Dirty, noisy and unbelievably expensive, London is a vast cosmopolitan melting pot of people, ideas and energy. There's not so much a buzz about the place as a deafening roar, and somewhere behind the incessant bustle is 2,000 years of history struggling to be heard.
London is a hodge podge of architectural styles.
It's a cliché to describe London as a collection of villages, but historically that's exactly what it is. From its origins in the area today known as "the City", the capital expanded over the centuries to include the surrounding areas, each of which maintain their own distinctive character.
There's genteel Notting Hill with its cafés and boutiques; the trendy media enclave of Soho, all restaurants and bars; the village-like charm of Highgate; the old money of Kensington and Knightsbridge; and the arts-scene cool of Hoxton and Shoreditch.
And there's much more besides; from the East End of mythical chirpy cockneys to the leafy suburbs south of the river, the sheer size of the city can be overwhelming.
Architecturally, the city is a hodge-podge of styles, the consequence of the city's evolution over millennia and its being razed twice, first by the Great Fire of 1666, which destroyed some 80 percent of the capital, and then by the bombs of World War II, which left as much as a third of the City and the East End in ruins.
Now Christopher Wren's seventeenth-century landmarks share space with 1960s brutalist statements like the Hayward Gallery and contemporary showstoppers such as the sparkling Swiss
Re tower, known to Londoners as "The Gherkin."
But more than simply being a city of buildings and neighborhoods, London is fueled by an ideas economy: it's often described as the financial capital of the world; is at the cutting edge of new media; and is a major exporter of art, literature and fashion. Then there's Londoners' compulsive desire to invent and re-invent musical genres, with the city giving birth to the urban sounds of drum n' bass, garage, grime and dubstep.
Above all, it's a city of movement. People from all over Britain, and indeed, all over the world, move to London to pursue their dreams, while many Londoners grumble about leaving in search of a quiet life. Despite its long history, it can seem a transient place, with no fixed identity. But that transience is its greatest strength. It is the constant influx of new ideas and fresh energy that makes London such an endlessly fascinating city.
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