London is a big, old city with plenty of sights and attractions for visitors and locals to enjoy. However, there are also a number of things that people commonly get wrong about the British capital. So, before you head out to explore the city, have a read through these seven common confusions – it might help you avoid making an embarrassing mistake!
1. Tower Bridge is not London Bridge
London has a lot of bridges, and while many Londoners will be able to tell the difference between Vauxhall Bridge, Lambeth Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, most visitors won’t need to worry about such distinctions.
One thing you mustn’t do, however, is get Tower Bridge and London Bridge mixed up.
Tower Bridge is one of London’s most iconic structures – but that doesn’t stop people from calling it by the wrong name and the most common mistake is to call it London Bridge.
An easy way to remember that Tower Bridge is not London Bridge is by thinking of it as having two towers. London Bridge, on the other hand has no towers, and is actually a fairly unremarkable bridge that was built in the 1970s. However course, the fact that the structure has towers isn’t the reason Tower Bridge got its name. It’s actually named for the Tower of London, which stands nearby on the north bank of the River Thames.
Crossing Tower Bridge – on foot, or on an open-top bus – is certainly a treat for holiday makers in London. And if you want to learn more about the structure, and how it works, the Tower Bridge Exhibition is a museum that tells the story of the bridge. Visitors can also climb to the top of the bridge for stunning views and a breathtaking walk over a glass walkway.
While London Bridge may not be the picturesque bridge that it’s often confused for, it is also worth a visit. That’s because it’s the closest bridge to Tower Bridge, so offers a great view of its iconic neighbour. It’s also a historic site, with ties to Jack the Ripper.
Even if you do fall into the trap and accidentally refer to Tower Bridge as London Bridge, don’t worry. You won’t be the first – or the last – to make the mistake. And you’ll be in good company. Popular culture has it that the entrepreneur Robert P McCulloch made the same mistake when, in 1967, he bought the stone bridge that the current London Bridge replaced. That bridge, which was originally built in 1830, was dismantled and moved to southern California, where it was re-assembled as the centerpiece to the Lake Havasu development.
While Mr McCulloch always denied that he bought the wrong bridge, the story is still widely circulated and easy to believe – especially with the confusion over Tower Bridge’s name.
2. The British Museum is not the Museum of London
This is another case of the more famous building being mistaken for the one to get the “London” tag attached to it – but be careful, these two museums are very different!
The British Museum is an enormous museum in Bloomsbury that’s dedicated to human history, art, and culture. It’s full of antiquities from around the world, with more than eight million artefacts in its collection. Some of the most famous items on display include the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Marbles, the Assyrian Lion Hunt reliefs and the Lewis Chessmen.
As well as these historic – and sometimes controversial – items, the British Museum also has the stunning Great Court. This was redeveloped in 2000 and is the largest covered square in Europe. Its undulating glass and steel roof is particularly beautiful when the skies above are blue. In the middle of the Great Court is the Reading Room. This building was once the home of the British Library until it moved to St Pancras in the 1990s. Now it’s used for special exhibitions.
The Museum of London, on the other hand, documents the history of London from prehistoric to modern times. It is located near the Barbican Centre, and was built as part of the Barbican complex, which was created in the 1960s and 70s as a redevelopment of a bomb-damaged region. The museum takes a chronological approach to its displays and has a strong emphasis on archaeological discoveries, as well as the built city, urban development and the capital’s social and cultural life.
3. Big Ben is not the clock tower
That big, beautiful Victorian clock tower that stands alongside the Houses of Parliament? That’s not Big Ben. Big Ben is actually the name for the bell inside the clock tower. The building around it was simply called the Clocktower until 2012 when it was renamed the Elizabeth Tower as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
If you want to see Big Ben (the bell) up close, tours can be booked ahead of time – but only if you’re a UK resident, as you’ll need to contact your local MP to sort out tickets – places book up about six months in advance. You’ll also need to be able to climb the 334 stone spiral steps that take you 62 metres up to the tower. Of course, bells are really more for hearing than seeing, and you can hear Big Ben’s distinctive sound every hour.
4. Westminster Abbey is Not Westminster Cathedral
These two beautiful buildings are both definitely worth a visit. But there’s also a very big difference between them – and not just aesthetically. Religiously too.
Westminster Abbey is probably the building you’re looking for. Located adjacent to the Houses of Parliament, its full name is the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster. It’s a very old monastery church, built in the Gothic style and it belongs to the Anglicans. It is used for royal weddings and coronations, and inside, you’ll find the tombs of monarchs, Poet’s Corner, the Coronation Chair and the grave of the Unknown Warrior.
Westminster Cathedral, on the other hand is a Catholic church. In fact, it’s the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. The building is also stunning with its neo-Byzantine design and striking red-brick stripes.
5. Kennington is not Kensington
A single letter makes a big difference here. Kennington is located south of the River Thames, mainly in the borough of Lambeth. Attractions in the area include the Oval cricket ground, the Imperial War Museum and Kennington Park.
Kensington, however, is north-east. It’s part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and is known for its high-end shopping. It’s also home to the Natural History Museum, the Victorian & Albert Museum and the Science Museum, as well as Kensington Palace and the Royal Albert Hall.
6. London is not The City of London
The boundaries of London can be defined in a variety of ways – to be honest, it can all get a bit confusing. To make it easier, think of Greater London as encompassing all of the 32 different boroughs, as well as the City of London.
The City of London – also known as the City or the Square Mile – is like a London borough, but can actually be described as its own city. It’s a complicated little area north of the river, full of historic buildings like St Paul’s Cathedral. What’s more, it’s also the financial centre, so there’s the Bank of England and plenty of modern skyscrapers too.
While we’re at it, let’s take a moment to discuss who’s in charge. The Mayor of London is an elected official who oversees the strategic government of Greater London. Elections are held every four years. The Lord Mayor of London is the mayor of the City of London and the leader of the City of London Corporation. Someone new is elected to this position every year and the Lord Mayor’s show is a celebration held the day after the new Lord Mayor takes office.
7. The Union flag flying over Buckingham Palace does not mean the Queen is home
Up until 1997, the only flag to every fly at Buckingham Palace was the Royal Standard – and it only flew when the reigning monarch was at home.
That changed following the death of Princess Diana. At the time, the Queen was in Balmoral, so no flag was flying at the Buckingham Palace. However, there was a huge public outcry – people felt Diana should be honoured with a flag flying at half mast above the palace, whether the Queen was home or not.
So, the protocols changed. These days, when she’s home, it’s still the Royal Standard that flies over the palace. When she’s not home, it’s the Union flag you’ll see waving in the wind – it’s also flown at half mast following during times of national mourning.