Arts & Culture

Has London always been the capital of the UK?

The capital of the UK is also one of the most famous cities in the world. Historically, it was the centre of the largest empire the world has ever seen. Today, it’s one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, a leading financial hub and a global city. It’s also one of the world’s most diverse cities, home to over nine million people and over 250 languages. London’s significance on the world map is undisputed, so much so that it’s hard to imagine it not being the UK’s capital. 

However, the UK has had more than one capital. In fact, while London is the UK’s de facto capital, its status as capital has never been confirmed officially. More on that later. First, let’s have a quick look at some of the UK’s former capitals. 


Around the year 50 AD, the Romans used Colchester as their centre of power. London, though, was founded by the Romans, who named it Londinium. Eventually, this settlement grew to absorb other cities, becoming the UK’s largest city by quite a margin. It should be said that Londinium was all but abandoned when the Romans withdrew their troops during the 5th century.  

Tamworth and Winchester 

When the Romans left the British Isles, several kingdoms emerged, and each one changed its capital a number of times. During the 7th century, Tamworth – which is a small town by today’s standards – was promoted as the Capital of Mercia by King Offa. In fact, Offa proclaimed Tamworth as the capital of England, but at that time, the UK was made up of several kingdoms and was not a sovereign state. 

Around the same time, King Alfred the Great named Winchester the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex, and things stayed that way for a couple of hundred years or so. 


It was the year 913 AD, and the Vikings had already claimed large swaths of land in England, a period is known as Danelaw. For the most part, Danish settlers lived separately from Anglo-Saxons, and the Anglo-Saxons left them alone as part of a peace agreement. Nevertheless, when Northampton was recaptured from the Danes, it became the capital of England for around 200 years. 


York enjoyed its time as the capital within England in the Kingdom of Northumbria during the Anglian settlement. It was then captured in the 9th century by the Vikings to become the capital of the Kingdom of Jorvik. However, this only lasted for around 100 years. In 954 AD, the Viking king Eric Bloodaxe was expelled from the city, and York became incorporated into the new Anglo-Saxon state. 


When London became entangled in a civil war during the 17th century, King Charles I claimed Oxford as his capital while Oliver Cromwell claimed the City of Westminster as his.

We should note that London as you think of it today is actually a county that’s home to two neighbouring cities (as well as many districts): the City of London and the City of Westminster. Today, everybody knows that London is the capital of Great Britain.

But as you can see, there’s more than meets the eye to London’s tale. To know more about the history of London, have a lookout at our top Tours in Britain.