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London

London has been a capital city for nearly a thousand years, and many of its ancient buildings still stand. The most famous of these are the Tower of London (where the Crown Jewels are kept), Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, but most visitors also want to see the House of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the many magnificent museums.

Once, London was a small Roman town on the north bank of the Thames, but slowly it grew into one of the world's major cities with more than seven million people. Fewer people live in the centre now, but the suburbs are still growing.

Places now in the heart of London once stood in the middle of green fields. Many small villages, like Hampstead, Chelsea and Mayfair, became part of London, but they still keep some of their old atmosphere. Different areas of London seem like different cities. The West End is a rich man's world of shops, offices and theatres. The old port area is now called "Docklands". The great ships have gone, and the area is changing very fast. There are huge new office buildings, and thousands of new flats and houses.

Other parts of London are changing, too. Some of the poor areas have become fashionable, and people with money are moving into them.

A hundred years ago, the river was crowded with ships leaving for Java, Japan, New Zealand and New York, but now people travel by air, and London's main airport, Heathrow, is one of the busiest in the world.

Like all big cities, London has streets and concrete buildings, but it also has many big parks, full of trees, flowers and grass. Sit on the grass (you're allowed to!) in the middle of Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens, and you will think that you're in the country, miles away.

Many people live outside the centre of London in the suburbs, and they travel to work in the shops and offices by train, bus or underground. The trains are full - and expensive - and the roads are crowded with cars, but every day a million people come from far outside London, even from the coast, and spend up to four hours travelling every day.

Most people work from 9 am to 5 pm. From 8 till 10 every morning, and 4.30 to 6.30 every evening, the trains are crowded with people, and after the morning "rush hour" the shoppers come.

By day, the whole of London is busy. At night, the offices are quiet and empty, but the West End stays alive, because this is where Londoners come to enjoy themselves. There are two opera houses here, several concert halls and many theatres, as well as cinemas, and in nearby Soho the pubs, restaurants and nightclubs are busy half the night.

Many people think that London is all grey but in fact red is London's favourite colour. The buses are red, the letterboxes are red and the mail vans are all bright, bright red. London is at its best when people are celebrating. Then the flags, the soldiers' uniforms, the cheering crowds and the horses and carriages all sparkle in the sunshine - if it's not raining, of course!



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