City of Westminster

The world famous Elizabeth Tower (which houses the bell named Big Ben)

If you ask a Londoner where the center of London is, you are likely to get a wry smile. This is because historically London was two cities: a commercial city and a separate government capital.

However, the point from which distances to "London" are measured is in Trafalgar Square, where the original Charing Cross stood.

The commercial capital was the City of London. This had a dense population and all the other pre-requisites of a medieval city: walls, a castle (The Tower of London), a cathedral (Saint Pauls), a semi-independent City government, a port and a bridge across which all trade was routed so Londoners could make money (London Bridge).

About an hour upstream (on foot or by boat) around a bend in the river was the government capital (Westminster). This had a church for crowning the monarch (Westminster Abbey) and palaces. As each palace was replaced by a larger one, the previous one was used for government, first the Palace of Westminster (better known as the Houses of Parliament), then Whitehall, then Buckingham Palace. The two were linked by a road called "The Strand", old English for riverbank.

London grew both west and east. The land to the west of the City (part of the parish of Westminster) was prime farming land (Covent Garden and Soho for example) and made good building land. The land to the east was flat, marshy and cheap, good for cheap housing and industry, and later for docks. Also the wind blows 3 days out of 4 from west to east, and the Thames (into which the sewage went) flows from west to east. So the West End was up-wind and up-market, the East End (as well as further down river and beyond) was where the city's heavy industries were based, and thus became the epicentre of the working classes.

Modern-day London in these terms is a two-centre city, with the area in between known confusingly as the West End. However, even this doesn't define the actual central area of London, which extends slightly beyond the City and Westminster, as inner portions of the surrounding boroughs (Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Lambeth) also lie within Central London.

Climate

Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°C) 8 8 11 13 17 20 23 23 19 15 11 9
Nightly lows (°C) 2 2 4 5 8 11 14 13 11 8 5 3
Precipitation (mm) 52 34 42 45 47 53 38 47 57 62 52 54

See the 5 day forecast for London at the Met Office

Rain

Despite varied weather patterns, the city has an unfair reputation for being drizzly, grey and rainy. This is mostly an unfounded belief. In fact, London enjoys a drier climate than the rest of United Kingdom (and a warmer one) due to it having its own urban microclimate. On average, only one in three days will bring rain and usually then only for a short period. In some cases, 2010 being a well-known example, the city can go without rain for several weeks, leading to hosepipe bans across the city.

Temperatures

As for temperatures, London is far milder than nearby continental European cities due to the presence of the Gulf Stream. Average daily maximum is 8°C (46°F) in December and January (a full 4 degrees warmer than the rest of the United Kingdom on long-term average) and February is usually the coldest month of the year. In summer, temperatures can rise up to 24°C (75°F), and once reached as high as 38°C (100°F), as happened in 2003.

Due to the urban microclimate, inner London can feel hot and humid for several days in the summer months, especially during the evenings. However, summer is still perhaps the best season for tourists as it has long daylight hours as well as mostly mild temperatures.

Snow

Snow does occur, usually for a few days at the beginning of the year. In recent years, 2012 had snow both in February and December, with more in January 2013.

When it does appear, it causes huge transport problems. In 2010, just 7cm (3 in) of snow caused trains to stop running, airports to see significant delays, and mail service problems, and this is a fairly typical response to even minor icy conditions.

Although roads will be gritted, it can be very dangerous in London in the snow, as slippery conditions combine with crowds with inevitable consequences. So travellers should be very prepared for problems in the snow, both in moving by foot and public transport. On the other hand, London does look uniquely beautiful in the snow, with the landmarks and parks taking on a postcard-perfect air.

Although the average day is mild and clear, rain, winds, sun or snow could come very quickly. So pack clothes accordingly.

Special Events

January - March

  • New Year's Fireworks - January 1, Southbank The capital likes to start every year with a bang, and the New Year's Eve fireworks certainly do that. One of the most famous pyrotechnic displays in the world, with thousands of fireworks shooting from the London Eye and its surrounding area. Although these used to be free, paid ticketing was introduced in 2014, so booking is strongly advised.
  • Chinese New Year Parade - Dates vary, Chinatown and Central With a procession of floats, Chinese dragon and lions plus a whole host of performers, musicians and martial artists in one of the year's largest celebrations.

April - June

  • The Boat Race - Last weekend of March/first weekend of April, River Thames A true British institution, the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge universities has been held annually (except for the two World Wars) for 150 years. There are designated places to watch along the riverbank across the entire course from Putney to Mortlake, with the race kicking off at 12:00 at Bishop's Park and Furnivall Gardens.
  • London Marathon - April, Blackheath - The UK's third most popular run, the London Marathon sees over thirty thousand complete the 26 miles ending at Buckingham Palace. You can either watch the runners move past some of London's most famous landmarks, or why not even join the ballot to take part?
  • Trooping the Colour - June, Buckingham Palace Celebrating the official birthday of the Queen, Trooping the Colour is British military pageantry at its very best. A 250-year tradition including 41-gun salutes, the Household Cavalry on horseback in full uniform, and the Queen herself inspecting the troops makes this an essential watch for any Anglophiles.

July - September

  • Wimbledon - Late June-early July, All England Lawn Tennis Club In United Kingdom, it is not truly summer until the first ball has been struck at Wimbledon, when the world's tennis stars descend on southwest London. Try to grab a much sought-after ticket for the courts, or watch the action unfold on the big screen at 'Murray Mound'.
  • Festivals Season - Summer, various locations London has music festival options to suit everyone, making the most of its beautiful parks. There's hip hop at Wireless at Finsbury Park, dance and rap at Victoria Park, and a whole selection of themed festival days in Hyde Park that have seen everyone from Neil Young to Kylie Minogue play. And that's not to mention the Proms, three months of internationally famous classical music at the Royal Albert Hall.
  • Pride London - June, Trafalgar Square and Soho The only annual event that sees Oxford Street closed for traffic, Pride London is the gay community's biggest party, and perhaps London's best street party of the year. 750,000 people descend on central London, live music, and the famous parade.
  • Notting Hill Carnival - August bank holiday weekend, Notting Hill If you thought Pride was big and colourful, Notting Hill Carnival assures that you haven't seen anything yet. One million people visit every year, making it the second biggest street party in the world, offering all the sights, smells and spectacle of a West Indian carnival in the heart of West London.

October - December

  • Frieze Art Fair - Mid October, Regent's Park The London art world's biggest and most important art fair, Frieze sees 1000 of the world's most important artists displaying their work. If it is important in the art world, it will be at Frieze.
  • Lord Mayor's Show - November, Mansion House and Tower Bridge It has been a London institution since the time of King John, 400 years before Shakespeare and even a century before Chaucer. Now, five times more people (500,000) come to see the river procession and parade down Bank and Aldwych than actually lived in London when the event started.
  • Oxford Street Lights - December, Oxford Street Christmas is a great time to visit London, with most landmarks aglow in Christmas lights. Most famous of these are the Oxford Street lights, which change ever year but are always a major draw to the area, as are the equally notable Christmas lights on nearby streets at Regents Street.

 

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