Exploring London on Foot
If you want to go exploring London on foot, you must – as a general rule – be selective and concentrate on no more than one area per day. The distances from one part of town to the other are simply too long for even the most determined urban walker.
Still, you’ll be surprised at what you can discover in a mere couple of hours – enough, at the very least, to make you want to come back and taste more of this city’s “infinite variety”. Which is exactly what we will be doing later in the year.
But before we follow Jack the Ripper and the stars of the Swingin’ Sixties through the “Streets of London”, here’s a little appetizer:
A first impression of London, the most exciting of European cities.
This walk starts from St Pancras. Take the Circle line to bring you to Liverpool St, where you will get off. You will find yourself right in the middle of the City of London. This is the oldest and most interesting part of London, where medieval churches and 21st century skyscrapers are found cheek by jowl.
Getting around the Square Mile is best done on foot, so make sure to put on those walking shoes. Use the famous Gherkin (someone with a less wholesome mind could have come up with a more imaginative nickname) as your visual orientation point to help you find your way around.
Right across is the Lloyd’s Insurance Bldg. which, in my opinion, is probably the most stunning building, yet quite unloved by some.
Then there’s the Monument erected as a rememberance to the Great Fire of London that burnt all that was not made of stone in 1666. Looking around, you will see that medieval street pattern persists, as do medieval street names. Some have disappeared, but Sherborn Lane was once Shiteburn Lane. Can your imagination guess what that street was used for?
Seated in fairly posh restaurants or in a sandwich bar, bankers in their brogues and suits can be seen in Leadenhall market, Victorian splendour at its best, to have their lunch or for a drink.
Look for directions to St Paul’s Cathedral, Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, a Protestant version of Baroque and the most Catholic of architectural styles. Charles and Diana were married here.
Then go over the river Thames, crossing on the “wobbly“ Millennium Bridge, from where you can see the Tower Bridge, if you look to your left. The Tower of London is right underneath it.
At the end of the bridge is the Tate Modern, also a Millennium project like the bridge was. This used to be the Bank Power Station, one of the last power stations built by Giles Gilbert Scot (who designed the Red Phone Box) in central London. Having power stations so close to Central London went out of fashion after the Great Smog of London killed 100,000 in 1952.
If you look to your left at the end of the bridge, you will see the reconstruction of the Globe. The real one was destroyed by fire in 1613.
After a a short visit to the Tate Modern, start walking along the Thames, with the Big Ben as your orientation point. Walk by the Blackfriars Bridge, where the head of the Vatican’s Bank Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi, was found dead hanging from a scaffolding in 1982. It is an enduring mystery, in which suspects include the Vatican, Mafia and P2 masonic lodge.
By the Waterloo Bridge, you will be at the South Bank complex, originally built in the early 50’s for the Festival of Britain, when brutalist concrete was the “style of the future”. Think “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks and the Umbrella Murder (poisoned umbrella tip in 1978 that killed Georgi Markov who worked at the BBC Bulgarian Service across the river.)
Look for the Savoy Hotel and the Shell-Mex House on the other (northern) bank by the Embankment railway bridge.
Turn right into Westminster Bridge, passing the London Eye. Soon you will be walking by the Houses of Parliament (the first and the most exuberant flowering of the neo-Gothic style which became all the rage in Victorian England.)
Across to your left is the Westminster Abbey, used for THAT most recent wedding. This was built by Edward the Confessor in 11th century, consecrated weeks before the Norman invasion of 1066, where kings, queens and great Englishmen of all sorts are buried.
Turn right and you’ll pass Whitehall, then the Treasury, the Foreign Office and Downing Street.
Try not to miss the Horseguards Parade by entering through one of the side entrances here and through the arches.
Go right before St James’s Park. To your left, seen from The Mall, you will get a glimpse, in the distance, Buckingham Palace. They say that this is the Queen’s unloved London residence, preferring Windsor or Balmoral.
Turn right in the direction of the iron gate to arrive at Trafalgar square where Nelson’s column dominates. Ahead is the National Gallery.
Now, if you want to get cut-price West End tickets, on the right hand side of the National Gallery, turn left turn into Leicester Square. This would be the ONLY place to get your discounted tickets to see a musical or a play in the West End.
To see the Eros statue, one of London’s most famous landmarks, take Coventry Street to Piccadilly Circus.
Cross Piccadilly Square to a burger shop and turn left past Piccadilly Theatre on your right, across Golden Square to Beak Street: in the middle of SoHo. From Beak street turn left and Carnaby street right.
If you want to spend the rest of the day shopping, continue to Argyll Street. On your left is Oxford Circus, where Oxford Street meets Regent Street.
You certainly are up to exploring London on foot. Just take it a day at a time.