Greater London is the top-level administrative subdivision covering London. The small, ancient City of London at its core once contained the whole settlement, but as the urban area grew the City Corporation resisted attempts to amalgamate it with its suburbs, causing "London" to be defined in a number ways for different purposes; and the situation was once open to legal debate. Forty per cent of Greater London is covered by the London post town, within which 'LONDON' forms part of postal addresses.
The London telephone area code (020) covers a larger area, similar in size to Greater London, although some outer districts are omitted and some places just outside are included. The area within the orbital M25 motorway is normally what is referred to as 'London'. and the Greater London boundary has been aligned to it in places.
Outward urban expansion is now prevented by the Metropolitan Green Belt, although the built-up area extends beyond the boundary in places, resulting in a separately defined Greater London Urban Area. Beyond this is the vast London commuter belt. Greater London is split for some purposes into Inner London and Outer London. The city is split by the River Thames into North and South, with an informal central London area in its interior. The coordinates of the nominal centre of London, traditionally considered to be the original Eleanor Cross at Charing Cross near the junction of Trafalgar Square and Whitehall, are approximately .
Within London, both the City of London and the City of Westminster have city status and both the City of London and the remainder of Greater London are the ceremonial counties. The area of Greater London has incorporated areas that were once part of the historic counties of Middlesex, Kent, Surrey, Essex and Hertfordshire. London's status as the capital of England, and later the United Kingdom, has never been granted or confirmed officially—by statute or in written form.
Its position was formed through constitutional convention, making its status as de facto capital a part of the UK's unwritten constitution. The capital of England was moved to London from Winchester as the Palace of Westminster developed in the 12th and 13th centuries to become the permanent location of the royal court, and thus the political capital of the nation. More recently, Greater London has been defined as a region of England and in this context is known as London.
Greater London encompasses a total area of, an area which had a population of 7,172,036 in 2001 and a population density of . The extended area known as the London Metropolitan Region or the London Metropolitan Agglomeration, comprises a total area of has a population of 13,709,000 and a population density of . Modern London stands on the Thames, its primary geographical feature, a navigable river which crosses the city from the south-west to the east. The Thames Valley is a floodplain surrounded by gently rolling hills including Parliament Hill, Addington Hills, and Primrose Hill. The Thames was once a much broader, shallower river with extensive marshlands; at high tide, its shores reached five times their present width.
Since the Victorian era the Thames has been extensively embanked, and many of its London tributaries now flow underground. The Thames is a tidal river, and London is vulnerable to flooding. The threat has increased over time because of a slow but continuous rise in high water level by the slow 'tilting' of Britain (up in the north and down in the south) caused by post-glacial rebound.
In 1974, a decade of work began on the construction of the Thames Barrier across the Thames at Woolwich to deal with this threat. While the barrier is expected to function as designed until roughly 2070, concepts for its future enlargement or redesign are already being discussed.
London has a temperate oceanic climate (Köppen: Cfb ), similar to much of southern Britain. Despite its reputation as being a rainy city, London receives less precipitation (with in a year), than Rome (at), Bordeaux (at), Toulouse (at), and Naples (at per year). Winters are generally chilly to cold with frost usually occurring in the suburbs on average twice a week from November to March. Snow usually occurs about four or five times a year mostly from December to February. Snowfall during March and April is rare but does occur every two or three years. Winter temperatures seldom fall below or rise above . During the winter of 2010, London experienced its lowest temperature on record in Northolt and the heaviest snow seen for almost two decades, a huge strain on the city's transport infrastructure. Temperature extremes for all sites in the London area range from at Kew during August 2003, (which has been proposed to be the UK's highest 'accurate' temperature) down to at Northolt during January 1962. Temperatures of below have been noted prior to the 20th century, but the accuracy cannot be validated.
Summers are generally warm and sometimes hot, the heat being boosted by the urban heat island effect making the centre of London at times warmer than the suburbs and outskirts. London's average July high is . During the 2003 European heat wave there were 14 consecutive days above and 2 consecutive days where temperatures soared up to, leading to hundreds of heat related deaths. Rain generally occurs on around 2 out of 10 summer days. Spring and Autumn are mixed seasons and can be pleasant. On 1 October 2011, the air temperature attained and in April 2011 it reached . However in recent years both of these months have also had snowfall. Temperature extremes range from to .
London's vast urban area is often described using a set of district names, such as Bloomsbury, Mayfair, Wembley and Whitechapel. These are either informal designations, reflect the names of villages that have been absorbed by sprawl, or are superseded administrative units such as parishes or former boroughs.
Such names have remained in use through tradition, each referring to a local area with its own distinctive character, but without official boundaries. Since 1965 Greater London has been divided into 32 London boroughs in addition to the ancient City of London. The City of London is the main financial district, and Canary Wharf has recently developed into a new financial and commercial hub in the Docklands to the east.
The West End is London's main entertainment and shopping district, attracting tourists. West London includes expensive residential areas where properties can sell for tens of millions of pounds. The average price for properties in Kensington and Chelsea is £894,000 with similar average outlay in most of central London.
The East End is the area closest to the original Port of London, known for its high immigrant population, as well as for being one of the poorest areas in London. The surrounding East London area saw much of London's early industrial development; now, brownfield sites throughout the area are being redeveloped as part of the Thames Gateway including the London Riverside and Lower Lea Valley, which was developed into the Olympic Park for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
London's buildings are too diverse to be characterised by any particular architectural style, partly because of their varying ages. Many grand houses and public buildings, such as the National Gallery, are constructed from Portland stone. Some areas of the city, particularly those just west of the centre, are characterised by white stucco or whitewashed buildings. Few structures in central London pre-date the Great Fire of 1666, these being a few trace Roman remains, the Tower of London and a few scattered Tudor survivors in the City. Further out is, for example, the Tudor period Hampton Court Palace, England's oldest surviving Tudor palace, built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey c. 1515.
Wren's late 17th-century churches and the financial institutions of the 18th and 19th centuries such as the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England, to the early 20th century Old Bailey and the 1960s Barbican Estate form part of the varied architectural heritage.
The disused, but soon to be rejuvenated, 1939 Battersea Power Station by the river in the south-west is a local landmark, while some railway termini are excellent examples of Victorian architecture, most notably St. Pancras and Paddington. The density of London varies, with high employment density in the central area, high residential densities in inner London and lower densities in Outer London.
The Monument in the City of London provides views of the surrounding area while commemorating the Great Fire of London, which originated nearby. Marble Arch and Wellington Arch, at the north and south ends of Park Lane respectively, have royal connections, as do the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall in Kensington. Nelson's Column is a nationally recognised monument in Trafalgar Square, one of the focal points of the city centre. Older buildings are mainly brick built, most commonly the yellow London stock brick or a warm orange-red variety, often decorated with carvings and white plaster mouldings.
In the dense areas, most of the concentration is via medium- and high-rise buildings. London's skyscrapers such as 30 St Mary Axe, Tower 42, the Broadgate Tower and One Canada Square are mostly in the two financial districts, the City of London and Canary Wharf. High-rise development is restricted at certain sites if it would obstruct protected views of St Paul's Cathedral and other historic buildings. Nevertheless there are a number of very tall skyscrapers in central London (see Tall buildings in London), including the 72-storey Shard London Bridge, the tallest building in the European Union.
Other notable modern buildings include City Hall in Southwark with its distinctive oval shape, and the British Library in Somers Town/Kings Cross. What was formerly the Millennium Dome, by the Thames to the east of Canary Wharf, is now an entertainment venue called The O2 Arena.
The largest parks in the central area of London are three of the Royal Parks, namely Hyde Park and its neighbour Kensington Gardens at the western edge of central London, and Regent's Park on the northern edge. Regent's Park contains London Zoo, the world's oldest scientific zoo, and is near the tourist attraction of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.
Closer to central London are the smaller Royal Parks of Green Park and St. James's Park. Hyde Park in particular is popular for sports and sometimes hosts open-air concerts. A number of large parks lie outside the city centre, including the remaining Royal Parks of Greenwich Park to the south-east and Bushy Park and Richmond Park (the largest) to the south-west, as well as Victoria Park, London to the east. Primrose Hill to the north of Regent's Park is a popular spot to view the city skyline.
Some more informal, semi-natural open spaces also exist, including the Hampstead Heath of North London. This incorporates Kenwood House, the former stately home and a popular location in the summer months where classical musical concerts are held by the lake, attracting thousands of people every weekend to enjoy the music, scenery and fireworks.
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