Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am travelling geographically down the country from north of the city of London. Do I state "I am travelling down to London" or do I state "I am travelling up to London" in reference to its capital city status?

share|improve this question
@Cawas: This certainly won't apply to all languages. In some languages, you might not be able to go down or go up anything but hills and stairs. – Peter Shor May 2 '11 at 22:59
@Peter you must be right. Still, I think the question is broader than english. But that's not to say it is not welcomed here! ;) – Cawas May 2 '11 at 23:01
American usage is pretty odd here, with the uptown adjective for "fashionable", and downtown noun for the commercial district. In the UK we normally go up to more densely populated and culturally active places, though we sometimes go down to them if they're either South of current location or at a much lower altitude. But we never go downtown. – FumbleFingers May 3 '11 at 0:01
For the UK, this reminds me of E.E. Milne's poem containing the line: You must never go down to the end of the town, if you don't go down with me. Where would that be? – Peter Shor May 3 '11 at 1:06
@FumbleFingers: I believe that the adjective uptown for fashionable came from the socioeconomic geography of NYC, where up meant North, down meant South, and the most fashionable stores were located uptown from the commercial district. I don't know where the noun downtown came from; Google books seems to show that is has been around for a long, long time. Wikipedia seems to think that downtown also came from New York City. – Peter Shor May 3 '11 at 1:13

9 Answers 9

In railway parlance an up train would be heading towards London and a down train away from it. So if you were travelling by rail to London, you'd presumably be going up, as it would be absurd to go down to anywhere on the up train.

share|improve this answer
That is specific to the railways and isn't that widely known though. I use the railways in and out of London everyday and I do not hear anyone other than staff use those terms. – Orbling May 3 '11 at 20:34
@Orbling, quite. This fact just pushes the question back one remove; presumably back in 1830something, somebody picked one of the two possibilities and it (perforce) stuck. – Brian Hooper May 4 '11 at 5:55
Aye, more than likely. This reinforces the essential point that it is all a little random and variant from person to person. – Orbling May 4 '11 at 6:13
I used to live in New York, where the "center," Manhattan, is generally thought of as uptown. I now live in Boston, where the center is thought of as downtown. – Misha Rosnach Jun 21 at 5:41

There are many traditions, with altitude being a pervasive influence (up river / downstream, up in the hills / down to the sea), and latitude also being a common factor, particularly in the UK (oop north / darn sarf [sic]).

Where these traditions conflict, it would be rather zealous to complain about any preference expressed.

Of course, you can avoid any uncertainty by restricting yourself to "I am travelling to London". To my ear, up and down sound more natural when accompanying the verb to go, rather than to travel anyway.

share|improve this answer
“Zealous"? Really? – Animadversor Mar 30 at 8:32

Well technically, up or down have no real meaning in this context, as they do not imply a direction.

The use of the words downtown and uptown, usually refer to the condition of the area, the class of it. In London as a colloquialism, many people say "I'm going down town", meaning going to the city, Westminister, or anywhere within Zone 1 of the underground really. Then again I have heard people use "up to town" meaning London as well.

When there is significant distance involved, it tends to be up in my experience.

Occasionally, though not often, people do think that the difference is akin to heading North (up) and heading South (down); though I believe that is a less common interpretation.

TL;DR: No fixed meaning, you can go up or down to London apparently from anywhere in the country. Preferably try to use compass directions.

share|improve this answer
What'd "uptown" mean? – Andrew Grimm May 2 '11 at 23:34
Well, if you go back a fair few decades, then proper Londoners, ie. from London Town, might say they were going uptown, if they were going to the West End, ie. Westminister, a much more well-to-do area. Otherwise, see Billy Joel. – Orbling May 3 '11 at 12:07

It's always up to Oxford or Cambridge wherever you start from. This might indicate that it's up to somewhere impressive or desirable (which London would be to a railway company, at least). Whether the capital is one of those places depends on your view of the country, I suppose.

Also, on many Caribbean islands, 'Above' or 'up along' is on the windward side of the island, usually but not always the west. Not sure if that helps, but it's interesting.

share|improve this answer
Similarly when you are kicked out of one of them you are "sent down" – mgb Sep 18 '12 at 14:17
Just out of curiosity: do you also go up to Cambridge if you start in Oxford and vice versa? Since they’re both up places, you’d logically expect to go across/over to the other one, wouldn’t you? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 27 at 17:42
@JanusBahsJacquet: academics would undoubtedly regard those deserters who transfer from one to the other as going down (or even downhill), whichever way that might be., – TimLymington Mar 27 at 22:58
It's only going 'up' to Oxbridge in this sense when you're a student attending university. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 20 at 22:01

I was led to believe that you always went UP to a Capital and DOWN from it. but you can go up the pub, down the pub, down the shops, up the shops etc. The Capital instance - along with the Oxford Cambridge one - is the only one that is an etiquette or protocol type thing, the rest is just what you feel like at the time, and you have probably said it before you've even noticed.

share|improve this answer

My mother taught me that we always go up to the capital (London) and everywhere else depends on the direction we are traveling.

share|improve this answer

Based on living fifty odd years in and around London —

In general, a Londoner will talk about going "up" to a more northern area of London or somewhere further north than London, and "down" from such a place to London. Going anywhere else out of London else is often "down", and again it's "up" from such a place to London.

We even use "down" in a more general way when going anywhere from our starting position, e.g. "I'm going down the shops". But, confusingly, we'd never say we're coming back "up" on the way home :) This usage is very informal.

There's also a slightly old-fashioned expression "up west" which means "to the West End of London [from some other part of London]", especially in the context of visiting that area of London for entertainment.

Edit: I've also heard all of the examples Orbling mentioned. Some of these usages are more variable than others and hopefully our experiences show that these aren't hard and fast rules.

share|improve this answer
Hello, Karasinsky. This is perhaps the most authoritative answer here. Though Karasinsky isn't too Cockney-sounding. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 20 at 22:27
Thanks, Edwin. My grandparents had slightly odd Yiddish–Cockney accents. – Karasinsky Jun 20 at 23:38
Stop it. I'm thinking Ron Moody. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 20 at 23:50
He's sadly missed. – Karasinsky Jun 21 at 0:12

I've always understood it to be travelling up north, down south, back east, and out west. So, if I'm travelling south to a place, I'm going down to that location.

share|improve this answer
I don't mean that there's anything wrong with it, but "out west" and "back east" sound U.S.-specific. – Josh Caswell May 3 '11 at 0:40
And this can change depending on where in the U.S. you are. In Maine, for example, down east can mean north. And up can mean south. – Callithumpian May 3 '11 at 14:40
@Josh Caswell - true, that is a US perspective. @Callithumpian - 'down east' means north?! I guess my understanding is more regional that I realized. – thursdaysgeek May 3 '11 at 21:45
I have heard that this expression originated in the days of sailing ships - etymonline dates it to 1825. Coastal Maine was downwind (and northeast) of Boston. So the expression down east originally comes from the wind direction. On Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, up island is West and down island is East, I assume for the same reason (although up island is also the more expensive and less settled part, which would have formerly matched uptown in Manhattan - I can't bring myself to call any part of Manhattan less settled nowadays). – Peter Shor May 5 '11 at 10:31

going up to London is the saying from many years ago no matter what direction you are heading from. this is simply because it is the capitol. so up town in your own city from north,south, east or west. you are going uptown. hence London is the capital of the England so there for you are going uptown no matter what direction you are heading from..

share|improve this answer
The word is capital , not "capitol". London is also the capital of the UK. – Tristan r Apr 15 '14 at 23:02

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.