Like every city in the world, London has been assigned its share of stereotypes. But with 7 million inhabitants from dozens of nationalities, London is a truly multicultural city. You are as likely to hear a Manchester or Scottish accent as you are a Hugh Grant “posh” accent, particularly in the melting pot of the West End where locals intersperse among tourists from all over the world.
You’re also just as likely to hear a cockney accent if you order a cab or wander into the East End, as you are “Jafaican,” a mix of cockney, Jamaican patois, African and Asian lingo. But it’s not just Londoners who are breaking the mold; the city is also. Here are the top myths about London debunked.
Myth #1: It Rains All the Time
England has a reputation as being a bit soggy. The image of the Englishman and his umbrella still holds fast in people’s minds. But the reality is surprisingly different. London is actually quite a dry city; it has less rainfall than NYC, Brisbane, Rome, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. Its average minimum daily temperature is also higher than that of Seattle or Toronto.
Myth #2: It Is Really Developed
Despite being a big urban metropolis, 1/3 of London is made up of parks and open spaces, making it a surprisingly green city. There are 8 Royal parks. Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, St James’s Park, Green Park and Kensington Gardens are all in the city centre, while Bushy Park, Richmond Park, Greenwich Park and Brompton Cemetery are further out. There are also countless public gardens and squares, so you can always find a place to stop for a picnic and don’t have to eat your sandwiches on the sidewalk.
Myth #3: The English Only Drink Tea
While the English do still drink a lot of tea -- and you can get some excellent traditional cream teas in the top hotels -- Londoners are big coffee drinkers. You’ll find many Starbucks alongside UK chains such as Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero, Coffee Republic and any number of independent coffee shops serving up excellent Italian- and American-style coffee.
Myth #4: Big Ben Is a Clock Tower
One of London’s most iconic sights, the clock tower of Big Ben on the Palace of Westminster, is synonymous with London and appears in nearly every film that is shot in the capital. It is the largest 4-faced chiming clock in the world and the third largest clock tower. However, Big Ben is actually the name of the “great bell,” the largest of the 5 bells in the tower, not the tower itself. The bell weighs more than 13 tons, and it took 18 hours to raise it 200 feet into the tower. It first rang in 1859, and has been ringing ever since -- albeit with a slight twang from a crack that formed after 2 months in service. The real name for the tower is simply Clock Tower.
Myth #5: The Front of Buckingham Palace Is Visible From the Mall
No, sorry. That grand neoclassical facade of Buckingham Palace that you can see from the Mall, which includes the balcony on which Prince William and Kate Middleton had their first kiss as a married couple, is not the front of the palace, as is commonly believed. The palace actually fronts onto the 40-acre garden on the other side, and the postcard image of the palace that we take home with us is actually of the back door.
Writer Antonia Windsor, a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, is a regular contributor to The Guardian and The Observer in Britain.