Sir Christopher Wren has left a lasting legacy throughout London.
How is it possible that most visitors to London never actually see London? No, it's not a trick question! The metropolitan area we refer to as London is actually two distinct municipalities. The City of Westminster is what most people know as London. If you've seen Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, and the British Museum, then you've done a pretty good job of exploring Westminster!
But the municipality of the City of London, the 'real' London as some might say, is a traveler's dream. The roughly one square mile of territory reflects London's boundaries during the Roman settlement in the first century. And while only 7,000 people live here, about 300,000 workers commute here everyday, as it is now the heart of London's financial district.
The City's sleek and modern financial towers have a tendency to camouflage some incredible historic architectural gems. Tucked among the skyscrapers are some of the finest pieces of work by renowned English architect Sir Christopher Wren, all open and eager for visitors. Even if architecture isn't your strong point, take heart. Entire volumes have been written about the breadth of Wren's work throughout London, but even a quick visit will allow a traveler the opportunity to become acquainted with Wren's best work.
If you have just half a day to explore The City, here's the perfect Wren-themed itinerary.
I recommend starting a swift tour of The City just outside it's boundaries by taking the tube to Holborn Station (you can get there directly from Heathrow Airport.) Make your way on foot to Fleet Street, the original home of the British press. I highly recommend looking up your route beforehand, so you can not take the most direct path but instead weave and wander your way through the beautiful grounds of Lincoln's Inn Fields and the London School of Economics.
Your destination is a classic British pub. Fleet Street is famous for Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese but its neighbour, The Old Bell Tavern, is far less touristy. Over 300 years old, it was built by Sir Christopher Wren. And it could very well be the pub whose walls you most wish would talk, considering how many tantalizing tales have been told here by its main patrons, members of the British press. Hot pub classics range from 9-12 GBP and in addition to traditional British beers, they also offer cider, rare gins, and even unique non-alcoholic choices.
Before you leave the area, take some time to visit St. Bride's church, just behind the pub. There has been a church on this site longer than virtually any other spot in London but the beautiful building you see today was opened in 1675. The original structure was one of the many victims of London's Great Fire and its replacement was redesigned and rebuilt by Wren.
Continue down Fleet Street, which will turn into Ludgate Hill and then St. Paul's Churchyard (about 10 minutes). This notable house of worship is a history lover's dream. You can buy your tickets online to skip the lines and you'll enjoy your visit more if you do some advanced reading. The story of Wren's design and the construction process is fascinating, but what I love most is learning about the heroic efforts to save the church from bombing destruction during World War II.
Keep your eyes open for Temple Bar in Paternoster Square, next to St Paul's. Once marking the site of the ceremonial entrance to the City of London, it's another Wren "wren-ovation."
Last but not least, make your way to Wren's Monument to the Great Fire, at the corner of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill. The tallest stone column in the world, it's 202 feet tall and stands 202 feet from the shop of baker Thomas Fraynor where the fire began on Pudding Lane.
If you have good knees, a little extra time, and a thirst for photography, you can climb to the top -311 steps!- for an amazing panoramic view.
If you're spending some extra time in the area, ask about a combination ticket to see Tower Bridge as well.
London is a beautiful city for exploring on foot. Every time you look up there is another historical plaque that shares the special history of a particular building. We hope this path, following in Christopher Wren's footsteps, brings you as much travel fun as it's brought us.
What are your favourite architectural landmarks in London?
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