London is a big city. Sometimes, when a person is stuck on crowded tube or lost, it can feel oppressively so. However, what a lot of tourists to London tend to forget is that cars, buses, trains and tubes are a fairly modern addition to London’s infrastructure historically speaking. There have been people settled in London since Roman times, and they had to be able to get from one place to another. So, how did they do this? Well, if they were rich, they could go by horse. But, the vast majority of individuals were poor, so they had to walk. What does that mean for you as a visitor to London? That much of the old city is walkable.
But, won’t I get lost? You may. But, armed with a tube map and a decent sense of adventure, it’s not that big of a deal. At some point, you’ll either stumble upon a tube station or a neighbourhood map that’ll give you an indication of where to go. Providing you have the time, getting pleasantly lost is actually fun. It exercises your brain, since you have to think in a different way when you’re finding your own path. It also gives you the opportunity to explore and find new things. In fact, I inadvertently discovered this self-guided tour on one of my days out wandering and exploring. I went to oxford street to pick up something and ended up walking and following the signs and markers pointing in the direction of different tourist attractions. It made for a nice day.
One thing about this walk; you do want to make sure you’re wearing decent walking shoes. You’ll also want to make sure you pack a water bottle (although you could always pick one up at a convenience store). You may also want to pack a picnic lunch/ supper, since there are a few nice opportunities for a picnic. You could make this circular walk an all day affair. There’s plenty to stop and explore along the way. But, if you don’t feel you have the time for that, the walk is only about 3.3 miles in length total.
For this self-guided tour, I started out at Oxford street, but you don’t have to if shopping’s not your thing. Instead, you could skip ahead and start at Piccadilly Circus.
Starting at Oxford street, walk from the Oxford street tube station down regent street to Piccadilly Circus. Distance .6 miles.
- Oxford street is the busiest shopping street in Europe. According to Wikipedia, there are at least 300 stores on the street. If you love shopping, you should probably visit Oxford street. But, be warned. It can be extremely busy and crowded.
- After you come off Oxford street, you’ll turn onto Regent street. Regent street was one of the first development attempts to organise London back in the early 19th century. It was built as and intended as a shopping street, and still is one today. As a result, it is often just as crowded as Oxford street.
- If you can’t stand shopping or large, slow moving crowds, I would suggest skipping this part of the walk and starting out at Piccadilly Circus.
From Piccadilly Circus, continue down Regent street, which turns into Waterloo Pl and on to The Mall. Distance .4 miles.
- Piccadilly Circus was built as a junction to connect Piccadilly with Regent Street.
- The first electric signs appeared in 1910.
- The fountain was built in 1892/93 as a memorial to honour the work of Lord Shaftesbury who was a philanthropist.
Once you turn on the Mall, cross over to the other side of the street and walk down along St.James’ park to Buckingham palace. Distance .6 miles.
- You could walk up Piccadilly to Green park and approach Buckingham Palace that way, but the view to the palace is more exciting from this direction.
- For photo opportunities of Buckingham Palace, I would suggest going in the morning, as the sun sets behind the palace, making it difficult to get a good picture. This is especially important for winter when the sun starts to set around 3:30pm.
- St.James’ park is a great place to sit and relax. It also has bathrooms (last time I went they were 20p).
- Buckingham Palace is closed to visitors most of the year. But, if you’re interested in seeing inside the Palace, you can visit this website for more information. http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace
From Buckingham Palace, walk along the other side of St.James’ Park up Birdcage Walk to Big Ben/ The Elizabeth Tower. Distance .7 miles.
- You can walk through the park, but I enjoy the view of Big Ben you get from approaching on the road.
- At the top of St.James’ park, there’s Churchill War Rooms. As the name suggests, you can see where Churchill and his Cabinet were during the war. The museum fee is a little over £13. I haven’t visited it yet, but it is on my list for the future.
From Big Ben/ The Elizabeth Tower, you have a couple options. You could either walk across the Westminster Bridge to The London Eye and then come back and finish the walk, or you could walk up Whitehall to Charing Cross. Distance .5 miles.
- The London Eye is often busy, so it is suggested you pre-book your tickets. Ticket prices start at about £20. Visit the website for more information. https://www.londoneye.com/tickets-and-prices/general-tickets/
The view from The Westminster Bridge is beautiful. Even if you’re not planning on visiting The London Eye, I suggest you walk out and enjoy the view of the city. Not to mention, if it’s a hot summer’s day, there’s usually a nice breeze coming off the Thames.
- If you want to visit Westminster Abbey, this would probably be the perfect time in your trip to do so. It costs around £20 to visit the abbey, which includes a free audio tour. Visit their website for more information. http://www.westminster-abbey.org If visiting the abbey is out of your budget, but you really want to go, you could see about attending one of the daily services. You wouldn’t be able to see the entire abbey, but at least you would have the opportunity to see a part of it.
- You can visit The Houses of Parliament as well. For more information visit their website. http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/
- On your walk up Whitehall, you can peer through the gates at 10 Downing Street. If you’re lucky, you may catch the Prime Minister leaving his residence.
Once you’re at Charing Cross, follow the A4 up to Piccadilly Circus. Distance .5 miles.
- Charing Cross marks the exact centre of the city. It’s the point from which all other destinations in the city are measured.
- You can stroll through Trafalgar Square and enjoy the different statues and memorials.
- At the top of Trafalgar Square sits The National Gallery. Entrance is free. Visit the website to checkout what you can see. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk
- You can also visit The National Portrait Gallery, which sits behind The National Gallery. Entrance is free here as well. http://www.npg.org.uk
London has a lot to do and see. I believe that by planning a day out like this, you’ll get the most out of your time in The city. While you’re visiting, remember to take your time and enjoy yourself. If you rush to see everything on your ‘London bucket list,’ you stand the chance of forgetting about half the things you saw and going home more stressed out than you were before you went on vacation. For me, the pros to doing a self-guided walking tour outweigh the cons of getting lost. Trust me, when public transportation messes up in London, it does so spectacularly. By having a walking tour planned out, you’ll not only minimise your exposure to crowded tubes and buses, but also give yourself an opportunity to truly explore the city.
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