Walks and itineraries, London
Although London is a large city and you’ll need to use public transport or taxis to get around some of the time, it’s also very walkable. I want to share some of my favourite routes with you, starting with this one through the Whitehall area, which is always the first one I think of when visitors ask me to “show them London”. This tip isn’t about any of the places on the route in detail as you can find out about them elsewhere on my pages and many others – it’s simply an overview of a route I would recommend :)
Fondest memory: Start in Trafalgar Square, deservedly one of the most famous spots in London. When you’ve finished exploring the square, leave by the south-west corner through Admiralty Arch – you’ll find yourself on the Mall with a fine view down its full length to Buckingham Palace. Tempting as it is to head for this landmark, try to resist, and instead turn left after a short distance to enter St James’s Park, one of my favourite parts of London. Head diagonally right to reach its centrepiece, the lovely lake, and pause to stand on the bridge. Here you’ll get an even better view of Buckingham Palace and of all the buildings of Whitehall. You can now follow a circular route around the lake, which at its far end will take you much closer to the Palace – now is the time to detour to see it properly.
Retrace your steps, or follow the opposite side of the lake. You might think now about pausing for refreshments – a picnic in the park, a snack from a kiosk or maybe a meal at Inn the Park, a well-regarded restaurant (which I’ve yet to try). When you’re refreshed, leave the park roughly halfway along its eastern edge, which will bring you to Horseguards’ Parade. Cross the parade ground and go through the arch where you’ll find yourself on Whitehall itself. You’ll want to take the obligatory photo of the guards before heading south. You’ll soon come to the turning for Downing Street but don’t expect to be able to take it – the road has been closed to all but official visitors for security reasons ever since the IRA campaign of the 1980s. Whitehall shortly becomes Parliament Street, which leads in turn to Parliament Square. You can now check out and maybe visit the Houses of Parliament before finishing your walk at Westminster Abbey (although if you do have the energy for more, a walk down Victoria Street will bring you to Westminster Cathedral, its Roman Catholic equivalent).
Update April 2014: new photos added, text slightly changed
Although London is a large city and you’ll need to use public transport or taxis to get around some of the time, it’s also very walkable. I want to share some of my favourite routes with you. This one takes in part of the River Thames and finishes in Covent Garden, ideal if you want to combine a sightseeing morning with a shopping afternoon, or a sightseeing afternoon with an evening out. Please bear in mind that my tip isn’t about any of the places on the route in detail as you can find out about them elsewhere on my pages and many others – it’s simply an overview of a route I would recommend.
Start at Westminster tube, leaving via the exit marked Westminster Bridge. Before crossing, pause for a view of the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Boudicca guarding the approach to the bridge. Cross the River Thames – you’ll have wonderful views west to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and beyond. When you reach the far side turn left to walk past the old County Hall building, which now houses a modern art gallery and aquarium (depending on your interests you may want to visit either or both!) and the ticket office for the London Eye, though ideally you’ll have booked in advance for this. There are a number of refreshment options here, and look out too for some examples of modern art that appear to have strayed from the gallery!
Fondest memory: When you’ve exhausted the possibilities around City Hall, continue along the river to the South Bank complex. This group of buildings includes the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery, another modern art space which regularly has great exhibitions. This is another area to consider for refreshments, or the nearby Jubilee Gardens for a picnic. There are often events on the river side walk or behind the hall, including a regular programme of foodie markets.
The complex continues beyond Waterloo Bridge with the National Theatre but unless you have tickets for a play I suggest you retrace your steps at this point to cross back over the river via the Jubilee Footbridge. This is in two halves either side of the old railway bridge – choose the eastern one for great views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the City of London as you’ll have had the westerly views earlier. On the far side enter Embankment tube station, walk straight through and ahead up Villiers Street to the Strand. Look left to see Charing Cross, but turn right and soon after left along Southampton Street which will bring you to Covent Garden with its market, shops and numerous pubs, pars and restaurants.
For a lively walk in the heart of London, you can’t do any better than head for Soho! Much of its dynamism results from the fact that it is probably the most culturally diverse corner of this very diverse city. Over the years French, Germans, Italians, Russian and Polish Jews, Swiss, Greeks and Chinese have been attracted to settle in this area, and all of them have left their mark on it. If you want to experience cosmopolitan London at its most vibrant, and don't have a problem with crowds, this is the place for you!
To me there are three distinct Sohos, each of which overlap to some extent. Firstly, there is Chinatown, largely focused on the southern part of this district. The heart of this part is Gerrard Street, with its Chinese style arches at each end and a plethora of Chinese restaurants and supermarkets selling exotic ingredients along its length. While the restaurants are of mixed quality (the presence of local Chinese families eating there is your best clue in a rapidly changing environment), this is the place to come for the quintessential Chinatown night out. Always busy, this part of Soho reaches a peak of excitement in February each year when Chinese New Year is celebrated by local Chinese, other Londoners and visitors to the city with a parade and fireworks.
Secondly, what you might call “sleazy Soho”. The district was once famous as the centre of London's vice industry, and although it has been very much cleaned up by the authorities remnants cling on in the sex shops and “men only” clubs. These are scattered throughout the area, with perhaps a concentration on and around Wardour Street, but although you may find them distasteful you shouldn’t feel threatened by their presence in any way – although if you’re travelling with children you could find that they provoke one or two questions you’d rather not have to answer.
Thirdly, the most animated part of the district in my view, gay Soho, centred on Old Compton Street and its off-shoots such as Greek and Frith Streets. Soho has always been the most tolerant part of London and is now the heart of the capital's vibrant gay scene. This will be apparent to anyone walking these streets, but should not deter straight visitors from spending time here; this is a very inclusive community and I know from my own experience that pubs and bars are likely to welcome all comers equally. This is also the heart of the Italian part of Soho, with the wonderful institution that is Bar Italia and many other great coffee shops besides. Sit at a pavement café with a cappuccino and watch the world go by – a people-watcher’s paradise!
Fondest memory: We came here to watch the World Cup Final in 2006 and when Italy won everyone spilled out onto the streets to party – see photos 2 & 3. As Chris is part-Italian, he was very happy to join in the celebrations :)
The St James’s area of London is bounded by Piccadilly to the north, St James’s Park to the south, Regent Street to the east and Green Park to the west. It was first developed in the late 17th century and from then until the Second World War was one of the most exclusive addresses in the city. Nowadays you are more likely to find prestigious offices here than private homes, though there are still some of the latter for those who can afford the sky-high prices.
The area was at its most fashionable during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when many Gentlemen’s Clubs were established here. These were the exclusive haunt of men from the higher echelons of society who would meet to gamble, drink and talk in freedom, uninhibited by female company (women were, and in some cases still are, barred). There’s a comprehensive list of London’s Gentlemen’s Clubs in Wikipedia if you’re interested in that unique aspect of the city’s history.
The most important person in fashionable London at that time was “Beau” (real name George) Brummel, whose statue stands on Jermyn Street in the heart of St James’s (photo 2). He was born into a wealthy family in 1778 and developed an elegant understated manner of dress that was very influential among the fashionable men of his day. He set a trend for fastidious personal care and grooming, and is credited with introducing and establishing as fashion the modern man's suit, worn with a tie, although in his day the tie was an elaborately knotted cravat.
Today you can still see many of the buildings that Beau Brummel would have known and the clubs he and his cronies frequented. It helps to have a guidebook though, as those that no longer operate aren’t always marked. We used Andrew Duncan’s Secret London, a gift from Trekki. And while walking around, be sure to explore the various small alleyways, as these often lead to a pretty courtyard. Perhaps the prettiest of all is Blue Ball Yard (main photo), an 18th century stable yard that now acts as an extension of the Stafford Hotel and has an attractive (but probably pricey) restaurant. Look for this about halfway along St James’s Street on its western side. Pickering Place, off the east side of St James’s Street, is also very quaint, though much smaller.
This is also a great area if you like to take photos of small architectural details – you should spot old (but still functioning) gas lamps (photo 3), door knockers (photo 4) and more. And for anyone interested in Britain’s Royal Family, Spencer House at the end of St James’s Place (off St James’s Street) is a must see – this is the former town house of the late Princess Diana’s family (photo 5 shows the view of the house from Green Park).
Finally, you might like to take some money with you. The shops round here are mostly very stylish and very expensive. If you want an affordable, if temporary, memento of your visit I recommend the wonderful cheese shop on the south side of Jermyn Street – not cheap, but the products are of excellent quality. A pot of Stilton would make a lovely souvenir of your visit to England.
The Thames Path is one of a network of National Trails, and actually runs almost the full length of the river, from the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier in east London. But this tip is about the path as it runs through London itself, as I have never walked any of the rural stretches. Of course, even that London stretch is pretty long, but there’s no need to do it all, or to do it all at once. Simply choose a bit of the river that appeals, and take a stroll.
My pictures were all taken one day recently when we did just that. We joined the path on the north bank of the Thames near Imperial Wharf station (on the Overground line between Clapham Junction and West Brompton) and walked east, passing Battersea, Albert and Chelsea Bridges. From the latter we then turned away from the river to get the tube into central London at Sloane Square as we were meeting friends in town, but we could easily have continued much further.
Don’t expect a peaceful walk though. The views of the river are wonderful, but for much of the length a busy road runs alongside so you’re not going to forget that you’re in a big city. Nevertheless, this is a great way to stretch your legs and enjoy the Thames, whether you want a short stroll or to walk for miles!
For more information, check out this website
If anything London is THE city to view on foot. There are so many pocket parks, quaint nooks and mews to poke about in.
For a great introductory tour try the Original London Walks. Walks are scheduled morning, afternoon and evening, 7 days a week, rain or shine. Each tour lasts about 2-3 hours and costs L 5.50 (or L 4.50 with the frequent walker's discount card). No reservations required: just check the schedule, locate a tour that strikes your fancy, and meet the guide at your designated location (generally outside a tube station).
At tour's end you are free to wander, shop, people watch or investigate the neighborhood further.
Fondest memory: Personal favorites:
Legal and Illegal London tour: AKA 'Walking in the Steps of Rumpole'. If you're a fan you will LOVE this one. See the Royal Courts of Justice, visit the 4 Inns of Court and the Temple Church. Stroll through Chancery Lane to glimpse the big wigs at Edes & Ravencroft. Afterwards you can hoist a glass of Chateau Plonk at Rumpole's favorite watering hole.
Greenwich tour: boat down the Thames to visit this lovely town which marks the Start of Time - 0 degrees longitude. On the return you can walk under the water via the Thames foot tunnel. ADVISORY: there is literally so much to see and do in Greenwich after the tour that you should plan on spending the WHOLE DAY. Maybe even a weekend.
Hampstead Village and Heath: so quaint, so charming, so close to Kenwood House. Little did I know the town used to be a SPA (it's that water connection again!)
Soho Walk: Start out at Leicester Square for a tour of London Bohemia that finishes with 60's retro-flair at Carnaby Street.
Find London Walks online at: www.walks.com or phone 020.7624.3978
My husband laughed at me as I was doing up an itinerary for this trip but it helped my keep my thoughts organized and combine sights that were close together. Here's what we did:
Day 1 arrived around 11, picked up London Passes on Regent St., walked over to the Imperial War Museum, dinner at Tas, went up to the viewing gallery OXO tower
Day 2 took the train out to Warwick Castle, dinner at Pizza Express
Day 3 Tower of London, walked to Leadenhall Market, Guildhall, St. Paul's, lunch at Wagamama, Parliament, Blood Brothers, dinner at Mr. Kong
Day 4 Portobello Road, canal trip, Camden markets, lunch at Belgo, London Zoo, Caffe Uno for dinner, Sweeney Todd
Day 5 Kensington Palace, lunch at Cafe Kebab, Catamaran cruise, London Walk, dinner at La Creperie de Hampstead (S. Kensington location)
Day 6 husband went home, Kew Gardens, sausage roll for lunch, London Walk, Wellington Arch, Woman in Black
Day 7 Buckingham Palace, Royal Mews, Queen's Gallery, Apsley House, Courtauld Gallery, Wagamama for dinner, We Will Rock You
Day 8 Windsor Castle, Eton, lunch at West Cornwall Pasty, London Aquarium, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bella Italia for dinner
Another great way to discover the "other London" is by London Walks tours.
Each tour of London walks cost 5 pounds and takes you to discover parts of London in a way that you never knew or saw.
Some of the guides are really nice and makes it quite interesting !
Check it out in: www.walks.com
I have an old guidebook to London that was published during World War II. There's a small insert piece of paper that explains that due to the war, they cannot publish the full set of maps they usually do. There is only one fold out city center map with the underground stations marked and some of the main streets. What really makes me laugh, though is their suggestions for itineraries for one or two days' sightseeing. I really don't know how you could fit it all in! Surely they don't suggest you do all these things? I wonder if they're saying that any or several of these for morning and afternoon would be sufficient though they do mention that it's a "very hurried day". I expect you could do it if you were just walking past all these sights and not going inside. To reproduce it:
One Day. Morning:
National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Whitehall (passing Gov't Offices, Royal Unitied Services museum and the cenotaph), Parliament, Westminster Abbey and cathedral, Buckingham Palace (exterior), St. James's Park, London Museum Lancaster House, St. James's Palace (exterior).
Lunch in the Piccadilly or Leicester Square area. (phew!)
Afternoon: Regent, Oxford Streets, Wallace Collection, Drive thru Hyde Park, Kens. Gdns, Piccadilly, Royal Academy, British Museum, Lincoln's Inn walk, Law Courts and Temple, Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, St. Paul's
They go on to suggest dinner and theatre if you are staying overnight.
An Alternative might be:
Morning: Twr London, Monument, Bank of England, Royal Exchange, Guildhall, Cheapside, St. Paul's. Lunch. Law Courts, Temple Gardens, Embankment, County Hall, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, National Gallery (open evenings of certain days).
A bit more doable.
Fondest memory: Two days:
Charing Cross, National Gallery and Portrait Gallery, Whitehall, Parliament, County Hall, Westminster Abbey (Lunch) War Museum, Lambeth Palace exterior, Tate Britain, Westminster Cathedral, St. James's Park, London Museum, Green and Hyde Parks, V&A museum, Nat. Hist. and Science Museums.
Twr. London, Monument, Royal Exchange, Bank, Guildhall, Cheapside, St. Paul's, (lunch) Holborn, British Museum, Oxford St., Wallace Collection, Regent's Park, Zoo
Longer stays suggest things like the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the "new" Horniman museum, Windsor, Hampton Court, Kew, Richmond, Epping Forest, Croyden Airport
Oh yes, that's the main international airport, Croyden. In another old book i have, published in the 50's, it mentions London Airport (Heathrow) that is under construction. In that book, the Museum of London has moved to a wing of Kensington Palace.
Old guidebooks are fascinating!
Favorite thing: I believe the best way to see London (well almost any city) is on foot. It may cut down on how many 'sights' you might visit in a day, but nothing gives you a feel for a city like London unless you walk and see the neighborhoods, people and atmosphere change. I have been lucky and in my last 8 trips, it has never rained once (no I ain't makin it up).
I saw this really cool wall mural while on a walking tour through Soho. The walking tour was organised by The Big London Bus co and is included on their ticket (although you can pay to go just on the walk) but there are a few other tours available with different companies That particular one was the Rock & Roll Tour
The mural is the Spirit of Soho and is located at the corner of Carnaby St & Broadwick St
I really love wandering around London. There is so much to see, to absorb, to smell(!) just walking the streets of London. I find that a good walk is the best cure to jetlag, so my first day rarely has real plans beyond a great walk, and never something that requires more than an hours worth of attention, otherwise I will want to fall asleep!!
One of my favorite walks starts at Westminster Tube station and and goes down Whitehall, which pass a plethora of historic sites. Then I cut through the Horse Guards Parade, walk through Green Park, and then over Pall Mall to St James's Palace area and Marlborough House. You can cut through to Green Park by Clarence House and loop back to Buckingham Palace and down to Victoria Station. OR walk down Bird Cage Walk back to the Westminster area. Love It!! Lots to see, pictures to take, green spaces to breathe in, ice cream to buy...
Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens is always a good choice, however, Hyde Park is ALOT bigger than you think it is!! And I tend to walk from Kensington Park, over to the Albert Memorial, then back through the park across the serpentine. This is a great walk especially when I need some thinking time, its shockingly quiet in the middle of the park in the middle of London!
So is Regents Park and the swanky houses along the east side. There is a great little place that sells the best bangers and mash on the walk from Regents Park tube station towards the Zoo!
I'm dying to walk through the 'old city' sometime, but in the meantime, I'll savor my little walks and enjoy the surprises around every corner!
Walking in London is simply superb, as you end up seeing and experiencing a whole lot more than when you are in one of those sight seeing open top buses.
While walking you end up in little alleys and cloves housing some beautiful historic relics which still have to discovered by the remaining thousands of tourists hitting the city.
But besides walking, when you have to get around the city, buy one of those all day passes. They cost around 7 pounds and let you travel all day (off peak hours) on any train, tube, bus and tram. Its a great way to save money and get around london.
Fondest memory: Standing on the Millenium Bridge and staring at the city.
The millenium bridge goes over the river Thames and almost all important tourist landmarks are visible from the bridge.
Standing on the bridge while other londoners and tourists are in a rush to get somewhere, gives you a minute to just absorb the city and its madness.
Not too mention the breeze and the river have that calm effect which perfectly balances the chaos around you.
It was a good time.
Besides my own 1st visit to London, I've traveled with a variety of people on their 1st visit to London, a sister in law and her 12 & 14 year olds, a 17 year old niece, a 20 year old niece and several friends. While each visit was a little different, there are some things that I seem to take them all to and since I'm planning yet another 1st visit, I thought I'd finally write it down!
Day 1 arrival from overseas, don't want to cram too much into it. It's a nice day to get a feel for London, either by jumping on a bus for an overview (bus 15 has a great route) or taking a self guided walk through Royal London
Day 2 if it's a weekend day and the weather's not rainy, London markets are a lot of fun. Portobello Road on Saturday, Camden Market on Saturday or Sunday. In the afternoon, explore one of the fabulous museums-V&A, Natural History, Science, British Museum, Museum of London, Imperial War Museum, National Gallery, Tate-all free.
Day 3 the Tower of London is a must see for the history, start early and go see the crown jewels first, double back for one of the included tours by the beefeaters and spend the rest of the day exploring. Allow for at least 1/2 the day. St. Paul's is on the way back to central London, if there is adequate time
Day 4 Westminster Abbey, spring for the extra verger tour
Day 5 Maybe a daytrip, Windsor or Hampton Court are both very easy and about 1/2 hour outside central London. Bath, Oxford, York, Warwick and even Paris are a few options a little further and more costly
In the evenings consider one of the London Walks or an evening at the theater
Take the Jack Ripper tour with a good guide. Don't take it with a standard tourist group... there are a couple guys that do the tours and give it a lot more effort. Its a great way to start an evening and will give your night at a club very different feeling.
Fondest memory: Looking to my left, after reading a sign that read, 'Look Right', and almost getting run over by a car coming from... you guessed it - the right.