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Brushing up on London trivia for your next quiz night? Or simply want to learn some interesting London facts to impress your friends with? With the city’s long and complex history, there are plenty of fun and fascinating facts to pick from. As well as quite a few supposed London facts to debunk.
Here are 21 of my favourite facts about London to get you started…
21 Interesting Facts About London
London is 2,000 Years Old
London was first established by the Romans in AD43.
The Roman rule of London continued until the 5th century when the Roman Empire fell.
London Hasn’t Always Been Called London
Over its history, London has been known by many different names.
During its establishment and the following Roman rule, London was known as Londinium. Variations of this name were also used, including Londinio, Londiniensi and Londiniensium. This original name is believed to have derived from the old Celtic word Londinous which means to be bold.
Under Anglo-Saxon rule during the 7th-8th centuries, the city became Lundenwic, which means ‘London trading settlement’.
In the 9th century, Alfred the Great captured the city. He moved the settlement back within the old Roman walls and it became known as Lundenburh.
It wasn’t until the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century that variations of the current name began to be used, such as Lundin, Londoun and Lunden. These eventually settled into the name and spelling we use today – London.
London has the Oldest Underground System in the World
Opened in January 1863, the London Underground is the oldest transport system of its kind in the world. It was originally called the Metropolitan Railway.
The first London Underground trains were steam-powered and ran between Paddington and Farringdon.
Check out more fun facts about the London Underground here.
London is Technically a Forest
From huge foliage-filled parks to small garden squares and even the street corners, there are a whopping 8.4 million trees across London. In fact, trees make up roughly 21% of the city.
This means that London falls within the UN definition of a forest, making the capital the largest urban forest in the world.
A London University was the first in the World to Accept Women
London has long been a pioneering city in women’s education.
In June 1868, the University of London’s senate voted to admit women to sit the General Examination, making it the world’s first university to accept women.
In 1869, nine women – known as ‘the London nine’ – sat the university’s first “General Examination for Women”.
However, upon passing the exam, these women received a “Certificate of Proficiency” rather than a degree.
10 years later, the University of London became the first university in the UK to admit women to its degrees.
‘Big Ben’ Isn’t Actually Called Big Ben
The world-famous London landmark that people come from all around to snap a photo with is actually called the Elizabeth Tower.
Big Ben is the name of the bell that sits inside.
A Horrible Smell Once Shut Down The Entire City
The Great Stink took place in the summer of 1858 when the large amounts of sewage in the River Thames combined with the hot weather led to a terrible stench across the city.
The smell was so bad that much of the city came to a complete standstill, which included parliament being suspended.
The Thames is One of the Cleanest Urban Rivers in the World
The River Thames was once declared biologically dead due to the amount of sewage and pollution in it.
Thanks to clean up efforts, it is now one of the cleanest rivers in the world to flow through a major city.
Hundreds of species of fish, mammals and invertebrates call the river and riverbeds home, including seals, porpoises and even the occasional dolphin.
Check out more interesting facts about the River Thames here.
London Black Cab Drivers Don’t Use Sat Nav
Despite its huge size, London black cab drivers don’t rely on sat nav to get around.
All black cab drivers have to take a test called ‘The Knowledge’ to get their licence.
The test takes around 3 to 4 years of studying. They must learn 320 routes (known as “runs”) within the six-mile radius of Charing Cross.
Many Ancient Traditions Still Take Place in London
There are many ancient ceremonies that have been taking place in London for hundreds of years and still continue to this day.
Some of the historic ceremonies that you can still witness in London include:
- The Changing of the Guard (started 1656)
- The Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues (started 14th century)
- The Ceremony of the Keys at Tower of London (started 14th century)
- The Lord Mayors Show (started 1215)
There Are Always At Least Six Ravens In The Tower of London
Ever since the rule of Charles II in the 17th century, there have been at least 6 ravens living on the grounds of the Tower of London.
It is said that the Tower, the Monarchy, and the Kingdom will fall if the ravens ever leave. That’s an awful lot of pressure on these birds!
The names of the current Tower of London ravens as of 2022 are Jubilee, Harris, Gripp, Rocky, Erin, Poppy and Georgie.
Ravenmaster Chris Skaife is a Yeoman Warder or ‘Beefeater’ who is in change of feeding and caring for the ravens.
On rare occasions, the ravens have escaped from the Tower, and some have even been officially dismissed for bad behaviour.
BONUS: Fun Facts About London That Aren’t True
As an added bonus, here are a few widely-believed facts about London that have turned out not to be true at all…
An American Man Accidentally Bought the Wrong London Bridge
In the 1960s, an American oil tycoon named Robert McCulloch purchased London Bridge for $2.5 million. The bridge can now be found in Arizona’s Lake Havasu.
There are rumours that McCulloch believed that he was buying Tower Bridge, due to the fact that many people do confuse the two bridges.
However, this London fact has since been discredited. McCulloch knew exactly which bridge he was buying. Turns out, he was just a bit eccentric!
It’s Illegal to Die in the Houses of Parliament
Another rumour that has been floating around for many years is that it is illegal for a person to die inside the Houses of Parliament in London.
The rumour is believed to come from the idea that everyone who dies in the Royal Palace is eligible for a state funeral.
However, both of these London facts are simply myths. There have never been such laws.
The Mayor has to Grant Permission to The Queen to Enter the City of London
It’s an idea believed by many that The Queen has to be granted special permission by the Lord Mayor to enter the City of London (the square mile).
Although you’ll find this one on many lists of London facts, it turns out not to be true.
The myth likely comes from the Ceremony of the Pearl Sword. In this historic tradition, the Monarch’s carriage stops at the former site of Temple Bar on Fleet Street, where the Lord Mayor presents the handle of the City’s Pearl Sword to the Monarch to surrender his principal symbol of authority.
While The Queen does not have to ask for permission to enter the City of London, some other uniformed officers of the Crown do.