This is a long walk. It's an hour, maybe, at a stroll but really a complete daytrip in itself, if you stop and take advantage of all the great stuff along the way. There are open top double decker tourist buses but I always feel the best way to see an old city, one not designed by the car, is on foot.
Start at Buckingham Palace, the Queen's official London pad. Not the most beautiful palace in the world but palacial none the less. Originally the home of the Duke of Buckingham. Queen Victoria acquired and developed it. You can watch the changing of the guard here.
Now head down the Mall or take the path through St Jame's Park or if you take Bird Cage Walk you might catch a military band on the parade ground in Chelsea Barracks.
- Welcome to the official website of the British Monarchy
The official website of the British Monarchy. Information on the history of the Monarchy, today's royal family and the Royal Art and Residences
At the end of the Mall you'll walk under Admiralty Arch and come out into Traflagar Square. Named after the decisive naval battle in which Napoleon's navy was destroyed and Nelson lost his life, the square offers pigeons and lions and a statue of the great Admiral himself looking across the city. On the far side of the square you can visit the National Gallery and nearby is also the Naitonal Portrait gallery. Both are free. You can see Turners and Constables and many other superb artists' works.
As you come up from the Mall into Trafalgar Square the entrance to Whitehall is on the right. Here you'll find a straight road with memorials and statues and an array of government buildings. Along the right as you walk towards the Houses of Parliament you'll find Horse Guards Parade, appropriately guarded by a soldier on a horse. He'll be part of the Household Cavalry. The horses are incredibly patient (as are the soldiers) crowded by tourists. A little further up, again on the right you'll find the entrance to an unassuming row of terrace houses blocked by railings and armed police. This is Downing Street, the Prime Minister lives and works at number 10; next door at number 11 is the Chancellor of the Exchequer responsible for the fiscal side of government.
Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA
At the end of Whitehall you'll see the Houses of Parliament on the left and in front of you across the green is Westminster Abbey. Inside the Abbey are buried the great and the good, poets, writers, politicians and kings and queens. Next to the abbey there is a smaller church, St Margaret's, which offers a more homely ecclesiastical space and has been traditionally used by MPs.
The clock tower of the Houses of Parliament is one of the great icons of the city. Strictly speaking Big Ben is the name of the bell that strikes the hours.
Now turn left and get yourself to the river. Great cities are made by nature - Rome by defensive hills, Manhattan by its island geography, Paris by the Seine, Rio de Janeiro by beaches and mountains - and London by the Thames leading to the estuary. Cross over by Westminster bridge.
- www.parliament.uk |Home page
United Kingdom Parliament website homepage
South of the river - for some north Londoners this is terra incognito; some ingrained race memory of the time south London was just basically one big swamp. Some may say not much has changed since those antediluvian days however, there is one section of south London that's hard to ignore - and well it's close enough to the north bank and within access of bridges to pop over to the north again if it gets all too much.
As you cross over Westminster Bridge you'll see the great ferris wheel - the London Eye. It moves slowly. A ride around takes about a half hour. It stands in front of a large building that used to be the GLC (Greater London Council) nowadays it houses the London Aquarium which has a fantastic display of the world's sea life, a hotel and a MacDonalds.
Take the steps down from the Bridge and get yourself on the riverbank. This is the South Bank.
The South Bank
Prince Charles famously denounced the architecture of the South Bank as a carbuncle. After everyone looked up the word carbuncle to find out what it meant, there was a lot of debate about the architecture and whether or not priviliged people should be able to voice their opinions in the way that Charlie had. Personally, I've had too many good times on the South Bank to want to change the place. Happy emotions have made it beautiful. If you look close you'll find the concrete has been moulded with wood grain!
After walking past the London Eye you'll begin to meet the world of the arts. The Royal Festival Hall, The Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery, the London Film Museum and the Purcell Room show every kind of art and music; and, tucked under the arches of Waterloo Bridge is the National Film Theatre. There are also second hand book stalls and restaurants. Buskers and other street artists - artists who draw with chalk and those people who dress up and stand very still until you chuck 'em a coin...people have got to a make a living ....oh and there's a beautiful old carousel. A little further on takes you to the National Theatre - there's a drama for everyone here.
- Home | Southbank Centre.
Southbank Centre is the largest single-run arts centre in the world and includes Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, Poetry Library and 21 acres of creative arts
As you walk on the river offers great vistas of the city. Another good way to go is by boat - there are moorings along the way where you can catch a river taxi - they offer a humorous commentary of the sights along the way.
If you're hungry there's Gabriel's wharf with a few eating places as well as art and antique shops.
Along the way...
Further on now you'll come across a large brick building. This used to be an electricity power station. Now it's been converted into the Tate Modern art gallery, housing all your Picassos and assundry modern painters - again this is free for the permanent exhibits. As you enter you'll come into the turbine hall which in itself is an impressive space.
The London Millennium Footbridge
Directly opposite Tate Modern is a newish footbridge which takes you straight to St Paul's cathedral in the City (the financial district). When first opened the bridge had a disconcerting tendancy to wobble and was closed for two years while engineers added weights to counteract this. It's a lovely bridge and no longer moves but is now commonly known as the Wobbly Bridge, in fact I've had to research to discover its proper name - the London Millennium Footbridge.
The American director Sam Wanamaker had a dream to reconstruct Shakespeare's own theatre - The Globe. He realised his dream and left us with a magnificent place to see the Bard's work in the round. If you buy the cheap tickets you'll be in the middle in front of the stage, at the mercy of the elements and seatless but feeling almost in the action. Be warned if your legs stiffen up quickly you'd best buy a seat! It is a great place to watch the plays.
A little further on you'll probably be in need of refreshment. The Anchor pub is a decent place to stop and on a sunny day, if you're lucky, you can grab a seat on their terrace by the river and watch the world and the tides float by. Inside there's an odd assortment of rooms and staircases -they do traditional pub grub including a Sunday roast in case you managed to resist the delights of Maccy Dee's by the London Eye....
- Shakespeare\'s Globe Theatre, Bankside, Southwark, London
The reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe on London's Bankside, including Theatre, Education and Exhibition departments.
Boats and Boris
Boats and Boris
Walking on now under Southwark Bridge and past the Clink Prison Museum you'll come across a replica of the Golden Hind, the ship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnivigated the world whilst stealing Spanish gold stolen from the Incas and also sinking Spanish ships and generally being a nuisance. There are tours of the boat and I believe your little ones can dress up as pirates and have a sleep over on board.
A little further on and more up to date is another boat, this time the genuine article, the HMS Belfast, which served during WWII; you can step on board and tour the galleys and guns and look out from the captain's bridge.
Before you come to Tower Bridge, you'll pass by the home of the Mayor of London set in an open area, its glassy and curvy. Boris is in there busy planning how to improve London.
- Welcome to HMS Belfast, a unique 20th century cruiser
Welcome to HMS Belfast, a unique reminder of Britain's 20th century naval heritage. You can explore the ship from her Quarterdeck all the way down to her massive Engine Rooms!
Tower Bridge and the Tower of London
End of the road
Finally you'll come to Tower Bridge, if you're very very lucky there might be a tall ship requiring the bridge to be raised - I've never seen it myself but it does happen! There's a museum on the bridge all about its remarkable construction.
The bridge leads you back over to the north side of the Thames (phew!), where you'll find the Tower of London. It was begun around 900 years ago by William the Conqueror and subsequently used as Royalty's number one nick and the final destination of many a poor and many a well heeled soul. If you can pay £20.90 to get inside, you can gaze upon the crown jewels and there's quite an armoury, including Henry VIII's own suit of armour. The place is replete with gore and history.
That's the end of the walk. If your feet are aching there's a tube station on the other side of the tower to take you to wherever you need to go. I'm sure there are a hundred things along the way that I've forgotten to mention but then that's the beauty of walking - making discoveries. Happy walking!
- Tower Bridge Exhibition
Completed in 1894, Tower Bridge was instantly hailed as a London icon and one of the great engineering marvels of its age. Come inside to explore its history, uncover its secrets and to enjoy stunning views from its high-level Walkways, situated 42 m