London: A Visitor’s Guide
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How long is the walk? Approximately 5 miles
How long will the walk take? About 1¾ to 2½ 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: Get the Circle line to Queensway (10-15 min walk to Kensington Palace), or the District/Circle line to High Street Kensington (10-15 min walk). Alternatively, catch the 70, 94, 148, 390 bus to Bayswater Road, or the 9, 10, 49, 52, 70, 452 bus to Kensington High Street
Before we set off on the walk take a quick look around the outside of Kensington Palace (starting at the south gate). You can peer through the famous railings at the statue of King William III, who moved in after the Glorious Revolution. Further round is a rather too-smooth looking statue of Queen Victoria – the palace’s most famous resident. You can also get a sneaky peek of some of the gardens and Orangery without paying an entry fee.
Once you are done with the palace, head west towards the Round Pound in Kensington Gardens. Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are really one and the same place, but anything west of the Serpentine is called ‘Kensington Gardens’. Hyde Park covers everything to the east. Both parks are very open with wide open spaces.
If you continue east then you will come to the Serpentine Lake. Walk along its edge until you come to the ‘Italian Gardens’ filled with benches, statues and water fountains. You will find some refreshments and toilets here if you need to take a break. Then continue south along the other side of the Serpentine.
You’ll get some great views of the lake as you cross over the central bridge. The head past the Serpentine Gallery, a rather tiny gallery which focuses on contemporary works.
Now we’re going to head away from the lake for a little while, and take a look at the Albert Memorial. This is probably the most elaborate memorial in the whole of London, and was built by Queen Victoria to mark the death of her beloved Prince Albert. You can see a video of this area on Craig’s London blog.
Over the road you will be able to see the Royal Albert Hall, home to the annual Prom concerts, and one of London’s most prestigious music venues. But we will settle for seeing it from afar, and then head back towards the lake again. It is possible to have a guided tour of the Royal Albert Hall, if you’ve got the time.
Before you reach the bridge you should be able to get a glimpse of the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain to your right. This controversial memorial is a bit like Marmite – you’ll either love it or hate it! Check out Craig’s London blog to see a video of it.
Cross over the bridge again and walk along the Serpentine’s northern bank. You will find a little shop over there, and a place where you can hire boats during the summer months. At the end of the lake you will find another cafe, where you can stop and have a cup of tea and congratulate yourself for reaching the halfway point of the walk.
At the corner of the park you will see the brown-brick Apsley House. This is where the Duke of Wellington used to live, one of Britain’s most famous Prime Ministers, and Napoleon’s victor at the Battle of Waterloo.
When you cross over the busy road you will see a grand monument built in his honour – Wellington Arch. This offers fine views of the surrounding area (including a little bit of Buckingham Palace gardens), and if you’ve got half-an-hour to spare then it’s worth a quick trip inside. (Craig’s London blog is on hand again, with a little video of the view.)
You are now at the top of Constitution Hill… the road which leads down to Buckingham Palace. It is also at the far end of Green Park. This is probably the least interesting park of the four, because it’s just full of green grass and trees.
Along its northern edge you will find a new memorial to the fighting crew of Bomber Command. It’s a very imposing sight, and well worth a look. On the other side of the fence is one of London’s most famous shopping streets – Piccadilly – but we will stick with the peace and quiet of the park.
Once you reach the far corner (near Green Park tube station), turn south and head along the eastern edge of the park. This will take you past some very grand houses, the most famous of which is Spencer House.
As you reach the edge of the park you will pass through the rather ornate gates and find the Queen Victoria Memorial straight ahead. Cross over the road and have a look at the fountains, before turning your attention to Buckingham Palace.
Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of Her Majesty the Queen, and if there’s a Royal Standard flying from the roof then you’ll know that she’s home.
If there are huge crowds gathering outside then you may be in time to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony (although you would have had to have set off from Kensington Palace at around 8 AM to get a good spot – it’s approximately 1½ to 2 hours to walk to this point). If it’s during the summer then you might even be able to visit the State Rooms. (Check out the current events at Buckingham Palace.)
Now we’re going to head into our fourth and final park, which is one of London’s finest – St. James’s Park. There should be some refreshment stands dotted around if you need a drink.
Start by scouting the southern side of the lake, which is usually filled with hundreds of squabbling swans, ducks and geese. When you reach the central bridge turn left to see a great view of the Palace. The view to the right is of a huge fountain and the buildings along Whitehall. Now carry on along the water and have a sit down on the benches (one of our favourite sitting spots in the whole of London). You might like to have something to eat and drink at the restaurant too. Check out Craig’s blog for a video of what this area looks like.
Once you have rested your weary feet head across the road towards Horse Guards Parade. This famous parade ground is where they hold all the big military events like Trooping the Colour. Walk straight across the orangey-brown coloured parade ground and go through the central arch.
You might find a soldier standing guard underneath the arch, but if you don’t then he is probably standing in the courtyard on the other side of the arch. When you head out into Whitehall you will find another two cavalry men standing guard in the horse boxes. This is one of London’s most popular photo stops for tourists. If it’s really late (around 4 o’clock), then you might want to stick around for the Dismounting Ceremony.
You are now in Whitehall. Directly across the road is Banqueting House, where Charles I met his end after the English Civil War. If you head to the right then you will eventually come to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, but we will head to the left instead.
You are now in central London, and what you do with the rest of the day is up to you. You might like to explore the National Gallery, on the north side of the square. Or maybe take a short walk towards Covent Garden, Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus.
If you’d rather just go home, then Charing Cross tube station is nearby, and there are plenty of bus stops to take you to practically any part of the city.