With towering modern skyscrapers and a status of being the world's leading centre of international finance, it seems hard to believe that the City of London is actually the most historic area of the English capital. But strolling past some of the most historic landmarks in the City, (some of which date back to the Roman times), you'll find that seeing is certainly believing.
"The City" is located at the Square Mile (name after its approximate size), and was established sometime around 50 AD, which was seven years after the Romans invaded Britain. To this day, you can still see the remains of the original Roman wall, as well as the foundations of the Roman Temple of Mithras (near Budge Row). During the 1980s, London's only Roman Amphitheatre was discovered under the Guildhall Art Gallery, however not much of the City's original Roman sites can still be seen today.
Furthermore, many of the City's historic buildings, homes and churches were destroyed during The Great Fire of London in 1666, as well as during The Blitz in World War II, but visitors can still see a handful of historic landmarks and sites strewed throughout the area today. Not only are some of the City's original street names still used (like Bread Street, Milk Street, Mason's Avenue and Ironmonger Lane), locations like Moorgate, Ludgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate were named after the spots where Londinium's main gates were once located along the Roman city walls.
In 1694, the Bank of England was founded in the City which helped catapult London into becoming the world's primary business centre and financial epicentre of the London Stock Exchange (or in other words, the UK version of America's Wall Street). Today, the City is home to over 255 foreign banks, and over 300,000 workers commute the City during the week.
But the City of London isn't a London borough like Westminster or Whitechapel; it actually has its own local governance, police force, and local authority (with the chief position being the Lord Mayor).
City of London Highlights
- Listen to a choir practice at St. Paul's Cathedral and look at the famous Duke of Wellington monument and the tombs of Christopher Wren and Admiral Nelson. If you have the stamina, you can climb the 560 steps to the top of the Dome and the Whispering Gallery, a further 117 steps to the Stone Gallery, or another 166 steps to the Golden Gallery and drink in the views of the London skyline.
- Get a closer look at 30 St. Mary Axe (AKA The Gherkin) and people-watch as workers in business suits come in and out of the building.
- Gawk up at Tower 42, which is the second tallest skyscraper in the City of London, and the seventh tallest in Greater London.
- Climb all 311 steps to the top of The Monument to the Great Fire of London and enjoy marvelous views of London from above.
- Snap photos of the London Wall, the best-preserved remnant of the Roman wall which once defended Roman Londinium.
- Learn more about the history of the English capital at the Museum of London.
- Glance over Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian artwork at the Guildhall Art Gallery.
- Browse around the various clothing stores and specialized food shops at the Leadenhall Market, and snap photos of the Victorian-covered exterior (AKA the film location for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone).
- Learn more about the British pound, inflation and national debt at the Bank of England Museum.
- If you're travelling by car and want to save money on parking costs, visit the City on a Sunday when on-street parking is free.
- If you want to see the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge (which are located in the nearby Tower Hamlets), you can easily walk to them from The Gherkin (in about 14 minutes), or Leadenhall Market (in ten minutes).
- If you have the time, make sure you stroll around The Barbican's central gardens, which are said to be one of London's best kept secrets.
Prices and Hours
Given that the City of London is essentially the financial epicentre of London, you'll find a lot of restaurants, bars and cafes offering top-rated dishes which cater to those going out for business meetings or romantic dinners for two. However, you don't necessarily have to break the bank just to have dinner in the area (unless you dine at a restaurant with a rooftop bar, of course).
If you only have the time and/or the funds to eat at one restaurant in the City, then make it Simpson's, which dates back to 1757 (making it the oldest existing restaurant in London).
If you want to park your car in the City of London, please note that there are different opening and closing times depending on which car park you choose. Car parks at the London Wall and Aldersgate are open 24 hours, but the car park at the Barbican is open from 8 a.m. to midnight.
If you park your car on any street in the City of London, be aware that the entire area is a Controlled Parking Zone which is in effect from:
- Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Saturday, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
For pay-and-display car parks, the charges are:
- £1.20 per 15 minutes from Monday to Friday (8 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and Saturday (7 a.m. to 11 a.m.) for a maximum stay of four hours.
The City Information Centre is open from:
- 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday
- 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays
Leadenhall Market is open from Monday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.