A Guide to the City of London
The City of London is the oldest part of London. It is the original London, a city within a city. Here, London dates back to Roman times and the 'Square Mile' was the area within those ancient city walls.
You can still see sections of those Roman walls on Noble Street, near the Museum of London and outside Tower Hill station opposite the Tower of London. But, today, the City is a financial district full of towering glass and steel skyscrapers with affectionate names based on what the average Londoner thinks they look like: Gherkin, Walkie Talkie and Cheesegrater, for example. All are certainly landmark architectural statements that contrast beautifully with the historic buildings that remain.
As the City of London isn't large, it is wonderful for aimless wandering. It has grown organically and is not built on a grid so there are lots of unexpected alleyways, yet the area is small enough that you will never be far away from a tube station or main road.
The City of London is full of layers of history as you will see below.
As well as the remaining Roman wall noted above, you can see the Roman Temple of Mithras under an office building. Bloomberg's European headquarters lies over the course of one of London's lost rivers, the Walbrook. Nearly 2,000 years ago when Londinium was founded by the Romans, this river marked the limits of their first settlement. In the 3rd century AD, nearly 200 years after the founding of London, a Roman Londoner, built a temple to the god Mithras on this reclaimed ground, next to the river.
Book free tickets to visit the London Mithraeum and you can see the ancient temple, a selection of Roman artefacts found during the excavations before the offices were built, and a series of contemporary art commissions responding to one of the UK's most significant archaeological sites.
And for the full history of London from prehistoric times to today, you need to go to the Museum of London. You can see Roman and Medieval exhibits, plus a whole section about the Great Fire of London in 1666 that devastated this area. There's more about the rebuilding of London and how by the 1850s, this was the wealthiest and most powerful city in the world, but also the most crowded. The city's story continues with the World Wars and the postwar multicultural revolution. There's even a gallery displaying Thomas Heatherwick's copper cauldron sculpture that was created for the 2012 London Olympics.
Moving forward a millennium, The Tower of London was built in 1078 following a successful French invasion. The Norman ruler, William the Conqueror wanted a great stone palace with walls 15 feet thick.
The Tower is the home of the Crown Jewels as well as the Yeomen Warders, better known as Beefeaters. They run guided tours every day and you will see the ravens who are the legendary guardians of the Tower. (It is said, "if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it" so these ravens are very well looked after.)
With so much history there are plenty of ghost stories as well as tales of torture and execution. Not only a palace, The Tower of London has been the Royal Mint, a fortress, prison, Royal Armouries and even a zoo (there was a polar bear which swam in the Thames on a long leash!)
Each November there is an annual event that is a classic piece of British pageantry. Since 1215 every newly-elected Lord Mayor of the City of London has to travel through the streets to swear loyalty to the Crown. The Lord Mayor's Show is a procession and ceremony that celebrates the appointment of the new Lord Mayor of the City of London.
Look out for other special events around the City on the day including free entry to St Paul's Cathedral.
The town hall and administrative centre for the City of London since the Middles Ages, the Guildhall was built between 1411 and 1440. It was designed to reflect the power and prestige of London and its leaders.
Beneath the impressive Great Hall are the largest surviving medieval crypts in London – the oldest parts of the building. When not in use, you can visit the Great Hall which has an incredible high-arched ceiling, Gothic stained glass windows and 5 feet thick walls. This has been the setting for the annual Lord Mayor's Banquet since 1502 and is used for many functions throughout the year.
The history of this site goes back much further with an earlier Guildhall known to have been here in the 12th century. And the remains of the largest Roman amphitheatre in Brittania can be seen under the Guildhall Art Gallery.
The Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed most of the City's medieval building stock. It is said to have started in a baker's oven on Pudding Lane and the fire raged for five days. King Charles II commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design The Monument to commemorate the Great Fire. This famous doric column is 202 ft (62 m) high and it is 202 feet from where the fire started.
Today, you can climb the 311 steps to the viewing platform. It's quite a trek but children manage it every day (all English children learn about the Great Fire of London at school). But it is all worth it as when you get back down you will be presented with a certificate for your achievement.
The old St Paul's Cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire (you can see a model of it in the Museum of London) so Sir Christopher Wren also designed the current iconic St Paul's Cathedral. Building started in 1675 and it was completed in 1708.
This is a working church as well as a tourist attraction and they now allow non-flash photography inside. You can look around independently with a multimedia guide or you can join a guided tour. If you fancy another climb, you can go up inside the dome. It is 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery, 376 steps to the Stone Gallery or you can do the full 528 steps to reach the Golden Gallery.
Building work was completed on Tower Bridge in 1894. It is a combined bascule and suspension bridge over the River Thames. Visitors can head up to the upper walkway for views of London at 130 ft (42 m) and then head down to the Victorian engine rooms to hear about the lives of the people who kept the bridge going. A glass-floor has been added to a section of the upper walkway so try to time your visit to see the bridge lift from above. Even if you can't be inside, do check the bridge lift times as it can be lovely to watch from near the Tower of London.
The Barbican Centre is the largest arts centre in Europe. There are theatres, cinemas, art spaces and more plus the second biggest greenhouse in London up in the Barbican Conservatory. Who would have thought you could find over 2,000 species of tropical plants as well as birds and fish to visit for free in the City of London?
Barbican Centre is part of the Brutalist Barbican Estate that was built during the 1960s and the 1980s after the area was devastated by World War Two bombing.
While the Bank of England was established in 1694 to act as the English Government's banker and they moved to Threadneedle Street in 1734, the building was extended and redesigned by Sir John Soane from 1788 for the next 45 years. The bank was rebuilt between the world wars and now only the outer wall of his building remains but it is still an imposing structure.
The Bank of England Museum opened in 1988 and is a surprisingly interesting free museum. You can have a go at lifting a gold bar after discovering which children's author of a very well-known book worked at the Bank until 1908.
Open since 2015, the Sky Garden is on the 43rd floor of the Walkie Talkie skyscraper. It's a fantastic viewing area with restaurants so you can dine with the most amazing City views. Everyone can visit for free but you do need to book a daytime ticket. Or go early to see the sunrise – it is open from 7 am – or come for an evening drink as tickets are not required after 6 pm.
As you can see we weren't joking when we mentioned the amount of history to be uncovered in this relatively small area! You can get more information at the City Information Centre in St. Paul's Churchyard and it is open seven days a week.
WHERE TO STAY
In a great location in the heart of the City, Fraser Residence City London and Fraser Residence Monument are perfect for getting to know this historic neighbourhood. Bottolph Alley and Lovat Lane are close to The Monument to the Great Fire of London and The Walrus and Carpenter pub is just on the corner. There's a 24/7 Reception here for all 36 luxury residences and the Penthouse apartments have a balcony for breakfast with a view. All guests are minutes away from world-class shopping, culture and dining opportunities.
Written by Laura Porter - Travel Writer for Frasers Hospitality