I had six days to tour London, so I decided to spend one of them getting lost and trying to find the most well known locations of this remarkable city while I walked its streets and discovered its secrets.
I started my day taking the tube and landing in Tottenham Court Road Station, why? I don’t know, I liked its name because it sounded very British. Near this station, a lovely little square caught my attention, it was Soho square. A little Tudor-style house sits in the centre of this Square, it was erected in 1925, because it was necessary to have a doorway above ground leading down to an electricity sub-station constructed under the gardens in the square, but now is used as a gardener’s hut.
I think this place was a perfect summary of this town, a green space, surrounded by really big buildings some new and some really old, small alleys which are part of the old layout of the city, some beautiful antique pubs (well here almost everything is antique)… that was London for me and this was the start of my love affair with this marvellous city.
Before starting my walking trip around the city I decided to have a beer in one of this beautiful pubs, The Nellie Dean of Soho. The place has a good selection of ales, a cosy plant-filled interior and an upstairs bar complete with pool table and jukebox.
I then walked along Oxford street and learned that this street was originally a Roman Road, part of the Via Trinobantina between Essex and Hampshire via London. It was known as Tyburn Road through the Middle Ages and was once notorious as a street where prisoners from Newgate Prison would be transported towards a public hanging, it became known as Oxford Street just in the 18th century. Now is a bustling street home to a number of major department stores and numerous flagship stores, as well as hundreds of smaller shops.
If you keep walking you’ll reach Oxford Circus, here I took Regent street, its big antique buildings lured me, so I keep walking through the world’s first shopping street. Its Grade II listed façades, originated from the designs of architect John Nash are considered some of the most distinguished architecture in London and its premises are the home to one of the finest collections of international brands in the world. The street was completed in 1825 and was an early example of town planning in England, cutting through the 17th and 18th century street pattern through which it passes.
While walking, a building caught my sight because of its Tudor revival style, and I felt compelled to go inside to see if the interior was as beautiful. As entering I realised it was the famous department store Liberty co. This shop opened during 1875 selling ornaments, fabrics and objets d’art from Japan and the East, and currently sells a wide range of luxury goods. Liberty has a history of collaborative projects – from William Morris and Gabriel Dante Rossetti themselves in the nineteenth century to Yves Saint Laurent and Dame Vivienne Westwood in the twentieth.
Liberty’s gorgeous building
After not buying anything because everything was out of my league, I kept walking through Regent street because I wanted to visit a particular shop of this crowded street, the toyshop Hamley’s. It’s the oldest toy shop in the world and one of the world’s best-known retailers of toys. Founded by William Hamley as “Noah’s Ark” in High Holborn, London, in 1760, it moved to Regent Street in 1881. The building became a magic place with it’s 7 floors filled with more than 50,000 toys.
I could not help it and I ended up buying some harry potter goodies and some toys for my godson, but if I could I’d have bought everything, it was like being in wonderland (I don’t recommend going with kids and without money!!)
If you keep walking you’ll reach the famous Piccadilly Circus, a road junction that is actually a busy square in the heart of London with the well known fountain with the statue of Eros. Take into account that this place is always crowded either with people using it as point of meeting or with tourists looking for the classic pic with this singular fountain, so if you are looking to be alone you’ll have to visit it really early in the morning!
Eros’ fountain at Piccadilly Circus
Just next to Piccadilly is St James’s, a central district of London in the City of Westminster. In the 17th century the area was developed as a residential location for the British aristocracy and around the 19th century was the focus of the development of gentlemen’s clubs. Nowadays you can find a good number of galleries, the best known gentlemen’s clubs in London, upmarket art and antique dealers, fine wine merchants, prestigious cigar retailers, etc (basically really exclusive and pricey stuff). You can also find a number of particular London landmarks, between this are the monuments of Sidney Herbert (1st Baron Herbert of Lea, English statesman and a close ally and confidant of Florence Nightingale); Sir Keith Rodney Park (although this commander of the air force was from new Zealand, he helped to win the Battle of Britain and the Battle of Malta during world war II getting the title of “the Defender of London” by the Germans.); Florence Nightingale (commemorating the servicemen who lost their lives but in addition, the contribution of nurses and this one in particular, a social reformer and statistician, and the founder of modern nursing. She came to prominence while serving as a manager of nurses trained by her during the Crimean War.); and the Crimean war memorial (commemorating the Allied victor, it consist of the statues of three Guardsmen, with a female allegorical figure referred to as Honour and it was cast in bronze from the cannons captured at the siege of Sevastopol.)
Crimean War Memorial
I took The Pall Mall, to one side you’ll end at St James’s Palace and to the other you’ll find the National Gallery.
The National Gallery is an art museum its collection belongs to the public of the United Kingdom and entry to the main collection is free of charge. Here I was astounded by Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and its amazing tridimensionality; amused by Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors distorted projection of a skull and its meticulously rendered objects; and mesmerized by Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks (and not only for being part of Da Vinci’s code). The collection is quite diverse and the place in general is a nice recess from all the city bustle.
Right in front of the National Gallery you’ll find the famous Trafalgar Square one of the city’s most vibrant open spaces, enjoyed by Londoners and all visitors alike is often used for a wide range of activities. At its centre is Nelson’s Column, which is guarded by four lion statues at its base. There are a number of commemorative statues and sculptures in the square, while one plinth, left empty since it was built in 1840, The Fourth Plinth, has been host to contemporary art since 1999. The square is also used for political demonstrations and community gatherings. The name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory of the Napoleonic Wars over France and Spain which took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar, Spain.
After the mandatory picture with the big lions I kept walking through The Mall heading to Buckingham Palace.
In my way I took some pics of St James’s Palace, the senior Palace of the Sovereign, with a long history as a Royal residence and as the home of several members of the Royal Family and their household offices, it is often in use for official functions and is not open to the public.
St James’s Palace
Almost reaching the Palace I found myself in front of the most beautiful fountain I’d ever seen, the Victoria’s Memorial is undoubtedly a breathtaking monument full with symbolism narrating part of the history of its kingdom.
Representation of Naval and Military Power at Victoria’s Memorial
Behind the fountain stands the grandiose Buckingham Palace, London residence and principal workplace of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. The building which forms the core of today’s palace was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703, it was subsequently acquired by King George III as a private residence for Queen Charlotte and was known as “The Queen’s House”, during the 19th century it was enlarged, and finally became the official royal palace on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.
After leaving the palace I resumed my walk, I didn’t know where I was going until I saw a clock that resulted familiar. “Oh! here you are” was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw and heard the Big Ben, the famous huge clock that is located in a tower attached to the palace of Westminster. But if I have to speak the truth the name actually belongs to the bell of the clock and not to the clock itself. It looks like the bell was going to be called Victoria in honour of the queen, but a member of the parliament suggested the nickname during a Parliamentary debate. We don’t know after whom it was named so, chances are it was in honour of Sir Benjamin Hall but some people affirm that the name may have been named after a heavyweight boxer of that time (Benjamin Caunt).
Really close to it is Westminster Abbey, a Gothic church that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the most notable religious buildings in the United Kingdom and the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and, later, British monarchs. You can go inside for £20, but I preferred to keep walking to stroll along the south bank of the Thames.
This walk is really beautiful and even more if you catch the sunset. You’ll experience the most beautiful panoramic scenery of London while enjoying a peaceful stroll in a surprisingly calm route of this city.
The south bank
St Paul’s Cathedral from de south bank