Fun London Facts - Week #3
When Horatio Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 he was brought back to London to be given a massive send off. Normally, if sailors died at sea they were thrown over board. You didn’t carry dead people around on ships. For Nelson they made an exception and stuck him in a barrel of brandy, pickling him for the journey. Legend has it, that the crew that returned on his ship, the HMS Victory drank the brandy from the barrel whilst Nelson was in it.
The Burlington Arcade is the longest covered shopping Street in the UK. It runs alongside Burlington House, originally built as a 17th country manor. When 19th early century resident Lord George Cavendish got annoyed with his neighbours throwing stuff over the wall in to his garden, he arranged for the whole street to be covered, opening it in 1819 as a super duper luxury shopping precinct, which it remains to this day.
55% of the London underground is over ground.
In 1875 these green huts started popping up. They’re called Cabmen’s Shelters and provided the drivers of horse drawn Hackney Carriages somewhere to shelter from the wind, rain and cold. A stove inside meant they could keep warm and cook food and the bar around the edge was for tying horses two. Two decades later there were sixty-one in London, but today only thirteen survive and have been given listed building status. Some provide snacks to the public, whilst the others, cab drivers still sit in them.
Strand runs from Trafalgar Square to Fleet Street. A lot of Londoners call it ‘The Strand’, but there is no prefix. The word ‘strand’ in most northern European languages means beach, and Strand runs parallel to the Thames, which until the 1860s came much closer. It literally means the beach or bank of the Thames.
Construction on Tower Bridge began in 1887 and was completed in 1894. The now incredibly iconic design was chosen by way of competition, with the lucky winner being an architect called Horace Jones who also designed a number of London’s Victorian markets. It seems not much luck was involved as Jones was also one of the competition judges. He chose his own design.
New Zealand House was completed in 1963. It was the first tower block to be built in central London after WW2 and was in fact built on the site of the Carlton Hotel which was bombed during the war. This modernist high rise was a highly contentious building at the time and towering over its neighbours should have given those that worked in New Zealand House amazing views across London from their desks, but unfortunately not. For nearly 50 years they’ve had to close the blinds every day. I believe the building was loosing too much heat through the myriad of glass, known as ‘thermal flow’, and ordering the blinds to be closed, although drastic, solved this problem. Just one of the many building projects in London gone wrong.
Fun London Facts - Week #2
The word Trafalgar, as in Trafalgar Square is actually of Arabic origin. The Battle of Trafalgar took place in 1805 off the south coast of Spain near Cabo de Trafalgar (Cape Trafalgar) which was itself taken from the Arabic ‘Taraf-al-ghar’ which has a number of possible meanings, one being rocky outcrop.
The Heron Tower on Bishopsgate has in its lobby the largest privately owned aquarium in the UK. The aquarium holds 70,000 litres of water and over 60 species of fish.
Houndsditch is a street in the City of London and is so called because (according to Elizabethan historian John Stow at least) it was once a ditch that ran along the outside of the old city wall and Londoners literally used to throw dead dogs over the wall in to the ditch. Houndsditch.
St Paul’s cathedral completed in 1711 is 365ft tall. Architect Christopher Wren who designed it was at the time professor of Astronomy at Oxford University and it represents each day of the year. He liked doing stuff like that.
If it’s sunny, at certain times of day, the shadows cast by Westminster Bridge create penises on the pavement.
There have been pelicans in St James’s Park since 1664 after they were given as a gift to King Charles II from the Russian ambassador. By the 1980s the pelicans had stopped breeding and there was only one left so someone in the UK government wrote to the Russians asking for some more. They duly sent some over and were installed in the park but stories were soon circling that these new pelicans were eating the other birds in the park. The stories were dismissed on account of the fact that pelicans don’t eat other birds, then someone filmed a pelican eating an entire pigeon. It became headline news that those pesky Russians had deliberately sent over killer pelicans to ruin our park.
Egyptologist and archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (born 1853) was a Hampstead resident. In 1933 he moved with his wife to Jerusalem where he died in 1942. For some reason Petrie had made provision for his head to be returned to the Royal College of Surgeons in London, but as there was a war on, it wasn’t top of anyone’s ‘to do’ list. Eventually, Petrie’s head made it back but at some point the label fell off and it spent many years languishing on a shelf in the Royal College of Surgeons with no one knowing who’s head it was.
Happily, Petrie’s head has now been identified.
Fun London Facts - Week #1
I'll undoubtedly regret this, but I've set myself the challenge of posting a fun London fact every day for the whole of 2023. That's 365 facts! (I know you knew that).
I'm posting them over on Twitter and Instagram each day, then every week I'll do a round up here. So here are my fun London facts for the first week.
On the 23rd October 1843, the 14 stonemasons who built Nelson’s Column had a dinner party at the top before the statue of Horatio Nelson was hoisted up.
When Sam Wanamaker was raising funds for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in the 1990s, he was reliant on private donations, with each individual or organisation rewarded with their name engraved on a paving stone around the theatre. John Cleese phoned up and said “If you spell Michael Palin’s name wrong, I’ll give you double.” And so it is, that next to John Cleese is the larger paving stone of 'Michael Pallin'.
William Fortnum was a footman for Queen Anne in the early 18th century. One of his jobs was to replenish the palace candles each evening, but the Queen apparently insisted on new candles each day. William sold on the used candles, making a tidy profit which he used to set up his grocery shop with Hugh Fortnum in 1707. This is why candles are a motif in Fortnum & Mason today.
Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637) is the only person in Westminster Abbey buried standing up. The reason? By the end of his life he’d spunked most of his money, so before he died, negotiated a deal to be buried standing up. It took up less space and was therefore much cheaper. Clever chap.
The famous bronze lions at the base of Nelson’s Column are anatomically incorrect. Lions can’t actually sit with their back legs like this. Edwin Landseer who made them was a Victorian water-colour painter and had never made a sculpture in his life. He based the back of them on his own dogs.
Rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix and German born composer George Frideric Handel were nextdoor neighbours …albeit 200 years apart. Handel moved to Brook Street, Mayfair in 1723 and spent 40-years living there. In 1970, Hendrix moved in with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham to the top floor room at 23 Brook Street. When Hendrix learned of his famous old neighbour he went out and bought ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’ and ‘Messiah’ which incidentally Handel wrote next door.
The two buildings have been transformed in to the rather brilliant Handel & Hendrix in London museum. It’s currently closed for refurbishment, re-opening in May 2023. Well worth a visit.
Built by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, The Monument is a monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666. Completed in 1677 it stands 202ft tall because if it were to fall eastwards (which it hasn’t yet) the top of it would touch the spot where the fire started in Thomas Farrinor’s bakery on Pudding Lane, 202 feet away.
Here's a handy guide to what you'll see en route.
You'll begin queuing in Southwark Park, south east London. When I was there earlier, the sign was warning of a 14 hour queue. You'll have lots of time to take in what's around you. Here are a few highlights and fun facts.
After about 10 minutes you'll find yourself down by the river at Bermondsey. You'll be walking alongside the river Thames for the entire route.
The River Thames
The Thames is the entire reason why London exists and the Roman's settled here over 2000 years ago. It's 215 miles long and flows through 9 counties, its source being in Kemble, Gloucestershire. A few years ago I walked the whole thing from the 'Sea to the Source'. It was once a tributary river of the Rhine in Germany (when we were still landlocked to the rest of Europe). In central London the Thames has a tidal change of about 23ft, so see if you can see any 'mudlarks' looking for things that have washed up. It's basically a massive archaeological site and in the 19th century a politician called John Burns referred to it as 'liquid history'.
The City of London
From this point on the river you'll see the City of London opposite. It looks very modern but was the Roman city of Londinium founded in about 48AD. It's the original financial district. You'll see a number of tall buildings including 'the Gherkin' (No. 30 St Mary's Axe) and the 'Walkie Talkie' (20 Fenchurch Street).
Fun Fact - During the hot summer of 2013 (a year before completion) the 'Walkie Talkie' acted as a massive magnifying glass and was melting and scorching things including a car parked on the street below. The architect Rafael Vinoly said "it's not my fault, the sun was in the wrong place".
You'll also get your first glimpse of:
Undoubtedly one of the most iconic structures in London, Tower Bridge was completed in 1894. It's a 'bascule' bridge allowing the road to lift to allow ships through and is actually a steel structure with stone cladding.
Fun Fact - The winning design was chosen as part of a competition, judged by architect Horace Jones. He chose his own design as the winner.
St Saviour's Dock
You'll pass around where one of London's subterranean rivers, the Neckinger meets the Thames. In the 17th and 18th century it became known as Jacob's Island, a notorious place of execution. In 1838, Charles Dickens described the area as "the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities hidden in London".
Fun Fact - The name is thought to derive from 'devil's neckcloth' in reference to the nooses used to hang people here.
Next you'll pass through old riverside warehouses, once used to unload the myriad of goods that arrived in London from across the globe and now turned in to super duper apartments. You'll pass beneath the south side of Tower Bridge which is where all the engine rooms are housed, as originally the bridge was powered by coal furnaces.
Fun Fact - Tower Bridge has its own mortuary on the north side of the river, where bodies from the river were pulled out.
Tower of London
As you pass City Hall, on the other side of the river you'll see the Tower of London. It's actually 21 separate towers, but the White Tower in the centre dates back to 1090, a couple of decades after the Norman conquest.
Fun Fact - The Tower was London's first zoo. From the 1200s until 1835, animals given to monarchs as gifts were housed there, with the public paying to see them.
A WW2 ship that was used during D-Day in 1944. It has been a museum open to the public for over 50 years.
Fun Fact - If the guns on the front were to fire they'd hit a service station on the M1 motorway (over 12 miles away).
The original London Bridge opened in 1209 and was the longest inhabited bridge in the world. It remained there until the early 1800s. The bridge you're passing is the third on the site and opened by the Queen in the early 1970s.
Fun Fact - The 2nd London Bridge was sold to an American called Robert P. McCulloch who shipped it over to Arizona and created a man-made lake around it called Lake Havasu and made it into a tourist attraction.
Next you'll pass Southwark cathedral which was founded in the early 12th century. It's a beautiful church, originally called the Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and Mary Overie. The 'Overie' was short for 'church over the river'.
Fun Fact - William Shakespeare's younger brother Edmund was buried there in 1607.
You'll pass by a replica of Francis Drake's galleon, the 'Golden Hind' which left to circumnavigate the world in 1577, returning to Deptford (near where you started queuing) in 1580. They were really pirates, but we called them privateers to make us feel better.
Fun Fact - The ship was originally called 'the Pelican' but its name changed during the journey in honour of one of the main financiers, Christopher Hatton whose family emblem was the golden hind (a female red deer).
You'll pass the remains of the 14th century palace of the Bishop of Winchester who once had jurisdiction over the area. The imposing wall and its rose window were discovered after a warehouse fire in the 19th century.
Fun Fact - The area of Bankside in the Elizabethan period was known as the 'City of Sin' as it housed the brothels and theatres. The church made money from the prostitutes and the women were known collectively as 'the Bishop of Winchester's Geese'. To be 'bitten by a Winchester Goose' meant you had contracted a sexually transmitted disease on Bankside and features in one of Shakespeare's plays.
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Finished in the late 1990s by American Sam Wanamaker, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is a recreation of an Elizabethan Theatre and memorial to the bard. The original site is actually on the street behind.
Fun Fact - It has the only thatched roof in central London (after thatch was banned following the Great Fire of London in 1666).
Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge
The Tate Modern was a 1960s power station built by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the now iconic red telephone boxes. It's now a modern art gallery.
The Millennium Bridge opened in the year 2000 and is a pedestrian foot bridge that joins the Tate Modern to St Paul's cathedral in the City.
Fun Fact - The Millennium bridge was open for 2 days and closed for 2 years because it had a massive wobble. It will be forever known as 'the wobbly bridge'.
Blackfriars Bridge & Blackfriars Railway Bridge
The Victorian pedestrian and traffic bridge gets its name from the monastery that stood on the north side until the 16th century. It was run by Dominican monks who wore black, hence the 'blackfriars'.
The railway bridge leads in to Blackfriars station and Underground station which is the only underground station in London to have exits on either side of the Thames.
Fun Fact - The railway bridge has solar panels on the roof which generates half the electricity for the station. It's the largest solar powered bridge in the world.
The National Theatre
Founded in 1963 by Sir Lawrence Olivier (you'll pass a statue of him outside), the current brutalist building opened on this site in the late 1970s. The new King Charles III once said "it's a clever way of hiding a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting."
Waterloo Bridge was bombed at the beginning of WW2, rebuilt largely by women and therefore nicknamed 'the ladies bridge'.
The area now known has the Southbank was destroyed in WW2. It was rebuilt to house arts venues such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery and the Royal Festival Hall, the first building to open here in 1951.
The London Eye
Opened as 'the Millennium Wheel' in the year 2000 and renamed the 'London Eye'. It takes 30 minutes to go all the way around.
Fun Fact - It has 32 pods. Each one represents one of London's 32 boroughs.
Westminster Bridge and the Royal Palace of Westminster
Westminster Bridge is painted green, the same colour as the benches in the House of Commons.
The medieval Palace of Westminster burnt down in 1834. A few bits survived including the Great Hall, where the Queen is Lying-in-State. It was rebuilt by architect Charles Barry and completed in 1870. 'Big Ben' is actually called the Elizabeth Tower and the tower on the opposite end is called the Victoria Tower which houses documents and bills of parliament dating back to the 14th century.
Fun Fact - Big Ben is the name of the 14 tonne hour bell, not the tower.
Lambeth Palace has been home to the Archbishop of Canterbury since the 1200s. The oldest part of the current building dates back to the 15th century.
Fun Fact - Behind those walls is a garden of just over 10 acres, making it one of the oldest and largest private gardens in London.
Lambeth Bridge was completed in 1932 to replace a Victorian Bridge. It had originally been the site of a ferry that took horses across the Thames, which is why the road on the opposite bank is called Horseferry Road. You'll notice the paintwork is largely red, the same as the benches in the House of Lords.
Once you've crossed Lambeth Bridge, you'll be on the final stretch before you enter the Great Hall to see the Queen Lying-in-State.
This coming Sunday (10th July at 4pm) I'll be running my first ever 'Hampstead' walk.If you're unfamiliar with the area, Hampstead was once a small country village, which although only 4 miles from central London stands about 440ft (134 metres) above sea level. It remained largely undeveloped until well in to the 18th century when people were drawn there by the clean air, large open spaces and abundance of springs. It became known as the 'Vale of Health'. It has managed to retain its village feel and stands next to 800 acres of heathland which is open to the public and enjoyed by Londoners, especially the fantastic views of the capital from Parliament Hill.
Hampstead attracted a huge amount of writers, artists and well known historical characters, and as such has about 75 commemorative plaques on their former homes. We'll pass by quite a number, including the houses of H.G Wells, Peter Cook, John Constable, Daphne du Maurier, Marie Stopes, Robert Louis Stevenson and John Keats to name but a few. Today's residents of Hampstead include the likes of Ricky Gervais, Liam Gallagher, Helena Bonham Carter and Jonathan Ross.
As well as a fine array of 18th century houses, winding streets and also the impressive Fenton House built in the late 17th century, Hampstead also has quite a number of modernist houses built in the 1930s, including 66 Frognal, the 'sun house' (the first modernist concrete house to be built in London) and No.2 Willow Road which is now a National Trust property. We'll also pass Admiral's House, which was not only painted by local artist John Constable but is said to have been P.L Traver's inspiration for 'Admiral Boom' in her Mary Poppins stories. You'll have to come on the walk to find out the whole story.
Although we won't be breaking out on to Hampstead Heath itself, we will have the opportunity to glimpse a small part of the Heath as we walk up 'Judges Walk' to Whitestone Pond, the highest point in Hampstead. If you would like to join one of my Hampstead walks, please check the schedule on the Home Page for upcoming dates. I'll be running them on Sunday afternoons so you can combine it with a visit and perhaps Sunday Roast in one of Hampstead's many gorgeous pubs, or perhaps a visit to the nearby Kenwood House or maybe just a stroll around Hampstead Heath. If you're brave enough, you could go for an outdoor dip in one of the Hampstead Ponds.
I'm running new regular 'pay what you want' weekend walks around London including 'Holborn, Smithfield & Clerkenwell', 'The Great Fire', 'King's Cross' and many others. You'll find them all listed on my Weekend Walks page. If you'd like to join one, please send me a message using the Contact Form.
Holborn, Smithfield & Clerkenwell.
This coming weekend I'll be starting my new regime of Weekend London Walks, including some entirely new adventures in parts of London I've not previously covered on group 'pay what you want' walks. This coming Sunday (3rd July) at 3pm I'll be doing my inaugural 'Holborn, Clerkenwell & Smithfield' tour, so thought I'd write a brief post describing a little bit about what you can expect.
If you've been on walks with me before you'll know I'm quite keen on the etymology of words and place names, so we'll talk about 'Chancery' (we'll meet outside Chancery Lane underground station) and the legal 'Inns' that used to be in the area. We'll meet right by the impressive Staple Inn, a black and white Tudor building which is still standing and dates back to 1585. We'll pass by the gothic Victorian Holborn Bars, which was once Furnival's Inn, where Charles Dickens lived when he began writing the Pickwick Papers. We'll move on to Hatton Garden, today, London's 'jewellery quarter', once London residence of the Bishop's of Ely from the 13th century and part of which was grant to Christopher Hatton in the 16th century. We'll pass through a little alley way to discover a lovely little pub, Ye Olde Mitre, the origins of which date back to 1546 and a delightful little church which has managed to survive from the reign of Edward I (1272 - 1307). From there we'll move on to Smithfield.
Smithfield has an intriguing, gruesome and varied history as a jousting ground, the site of a yearly fair which began in the 12th century, St Bartholomew's Hospital and a monastery founded in 1123, part of which the church of St Bartholomew-the-Great survives today, a meat market which has been on the site for 900 years and amongst other things ...executions. Queen Mary I ('Bloody Mary' had over 200 Protestants executed there, many of whom were burned at the stake. Perhaps the most famous execution at Smithfield was Scottish patriot William Wallace in 1305. We'll pass by the 'oldest house in London', walk over a Black Death burial site, stop outside another ancient monastery, which gets used regularly as a film set and currently houses about 45 'brothers'. We'll also talk about the meat market and its changing fortunes over the years before heading on to Clerkenwell.
There was another 12th century monastery in Clerkenwell, parts of which still survive today, not just physically, but in an organisation that everyone will be very familiar with. We'll pass through the Tudor gatehouse and by the old Norman church to Clerkenwell Green which features in Charles Dickens 'Oliver Twist' and take a look at some of the buildings, old and new. At the end we'll go in search of the original 'Clerk's Well' which gives its name to the area.
Please Note - This walk might change a bit. The purpose of this blog post is to just give you a taster of what you can expect.
This weekend on Sat 2nd July I'll also be doing 'The Great Fire' walk, 'Around St Paul's cathedral' and 'Fleet Street'.
If you'd like to join the walk listed here, or any of my other walks, please book first, by sending me a message via the Contact Form. Thank you.
Where Is Everything?
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.
A Wren Spire in Sydenham
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.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.