London: A Visitor’s Guide
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How long is the walk? Approximately 3¾ miles
How long will the walk take? About 1 hour 20 mins to 2 hours. This is based on a leisurely 20-30 mins per mile, but you should add on more time if you plan on stopping at any of the places
Starting point: Catch the District/Circle line to Tower Hill, or catch the 15, 42, 78, 100, RV1 bus
> Read Craig’s review of this walk Check out my blog for a full review of this walk, with more photos
This walk will take you around the ancient city of Londinium, founded by the Romans in 43 AD. Quite a lot of it still survives around the city. Unfortunately lots of it is shut up to the public, hidden away in office basements, but a surprising amount can still be found if you know where to look.
The Romans built a large wall around the outskirts around 200 AD, and we will begin our walk at the biggest bit. You can find it outside Tower Hill station. It’s nearly 10 metres tall and is accompanied by a statue of the Emperor Trajan. Take some time to read the plaque on the wall, which gives you some details about how it was built.
Go up the steps and past the station, and then cross over the road into Trinity Square Gardens. This pleasant little park is worth visiting for the Merchant Navy Memorial. It is also the spot where they used to execute traitors (you might recognise it by its more famous name: Tower Hill). If you have a stroll around then you should be able to locate a plaque on the floor which lists all of traitors.
Leave the park and follow the main road until you come to Great Tower Street, then continue past St. Dunstan’s church. If you look left as you’re walking (past St. Dunstan’s Hill and St. Mary-at-Hill), then you will see London’s tallest building towering over the rooftops. We will get a closer look at The Shard later on in the walk.
If you turn right up Philpot Lane then you will pass under one of the City’s most infamous skyscrapers – the so-called ‘Walkie Schorchie’. It’s curving glass facade famously focused all of the sun’s rays into the street below, melting all of the cars. But don’t worry, it should be fixed by the time you walk past it!
If you continue going north down Lime Street, then you can cut into Leadenhall Market. This old Victorian market is straight out of Dickens, with brilliant reds and gold and ornate iron girders. It is also situated on the site of the old Roman basilica (town hall) and forum (centre of commerce). Unfortunately you can’t see any of it above ground today, but 2,000 years ago this would have been one of the most important parts of the city.
Head through the market and out the other side, then turn left into Gracechurch Street. Keep going until you can see The Monument up ahead.
The Monument was built by Christopher Wren in the 1670s to mark the spot where the Great Fire of London started (it actually started 203-feet away, in Pudding Lane). It’s hard to believe now, but this used to be one of the tallest buildings in the City! If you’ve got 45 mins to spare then you might want to climb up The Monument (but read Craig’s review first).
Continue south until you come to London Bridge, then take some time to stroll across the bridge for some fine views of Tower Bridge down the river. If you’re lucky then you might arrive at one of Tower Bridge’s scheduled lift times. You should also be able to see the World War II battleship HMS Belfast moored along the right.
Across the other side of the bridge will be that same building we came across before – The Shard. This is the tallest building in the UK.
Now head back the way you came, past The Monument again, and turn left into Cannon Street. You need to keep your eyes open now, because when you pass Cannon Street station look on the opposite pavement for a grill on the wall. If you peer inside that grill then you will see one of London’s most mysterious artifacts – the London Stone. Some people believe that London Stone is older than the city itself, but it certainly dates back to Roman times.
Now turn right up Walbrook, and right again towards Bank station. You will now be looking at one of London’s greatest junctions. Have a read of Craig’s London blog to see some good photos of The City.
The best of the buildings is the Royal Exchange. It might look like a grand city hall, but it’s actually just a posh shopping centre. You can see an equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington standing outside.
Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, and every November he (or she) parades out of here in his Gold coach towards the Royal Courts of Justice to take the oath.
The third great building in this square is the Bank of England, where the country keeps its gold reserves. This is the British equivalent of Fort Knox.
When you’re done taking photos, head in the opposite direction down Queen Victoria Street for another piece of Roman history. It may be hidden behind some building signs and barricades, but along the lefthand side of the street is the remains of a Roman temple – the Temple of Mithras. All that remains in situ are the foundations, but the statues and big pieces of masonry can be seen at the Museum of London.
Now turn right up Watling Street, and enjoy a little lane of ye olde-style shops and cafés. This was more-or-less the centre of ancient Londinium, and the Museum of London has a great mosaic on display that was found here.
At the end of Watling Street is a big glass shopping centre called One New Change. We suggest that you take 15 minutes to go inside and ride the lift all the way to the top, where you can see some fantastic views of St. Paul’s and the London skyline (there are also some toilets inside if you need a wee break). Craig has done a little video of the view on his London blog.
Now cross over the road and walk around to the front of St. Paul’s Cathedral. We definitely recommend having a nose around inside (it’s fairly expensive). They also have a café in the Crypt which is free to enter (with toilets) – the entrance to the Crypt is round the other side, opposite Paternoster Square. If you’re feeling energetic then you might like to climb the 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery.
When you come out of St. Paul’s take some time to search out Temple Bar. It stands at the entrance to Paternoster Square, and was originally one of the ancient gates into the city. It was rebuilt by Christopher Wren in the 1670s, and was moved here from its original spot in Fleet Street.
Walk around to the back of the cathedral and down Cheapside. You should pass St. Mary-le-Bow on your right. It is said that if you’re born within the sound of the ‘Bow bells’ then you can consider yourself a true cockney. Turn left when you get to King Street.
Now we’re coming to the highlight of our Roman tour… can you see the medieval Guildhall up ahead? This is where the Mayor of London holds political meetings, and the impressive building acts as a grand setting for banquets, royal occasions, and receiving foreign dignatories. Whilst the buiding has been much changed over the years, it has been the powerhouse of the City of London for more than 800 years.
To the right of the Guildhall is the Guildhall Art Gallery. Can you see the grey ring of bricks marked out on the forecourt? That is the site of the old Roman amphitheatre. Try and imagine the Guildhall and Guildhall Art Gallery as being the seating around the central pit. If you go inside the gallery then you can see its remains in the basement – for free! Craig’s written a review of this place on his London travel blog, which includes a video of the Roman remains.
Now cross over the forecourt and head down Gresham Street. When you reach Noble Street, turn right. This road follows the western edge of the old Roman fort, built around 1900 years ago. You can see a substantial amount of the city wall still standing. This is one of the most impressive remnants left in the city, and there are plenty of plaques along the pavement which are worth a read.
Follow the road to the end and cross over the busy street. You should see a curving ramp leading down to a car-park. Walk down here and you will come face to face with a bastion tower. Walk across the grass to see some more bits of wall. Eventually you will come to a large pool of water with another circular tower, and you will have to retrace your steps all the way back to the ramp.
Next door to the ramp is a little flight of stairs which will take you up to the ‘Barbican Highwalk’. You are now entering the Barbican Centre – a huge concrete jungle which is notoriously easy to get lost in. If you manage to complete the rest of the walk without losing your way, then you are doing extremely well!
Keep going past the little shops and turn left into ‘Alban Highwalk’ and then ‘The Postern’. Resist the temptation to go down ‘Wallside’, and keep going to the stairs at the end of ‘The Postern’. This will take you down to the ground level again, and plop you right in front of St. Giles Cripplegate church.
If you do a lap of the church then you will see the other side of that circular tower that we saw earlier. There is also another huge section of Roman wall along the water’s edge.
All that remains now is for you to retrace your steps on the ‘Barbican Highwalk’. But before you go home, you might like to follow the signposts to the Museum of London. This contains all of the Roman remains that they found in the ground – a good way to end your Roman history tour. It also has some toilets and a little café so you can rest your weary feet.