The West End Walk Walking Tour

1 Covent Garden Piazza

Yes it's touristy, but it's worth seeing this wonderful Inigo Jones piazza (p85) and some of the street performers who make a living buffooning around in front of St Paul's Church.

2 Photographers Gallery

Small but with a hard artistic punch, this gallery (p85) is where top photographic exhibitions take place. Check out the shop for great photography books.

3 Chinatown

Avoid Leicester Sq and walk down Lisle St under the ersatz Oriental gates of Chinatown (p67). Breathe in the aromatic spices, pick one of the restaurants - try Jen Café (p243) or New World (p239) for some delicious Chinese food.

4 Shaftesbury Avenue

This is theatre land and Shaftesbury Ave is where some of West End's most prestigious theatres are. This is where Hollywood stars such as Juliette Lewis, Jessica Lange and Christian Slater have performed, along with London's own Daniel Radcliffe.

5 Piccadilly Circus

Hectic and traffic-choked, but still lovely, Piccadilly Circus (p67) is like London's Times Sq, full of flashing ads, tons of shops and tourists.

6 Piccadilly

An elegant stretch away from the Circus, Piccadilly gives a whiff of the nearby aristocratic St James's and Mayfair. Pop into St James's Piccadilly (p70), the only church Sir Christopher built from scratch, check out the market stalls selling crafts and antiques outside, and sit down for a coffee while the pigeons fight for the bread crumbs left behind. Or you could visit Minamoto Kitchoan (p222) Japanese sweet shop for a green tea and some sweeties.

Free art and pay-for exhibitions abound at the brilliant Royal Academy of Arts (p70), where the courtyard installations can often be quite bizarre.

7 Green Park

Walk past the Ritz and turn left into Green Park (p98), a quiet, green space with some stunning oak trees and olde-worlde street lamps.

8 Buckingham Palace

Admire the Queen's abode (p94), though if you're keen on seeing some of the rooms (public access summer only), you're better off buying a ticket in advance. Walk down the grandiose Mall, where processions often take place and the Queen's limousine is escorted by her guards.

9 St James's Park

One of London's smaller, but definitely one of its most beautiful, parks (p95), this place is wonderful in summer and winter. Feed the ducks, squirrels or swans, and take a look at the pelicans. Have a break in the stylish wooden Inn the Park (p246), where you can have some modern British food too. It's one of the more atmospheric places for dinner.

10 Institute of Contemporary Arts

Pop into the edgy ICA (p98) and have a look at whatever exhibition is taking place - you'll come out feeling something, good or bad.

11 Trafalgar Square

Another tourist magnet, but worth it all the way, Trafalgar Square (p74) is a magnificent beauty of a square. Check out the views of Big Ben from its southern side.


Start Covent Garden tube station

End Trafalgar Sq (Charing Cross tube station)

Distance 2.5 miles

Duration One hour 15 minutes

Fuel stops Jen Café (p243), New World (p239), Inn the

Park (p245), National Gallery Dining Rooms (p76)

12 The National Gallery

Take a few hours to admire the artwork at the National Gallery (p75). Sit down for a well-deserved lunch or dinner in the new and stylish National Dining Rooms, where you can enjoy British cuisine in its finest form.


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Ministry of Defence

Old War Office

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Victoria Monument





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top picks


Eating p248; Drinking p282; Sleeping p349

The ancient, hallowed streets of the City are some of London's most fascinating. The Square Mile occupies pretty much exactly the same patch of land around which the Romans first constructed a defensive wall almost two millennia ago and probably contains more history than the rest of the city put together.

The tiny backstreets and ancient churches are today juxtaposed with skyscrapers and office blocks as this is the home of London's stock exchange, the Bank of England and countless other financial institutions. Very few people live in the City today, which was badly bombed during the Blitz, and so while it's very animated Monday to Friday, you can hear a pin drop at the weekend and even on a weeknight after 9pm once the commuters are all safely on their way home.

The centre of gravity for the City is Wren's masterpiece and London's great survivor, St Paul's Cathedral, still a must for all visitors to the capital. To the north of here is Smithfield, home to the notorious St Bartholomew's fair for centuries and a favoured spot for witch burnings and other gory public executions.

East of Smithfield is the Barbican, a vast arts complex and a visual statement that will either make your heart sing or your eyes ache depending what side of the architectural debate you bat for. Personally we love it, but there you go.

Further east still is Bank, the prosaically named district home to many of the major financial institutions of the country including the titular Bank of England. This is where the City can justly be called a bit sterile - pubs often only open Monday to Friday and eating choices split between Marks & Spencer sandwiches or five-course haute cuisine meals for those with expense accounts - yet beauties such as Lloyd's of London, the Gherkin and wonderful Leadenhall Market more than compensate for the lack of life at street level.

Further to the east still is Tower Hill, home to the world-famous Tower of London and iconic Tower Bridge. This is an area dominated by faceless office blocks, although pockets of colour do spill over from the neighbouring multicultural areas of Aldgate and Whitechapel and well-heeled Wapping. However, what the City lacks in great hangouts and community it more than makes up for with a wealth of historic sights and fascinating museums.

St Paul's Cathedral (below) Tower of London (pi 19) Museum of London (pi 13) 30 St Mary Axe (pi 16) Temple Church (p 113)

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