One of the oldest parts of London, The City is where the Romans founded Londinium. The City is still the main banking and finance district in London so unlike the rest of London, it is generally quieter at the weekends than during the week.
Enjoy the contrast – the hyperactive weekday City streets contrast with the ghost town of the weekends, just as the contemporary architecture of the new City skyline contrasts with the historic buildings.
What to see and do in City Of London?
1 Marvel at the Magnificence of St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral was designed and rebuilt by Christopher Wren. Visit as a tourist for access to the whole Cathedral and climb 528 steps to the Golden Gallery in the Dome of the building.
You can even go outside at this level where you’ll enjoy panoramic views across London. St Pauls was built on the highest point in London and the Golden Gallery is a further 85 metres above the Cathedral floor.
There are two other galleries in the Dome, the stone gallery which is about halfway up and the whispering gallery. Send your friend to the other side of the dome and whisper something into the wall – the curious acoustic means they will hear every word.
Tip from Fiona: You can attend services free of charge and enjoy some of the top choral singing in the world.
2 Explore the Roman Heritage of London in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery
Hidden away in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery are the remains of a Roman Amphitheatre dating back to when the Romans established Londinium around AD43.
The first amphitheatre was built some thirty years later and then refurbished a couple of hundred years later to seat around 7,000 spectators.
The remains were not discovered until the Guildhall Art Gallery was refurbished. Free to visit.
3 Spend time browsing the collection of art at the Guildhall Art Gallery
The Art Gallery has a huge collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and a collection of art documenting the history of London together with special exhibitions from time to time.
Housed in the historic Guildhall buildings, entry is free though you may have to pay for special exhibitions
4 Visit the Tower of London
An iconic London sight, even if you don’t want to pay the fee to go into the grounds, it’s well worth a visit.
You can see the crown jewels on display at the Tower, take a tour or just wander round the grounds and take selfies with the Beefeaters – the strikingly dressed guards you’ll find there.
5 Walk across Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is often mistakenly called ‘London Bridge’. But, the original London Bridge was actually sold to an American, shipped there and replaced with a rather boring concrete structure.
Tower Bridge dates from 1894 but is still a working bridge – for an amazing sight, you can check the times when the bascules are lifted to let larger river traffic pass through.
6 Walk up Monument Tower
The City is full of Sir Christopher Wren churches. Monument, though, was built as a reminder of the Great Fire of London and is a 202ft column designed by Wren and Dr Robert Hooke to celebrate the City rising from the ashes!
It’s a great place to visit if you want a panoramic view of London. You can climb up 311 steps and get nearly to the top, where there’s a 360 degree viewing platform. Look out for nearby Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire is said to have started.
7 Explore Leadenhall Market
One of the prettiest covered markets in London, Leadenhall Market dates from 1321 although the current structure is Victorian It is home to stalls selling flowers, cheese, meat and other fresh food.
There are also shops, pubs and restaurants in the market building. Scenes from Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were filmed here.
8 Get Meaty at Smithfield
If you get up early enough you’ll find Smithfield is still a working meat market.
From about 2am in the morning you’ll find the stalls setting up – and you need to be there before 7am if you want to buy!
It has a dark history and was used at one time to execute prisoners, before that as a ‘smooth field’ for jousts and tournaments.
9 Check out the Barbican
One of London’s best examples of Brutalist architecture, the Barbican is home to a famous Arts Centre in addition to a complex of luxury flats and maisonettes. This part of London was badly damaged during the Second World War and as a result the whole site was redeveloped.
Built in the 1960s and 1980s on the site of a Roman fort, the Arts Centre is the largest of its kind in Europe and home to the LSO and to the RSC. Insider tip – there’s often free entertainment here in the evenings before shows so you can come for a drink and a bit of live music
10 Visit Blackfriars
To the South West of the City, Blackfriars gets its name from the black caps worn by Dominican Friars who based their priory there in the 13th century. There’s now a quirky Art Noveau pub on the site which was built in 1875.
And, on the corner of Blackfriars bridge, is the Unilever headquarters housed in a stunning Art Noveau building that was original built as a luxury hotel.
11 Find the ancient River Fleet
The River Fleet, London’s largest underground river, meets the Thames just along from Blackfriars Bridge.
Fleet Street was named after the river itself, which travels underground from Hampstead and Highgate.
You can still get a partial view of the outfall chamber into the Thames.
12 Explore the Silver Vaults on Chancery Lane
London’s Silver Vaults were originally built as strong rooms to hold household silver, jewellery and documents. Over the years it evolved to its current day form, secure premises for silver dealers who both store and trade from the shops in the vaults.
Although the building above was completely destroyed during the second world war, the vaults themselves were undamaged. There are over 30 traders and all the shops have been owned by the same families for at least 50 years passed down from generation to generation.
Visitors are welcome to browse an astonishing collection of antique and contemporary silver, most of which is for sale.
13 Take a pint in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
One of the oldest pubs in London, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was rebuilt shortly after the great fire of London in 1666.
It is known for its literary connections and appears in novels by Dickens, Agatha Christie and Anthony Trollope.
14 Enjoy a free View at The Sky Garden
While most of London’s skyscrapers are not open to the public or charge an admission fee, the Sky Garden in the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building is free to those who book in advance.
There are landscaped gardens, observation decks and an open-air terrace – it’s London’s highest public garden. You must book in advance through their website.
15 Dream about unlimited wealth at the Bank of England
Founded in 1694, The Bank of England began as a private bank that would act as a banker to the Government to help fund war efforts.
It moved to Threadneedle Street in the City in 1734 into a building designed by Sir John Soane.
The current building was the result of Victorian ‘modernisation’. There’s a free to enter museum where you can learn more about the history of finance in the City
16 Shop till you drop at the Royal Exchange
Whether or not you get your credit cards out or just window shop till you drop, the Royal Exchange is home to some exclusive brands – from Aspinal of London to Hermes and Georg Jensen, it’s somewhere you’ll find luxurious and stunning goods to buy.
Originally a stock exchange which opened in 1566, the current building was constructed in 1844 after two fires destroyed the original exchange buildings.
17 Check out the Roman Walls
You’ll find small traces of Londinium’s original Roman walls around the City.
Tower Hill is a good place to start, but there are also portions of walls scattered around the City, notably near the Museum of London.
18 Explore St Dunstan’s in the East
The pretty gardens at St Dunstan’s in the East were originally part of an 11th Century Church.
Sir Christopher Wren extended the Church which was sadly destroyed in the Second World War and is now a public garden.
Insider tip – nearby you can visit the Billingsgate Roman Bathhouse for a 45 minute guided tour
19 Visit the Old Bailey but don’t get sent to Jail.
The Old Bailey is the central criminal court in the UK and is on the site of Newgate Prison. It’s also where public hangings were held until 1868.
The public are allowed into court when it is session so you can, if you choose attend any one of the public galleries.
Insider tip – while it is free of charge, you’ll need to be over 16 and dressed appropriately – and to take some form of photo id with you.
20 Check out Postman’s Park
‘Closer’ lovers will want to check out Postman’s Park. It’s so named because of its popularity with workers from the nearby Post Office headquarters who used to go there for lunch.
But, it was conceived by a Victorian painter and philanthropist, GF Watts who thought a park to commemorate ‘heroic men and women’ would be a good way to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
The park is lined with glazed Doulton tablets, each of which details a heroic act. Part of the plot of ‘Closer’ revolves around one of the characters taking her identity from a commemorative tablet in the park.
21 Take a river boat from Temple to Tower Bridge
The best way to reach the Tower of London and Tower Bridge is by River Bus.
This is a hop on, hop off service which will take you all the way along the Thames and although not officially a guided tour, you’ll get a unique view of the City from the river.
And, arrive at Tower Bridge in exactly the same way that the original prisoners in the Tower would have done.
22 Explore Charterhouse Square
Originally the site of a Carthusian Monastery, the tranquil green space of Charterhouse Square has a macabre history as a plague pit.
While some of the buildings surrounding the square date back to Tudor times, the more recent art deco Florin Court was built in 1936 and was used as the fictional residence of Hercule Poirot in the 1980s TV series Agatha Christie’s Poirot
23 ‘Get married’ at St Bartholomew the Great
Perhaps best-known today for featuring in films, this Church was used for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love and The Other Boleyn Girl.
It’s one of London’s oldest, founded in 1123 and with a 13th century arch. It houses a number of important works of art including a statue of St Bartholomew by Damien Hirst entitled ‘Exquisite Pain’.
Tip from Fiona: Nearby St Bartholomew’s Hospital has weekly tours at 2pm on Fridays which include Church of St Bartholomew the Lesser and can be extended to St Bartholomew the Great.
24 Take a selfie on the Wobbly Bridge
The proper name for the wobbly bridge is the Millennium Bridge.
Designed by Arup Group, Foster and Partners, and Sir Anthony Caro, when it was first opened in June 2000 it wobbled from side to side in high winds.
Pedestrian only, it’s a great place for a selfie – it lines up perfectly with the Dome of St Pauls behind.
Tip from Fiona: For an uninterrupted view, the best time to arrive is early in the morning (before 7am) when you’ll find the bridge empty but for a few City workers.
25 Explore the grandeur of the City at Mansion House
Mansion House is the official residence of the Mayor of London.
Built in the Palladian style between 1739 and 1752 it is home to a fine collection of Dutch and Flemish 17th century paintings.
Open to the public on Tuesday afternoons only, you’ll need to time your visit carefully if you want to see inside.
26 Visit the Museum of London
The Museum of London focusses on the History of London from prehistoric times to present day.
Opened in 1976 it’s on the edge of the Barbican Estate and is a modern museum with a collection that includes the Lord Mayor’s stage coach and the London 2012 Olympic cauldron.
There’s a fee to enter, but plenty to make it worth your while doing so.
27 Find out more about the City’s Italian connection in Lombard Street
As the name suggests, Lombard Street in the heart of the City has an Italian connection.
It was originally one of the main roads in Roman Londinium, but later was given by King Edward I to Goldsmiths from Medieval Lombardy in Italy.
It is well known as a centre of Banking and Capitalism and was even mentioned by Karl Marx in Das Kapital.
28 Visit Pepys Garden and All Hallows Church
Born in 1633, Pepys is best known as a diarist and social commentator. He lived through the Plague and the Great Fire and wrote about both. Although his house in Seething Lane actually survived the Great Fire, it is no longer there.
You will however, find a small garden marking where he lived. A three-minute walk away, pubgaller is the oldest church in the City and has some original Saxon features and a Roman pavement. It’s also where Pepys watched the Great Fire in 1666
29 Discover Trinity House, the home of the English Lighthouse
You might be surprised by the number of Maritime connections in London, but the City was at one time an important Port. Trinity House has a number of roles, as a charity to safeguard shipping and seafarers and as the General Lighthouse Authority.
It was first given a royal charter on 20 May 1514, and the first master was Thomas Spert, also master of the Mary Rose. There are tours of the house at 3pm each day for a small charge.
30 Explore some of London’s Newer Buildings
For the most part, the City’s skyscrapers are not open to the public.
But, it’s definitely worth walking around the city and making sure you catch The Lloyds Building, the Leadenhall Building (or Cheesegrater) and the Gherkin.
And if you haven’t managed to book the Sky Garden, then 20 Fenchurch Street is impressive from the outside too.