Updated: Mar 6, 2021
London is the capital city of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, and was formerly the capital of England before the 1707 Acts of Union forming the United Kingdom. Founded in the 1st century AD by the Romans, it has been the cultural and political heart of the British Isles for most of its long and illustrious history, the highlight of which being the very heartthrob of the British Empire. However, despite all we might think we know about this fantastic cosmopolitan metropolis, London still continues to surprise us. Here are 20 interesting facts about London you might not know.
1. Linguistically diverse city
As one of the most diverse cities in the world, London houses over 8 million residents, who collectively speak over 300 languages. This is in, no small part, due to Britain’s history as a world power, and where people from all over the British Empire flocked to. Remnants include Bengali and Gujarati from India, Cantonese from Hong Kong, Afrikaans from South Africa and French from Canada.
2. It is not illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament
Despite popular belief, it isn’t illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament. Although it is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour. According to the British government, ‘The issue of dying in Parliament appears to arise from the idea that anyone who dies in a Royal Palace is eligible for a state funeral.’
3. The Tower of London houses 6 ravens
Charles II ordered for six ravens to be placed in the Tower of London to protect it. Apparently, six ravens are still kept in the tower today and they must remain there at all times due to superstitious reasons. For extra measures, each raven has a wing clipped, they even have a spare raven handy in case one flies away.
4. Serious alcoholics
Image Credits - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gin_Craze
The 1720-1751 Gin Craze saw a 2-pint-per-week average consumption of gin for every person in the city. The craze started when Parliament deregulated the distilling trade to deal with a surplus of corn distillers flooded the market with cheap liquor and all hell broke loose.
5. A Silent Induction
Image Credits - https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Mayor_of_London
The ceremony in which the Lord Mayor, the city’s senior representative, is inducted into power is known as the Silent Ceremony because barely any words are used throughout. It’s followed the next day by the much more flamboyant (and noisy) Lord Mayor’s Show.
6. Presence of Sheriffs
London’s tradition of having Sheriffs dates all the way back to the 7th century and it’s still going strong. The Sheriffs have to carry out the instructions of the High Court of Justice and also support the Lord Mayor and their jurisdiction only extends across the City of London (Square Mile).
7. Special Mosquitoes evolved to live in the London Underground
Image Credits - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Underground_mosquito
Culex Pipiens Molestus is a subspecies of mosquito that has evolved specific habits suited to its life on the London Underground. It can live in dark places for long periods of time, doesn’t have to hibernate, is a particularly voracious biter and doesn’t need water to lay its eggs. Nature is truly, truly terrifying.
8. 6 major orchestras
Unlike many other major cities, London has six orchestras – The Royal Philharmonic, The London Philharmonic, The BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the London Symphony Orchestra.
9. Celebration of Guy Fawkes’ Night
Image Credit - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunpowder_Plot
This festival commemorates a failed assassination attempt on King James I’s life which would act as a prelude to a popular revolt in the English Midlands. The festival is named after Guy Fawkes, an English Catholic who was recruited by the Spanish to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605 with 36 barrels of gunpowder. The plan was revealed to the authorities when an anonymous letter was sent to the 4th Baron Monteagle.
10. London is a forest
Image Credits - https://www.londonxlondon.com/facts-about-london/
Standing in the middle of The City of London, it feels difficult to believe but London has so many trees that it falls within the UN definition of a forest. In fact, London has its own official Forestry Conservator. London too, is home to the world-famous Royal Botanic Gardens, popularly known as the Kew Gardens.
11. Fake Houses to hide the Tube line
Image Credits - http://traquo.com/the-fake-house-at-leinster-gardens-london/
The Fake Houses of Leinster Gardens might look like normal houses – you need to walk around to the back of them to reveal the truth – that they’re completely fake. The two houses are only a metre or so deep – they were built to replace two houses that were knocked down when the Metropolitan Line was created.
12. Olympic-esque jumpers
Image Credits - https://www.londonxlondon.com/facts-about-london/
Albert Gunter was driving a bus over Tower Bridge in 1952 when it started to rise – with the bus still on it. It all ended well thanks to some quick thinking on Gunter’s part. He put his foot down, sped the bus up and got it to clear a 10-foot gap before landing on the other side. He was given the day off as a reward.
13. Heavy casualties from the Great Plague & Great Fire of London
Image Credits - https://www.history.com/news/plague-pandemic-great-fire
1665 saw the plague reach its peak thanks to warm weather and poor sanitation. Over 100,000 people died in London as a result of the plague in that year alone. In 1666, the Great Fire of London started in Pudding Lane, The Great Fire raged for four days and four nights, destroying over 13,000 houses and 80 churches.
14. Naughty street names
Londoners have a reputation for being pretty blunt. In the past that extended to the naming of roads as much as anything else. You can still find Cock Lane in Farringdon – it was the only street in London licensed for prostitution and housed more than its fair share of brothels. These days it’s a lot tamer.
15. Major sufferances during WWII
WWII took a heavy toll on London. Over 30,000 people died as a result of German bomb and rocket raids, in which London was bombed every night for 57 consecutive nights from 7 Sep 1940 during The Blitz. Over 50,000 people were injured and most of the City of London was destroyed.
16. Highly integrated bus system
Image Credits - https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-45679550
London has a comprehensive bus system covering pretty much every part of the capital. It’s also the basis for one of the more astonishing facts about London. Each year, the buses on London’s transport system drive over 300 million miles, which when you sum it up is more than 12x the earth’s circumference.
17. Norway’s Christmas Tree Tradition
The tradition started as a way for Norway to thank the UK for its alliance during World War II. The tree is specially picked and shipped over to London where it sits proudly in the middle of Trafalgar Square during the Christmas period. Fun fact – the British & Norwegian monarchies are related via Queen Victoria.
18. History of Riots & Rebellions
Image Credits - https://penandpension.com/2015/11/24/the-gordon-riots-of-1780/
Never was this truer than in the 18th century when Londoners rioted about the Irish (1736), in defence of cheap booze (1743) and for political reform (1780). The latter, the Gordon Riots, saw 50,000 storm the city in a five day rampage that led to 300 deaths and after which 25 people were hanged.
19. Fascinating Black Cabs
Black cab drivers will navigate you home in the blink of an eye and without relying on unpredictable technology. They have to pass a ridiculously hard test called The Knowledge to get their licence. It generally takes 2-3 years of studying over 300 routes before you can pass.
20. Banks that are near each other
Image Credits - https://www.ft.com/content/d792879e-8046-11e8-af48-190d103e32a4
This rule was actually revoked in 1980 but until that date, all banks operating in the City had to be within a 10-minute stroll of the Bank of England. This was so the Governor of the Bank of England could call an emergency meeting and have everyone in attendance within half an hour.