To fall in love with London, you only have to hit the bricks. London was, after all, the first major city in the world to feature a national long-distance walking trail that passed through the heart of town. And now, thanks to the completion of one of the city’s most substantial walking trail projects, it’s easier than ever to see the sights on foot.
The London Outer Orbital Path, or LOOP, is a 150-mile trail through the surrounding countryside. It consists of 24 sections that are broken into 3.5- to 10.5-mile paths, which are further divided into shorter sections located near public transportation. The walks, which are all quite manageable no matter your fitness level, pass cafes, pubs, nature areas, and historic landmarks. The West Wickham Common to Hamsey Green walk, for instance, can be between a half-mile (20 minutes) and nine miles (five hours), passing the Greenwich Meridian stone designating 0 degrees longitude and the 700-year-old Church of St. John the Baptist along the way.
But the LOOP isn’t the only way to go. There are more than 200 walking routes in and around London that are either signposted or have printed guides available. So on your next visit across the pond, break out the Rockports — and this time of year, a jacket, scarf, and umbrella — and get hoofin’. If you want to do a little homework before you hit the trail, see “Walk This Way” on page 33, or pick up information on some of the most popular routes at the tourist information center at Victoria Railway Station.
One of those favored footpaths is the Silver Jubilee Walkway, an excellent way to discover central London. It’s a rather showy walk, with 400 aluminum disks set in the pavement, but these obvious directional markers make it difficult to get lost. The 15-mile circuit, from Lambeth Bridge in the west to Tower Bridge in the east, stays close to the river and takes in many of London’s historic buildings. On the west half of the walk, you’ll pass the Covent Garden Market, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and the National Gallery. The east walk takes you by the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and the Royal National Theatre.
The city’s Roman and medieval origins can be discovered on The London Wall Walk. This two-mile self-guided tour of the ancient boundary of the city of London, still visible among blocks of offices, follows maps set in the wall. The first plaque is at the Tower of London and includes instructions on where to go next.
In a town this foot friendly, you can even book a self-guided audio tour through a company called ZigZag Audio Tours, which will deliver a compact audio pack directly to your hotel (to be returned within 24 hours).
In addition to London’s numerous self-guided walks, tour companies offer hundreds of inexpensive guided walks. On a typical day, The Original London Walks operates more than a dozen choices for 5 pounds each (approximately $8 U.S.). The two-hour walks range from the Old Jewish Quarter to the Beatles’ stomping grounds, with Jack the Ripper’s haunts attracting the most attention.
Dan Daley, a New Yorker who travels to London several times a year, says, “I’ve done the Jack the Ripper tour several times. It’s especially good when there’s a chill in the air. It seems to enhance the experience.”
If you need further proof that walking is the way to go in London, just ask Alex Brannen, formerly of the London Tourist Board.
“One of the beauties of London is its ability to surprise, to reveal the unexpected ’round the next corner, to change character just by crossing a road or a river,” says Brannen. “Visitors who explore London on foot get a feel for how it has evolved over the centuries. It helps puts the complicated jigsaw that is London together.”
WALK THIS WAY
SELF-GUIDED WALKING TOURS
Thames Path National Trail, 011-44-1865-810224 or www.nationaltrails.gov.uk
GUIDED WALKING TOURS
The Original London Walks, featuring the Jack the Ripper tours, 011-44-20-7624-3978
Frommer’s Memorable Walks in London, by Richard Jones
Time Out Book of London Walks, by Andrew White
BEST WEB SITES
www.londontown.com Click on “Sightseeing” and then go to “Walking Tours of London.”
www.ramblers.org.uk Includes the London Ramblers walking schedule.