If you’re preparing to visit London for the first time, then it can be a little daunting. It’s a big place and there’s a lot to think about and plan. You might have a lot of questions such as where will I stay? How do I get to central London from the airport? What should I see? How do I use public transport?
As a tour guide in London I get asked these questions a lot, so have decided to do a series entitled ‘Questions from London Tourists’, whereby I shall endeavour to answer some of these questions. Today I’ll answer the question …where is everything?
London has a ridiculous amount of large museums, galleries, places of interest, iconic buildings, parks and small museums. To answer the question ‘Where is everything?’ I’m literally going to pick out what I consider to be ‘The Biggies’ (not everything), the places a first time visitor might want to ensure they tick off during their stay; things like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
The second thing I’ve done is to draw a map (yes, I drew it myself) to show you as simply as I can, where these places are clustered. The reason I’ve done this is because it will help you make the best use of your time, so in one day or morning, you can see a number of places all within walking distance, rather than travelling back and forth across London using public transport. It’ll hopefully help you plan your days better and enable you to understand and visualise where everything is.
1 – Buckingham Palace
2 – Trafalgar Square
3 – Big Ben & Houses of Parliament
4 – Westminster Abbey
5 – St Paul’s cathedral
6 – Tower of London
7 – Tower Bridge
8 – The British Museum
This area is called Westminster. It’s the government and Royal area of London and has the highest density of ‘sights’ in one area, all of which are completely walkable. It also has London’s West End, where a huge amount of theatres are situated and people go to ‘catch a show’. Covent Garden and Soho also have a lot of restaurants, pubs and bars.
Places of Interest
Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Houses of Parliament, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, China Town.
Museums and Galleries
National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, The Courtauld Gallery, The Royal Academy, Churchill War Rooms, London Transport Museum.
The London Eye.
St James’s Park and Green Park.
Covent Garden, Soho, Whitehall, St James’s, Mayfair, Piccadilly.
This area is called The City of London. It’s London's first financial district and although looks quite modern, was actually where the Roman’s settled in about 48AD. Londoners refer to it as ‘the square mile’ and it forms a small semi circle north of the Thames that stretches from Blackfriars Bridge in the west to Tower Bridge in the east.
The three ‘Biggies’ in the City of London for first time visitors are St Paul’s cathedral in the centre/west of the City and the the Tower of London and Tower Bridge which are slap bang next to each other on the far east side.
Places of Interest
St Paul’s cathedral, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, The Monument.
Museums and Galleries
Guildhall Art Gallery, Bank of England Museum, Dr Johnson’s House.
This area is South Kensington and Knightsbridge. It’s one of London’s most desirable and expensive areas. Exhibition Road houses the vast collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens along with Kensington Palace are close by. Harrods, the famous department store is also found here.
Places of Interest
Albert Memorial, Royal Albert Hall, Harrods.
Museums and Galleries
Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum and Natural History Museum, Kensington Palace, Serpentine Gallery
Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens
I am a Tour Guide in London and give both private and group walks around the capital for first time visitors and seasoned Londoners alike. If you are visiting London and would like to do a tour with me, please get in touch.
Also in the Questions from London Tourists Series:
01 - How do I get to central London from the airport?
Like most cities, if you arrive in London by plane, it’s quite likely you’ll be miles away from where you want to be (in fact it’s highly unlikely you’ll even be in London) and have to work out how to get from the airport to central London (as I’m assuming you’ll be heading to central London). This can be a daunting task, particularly if you have luggage, children and jet lag.
In my correspondence with people who have booked me for private tours around London, I quite often get asked about travel to and from airports, so have decided to format it in to a handy, and hopefully helpful guide. It’s the first post in a series entitled ‘Questions from London Tourists’.
There are five main airports you might arrive at, but only one of them is actually in central London. Ironically, this airport, London City Airport, is rarely used by tourists, but is mostly used by business people as it is next door to one of London’s main financial centres.
Two of the airports try to hoodwink you in to thinking they’re in London by having ‘London’ in their name, but they’re not. London Luton airport is nearly 30 miles north of central London in a place called Luton, which is not in London. London Stansted Airport is more than 40 miles north east of central London. These two airports are used by the cheap airlines like EasyJet and Ryan Air, but fear not, there are easy ways to get in to central London from them, which I shall explain shortly.
Most people tend to fly in to Heathrow or Gatwick, which are by far the biggest and most frequently used airports servicing London, but I’ve also included London Southend Airport (again …not in London), which I’d never even heard of until I met someone on a walk who had used it.
Heathrow airport is 14 miles to the west of central London. Most of the American tourists I meet fly to Heathrow.
How do I get to central London from Heathrow Airport?
Train – The Heathrow Express leaves every 15 minutes to Paddington Station and takes 15 minutes (from Terminals 2 & 3) and 18 minutes from Terminal 5.
The cheapest adult ticket is about £25, so although it’s the quickest route to central London, it’s also the most expensive in terms of public transport. Note – Unless you’re staying right by Paddington station, you’ll still have to either navigate the Underground or jump in a cab to continue your journey.
Underground – Heathrow Airport has three of its own stops on the Piccadilly Line (dark blue) and heads straight in to central London. At just £3-5 this is by far the cheapest option, but also perhaps the longest. The journey between Heathrow and Green Park (in central London) will take about an hour, because you’ll also stop 19 times. At rush hour when Londoners are using it, it might get pretty packed, hot and uncomfortable. However, it’s how I always get to and from Heathrow Airport.
Note – Underground trains will often display the final station on the line to let you know where they’re heading. In this instance it’ll be ‘Cockfosters’ which obviously creates much amusement for first time visitors. Also as Heathrow is at the end (or beginning) of the line, you can’t go the wrong way. Bonus.
Taxi – The taxi option from any of the airports is appealing based on the fact that you just dump all your luggage in to the car, then sit there until you arrive at your destination. However, taxis from any airport will be expensive and you run the risk of getting stuck in traffic.
A taxi to central London from Heathrow Airport will cost anything between £50 and £100.
I just got a quote from a taxi firm for x3 people in a people carrier with x3 pieces of luggage and hand luggage and was quoted £93 one way from Heathrow to Trafalgar Square.
Gatwick airport is 29.5 miles south of central London.
How do I get to central London from Gatwick Airport?
Train – The Gatwick Express heads from Gatwick airport to Victoria station in central London every 15 minutes. The journey takes 30 minutes and an adult ticket will cost about £18.50.
However, there are many other regular trains that go the same way. Southern Trains have x4 services an hour and it takes 35 minutes. If you book in advance, a ticket will cost £12.50.
Thameslink and Great Northern Trains have regular services that go to London Bridge, London Blackfriars, Farringdon and St Pancras International; all in central London.
Taxi – Depends on traffic but the journey will take an hour upwards and prices will start at £60.
London Stansted Airport
London Stansted Airport is 42 miles north-east of central London.
How do I get to central London from London Stansted Airport?
Train – The Stansted Express runs every 30 minutes and the journey to Liverpool Street Station takes just under 50 minutes. You could pick up a one way ticket booked in advance for £9.70 but generally a single will be £20.70 and a return £30.70.
Top Tip – The Stansted Express stops at a number of stations en route. One of them, Tottenham Hale, is on the Victoria Line (on the London Underground) so depending on where you’re heading it might be quicker to jump off there.
Coach – National Express coaches run frequent services to central London. It takes about 1 hour to get to Stratford in east London and then you can get the Central Line (red) in to central London. A single ticket is £16.
Taxi – A people carrier in to central London will cost about £132.
London Luton Airport
London Luton Airport is 28 miles north of central London.
How do I get to central London from London Luton Airport?
Train – London Luton Airport doesn’t have its own train station so you’d need to first get a shuttle bus to take you to Luton Parkway Station which will take about 10 minutes.
From Luton Parkway Station trains in to central London take about 40 minutes and run every 10 minutes. A ticket will cost about £16.50.
Coach – The National Express service to Victoria Coach Station (in central London) runs 35 times a day. It takes about 1 hour and 35 minutes and will cost £12.
Taxi – A taxi will take at least 1 hour and 15 minutes and prices start at about £70.
London City Airport
London City Airport is approximately 8 miles east of central London.
How do I get to central London from London City Airport?
DLR – The DLR stands for Docklands Light Railway and is part of Transport For London’s rail network which includes the Underground. In about 30 minutes you’ll be at Bank Station in the City of London and will cost you less than £3.
Taxi – A taxi in to central London will take thirty minutes or so and cost £40 or more.
London Southend Airport
London Southend Airport is approximately 36 miles east of central London.
How do I get to central London from London Southend Airport?
Train – There is no express service from London Southend Airport but Greater Anglia Trains run regular trains in to Liverpool Street Station every 20 minutes. It takes just under an hour and tickets start at £19.
Taxi - I got a quote from a taxi firm for x3 people in a people carrier with x3 pieces of luggage and hand luggage and was quoted £129 one way from London Southend Airport to Trafalgar Square.
Please note – All the taxi fares and times given will differ depending on the company you use, the size of the car, the amount of people in your group and luggage and of course …the traffic.
All information and fares were correct (as to the best of my knowledge) at the date of posting.
I am a Tour Guide in London and give both private and group walks around the capital for first time visitors and seasoned Londoners alike. If you are visiting London and would like to do a tour with me, please get in touch.
The other evening, I was driving around Sydenham in south east London, and took a wrong turning. I pulled in to an access point which opened in to what looked like a small estate of modest 1970s housing so I could reverse out. In front of me, quite incongruously was what looked like a large stone monument, so obviously I got out for a closer look.
It turned out to be the spire of a long gone church that once stood in the City of London and had been built by none other than Christopher Wren.
Sir Christopher Wren is a name that pops up regularly on my walks. During the Great Fire of London in 1666, 87 churches were destroyed within the City of London, a small area, known today as ‘the square mile’. Wren, professor of astronomy at Oxford university at the time was responsible for overseeing the rebuilding of 51 of these churches; his most famous being St Paul’s cathedral, where he is also buried. Another famous spire of his is that of St Bride's church, said to have inspired the modern day wedding cake, which we pass on my regular Saturday morning 'pay what you want' London walking tour.
A few of these churches were demolished during the Victorian period, and most of the remainder were destroyed during the bombing of WW2, although a large number were restored. So how did the spire of one of Wren’s City churches end up in the middle of a housing estate in Sydenham?
The spire once belonged to a church called St Antholin’s which was completed in 1682 and stood on Budge Row, a street that no longer exists, just off Watling Street. It’s where the current New Change shopping centre now stands, literally a stone’s throw from St Paul’s cathedral. The spire was apparently damaged in 1829 and bought for £5 by a guy called Robert Harrild who had made his fortune by inventing a new bit of machinery used in the Fleet Street printing presses. He had the spire transported to his manor house, Round Hill House, in Sydenham and re-erected in his garden.
St Antholin’s church was demolished in 1875, and in the 1930s, Robert Harrild’s house became a social club, until it too was demolished in the 1960s. A housing estate was built on the site, but somehow Wren’s spire seems to have stayed where it was. Up until three years ago the spire was in a pretty dilapidated state, but has been restored by the Heritage of London Trust and the L&Q Housing Association.
Up until the beginning of March last year, I did regular weekend group walking tours around London, that looked a bit like this:
Time Out London said they were one of the best walking tours in London.
Then a pandemic hit and it's been a bit quiet on the walking tour front this last year.
However, restrictions are lifting and as of June (2021) I'll be restarting the weekend walks. They'll work on the same 'pay what you want' basis as they did before and I'll initially be offering the same three walks I did previously, which are:
Sat 10:30AM - Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral (via Covent Garden & Fleet Street).
Sat 2:30pm - St Paul's cathedral to Monument (via Bankside & Borough)
Sun 11am - East London (Old Street, Spitalfields & Bricklane and quite street art heavy)
Each walk is about 2.5 hours long.
Following government restrictions, numbers will be limited.
If you'd like to join one of my weekend London walking tours, please send me a message via the contact form and I'll respond with the details about where we'll meet.
The current dates and times are:
Sat 5th (AM & PM), Sun 6th, Sat 12th (AM only), Sun 13th, Sat 19th (AM only), Sun 20th, Sat 26th (AM & PM), Sun 27th
Sat 3rd (AM & PM), Sun 4th, Sat 10th (AM & PM), Sun 11th, Sat 17th (AM & PM), Sun 18th, Sat 24th (AM & PM), Sun 25th, Sat 31st (AM & PM)
If you'd like to book a private walk, then please feel free to contact me about that too, as I'm still offering tailor made private walking tours in a number of areas in London.
Where are they?
Regent Street and Oxford Street are two major thoroughfares that form a large ‘T’ shape in the heart of London’s west end. Contrary to popular belief, Bond street doesn’t exist as a street, but is the name of an underground station situated between Marble Arch and Oxford Circus. About 500ft away is New Bond Street, which slices through Mayfair until it runs in to Old Bond Street by Piccadilly. It is often thought that this what Victor Watson of Waddington’s was referring to when he selected the streets for the UK version of Monopoly in 1935.
Like a number of the other properties, I have included them together due to their proximity. New Bond street and Old Bond street are found in Mayfair which also happens to be the final property on the board.
What’s the story?
Regent Street was named after the Prince Regent (Later George IV) and was principally designed by architect John Nash in the first quarter of the 19th century, cutting a huge boulevard through the existing streets and as such is regarded as an early form of town planning. The curved section towards Piccadilly was originally colonnaded, but was partly demolished in the 1840s due to the fact that the covered pavements were attracting prostitutes and “doubtful characters”.
Oxford Street is a Roman route, and later went by various names including Tyburn Way, only becoming Oxford Street in 1739, named after landowner Edward Harley (the 2nd Earl of Oxford).
Old Bond Street dates back to 1686, named after its developer Thomas Bond. New Bond street followed in the 1720s.
How do I get there?
Regent Street is served by Piccadilly and Oxford Circus underground stations. Oxford Street is over a mile long with four underground stations which from east to west are Marble Arch, Bond street, Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road. Bond Street underground is close to New Bond Street.
What’s it like now?
Both Regent Street and Oxford Street are super busy shopping streets, which most Londoners will generally avoid if they can. I don’t know who handed out this award, but Oxford Street would seem to hold the dubious title of ‘Europe’s busiest shopping street’. I’ll be mentioning a few of the shops, but think big high street department stores and big name brands rather than small boutiques. If you’re visiting around the Christmas period, then both Oxford Street and Regent Street are popular due to their displays of Christmas lights. Old Bond street is largely lined with high end luxury shops like Gucci, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. New Bond Street is equally chock-full of znazzy haute-couture shops, it’s pavements teeming with the super glamorous.
Where would I stay?
A few of the hotels I’ve been to around these particular streets are the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill (where I’ve also had afternoon tea), The Langham Hotel at the north end of Regent Street, which is often the winner of London’s most haunted hotel award. Just north of Oxford Street on Berners Street you’ll find the Sanderson London and close by is the Charlotte Street Hotel. All these options are basically luxury hotels, so if you’re a budget traveller or backpacker, then there’s a hostel on Dean street (just south of Oxford Street) called Sohostel or the hotels I mentioned in the post which included Soho.
What’s of interest?
Reputedly the oldest and largest toy shop in the world, Hamley’s was originally founded in 1760 by William Hamley, and called Noah’s Ark. Since 2019, Hamley’s has been owned by an Indian multinational conglomerate company called Reliance Industries and covers about 54,000 square feet over 7 floors. That’s a lot of toys. It goes without saying that in the run up to Christmas, the shop gets incredibly busy, but it’s worth a visit just for the experience and encountering the shop assistants demonstrating toys on the shop floor with a slightly mad glimmer in their eye.
Liberty of London
On the corner of Regent Street Street and Great Marlborough Street is the department store ‘Liberty’s’ which I mentioned when discussing the orange properties. It’s a lovely looking building, made from the timber of two 19th century naval ships.
The English fashion brand and retailer Jaeger has been trading on Regent Street since 1935, but was originally founded in 1881. The Apple Store opened in 2004 in a grade II listed, late 19th century building once occupied by a glass making and mosaic firm from Venice called Salviati. In 1898 they installed a beautiful mosaic on the outside of the building incorporating coats of arms from Westminster and the Venetian islands of Murano and Burano.
At the north end of Regent Street where it meets Langham Place is Broadcasting House, an Art Deco building and headquarters of the BBC since 1932. Above the front entrance is a sculpture by controversial artist Eric Gill, who also bestowed upon us the font, ‘Gill Sans’.
Selfridges was opened in 1909 by Gordon H. Selfridge, an American who was in no doubt that the British could make quality goods, but less certain at our ability to sell them. Selfridges was London’s first American style department store with 130 departments and encouraged Londoners to view shopping as a leisure activity with the slogan “Why not spend the day at Selfridges”.
Other nearby department stores include Debenhams, House of Fraser and John Lewis.
The Wallace Collection
Just north of Selfridges, occupying a former town house on the north side of Manchester Square is The Wallace Collection, an absolutely brilliant gallery and museum which first opened to the public in 1900. The collection includes over 5,000 works of art (inc. Titian, Rembrandt, Velazquez and Gainsborough), furniture, porcelain, sculpture and an incredible selection of arms and armoury. Everything you see was mostly collected in the 18th and 19th century by successive members of the same family; the Marquesses of Hertford. The 4th Marquess left his home and collection to his illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace, whose widow in turn bequeathed it to the nation.
I think the Wallace Collection probably falls beneath the radar of many visitors to London, whose itineraries are understandably filled with visits to the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum. If you can find the time to visit the Wallace Collection, you won’t be disappointed.
The Cartoon Museum
Despite Britain’s long running tradition of cartoons and caricatures, appearing in news-sheets in the 19th century and comics such as ‘The Beano’ and ‘The Dandy’ launching in the late 1930s, The Cartoon Museum which comprises over 6,000 original cartoon and comic artworks and a library of over 8,000 books and comics has only been in existence since 2006, moving to its current site on Wells Street in 2019.
The 100 Club
The 100 Club on Oxford street is a world famous gig venue, which began hosting live music in 1942 (as the Feldman Swing Club) with none other than Glenn Miller being one of its earliest performers. It’s been called the 100 Club since 1964 and moved from the Jazz scene to Blues, then the Mods of the 1960s hosting The Who and The Kinks, the punk scene of the 1970s with bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash, and more recently the Britpop phenomenon of the 1990s including Oasis and Suede. About a decade ago, the club faced closure, but a campaign backed by many of the musicians who have played there managed to keep it going and is a favourite haunt for big name acts to play secret shows when they’re in London.
Pollock's Toy Museum
Pollock's began life as a printers in Hoxton (east London) in the 1850s, later moving to occupy a shop in Covent Garden. The owner Benjamin Pollock made materials for toy theatres by hand. The museum moved to its location on Scala Street (Fitzrovia) in the late 1960s (as a separate entity from the shop) with its collection of mostly Victorian toys including teddy bears, dolls houses, puppets and toy theatres displayed across six small rooms and the staircases.
New Bond Street and Old Bond Street
Sotheby's Auction House
Sotheby’s was established in 1744 and is one of the world’s oldest auction houses, specialising in fine art, photographs, books and antiquities, jewellery, watches and musical instruments. On the day of writing, a Rembrandt self portrait is being auctioned for an estimated £16 million, alongside works by Gerhard Richter, Joan Miro, Francis Bacon and Picasso (to name but a few).
Most auctions are held during the day and are open to the public, with no obligation to bid, so if you fancy being part of an auction, why not pop in.
Unveiled in 2005 to commemorate 50 years of peace since the end of WW2, Allies, a sculpture by Laurence Holofcener is popular with tourists, not least because it depicts a convivial chat between Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on a bench, but because you can sit between them and have your photograph taken.
Handel and Hendrix in London
The 18th century composer George Frideric Handel and 20th century rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix lived next door to each other at 23 and 25 Brook Street, albeit some two hundred years apart. Handel occupied an entire Georgian town house, whilst Hendrix rented a top floor flat briefly between 1968 / 69 with his then girlfriend Kathy Etchingham. The two buildings are now connected to create Handel & Hendrix in London. I visited the museum a few years back and it’s absolutely fascinating visit, particularly (as it goes without saying) if you have an interest in music.
Royal Institution / Faraday Museum
On Albemarle Street, which runs parallel to New Bond street, you will find the Royal Institution which was founded in 1799 with the aim of introducing new technologies and teaching science to the general public. A large number of scientists have been associated with or worked inside the building (14 of whom have won Nobel prizes). In the basement you can visit Michael Faraday’s magnetic laboratory where he conducted experiments in electricity and magnetism and see the tools and instruments he used in his pioneering research. You are cordially invited to explore the building and discover the instruments that have made science work for the last 200 years and the key role that the RI played in the development of the modern world.
Eating and Drinking
It goes without saying that in this part of town you are spoilt for choice for places to eat and as I’m not really a foodie, probably not best placed to offer advice. However, if you fancy treating yourself then I can highly recommend Nopi, just off Regent Street which serves Middle Eastern and Asian inspired plates. If you’re after a nice cosy authentic boozer that won’t be over run with tourists then just north of Oxford street you won’t be disappointed with either the Newman Arms or The Champion.
Also in the series:
#00 – Introduction
#01 – Old Kent Road
#02 – Whitechapel Road
#03 – The Angel, Euston Rd & Pentonville Rd
#04 - Pall Mall
#05 – Whitehall & Northumberland Avenue
#06 – Bow Street
#07 – Marlborough Street & Vine Street
#08 - Strand
#09 - Fleet street
#10 - Trafalgar Square
#11 - Leicester Sq, Coventry St & Piccadilly
I meet many visitors to London who have never encountered the word ‘mews’ before, or indeed British people who, although familiar with the term in the lexicon alongside road, street or lane, don’t actually know what it means.
The word ‘mews’ originates from the French ‘muer’ (to moult) and refers to the confinement of hawks, often in a tower whilst they gained their adult plumage. Bruce Castle in Haringey has a tower that is thought was used for this exact purpose.
Mews became widely used to describe the confinement of animals in general and by the 16th century often described an area boasting a number of stables. The area we now call Trafalgar Square was, during the reign of Henry VIII, known as the King’s Mews and the name lingered on until the mid 19th century when the stables were relocated to Buckingham Palace. Although built 300 years after the King's Mews, the National Gallery stands on the site but incorporates architectural features from Henry VIII’s stables; the hollow pepperpots which would have acted as air vents to let the horse manure smell drift out of the roof.
Many of the more affluent areas of London such as Kensington, Chelsea and Mayfair have large houses built in the 18th and 19th centuries. The house entrances face the thoroughfare whilst threading along the back is the mews; a service street where the stables were located. Aside from housing horses and carriages, these mews also provided accommodation for stable boys, would be where tradesmen could enter, and deliveries were dropped off. In their day, these tiny streets would have been a hive of activity and pungent smells. Today these mews streets are much sought after and the stables have been converted into houses, allowing the residents to enjoy the relative peace and quiet of a street that has little or no traffic in an otherwise busy area.
In Brockley, south-east London there is a conservation area of Victorian housing which was developed as a suburb for the wealthy middle classes. South London already benefitted from a comprehensive rail network (one of the reasons that when the first Underground Line opened in 1863, and the others followed, they steered clear of south London). Residents in Brockley had easy access to central London (Brockley Station opened in 1871), and if needed would have hired a coach and horses, rather than have their own. For this reason, the mews in Brockley remained largely undeveloped, unlike other areas of London, and instead traverse the main roads like little country tracks. The stables which still do exist are therefore a rarity and add significant historic value to the area.
Over the last few months with lockdown measures in place and restrictions on travel and movement, Brockley’s mews have become little havens that children can explore, play games, pick blackberries or discover the latest street art on garage doors. On Breakspears Mews there is a community garden and Wickham Mews particularly, with mature trees, shrubs and overgrown hedges really makes you feel like you’re a long way from the traffic on Lewisham Way and almost transported to another time and place. That’s not to say you won’t encounter a number of abandoned vehicles or household objects left to be reclaimed by nature, but if you look carefully you can see the names of long forgotten businesses painted on to peeling timber and you might even come across the Royal Coat of Arms from one of the original gates to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
What’s on offer?
Throughout August (and beyond), whilst adhering to the latest government public health guidelines, I will be offering socially distanced private London walking tours for individuals, families, couples or small groups who are mixing in a bubble.
Please Note – If you would like to do a tour with people NOT in your household or bubble, the maximum number of attendees is x6 (as per government guidelines).
Each walk will be a maximum duration of x2 hours at a fixed cost of £100. (That’s for the time, not per person, so will be the same if it is one person or six).
Which areas of London do you cover?
My walks tend to be in and around central London; Westminster, the City of London, Bankside & Borough and east London (Shoreditch, Hoxton, Spitalfields). The east London walks include a lot of street art.
What will we learn?
When you contact me about the walk, you can let me know which area(s) you are interested in exploring and / or any particular interests in the group. I can then see if I can accommodate and formulate a plan based on that. I do occasionally do themed walks (such as the Fire of London) but I tend to wander around warbling on about things I find interesting, and tailor the walk to the group when I meet them.
I have done many walks either for schools, or for families who have requested the tour be geared towards their children.
We live in London. Why would we go on a tour?
I started ‘Bowl of Chalk’ over 8 years ago and for the first year or so, my customers were all Londoners. Until Covid-19 struck, lots of Londoners used to come on my walks to learn about their own city. People often discover how little they know about the city they live in, bits of street furniture they pass every day and had never noticed, curiosities and intriguing bits of architecture. Often, people who have lived in London for years, see it in a whole new light.
Because of the current Covid-19 situation many people who work in central London are working from home, and because of the incredible lack of tourists who would normally descend on the capital in the summer months, it’s actually a great time to explore the city and enjoy the relative quietness. It also means that doing a socially distanced tour is much easier.
When are your tours available?
I’m offering tours seven days a week (between 10am – 4pm) and happy to schedule them to fit in and around your own preferences (based on my own availability).
What Covid-19 measures are in place?
I (the guide) will be wearing a mask and all attendees will be required to also wear protective masks. Throughout the walk we will ensure we adhere to the government social distancing guidelines and there will be no shaking of hands / contact. A cashless payment can be made at the end of the walk using a card reader. I will also bring hand sanitiser.
If you’d like to find out more, please peruse the Bowl of Chalk website, and have a look at what other people have said by reading some reviews. At the beginning of the year, Time Out London listed Bowl of Chalk as one of the “best London walking tours”.
Interested in doing a socially distanced London tour? Contact me.
Where are they?
Leicester Square, Coventry Street and Piccadilly are all in the heart of London’s West End, where tourists flock to visit Chinatown, take in a show, buy tat from one of the many tacky souvenir shops or eat in a generic epidemic restaurant.
What’s the story?
Leicester Square was developed in the 1630s by the 2nd Earl of Leicester, Robert Sydney. His mansion, Leicester House occupied what is now the north side of Leicester Square.
Coventry Street is named after King Charles II’s Secretary of State Charles Coventry, whilst Piccadilly is not named after a landowner, architect or any person for that matter …but a type of shirt collar popular in the 17th century. The ‘picadil’ was a stiff collar and ‘must have’ gentleman’s fashion item made popular by a tailor called Robert Baker, becoming so ubiquitous that the street's name changed from Portugal Street to Piccadilly.
How do I get there?
Leicester Square Underground station is on Charing Cross Road, right next to Leicester Square. Piccadilly Circus Underground station is at the east end of Piccadilly, Green Park Underground station is in the middle and Hyde Park Corner Underground station can be found at the far west end of Piccadilly.
What’s it like now?
I understand the attraction for some tourists, but Leicester Square, Coventry Street and Piccadilly Circus are probably amongst my least favourite places in London on account of their tackiness, the overpriced and not particularly great restaurants and the sheer number of tourists clogging the pavements. I’ve always imagined that Piccadilly Circus to be our own half hearted attempt at Times Square in New York. Piccadilly however is rather grander with a sort of French boulevard feel and as you walk away from Piccadilly Circus, the shops and restaurants become more luxurious and high end and the buildings seem to effortlessly ooze grandeur.
Where would I stay?
Although unlikely you’ll stay there, I have to mention ‘The Ritz’, a Grade II listed hotel, opened in 1906 by Cesar Ritz after being sacked by the Savoy Hotel. It’s known the world over and intrinsically linked with glamour, opulence and famous guests. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died in 2013 in a suite at the Ritz, having been staying there for about 4 months.
Just off Piccadilly is the Cavendish Hotel, then a little further towards Piccadilly Circus is Le Meridien. The Ham Yard Hotel recently opened in a newly developed courtyard area a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus. The Thistle Piccadilly is a 4-star hotel on Whitcomb Street, close to Leicester Square and I’ve also been to the Radisson Blu Edwardian on Leicester Square itself. If you’re looking for some 5-star luxury modern sheek then W London might do the trick. There are more affordable options for those travelling on a budget, such as the Premier Inn Leicester Square.
What’s of interest?
Burlington Arcade is a covered shopping street which has been providing a largely wealthy customer base with antiques, silver, jewellery, watches, shoes, perfumes and fashion accessories since 1819.
You’ll notice the arcade has its own private Police force known as ‘Beadles’ (they’re the ones in the top hats and waistcoats) who for the last 200 years have been ensuring amongst other things, visitors don’t whistle, open an umbrella, sing or play a musical instrument or carry a large parcel. There is an intriguing reason why the Burlington Arcade is covered which I’ve written about previously, and just for the record, it’s apparently the longest covered street in Britain.
Situated in Burlington House next door to the arcade is the Royal Academy of Arts which has been promoting the visual arts through exhibitions, education and debate since 1768. The Royal Academy was founded as a privately run and funded charity, run by artists, elected by their peers (still the case today) as well as being home to Britain’s longest established art school.
Fortnum and Mason
Fortnum and Mason (or Fortnum’s as it is known) is a large department store founded in 1707 by Hugh Mason and William Fortnum. The latter happened to be Queen Anne’s footman and as such had to ensure the palace was lit by brand new candles each evening. He kept the old ones, sold them on and used the money to help fund his new business enterprise. As such, you’ll notice candles are a motif throughout the shop, which sells groceries, household goods, men’s and women’s fashion and lots of other things, all at a slightly higher price than you can buy elsewhere. They’ve held Royal Warrants for some 150 years, currently providing ‘general provisions’ to the Queen and as such have garnered the nick name ‘The Queen’s Grocers’. If I’m in the area on a walk, I often take people in to Fortnum and Mason, just to experience the opulence of the place, and on the off-chance they’re handing out samples at the confectionary counter.
The oldest bookshop in London has been selling books on Piccadilly since 1797 when it was founded by John Hatchard. Although now owned by Waterstones, Hatchards are bookseller of choice to The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles.
St James’s Piccadilly
A rare example of a church designed by Sir Christopher Wren outside the ‘City of London’. St James’s was badly damaged in 1940 during an air raid, and subsequently restored. The spire is apparently made of fibreglass. Today you’ll no doubt stumble across the market in the courtyard and the church hosts regular concerts; mostly classical, but also welcomes well known faces from the world of folk and pop.
Waterstones Piccadilly is the bookseller’s flagship shop and the largest bookshop in London, housed in an imposing 1930s art deco building that once once home to Simpson’s department store which in turn was the inspiration for the classic British sitcom ‘Are you being served?”.
Running parallel to Piccadilly on the south side is Jermyn Street which has been a mecca for high end gentlemen’s fashion for 300 years. You’ll still find an abundance of shirt shops, but also everything a gentleman could possibly need in the form of shoes, cuff links, ties, grooming, cigars, whiskey, natty dressing gowns and lots more. Just to stand out in the crowd you’ll also find Paxton and Whitfield (the Queens cheese shop) and Floris (the Queen’s perfumeries), both of which have been in operation since the 18th century.
The term ‘circus’ literally comes from the Latin for ‘circle’ and like many junctions in the area, it was once a roundabout. For some reason, many people meet at the ‘statue of Eros’ which has been moved a number of times since it was originally installed in 1893 as a fountain and called the ‘Angel of Christian Charity’. The Eros moniker seems to have stuck, and even appears on maps.
You’ll be unable to avoid noticing a huge wall of advertising which is able to exist because it is apparently the only plot of land in the vicinity not owned by the Crown estates (The Queen) who have an incredible dislike for advertising on their buildings. To make up for it, all the advertising is on that one building.
The Criterion Restaurant
Established in 1874 (and recently renamed Savini at the Criterion), this beautiful restaurant is a window back to a time when Piccadilly Circus wasn’t chock full of cheap souvenir shops, human statues and burger restaurants. It’s been used as a backdrop in many a film, and Sherlock Holmes fans might be interested to learn that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used it as a setting for the initial meeting between Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes in the very first Sherlock Holmes story; ‘A Study in Scarlet’.
Café De Paris
Just off Piccadilly Circus is Café De Paris which opened in 1924 as one of London’s first nightclubs; its dance floor modelled on the ballroom of the Titanic. Today, they still host ‘the most debaucherous cabaret show London has seen’ (their words, not mine) and regular club nights.
Just north of Leicester Square is Chinatown, based around the very un-Chinese sounding Gerrard Street, which as you’d expect is brimming with Chinese food options which have been multiplying since the first Chinese settled there in the 1920s. A favourite amongst Londoners is the fabulously named ‘Wong Kei’ on Wardour Street, largely due to the legendary rudeness of the waiting staff.
In the centre of Leicester Square, a rather bemused looking statue of William Shakespeare looks out at the overly expensive cinemas, chain restaurants, tourists and street performers, adorned by a quote from Twelfth Night which reads ‘There is no darkness, but ignorance’ which currently strikes me as being particularly pertinent.
The large Odeon Cinema on the east side is often the venue of choice for Film Premieres, but I’d really recommend checking out the nearby Prince Charles Cinema, who specialise in showing cult, art house and classic films alongside recent mainstream releases at a much more affordable price. When I moved to London 20 years ago, the Prince Charles Cinema was a home from home.
The TKT half price ticket booth is situated on the south side of the square; great if you’re looking for bargain tickets to a West End show for that day. Like every tourist hotspot around the world you’ll find an M & Ms World and also a Lego Store.
Leicester Square is generally somewhere I avoid, unless I’m required to pass through it en-route to somewhere else.
You are in Theatreland. There are theatres everywhere, but I just wanted to mention the Jermyn Street Theatre, a small studio theatre with an audience capacity of 70. If you’re looking for theatre that is intimate and independent, then you should definitely see what the Jermyn Street Theatre have to offer.
Where is it?
Trafalgar Square is about as close to the centre of London as you can get and is where a number of the Monopoly board properties converge; Strand (red) to the east, Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue (pink) to the south, Pall Mall (pink) to the west and Leicester Square (yellow) to the north.
What’s the story?
One of our favourite pass times in this country seems to be going on about beating the French in battles. Trafalgar Square is no exception. It was opened as a public square in the 1840s and named after a naval battle we won against a joint French and Spanish fleet off the south-west coast of Spain (near Cape Trafalgar) in 1805. Prior to that, the area had been known as ‘King’s Mews’, housing the Royal stables which were moved to their current site within the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
The name ‘Trafalgar’ is actually of Arabic origin, originally being ‘Taraf - al - Ghar’ meaning ‘extremity’ or ‘edge’, in reference to the Cape Trafalgar’s coastal position.
How do I get there?
One of the exits of Charing Cross Underground Station pops out in Trafalgar Square itself. Failing that, Embankment and Leicester Square Underground stations are just a few minutes away.
What’s it like now?
Trafalgar Square is a sort of magnet in London, effortlessly pulling tourists towards it, largely because it is in the midst of a host of sights and places popular with visitors, but also because it’s Trafalgar Square …and heading to Trafalgar Square is just what you do.
The road running along the north side of the square in front of the National Gallery was pedestrianised just under 20-years ago, and has become a place for human statues in Yoda costumes, street performers, buskers, pick pockets and what author Russell Hoban would describe as ‘the low budget drinking club' to hang out.
It’s the kind of place you might want to pass through rather than linger and have a picnic. However, if you get there early in the morning before it gets busy it can be quite tranquil.
Trafalgar Square has been a place for political demonstrations and gatherings since it opened and today is no different, often hosting celebrations of the different faiths and cultures that make London such a cosmopolitan city.
Where would I stay?
You have plenty of options. Aside from the hotels I included in the Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue post, I’ve picked people up to do tours from the Haymarket Hotel, which is a minutes walk from Trafalgar Square on Suffolk Place. I’ve been to the St Martin’s Lane Hotel on the lane of the same name and as mentioned before, the Amba Hotel over Charing Cross station is a popular choice. There seems to be a plethora of private apartments that can be rented in the area too.
What’s of interest?
Out of all the properties on the Monopoly board, Trafalgar Square is the most compact, but there are many interesting things all within a couple of hundred yards.
Opened in 1838, the National Gallery began life in the 1820s in a house on Pall Mall with 38 paintings that had belonged to a banker called John Julius Angerstein. Today the collection comprises just under 3,000 paintings, including works by Hans Holbein, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and Turner …to name but a few. One of my personal favourites is ‘Supper at Emmaus’ by Caravaggio.
In 1991, the Sainsbury Wing opened on the north-west corner of the square and houses much of the renaissance works in the collection.
National Portrait Gallery
With its entrance just around the corner from the National Gallery on Charing Cross Road, when it opened in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery was the first gallery dedicated to portraits in the world. The galleries are all arranged chronologically, displaying portraits of historically significant or famous British people and includes the ‘Chandos Portrait’ of William Shakespeare.
The collection also comprises a large amount of photographs and each year hosts the BP Portrait Award in which anyone of the age of 18 can submit a portrait for consideration. About 50 or 60 portraits are chosen for the exhibition and is always a treat.
As the name of this church would suggest, this area was once quite rural. There’s been a church on the site since the 13th century and the current one, which presides over the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square was completed in 1726 to the design of architect James Gibbs. St Martin-in-the-Fields hosts regular free lunchtime concerts, has a café in the crypt and a brass rubbing centre and exhibition space. They also run a homeless shelter next door. Fans of Harry Potter might be intrigued to learn that J.K Rowling worked for Amnesty International in offices beneath the church in the early 1990s, when she was working on the Harry Potter series.
Being in Trafalgar Square, you’re never going to be far from a theatre, but just a few steps up St Martin’s Lane you’ll find the London Coliseum which was opened in 1904 by theatre impresario Oswald Stoll. The story goes that Stoll meant it to be named after the Colosseum in Rome, but spelt it incorrectly which he later maintained he’d done on purpose. Then again you probably would, wouldn’t you? Today’s it home to the ENO, the English National Opera.
Dominating the south end of Trafalgar Square is the imposing Nelson’s Column, which stands just under 170ft tall and is topped off by a statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar. The column was completed in 1843 and apparently is the same height as the mast of Nelson’s ship, the HMS Victory.
The four bronze lions around the base are equally famous and were added some 25 years later and created by Edwin Landseer who interestingly was a water colourist and had never made a sculpture in his life. Supposedly, Queen Victoria had a couple of dead lions sent to his studio to use as models, but he chose to base the hind legs and back end of each lion on his own dogs, which is why it’s physically impossible for an actual to lion to sit as Landseer’s lions do in Trafalgar Square.
The Fourth Plinth
There are a number of ‘dead white men’ statues in the square including King George IV on the north-east corner. However, funds ran out before the final statue of King William IV could be added on the north-west corner and for the next 150 years or so it remained empty. Since the early 2000s the plinth has become a place for temporary artworks including sculptures by Antony Gormley, Yinka Shonibare and more recently Michael Rakowitz’s ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’. There are some who believe the spot is being reserved for a statue of The Queen after she pops her clogs, and after recent events, calls have been made for it to be a place to honour victims of the slave trade.
American visitors might be interested to see a statue of George Washington on a patch of grass outside the National Gallery, next to Charing Cross Road. It was a gift from the people of Virginia in the 1920s and legend would have you believe that because Washington said he never wanted to set foot on English soil, American soil was shipped over with the statue and laid down beneath.
On a little roundabout just to the south of Trafalgar Square is a statue of King Charles I who has the distinction of being the only Monarch we’ve ever executed. He had his head chopped off on the 30th January 1649 at Banqueting House (visible down Whitehall from the statue). The statue had actually been made during Charles I’s lifetime and a guy called John Rivett had been asked to melt it down and turn it in to souvenirs that people could buy at the execution. However, it turns out that John Rivett was a Royalist (which he neglected to mention), melted down something else and hid the statue. Then when Charles II returned in 1660, Rivett sold it back to him.
Just opposite the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery is a statue of a nurse called Edith Cavell who during WWI was executed by a German firing squad after being accused of espionage. Although she had been helping to evacuate British soldiers from occupied Belgium, as a nurse she tended to soldiers from all sides without discrimination and the base of the statue is inscribed with her quote “I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone”.
Other points of interest
The Centre of London
On the roundabout, just behind the statue of Charles I is a plaque on the floor which basically marks the centre of London and mentions also that ‘Mileages from London are measured from this point’.
The spot marks where the final cross was erected in 1290 on the behest of Edward I after his wife Eleanor died and was brought from Lincoln to Westminster. There were 12 crosses altogether and marked the processional route to London (A 19th century replica stands outside Charing Cross railway station), but the central-ness of the spot really boils down to it being a central meeting point between the City of Westminster and the City of London when there was little else in between. Since 1865 cab drivers have been required to learn ‘the knowledge’, which are streets, monuments, hotels and places of interest, from memory. Today that amounts to about 24,000 streets and 320 routes within a 6-mile radius of that exact plaque.
Britain’s smallest Police station
On the south-east corner of Trafalgar Square is a pillar which many people pass without a second glance. It was in fact added in the 1920s as a lock-up for drunk and disorderly people. (A drunk tank). Today it seems to be used to house odds and ends like brushes and bags of grit.
The crossing lights
When you cross the roads around Trafalgar Square, pay particular attention to the crossing lights. They must surely be the most politically correct crossing lights in the world. A few years ago, the ubiquitous ‘green man’ was changed to celebrate the Pride Festival to two men or two women holdings hands, and even a couple bearing the transgender sign. It seems no one got around to changing them back and last year, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan decided they should stay forever.
A distinct lack of pigeons
If I meet people on walks who haven’t been to London for 20 or 30 years, and are in Trafalgar Square, they always say “Where have the pigeons gone?”. Trafalgar Square was famous for having a population of about 30,000 pigeons and people would buy bird seed from vendors to feed them. It cost Westminster Council a fortune in cleaning away bird poo, plus the fact that it damages stone work and statues. About 20-years ago, the pigeon food sellers were banned and now every morning someone turns up with a Harrier Hawk or two and flies them around to scare the pigeons away. It works.
Where is it?
Fleet Street runs from the end of Strand to Ludgate Circus junction. Despite being only about 550 metres long, it packs in a lot.
What’s the story?
The street takes its name from the river Fleet, one of London’s ‘lost’ rivers which still trickles along in tunnels beneath Farringdon Street and New Bridge Street, perpendicular to Fleet Street where it joins Ludgate Hill.
Originally the river formed the natural western boundary of the Roman city of Londinium. From the early years of the 16th century, Fleet Street became a hub for printing and publishing, which at the beginning of the 18th century moved in to newspapers. By the 20th century almost every building on Fleet Street belonged to a national newspaper with both the writing and printing taking place on the street, spawning the name ‘ink street’. Even though all of the newspapers began moving out in the 1980s, “Fleet Street” is in the UK still used as a byword for the newspaper industry.
How do I get there?
As Fleet Street literally runs from Strand, you could get the No.15 bus (mentioned in the Strand post), or alternatively use Blackfriars Station. Temple or Chancery Lane stations are within easy walking distance. If you’re travelling from further afield, there’s a City Thameslink station on Ludgate Hill with ‘real trains’ that come in from Brighton and Gatwick in the south, parts of south east London and Bedford, Cambridge and St Albans to the north.
What’s it like now?
Some of the newspaper heritage is still visible with names of newspapers lingering on buildings, but the historic identity of ‘ink street’ is long gone, and has become a generic business street. As a main thoroughfare between Westminster and the City it does get super busy (particularly at peak times), many of the buildings are interesting to look at, particularly above eye level and heading east you are afforded a lovely view of St Paul’s cathedral at the top of Ludgate Hill.
Where would I stay?
I do occasionally meet people who stay in and around Fleet Street, which I think is an interesting choice. Firstly, you’d be incredibly well placed between the main sites of Westminster to the west and St Paul’s cathedral and the Tower of London to the east. It is a business district, so during the week, the pubs in particular would be packed, but on the weekend, it’d be dead and you’d find many of the shops don’t bother opening. I’ve met people to do a private walk at the Apex Temple Court Hotel on Fleet Street and they did say that almost every other guest was a business man or woman staying for work reasons. There is a Premier Inn close by just behind St Bride’s church but if you’d rather be close to St Paul’s cathedral there’s the King’s Wardrobe secreted away in a lovely little courtyard or the recently renamed Leonardo Royal Hotel. Budget travellers will be thrilled to learn that there’s a YHA Hostel on Carter Lane in a building formerly occupied by St Paul’s cathedral choristers.
What’s of interest?
City of London Dragon
If you begin at the east end of Fleet Street where it meets Strand, you are standing at Temple Bar which marks the boundary between Westminster and the City of London. It was a later western extension of the original Roman city, and as such had a gate, known as ‘Temple Bar’ because it began life as a simple bar across a gate close to the Temple church. The city gates were largely removed in the 18th century due to congestion problems, but Temple Bar survived, and with its own intriguing history can now be found between St Paul’s cathedral and Paternoster Square.
The City of London boundaries are now marked by dragons (There are 13 of them) and this one was erected in 1880 with sculptures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in niches either side. The Dragon (sometime referred to as a Griffin) is the symbol of the City of London, holding a shield with the cross of St George and a small sword of St Paul; the coat of arms of the City of London.
To your right, you’ll find the myriad of passages leading down to the river, which are the precincts of Inner Temple and Middle Temple Inns of Court and the wonderful Temple Church, mentioned in the Strand post.
Dr Johnson’s House
Tucked away on Gough Square is one of London’s small house museums; Dr Johnson’s House. Much of the area was destroyed during WWII but No.17, despite being damaged (still visible) was spared demolition largely on account of the fact that it was where the first definitive dictionary was compiled in 1755 by the larger than life character that was Samuel Johnson. His quote “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” adorns the introduction to almost every book about London ever written. If you’d like to learn about Johnson, his contemporaries like David Garrick or the former slave Francis Barber who became Johnson’s man servant and heir to his fortune, or just about life in 18th century London, then it’s well worth a visit. Also say hello to the statue of Johnson’s cat Hodge who sits proudly on a dictionary at the opposite end of the square.
St Bride’s Church
A number of churches around London have secrets which you only find out about if you go in and explore. St Bride’s on Fleet Street is no exception. Following the familiar pattern of many of the City churches, St Bride’s was a medieval church burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and then bombed in WWII. St Bride’s was completely gutted but lovingly restored and is known as the ‘Journalists and Printers’ church’. In the north east corner, you’ll discover an altar adorned with photos of journalists who have died whilst reporting in war zones.
I encourage you to head down in to the crypt where you’ll find cases filled with artefacts that have been found on the site, dating back to the Roman period, and exhibition boards detailing the history of the Fleet Street printing industry.
If you wander over to the small chapel at the far end, you’ll see reflected back in angled mirrors on the ceiling, the remnants of a Roman pavement, hidden beyond a medieval wall. If you join one of the church’s weekly Tuesday afternoon tours, you’ll even get to see the thousands of bones piled up in the ossuary next door. Not for the squeamish.
I almost forgot. Perhaps the most famous thing about St Bride’s is their spire and its distinctive tiered design which is said to have inspired a local baker to create the first tiered wedding cake. For this reason, many people simply call it ‘the wedding cake church’.
If you walk up Ludgate towards St Paul’s cathedral there are a number of little lanes and alleyways off to your right in an area that once belonged to a large Dominican Monastery, whose monks wore black. The area, a pub, a station and a bridge are now all known as ‘Blackfriars’. In 1613, the Globe Theatre on Bankside burned down during a performance of Henry VIII. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (the theatre troupe Shakespeare belonged to) decanted to the old Blackfriars Monastery and built an indoor candle-lit playhouse whilst the Globe was being rebuilt. You’ll still find ‘Playhouse Yard’ there today. William Shakespeare bought a house close by (the deed of which still exists) just three years before his death. You’ll find a plaque commemorating the fact on St Andrew’s Hill on a building on the other side of Ireland Yard from a pub called ‘The Cockpit’.
St Paul’s cathedral
Like a number of ‘places of interest’ I’ve mentioned, a short paragraph clearly does not do St Paul’s cathedral justice. There’s been a church dedicated to St Paul on the same site since the year 604. The current cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and finished in the first decade of the 18th century after the previous building (known as Old St Paul’s) burned down during the Great Fire of 1666.
The cathedral reaches 365ft tall (one for foot for each day of the year) and remained the tallest building in London for just over 250 years until it was usurped by the Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) in 1963. Despite now being way down the list of London’s tallest buildings, St Paul’s cathedral remains a protected view and remains visible from a number of vantage points around London.
Horatio Nelson’s tomb has pride of place in the crypt directly beneath the dome and the cathedral has hosted the funerals of the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill and more recently Margaret Thatcher, not to mention the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana in 1981. Like Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s cathedral is first and foremost a place of worship, but aside from regular services there’s so much to experience. If your legs will allow, climb to the top of the dome (2nd biggest in Europe after St Peter’s in Rome) for incredible views across London, learn how the building survived the intense bombing in the area during WWII and much more.
A short walk from St Paul’s cathedral, you’ll find postman’s park in the former church yard of the wonderfully named church of St Boltoph without-Aldersgate. In 1900 a small section of the garden was given over to a memorial dedicated to ‘Heroic Self-Sacrifice’ with the names of people who died in the act of saving another person’s life. The tablets are beautifully rendered, incredibly moving in their simplicity and featured prominently in the film ‘Closer’ based on the play of the same name by Patrick Marber.
Just north of St Paul’s cathedral is an area called Smithfield, which for the last 900 years has been a meat market. However, all that is about to change as the Museum of London, an absolutely brilliant museum about the history of London is preparing to move in to the Victorian meat market buildings. The area is on the verge of a huge amount of change, but it’s a fascinating area. Scottish patriots or fans of Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’ might like to pay a visit to the spot where William Wallace was executed in 1305. Close by is the beautiful medieval church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, originally part of an Augustinian priory in 1123 and has been used as a film location for films such as ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves’, ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and many more.
On the other side of the market is a genuine bona-fide hidden gem in the form of Charterhouse, a 14th century priory that was largely rebuilt in the 16th century. The rambling assortment of buildings sit within a 7-acre plot hidden away from the world and is a retirement home. However, they recently opened a small museum and provide tours. If you can, I highly recommend visiting this unique, living breathing piece of London history.
There are a large amount of pubs in the area, and not only that, put pubs that are historically interesting like Ye Olde Mitre, just off Hatton Garden. However, as we’re supposed to be focusing on Fleet Street, here are a few on that street alone.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Often, if establishments put the words ‘Ye Olde’ at the beginning of their name, it means they’re not old, but would like to be. However, a look at the sign over Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese’s threshold on Wine Office Court which reads ‘Rebuilt in 1667’ plus the list of Monarch’s that have reigned since it was rebuilt, beginning with Charles II would suggest you’re dealing with the real thing. You are.
Stepping in to Dr. Johnson’s local is a to step back in time. Once your eyes adjust to the dark, you’ll notice sawdust on the floor, low ceilings, a brazier burning in the ‘gentleman’s bar’ and the feeling that it probably hasn’t changed that much since the fictional character of Charles Darnay entered in Charles Dickens’ novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. Be sure to head down two floors to the cellar bar, but be careful not to bang your head on the way down, or up.
The Tipperary is a saloon bar style Irish pub on Fleet Street and claim not only to be the first Irish pub outside Ireland but the first to serve Guinness in England.
The Old Bell
Standing on the site of an earlier pub, The Old Bell (which I exuberantly labelled Ye Olde on my map) was apparently built by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire for the masons working on the adjacent St Bride’s church.
The Punch Tavern
Occupying the site of a former 19th century gin palace, the Punch Tavern received its current name after employees of the nearby Punch magazine who were frequent patrons.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.