A list of 30 London sights you can fit into your lunch hour
The City of London is my absolute favourite area in London because it contains so much of London’s earliest history from Roman ruins to Wren churches. And if you work there, it’s so accessible to visit parts of it during your lunch break.
Sadly it’s quite an overlooked area of London, so I hope that tourists to London might also take some inspiration from this list and plan a day or two seeing the City’s smaller sights.
If you work in the City and struggle to get away from your desk, why not make a plan to take a proper lunch break a few times a week and get out and about to see some of these places?
I’ve found 30 things to see in various areas of the City (and a few just outside) that you can see in less than an hour. I’ve split them roughly into areas so you can see what’s near you. I’ve also plotted them all on this map:
Liverpool Street and Spitalfields
1 Geffrye museum
Ok, so it’s not actually in the City but if you’re in the area it’s close enough to Hoxton Overground that you could hop on a train during lunch for a quick look round. The Geffrye museum is housed in 18th century almshouses and is a collection of displays of London living rooms and gardens to illustrate homes through the centuries.
Set in beautiful 18th-century almshouse buildings, the museum is surrounded by gardens – a much-loved oasis in the heart of inner-city London.
2 Dennis Severs’ house
Dennis Severs’ House at 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields is an immersive experience in an 18th century house laid out as though a family of Huguenot silk-weavers still lives there. It’s lit with a fire and candlelight and allows you to experience the sights and smells of a Georgian household.
Bunhill Fields was a burial ground established in the late 17th century and used until the middle of the 19th century. Around 2,000 monuments remain on the side which is now managed as a public garden. Several notable figures are interred here including William Blake and John Bunyan.
4 Temple bar
The original gate dates as far back as the 13th century but the current gate dates from the 17th century and is said to have been designed by Wren, although there’s no definitive proof of this. It is the only surviving gate to the City of London and previously stood on Fleet Street. It’s moved around London several times in its history but has come to rest on the edge of Paternoster Square in the shadow of St Paul’s cathedral.
5 Dr Johnson’s House
A Grade I listed house which was home to Dr Samuel Johnson, compiler of A Dictionary of the English Language. It houses a small collection about Samuel Johnson and the house is interesting in its own right, especially for the original panelling.
Another on the list that’s not strictly in the City, but it is easily accessible by crossing the Millennium Bridge from the Blackfriars area and is close enough to give you a good half an hour exploring the galleries. Open Monday to Sunday 10am – 6pm.
7 Temple Church
The church of Inner and Middle Temple. The church dates from the late 12th century, built by the Knights Templar and is an unusual survival. Of interest is the round plan of the church. The church is usually open 10am – 4pm on weekdays and costs £5 to enter, but you should check the website as opening times can change.
8 St Bartholomew the Great
The Priory Church was founded in 1123 as part of an Augustinian monastery but part of the church was demolished in the 16th century during the Reformation. It’s been used as a filming location for a number of films, most notably Four Weddings and a Funeral.
I’ve included a selection of London’s City churches in this list, but you can see them all at the Friends of the City Churches website which provides a handy map as well as opening hours for them all. Many are open one day a week so you can work through them gradually over a number of lunch hours.
9 The Charterhouse
This complex of 14th century buildings occupies the land north of the Barbican. It began life as a Carthusian priory in 1371, dissolved in 1537 under Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. It later functioned as both alms house and school, with the school moving to Surrey in 1872, where it still survives.
The Charterhouse opened to the public in January 2017 and you can know visit for free from Thursday to Sunday from 11am with last admission at 4:45pm. You can also book 1 hour tours for £10.
10 St Giles Cripplegate
Badly damaged by fire on a number of occasions as well as during the Blitz, St Giles without Cripplegate is a rare medieval survival. Now standing within the Barbican complex it was built outside (without) London’s city walls. A Saxon church stood on the site later replaced by an 11th century Norman church and rebuilt once more in the 14th century. The tower was added in 1682. John Milton is buried in the church and Oliver Cromwell was married there. The church is normally open from 11am to 4pm Monday to Friday.
11 Billingsgate Roman house and baths
On Lower Thames Street are the ruins of a Roman house with baths dating from the 2nd century AD where you can see the ruins of the hypercaust in the bath complex. The site can be accessed via a 1 hour tour bookable online with slots at 10:30 and 12pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
As the name suggests, a monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666. The Monument was built between 1671 and 1677 and is 202 feet tall and stands 202 feet from Pudding Lane where the fire is alleged to have started. Visitors can climb the Monument for views of London from the top. In Smithfield another monument, the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, marks where the fire was extinguished.
13 St Dunstan’s in the East church garden
The church was originally built in 1100. As with many buildings in the City of London, it suffered severe damage at various points in its history including during the Great Fire, after which a tower and steeple were built to Wren’s designs. Later WWII bombing badly damaged the church again with Wren’s tower and steeple surviving. It was decided not to rebuild the damaged portions and the ruins have instead been turned into a garden. Open 8am – 7pm daily.
This is one of the most interesting churches in the City with a fascinating history and beautiful interior. It is the City’s oldest church, founded in 675, making it older than the adjacent Tower of London. Small parts of the Saxon building can still be seen in the church and a Roman pavement can be seen in the crypt. John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the US, was married here in 1797 and you can see the marriage register displayed in the Undercroft Museum. Open 10am – 6pm Monday to Friday (from 8:30am Thursdays) and 10am – 5pm Saturday and Sunday.
15 St Olave’s
St Olave’s is one of the few churches in the City to survive the Great Fire of London, although it had to be restored following WWII bombing. The present building dates from 1450 and it is one of the smallest churches in the City. It was a favourite of Samuel Pepys, who lived on the same street.
16 London Wall
Parts of London’s original Roman wall peep out at various points in the City but the most visible parts are in the area known as London Wall, around the Museum of London. Various information boards explain the history of the walls on Noble Street where a Roman fort once stood. Some parts of the wall were not uncovered until WWII bombing destroyed some modern buildings leaving the Roman walls standing.
The Museum carries a collection telling London’s history right from prehistory to the present day. While it’s a large collection to do in a lunch hour, if you work nearby you can pop in and take one collection at a time. A good portion of the remaining Roman walls can also be seen outside the museum site. There are some great exhibits explaining London’s history including displays chronically the Great Fire of London and the museum also contains some interesting artefacts like art deco lift from Selfridges store. Free entry daily 10am – 6pm.
18 City of London police museum
The museum is in the Guildhall complex and chronicles the history of the City police force which has policed the Square Mile for over 170 years. The museum covers the crimes of Jack the Ripper and police response to bombings during the Blitz. It’s open 9:30am – 5pm Monday to Friday (until 7:30pm Wednesdays) and 10am – 4pm on Saturdays.
The present Guildhall was complete in 1440. This huge medieval hall has been used as the venue for the Lord Mayor’s Banquet each year since 1502. Also within the Guildhall complex are an art gallery containing a significant collection of Victorian art including paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artitis Dante Gabriel Rosseti and John Everett Millais. In the basement you can see the remains of a Roman amphitheatre dating from 70AD which was discovered in 1985. It’s open daily 10am – 4:30pm except Sundays, entry is free.
Sitting right outside the Guildhall is the official church of the Lord Mayor of London, St Lawrence Jewry re-built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 on the site where a church has stood for some 900 years. It was re-built again following extensive damage during WWII. Open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
This is a really interesting history of the Bank and of currency itself. You can even lift a gold bar. Open Monday to Friday 10am – 5pm, free.
22 St Ethelburga’s Bishopsgate
Now the St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, a non-profit charity which aims to build relationships across divisions of conflict, culture and religion. Having survived both the Great Fire and sustaining only limited damage during the Blitz, the church was badly damaged by the 1993 IRA Bishopsgate bombing. It was first recorded in 1250 but re-built in the 15th century with further additions made in the 17th and 18th centuries.
23 The Aldgate pump
The pump was first mentioned in 1598 in a survey of London but the current pump dates from 1876. The pump was responsible for an epidemic of deaths in the mid 19th century due to the waters which fed it flowing across London via numerous new graves. The pump was subsequently moved and connected to the mains water supply. The pump marked the symbolic start of London’s East End and the point from which distances to Essex and Middlesex were measured.
St Alban stands alone in Wood Street, surround by modern office buildings. It was rebuilt following the Great Fire by Sir Christopher Wren (having been previously rebuilt in 1634 after it was left to ruin) but was later destroyed except for its tower in WWII bombing .
30 years on, the building is as striking as when it was first built in 1986. Designed by Richard Rogers, the architectural style is called Bowellism, where a building’s services are located on the outside, rather than the inside of the building. It became the youngest ever structure to obtain Grade 1 listing in 2011.
30 St Mary Axe is know as the ‘Gherkin’ due to its unusual shape. It towers over nearby St Andrew Undershaft (one of the few City churches to escape both the Great Fire and the Blitz). It was designed by Norman Foster and opened in 2004 and stands on the former site of the Baltic Exchange, which was damaged by IRA bombing. You can usually visit on Open House Weekend or you can book a table at Searcys at the Gherkin.
St Peter upon Cornhill is another Wren church in the City which was built following the destruction of the medieval church in the Great Fire. The church is mentioned by Dickens in ‘Our Mutual Friend’. The church is open by arrangement only.
Built in 1701 this is the only synagogue in Europe to have continuously held services for more than 300 years. Admission is £5 for adults but National Trust members get 50% off. Visiting hours are 10:30am – 2pm Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10:30am – 1pm Tuesdays and Fridays and Sunday 10:30am – 12:30pm.
I found this little gem by accident when wandering around the City one Sunday morning. It’s a tiny 19th century Turkish style bath house which now functions as a private cocktail venue. You can only get in by hiring it for private parties but it’s still work a look as it’s such an incongruous sight.
30 Sir John Soane’s Museum
The former home of neo-classical architect John Soane (responsible for Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Bank of England, although his work on the Bank is now largely destroyed) is a house museum holding drawings and models of his work as well as antiquities and paintings he collected during his life. The museum was established by a Private Act of Parliament, taking effect upon his death in 1837, which required the house to be maintained as close as possible to how it was left at the time of his death. It’s a fascinating collection which includes paintings by Caneletto and Hogarth. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 5pm. The museum also holds candlelit ‘lates’ on the first Tuesdays of the month- get there early for your place.