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London is the capital city of England and the United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its founding by the Romans, who named it Londinium. London's ancient core, the City of London, largely retains its square-mile mediaeval boundaries. Since at least the 19th century, the name London has also referred to the metropolis developed around this core. The bulk of this conurbation forms the London region and the Greater London administrative area, governed by the elected Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
London is a leading global city, with strengths in the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, tourism and transport all contributing to its prominence. It is the world's leading financial centre alongside New York City and has the fifth-largest metropolitan area GDP in the world, and the largest in Europe (as of 2008). London has been described as a world cultural capital. It is the world's most visited city and has the world's largest city airport system measured by passenger traffic. London's 43 universities form the largest concentration of higher education in Europe. In 2012 London will become the first city to host the modern Summer Olympic Games three times.
London has a diverse range of peoples and cultures, and more than 300 languages are spoken within its boundaries. In July 2010 Greater London had an official population of 7,825,200, making it the most populous municipality in the European Union, and accounting for 12.5% of the UK population. The Greater London Urban Area is the second-largest in the EU with a population of 8,278,251, while London's metropolitan area is the largest in the EU with an estimated total population of between 12 million and 14 million. London had the largest population of any city in the world from around 1831 to 1925.
London contains four World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London; Kew Gardens; the site comprising the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St Margaret's Church; and the historic settlement of Greenwich (in which the Royal Observatory marks the Prime Meridian (0° longitude) and GMT). Other famous landmarks include Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square and Wembley Stadium. London is home to numerous museums, galleries, libraries, sporting events and other cultural institutions, including the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, British Library, Wimbledon, and 40 West End theatres. The London Underground is the oldest underground railway network in the world and the second-most extensive (after the Shanghai Metro).
Transport is one of the four main areas of policy administered by the Mayor of London, however the mayor's financial control does not extend to the longer distance rail network that enters London. In 2007 he assumed responsibility for some local lines, which now form the London Overground network, adding to the existing responsibility for the London Underground, trams and buses. The public transport network is administered by Transport for London (TfL) and is one of the most extensive in the world. Cycling is an increasingly popular way to get around London. The London Cycling Campaign lobbies for better provision.
The lines that formed the London Underground, as well as trams and buses, became part of an integrated transport system in 1933 when the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) or London Transport was created. Transport for London (TfL), is now the statutory corporation responsible for most aspects of the transport system in Greater London, and is run by a board and a commissioner appointed by the Mayor of London.
London is a major international air transport hub with the largest city airspace in the world. Eight airports use the word London in their name, but most traffic passes through six of these. London Heathrow Airport, in Hillingdon, West London, is the busiest airport in the world for international traffic, and is the major hub of the nation's flag carrier, British Airways. In March 2008 its fifth terminal was opened. There were plans for a third runway and a sixth terminal however these were cancelled by the Coalition Government on 12 May 2010. In September 2011 a personal rapid transit system was opened at Heathrow to connect to a nearby car park.
Similar traffic, with the addition of some low-cost short-haul flights, is also handled at Gatwick Airport, located south of London in West Sussex.
Stansted Airport, situated north east of London in Essex, is the main UK hub for Ryanair and Luton Airport to the north of London in Bedfordshire, caters mostly for low-cost short-haul flights. London City Airport, the smallest and most central airport, is focused on business travellers, with a mixture of full service short-haul scheduled flights and considerable business jet traffic.
London Southend Airport, east of London in Essex, is a smaller, regional airport that mainly caters for low-cost short-haul flights. It recently went through a large redevelopment project including a brand new terminal, extended runway and a new railway station offering fast links into the capital. EasyJet currently have a base at the airport.
BUSES AND TRAMS
London's bus network is one of the largest in the world, running 24 hours a day, with 8,000 buses, 700 bus routes, and over 6 million passenger journeys made every weekday. In 2003, the network had an estimated 1.5 billion commuter trips per annum, more than the Underground. Around £850 million is taken in revenue each year. London has the largest wheelchair accessible network in the world and, from the 3rd quarter of 2007, became more accessible to hearing and visually impaired passengers as audio-visual announcements were introduced. The distinctive red double-decker buses are internationally recognised, and are a trademark of London transport along with black cabs and the Tube.
London has a modern tram network, known as Tramlink, based in Croydon in South London. The network has 39 stops, three routes and carried 26.5 million people in 2008. Since June 2008 Transport for London has completely owned Tramlink and plans to spend £54m by 2015 on maintenance, renewals, upgrades and capacity enhancements. Since April 2009 all trams have been refurbished.
Cycling in London has enjoyed a renaissance since the turn of the Millennium. Cyclists enjoy a cheaper, and often quicker, way around town than those by public transport or car, and the launch of the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme in July 2010 has been successful and generally well received.
From being the largest port in the world, the Port of London is now only the second-largest in the United Kingdom, handling 45 million tonnes of cargo each year. Most of this actually passes through the Port of Tilbury, outside the boundary of Greater London.
The London Underground — all of which is now commonly referred to as the Tube, though originally this designation referred only to the deep-level lines, as distinct from the sub-surface lines — is the oldest, and second longest metro system in the world, dating from 1863. The system serves 270 stations and was formed from several private companies, including the world's first underground electric line, the City and South London Railway.
There is an extensive above-ground suburban railway network, particularly in South London, which has fewer Underground lines. London houses Britain's busiest station – Waterloo with over 184 million people using the interchange station complex (which includes Waterloo East station) each year. The stations have services to South East and South West London, and also parts of South East and South West England. Most rail lines terminate around the centre of London, running into eighteen terminal stations with the exception of the Thameslink trains connecting Bedford in the north and Brighton in the south via Luton and Gatwick airports.
Since 2007 high-speed Eurostar trains link St. Pancras International with Lille, Paris, and Brussels. Journey times to Paris and Brussels of two-and-a-quarter hours and one hour 50 minutes respectively make London closer to continental Europe than the rest of Britain by virtue of the High Speed 1 rail link to the Channel Tunnel while the first high speed domestic trains started in June 2009 linking Kent to London.
Although the majority of journeys involving central London are made by public transport, car travel is common in the suburbs. The inner ring road (around the city centre), the North and South Circular roads (in the suburbs), and the outer orbital motorway (the M25, outside the built-up area) encircle the city and are intersected by a number of busy radial routes—but very few motorways penetrate into inner London. The M25 is the longest ring-road motorway in the world at 195.5 km (121.5 mi) long. The A1 and M1 connect London to Edinburgh, Leeds and Newcastle.
A plan for a comprehensive network of motorways throughout the city (the Ringways Plan) was prepared in the 1960s but was mostly cancelled in the early 1970s. In 2003, a congestion charge was introduced to reduce traffic volumes in the city centre. With a few exceptions, motorists are required to pay £10 per day to drive within a defined zone encompassing much of congested central London. Motorists who are residents of the defined zone can buy a vastly reduced season pass which is renewed monthly and is cheaper than a corresponding bus fare. London is notorious for its traffic congestion, with the M25 motorway the busiest stretch in the country. The average speed of a car in the rush hour is 10.6 mph (17.1 km/h). London government initially anticipated the Congestion Charge Zone to increase daily peak period Underground and bus users by 20,000 people, reduce traffic by 10 to 15 percent, increase traffic speeds by 10 to 15 percent, and reduce queues
by 20 to 30 percent. Over the course of several years, the average number of cars entering the centre of London on a weekday was reduced from 195,000 to 125,000 cars – this is a 35-percent reduction of vehicles driven per day.
The City of London is one of the world's largest financial centres alongside New York City. London generates approximately 20 per cent of the UK's GDP (or $446 billion in 2005); while the economy of the London metropolitan area—the largest in Europe—generates approximately 30 per cent of the UK's GDP (or an estimated $669 billion in 2005). London is one of the pre-eminent financial centres of the world and vies with New York City as the most important location for international finance.
London's largest industry is finance, and its financial exports make it a large contributor to the UK's balance of payments. Around 325,000 people were employed in financial services in London until mid-2007. London has over 480 overseas banks, more than any other city in the world. Currently, over 85% (3.2 million) of the employed population of greater London works in the services industries. Due to its prominent global role, London's economy has been affected by the late-2000s financial crisis. The City of London estimates that 70,000 jobs in finance will be cut within a year. The City of London is home to the Bank of England, London Stock Exchange, and Lloyd's of London insurance market.
Over half of the UK's top 100 listed companies (the FTSE 100) and over 100 of Europe's 500 largest companies have their headquarters in central London. Over 70 per cent of the FTSE 100 are located within London's metropolitan area, and 75 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have offices in London.
Canary Wharf is a major business and financial centre and is home to some of the UK's tallest buildings Along with professional services, media companies are concentrated in London and the media distribution industry is London's second most competitive sector. The BBC is a significant employer, while other broadcasters also have headquarters around the City. Many national newspapers are edited in London. London is a major retail centre and in 2010 had the highest non-food retail sales of any city in the world, with a total spend of around £64.2 billion. The Port of London is the second-largest in the United Kingdom, handling 45 million tonnes of cargo each year.
London has five major business districts: the City, Westminster, Canary Wharf, Camden & Islington and Lambeth & Southwark. One way to get an idea of their relative importance is to look at relative amounts of office space: Greater London had 27 million m2 of office space in 2001, and the City contains the most space, with 8 million m2 of office space. London has some of the highest real estate prices in the world.