A Walking Tour of "the City"
I often find visitors only venture into the City to see the Tower and St Paul’s, yet it is my favorite part of London. I take all of my guests along this route, as it provides a good feel for the "City" (the financial centre and oldest part of London) with a taste of the Docklands.
The City is the oldest part of London. It was founded by the Romans and was the entirety of London until the great fire of 1666. After the fire people spread westwards (hence what many people would think is central London is called the West End), although the City remains the business and financial centre. Nearly 20% of the nation’s GDP is earned in the City, but it has almost no residential population (the little there is in the Barbican Centre). This means that it is virtually deserted evenings and weekends and that this walking tour is best done on a weekday.
A tour of the City takes a good half day, especially if you visit all the attractions along the way. It’s good to do in the morning and then spend the afternoon at the Tower.
- Begin at St Paul’s tube station on the central line.
St Paul’s is a beautiful Protestant cathedral, but the admission charges are high. If you are on a budget your money might be better spent elsewhere. Alternatively, concerts are frequently staged in the evenings, and the admission fees are usually comparable to the general admission. If you’re not bothered about costs, it’s well worth a visit.
- Exit via the church grounds (towards the tube station) and cross the road to Cheapside and walk along Cheapside to St Mary-le-Bow church.
All "true cockneys" are born within earshot of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow. The church was destroyed in the great fire, rebuilt and destroyed again in WW2. It was rebuilt in 1964. The church often holds lunchtime concerts.
- Turn right down Bow Lane.
Bow Lane is a pedestrian street with many trendy restaurants, bars, and shops. At the southern end of Bow Lane is the church of St Mary Aldermary. St Mary Aldermary was built by Wren in 1682. Its greatest feature is Wren’s beautiful fan vaulted ceiling. This church is interesting as it survived WW2 and has a much older feel than the other churches on this tour.
- Turn left on Queen Victoria Street, cross the street and walk along the south side.
You will pass the ruins of the 3rd century Temple of Mithras, a bizarre Roman secrecy cult that pre-dates Christianity. The temple was found during the building of Bucklersbury House and was moved to the present location to make room for the office block. For some background information on Mithraism check out
- Carry on and you will pass Mansion House, home of the Lord Mayor of London.
You will now be at Bank tube station, and will be facing both the Royal Exchange building and the Bank of England. Although neither building is open to the public, there is a free museum in the Bank of England (entrance via Bartholomew Lane, follow the brown signs).
- Walk past the south side of the Royal Exchange along Cornhill Street.
There are two worthy pitstops on Cornhill:
Simpsons Tavern (38½ Cornhill, 0207 626 985) is an amazing dinosaur, and one of the few places left to experience traditional English cuisine. If you can afford a £10 lunch, the experience is worth every penny. Bubble and squeak, mushy peas, stewed cheese, and a whole assortment of meat dishes combined with a clientele of blue pinstriped City workers make this one of my favourite London experiences.
The Counting House (50 Cornhill) isn’t a traditional pub, but it’s a cool place for lunch or a drink.
- Cross Bishopsgate and carry on along Leadenhall Street (same road, new name).
You will see the Lloyds Building (it’s the ultra modern one). Unfortunately, the public is not allowed inside.
- Turn right immediately after the Lloyds Building onto Lime Street. Take the next left into Leadenhall Market.
Leadenhall Market is a good place to stop for lunch or a drink. Be sure to check out the exotic butcher shop in the western wing, as it often has beautiful (but dead) game on display.
- Exit the market onto Gracechurch Street, turn left and walk down Gracechurch Street. Cross the road to Fish Street Hill (you will be able to see the Monument).
Monument is a massive column designed by Wren to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666. For a mere £1.50 it is possible to climb to the top for a good view of London.
- Retrace your steps up Fish Street Hill and turn right on Eastcheap. Cross Byward Street to All Hallows by the Tower.
All Hallows by the Tower is another of the 38 city churches. Built in the 17th century, it survived the great fire but was bombed in WW2. Its beautiful baptismal font cover was carved by Gibbons and is a must-see if you visit the church. As it is situated next to the Tower, the church is the final home to many people who lost their heads on the infamous chopping block.
- Exit the church and cross to the north side of the street (this can be done via the underground tunnel). Walk through the park towards Tower Hill tube station.
Here there is an interesting sundial and a viewpoint of London’s skyline. Go down the stairs to the remains of the Roman Wall, one of the largest surviving sections.
- Follow the footpath under the bridge and along the Tower. Cross under the second bridge into St Katherine’s Docks.
St Katherine’s Docks was the first of London’s docks to be revitalised. In this busy section of London, it offers surprising tranquillity.
- Follow the path along the northern end of the water (away from the ugly hotel) and follow the water around to the shops. Go through the shops, turn left and go right over the footbridge. Follow the water along to where the lock meets the Thames. Here there are excellent views of Tower Bridge. Cross the footbridge and walk along the front of the ugly hotel. Pass under Tower Bridge and you will be at the Tower of London.