the city stretching out to the suburbs. The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) operates in East London; and the Tramlink system in South London’s Croydon and Merton boroughs.
Air: Greater London has the most airports in the world. In order of size, these are Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City, and London Southend Airport.
Cycling: The Santander Cycles scheme aims to provide 6,000 bicycles for rent, available at numerous docking stations in central London.
Bus: The bus network – including the internationally recognised red double-decker London bus – provides over 6,800 scheduled services every weekday. A 100-route night bus makes it a 24-hour service.
Water: There’s a small-scale network of river bus commuter services and many leisure cruises operating services on the Thames. London also has several canals; a regular service operates along Regent's Canal during summer.
There’s a mind-boggling range of housing options and locations on offer in Greater London. The county is divided into six residential zones. Zone 1 contains some of central London’s most iconic areas, such as Covent Garden, Chelsea, King's Cross, and Westminster.
There’s no point sugar-coating the fact that the area contains some of Britain’s highest property prices. The Greater London Authority produces the London Housing Market Report, which summarises prices, affordability and new housing. London’s house prices are expected to continue increasing. Rent levels are around twice the national average. However, the monthly costs of owner occupation remain relatively low for those who manage to buy.
The London Economic newspaper highlighted its top 20 affordable places to live in London. These included Colliers Wood, which has been increasing in popularity in recent years; and Sydenham was noted as a potentially up-and-coming area. Deptford, the “Shoreditch of South East London”, also made the list. Holloway Road was, “one of the main shopping streets in North London, and carries the A1 road as it passes through … the London Borough of Islington.” It cited Leyton as, “one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the UK”. And Shepherd’s Bush was notable as home to the Westfield shopping centre, the largest urban shopping centre in Europe.
London's legendary shopping areas are invariably centrally based. Shopping here is exciting and varied: from luxury goods in Mayfair to quirky finds in Covent Garden; from large shopping centres like Westfield to famous London department stores including the likes of Harrods. You can easily spend an hour, an afternoon or a whole day browsing London’s shops.
Oxford Street is at the heart of London’s shopping – and home to the legendary Selfridges department store. Regent Street offers some of the city’s most famous shops, including Hamleys and Liberty. Bond Street and Mayfair are also good for extravagant retail therapy. Westfield has two shopping centres at White City and Stratford. Carnaby Street gave birth to the 1960’s fashion and cultural revolutions. Chelsea's King's Road still hosts the store where punk was born: Vivienne Westwood's shop.
Visit Knightsbridge and Brompton Road for illustrious stores like Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Savile Row is reputed worldwide for bespoke British tailoring. Meanwhile, Camden supplies racks and racks of alternative clothes. Notting Hill offers small, quirky shops selling vintage clothing, antiques, unusual gifts, books and organic food. Portobello Road Market is popular, as is Spitalfields for its independent shops. Sleek Canary Wharf is also a great shopping destination seven days a week.
Sport: Wembley Stadium is home of the England football team. London has 14 Football League clubs, including five in the Premier League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, and West Ham United. Twickenham is the home of English rugby. The principal rugby union teams are London Irish, Saracens, and Harlequins. The two professional rugby league clubs are the London Broncos and London Skolars. The Wimbledon Tennis Championships, held at the All England Club, is the world’s oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament. The two Test cricket grounds are Lord's (home of Middlesex) and the Oval (Surrey).
Family: The Coca-Cola London Eye is a major feature of London's skyline. Witness the underwater creatures at SEALIFE London Aquarium or explore the Science Museum’s interactive hub. Have a magical day out with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Harry Potter films at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. At Madame Tussauds you can pose alongside famous figures. Delve into the capital’s horrible history at the London Dungeon. Meet over 16,000 animals at ZSL London Zoo. Shrek’s Adventure! London takes you on a family friendly journey. You can enjoy soaring views of London’s skyline from atop The Shard building
Culture: Soak up some culture at London museums; visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace; or take a selfie with Big Ben. Westminster Abbey deserves its world heritage status; more than one million visitors flock to this 700-year-old building annually. You can also take a tour with one of the Yeoman Warders around the Tower of London, one of the world's most famous buildings.
Events: London's annual events calendar is constantly packed. You can always watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony for free. Other major events include Remembrance Day and The Lord Mayor's Show, both in November. London hosts the largest Chinese New Year celebrations outside Asia. Chelsea Flower Show is one of the world's greatest horticultural celebrations. There’s the famed FA Cup Final, Royal Ascot, Notting Hill Carnival, the BBC Proms and Proms in the Park. The London Marathon and the University Boat Race on the River Thames are also key yearly events.