London: A Visitor’s Guide
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How long is the walk? Approximately 6½ miles
How long will the walk take? About 2½ to 3½ 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 District/Circle line to Westminster (5 min walk to the London Eye), or the Bakerloo/Jubilee/Northern line to Waterloo (10-15 min walk). Alternatively, catch the 77, 211, 381, RV1 bus
Put on your best pair of walking boots, because this is going to be a long walk. But you’ll get to see practically every major landmark in the city… so it will be 3 hours well spent.
The walk begins underneath the London Eye. If you’ve got the time then you might like to ride it. It only takes 45 minutes to go round and will give you a fantastic idea of where you’re going to walk. Craig has put together a review and a video on his London blog if you want to take a look.
There are a couple of other attractions next-door which you might like to note whilst passing – the London Dungeon and London Aquarium. They are both situated in the imposing County Hall, which used to be home to London’s local government (before Maggie Thatcher kicked them out).
Now cross over Westminster Bridge towards Big Ben. Big Ben is actually the name of the bell, rather than the clock tower, and it’s the second biggest bell in London after the one at St. Paul’s (which we will see later on). Cross over the road to Parliament Square and admire the views of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Once again, you can check out Craig’s London blog for a closer look.
Now head up Whitehall, which is filled with grand government buildings like the Treasury and Foreign Office. The stark monument standing in the centre of the road is called The Cenotaph, which commemorates the men and women who died fighting for our country.
A little further on from The Cenotaph is the entrance to Downing Street, where the British Prime Minister lives. You can go and stand next to the gate if you like, and see if the PM comes out. The famous front-door of No.10 can be seen a long way up the street, to the right.
On the corner of Horse Guards Avenue is Banqueting House, one of the most infamous locations in British history. This is where Charles I was put to death after losing the English Civil War.
Over the road from Banqueting House is Horse Guards. There should be two mounted soldiers guarding it. If you time it right, then you might be able to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony which takes place here every day (11 AM, or 10 AM on Sundays). If you are doing this walk very late in the day (4 PM), then you might be able to catch the Dismounting ceremony instead. (Check out our full list of London’s parades and ceremonies.)
The impressive building on the north-side of the square is the National Gallery, containing artworks by Cézanne, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, Titian, Turner and Van Gogh, amongst others. You might like to see if there are any art exhibitions on. You can also look for art exhibitions in October, art exhibitions in November and art exhibitions in December.
Do a circle of the entire square and then head towards the right, through Admiralty Arch. This forms the entrance to London’s most famous ceremonial street – The Mall – down which the Queen rides in her gold State coach on big parade days.
The park on our left is St. James’s Park – one of London’s finest. There should be some refreshment stands near the gates if you need a drink.
About two-thirds of the way up The Mall, on the right, should be a couple of sentry boxes with armed soldiers standing outside. This is St. James’s Palace. It’s a lot older than Buckingham Palace, and is actually the more senior of the two palaces. It is used for official functions and is not open to the public.
A little further on is the official residence of Prince Charles and Camilla – Clarence House. It’s the creamy-white building behind the wall, but you’ll probably have to peer through the leafy trees to see it.
Once you near the end of The Mall you should see a huge statue in the centre of the road. This is the Queen Victoria Memorial. Directly behind it is the grand facade of 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 at 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 the London Eye at around 9.15 AM to get a good spot – it’s approximately 40 mins to 1 hour to walk to this point).
Turn right at Green Park tube station and walk past The Ritz. This is the poshest hotel in the whole of London and costs a fortune… but luckily Craig has been there before, and created a little video for you on his blog.
As you near the end of the road you should see the famous neon lights of Piccadilly Circus. Having your photo taken underneath the Eros fountain is supposed to bring you luck (and maybe a little love!).
Keep walking in the same direction (down Coventry Street) until you come to Leicester Square. You are now in the heart of the West End, and the streets around here are filled with theatres and cinemas. There are plenty of pubs and restaurants near Leicester Square too, if you want to stop for a drink.
Walk around the square and head towards Charing Cross road, then bear right. If you carried on walking down here then you would eventually come to Trafalgar Square again, but we are going to turn left down William IV Street. This will take us into the Strand.
Keep walking until you come to Southampton Street, then turn left. You will now find yourself in Covent Garden. This is another great entertainment area, and you will probably find some professional street entertainers in Covent Garden. Check out the little boutique shops and café inside the piazza as well. There are lots more pubs and restaurants around the Covent Garden area.
As you leave the piazza via Russell Street, take a quick look down Bow Street. This is where you̵ll find the Royal Opera House – London’s premiere venue for operas and ballets.
Now walk down Wellington Street back towards the Strand, then turn left into the curving street of Aldwych. You will eventually come to a church called St. Clement Danes.
You are now at the beginning of Fleet Street. This was once home to Britain’s newspaper industry, but the papers have long since moved their offices to other parts of the country (mainly Canary Wharf and Wapping).
The gothic splendour of the Royal Courts of Justice will greet you on the left, where many of the country’s biggest cases are tried. There are usually a few cameraman waiting outside ready to snap the famous faces as they exit. It is actually free to go inside here, and it is well worth a quick look. Check out Craig’s London blog for a review of what it’s like.
In the middle of the street stands Temple Bar. This monument marks the spot where one of the ancient gates to the city once stood. Carry on walking down Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill until huge grey-green dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral looms into view.
If you need a drink then this is another great place to do it – they have a café in the Crypt which is free to enter (walk round to the lefthand side to see the café entrance). If you have plenty of energy left then you might like to pay the entrance fee and climb the 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery, plus another 119 steps up to the Stone Gallery, which has fine views across London.
When you are done, walk round the back of the Cathedral and head towards Cheapside. This will take you to down to one of London’s best collection of buildings.
The best of the bunch 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 Wellington standing outside, looking over the road to Mansion House. Once again, Craig is your best guide, and he’s put together a video and a review on his blog.
Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, and every November he (or she) parades out of here in his (or hers!) 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.
Now head down King William Street. When you get to the end cross over the road and look to your left. You should see a huge stone column called The Monument. This was built by Sir Christopher Wren in the 1670s and marks 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.
Head towards the river until you come to the Tower of London. This World Heritage Site is arguably the most historic site in the whole of England, and dates back nearly a thousand years to 1066. You will probably be far too tired to do it today, after walking so far, but we always recommend a Tower tour with a Yeoman Warder.
The walk comes to an end halfway across Tower Bridge. Take some time to stroll across the busy bridge and look down the river, because there are still some good landmarks to see…
The strange teardrop-shaped building on the left is City Hall. This is home to the London Government, and is where the Mayor of London has his day-to-day offices. Next to City Hall is a 75-year old veteran from World War II – HMS Belfast.
And behind them towers the tallest building in London – The Shard. This rises more than 1,000 feet above the rooftops and has fantastic views from the 72nd floor. Check out Craig’s London travel blog again, for a video of what it looks like from the top.