Our tour of the London boroughs reaches the borough that’s not really a borough: the City of London. Finding things to do in an area which is largely closed for the two leisure days of the week proved to be something of a challenge. Fortunately, we love a challenge, especially when it involves sampling pubs. Here’s our top ten things to do in the City of London, which incidentally also contains some of the most amusing street names.
1. Best pub: The Hoop & Grapes, Aldgate
As well as a decent selection of real ales, the Hoop also has some history; it’s the oldest continuously licenced drinking establishment in the City. It also shares the distinction of being one of only three remaining timber-framed buildings which survived the Great Fire of London. The H&G is not really on the tourist trail, nor is it conveniently situated for the traders who turn so many of the pubs and bars in the Bishopsgate vicinity into seething hell holes. The Spitalfields Life blog goes into more detail about the history. Nearest tube: Aldgate.
2. Best farmer’s market: Finsbury Square Avenue, Broadgate
Every other Thursday, the farmer’s market can be found tucked away in Broadgate with the UBS building looming over it. If you need a morning-after sausage sandwich or a cheeky paella for lunch, walk this way. As well as hot food, they also have a selection of stalls selling cheese, fruit, preserves and the most delicious cakes. Take note, if you want to partake of the hog roast (which we are reliably informed is excellent), make sure you get there before the queues start forming at 12 noon. Nearest tube: Liverpool Street.
There’s also an excellent daily market at nearby Whitecross Street but as that falls into the Borough of Islington we decided to just mention it in passing.
3. Best gardens: St Dunstan-in-the-East church gardens, St Dunstan’s Hill
Looking for somewhere peaceful to eat your lunch? Look no further than St Dunstan-in-the-East gardens, where the bombed ruins of an old medieval church and Wren Tower combine with climbing plants and a fountain to create a pretty City spot. The church was originally built around 1100 but severely damaged in the Great Fire of 1666. After it was rebuit, Sir Christopher Wren added a steeple to match the original gothic church. The steeple later survived a WWII bomb attack that destroyed the church once again. Nearest tube: Monument.
4. Best lunch: Pilpel, Paternoster Square
Pilpel, how many ways do we love thee? In a City of soggy sarnies, bland baguettes and over-chilled pasta salads, Pilpel serves up a pita so stuffed with delicious felafel, hummous, tahini, crisp salad and chickpeas that it’s a challenge to hold it in one hand, let alone take a bite out of it. Don’t sit at your desk bolting down egg mayo between meetings, take a walk up to Paternoster Square or Pilpel’s other outlet in Brushfield Street, Spitalfields, find yourself a nice place to sit and enjoy. Londonist’s resident foodie Chris is also a fan; check out his review of the Paternoster Square outlet. Nearest tube: St Paul’s.
5. Best theatre: Bridewell Theatre & Bar, Bride Lane, Fleet Street
Hidden away down one of Fleet Street’s many alleyways is the Bridewell Theatre, part of the St Bride Foundation which brings together education, exhibition, theatre and a library dedicated to the history of print and graphic art. The Bridewell Theatre runs the Lunchbox programme – performances start at 1pm and last 45 minutes. You can even take your lunch in with you. Nearest tube: St Paul’s (until Blackfriars reopens).
6. Best corporate art: Bloomberg SPACE, Finsbury Square
Despite its location in the offices of the financial news and information corporation, anyone can visit Bloomberg SPACE and it’s free entry. You won’t find much in the way of dingy oil paintings of Victorian hunting dogs, but you will see contemporary art, installations and performance. In 2012, the company will extend its collaboration with artists and create new spaces within the existing gallery. Nearest tube: Liverpool Street or Moorgate.
7. Best walking tour: Explore Barbican
Ever wanted to get to know Barbican better? The Architecture Tour explores the history of one of London’s most iconic post-war structures and the planning behind it, while the Hidden Barbican tour goes behind the scenes into hidden spaces. The website notes that visitors must have a head for heights. Tickets for both are £8, visit the website to book tickets. If concrete isn’t your bag then there are loads of other tours; Wren churches, Roman London and the top 10 City sights to name but a few. Nearest tube: Barbican.
8. Best bar with a view: Vertigo 42, Old Broad Street
As the second highest skyscraper in the City (recently overtaken by the Heron Tower) you can be sure the views from Tower 42’s Vertigo bar are pretty comprehensive. The decor is a bit meh and the prices are eye-watering, but it’s worth splashing out for the panorama of London spread out in miniature below. For obvious reasons, security is fairly tight so you need to make a reservation beforehand and sign in on arrival, but the good news is that jeans and trainers are allowed. Nearest tube: Bank.
9. Best middle-eastern cuisine: Kenza, Devonshire Square
The decor at Kenza is gorgeous – intricate wall carvings and rich draperies abound – and the food is pretty amazing too. It’s typically middle-eastern fare with generous mezzes but everything we’ve tried has been mouth-watering. Aubergine with broad beans and cheese, deep-fried pumpkin with walnut and pomegranate and feta with caramelised baby leeks are just a few of the dishes available. Nearest tube: Liverpool Street.
10. Best small museum: Bank of England Museum, Threadneedle Street
Despite its location, at the heart of the ancient City and right next to one of London’s busiest Tube stations, the Bank of England Museum remains relatively little-known. Inflation is the topic of a current exhibition, which sounds as though it would be taxing on the boredom threshhold, but is interactive and informative enough to make us feel as though we understand it (slightly). You can also examine banknotes past and present, lift a gold bar and set your own interest rates. Nearest tube: Bank.
While we’re talking museums, no account of the City of London would be complete without a recommendation for the Museum of London, whose general ace-ness is self-evident.
Got any more City of London suggestions for us? Speak up in the comments.
Photos courtesy of the Londonist Flickr pool, credited as follows: Bank of England (Jason Webber), Hoop & Grapes (dayoff171), Vertigo 42 (EZTD), Barbican Estate (suburbanslice), Bride Passage (BethPH), St Dunstan-in-the-East (Sarah Heenan).
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