Walking route: Borough Market via Dickens’s Southwark

Ask most Londoners how to get from the Strand to Borough’s vibrant food market and they’ll probably point you straight down the South Bank. That’s a great walk, but if you head just a little deeper into Southwark there are some fascinating old streets, hidden parks and funky little pubs to explore – and far fewer tourists. You’ll also see signs of Southwark’s close association with Charles Dickens. It’ll take around 50 minutes walking at a normal pace, so allow 60-90 minutes if you want to stop and look around (or take a break for refreshments).

1. The Strand to the South Bank

Starting from the hotel, head across Waterloo Bridge. Take the steps down to the South Bank and head east, passing the National Theatre down a tree-lined riverside walk. This is the only bit of the South Bank we’ll do, and it brings you to Gabriel’s Wharf, a pleasant cluster of restaurants and boutique shops just off the river. You’ll see it on your right. Go in and take some time to browse around, then continue to the street on the other side. Turn right again – we’re going to double back on ourselves slightly.

2. Gabriel’s Wharf to Southwark tube

You’re now on a street called Upper Ground, and the big building next to you is London Television Centre, where several major entertainment shows – including The Graham Norton Show and Have I Got News For You – are filmed. Cross the road and head down Coin Street, walking beside the Coin Street Community Builders estate. At the end, turn right onto Stamford Street and take the first left onto Cornwall Road, passing the cool, beer-savvy White Hart pub. The next two streets on your left – Whittlesey and Roupell – are gorgeous Georgian terraces. Walk down one or the other, then take the first right, passing the King’s Arms (another great beer pub) and proceeding south until you reach The Cut. Turn left and continue to Southwark tube station.

3. Lord Nelson to Mint Street Park

Directly opposite you is The Ring, so called because it stands on the site of a former boxing arena. It’s a good – though not exceptional – pub for beer, and serves great hot dogs (though you’ll want to keep your appetite for Borough). We’re continuing east, across Blackfriars Road and down Union Street. Look out for the dog and pot sculpture on the corner – it commemorates a popular blacksmith’s sign that stood there in Dickens’s time, and is one of several references to the writer and his era we’ll come across. Carry on past The Lord Nelson (a basic range of drinks, but a fantastic, funky interior), turn right down Suffolk Street then left onto – here’s another Dickens reference – Copperfield Street. Initially unassuming, the road later narrows, and features some more period terraced houses and a pretty old church; look out, too, for the old painted sign at the end advising you to “Commit no nuisance”. At the end, turn right and enter Mint Street Park.

4. Marshalsea Road to Borough Market

After a quick wander through Mint Street Park well – a very pleasant, rolling patch of green between main roads – cross Marshalsea Road and proceed down it until you reach Disney Street on your left. Head down there and you’ll find the well-hidden Little Dorrit Park. ‘Marshalsea’ was the name of the debtor’s prison where the Dickens family was sent in 1824, inspiring scenes in David Copperfield and Little Dorrit. To see what remains of it, cross the park and turn right down Little Dorrit Court, emerging onto Borough High Street. Take a right then a left onto Angel Place – the old wall that lines it marked the prison’s south boundary.

Now go back to Boundary High Street and head north. You’ll be at Borough Market in a few minutes – and having just walked two miles, you should

Markets in the West End, Soho and Southwark

Londoners love a market. You might come to the city assuming the bustling, built-up centre doesn’t have room for them, but you’d be wrong – within 20 minutes’ walk of our door you’ll find markets tucked under bridges, filling quaint churchyards and hiding behind world-renowned concert halls. There’s plenty of variety there too: on our list are second-hand books, amazing fresh food, unique antiques and even fossils. Whether you make a special trip or drop by between other activities, they’re guaranteed to brighten your day.

Jubilee Market at Covent Garden

Most visitors to Covent Garden stick to the tame – and perfectly nice – shops and stalls of Apple Market, in the central Piazza building. But head to the south side of the square and you’ll find a slightly more unpredictable set of stalls. Jubilee Market is the covered area between the London Transport Museum and Southampton Street, and while the square-facing retailers can seem a little tacky – particularly at weekends – you’ll find an eclectic mix of antiques, vintage clothing and crafts if you venture further inside. It’s open daily, and stalls vary throughout the week.

  • Address: 1 Tavistock St, London WC2E 8BD
  • Walking time: 2 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Exeter Street, site of the old Exeter House (demolished 1676), Exeter Exchange (demolished 1892) and Exeter Hall (demolished 1907)
    • Tavistock Street was a fashionable shopping street in the Bedford estate in the 18th Century, but fell into decline in the 19th
    • Covent Garden Market

South Bank Centre Book Market

This gem has been beneath Waterloo Bridge for years, but little has changed: books are still displayed spine-up on a series of no-nonsense trestle tables, with the bigger hardbacks face-up in the middle. Punters are still trusted to browse freely – so much so that when you do find something you like it can be difficult to work out who you have to pay. Stock is 100% second hand and vintage, and often very keenly priced, though you’ll pay more for some of the more desirable pieces (there’s usually a small selection of first editions). With antique prints available too and the BFI bar just feet away, it’s easy to lose a few hours here. Open daily.

  • Address: Beneath Waterloo Bridge (south side)
  • Walking time: 7 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Exeter Street (see above)
    • The Savoy, site of the old Savoy Palace, London residence of the Lancasters
    • Aldwych, which derives from the Old English for ‘old trading town’ – the ancient Anglo-Saxon town Ludenwic stood here centuries ago
    • Somerset House
    • Waterloo Bridge

Real Food Market

Londoners over a certain age remember when the patch behind the Royal Festival Hall was a bald expanse of concrete whose only purpose was to be walked across. That’s still the case from Monday to Thursday, but come Friday it transforms into the Real Food Market, a lip-smacking mix of street food stalls and produce sellers. With everything from gourmet hot-dogs to organic salad boxes to small-batch jams and chutneys, you can grab lunch on the go, shop for a picnic or just wander around filling up on free samples. It runs until 8pm on Friday and Saturday, and until 6pm on Sunday.

  • Address: Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX
  • Walking time: 13 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Exeter Street, The Savoy, Aldwych, Somerset House and Waterloo Bridge (see above)

Soho Flea Market

If you’re staying with us in May, you might catch this up-and-coming ‘artists and makers’ event on Dean Street. Launched in 2012, it brings together independent creatives with stuff to sell – ceramics, textiles, jewellery, you name it – with small food producers, entertainers and musicians to create a buzzing mini-festival in the heart of Soho. The concept has proved popular so far: apparently 10,000 people passed through in 2012, prompting organisers to scale things up for 2013. We await the next installment with bated breath…

  • Address: Dean Street (annual, check cityshowcasemarkets.com)
  • Walking time: 13 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street and Southampton street, built on the site of Bedford House (demolished 1705) and the subsequent Bedford Estate
    • Garrick Street, named after actor David Garrick (1717 – 1779). The Garrick Club was founded in 1831 and still has premises here
    • Leicester Square and Chinatown

Piccadilly Market

It may be small, but this underappreciated market packs plenty of charm and offers a welcome escape from the chaos of Piccadilly Circus. Held in the front yard of a Christopher Wren-designed church, it has a weekly roster – food stalls dominate on Monday, antiques on Tuesday and general arts and crafts from Wednesday to Saturday. In the past we’ve spotted homemade kaleidescopes, handmade printing blocks, vintage nautical equipment, genuine fossils and much more – this is a friendly, well-located market that punches well above its weight.

  • Address: 197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL
  • Walking time: 17 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Zimbabwe House, designed by key London Underground architect Charles Holden
    • William IV Street, created in 1831 and named after the then king. His reign saw considerable change in the layout of Covent Garden
    • Leicester Square, created when the Earl of Leicester bought and built on the land in the 17th Century

Night at the Museum

It feels like a golden age for young museum- and gallery-goers in London. Even the most Victorian of our cultural institutions have loosened their ties, let their hair down and learnt how to party – if the cultural elites of 19th Century London were to pop into the National Gallery on a Friday night today, they would be in for a shock.

Culture bosses have realised that late openings and themed parties are a huge draw, particularly when they tie into a special exhibition – think DJs, live bands, cocktail bars and fancy dress.

Would our Victorian ancestors would have approved? Well, these events feature talks, tours and workshops too, so they aren’t all about dressing up and socialising. The point is to offer a lively, engaging experience that brings visitors into contact with the museum’s cultural mission. When it works, it’s as satisfying an evening as you can have in this or any other city.

Here’s a selection of upcoming museum lates close to the Strand:

National Gallery

The National is open until 9pm every Friday, with free entry to the regular collections and live music from Royal College of Music students from 6pm-7pm. Look out for music, talks and special cocktails to tie in with the exhibition Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 (until 12 January 2014).

There’s also an irregular programme of ‘Late Social’ events, which begin with a glass of wine in the cafe, followed by a gallery talk on a particular theme. On 31 January the event will focus on framing, and include a rare tour of the National’s framing studio. Tickets are £32.

National Portrait Gallery

Running every Thursday and Friday night until 9pm, the NPG’s Late Shift is one of the most well-established lates series in town. The standard programme has talks, debates and music from resident DJ Edward Otchere on Thursdays, and drawing workshops and live bands on Fridays. We’re particularly looking forward to the 23 January lecture The First Bohemians, which promises to delve into the social life of 18th Century Covent Garden, and a screening of Antonioni’s classic thriller Blow-Up, showing on 20 February to coincide with a new exhibition of Derek Bailey’s celebrity photographs.

British Museum

London’s largest collection of antiquities is open until 8.30pm every Friday. Every second Friday of the month brings BM/PM, which includes a longer bookable lecture or performance. Some are resolutely highbrow, such as Guardian writer Charlotte Higgins’ discussion of Roman Britain on 17 January; some are accessible and entertaining, such as a comedy tour of gallery objects by duo The Gentlemen of Leisure, scheduled for 14 February.

London Transport Museum

This gem of a museum doesn’t do regular lates, but when it does one, it does it properly. On Friday 14 February it will be celebrating a new exhibition of illustrations inspired by London stories – expect exhibition tours, drawing workshops and storytelling sessions aboard the museum’s vintage buses and train carriages. There’ll also be a bar and DJ. Tickets are £8.

Hunterian Museum

The Royal College of Surgeons’ museum is one of London’s most challenging, and its next late opening session is no different. Scheduled for 5 February, it’s a hybrid of drama, comedy and cabaret written and performed by actor and musician Mat Fraser, and will use museum objects to explore the history of disability.

Soane Museum

This trove of antiquities and art resides in a stately terraced house on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and the house itself is preserved almost exactly as it was left by its former resident, the celebrated architect Sir John Soane. On the first Tuesday of each month its ornate, cluttered interiors are lit by candlelight from 6pm-9pm. It is a strictly first-come-first-served event with a limit of 200 visitors, so arrive well ahead of time – tickets are distributed at 5.30pm.

Best Attractions to Visit from The Strand Palace Hotel

So you’ve made it to London. Or you’re coming to London. Or you’re thinking about coming to London. Or you’re thinking about thinking about coming. In any case, you’ll be looking for things to do in London while you’re here. Central London is bursting with iconic landmarks and tourist attractions just waiting to be explored, and while we can’t list them all here, we can give you enough to get started. After that, throw away the map and go for a wander – that’s how you find the most interesting stuff anyway!

Your first port of call from The Strand Palace Hotel is only five minutes away and arguably one of central London’s most famous tourist attractions; Trafalgar Square. Named for the famous Battle of Trafalgar, at its centre stands Nelson’s Column, which commemorates Admiral Horatio Nelson who stands atop the 52 metre high monument.

Should you want a better view of the Admiral’s face, or any other famous British person’s for that matter, the National Portrait Gallery located just off the square would be well worth a visit. With everyone from William Shakespeare to David Beckham in residence, there’s someone here for everyone.

If you fancy stretching your legs a bit, why not take a stroll down the bank of River Thames towards Westminster Palace, which is home to the British parliament as well as one of London’s most iconic symbols, Big Ben. Just make sure to visit it on the hour for the full effect!

Big Ben. London Attraction

Admittedly not everyone envisages old buildings and pictures of famous people when they think of exciting things to do in London, especially if they’re visiting with children. But don’t worry; central London has plenty of other things to offer its vistors.

Travelling across the river from The Strand Palace Hotel you’ll find the London Eye, offering breath-taking panoramic views over central London and beyond, an absolute must for visitors and locals alike. And after being up in the clouds, why not spend some time under the sea?  London’s Sea Life Aquarium sits right beside the London Eye, and boasting over 500 species of marine life including penguins, sharks and turtles, it’s a great afternoon for parents and children alike. Sea Life and London Eye tickets can also be paired with other attractions such as Madame Tussard’s and The London Dungeon for a great family day out.

Like anywhere else, one of the best things to do in London with the family is visit the zoo. London Zoo is just a short tube journey from The Strand Palace Hotel and promises a great day for kids of all ages, whether they’re 6 or 60!

No Trip to London would be complete without mention of the Royal Family and in particular a visit to Buckingham Palace. Located in central London, roughly 25 minutes walk from the Strand Palace Hotel, visitors can witness the famous changing of the palace guards or simply have lunch in the leafy surroundings of Green Park.

On the other hand if Royal bling is more your thing, you should pay a visit to the Tower of London and gaze upon the Crown Jewels in all their glittering glory; hop on the tube from The Strand Palace Hotel and you’ll be there in ten minutes. The tower itself is only stone’s throw from London’s iconic Tower Bridge, whose twin towers make the short trip doubly worthwhile.

There are so many things to do in London that we could go on forever, but nothing beats getting out and exploring the city for yourself. If you don’t have the time (or the energy) for this though, a hop on/hop off tour bus is a great way to see the city with minimal effort.

Departing regularly from nearby Trafalgar Square they call at all major landmarks in Central London and its surrounding areas, while giving you the freedom to get on and off as you please.

You might as well see the place in between the shops

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