A couple of weeks ago, my friend Karen asked if I could help her and her husband plot a route around London to see the sights. I went one better and provided a fully illustrated guide to every major site in London that was completely walk-able. With no idea how long it would take to walk, or even if it was all that feasible, they set off with it. Fortunately, it worked, and they were able to see everything they wanted.
As such, I provide the same route here for anyone who wants to see as much of London as possible in one day. I’ve posted a walk before, but this one has more of a goal. All you have to do is start at London Bridge station…
Head up above ground and under the Shard, and go down St Thomas Street or London Bridge Street. Go towards Borough Market, which looks like a strange sort of greenhouse. Pass through the market, heading towards the Thames. You will pass Southwark Cathedral and then arrive at the Golden Hinde. Go down Clink Street and you’ll emerge on the side of the Thames again, between a Nando’s and a pub called The Anchor.
Walk under Southwark Bridge, and opposite Bankside Pier is Shakespeare’s Globe, the only thatched building that’s been allowed in London since the Great Fire in 1666. Next is the Millennium Bridge, famously destroyed by Death Eaters but now back in one piece. This is in front of the Tate Modern. On the other side of the bridge you will see St Paul’s Cathedral, but don’t go there yet, I’m factoring it in for later.
Go under Blackfriars Bridge and you’ll pass The Coat and Badge pub. Keep on walking past the National Theatre and then past the next two bridges (the Thames has over two hundred bridges, as well as twenty-seven tunnels, six ferries and a cable car) and you’ll come to the London Eye. The Jubilee Gardens are nice here. At Westminster Bridge, cross over the Thames at last! This should have taken about an hour so far, not counting time to stop for photos.
Here you will pass Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster where the government are busy messing up the country. Just past this, you’ll see Parliamentary Square which is full of statues of famous politicians. On your left is Westminster Abbey.
This next bit has been a bit trickier to try and fit in without going back on yourself, so I think this works as the most sensible method. Turn right before Parliamentary Square and you should be on Whitehall. Up here on the left is the entrance to Downing Street. There’s also usually some guardsmen up here too looking very severe. Walk the length of Whitehall and then you’ll reach Trafalgar Square at the end. Don’t cross over to it yet, you’ll be coming back.
Turn into the next street on the left, under Admiralty Arch, and go down The Mall – it’s the street painted red. Follow this right down and (you’ll have seen what’s at the end) you will be outside Buckingham Palace. Alternatively, you can walk through St James’s Park on your left to the same destination once through the arch.
With Buckingham Palace behind you, on the left is Green Park. Walk through here until you reach Piccadilly, and then turn right. You should pass Green Park Station. On this road you will pass The Ritz, Fortnum & Mason (grocers to the Royal family), my favourite bookshops; Hatchard’s and the flagship Waterstone’s store, and you will emerge into Piccadilly Circus. Keep going through Coventry Street and you’ll find yourself in Leicester Square, home to cinemas, restaurants and M&M’s World.
Carry on through Leicester Square and then turn right into Charing Cross Road. Keep on down this road and you will come out at Trafalgar Square. When you’re done here, your next stop is St Paul’s, but there are two options.
ONE: Go to Charing Cross tube station, get the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus and change to the Central line to St Paul’s. This will take about ten minutes.
TWO: Walk along Duncannon Street and then into the Strand, the curve of Aldwych, down Fleet Street, and Ludgate Hill. This will take about half an hour, but takes in the Royal Courts of Justice, as well as Ye Olde Chesire Cheese, one of London’s oldest pubs.
Either method you choose, you’ll arrive at St Paul’s Cathedral. Opposite this is the geometrically angular new shopping centre One New Change, which is fairly unremarkable but there are gorgeous views from the cocktail bar on the roof, which you can get into without having to buy anything.
I promise, you’re nearly done, just a few more things to show you.
If now facing towards the river (you should be able to see Millennium Bridge and the Tate Modern on the other side of the river), turn left into Cannon Street. At the end, turn riverwards down into King William Street then into Monument Street to see Monument, built to acknowledge the Great Fire of London. You can climb it, but it’s narrow and tough on the legs. Out of Monument Street, you’ll come to Lower Thames Street and keep going left. After another fifteen minutes or so, you reach the Tower of London.
Go down to the riverside, then cross Tower Bridge. Turn right off the end here and you’ll pass City Hall (Boris’s office) and now you’re on the home stretch back to London Bridge! Walk along this side of the river and you’ll pass HMS Belfast, and at the end of this run, you’re back at London Bridge station.
Once you’ve gone full circle, you should have seen every major tourist spot in central London. There’s still some debate about how long this takes – Karen veered off at one point, and I’ve not added up the different sections (writers, infamously, cannot do maths) – but my only advice would be to wear comfortable shoes. This is a long walk but hopefully it’s worth it.
If you feel inspired to try this walk for yourself, please let me know by commenting and tell me how it worked for you and what you particularly liked along the route. I hope this will provide a crash course in London for many of you.
Knowing where to begin my journey through London was perhaps one of the more difficult questions in setting up this blog. Do I go somewhere world famous and obvious, like Buckingham Palace, or to one of my favourite locations like the Natural History Museum, or to somewhere completely obscure and off the beaten track like … well, it’s so obscure I don’t know it. But then one location seemed to make more sense than any other. If you’re going to start something, you have to start at the beginning, and that can only mean Greenwich, the place where time itself begins.
Greenwich isn’t an area I know terribly well, but I like it when I do turn up. My friend Claire accompanied me on this journey and, determined to show me something blog-worthy, announced that she wanted to show me one of her favourite places in London.
It turns out that her favourite place in London is among the hallowed halls of the Old Royal Naval College, sandwiched between the Thames and Greenwich Park, most notably the Painted Hall, which I’ll get onto in a moment, as it’s the main reason I’m writing today.
Where the Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) now stands was once the location of Greenwich Palace, which was built by Henry VII, and later saw the birth of his two granddaughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I. After it was demolished in the 1690s, Mary II saw a hospital was built there for seamen, which was when the famous Chapel and the Painted Hall were introduced. The hospital was closed in the 1800s and was then converted into a training base for the Royal Navy. They abandoned the site in 1998, when it was turned over to the Greenwich Foundation, who restored it and ensured that it would all be opened up for visitors.
If you aren’t sure what building I’m talking about, then I suggest you google it, and you’ll find very quickly that you’ve probably seen its exteriors somewhere before. It makes an appearance in many films including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Tomb Raider, Thor: The Dark World, The King’s Speech, The Golden Compass and Les Miserables.
While the outside is a deeply impressive looking building, it is inside where the truly beautiful sights exist. The Chapel is wonderful, gilded and ornate to within an inch of its life. The ceiling was designed by John Papworth, a master plasterer and uses squares and octagons in a neo-classical design. In keeping with the naval theme, there is an anchor and rope incorporated in the floor design, although there are hints of its naval history throughout.
Despite being non-religious, I’ve always found a certain calmness and delight in chapels, cathedrals and the like. They’re peaceful places, and always have an eerie sort of quiet that you don’t find anywhere else. It still serves its original purpose and a service is held every Sunday with supposedly some of the best acoustics anywhere. The organ is still in use, too, and cost £1000 to install in 1798.
Opposite this, across the courtyard, you have the Painted Hall, one of Claire’s favourite London spots and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Before you even get to the paintings, as you step into the door you can look right up into the dome, ninety feet above you, and then the famous ceiling, all 5683 square feet of it, comes into view. I realised almost immediately that I’d seen it before in a documentary about the Stuarts, but nothing comes close to seeing it for real.
Seated in the middle of a grand oval are King William III and Queen Mary II, the only monarchs to have co-ruled. They are surrounded by their family, and then beyond that symbols that represent the monarchy as a whole, as well as religion and then all the things that one would expect from a place so intrinsically linked to the navy – signs of our maritime power, navigation and trade.
The walls, too, are covered in intricate paintings showing more people and events than it’s possible to even take in. The painter was one Sir John Thornhill, who worked on it in two major phases between 1708 and 1727. For all his work, he became the first artist to receive a knighthood, and quite rightly so. The Painted Hall is known to some as “the finest dining hall in Europe”, and others still call it “the Sistine Chapel of the UK”. Both are completely fair assessments. Thornhill has included himself in the work; he can be found on the west wall, surrounded by paintbrushes, looking down upon his work.
To save your neck, in the middle of the room there is a mirror on a table, so you can peek up while looking down, making for a very curious experience. The rest of the room feels a little like Hogwarts; long wooden tables lined with candlesticks and awaiting a new class of wizards to come in and enjoy a conjured up feast. Like so many places in London, there is a sense of magic about the place, and very definitely a sense of history. The paintings are currently being restored at great cost to bring back the original vibrancy, but even now they are remarkable things to look at. Claire has since discovered that it’s even possible to get married there, and I do wonder how she’s going to broach that subject with her boyfriend when the time comes.
Finally, just off the main hall is a smaller room dedicated to Lord Nelson. His coffin was stored here prior to his being laid-in-state, and now it holds examples of his coat of arms and a replica statue of the one that stands atop Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. This one is much smaller, however, being perhaps a couple of metres tall – the real one is five metres tall, although you’d never know it from the foot of the column.
There’s a reason this is a World Heritage Site, and I for one encourage you all to stop by if you’re in the area, and even if you’re not, to gaze upon the incredible artwork in here. Greenwich is great for a day out in general, with the expansive and beautiful park nearby, as well as the Royal Observatory, the Cutty Sark, Greenwich Market and more besides. But let’s not hurry ourselves. We’ve got plenty to time to get around to discussing those.