FOR centuries St Paul’s, and not the Stock Exchange, was where the City’s activity and bustle reached its highest pitch. A seventeenth century writer wrote of it that “the noyse in it is like that of Bees, a strange humming or buzze, mixt of walking, tongues and feet: It is a kind of still roar or loud whisper.”
And indeed St Paul’s is one of those London sights that many who live and work here shamefacedly admit to having never visited, perhaps put off by the sight of scruffy teenage tourists eating sandwiches on the steps outside. But one result of the opening of One New Change will be the rediscovery of St Paul’s by Londoners. A public roof-terrace that looks right over the churchyard and the cathedral will restore it to its rightful place at the centre of City life. There will be a restaurant and a café on the terrace, as yet unannounced, so you can marvel at the dome while refuelling – perfect for those who don’t find that retail therapy is quite enough to nourish the soul.
One effect of the new shopping centre will be to make the City a true weekend destination for the first time, and visitors ought to take the chance to explore what else the City has to offer while they are there – there is more to the Square Mile than offices. The City on a weekend might seem spooky, but it is the perfect time to create your own walking tour. The Gherkin and The Lloyds building best represent the modern age, while Leadenhall Market is a brilliant example of Victorian confidence. Mooch around the back streets and you will see medieval churches, Georgian townhouses, Elizabethan pubs and everything in between.
If indoor pursuits are more to your liking then there is plenty in the City or on its doorstep. The Guildhall, the Museum of London, the Tate Modern are all within walking distance, while the Tower of London is just a short bus journey away – and if you are lucky you can grab a ride on one of the Routemasters that still ply their trade up on heritage routes – the number 15 will take you from Mansion House to Tower Hill.
Another way to see the City is from the Thames – another central part of London that is now underappreciated. Taking one of the Thames Clippers from Tate Modern either west past the Houses of Parliament or east through the City and the old docks gives you a whole new perspective on London.
But perhaps best, and certainly closest, is St Paul’s itself. For adults, there is the awesome architecture and the second-biggest church dome in the world, as well as the tombs of some of the greatest figures in British history. For children the Whispering Gallery is a r
ival for anything in the Science Museum, while the views – if you can make it up the 528 steps to the Golden Gallery above the dome on the outside – are as good as those from the London Eye. Enjoy the buzze.
BELLS AND BOMBS | ST PAUL’S FACTS
l At 111m (635ft) St Paul’s was the tallest building in London from 1710, when it overtook to Lambeth Palace, until 1962, when it was overtaken by the Telecom Tower.
l The dome is the second-largest church dome in the world after the Duomo in Florence. Now it is only the second-largest in London – after the O2.
l The current cathedral is the fifth to be built on the top of Ludgate Hill. The first is thought to have been constructed in 604AD, although there may have been a Roman temple to the goddess Diana on the site.
l Among those buried in St Paul’s are Ethelred the Unready, Sir Christopher Wren, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Nelson, Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale and Ivor Novello.
l The cathedral was destroyed by fire three times, in 963, 1087 and 1666. It was almost destroyed in 1940 when a time-delayed bomb fell into it, but was defused.
l When John Donne said: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee” he was probably thinking of the bells of the old St Paul’s – he was the dean and the line featured in a sermon he preached there.
l The biggest bell in St Paul’s, called Great Tom, weighs 16.5 tonnes and is only rung on the death of a member of the Royal family, a Lord Mayor of London or a Bishop of London.
WHAT TO DO | CITY SIGHTS
GUILDHALL ART GALLERY & ROMAN LONDON'S AMPHITHEATRE
The City of London has been collecting art since the 1600s, much of it devoted to kings and queens, naval battles and the like. Current exhibitions include one about London’s water supply, and another about Smithfield Market. Both are on until March 2011. You can also see the underground amphitheatre, where you can entertain kids with tales of the bloodthirsty gladiators who fought here. Guildhall Yard (off Gresham Street), London EC2V 5AE, tel: 020 7332 3700. Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 10am-4pm, adults £2.50, children under 16 free. Check dates and times, as the gallery can be closed for civic functions.
Showing Gauguin until 16 January, and Al Weiwie’s sea of seeds in the turbine Hall. Otherwise browse the Picassos and Matisses. Bankside, SE1 9TG, tel: 020 7887 8888, www.tate.org.uk/modern. Open 10am-5.30pm Monday-Thursday, 10am-10pm Saturday and Sunday. Admission free. Book ahead for Gauguin, £13.50 for adults, £10 concessions.
MUSEUM OF LONDON
The recently opened, £20m new gallery gives the museum a new lease of life. Explore the history of the City from prehistory, through the Romans and the Great Fire to the Blitz and right up to the modern day.
150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN, tel: 020 7001 9844, www.museumoflondon.org.uk. Open daily 10am-6pm. Admission free.
TOWER OF LONDON
An oldie, but still good. Learn about the gruesome tortures that went on here, and enjoy the armour and the crown jewels. Tower Hill, EC3N 4A, tel: 020 7488 5663. Open 9am-5.30pm Monday to Saturday, 10am-5.30pm Sunday to Monday. Adults £18.50, child under 16 £10.45.
A Royal Navy cruiser that saw action in the Second World War and the Korean War, and now a museum – run about the decks, and wonder at the cramped living conditions. HMS Belfast, Morgan's Lane, Tooley Street, SE1 2JH. Adults £12.95, children under 16 free. Open 10am-6pm daily.
LORD MAYOR’S SHOW
Pageantry, history, funny carriages and a massive firework display on the Thames. Starts at Guildhall at 11am on 13 November and travels through the City to the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand by 12.40, then returns by 2.30pm. There are free walking tours starting from 1 Poultry at 3pm, which will deliver you to a good spot to see the fireworks, which begin at 5pm. City of London, 11am, 13 November.
BANK OF ENGLAND MUSEUM
Only open during the week, but budding bankers can touch a real-life gold bar and get to grips with the basics of economics.
Bank of England, Threadneedle Street, EC2R 8AH, www.bankofengland.co.uk.
Open 10am-5pm Monday to Friday