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Gardens in the City

Seen all the big sites or just want to avoid the crowds? From east to west, spend the day exploring the City’s more unique, lesser known attractions – our best kept secrets!

Here’s our suggestion for a secret day out.

Morning

  • You may have seen lots of pictures of Tower Bridge, but have you ever been inside? See the atmospheric engine rooms and get panoramic views of London from the high level walkways at the Tower Bridge Exhibition. If you are lucky you may see a Tower Bridge lift.
  • Walk along Lower Thames Street and up St Dunstan’s Hill to the beautiful St Dunstan-in-the-East, a hidden garden set in a church ruin.

Lunch

  • Head to Cheapside and have lunch in the Crypts at St Mary-le-Bow church. Alternatively, spend your lunchtime listening to a free concert at one of the City’s 40 churches. For ideas and suggestions visit the City Information Centre for information.

Afternoon

  • Around Guildhall there are a number of small, unique attractions, all telling a story about the City’s history. See the famous Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces at the Guildhall Art Gallery; view the oldest collection of clocks and watches in the world at the Clockmakers Museum; learn more about Jack the Ripper and the City’s criminal past at the City of London Police Museum; and relax in Postman’s Park where you can learn about people’s self-sacrifice on the Watts Memorial.

Evening

  • Enjoy an evening performance at the small but vibrant Bridewell Theatre and have a drink at the City of London Gin Distillery, where you can see the copper stills in which the house gin is made (tours take place daily 12-3pm).

​The City has many hidden treasures and folkloric tales - from unusual monuments to quirks

See a traditional annual City event such as the Pearly Kings and Queens harvest festival (Autumn), Cart Marking Festival (July) or the Lord Mayor’s Show (second Saturday of November).

Watch the Ceremony of the Keys, a 700 year old ancient ceremony which happens at the Tower of London every night. To attend this free, popular event, you will need to apply for tickets in advance.

See inside some of the City's greatest buildings for free at Open House London in September. From the medieval Guildhall to 30 St Mary Axe (also known as the Gherkin), lots of buildings participate every year.

Need ideas? Visit the City Information Centre for help planning your perfect day in the City of London and beyond.

Top tips and other ideas of secret things to see and do

The London Stone

​This ancient stone is regarded as one of London’s greatest relics yet its history and purpose are still shrouded in mystery. It is widely believed to be the point from which the Romans measured all routes across Britain; it has associations with the Druids and is featured in works by Shakespeare, William Blake and Charles Dickens. However, it is probably best known for the myth that is attached to it. "So long as the stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish," says the proverb. Brutus (the Trojan) was the legendary founder of London and the stone is thought to be part of an altar built by him.

Where? The London Stone is currently on display at 111 Cannon Street, in a dedicated Portland Stone enclosure.

The Grand Staircase – St Bartholomew’s Hospital

​Founded in 1123, St Bartholomew’s is one of London’s oldest hospitals. On the Grand Staircase in its North Wing are two little-seen – but large and impressive – paintings by William Hogarth. Born in the City, Hogarth gave his services free-of-charge to the hospital. While this may have been out of a sense of philanthropy, it was also because the job allowed him to attempt a picture in the grand historical style (something he had not done previously and was rarely to attempt again). Completed between 1734 and 1737, the paintings depict two biblical stories relating to the care of the sick and injured – they are The Good Samaritan and Christ at the Pool of Bethesda. It is widely believed that Hogarth used patients from the hospital as his models and, while there is no documented evidence to confirm this, the realism of the portraits suggests it is likely.

Where? The painting can be glimpsed from a doorway at the back of the St Bartholomew's Hospital Museum; the only way to get a closer look is to take the City of London Guides' St Bart's Hospital Tour which takes place at 2pm every Friday. Find St Bart's on Google Maps.

Road to nowhere

Until comparatively recent boundary changes, the City had no roads – that is to say that none of its highways or byways use the word “road” within their names. Today there is one (Goswell Road) which runs along a very small part of the City’s boundary line.  All other thoroughfares in the City use "street", "lane", "gate", "wall" or some other word. The reason is thought by some to be that – as the old definition of a road was “a way between places” and the City is at the heart of the capital (and thus our nation) –  it is not "between" anywhere but the at the start or end of any journey.

Deadly nibble

​Walking past this building at 13 Philpot Lane, EC3, one would never notice the two small mice built into the facia, fighting over a piece of cheese. The fable goes that, when the building was being constructed many years ago, an argument broke out when a workman accused another of eating some of his lunch. During the ensuing argument, one of the men tragically fell to his death. It was later found that in fact mice were the culprits and these two stone rodents nibbling on their cheese were added to the building as a discreet testament to the incident.

Where? 13 Philpot Lane, EC3. Find the address on Google Maps.

The Harold Samuel Collection and Flemish 17th-century paintings at Mansion House

​The Harold Samuel collection, comprising 84 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings, has been described as the finest private collection of such works to be formed in Britain over the past century. It includes paintings by such masters as Frans Hals, Nicolaes Maes and Jacob van Ruisdael, acquired by Lord Samuel for his personal pleasure and to hang in his home at Wych Cross. The collection was bequeathed to the City of London in 1987 to be hung permanently in the Lord Mayor's residence, Mansion House.

Where? Tours of Mansion House take place every Tuesday at 2pm (£6 adults, £4 concs) run by the City of London Guides. Find Mansion House on Google Maps.

Saint Ghastly Grim

​In The Uncommercial Traveller, Charles Dickens nicknames the churchyard of St Olave Saint Ghastly Grim: “It is a small churchyard, with a ferocious strong spiked iron gate, like a jail. This gate is ornamented with skulls and cross-bones, larger than life, wrought in stone; but it likewise came into the mind of Saint Ghastly Grim, that to stick iron spikes a-top of the stone skulls, as though they were impaled, would be a pleasant device. Therefore the skulls grin aloft horribly, thrust through and through with iron spears.” The stone skulls are still there, grinning down on passers-by and sending a shiver down the spines of those unfortunate souls who – walking this quiet City street at night – chance upon them for the first time.

Where? St Olave, Hart Street EC3R 7NB. Find St Olave on Google Maps.

Inspiring spire

The magnificent tiered spire of St Bride’s church on Bride Lane is thought to be the inspiration behind the modern-day wedding cake. The story goes that in the early part of the 19th century, a pastry chef from Fleet Street – one Mr Rich – copied Wren’s unusual design when creating a cake for his daughter’s wedding. The fact that it is the church of St Bride is mere coincidence, it being named after St Bride of Kildare – a sixth-century saint.

Where? St Bride's, Fleet Street EC4Y 8AU. Find St Bride's on Google Maps.

Fruity bells

​“Oranges and lemons...” begins the well-known English nursery rhyme. But did you know that the bells of all of the six churches it features are in, or close to, the City? They are popularly believed to be bells of St Clements, St Martins, Old Bailey, Shoreditch, Stepney and St Mary-le-Bow, which is famous for many reasons. In 1392, Richard (Dick) Whittington heard them call him back to London to become Lord Mayor; to be born within the sound of them was the sign of a true Londoner or Cockney; and, during the Second World War, the BBC's World Service broadcast a recording of them as a symbol of hope to the free people of Europe.

A bridge too far

​Opened in 1973, the current London Bridge replaced one that was – quite literally – “falling down”, sinking under the weight of an ever-increasing flow of traffic. The previous bridge (built in 1831), was sold to Robert McCulloch, Chairman of the McCulloch Oil Corporation. As it was dismantled, each stone was numbered; they were then shipped to California, before being taken by road to Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Reconstruction of the bridge began there in 1968 when the Lord Mayor of City of London laid the cornerstone. In 1971, building was complete. Today, the old London Bridge is Arizona’s second-biggest tourist attraction after the Grand Canyon.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

​An old-style London pub with tiny rooms, oak beams, narrow passageways and that wonderful gloomy charm. Rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666, its vaulted cellars are thought to have been part of the 13th-century Carmelite monastery that stood there. It is said that regulars included literary giants Oliver Goldsmith, Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and it is famously mentioned in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Perhaps though, it is best known for its resident parrot, Polly. There seem to be two stories connected to her – one, that she swore a lot (perhaps mimicking bawdy customers) and that crowds flocked to hear her profanities; two, that on Armistice night in 1918, she imitated the popping of champagne corks some 400 times. Polly died in 1926 and her obituary appeared in hundreds of newspapers (probably due to the number of journalists that were customers, the pub being next to Fleet Street). Polly still inhabits the pub, stuffed and in a glass case.

Where? Wine Office Court at 145 Fleet Street EC4A 2BU. Find the pub on Google Maps.


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