Each time we have visitors, I tend to draw a blank as to what we should go and visit. It seems that nearly three years of living here has made me completely take the place for granted.
So, in the interests of not doing that, here’s the first of what I expect will be several posts on a few must sees, all under the London Tourism category. You can view all of these places on a google map here.
1. The Priory Church of St. Bartholomew: This church may look familiar to movie buffs, having appeared in a number of films, but the really interesting bit about this church is its history. This 12th century church was founded by Rahere, a courtier, after he had a vision in which St. Bartholomew told him to build this church in London. Rahere traveled to London from Rome, and asked the King for the land on which to build his church. The request was granted, and Rahere then recruited volunteers to build this church, completing it in 1123.
2. The Postman’s Park: This tiny park around the corner from St. Paul’s was named for the Post Office that once occupied the land. Its most interesting bit is the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Created in 1900, it contains ceramic tiles recognizing those who lost their lives while saving another. Watts tried to obtain funding to support his
project, but unable to do so, the memorial is largely self-funded. The tiles are beautifully painted, and the stories expressed are at times, matter of fact, other times, seemingly poetic. Watts died in 1904, and his wife, Mary, carried it out after his death. The latest addition was in 2007.
3. St Paul’s Cathedral: St. Paul’s has a varied history. To those of my generation, the most familiar memory may be the wedding of Diana and Charles. This Wren designed cathedral was the 5th to occupy the location under the same name, and opened in 1697. Wren’s models alone cost £32,000 in today’s terms, according to Wikipedia. To view the entire cathedral and crypt, there is an admission charge, but one can also just have a peek from the back for free. The restaurant in the crypt is new, and while I’m sure the food is lovely, I’d advise saving your appetite for Mary le Bow (next).
4. Lunch in the Crypt of St Mary le Bow Church: While there are a number of catherdral and church crypt restaurants, Cafe Below (formerly, “The Place Below”) remains a favorite. This restaurant’s locally sourced menu of comfort food is an excellent escape on a cold day, one can dine in the crypt itself or outdoors (summer only). I believe the restaurant has been there for a while, as it never smells crypt-y. This Wren-designed church is famous for its bells, and the term, “Cockney” was historically used to describe a person born within the audible radius of the Bow Bells.
5. Whitecross Street Market: If you have any room left, is also worth a wander. Thursdays and Fridays are home to the Specialty Food Market.
6. Leadenhall Market: Harry Potter fans will recognize Leadenhall as the entryway to Daigon Alley, but for the rest of us muggles, it offers some excellent lunch venues and spots for shopping that are filled with City workers, taking a break. After wandering through the market, you might as well go look at the adjacent Lloyds Building, which looks nothing like anything in Leadenhall. You can visit the interior of Lloyds during September’s Open House week.
6. Borough Market: head across London Bridge to visit this mighty food market, which supports retail sales Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. In addition to the many stalls selling vegetables, fruits, cheeses, breads, etc, there’s also a cooked food section which is great fun to graze through. As regular readers may recall, I’m very fond of the grilled cheese from the raclette stall behind Southwark Cathedral.
7. Wander along the Southbank: It’s pretty. Often there are fairs on.
8. The London Eye: see London in half an hour! The views are beautiful, and the slowly moving capsules/pods are fixed, so it’s not scary. It’s pricey, but you can get a better deal by advance booking your tickets on Last Minute.
9. Walk across the Hungerford Bridge and check out Gordon’s, London’s oldest wine bar. While there is outdoor seating in the summer, there’s only seating in the 17th century cellars when the weather turns cold. Ladies, this is not a place to wear complicated shoes, as the cellars are low-ceilinged and dark, and if you have accessibility requirements, the venue provides these notes to aid in an advance decision as to whether this venue will be suitable for you.
10. Heading West down the Strand, the Courtald Gallery is always a favorite of mine, offering a small but excellent collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.