Walkable London: A Good First Day in London based around St. Paul's Cathedral.
Updated: Aug 22, 2022
Trail-Stop One: Borough Market.
I'm not sure where 1970's New York went, but at times I feel like how 1970's New York must have felt when on her way to London she romanticized about showing up south of the Thames to the the post-punk age of drinking clubs and black leather jackets and poetry and pubs that didn't suck and grit and cigarettes. At some point in the last decade or so, however, 1970's New York took a look around, flipped up the collar of her leather jacket, threw away the twenty year old letters her cousin London used to send to her about london in the 80's and 90's, touched up her lips with bright red and her hair with bright blue and hopped on a train to I know not where. London, she knew, had changed forever and it's in this stupor I will walk london aimlessly if I'm not careful. The giant glass buildings and jet lag starts to mess with my mind and I start reminiscing about London lost because my God can you imagine it? London. Late 80's. The 90's. Oh. Oh I can hardly mention it, but, (swallow), Marco Pierre White. Before he was the youngest chef but more importantly the first British chef ever to win three stars in Michelin. When he was taking over a burger joint south of the Thames in his twenties and reconfiguring it with adrenaline and genius into his nouvelle cuisine at Harveys that like Doc Holiday said about Wyatt Earp was not about revenge but a reckoning. And then the black and white photos of the book White Heat that captured all of it. Marco wasn't just changing London. He was torching it.
That's why I start london at Borough Market. Because when those guys like Marco Pierre White were doing their part to wake the world the f*&k up, the world did wake up to London and it came here. At Borough Market, the food stalls of curry and fish and farms and chicken are that awareness of the world around itself and a slap in the face reminder that thinking the same way and looking the same way for a while is cool, but after a while it gets boring but what is not boring are the farms that won't ever mature because they are sustainable and can be, unlike a moody attitude, passed down to the next generations.
At Borough, get a sangria first and maybe some cheese to help slow you down because the scents will hit you and make you hungry but Borough is browsing so with your sangria and your cheese just browse until something speaks to you. Don't make it a big deal about your selection because I promise you'll be back to Borough during this trip or even the next. Then take your venison burger or your chicken sandwich or you curry to-go and get a coffee from Monmouth more or less across the street from the entrance.
Oh. Also. They filmed the scene in Harry Potter of the knight bus dropping off Harry at the Leaky Cauldron here. So. That's cool, too.
Trail-Stop Two: Millennium Bridge.
I love a good stroll in London and one of my favorites is from Borough Market to Millennium Bridge so head north on Stony Street for a minute or longer if you want to stop in any of the little backstreet wine bars, etc., then take a quick left on Clink Street and go under the quick little tunnel and then take a quick right on Bank End and then you're at the River Thames. Take a left on the pedestrian walkway called Bankside and keep strolling. I'm not sure why London doesn't have the strolling reputation it ought to. Perhaps because its hot pants cousin Paris does so in black and white with one hand in her edgy jacket pocket and one hand giving a casual blurry middle finger up to the camera like don't even try.
Oh, you cry out loud, but London might be cold and it might be wet. Yeah. If you're lucky. So jump in. Let it soak through and break the film of humid jet lag crabbing you down. But Steve, sometimes the winds off that Thames is like a slap in the face. (Narrow my eyes at you.) You're go&*amn right it does.
Keep walking west on Bankside Pedestrian Walkway for as long as you like. You'll pass Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. And then there's the Tate Modern on the left, too, but I save that for another moment. Instead, I take a right and cross Millennium Bridge. Take as much time as you like on this bridge over the Thames that is flowing old and gritty. I like to lean against the edge and down the rest of my Monmouth coffee or at least pretend to if there isn't any left in my cup because it's a very coffee with shoulder's shrugging atmosphere. It's wet and cold and windy and the perfect anecdote to viral jet lag.
Oh. And this is the bridge the Death Eaters knocked down in Harry Potter. So. That's cool, too.
Trail-Stop Three: St. Paul's Cathedral.
At the other end of Millennium Bridge is St. Paul’s. I love St. Paul's on a first day with jet lag because it's easy, straightforward beauty you don't need too much sleep to appreciate fully. It's Christopher Wren the architect telling you that here you will find the emotion of God with the dome and the widened halls, etc. It's the grandeur of Baroque design that Christopher Wren wanted but also with a bit of restrained Englishness and so that's why they call it English Baroque.
I find it best to start St. Paul's in the crypt where Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington are lying in rest after doing their parts to prevent Napoleon from conquering England. Christopher Wren is also down there with his plaque that reads: If you seek his monument, look around you. Those guys are the reason I like to start at the bottom and work my way up to the balcony of the dome of St. Paul's. Up there you'll be looking out over a skyline that was either designed by or saved by them. While you're up on the balcony, catch a glimpse of a chimney sweep or two in the middle of a nice step-in-time dance number, if you're lucky.
If this is your last view of London before you finally succumb to jet lag, it won't be the worst thing, but if it has inspired you to stay awake and to enjoy the London you're looking out across, then speaking of Marco Pierre White, time to go have dinner with one of his proteges.
Trail-Stop Four: Bread Street Kitchen, A Gordon Ramsay restaurant.
From St. Paul's, head east on Cannon Street and then after a few minutes take a left on Bread Street and then a right on Watling Street because if Marco Pierre White peeled open the eyes of drones who loved London but were ready to leave because they were getting (shrug) a bit tired of fish and chips in pubs, then Gordon Ramsay made it his mission to rip away their eyelids so that they could never shut them again. Donkeys. From living the poor cook's life in Paris practicing risottos all night on his single burner in his hole-in-the-attic Paris apartment to Harveys with Marco Pierre White to earning a Michelin Star at Aubergine in london and then getting his third star at restaurant Gordon Ramsay, this now general of cuisine did not earn his rank because he was a senator's son in a staff job but through field promotions in the trenches of food.
I love Bread Street Kitchen and especially on a first night in London because now it's starting to get dark and the possibility of losing to jet lag becomes a reality, but not only is Bread Street Kitchen a ten minute walk from St. Paul's, it's the perfect anecdote because it's anything that you need it to be.
If it's cold outside, it's bright and warm and buzzing in here, like the slow braised venison that has been braising for hours in the oven.
If it's warm outside, it's breezy and airy and as refreshing as your St. Paul's Chalice of a bronze cup filled to the brim with ice and refreshing drink.
Whether you're still in your plane clothes and want to stop in for an afternoon burger or for a long special evening in your suit that's a bit wrinkled but anyway all the rest of your luggage is at the hotel in the lobby closet so nothing you can do about it anyway, Bread Street Kitchen and its loving staff will take care of you on this your first night in London. There's equally bright desserts, too, that they'll send you off with just in case your eyelids were even thinking about that first little droop.
Welcome to London. Wakey Wakey.