This is where it all began. London’s oldest area, The City of London ranges from the base of Tower Hill to Temple Bar – in it you’ll find Roman ruins, age-old churches and mediaeval guilds but also gleaming skyscrapers and classy cocktail bars.
In other words, there’s so much more to The City than just being London’s financial district.
Never is the history of London clearer than on a walk through the city. A simple stroll will take you from the ruins of the Roman sections of London wall, to historic churches built in the aftermath of The Great Fire of London standing shoulder to shoulder with glassy sky-high contemporary constructions.
It’s a fascinating jumble of London throughout the ages, restricted to an area a little over a square mile.
Don’t think The City of London’s appeal is confined to poking into the past – not only is this the hub of London’s financial sector, it’s where you’ll find some of the city’s best bars and restaurants too.
It’s easy to think of The City as a bit fuddy duddy – but scratch beneath the surface and you’ll discover independent distilleries, local theatres, art galleries and an area that very much has its finger on the pulse, as well as some incredible history.
Top Picks for The City of London
What to do, where to drink and where to eat….
Things to do in The City of London
Delving into the unmissable spots in The Square Mile.
St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s most important landmarks – that much is a given, but that doesn’t do it justice.
Famously designed by Christopher Wren after the old cathedral was burnt down in The Great Fire of London, the spire of St Paul’s seems to pop up wherever you are in The City.
Inside, it’s just as spectacular – a riot of gilt and soaring archways that will etch itself on your brain.
Love or hate the architecture (for the record, I’m on the love side), there’s no doubt that The Barbican is one of the city’s cultural hubs.
Theatre? Check. Cinemas? Check? Concert halls? Check. Art gallery…. I could go on.
That’s all before you get to the architecture – Brutalist, beautiful and best explored on one of their specific architecture tours.
Pop into the Conservatory (open specific Sundays) to see its striking collision of Amazon rainforest and concrete structures.
It says everything you need to know about The City that there’s a secret Roman temple buried underneath the shiny Bloomberg offices.
Book a (free) ticket for the immersive temple experience. I won’t give the game away but there’s moody lighting, chanting and it’s all a bit bonkers and wonderful.
St Dunstan in the East
Set in the ruins of a medieval church that was destroyed by The Blitz, it’s a peaceful haven in the centre of the Square Mile.
The towering glass garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie building, Sky Garden is one heck of a beautiful spot. Though the garden itself is a sight, you’re really here for the views, which are some of London’s best.
Shame it can be so tough to get in – though it’s free, access tickets book out well in advance, though I do drop you some hints for beating the system in my Guide to Visiting the Sky Garden.
The poulters and fishmongers of the 14th century Leadenhall Market have long been replaced with upmarket shops and restaurants, but it still retains something special that keeps visitors coming back again and again.
The ornate wrought-iron structure plays a large part: built in the Victorian times, the red and gold construction is one of The City’s finest.
One of London’s quirkier spots, there’s nothing particularly interesting about Postman’s Park at first glance…that is until you glance at the tiled shelter hidden in one corner of the park.
This is the Watt’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, filled with plaques commemorating the lives of Londoners who died doing heroic deeds.
It’s a quiet, contemplative piece of greenery surrounded by the concrete jungle of the city and well worth a visit.
We all know that the Romans loved a wall, and London (then Londinium) was no exception. The Romans built a wall around the City of London that was maintained until the 18th century. Remarkably, you can still see sections of the wall that date back to Roman times – head to Cooper’s Row for one such fragment.
The Old Bailey
Want to listen to something hair-raising? Go and listen to the trials at The Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales.
Many of the country’s most serious crimes are heard here – including that of the Kray Twins, The Yorkshire Ripper and Jeremy Thorpe – the former Liberal leader who was accused (but acquitted) of conspiracy to murder.
You’ll need to get up early to catch Smithfield Market – London’s largest meat market – at its liveliest. By 8am the action has already dwindled to nearly nothing.
Either way, the grand Victorian construction is worth gawping at.
What you see today is just the tip of the iceberg of Horace Jones’ cathedral of iron and stone with many of the cavernous halls and a now defunct underground station closed to the public.
Even more excitingly, West Smithfield is soon to become the new venue for the Museum of London.
Museum of London
As a city with so much history, it’s difficult to get a true sense of the narrative that saw London evolve from a sleepy backwater to the contemporary metropolis that we see today. Showcasing that narrative is exactly what the Museum of London sets out to do.
Permanent exhibitions take you on a jaunt through time from the neolithic tools used in the area that was to become London, to London today. There’s even a full row of Victorian shops for you to explore.
Walk the Old London Wall
Did you know that in its earliest days, London was a walled city and that you can still see bits of the old London Wall in the City of London today? Well, you can. Even though the London Wall dates back to Roman times, it was maintained in part until the 18th century. Do the London Wall Walk and discover more.
The Monument to The Great Fire of London no longer soars above the rooftops of the surrounding area, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still worth a visit.
Climb the 311 steps to the top for stellar views of the Thames, Shard and The City.
Bank of England
There’s not much to see inside the Bank of England, save for a relatively interesting museum with virtual tours and the chance to see every note issued by the Royal Mint since its formation.
Temple Bar Gate
With a history that stretches back to the early days of The Square Mile and has been involved in numerous Royal ceremonies over the years, The Temple Bar Gate is one of the most interesting pieces of London’s history.
That’s only compounded by the fact that where you’ll find it today in Paternoster Square isn’t the place you would have found it 150 years ago, and even its Victorian location was just temporary.
The Wren-designed gate has been painstakingly shifted all over London. Today it seems to have found a more permanent home (we hope). Wherever it is, it’s definitely worth a look.
Eating & Drinking in The City
My favourite places to eat and drink in The Square Mile.
Oriole might not get as much press as it’s older sister Nightjar in Shoreditch – but you should take that as a good thing as it makes the possibility of nabbing a table that much higher. Art Deco and Fin de Siecle style come together with some of the best cocktails in town. Highly recommended.
Whether you go for the views or the food, you won’t be disappointed – SUSHISAMBA has long been one of the capital’s hottest dining spots and there are no signs it will be giving up that mantle any time soon.
Perched on the 38th and 39th floors of the Salesforce Tower (previously the Heron Tower), it boasts some of the best views in the city.
That’s all before you indulge in the food – a unique mix of Brazilian, Peruvian and Japanese – which is as delicious as it is unusual. Kick things off with some Plantain Chips, segue onto a Salmon Ceviche or something sizzling from the Robata menu… but whatever you do, don’t miss the sushi.
City of London Distillery Bar
When it opened, the City of London Distillery was the first gin distillery to open in almost 200 years. To say that they’re passionate about gin is something of an understatement. I’d highly recommend their gin-making classes if that’s your thing, but their chic subterranean bar is lure enough. Expect the best G&T’s you can get your hands on, with other gin-based cocktails thrown in for good measure.
The City of London isn’t short on great wine bars – so when Enoteca Rabbezaana opened in 2015, some questioned what it could really bring to the table.
Turns out the answer was… a lot. The extensive collection of over 120 wines is paired with some of the best Italian charcuterie and cheese you can get your hands on in London.
During the noughties, Hawksmoor set about establishing itself as a shrine to which all London meat lovers should pay homage, a reputation that lasts to this day. What’s the big attraction? Grass-fed, dry aged beef and sustainably sourced seafood for starters – not to mention a cocktail list that always tempts you to have just one more.
Duck & Waffle
It’s difficult to remember a time when Duck & Waffle didn’t dominate The City of London’s dining scene – quite literally – it’s on the 40th floor after all. The menu is contemporary British with European touches, the view is fabulous and it all comes with the prices to match.
There’s no quite putting your finger on Brigadiers. Inspired by the Indian mess bars where the army would socialise in days past, it’s an Indian barbecue restaurant, whisky bar and sports venue rolled up into one – and more elegant than any of those descriptions would suggest. Go with a fat wallet and an empty stomach.
Sweetings is the place you go when you want traditional British seafood with lashings of conservatism and not a hum of fusion food in sight. It’s a City classic for a reason – and, while it could be stuffy, isn’t. Go, if only to say you’ve dined in one of London’s classic eateries.
If you want cooking that really strives for perfection, book yourself in for a meal at Michelin-starred Club Gascon. Their menu of contemporary French cooking takes the best of a very traditional cuisine and brings it shining into the modern age, then serves it up at the hands of a team of waiters commanding impeccable service.
New (ish) kid on the City of London dining scene, Shiro comes to London as part of the Aqua Group and by way of Hong Kong. It was there they made a name for themselves serving up artful plates of crystal sushi – the japanese classic topped or wrapped in a chinese jelly that looks as pretty as can be
If it’s seafood you’ve got on your mind, Shiro’s sushi is rivalled by one of the top fish restaurants in the City: Angler. Another Michelin-awarded restaurant, these guys serve up the very finest sustainable seafood from an ever changing menu and a top-floor spot at the luxury South Palace Hotel. Angler’s pricey, but worth every penny.
Read Next: The Best Restaurants in the City of London
Top Shopping Spots
Pretty as the structure of Leadenhall Market is, that doesn’t stop it from being one of The City’s top shopping spots. The relatively extensive range of shops includes Barbour, wine merchants Bedales and Reiss.
One New Change
By far the largest shopping centre in The City of London, One New Change offers a diverse (if rather uninspiring) range of high street shops geared towards the upper end of the market. There’s a Friday Food Market to jazz things up and the Roof Terrace offers spectacular views of St Paul’s.
Shopping centre is not the first thing that would spring to mind when you look at the grand edifice of the Royal Exchange – but they did things a little differently in the Victorian times when the current version of the building was designed.
Inside, you’ll find a select variety of designer shops and a Fortnum & Mason Restaurant and Bar in the heart of the imposing building.
Places to Stay in the City of London
The Andaz London Liverpool Street
Chic and Centrally Located
Located next to Liverpool Street Station, The Andaz is a stone’s throw from Shoreditch and The City’s best spots.
Five star opulence and city-boy chic meet at The Ned. There are ten restaurants and several more bars to keep you entertained.
A touch of luxury
With grand views, swimming pools and service to top the list of the best in London, you don’t get much more luxurious than a night at the Pan Pacific.
Practical Tips for Exploring
- The City boasts plenty of history, but it is also home to some of London’s most iconic architecture from the past few decades. Check out The Gherkin, The Walkie Talkie and The Cheesegrater for a different take on things.
- If you only drink in one bar, make it Oriole. Ensconced underneath Smithfield Market, it’s one of The City’s not so hidden gems.
- Don’t venture into The City of London at the weekend – it’s dead and a lot of places are shut. Weekdays are hands-down the best time to explore.