London's calling, and it's my turn to pick up the phone
October 2, 2008 9:10 AM   Subscribe

What can I do with two spare weekends in the Square Mile?

I'm about to head over to London for three weeks, yay! But what should I see while I'm there?

Home base will be roughly near Mansion House tube station. This is terribly convenient on weekdays, but apparently that part of town is kinda dead on weekends.

So my question is, what can I do on my weekends off that will fill my brain with culture?

I'm mostly looking for cultural things - museums, bookshops, old buildings, and anything that's a little bit different, or off the normal tourist track. (Interesting photo opportunities would be cool, as well.)

There's the Tower of London nearby, sure; and the West End as well (although I don't know what specifically would be worth seeing). And having rummaged through some old threads, starting the day with a coffee at the London Review Bookstore sounds kinda awesome. But is there anything I'm missing?

(And I'll be at the meetup.)
posted by The Shiny Thing to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I really liked the Tate Modern. Interesting art in a very interesting building.
posted by mmascolino at 9:27 AM on October 2, 2008

It baffles me that you would want to spend two weekends in the City. You can easily hop on almost every tube line from where you are. All of London is your Oyster (pun intended), and navigating the Tube itself I think is an experience worth having.

I think purchasing a guidebook would be well worth your while. The DK Eyewitness Guide to London is excellent for seeing sights, and all the pictures and illustrations make it fun to pick them.

That said, Sir John Soane's museum is something that is a little different, well worth seeing, and many people miss it. It's not in the City, but it is pretty close.
posted by grouse at 10:10 AM on October 2, 2008

A quick google search for museums and galleries in London will give you a huge host of places to see. I love the natural history museum and the Science Museum, but I'm a geek. The nearby Victoria & Albert museum is great too. My favourites among the smaller, central ones include:

The clockmakers' museum (, some beautiful clocks (including, I think, some by Harrison?) and also gives you an insight into London's ancient but still powerful Guilds and Worshipful Companies.

Hospital museums - lots of horrifying surgical instruments on view at most big hospitals, including St Barts and Imperial. If you're interested in science or modern medicine, be sure to check out the Wellcome Institute (Euston Square tube), who have regular exhibitions blending art and science.

London museum - A horrible building on the outside, but has some interesting history on London's Roman and pre-Roman origins.

The War Rooms - these are underground near Westminster Palace (the parliament building). You can have a look around the command centre used in WWII by Churchill and his subordinates.

Then there are various cathedrals (St. Paul's, Southwark), the temple (at Temple tube :) ) and churches to have a poke around in and attend a service if you're religious. St. Bart's the Greater is central London's largest normal church (near Barbican tube); not too interesting in itself, but it's very frequently used as a film set for various church, cathedral and castle scenes in British films. (Erm.. "Four Weddings and a Funeral" is the most famous one I can think of offhand, though I think it was used in one of the Bridget Jones flims. Definately an old Robin Hood film too).

Wander along the South Bank, a specific area of the river bank: take the tube to, say, Embankment and walk south over the river for a great view of the parliament buildings. Then walk along the river to see all the buskers, skaters, impromptu art installations, irregular markets and a big book fair most weekends. There are some good, if slightly pricey, places to eat along here.

Speaking of markts: Camden Town is the home of London's goth community and is great to visit, with some excellent markets and quirky shops. It also has a few good live music bars in various genres. Borough Market (almost underneath London Bridge station) is an upmarket food market, with excellent bakers, butchers etc. I think it's closed on Sundays, so get lunch there one Saturday. Covent Garden Market is very touristy these days but fun to visit - lots of buskers and interesting stalls.

If you visit westminster palace (the famous parliament building), be sure to wander around the area. There are plenty of beautful buildings nearby that most people miss because they take a photo of parliament and head off to tick the next box on their itiniary. Pro tip: "Big Ben" is the name of the bell you can hear chiming, but not the bell tower. Every Londoner knows this, but almost every tourist gets it wrong. While you're in the area, you can see Downing street (where the Prime Minister and Chancellor live).

If you can rollerblade, there's a huge group who rollerblade around the deserted City streets on some (all?) Sunday mornings. That would probably be a great way to explore a bit.

If you find yourself near Bank, you might be able to climb up inside the Monument. I've never done it myself, but I'm told it's quite chap and has a good view.

If you have time to get out of the city, Greenwich and Richmond are both well worth a visit. Greenwich is about 15 min by train from London bridge and has a good market, the Naval Museum (in a fantastic building) and a park with the Observatory at precisely 0 degrees longditude. If you go there after dark, they shine a green laser from the Observatory along the line of longditude; its very impressive, as is the view over London.

For some guided walks around London, look at London Walks ( I haven't been on one myself, but everything I've heard about them is positive.

...there's plenty more, depending on your interests. I reccommend getting or borrowing a recent copy of the Rough Guide to London. It's a huge book and very thorugh.
posted by metaBugs at 10:21 AM on October 2, 2008

Your question is a bit broad given the huge number of ask metafilter questions about things to do in London. Here's one which is very similar to yours.

My favorite offbeat museum is the Hunterian. The most under-rated big museum is the V&A.

My best advice is to just...walk. The best, most interesting things in London are things I've just stumbled across in an otherwise aimless walk. London is full of hidden treasures.
posted by vacapinta at 10:22 AM on October 2, 2008

Yeah, it's called the Square Mile because it's only a mile square, and the whole rest of London remains easy to get to. You're just over the river from the South Bank (between London Bridge and Waterloo) that has lots of neat stuff on it, Borough Market is a foodie place just south of London Bridge station. You're within half-an-hour's walk (although of course you can always get the tube) from Covent Garden and from there the general West End area - basically the densest area of shops, eats, venues is. You can go walk there past St Paul's and along Fleet St / Strand then you'll take in some old buildings on the way. It's the same distance to Brick Lane which is a hipstery market type deal. You can also get the District line straight to South Kensington where there are a bunch of pretty good museums and lots of nice old architecture. From there you can also wander north for five minutes to get to Hyde Park which is a pleasant enough place to wander around if the weather is agreeable.

Sorry if that's not very specific, but there you go - basically if you Google about for interesting stuff to see and do in London, there's a good chance you'll be able to walk to a lot of it, and a 100% chance you'll be able to get the tube anywhere you want. Make sure you get an Oyster Card though!
posted by so_necessary at 10:48 AM on October 2, 2008

and a 100% chance you'll be able to get the tube anywhere you want

Heh, actually, TfL does some pretty serious construction on the tubes at the weekend, so you might find the odd station closed or the odd line down for the day. The Victoria line is especially often closed on weekends. That being said, in Zone 1, you can pretty well walk anywhere, take the tubes that are running, or a bus or taxi.

Here's the map of this weekend's tube closures.

All the Londony-London stuff is pretty well within a long walk from where you are, so you'll have no shortage of stuff to do.
posted by generichuman at 1:39 PM on October 2, 2008

For the off the beaten track type approach, this is ace:

Regardless if you're interested in Ripperology or Comix or whatever, its a superb 'alternative' London tour. Wave when you get to St. Anne's Limehouse as I am fortunate to live just behind it.

Good hunting.....
posted by Mintyblonde at 4:08 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing the V&A, but hey, I worked there til July this year so I'm totally biased ;) Go see the , cast courts - the Victorians ran around Europe taking plaster casts of *everything*, it's a mad spectacle.

Also, I agree with Greenwich, take the thames clipper from Blackfriars pier - it's the commuter boat, only costs £4 and really zips.

And - people don't realise the Thames is tidal. Stroll along the south bank and get down on the beach at low tide - you can see a lot of the old wooden docks still standing, and the breadth of the river still stuns me. I'll be at the meetup so happy to signpost recommendations then!
posted by freya_lamb at 4:18 PM on October 2, 2008

Sorry, meant to say 'many people don't realise the Thames is tidal'.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:20 PM on October 2, 2008

I lived in the Square Mile for a month when i first moved to London and I can tell you it is DEAD on the weekends. BUT it is also very central so its easy to head in any direction.

The Tate Modern is an obvious choice and is just on the south of the river. (an easy saturday mornign walk).

I would recommned spending one Sunday Afternoon walking over to Brick Lane, it is crazy on sundays and so unlike many other parts of London. a mix of Hipsters and Crooksters and lots of curry houses.

Shoreditch/ Lower hackney also an easy walk from Liverpool Station has a lot of smaller galleries and boutique shops. it can be an interestign Saturday Afternoon.
posted by mary8nne at 3:43 AM on October 3, 2008

Thanks all! (I'll have to swing by the meetup now so I can repay everyone's generosity...)
posted by The Shiny Thing at 1:18 AM on October 5, 2008

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