The tour starts at Victoria Station, a central hub in the London transit system, right in the heart of the city. The street in front of the station is called Buckingham Palace Road, so you may as well turn right from the front doors and head toward its namesake. Along the way, you see a mix of the old and the new, classic English pubs and modern office buildings. It’s also worth stopping to look at the little park on the left, with this dramatic sculpture of a lion chasing a deer.
Of course, the palace is usually mobbed with tourists, especially at 11 in the morning to see the changing of the guard. Be aware, though: the ceremony doesn’t take place every day, so check before you go. It’s a great spectacle if you’re there on the right day: otherwise, you’ll have to be satisfied with the red-coated guards who stand at the front gate, sweltering in their busbys.
St. James’s Park
The Parliament Square Gardens
Leaving the park, head left along Birdcage Walk, a lovely, tree-lined avenue that was once the site of King James I’s aviary. The walk leads you to the imposing national treasury and a large, open square lined with statues of heroes from around the empire.
The most famous is the statue of Winston Churchill, at the front of the square. You’ll have to line up to get your picture taken with it. I was struck by some of the other historic figures included, however, including Mahatma Gandhi, who stood down the British colonialists to win his country’s freedom. Once he was their adversary, now they erect a statue to him.
Cross the square and you come to another of the city’s most historic buildings, Westminster Abbey. All the English kings and queens have been crowned in this church since William the Conqueror in 1066. Most royal weddings are held here too, including those of Queen Elizabeth and Princes William and Andrew. As well, countless ancient kings and nobles are buried in the church. It’s well worth a few minutes to look through, though it’ll cost you 22 pounds to get in — 20 if you book online.
The Parliament Buildings
Back across the Parliament Square and it’s only a few metres to the Westminster Bridge, from which you can get a great view of the Parliament Buildings and the London waterfront. Of course, if you want a closer look, the buildings are open to visitors at certain times, depending on what’s going on there. A guided tour will cost you 28 pounds if you book on the spot, less if you pre-book. And good news, there’s a seniors price of 23 pounds.
The London Eye
Crossing the bridge, you’ll see a wharf where you can take a boat tour on the Thames. But if you resist that, take a left onto Belvedere Road and you come to London’s most famous modern attraction, the London Eye. It’s so big you can hardly gt it into a photograph, but it’s a sight to see, and the gardens surrounding it are a pleasant walk. If you do want to take the 30-minute spin, a ticket will cost you about 23 pounds, but prices vary depending on when and how you buy them.
Crossing the Thames again on the Jubilee Bridge just beyond the Eye, you’ll find yourself on Northumberland Ave., which leads you to another landmark, Trafalgar Square. The square itself is not that brilliant, but this is where you’ll find the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. If you’re an art lover, you could spend the rest of the day here.
If you’re hungry, however — or if you want to do do some shopping — head right from Trafalgar Square to The Strand, and walk a few blocks to Southampton Street. Turn left and you’ll find Covent Garden, an enclosed square that was once the orchard garden for Westminster Abbey, later London’s first residential square and then a market. It was also the site of the first recorded Punch and Judy show. Today it’s a pleasant shopping and entertainment centre, and a good place to relax in the middle of the day, or shop for everything from London souvenirs to high-fashion clothes and jewellery.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Back on The Strand, if you continue walking east, you’ll pass the magnificent-looking Royal Courts of Justice and the old Bank of England. The Strand then turns into Fleet Street, and in a few blocks you’ll see this iconic view of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Built in the 17th century by architect Christopher Wren, the cathedral is a symbol of London, and its 111-metre (365-foot ) dome towered above the London skyline for centuries. Inside, it’s grand though not overly ornate, with acres of white marble under the famous dome.
If you’re not up for the walk to St. Paul’s, you can head back to Trafalgar Square, and find your way to the Pall Mall. Then, head up Haymarket St. and in a few blocks you’ll find yourself in London’s most famous intersection, Piccadilly Circus. It’s one of those things you have to see if you come to London, but don’t stay too long — this is one of the most polluted streetcorners I’ve ever experienced. So take your photos and head out.
That’s the end of our walking tour. If you don’t dally too long in one place and walk briskly, you can easily do it in a day. And there’s really no need to take a taxi or the transit unless you have some mobility issues. However, you may find yourself stopping here and there to look at some of the thousands of tiny points of interest London has to offer; it seems almost every corner is the former site of some historic event, or the home of some illustrious person now long deceased.
If you do the whole walk and end up at Piccadilly Circus, you can be excused for rewarding yourself a little. So head down Piccadilly for a couple of blocks and pick up some tea, or wine, or fancy food at Fortnum & Mason, purveyor of fine fare to England’s hoi-polloi and another emblem of old London. If not, you can walk down the stairs to Piccadilly Station and take the tube back to your hotel.
Finally, one note about London transport: it can be very expensive, I was shocked to find my single ride across central London on the Underground cost me almost $9 Canadian. If you’re travelling around the city more than a little, it can pay to buy a Day Travelcard or an Oyster Card, which you can load with money and just tap when you take the tube or bus. The London transport website can help you figure out which works for you. One good deal: you can get to Heathrow Airport on the underground from central London for around 6 pounds. That’s a winner in this expensive city.