London is a city made up of dozens of beautiful and unique neighborhoods. One of the pleasures I’ve had of living and working in London is the opportunity to explore these neighborhoods at will and often in the peaceful early hours of the morning before work.
The Tourist Trail
One of my favorite walks to take visiting friends and family on in central London is a winding walk from Piccadilly Circus via Leicester Square and onto Trafalgar Square. Depending on the group I am showing around I’ll sometimes continue down Whitehall towards Parliament and Westminster Bridge. Or I’ll double back towards Covent Garden, or even through Charing Cross and over Hungerford Bridge. It’s a really flexible walk within the city and shows off so many of the famous and beautiful sites.
I recommend starting this walk at Piccadilly Circus – the earlier in the day the better. Some might describe this junction as the “Times Square of London”, but I don’t necessarily agree with that description. Yes, there is an entire wall of screens showing endless advertisements on powerfully bright displays, but the feeling is entirely different.
Take a glimpse up Regent’s Street, and the beautiful curvature of the road and buildings. A real display of London architecture. While you’re in the square ignore the dazzling lights and instead admire the beautiful statue of Eros that is the centerpiece of the square.
One of the reasons I enjoy visiting in the early hours of the morning, before rush hour, is that the Circus is bizarrely peaceful. By lunch time and into the afternoon and evening Piccadilly Circus becomes an absolute hive of activity, and especially tourists. If that is more your scene then wait until later in the day, but I tend to prefer a more peaceful environment and you simply won’t find that here after 9am.
Perhaps most famous for it’s red carpet glam during movie launches in London, Leicester Square has a charm all it’s own. In winter it houses a Christmas Market, during movie launches all types of celebrities can be spotted walking into the Odeon cinema, and if you look around the edges of the park you can spot some concrete hand prints from celebrities.
In my opinion Trafalgar Square is one of the most beautiful of the squares in London. It was built as a monument to the Battle of Trafalgar, a naval battle during the Napoleonic Wars. In the middle of the square is a tall column on which a statue of the Lord Admiral Nelson stands; the column itself is the same height as the mast of Nelson’s ship, the HMS Victory. At the base are 4 lions facing outwards to guard the column, though if you pay attention to the paws they were modeled after a dog’s and not a ferocious beast. Within the square there are two fountains as a representation of the naval element of the battle. And at the corner of the square is Admiralty Arch, a gate that leads down The Mall directly to Buckingham Palace. And at the place of honor, overlooking the Square, is the beautiful (and free) National Gallery.
From Trafalgar Square you can reach any number of tourist sights in London by foot – Whitehall, Westminster Bridge, Charing Cross, Covent Garden, London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and many more.