From Romans to the Ripper: 8 Historical Walks in London | Historical Landmarks | History Hit

From Romans to the Ripper: 8 Historical Walks in London

London has hosted some pivotal moments in world history, including the Blitz of World War Two and the infamous Great Fire of London. Here are 8 walks retracing the city's rich history.

Harry Sherrin

13 Oct 2021

London was founded by the Romans in around 43 AD. It has played a pivotal role in world history ever since, serving as a principal centre of culture and politics for 2 millennia.

The city has endured disasters, from the Great Fire in 1666 to the London Blitz during World War Two. But it has also hosted incredible moments in history and housed more than its fair share of famous residents, including Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare.

Now, on walks around London, the relics of the city’s history can be witnessed firsthand.

Visit the very street where the Great Fire started and stroll the alleyways which Jack the Ripper once prowled: here are 8 of the greatest walks and walking tours in London.

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1. Charles Dickens’ London

Charles Dickens fans can trace the key locations of Dickens’ life in London on a self-guided walking tour through the city. The route passes various locations which inspired iconic moments in his books, including Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, and takes walkers to the very spot Dickens stood in when he arrived in London aged 10 years old.

The route takes around 2 hours to complete, the details of which are available on the City of London website. Known as Dickens’ Magic Lantern, the tour was designed by Charles Dickens expert Dr Tony Williams. It meanders around a relatively small portion of the city centre, so those who want a shorter stroll can pick and choose which sites to visit.

Just as Scrooge wandered London’s streets on a cold Christmas night, Dan Snow follows the ghosts of Charles Dickens’ past to discover the city that inspired his greatest works.

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2. Jack the Ripper’s East End

The infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper terrorised Victorian London in 1888. His gruesome murders were never solved, and his true identity still remains a mystery. Many of the streets and alleyways he once stalked, and the sites of his crimes, can still be visited in the city’s East End to this day.

For an immersive guided tour, the East End Tour Company offers regular evening outings through the alleyways, streets and sites of Ripper’s London. Guides use projectors to shine clues and images on street walls, encouraging walkers to retrace the scenes of Jack the Ripper’s crimes and delve deeper into the mystery of his identity.

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3. Shakespeare’s London

London was a huge force in William Shakespeare’s life. He lived and worked in the city for years, probably from around 1585 to 1612. Now, modern visitors to London can follow in the great playwright’s footsteps.

On a trail through Shakespeare’s London, walkers can pass the site where the original London Globe theatre once stood. They’ll also see its modern reconstruction. Other highlights include Shakespeare’s favourite buildings, his former home and the parish church he frequented. The full details of the route are available as a PDF on the City of London website.

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4. Roman London

London’s rich Roman heritage dates back to 50 AD, when the Romans constructed a bridge over the Thames and established a city on its banks: Londinium. The urban centre flourished, becoming the capital of Roman Britain.

The City of London’s Roads to Rome walking route retraces London’s Roman heritage. The walk takes visitors through the City of London, passing the remains of a Roman bathhouse, the city’s ancient amphitheatre and the ruins of a Roman gatehouse. The final stop is the Museum of London, where visitors can witness the world’s largest collection of Londinium relics.

Dr Simon Elliott tells the story of Roman London’s rise in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

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5. Royal London

As the capital of the United Kingdom, London’s royal heritage runs deep. It’s home to several royal residences, including Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, and it typically hosts the biggest events in the royal calendar, from coronations to royal weddings.

A number of agencies offer guided tours around central London’s most significant royal sites. Alternatively, visitors to the city can carve their own path around the city’s greatest regal attractions. Must-visit spots include St James’ Park, Clarence House, the royal palaces and the Royal Albert Memorial.

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6. Sherlock Holmes’ London

Sherlock Holmes fans can follow in the footsteps of the iconic detective as they stroll through central London. Start at the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street, the address of the famed detective. Then visit the Sherlock Holmes Pub and Simpsons in the Strand, Holmes’ favourite restaurant in the novels.

Walkers can explore this route themselves or join a guided tour for a more expansive and informative experience. The company Brit Movie Tours offer a Sherlock walk which also encompasses key locations from the Sherlock TV show and the Sherlock Holmes movies, sharing behind-the-scenes secrets from the productions.

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7. London in the Blitz

In 1940, at the height of World War Two, Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe bombed London for 57 days straight. Visitors to the city can now retrace the history of the Blitz on foot. Key locations to visit include St Paul’s Cathedral, which was dutifully defended by Londoners during the Blitz, and the Imperial War Museum, where visitors can dive into the history of the conflict.

London Walking Tours offer an immersive tour through the city’s World War Two sites. On the tour, entitled The City Under Siege, walkers will hear stories from 29 December 1940, possibly the worst night of bombing during the London Blitz. They’ll also visit buildings that endured the assault and learn how London rebuilt after the Blitz.

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8. Great Fire of London

One of the most devastating fires in recorded history, the Great Fire of London decimated huge swathes of the city in 1666. It burned for 5 days and 5 nights and ultimately razed more than half of London to the ground. Modern visitors can now trace the blaze’s path on a walking route through the City of London.

The walk passes Pudding Lane, where the blaze began and where the Monument to the Great Fire now stands. The route also meanders past the sites of landmarks lost in the blaze and crosses London Bridge, which thousands of Londoners would have used to escape the fire in 1066. Full details of this self-guided walking tour, including a downloadable info pack, can be found on the City of London website.