London Stories and Tips

The West End

St Martins in the Fields Photo, London, England

If you read the other two parts of my London Walkabout, you must have been wondering, why I have not mentioned all the famous London locations from the very centre: Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, Oxford Street, the theatre land and so on.

The main reason is because the West End is rather pointless when you don't intend to spend money, unless of course you are one of those strange people who enjoy looking at merchandise for the sake of looking. Most of these places are either directly or indirectly about shopping or eating out or paid entertainment and thus not very rewarding for somebody counting pennies.

Still, I suppose there is no avoiding that. Take the tube to Green Park and walk down Picadilly towards Picadilly Circus. You will pass The Ritz, Burlington Arcade and Fortnum and Mason amongst other locations of conspicuous consumption, and after about 700 yards you'll get to Picadilly Circus which is one of the most overrated spots in London: noisy, trafficky, boring and with no attraction I can think of whatsoever apart from the sheer idea of visiting an iconic location, of course

Walk away from Picadilly Circus via Shaftesbury Avenue, leaving Soho on your left, turn right into the big Chinese arch and walk down to Leicester Square via the Chinatown. Leicester Sq is also boring, but you can at least claim you've been this way.

Walk down via Irving Street and St Martin's Place, passing the rather lovely St Martin-in-the-Fields church (free tour normally on Thursdays at 11.30am, book on 02078398362) and the entrance to National Portrait Gallery (free and interesting, but not perhaps on the must-see list) to enter the most famous of London's public spaces, the grand imperial Trafalgar Square, with its Nelson's Column, pigeons, fountains, bronze lions, and the changing display of modern sculpture on its fourth plinth on the Northwest corner.

The square is a popular site for political demonstrations and is the main hub for London's night buses, but its main attraction for free sightseeing hunter is the National Gallery located at the north side of the square, and a wonderful collection of European paintings, from Piero della Francesca and Leonardo da Vinci to Renoir and Van Ghogh.

If painting is not your thing, potter about the Trafalgar Square for a while and then make your way along the Strand, past Charing Cross station and monument (all distances to London are measured from here). Turn left by the Savoy Hotel and take Southampton Street to Covent Garden. It's very difficult to avoid spending money at the countless speciality shops and restaurants there, but it's possible, and it's the main venue for street entertainment in London, with acts competing for spaces (and payment strictly voluntary).

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