St Paul’s Cathedral is a key landmark in London and one many visitors to the city need to make sure to visit. It is a centerpiece of the City of London, a distinct square mile of London that is the historical area that was once defined by the bounds that the Romans used to inhabit. So, when Londoners say “the city” or refer to the City of London, they don’t simply mean “central London” — they mean this particular area. Now, the city is inhabited by numerous skyscrapers and houses much of London’s corporate and financial offices, but it is also full of historic architecture alongside the steel and glass of modern London.
So while many visitors to London visit landmark St. Paul’s on their itinerary, they often don’t realize that some incredible hidden gems in the City of London are right around the corner. Here are five must-visit places in the City of London that are often overlooked for sightseeing, and even better: they are all free.
Visiting St. Paul’s for free
One of the most famous and easily recognizable landmarks in London, visiting the cathedral will cost around £23. But it is possible to visit the cathedral for free if attending Evensong. While this doesn’t allow you to walk around the incredible space built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675, it is a cost-effective way to get a glimpse inside. Evensong is a beautiful performance of hymns every evening at 5:00 PM, all you need to do is join the queue outside St. Paul’s (which you will want to join early to make sure you gain entry).
One New Change
One New Change is a premium shopping mall across from St. Paul’s Cathedral. If you don’t feel like doing some heavy-duty shopping at the major retailers and just want to relax a bit head up to the rooftop terrace with an incredible view over Wren’s dome and other parts of London. It is free to take the lift up to the roof and have a look, and there are several bars there if you’d like to spend some time with the beautiful views and relax.
St. Dunstan in the East
St. Dunstan in the East is a serene public garden located in the City of London that houses the ruin of a church built in the 11th century. However, the church suffered significant damage during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and again during World War II. Today, the ruins of the church have been transformed into a peaceful garden, featuring an array of trees, flowers, and a fountain. It is immediately surrounded by modern office buildings, so it feels like a hidden discovery once you step inside. It’s a perfect place to unwind and escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and feels like stepping back in time with a nice stroll.
London’s Sky Garden
Located on the 43rd floor of the “Walkie-Talkie” building, the Sky Garden offers breathtaking views of the city skyline. The free-to-enter attraction is designed as an indoor garden, with landscaped gardens, trees, and plants. It is necessary to book online ahead and to go through security before entering the building. The elevator ride alone is a fun element–especially if you’re not used to shooting up dozens of floors in a matter of seconds! The views of London from the top are unparalleled and it offers a unique way to observe the city. There are restaurants and cafes at the top of the Sky Garden as well. While they might be expensive you can’t beat the view.
The Barbican is a brutalist complex of buildings that is home to a concert hall, a theater, an art gallery, and a cinema. Brutalist architecture is characterized by the use of concrete and hard edges and was a style popular in London post-war as bombed sites were rebuilt. Although it may look austere, The Barbican is one of the richest cultural sites in London and also home to hundreds of coveted modernist flats. There are always interesting exhibitions and performances happening here, so be sure to check the schedule before you go.
The Barbican is perfect for a photo walk and there are lots of tours for this if you’re interested. There is also an incredible conservatory, filled with greenery contrasting the harsh concrete angles of the architecture. If you can make it in, it is a really special pocket of London to be able to see.
Just a short walking distance from St Paul’s Cathedral, Postman’s Park is a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city. It’s named after the nearby General Post Office and was once a popular spot for postal workers to take their lunch break. It’s a tiny little park that you would miss if you didn’t know it was there.
Today, the park is home to the Watts Memorial, a wall of ceramic tiles that commemorate acts of bravery by ordinary people. It’s a poignant reminder of the many unsung heroes who have made a difference throughout history. I always tear up a little bit reading about those who died saving others from drowning or fires — it’s a very touching memorial in the middle of the City of London.
Leadenhall Market is a historic covered market in the heart of the City of London. This beautiful market has been around since the 14th century and is home to a variety of shops, bars, and restaurants. The market’s stunning Victorian architecture is truly breathtaking and it’s a great place to spend an afternoon exploring the different stalls and shops. For Harry Potter fans, the market may look familiar as it was used as a filming location for some of the scenes in Diagon Alley. It’s always open for the public to pass through, and the individual shops and restaurants have their hours.
St Paul’s Cathedral is just the beginning of what the City of London has to offer. It’s one of the most popular neighborhoods in London with thousands of tourists and locals coming through every year. Of course, you have general tourist attractions like Trafalgar Square, Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace but exploring all of London is part of the fun. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or just a quiet place to relax, there are plenty of hidden gems waiting to be discovered.