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London neigbhourhood guide: The City and Tower Bridge

Best for Time-hopping
Locals love The faded Music Hall
Don’t miss Hidden historic treasures

The City of London (née Londinium, aka the Square Mile) is where the Romans kick-started a now sprawling metropolis. If the still-standing Roman wall on Tower Hill could talk, it would give you a lengthy lowdown on the capital’s growing pains. Start at the Temple of Mithras and the amphitheatre in the Guildhall Art Gallery’s basement, both free to visit. Walk down the ages to the 11th-century Tower of London, the 13th-century Temple Church and the 17th-century Monument to the Great Fire of London. Spy London’s oldest house at 41 Cloth Fair, and Dennis Severs’ as-it-was manse on Folgate Street.

It’s an old-timer, but this city within a city is no fuddy-duddy. Cultural appetites are catered for by arts powerhouse the Barbican. Home to ‘proper’ meat market Smithfield, Clerkenwell has game-changing restaurants. St John, The Modern Pantry, and The Quality Chop House are all worthy of a conquest or two. Indulge heavily at less proper, but no less enticing, Exmouth, Leadenhall and – after trotting over Tower Bridge – Maltby Street markets too. One look at London’s gleaming 2.0 skyline confirms it: the Romans’ little settlement is all grown up.

'Don't miss' addresses

  • Barbican

    Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS

    A jolie-laide Brutalist icon, the Barbican thrills cultured sorts. Its art galleries and cinemas embrace challenging works, from the most niche tastes to must-see exhibitions. Concerts here veer from Japanese minimalism and Indian bansuri recitals to chart-toppers. It’s a brilliant kids’ entertainer too, and afternoon tea is delightful in its hidden conservatory.

  • Tower Bridge

    Tower Bridge Road, SE1 2UP

    Often mistaken for London Bridge – the walkway downstream – 19th-century Tower Bridge is a definitive London landmark. Get a pic for posterity, then poke around in the coal-driven Victorian engine rooms and museum within. A nerve-testing glass walkway, high above the bascules, gives a unique view of this perennial postcard star.

  • Pitt Cue

    1 The Avenue, Devonshire Square, EC2M 4YP

    Once a food truck selling BBQ boxes, Pitt Cue is now a bricks-and-mortar heavyweight. Snaffle cuts from the smoker, seafood from the grill and one-of-each small plates: pork scrumpet, caramel ribs… The spirits list reads like an incantation, with voodoo-ritual rums and ceremonial mezcals – we’ll summon another round, please.

  • Duck & Waffle

    Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY

    Craving foie gras crème brûlée at 3am? Ride the Heron Tower’s scenic, rainbow-lit elevator up 40 floors for round-the-clock decadence. High-end comfort food (ox-cheek doughnuts, toffee-apple waffles) pairs well with an upscale view and craft cocktails. London looks good in miniature at any time, but after dark it’s simply radiant.

  • Oriole

    East Poultry Avenue, EC1A 9LH

    Fly, my pretties, to Oriole, an exquisitely feathered nest for date-night cocktails from the group behind the much-flocked-to Nightjar. Decor is inspired by its namesake’s world-spanning migration, with tiki-tropical murals and travel-inspired knick-knacks. The three-part drinks list is an epic tale (with glossary) and you can peck at Nikkei-inspired snacks.

  • Wilton's Music Hall

    1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, E1 8JB

    Shabby chic is lived large in this faded – yet still sparkling – star of London’s Music Hall tradition. Its foxed walls and well-trodden boards make a striking backdrop for one-man plays, libretto warbling, swing dancing and other Golden Age-reviving amusements. A pleasantly unprecious spot for a good old knees-up.

  • Tower of London

    St Katharine's and Wapping, EC3N 4AB

    The Tower’s best known as a gilded cage for high-profile royal-wrongers (Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes). But this magnificent building now encloses the Crown Jewels and scarlet-clad Yeoman Warders (or Beefeaters) with captive audiences. Visit for festivals and history-to-life experiences. And watch the resident ravens: if they leave, Britain falls…

Forget the Crown Jewels – there’s so much more to the City of London than a few well-guarded baubles.

DID YOU KNOW...

  • The Tower of London had a zoo in the 13th century 
  • The Queen has to ask permission to visit the City’s Lord Mayor
  • A doubledecker bus once pulled a Speed on Tower Bridge – accelerating from one bascule to the other
  • You could buy live animals in Smithfield Market till the 1850s
  • The Scoop amphitheatre by Tower Bridge holds family-friendly plays free in summer

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Image credits: © Getty; © Getty; © Max Colson; © Image Source; © Pitt Cue; © Duck and Waffle; © Oriole; © Wilton’s Music Hall; © Alamy; © Getty; © Getty; © Getty