The City of London is unique. Not the city of London, but the City of London with a capital C. Confused yet? A tiny neighborhood in its own right, The City of London is London’s smallest borough and known as the Square Mile after its geographical size.
Neighbouring Westminster - with its Houses of Parliament, London Eye, endless shopping streets and countless theaters - make it the go-to place for the masses. The City, on the other hand, plays it more cool. There are less “I Heart LDN” t-shirts on sale here and more suited city slickers. While rampant commercialism and tourism rules Westminster, the Square Mile sees over 400,000 workers squeeze in the UK’s financial center day-by-day.
City suits may not necessarily be people you want to spend all of your time with, but you should at least get a taste of the lifestyle with a quick cocktail on the Madison rooftop bar. This is the perfect drinking spot for a sunny afternoon, with an awesome view of St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the most recognizable landmarks in the City. But despite the importance of St Paul’s in British history – a symbol of British resistance when it withstood a German onslaught in the Second World War – this 300-year-old cathedral remains relatively uncharted territory.
Ask a group of Londoners whether they have ever been to the “golden gallery” at the top, for example, and many will look back at you blankly. One former City worker reports: “I worked in offices next to St Paul’s for years. I never even thought about going to the top. I don’t think many people realize you can do it.” At £18 a head, it’s a costly excursion. But seeing this incredible structure from inside, experiencing the whispering gallery (a circular dome where whispers to one other can be heard from opposite ends, 100ft apart) and overlooking the capital from the top gallery is one of greatest things you can do in London. Just make sure you can handle the 528-step ascent. If that climb doesn’t leave you too exhausted, take a walk across the street to the Viaduct Tavern. Built on a former prison site, it is one of London’s most haunted pubs, with cells still visible in the basement.
Aside from that, the Tavern is worth a visit for its excellent beer selection (the fruity Montana Red is recommended). Take your pint outside and watch city life go by. It’s strangely relaxing, in spite of the incessant traffic. Directly across the road, incidentally, is the Old Bailey: one of the most iconic criminal courts in the world. Members of the public are free to go inside and watch a trial unfold which can be really interesting.
If you need some peace and quiet, head to Paternoster Square. It’s the perfect place to sit down and eat from a nearby food joint, and like many places in London, you will be spoilt for choice here. Try Pilpel for a taste of authentic Meditteranean cuisine at reasonable (at least by London standards) prices.
If you’re after some early evening entertainment, the Barbican Centre is your go-to. Famous for its brutalist architecture, the Barbican is so edgy that it even played Fifty Shades Darker at its mother and baby film club. It screens all the latest films in its cinemas as well as offering theater shows and art exhibitions.
The City can also offer something that’s increasingly rare in London these days: a world class nightclub. Emerge through the famous Smithfield meat market and you will come across Fabric. Though it’s actually in the neighboring borough of Islington, Fabric is literally across the road from the City’s border. It’s a club for people who love clubbing. When Islington Council shut it down last year, 160,000 people signed a petition calling for it to be “saved”. It reopened three months later. If partying until dawn isn’t your thing, why not sit back and enjoy some drinks on the bank of the Thames. Start at the Oyster Shed and follow the river on a mini-bar crawl. There aren’t many things you can beat in London.
The City is also a safe place to stay, though it’s not advised to use your mobile phone while walking the streets. Sadly, moped-riding robbery has reached epidemic proportions across the capital, with many cases of people having their phones snatched in the City. Another word of caution: if you’re looking for a constant buzz of people, the City can be eerily quiet on Saturdays and Sundays. After all, only 7,000 people actually live here. Bow Lane, for example, is a pretty shopping street down a hidden side alley. But once the nine to fivers have left for the weekend, many of the stores are closed. Still, even on these chilled out weekends, there is more than enough in the Square Mile to keep you occupied. Staying in the City is not just an inimitable experience in London, but the world.