London

The essential City of London Itinerary

Today I would like to propose an itinerary through an area of London that tourists tend to overlook. I’m talking about The City. Let me rephrase that. It’s not really that they overlook the area, as many come to St Paul’s Cathedral and from there visit The Tower of London. But the distance between these two sites is over one and a half kilometres, and they don’t visit any sites on the way? In London? Surely that’s not right!? So we have mapped out a walking itinerary that may well take you a busy morning, or even a full day.

Ideally you should do this itinerary on a weekday, as The City changes a lot when it’s not busy with executives, and becomes far less touristy. In fact, many local venues close at the weekend. This is perfectly understandable, as there are no customers.

In addition we have decided to complete the itinerary by visiting the district of Southwark, in other words, the south bank of the Thames, opposite The City. This is an area that is in full swing and that I have spoken about on other occasions.

So, let’s begin with the map:

Most routes in the City of London usually start from the cathedral. However, I would encourage you to get up nice and early and head to Barbican tube station -Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith lines.

The start of the itinerary is just 300 meters from here, at the priory church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, which featured in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral – do you remember?

From here head south to St Paul’s Cathedral, certainly one of London’s essential visits. While the 18 pound entry fee per adult may seem pricey, I recommend paying it and going in, as the little you can see without paying the price is hardly worth the trouble. The entry ticket also gives you access to very professional guided tours and multimedia guides. The Whispering Gallery, The Golden Gallery… there’s lots to see inside. Anyway, remember to check the schedule of special events on the website just to ensure that public access is permitted on the day you decide to visit. For example, Sundays are reserved for worshippers.

After an hour and a bit in the cathedral, we continue. My recommendation is to head for Painter’s Hall at number 9, Little Trinity Lane, close to Mansion House tube station. This is a very unique venue that is hired out for events. I was fortunate enough that Ed, a Dorchester-born friend of mine, had worked here for a couple of years and was able to arrange for me to see the interior. Exceptional. Really. It features two rooms with a capacity of about 200 people as well as a third with a capacity of just 16. It sounds crazy, but we once rented one of these rooms for a group of 15 people and had a really great night. 5-star catering, good wine, friends and even 18th-century paintings on the walls. And now, the trick… If you are interested in renting the place – or even if you’re not – write to them and make an appointment to see the place. They’ll make a date to show it to you, and there you have it. It’s that easy 😉

Having seen Painter’s Hall, head to the Guildhall, from where the city has been governed for almost a thousand years ago, since the twelfth century. With the exception of special events, such as state visits, business events, historical anniversaries, and so forth, it can also be visited. This is a medieval environment with all the features and comforts of the 21st century. It’s well worth seeing. Although its collection was moved to the Museum of London years ago, the old library is wonderful, as are the crypts. The problem is there is almost always some corporate event or other, or they are winding up one event or setting up another. Anyhow, gaining access can be difficult. That said, and even though this is London, a genuine smile can still open doors. If not, try using the trick we used at Painter’s Hall. What you will be allowed to see, for sure, is the gallery’s permanent collection and the Roman amphitheatre. In addition, access is free. And it’s worth it just for the amphitheatre. The temporary exhibitions usually cost about £5 per head. Not bad.

We now move on to the London Mithraeum, or the Temple of Mithras, a Roman temple the ruins of which were discovered relatively recently, in 1954. Only 60 years ago. It is one of the great archaeological finds of 20th century London. The temple was originally erected in the 3rd century and, it would appear, dedicated to Mithras.

From here, the next place to visit would be the London Stone (F), which I spoke about a few days ago in the blog. Do you remember?

Now head for the Bank of England Museum, one of many free museums in London. While it is interesting up to a point, in 30 or 45 minutes you will be ready to continue the itinerary. Well, unless you’re a banker or a broker. If so, you may wish to spend more time here. As with many locations in The City, it is not open on weekends. You can only visit from Monday to Friday from 10 am to 5 pm.

And so we continue… Now, as a form of compensation, we head for Leadenhall Market, a place well known by all Harry Potter fans as several scenes from the films were shot in this beautiful covered market. Obviously, if you arrive at lunch time, this is an ideal place to eat something before continuing your itinerary through The City.

If you don’t fancy eating in the market, an interesting and somewhat macabre option is to walk a little further along to the pub called The Hung, Drawn & Quartered. Good food, good atmosphere and, above all, a good story behind it.

Also near this pub is one of the city‘s symbols, 30 St Mary Axe. Perhaps the name doesn’t ring a bell, but what if I mentioned The Gherkin? 😉

So, after you’ve eaten in the market, surrounded by Muggles, or in the pub, the next step is to head for The Monument. The monument … to what? The Great Fire that devastated London in 1666, it would appear. This is a 61-meter-high Doric column crowned by a symbol of fire. And just 61 meters from here is where the fire began. That’s right, in a bakery on Puddington Lane. But I’ll tell you about that another day. It was devastating. To go up the Monument? The cost is £3 per adult and 311 steps up a spiral staircase. The views are well worth it and will help you get your bearings. You can see the route you took to get here as well as Tower Bridge and several places you will see later in Southwark, on the other side of the Thames, such as the great The Shard which, at the time was all set to be inaugurated as the tallest building of Europe – at least they said so in May, 2012, and again on the 5th of July, 2012, just before the 2012 London Olympics -.

We then head for The Tower of London, but not before stopping to admire the beautiful All Hallows by the Tower Church, originally founded in 675 – and no, I’m not forgetting to put a ‘1’ in front of the 6.. In fact you can still see an arch dating from that period, as well a section of Roman paving. History at its best. This was one of the places where the bodies beheaded on Tower Hill were brought. You’re going to visit, right?

And now we move on to the other main course of the itinerary: The Tower of London. A visit here will take at least hour and a half, though I would recommend two hours or more. However, there are those who prefer to look at the exterior, take the obligatory photo of a Beefeater and move on. No… It’s not just a brand of gin. My Goodness… Still, you know what they say about taste…

I can assure you that a visit to The Tower of London is a lot of fun. What with the ravens, the prison cells, the jewellery, the executions … it’s the very essence of a gruesome tale. And yes, one that costs £24.50 per adult to hear… If I’m not mistaken, there’s a small discount if you buy your ticket online. However, London offers plenty of museums and activities that are free, so having to pay for something every now and again is not such a bad deal, right?

Let’s continue our itinerary. Yes indeed, there’s more… If you’re tired, save the next part for another day. If not, walk on. London never stops.

So, we continue on towards Tower Bridge, one of the city’s icons. Are you allowed to visit? Of course, for just £9 per adult. You can go up the tower, view an exhibition and even have a cup of coffee up there 🙂 By the way, did you know that the bridge is still raised to let large ships and freighters pass through? Check the schedule here.

Depending on whether or not you have visited The Tower, you may be running late … or not. A great idea to end the day would be to head for St Katharine Docks, the ideal place for shopping, dining and enjoying a different side of London, next to a marina populated with sporting craft. Walking around here you’ll feel like you’re in some other city – it really doesn’t feel like London.

And that’s it for now. Quite a hectic day, right!?

And for those of you who haven’t visited St Paul’s Cathedral, The Monument and The Tower of London, there’s more to come…

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