When a man is tired of London, he's tired of life, for in London
there is all that life can afford.
- Samuel Johnson
The span of a human life is simply too short for one to even hope to
experience all that London has to offer.
I, a mere mortal, have had the privilege of making about twenty or so
business trips to London (from Canada
) over the past few years.
During that time, I've managed to develop my own perspective on London.
This perspective, i.e. my London
, is what I'd like to try to give
you a glimpse of in this writeup.
Geography of London
Before we begin, we need to have a quick look at the geography of
The actual City of London or just The City is the area
originally enclosed by the walls of the ancient Roman city of Londonium.
It is about a square mile in size (a fact which results in it also being
referred to as the square mile) and is located on the north
bank of the Thames.
Completely surrounding The City is the City of Westminster and surrounding
that is an area known as Greater London.
Although there are many London landmarks which
are actually in The City
(e.g. St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London), most of the
landmarks which people associate with London are actually in the City
of Westminster (e.g. Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly
Circus, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park and Covent Garden).
The Queen not only doesn't live in London,
she isn't even allowed to enter the City of London without permission from the
Lord Mayor of London (it's a long story).
The following sections describe some of what makes London such an
Unfortunately (or not), you'll have to put up with a somewhat biased
When someone asks me what I like about London, my answer always includes
the sense of history.
Included in the following are just a few of the historic places
in London which give me this sense.
It would be impossible for me to produce a list like this in any sort of order-of-preference so this list is in a pretty random order.
You may also want to check out Things to see, do and experience in London.
The Temple of Mithras
My wife and I were walking through the center of London one evening
in 1998 when we happened to come across the Roman-era ruins of the
Temple of Mithras.
Although there wasn't really all that much to see (i.e. the foundations
of an ancient building), it was a strong reminder that the history
of London dates back a very long ways.
The temple was unearthed during the construction of a new building
in central London.
In order to preserve them, the temple's remains were moved to their
current place where they're visible to anyone who happens by.
Definitely worth a look if only to remind yourself that the
history of London goes back a long ways (visit the Museum of London
for more information).
Trafalgar Square was developed as a memorial to
Admiral Lord Nelson's victory and death at the
Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
It is, without a doubt, located at the heart of London (even though
it isn't actually located in the City of London).
The buildings around the square include
the National Portrait Gallery (north side),
Saint Martin in the Fields church (north east corner),
South Africa House (east side),
Admiralty Arch (south side), and
Canada House (west side).
Many many London attractions are nearby (the Theatre district,
Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, Green Park, Westminster Abbey, etc).
Located within walking distance down Whitehall to the south of
Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey is one of many must see
places in London.
Many of the kings and queens of England are buried here along with
many other important historical figures.
If you're a literature fan, don't miss Poet's Corner and if you're
a Churchill fan like myself, don't miss the
memorial to Sir Winston Churchill.
Britain's unknown soldier from the First World War
is also buried here.
My wife and I took a self-guided audio tour of the Abbey.
As we were walking around the main part of the Abbey, the audio commentary
was telling us who's buried in each of a truly impressive series of tombs.
Finally, we got to what was obviously a very old tomb.
The commentary simply said "we've no idea who's buried here" - wow!
If you head off down the twisty streets in a roughly north easterly
direction from Trafalgar Square, you may find yourself in Covent
Garden square (you might not as it is pretty easy to get lost!).
This square was originally a garden (i.e. a place where food-producing
plants were grown) which developed into a market area for local
Today, the market is still there but the produce is more of the sort
that tourists would buy (mostly in the positive sense of that the term).
My wife's grand-aunt has a stall there on Saturdays and Sundays so
be sure to buy something from every vendor just to make sure that you get
something from her stall!
The area surrounding Covent Garden is one of my favourite parts of
London and I try to make a point of just walking aimlessly around the area
for a few hours at least once per trip.
The village of Greenwich, including the Royal Greenwich Observatory,
is one of my absolutely favourite places in London.
The Royal Observatory is at the top of a hill with a commanding
view of the surrounding area.
It is at this observatory that the early work which led to the
definition of the Prime Meridian (i.e. 0 degrees longitude) was
There are a series of remnants of meridian telescopes (i.e. a telescope
which is oriented in a north-south direction and which can only be
moved north to south).
The crosshairs of the last of these telescopes is defined, by
international treaty, to be at 0 degrees longitude (another personal wow!). The Observatory is now a museum which is definitely worth a
visit (while in the museum, make sure you check out John Harrison's clocks).
There are a whole series of train stations in London.
Practically all of them are worth a visit for some reason or other.
Here are a few of the main ones:
This is not a complete list of the London train stations.
Also, please take the descriptions of the area of England served by each
of these stations with a large grain of salt as there is a lot of
overlap in the coverage areas.
Charing Cross Station
This station is located just off Trafalgar Square on the Strand
and mostly serves the south of England.
I really like the way this building looks from across the Thames.
Kings Cross Station
Located right next to the really impressive looking St. Pancras
Station, Kings Cross serves the north of England. It will
soon also be the terminus of the high speed rail line that runs through
Lots of interesting things in this area although it is a bit on
the seedy side.
Liverpool Street Station
This one is located on the north east corner of The City (i.e. the
original city) and serves the north and north east of England.
The surrounding area has all sorts of interesting pubs, statues,
streets and sights.
This is also one of the few stations that has an upper balcony
from which one can stand and just watch crowds (0830 or 1700 are
good times to drop by).
Located just off to the north west of Hyde Park and serving
the west of England, this is the
termination point of the Heathrow Express which is a fast rail
link from Heathrow Airport (this is how I always get from
Heathrow into the city area).
The station was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and still retains
a very old train station feel - definitely worth a visit (check
out the Brunel statue in the small lobby entrance across from track 1
and the Paddington Bear statue in the large glassed-in lobby just
above the entrance to the London Underground).
As the name suggests, this station is located near Buckingham
Queen Victoria's private train would run from here
to her country home at Windsor Castle or wherever else she
wanted to travel.
This station serves the south east of England.
You havn't visited a London train station until you've visited
I'm not sure exactly what it is but there's something about this
station that just blows me away.
It serves the south of England and is currently the terminus
for the train through the Chunnel (the line between Waterloo
and the English Channel is a conventional rail line which
is being replaced by a proper highspeed line to Kings Cross).
I've got prints of a pair of rather famous paintings of Waterloo
One of them shows a very busy Waterloo Station during wartime.
The second shows Waterloo Station during peacetime.
The two are nearly identical right down to the individual people
hustling around the station with the exception that the former has
more military folks than the later.
The London Underground or the Tube is, in practical terms,
the only way to get around the city.
One could take a London Cab from place to place but one would quickly discover that a Cab is rarely faster than the Tube and is always much
Unfortunately, the Tube is also dirty, noisy, generally late, unreliable
and involves a lot of stair climbing (although efforts are underway
to provide wheelchair access, most of the stations are simply too old to
have decent access for disabled people).
Yet, even though it is definitely something to be endured, I like
it and use it a lot when I'm in London.
The tube map is something which has to be seen to understand (see writeups
under London Underground and find an image of it on the 'net).
The actual underground lines are quite curved and don't follow the
above ground geography (i.e. streets) in any particularily discernible
The tube map, on the other hand, is instantly comprehensible.
The Islands of London
When I first started touristing my way around London, I used a small
London Underground Maps booklet.
It had the full tube map on the back cover and about fourty maps inside,
each of which showed the area surrounding a key Tube station.
I quickly started to think of the booklet as being a map of the
Islands of London.
To travel between islands, I'd use the Tube.
Once at my destination, I'd use the appropriate map to find my way around
Over time, the islands started to coalesce as I'd accidentally
walk from one island to another.
It wasn't all that long that I started to be able to view a reasonably
large portion of the area around Trafalgar Square in my mind although
the islands of London analogy was still useful for some time.
I now almost always travel around London without a map of any sort in
When I want to get somewhere, I figure out which Tube station is nearby
and then hop on the Tube to get there.
If I need to know which route to take through the Tube system then I
check the maps in each station (I don't do this very often any more).
You can find a much more detailed description of this metaphor in my
Islands of London writeup (this London writeup, including the
brief description above of the islands of London metaphor, was
written a couple of months before the Islands of London writeup).
The Tube is fine but to really see London, one has to experience
it from above ground.
The only practical way to do that is by cab.
Hire one at any of the train stations or just flag one down on the street and
If you want a reasonably quick look at London from above, try this:
You'll have seen more of London than you can possibly comprehend in a
- start at Paddington Station and hire a cab
- take the cab to Victoria Station, Waterloo Station, Charing Cross
Station, Liverpool Station and Kings Cross Station (in that order)
- pay the driver (it will be at least £50 so be prepared)
After I'd been travelling around London by Tube and by foot for a while
and had gotten to know my way around reasonably well (i.e. my islands
of London analogy was starting to fade), I decided that I
needed to learn how the city really looked.
I hired a friend's friend who drives a London Cab
to just tour me around London for a day (it cost me £160 - a
true bargain for what I learned).
The ultimate tourist trap and yet an amazing place which must be seen
to be appreciated.
This very VERY upscale department store is a truly amazing place.
The deli area is truly awesome and worth a visit all by itself (arrive
hungry and have a meal as the receipt from the meal can be used to gain
free access to the executive toilets which normally cost something
like £2 per visit).
Harrods is a great place to go if you want to see really big numbers on
The highest that I can recall seeing was a little over £100,000
and I've seen quite a few that are well over £10,000.
Tower of London
Although no visit to London is complete without visiting the Tower of
London, I didn't actually make it to the Tower until about my tenth
It's an important place that dates back about 1,000 years.
Take your time and give yourself lots of time (the lineups can be pretty
Check out the Crown Jewels which are kept there (the security is
understated yet very real in a strange sort of way).
The Tower is served by the Tower Hill Tube station (just outside the station
is a short section of original Roman wall).
The British Museum
A Cockney friend of mine calls the British Museum "the place where
the British store all the stuff that they've stolen from around the world".
Although possibly (just possibly, mind you) a bit extreme, this is actually
a pretty good description.
English explorers have been traveling the world and "bringing back
interesting things" for hundreds of years. They need someplace
to store them and the British Museum is the someplace that many
of these treasures have ended up in.
the Elgin Marbles,
the Egyptian section,
and even their collection of old clocks are just some of the must sees
in the museum.
This has been just a glimpse of my London
which is a mere microscopic
glimmer of the real London.
I've missed all sorts of things, many of which are more important (to me
and to London) than some of what I've included.
That said, I hope that you found it interesting.
By the way, Johnson was right.
Walking tour of London
A postscript . . .
My wife and I were granted the Freedom of the City of London
in a memorable little ceremony at London's Guildhall
on March 7, 2014. Being Freemen of London
grants us various rights and privileges including the right to herd sheep across London Bridge
(there's more to being a Freeman of London than that but, to be honest, while becoming a Freeman of London used to convey quite valuable rights and privileges, becoming Freemen of London today is really an exercise in acknowledging one's interest and connections to London).