My last stay in London was a short three days and four nights immediately following a week of walking in the Cotswolds. Originally, I did not foresee exploring all of London on foot. My plan was to use the Thames as my main transportation rather than the underground. I hadn’t planned on exclusively walking London.
I arrived at Marylebone station from Stratford-upon-Avon with schedules and information ready for three days of cruising up and down the Thames stopping at sites along the way. My only time certain agenda was attending War Horse at New London Theatre on Drury Lane the next day.
I took a short, inexpensive cab ride from Marylebone station to my hotel, Hotel President, at 66 Russell Square. I have found staying in the Russell Square area to often be a reasonably priced option and the location is excellent. There is a tube station, bus stops, and it is only a few blocks walk to the British Museum.
Hotel President is rather tired looking. However, the desk staff is efficient and helpful and you can usually find a room for under 100 pounds.
After dropping my bag in my room I called my friend James who had agreed to meet me at my hotel for a stroll and a drink. James and I worked as reporters, both covering international figure skating competitions, for several years. James lives in London and works for BBC radio. We have met in many countries while on reporting assignments, but never in London where he lives.
We headed down Kingsway towards the River Thames, deciding on one of the floating bars for our visit. Returning back to my hotel with a late evening stroll I started thinking about how much you really see of a city when you are on foot.
London on Foot – Day 1
With the New London Theatre only a half-mile walk from my hotel, I decided to get around on foot the following day.
The next morning I walked first to the theatre to be sure of the location so as not to be late for the performance. From the southwest corner of Russell Square walk southeast down Montague Street and turn right. After one block turn right on Great Russell Street for one block and then turn left onto Museum Street which becomes Drury Lane.
After checking out the seating time for War Horse I proceeded on to Covent Market. To reach Covent Market walk southwest on Shelton Street to Endell Street and turn left. After 250 feet turn right onto Long Acre. Turn right on James Street which will dead end on King Street. Turn right on King Street and then left at the first corner. The entrance to Covent Market will be about ½ block away on your left, a total of .3 miles from Drury Lane.
Covent Garden Market was started in 1835 in the area of Richmond, Dundas and King Streets. In 1845, a permanent home was established near Richmond, Dundas and King Street. A new building opened in October of 1999. I strolled the market looking at food and flower stalls and stopping to watch some performers.
Next on my agenda was a stop at the Royal Opera House to see if there were any matinee performances the next day that I might be able to attend. From the northeast side of the market, walk northeast on Russell Street to Bow Street and turn left. The entrance to the Royal Opera House will be off of Bow Street on your left. Total walk from Covent Market is about .2 miles.
I stepped into the Royal Opera House for a look around. I found that there were no performances that I could attend the next day. A woman in the lobby offered me a ticket to an opera that was starting in a few minutes. It was very tempting, but I would have had to leave the performance half way through in order to get to my play on time. With regret, I declined and continued on to the matinee performance of War Horse.
My seat in the center of the middle row of the Dress Circle was perfect. This was my shortest walking day in London. However, the five flights of stairs to my seat meant that I was not lacking for exercise! The Dress Circle is definitely not the right choice for anyone needing easy access to the seat.
War Horse was the best live theater performance that I have experienced. The production has music, story, emotion and innovative staging. I left the theater very thankful that I had purchased a ticket online almost a year before after seeing a glimpse of the play on the televised Tony awards.
I walked the half mile back to Russell Square at a leisurely pace stopping in at the British Museum to view one exhibit before returning to my hotel.
London on Foot – Day 2
My goal on day two was a visit to St. James Park, one of my favorite parks in London. My mid-April visit meant I would be blessed with spring blooms. From the southeast corner of Russell Square I headed south on Kingsway to Aldwych and turned right and made a slight right onto The Strand. A left on Villiers Street past Gordon’s Wine Bar will bring you to Victoria Embankment on the Thames.
Turn right at the Embankment and proceed about .4 miles to Bridge Street. A right turn leads you past Big Ben to St. Margaret Street where you turn left. Turn right at the first corner and proceed to Parliament Square. The first left will take you past St. Margaret’s church. Straight ahead will be Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey was founded in 960 by Benedictine monks who first came to this site in the middle of the tenth century. The Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066 and is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. The building of the present church was begun by Henry III in 1245.
This trip I limited my time at Westminster to a walk around the grounds and then headed west toward The Sanctuary. I continued onto Broad Sanctuary and then right onto Storey’s Gate and, after 50 feet, left onto Tothill which becomes Broadway. At the roundabout take the first exit on the right to Queen Anne’s Gate.
Proceed straight through the Queen Anne’s Gate entrance to St. James Park, the oldest of the eight Royal Parks. Follow the path west beside St James Park Lake until reaching the Victoria Memorial.
Plan your walk around the schedule for the Changing of the Guards if you want to observe them while in St. James Park. To proceed to the National Art Gallery, stand facing Buckingham Palace, turn right and follow the path toward The Mall.
The Mall (pronounced “mal”) is the road that runs from Buckingham Palace to Admiralty Arch and on to Trafalgar Square. It starts at the Victoria Memorial which is situated on a roundabout in front of Buckingham Palace.
Head northeast on The Mall toward Admiralty Arch. Continue through the Arch and straight forward until you come to the first roundabout. Trafalgar Square and The National Gallery will be to your left. The National Gallery is on the north side of the Square.
The National Gallery houses the United Kingdom’s collection of Western European paintings from the 13th to the 19th centuries. The Gallery is open 361 days a year, free of charge. It is easy to spend anywhere from an hour to five hours here.
After a few hours at The National Gallery it was time to head back to my hotel with some site seeing along the way. Standing on the plaza of Trafalgar Square with my back to the National Gallery I turned left toward Duncannon St and took a slight left to continue on Duncannon St.
When Paperchase is on your left and MacDonald’s is just ahead on your right, turn right onto Villiers St. When you are almost at the Thames turn left into the Victoria Embankment Gardens. I had never noticed these gardens on previous trips to London and was delighted to find them in the springtime. Next on my walk for today was St. Paul’s Cathedral.
When you have walked through the gardens, Victoria Embankment will be on your right following alongside the River Thames. Turn right toward Victoria Embankment and continue on the Victoria Embankment a little less than a mile and veer slightly right onto Queen Victoria Street. Turn left onto St Andrew’s Hill, left onto Carter Lane, right onto Creed Lane and right onto Ludgate Hill. You will turn left onto St. Paul’s Churchyard.
A Roman temple to Diana may once have stood on the present site of St. Paul’s, but the first Christian cathedral there was dedicated to St. Paul in 604, during the rule of King Aethelberht I. Various disasters led to many incarnations of the cathedral over the next 1000 years.
In the 1660s Christopher Wren was enlisted to survey and repair the cathedral, but it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666) before work could begin. Wren eventually designed and oversaw the construction of the present cathedral.
After some time at St. Paul’s Cathedral, for me it was time to head back to my hotel. To return to St. Russell Square head west on St. Paul’s Churchyard toward Paternoster Square. Turn right onto Paternoster Square and continue onto Rose Street. Turn left onto Newgate, then a slight left onto Holborn, followed by a slight right to stay on Holborn Viaduct.
Next, turn right onto Southampton Place which will take you past Bloomsbury Square Gardens. Head northwest toward Bloomsbury Square and continue onto Great Russell Street. Turn right onto Montague Street and right onto Russell Square.
My second day in London I walked about eight miles.
Final Day Walking London
Day three in London – I decided to walk to Portobello Road, a destination that had been on my to do list on every London visit, but that I had not yet visited.
I headed to the southeast corner of Russell Square and turned right onto Southampton Row and continued walking with Russell Square on my right. At the next corner turn right again and continue alongside the Square. After about 175 feet turn left onto Montague Place. After .3 miles turn right onto Tottenham Court Rd. About one block later turn left onto Goodge Street.
Stay on Goodge Street for 1.3 miles after which it becomes Seymour Place. In less than 400 feet turn left onto Stanhope Place which will take you to Hyde Park. Turn right onto Bayswater Road and walk with Hyde Park on your left. After .5 miles take a slight left to remain on Bayswater Road for another .9 miles. Then take a slight right onto Notting Hill Gate.
Head east on Notting Hill Gate toward Pembridge Rd where you will turn left. Stay on Pembridge Road until the roundabout, then take the 1st exit onto Kensington Park Road. Turn right onto Chepstow Villas, then left onto Portobello Rd
Portobello Road started as a winding country path known as Green Lane. In 1740 after the construction of Portobello Farm it was renamed Porto Bello Lane.
During the Victorian Era the area developed many shops. By 1945 men were setting up stalls and selling second hand household items and antiques. This eventually evolved into the well-known antiques section of the market. Food stalls also abound at the Portobello Market. It is a fun area to browse on any day, but for the full experience schedule your visit around an antique market day.
After stopping for a savory crepe from a street vendor I was ready to start my walk home heading through Kensington Palace Gardens and Hyde Park.
I headed southeast on Portobello Rd toward Vernon Yard and turned right onto Chepstow Villas. Turn left onto Kensington Park Road. At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Pembridge Road. Turn left onto Notting Hill Gate and right onto Kensington Palace Gardens. It is .3 miles to the entrance of the gardens which will be on your left.
I meandered through the gardens with no particular route in mind. After a bit I stopped at one of the signs with a large map of the gardens and headed towards The Albert Memorial.
The Albert Memorial was commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of her husband, Prince Albert who died of typhoid in 1861. The memorial was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The memorial is 176 feet (54 m) tall, took over ten years to complete, and cost £120,000 (the equivalent of about £10,000,000 in 2010). The cost was met by public subscription.
To return to Russell Square head southeast toward Hyde Park Corner. Make a slight left to head northeast on Piccadilly. Green Park will be on your right.
After about .5 miles make a slight left to continue onto Shaftesbury Ave. Continue on Shaftesbury Ave about .7 miles to New Oxford Street where you turn right. Turn left on Southampton Row and proceed to 66 Russell Square with just under 10 miles of walking for the day.
I haven’t mentioned food in this review of three days of walking in London, with the exception of my crepe on Portobello Road. At one of the many shops near Russell Square I grabbed a piece of fruit in the morning as I was starting my walk each day, usually picking up up another piece of fruit along the way. Each day included a break for a cup or tea.
I have to admit to surviving this trip by grabbing a salad and/or sandwich at a Pret a Manger shop every day that I was there. I am a foodie and normally look for special places to eat while traveling. This trip I focused on walking and being a part of the city.
Having never purchased food from Pret a Manger before, I was delighted to find it to be very reasonable priced, fresh and tasty. And it seems impossible to walk too far without finding one. As of February 2014, there were 289 Pret a Manger shops in the UK, 187 of them in London.
Day four I departed The President Hotel and walked two blocks to the Russell Square tube station. There I took the Piccidilly line straight to Heathrow Airport. Next trip to London I might ride a subway or two, or use the transportation on the Thames, but I foresee that future trips to London, for me, will always include walking London as my main form of transportation.
The following books provide more information on the sites of London and walking London.