About Art and Design in London
Ask many people why they want to visit London, and most definitely their top answers will be the art and culture. The to-do list is long: art galleries, museums, historic buildings (not to mention new buildings with quirky nicknames), music festivals, pop-up cinemas, the theatre, and ballet. Events include celebrating different cultures and religions (i.e. Diwali, Chinese New Year, St. Patrick's Day), flower shows, literature festivals, food festivals, sporting championships, and even just sampling international beers in a pub. Art and culture is not just part of the city's heritage, it's part of what Londoners live and breath every day.
In the summer months (or even when the temperature hits double figures in Celsius) a common site in the city's parks is people sunbathing--in bikinis and other swimwear--despite there being no swimming pool or beach. This is bizarre to many first-timers to London, but if you stay long enough to experience at least one winter you will soon realise why this activity is of such significance.
Another (perhaps less pleasant) custom is there is rarely an orderly queue system at bus stops and tube stations. It's often said that Londoners like a good queue (and yes, we are quite a patient bunch when it comes to queuing for anything from a bus, to a clothing store change room, to tennis at Wimbledon). However, if you're at the bus stop well before anyone else, and they all know you were there before them, this gives you no better chance of boarding the bus first. When it comes to public transport, especially at peak hour, it's a case of getting your elbows out. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
London's history spans approximately 2000 years, with the Romans settling in Londinium from about AD 43. The City of London, also referred to as the Square Mile, is the oldest part of Greater London; and where Leadenhall Market stands today was the centre of Roman London.
Over the years, London has seen its fair share of atrocities, including the Black Death in the 1300s, the Great Plague in the 1600s, the Great Fire of 1666, two World Wars in the 1900s, and more recently, terrorist attacks in 2005.
On the flip side, London has also been in the world spotlight for many favourable goings-on, including the opening of the world's first underground railway in 1863, playing host to the world's first traffic lights in 1868, being the fashion epicentre of the swinging sixties, and more recently, playing host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Politics & Economy
The current national political party in power is a coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. David Cameron is the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister. The last general election was in 2010 and the next will be in 2015. Voting is not compulsory in the UK. The current Lord Mayor of London is Boris Johnson.
The UK economy is the sixth-largest in the world (measured by nominal GDP) and the second-largest in Europe (measured by both nominal GDP and purchasing power parity (PPP)). We suffered a double-dip recession in late 2011 and early 2012 and there are fears, due to a number of reasons, including a long and harsh winter, that we will face a triple-dip recession in the near future.
The UK is part of the Commonwealth of Nations, an intergovernmental organisation of 54 independent member states, most of which were part of the British Empire with the Queen as its head.
With more than eight million people living in the city, it would be difficult to list all of its famous inhabitants!
But undoubtedly the most famous London resident is the Queen (although she does live in other palaces and castles at various times of the year).
London has an extensive and eclectic arts and cultural calendar with year-round events of all kind: whacky, charitable, sporty, elite, and creative goings-on. London Town and Londonist websites list a comprehensive range of events for 2013: www.londontown.com/London/London-Events-Calendar-2013 and http://londonist.com.
Here is a sample of events by season:
Spring: Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, Udderbelly Festival (comedy), London Coffee Festival, the London Marathon, the Chelsea Flower Show.
Summer: Taste of London Festival (food & drink), London Literature Festival (starts in May), City of London Festival, Wimbledon tennis championships.
Autumn: The Great River Race, the Affordable Art Fair (at other times of year also), Frieze London (art fair), Open House London, London Design Festival.
Winter: Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition, Pancake Races (various races held across the city on Shrove Tuesday), Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, Christmas Markets at the Southbank Centre.
The London Transport Museum is great for adults and children alike as it's not only educational and full of history, but also interactive. It has a fabulous gift shop selling lots of unique London-esque homewares.
The Geffrye Museum in East London is a gem of a place, as you are transported back through the ages to see what homes in London looked like from the 1600s to the modern day.
The British Museum will leave your head feeling like a sponge as there are so many fascinating artefacts from all over the world. You could easily spend two full days there. Afternoon tea at the museum's Court Restaurant is definitely worth taking an hour or two out of your sightseeing for.
Holidays & Festivals
Despite the UK's increasingly diverse population, it's still predominantly a Christian region and, therefore, structures its national days around the Christian calendar, i.e. Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Easter.
There are also a handful of bank holidays, including two in May and one in August, which all fall on a Monday. Other significant occasions give rise to one-off bank holidays, such as the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011 and to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
The school year starts in early September and finishes in mid July. Half term / school holidays occur in October, over Christmas and New Year, in February, over Easter and in May. Schools then break for about six weeks during the summer.
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