You have no idea how long I’ve been avoiding writing this blog post. I’ve been telling myself to write a City of London guide for years, but there’s a problem: it’s intimidating. The historic heart of London has so many layers and secrets that I always feel like it’s too big to tackle. But that’s changing today.

City of London Guide

City of London Guide

Why? I’ve been really busy lately, and for some reason the busier I get the more productive I become. It’s strange, but I’m glad it’s made me rise to the challenge. So here’s my take on the City. I hope you enjoy it.

City of London Gryphon

The City

I first learned about this London neighborhood when I lived in San Francisco. I kept reading articles in The Economist that talked about the City of London, and I always wondered why the magazine wrote such a redundant phrase. Obviously London is a city, so why say it every time?

City of London

Then it occurred to me that maybe the phrase “City of London” referred to a specific part of London. I looked it up and found it was true. The City is the oldest part of London, dating all the way back to Roman times. Also called the Square Mile, the neighborhood is actually a city within a city. It has its own mayor and everything.

Ye Olde Cock Tavern

History and administration aside, the City is one of the most fascinating parts of London. Not only is it home to major landmarks like St Paul’s Cathedral, but also a tangle of narrow alleys and lanes that are always rewarding to wander down.

St Paul's Cathedral

It’s one of the only parts of London where sections of Roman wall sit side-by-side with the world’s newest skyscrapers. It’s home to the Gherkin—arguably London’s most beloved modern building—and the Barbican—definitely its most reviled. These layers and contrasts are what first lured me to the City, and they’re what keep drawing me back.

City of London

My favorite thing to do when I’m in the neighborhood is get lost. I duck down the alleys off Fleet Street, into courtyards like Inner Temple, and through covered markets like Leadenhall.

Temple Church, London

I wander past the Bank of England, into the Royal Exchange, and around Smithfield. Because every time I lose myself in the City I discover so much more to love about it.

Royal Exchange, London

And maybe that’s the real reason I’ve held off on writing a City of London guide for so long. I’m always afraid the best discovery will be my next one. But that’s exactly why it’s worth blogging about. I hope that with this as a starting point, you’ll be able to uncover your own favorite secrets of the City.

Gherkin, London

What places would you include in a City of London guide?

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City of London Guide

18 Comments on Lady’s Quick Guide to the City of London

  1. We stayed here over Thanksgiving last year! Loved the location because of it’s proximity to St. Paul’s and The Tower and loved how generally “un-touristy” it was. Word of caution for travelers – as it’s mostly a business district there aren’t a lot of places open to eat on the weekend but you’re not too far from a bridge that will lead you to Borough Market!

  2. I went to London on business a few months ago and the Square Mile is where I stayed most of the time. I had never spent much time there previously and I have to say I thought it was amazing. The blend of the old and the new in that district is so stark that it’s almost surreal.

    The highlight of the trip for me was getting to tour the Lloyd’s of London building. It’s such an amazing, modern building. However, business is conducted in such an old school way where everything is done face to face and paper documents are literally signed and stamped. And if you haven’t been, there is a room on the top floor that was literally recreated from the original Lloyd’s building including walls, ceiling and floor. It may be more interesting to me because I’m in the industry, but I think it would be worthwhile to tour for anyone because of its significance in the world insurance industry.

  3. I spent a lot of time in this area back in September when I was there. I found great places to eat, some like The Counting House pub that I posted about this week and another place in a cozy basement setting. I was particularly interested in the “Temples” and I spent a lot of time exploring those areas. In fact I passed through that opening on Fleet Street in your second photo many times on that trip. I’m a bit jealous of Blaise (comment above), I would love to tour the Lloyd’s building one of these days. I’ve always been intrigued by that building. I do love to wander among those modern tall buildings and find the little history filled places squeezed between and below them.

  4. This is such a fantastic read and so so timely for me – I’ve been to London so many times, and have lived for half a year in Lancaster, but I know there’s always more layers to uncover. Love your writing, and I can’t wait to uncover more about the City of London xx

  5. You are right to say that the City has many layers. It is by some distance the most intriguing part of the metropolis. My advice to any visitor is to explore it at the weekend when it is quiet.

    It is all there to be discovered: Dickens, Stow, Wren, the seven gates, Livery Companies, ghosts, gold, chophouses… Enjoy 😉

    PS – If possible take advantage of the Open House event in September when many buildings (like Lloyd’s of London) are open to the public.

  6. The city is a tremendously special area. To reach the true soul of this part of the city you have to go through its alleys. If we do, we will discover the differentiating essence of London. What makes it different and what takes it to that other dimension that is in the imagination of all but that is not otherwise explored by the mass of tourists.

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