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The merits of exploring London on foot.

by Rajul on November 20, 2009

With careful planning, you'll be amazed at how easily you can explore London's key attractions on foot

With careful planning, you'll be amazed how easily you can explore London's key attractions on foot

I’ve always felt that the best way to see London is on foot.

At street level you experience London as most Londoners do, as they go about their daily business.  It saves you the hassle of public transport and the expense of black cabs.  It lets you spontaneously discover the city’s sights, sounds and smells beyond the cliched “sights”.

And it’s obviously healthy too, helping you to work up an appetite to enjoy London’s exciting restaurant scene to the full.

Exploring London on foot also provides a more reflective perspective since it forces you to slow down and digest the city in manageable chunks.

A walk in Hampstead Heath provides one of London's most beautiful detours

A walk in Hampstead Heath provides one of London's most beautiful detours

You may for example need a full day to explore Notting Hill and Kensington, or an entire morning to enjoy the unexpected charms of Canary Wharf.  Or perhaps a full afternoon for Hampstead Heath or Clapham Common.

Visitors to London often don’t realise that many of London’s sights are grouped in “clusters”.  Once you arrive at the centre of one such cluster, it makes little sense to dive into the tube or jump on a bus, because the fastest and most enjoyable route is often the pedestrian one.

For example, walking eastwards along the South Bank from Waterloo you’ll take in the London Eye, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tower Bridge and more – as was described in our perfect London cultural itinerary.

London at night is also more special when explored on foot.  From the spooky cobbled streets of the East End to the vibrant nightlife, clubs and cinemas around Leicester Square, you’ll be very spoilt for choice.

There is a company called Walk Talk Tours which provides pre-arranged walking itineraries that you can download and enjoy at your own pace.  Here’s a description of the “Museums, Galleries and Performing Arts” route:

London’s famous theatreland is popular with visitors from around the globe.  This Walk Talk Tour begins in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and takes in Leicester Square – where there are statues of Londoner Charlie Chaplin and England’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare  –  before heading to St Martin’s Theatre, home to the Mousetrap (the longest-running theatrical production in the world).  Visit the site of the world’s first television broadcast and then move on to Covent Garden, London’s centre for street entertainment.

Covent Garden is mostly pedestrianised so in any case must be enjoyed on foot

Covent Garden is mostly pedestrianised so in any case must be enjoyed on foot

Listeners hear about Covent Garden’s long association with acting and the origins of the name and area itself.  Then it’s on to the Royal Opera House.  You’ll hear about the Fielding brothers and their role in the development of policing in London.  The guide concludes at the British Museum with its stunning glass atrium and many secrets.  A note of caution: entrance to the main museum is free, but you may need to pay and book in advance for access to many of the temporary exhibitions.

The tour has commentary points corresponding to numbers on the free downloadable map.  The narrator gives instructions on how to get from one commentary point to the next and invites listeners to press pause while they walk from one landmark to the other.  If you miss something, it’s just a case of rewinding and listening again.

The Museums, Galleries & Performing Arts tour costs just £5.95 and can be completed in 2 hours, though you have the flexibility to take as long as you wish, to enjoy the attractions at your own pace.

Walk Talk Tours provides its London tours in French, German and Spanish too, with various discounts available (London Hotels Insight is in no way affiliated to Walk Talk Tours so please do your own research).

The British Museum is one of the Walk Walk tour's highlights

The British Museum is one of the Walk Talk Tour's highlights

Finally, perhaps the biggest benefit of walking in London is opening yourself to surprises and the chance to accidentally stumble on things you love.

Discovering hidden churches, intimate pubs, exciting street performers or historic houses helps to make your London visit truly memorable…and this is far more likely to occur on foot by “taking it slow”.

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