Located at the geographic and historic heart of the conurbation that is today regarded as London, the City of London is its own small self-administrated city. Commonly referred to as the "Square Mile", the City of London is approximately one square mile in area.
It is located on the North Bank of the Thames between Temple Bar memorial pillar and Tower Hill and is easy to tell when entering and exiting, as its boundaries are marked by black bollards which bear the City's emblem, while major throughways are demarcated by large monuments featuring dragons facing outwards. However tiny the City of London may be, its potency as an economic player cannot be denied. It is, arguably, the world's leading international financial and business centre and one of the chief drivers of Britain's economy. The Square Mile contributes roughly 5% to the UK's GDP and is considered to be the richest square mile in the world.
During medieval times, this area constituted the whole of London. Today it is still essentially the epicentre of greater London (just look on any map). References to this area date back to 60 AD when Roman historian Tacitus wrote of the area as an important centre of commerce. Remains of London's Roman past exist in the form of remnants of the London Wall, a defensive perimeter constructed by the Romans during the Second Century. A great place to learn about Roman era London, The City and more is to pay a visit to the Museum of London, which is located near a section of the London Wall in the City.
Throughout history, the City of London has been a noteworthy player in the history of England and the United Kingdom. The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed the vast majority of buildings in the City, including the popular and scenic St Paul's Cathedral. During World War II, the City and nearby East End were major targets for the Blitz. It's storied past of wealth coupled with destruction has made the City a unique area to explore, where iconic modern high rise office towers, such as Norman Foster's Gherkin mingle with Roman ruins and architectural examples of virtually every area in between.
Of course, it's not just about business and ancient history in the City. The City of London's centrality means it is close to a variety offamous London attractions, such as the foodie magnet Borough Market, the must-see Tower of London and leading art museum Tate Modern. For cultural offerings and entertainment, the Barbican Centre, Europe's largest multi-arts and conference venue, presents an impressive range of art, music, theatre, dance and education events and is the home to the London Symphony Orchestra. From historical and architectural walks to world class performances, this area is definitely worth a visit for all those arriving on flights to London.
Over 300,000 professionals work here, with only about 10,000 actually people actually residing in the City. With so many commuters, it is one of the best connected areas of London and brims with people during the week. Yet, during the weekend this is one of London's quietest spots. Some of the more business oriented areas may seem desolate on Saturdays and Sundays but with draws such as St Paul's and the nearby South Bank, easy access to quality cafés, bars and restaurants is a given.
Although most visitors actually staying in the City are here on business, this area's importance in history and its vital role as a cultural hub teeming with worthwhile attractions cannot be overstated. Between St Paul's and the Millennium Bridge (yet another brilliant attraction!), the City of London Information Centre at St Paul's Churchyard (open Monday to Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm) is an excellent resource for finding out about what's happening during your stay. Whether here for business or pleasure – or both! – the City of London has something for everyone.
Image credit: Chris Osburn (author)