Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the architect behind St Paul’s Cathedral, the Monument to the Great Fire of London was erected in 1677 to celebrate the rebuilding of the city following the devastating blaze that swept across the capital. The fire, which started at a baker’s on Pudding Lane, raged for four days and destroyed 86 percent of the City of London, making 130,000 people homeless. Wren came up with a design for a colossal 61-metre (200-foot) Doric column in honour of this tragic event, containing a stone staircase of 311 steps that lead up to a viewing platform, which is still in use today. Now, from Monument station, walk up Gracechurch Street to Leadenhall Market.
This decorative market captures the essence of Victorian London with its spectacular ornamental detailing designed by Sir Horace Jones (also responsible for Smithfield and Billingsgate Markets). The late 19th-century building was used in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) to represent the area of London around the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley. Leadenhall actually dates back to the 14th century, making it one of the city’s oldest markets, and stands in what would have been the heart of Roman London. Now, take a right on Leadenhall Street and walk along to Lloyd’s of London.
An icon of High-Tech architecture, the Lloyd’s building was designed by Richard Rogers and Partners. Not too dissimilar from Paris’s Centre Pompidou in concept (another project Richard Rogers worked on, along with Renzo Piano), the structure was nicknamed the Inside-Out Building due to all its services being placed on the outside, giving it a futuristic, machine-like exterior. The 1980s design became the youngest building ever to achieve Grade I listed status, with The Architectural Review calling it “one of the most astounding artistic achievements of our time”. Now continue along Leadenhall Street and take the first left up St Mary Axe, passing by The Cheesegrater, another iconic building by Rogers.
This office building by Norman Foster may have landed itself the unlikely nickname of The Gherkin, but it swiftly became one of the first truly great contemporary skyscrapers to sculpt London’s skyline. Standing proud at 180 metres (590 feet), the glittering glass structure is three times the height of Niagara Falls. The site on which it stands has an interesting backstory: it’s officially named 30 St Mary Axe, after the vanished church that apparently contained an axe used by Attila the Hun, and during construction of the skyscraper in 1995, the body of a Roman girl was discovered there. She was given a funeral at St Botolph’s Church and was reburied near The Gherkin. Where next? Retrace your steps back along Leadenhall Street and cross over Bishopsgate, continuing down Cornhill, where you’ll find two churches by Wren: St Michael and St Peter upon Cornhill. At the end of Cornhill, by Bank station, you’ll find the Bank of England opposite, on your right.
Sir John Soane’s friendship with then-prime minister William Pitt led to his appointment as architect to the Bank of England – but sadly, his redesign of the bank was largely demolished in the 20th century. However, you can still see Soane’s impressive windowless walls on Bartholomew Lane, plus a statue of Soane posing as a Greek god. You can find out more about his original design in the Bank of England Museum. Soane’s other major works in London include his home in Lincoln’s Inn Fields – an Aladdin’s cave of antiquities and architectural salvage that’s open to the public for free – plus Dulwich Picture Gallery, Britain’s first purpose-built public art gallery. Now, turn right up Princes Street and then left onto Gresham Street.
This Grade I listed building dates back to 1440 and is the only non-ecclesiastical stone building in the City of London to have survived to the present day. The Gothic-style Great Hall has seen meetings between the mayor and English kings, extravagant banquets held for nobility and key historical hearings, including the trial of Lady Jane Grey in 1553. There are monthly tours of the Guildhall; these cost £8 and you can book in advance here. The Medieval crypts in particular are worth a look. Guildhall Art Gallery also runs free public tours every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday – highlights include Pre-Raphaelite paintings by the likes of Millais and Rossetti. Now, come out of Guildhall Yard and walk down King Street and turn right onto Cheapside, where you’ll find St Mary-le-Bow.
Another church by Wren, the current St Mary-le-Bow is based on the Basilica of Maxentius in Rome, but the original building dates back to Norman times. It’s become part of London legend, with the term ‘cockney’ meaning to be born within earshot of the sound of the Bow Bells – the same bells that apparently persuaded Dick Whittington to turn back to the capital in the folk tale. The glorious Baroque-style tower with its tall steeple is the highlight of this church, with equally impressive attention to detail on the inside, with a sky-blue ceiling, ornate gilding and striking stained glass. After you have finished here, walk back along Cheapside to No 1 Poultry – while you’re there, you’ll also see the City of London Magistrate’s Court and the Stirling Prize-winning Bloomberg building opposite. Underneath Bloomberg is an excavated Roman temple that is open to the public.
People either love Sir James Stirling’s work or they hate it. This iconic Postmodern building is considered his last work in England and was completed in 1998. Mies van der Rohe’s earlier scheme for this building was rejected and there was a conservation battle over the fate of several other listed buildings on the site, including the Mappin & Webb building, but Stirling’s scheme gained approval at a second public enquiry. An iconic feature of the building is the turret with an inset clock and two cantilevered glass viewing platforms to either side, which is part of Stirling’s dynamic play of geometries. You can now return to Bank station, having taken in many of the most unmissable sights of the City of London.