You’ve probably read a fairy tale before, right? Maybe it had a king or a queen who lived in a castle with a cool dungeon. Or maybe there was even a knight who carried a sword and rode a horse.
But did you know that kings and queens and dungeons and castles don’t just exist in fairy tales? They really exist! For hundreds of years, they’ve lived in a city called London.
Every year, 30 million people travel from around the world to London, the capital city of the United Kingdom. Why do so many people come to visit this city that is home to kings, queens, dungeons, and castles? Let’s check it out!
What better way to see all of the old castles and new buildings of London than from the sky. So let’s start our tour of this magical place with a trip up an elevator. In London, though, they would call this elevator a “lift.” This particular lift is going to take us to the very top of a building called the Shard. The Shard is the tallest building in London so our elevator has to travel more than 1,000 feet to reach the top!
But what a view! From the 68th floor of the Shard, we can see just how enormous London really is! Museums, buses, people, and buildings spread out as far as the eye can see. Many people think that London is one of the biggest cities in the world. Actually, though, it’s the smallest city in the United Kingdom. This is because the actual City of London is only about one square mile of skyscrapers. All of the palaces, attractions, and museums we see below us are actually in a region called Greater London, not the city of London.
London was founded about 2,000 years ago. At this time, a powerful empire known as the Roman Empire was invading many places on the continent of Europe. Eventually, the mighty Roman army sailed so far north that they reached a large island with a large river called the Thames. The Romans sailed along the Thames until they decided that it was narrow enough to build bridges across it. There, they built a city and called it Londinium, but at some point, it was shortened to London. From the top of the Shard, it’s easy to see the same river running through London today!
Where the Romans first settled is the small section that is the true City of London. Today, people from all over the world come to work here. It’s pretty easy to spot from the Shard because it’s a cluster of tall skyscrapers. One of them is even shaped like a pickle. In fact, many people who live in London like to call it the Pickle!
Remember those bridges that the Romans built? Well, there are still around 35 of them crossing the river in London alone! Probably the most famous is called Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge is built to look like, well, a tower. It’s named after a landmark that sits just at the end of the bridge called the Tower of London.
The Tower of London has actually served many purposes throughout its history. It was first built as a military fortress for a French king named William the Conqueror. But since then, it’s been a prison, a castle, a place to store weapons, and even a zoo.
Today, visitors stop by the Tower of London to see the crown jewels, owned by the King and Queen themselves. The collection of jewels is guarded by seven ravens, and countless British guards called beefeaters who wear bright red coats, big black boots, and tall fluffy hats. They get their pictures taken by tourists a lot!
While the beefeaters guard their jewels in the Tower of London, the King and Queen live on the other side of London in Buckingham Palace. But even though a British queen or king has ruled the United Kingdom for around 1200 years, they haven’t always lived in Buckingham Palace. When the palace was built in London in the 1700s, it wasn’t for the royal family. A man named John Sheffield just wanted a place to stay while he was in London. About 50 years later, in 1762, King George III saw how grand and beautiful it was. He knew that nobody except for the royal family was fit to live there. So, he bought it for his wife.
To make it even grander, he added large gardens, archways, statues, and monuments. Buckingham Palace now has over 775 rooms. Seventy-eight of them are bathrooms!
Since the 1700s, the people who lived and worked in Buckingham Palace have followed many royal traditions. Some are still used today. For example, if you visit the palace, you’ll know that King Charles is home if the British flag is flying on top of the building. You might also be lucky enough to see the changing-of-the-guard, which happens every morning during the summer, and every other morning during the winter.
From the Shard, we can see that just below Buckingham Palace is a big clock tower. And when I say big, I mean huge. It’s so big they named the clock in it Big Ben, and it is 315 feet tall to be exact. This famous symbol helps Londoners keep track of time as they go about their busy days in the bustling city. The bells inside weigh about 14 tons each. That’s about the same as five adult elephants. When Big Ben was built, it took sixteen horses to pull it to where it stands now.
Big Ben is attached to the Houses of Parliament. This large building is home to the government of the United Kingdom. It’s kind of like the British version of the capitol building in Washington D.C. The Houses of Parliament look a lot like a palace themselves. In fact, this building is sometimes called the Palace of Westminster because it looks so royal and extravagant.
London has long been a place for kings and queens to live. It’s also where a lot of business people and politicians come to work. But if you look down from the top of The Shard, you’ll see a crowded city full of people walking its streets, taking taxis and buses, and even riding boats along the Thames. What do all of these people do in London?
Some could be actors hurrying to theaters in the West End. There are more than 240 theaters across London, and most of them are in the West End. London became famous for its live theater performances thanks to a famous playwright named Shakespeare. Shakespeare has a number of famous plays including Romeo and Juliet. In the 1500s, his theater, the Globe, was built in London. Even though it’s not in the West End, Shakespeare’s Globe and its many performances set the stage, quite literally, for the popularity of theater in London. Visitors can still see a play at the Globe or any one of the other 200 performances every day in theaters across London.
Visitors might also check out one of London’s 192 museums. London was once the center of an empire that included Africa, Asia, and even the original American colonies. Because of this history, the museums in London are filled with art, artifacts, and information from all over the world. London is even home to the world’s oldest public museum – the British Museum.
Like the artifacts in its museums, London is home to people from all over the world. Over 300 different languages are spoken here. Its restaurants include food from all over the world. And if you go to one of many soccer stadiums in London to see a match, you’ll likely see the best players in the world.
The view from the Shard is not just beautiful. It helps show a city that is rich in history but also a modern city that is thriving.
Wait. I think I hear the chimes of Big Ben. It must be time for tea. Afternoon tea is another long tradition in London. But we’ll save that story for another time.