Now we know that the first words from anyone familiar with the back passages, snickets and alleys of London will be that there are more than ten of them and they all deserve to be top of the list, but we’ve worn our shoes to the bone and our Oyster cards to stubs to bring you some of our favourite alleyways in the Square Mile – or between Monument and Temple if you want to get specific. We’ve also provided you with a handy drinking spot nearby.
Austin Friars Passage, EC3
From an unprepossessing entry located between two offices behind the Deutsche Bank building on Great Winchester Street, Austin Friars Passage emerges to an infinitely more pleasing exit opposite the elegant Dutch Church on Austin Friars. The original 16th century church was destroyed in a WW2 bombing campaign but rebuilt in its current style in the 1950s. If you’re on foot heading between Bank station and the London Wall/Moorgate area, Austin Friars and Passage provide a more peaceful route than dodging traffic and scaffolding on Old Broad Street.
Nearest underground: Liverpool Street
Nearest pub: Dirty Dicks, Bishopsgate
Change Alley, EC3
The eagle-eyed among you may spot that Londonist’s Back Passages covered Change Alley a while back, but we decided that it’s got enough history and usefulness to make it worth a revisit. The main streets of Lombard, Cornhill and Birchin Lane surround the alley which is rich in its own history: one of London’s many blue plaques records the first meeting of the Marine Society in 1756 and a stone plaque containing a grasshopper marks the site of Garraway’s Coffee House — which along with Jonathan’s Coffee Shop was a 17th century precursor to modern trading floors. If you think that grasshopper looks familiar but can’t quite remember where you saw it, pop out onto Lombard Street where you’ll see its twin — the symbol of Thomas Gresham, founder of the Stock Exchange – hanging from no.6. Oh, and glance up to the roof of the Royal Exchange where you’ll find a centuries-old grasshopper weather vane.
Nearest underground: Bank
Nearest pub: The Swan, Ship Tavern Passage
St Michael’s Alley, EC3
One of the City’s prettier alleyways, St Michael’s Alley contains thriving greenery in plantpots and of course, the Jamaica Wine House. It’s also the site of a somewhat cryptic blue plaque which states ‘Here stood the first London Coffee house at the sign of the Pasqual Rosee’s Head 1652.’ The original church of St Michael, believed to date back to the 10th century, was all but destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. Unlike the Dutch Church, it escaped the German bombs in WW2 and stands today as one of the many churches in the City that we’re all generally too busy to notice. St Michael’s Alley is part of a lovely warren of passages between Cornhill and Lombard Street – turn right next to the George & Vulture and you’ll see Bengal Court, another tiny alley which looks like you’re about to end up in someone’s back yard but crosses Birchen Lane to become Cowpers Court, running adjacent to Change Alley.
Nearest underground: Bank
Nearest pub: Jamaica Wine House
Castle Court, EC3
Alright, maybe we’re cheating a bit with this one, but it was too olde worlde to ignore. Castle Court is located opposite St Michael’s Alley and is stuffed to the gills with old-fashioned shop fronts, arched doors and windows. We first discovered Castle Court on one of the London Open House weekend guided walks (a brilliant method of getting to know your City alleys, by the way). It’s mere yards from the Jamaica Wine House, but the George & Vulture is less well-known and therefore less frequented by tourists though according to The Pickwick Papers, the eponymous Dickens character dined there.
Nearest underground: Bank
Nearest pub: Lamb Tavern, Leadenhall Market (OK, it’s not as near as the Jamaica Wine House but naturally ten different locations require ten different pubs)
Abchurch Lane, EC3
Abchurch Lane itself runs between Lombard Street and Cannon Street, bisected by King William Street, but it’s the snicket just off the Cannon Street end which is really interesting. Follow it and find yourself in Abchurch Yard, a pleasant cobbled square outside St Mary Abchurch. It’s all the more pleasant because until you turn into the alley you don’t really notice the church which is, we hardly need to point out, another creation from the office of Wren.
Nearest underground: Cannon Street
Nearest pub: The Ship Tavern, Lime Street
Wardrobe Terrace, EC3
Another from our venerable Londonist Back Passages series, Wardrobe Terrace can be found between St Andrew’s Hill and Queen Victoria Street with another alley to Addle Hill. At first glance, we saw a flight of worn stone steps alongside yet another Wren church, the entertainingly-named St Andrew By-The-Wardrobe but when we climbed up, we saw a small courtyard at the back of the church complete with wooden benches and that gorgeous greenish worn stone so common in London’s alleyways. It’s only a short walk from The Cockpit too if you fancy a pint.
Nearest underground: Mansion House or St Paul’s.
Nearest pub: The Cockpit, St Andrew’s Hill
Lovat Lane, EC3
An endearingly curving and cobbled lane between Monument Street and Great Tower Street, Lovat Lane contains the church of St Mary-At-Hill, known for its ornate gold and blue clock and which was feted by Sir John Betjeman, ‘This is the least spoiled and the most gorgeous interior in the City, all the more exciting by being hidden away among cobbled alleys, paved passages, brick walls, overhung by plane trees.’ Lovat Lane has that slightly Mediterranean feel to it and there are a couple of café restaurants with outside tables to capitalise on this, though we thought we’d wait for slightly more clement weather. Just across the road on the side of the Philpot Lane Café Nero building is the tiny carving of two mice eating a piece of cheese so grab the chance to go and have a look.
Nearest tube: Monument
Nearest pub: The Walrus and The Carpenter, Monument Street
St Bride’s Avenue, EC4
Turn off busy Fleet Street next to the Punch Tavern and you’ll find yourself in one of the series of alleyways around the famous St Bride’s church, the spiritual home of printing and the press. St Bride’s Avenue runs alongside the church encompassing the Old Bell pub and providing a restful view of the churchyard before turning at a right angle to emerge onto Dorset Rise. At the other end, turn right up Bride Lane into St Bride’s Passage and tucked away next to the Bridewell Theatre is another pub which would be easily missed as it’s underground. The steep steps alongside lead to a small courtyard behind 85 Fleet Street – the former Reuters building.
Nearest underground: St Pauls (until Blackfriars reopens)
Nearest pub: The Old Bell, Fleet Street
Wine Office Court, EC4
No round-up of London’s alleyways would be complete without a mention of Wine Office Court, the home of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and one of the many Fleet Street entrances to the warren of alleyways behind it. Wine Office Court runs quite a way back before veering right and exiting on Shoe Lane, but don’t just look at the pub then wander back to Fleet Street because there are many gems to be found in the maze of lanes – Dr Johnson’s house being one of them – along with stone plaques commemorating newspaper offices of the past.
Nearest tube: St Pauls
Nearest pub: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street. Where else?
Red Lion Court, EC4
Named for the Red Lion Tavern which stood in this alleyway from the 17th century until the 1960s, Red Lion Court forms part of the peaceful route between Fleet Street and Fetter Lane. Though lacking the famous visitors of its sister passages further down the street, Red Lion Court nevertheless provides a charmingly serene corner of London away from the bustle. It’s also been the home of several publishing companies over the years and the white plaque showing an oil lamp and the motto ‘ALERE FLAMMAM’ (feed the flame) are all that is left of printer, publisher, and scholar Abraham Valpy who came to Red Lion Court in 1822.
Nearest underground: Chancery Lane
Nearest pub: Ye Olde Cock Tavern, Fleet Street
View all our square mile alleys on the map.