It doesn’t happen too often than I get a free day to chill, but last Wednesday I did and I was keen to catch up with a friend of mine who I had met in the On The Road Pub in Paris and who had just moved to London.
After having such a great time on previous tours with Sandemans (including an incredible trip in to the past with a tour of Versailles and a not-so-cultural tour of Brussels’ best pubs), I thought a great activity for both myself and my friend was to hit the streets for a historical dive in to the City of London!
Note: don’t let the photography put you off – in true British form the clouds just weren’t letting in the light, but the tour was still very informative (if a little cold)!
Sandemans Free Walking Tour London
The great thing for most tourists (or like me…locals!) is that almost every free walking tour with Sandemans comes with a choice of an English speaking guide or a Spanish speaking guide.
As my friend is from Argentina and speaks Spanish, and I’ve never quite got my tongue around those rolling rrr’s, she gracefully let us take the English tour. Thanks Guadalupe!
The Sandemans free walking tour London begins in the historic Covent Garden, next to the not-so-historic Apple store. In fact, Covent Garden is that old that it’s name actually derives from it’s origins as a garden for Westminster Abbey and convent. Back in the days when the church had a say.
When I was growing up, Covent Garden was known as the posh market place, attracting slightly bigger spenders than my favourite Borough Market (read about my favourite tea and coffee in the borough!) due to the high fashion shops you can find there. So it’s rather amusing that when the first market place turned up next to the old convent gardens in the 1600s it attracted mostly pubs and prostitutes…
Trafalgar Square’s Giant Cock
From Covent Garden to Trafalgar Square, where we were shocked to witness a giant blue rooster taking pride of place in front of the National Art Gallery. After the giggles had subsided from the group our guide Will began to explain the nature of The Fourth Plinth Programme, which is a British contemporary arts prize that invites artists from all over the world to submit a statue of their own design to stand on the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square for 18th months at a time.
Of course, contemporary arts are not always as subtle as the arts we are used to seeing in our national galleries, and the blue rooster, designed by Katharina Fritsch, definitely isn’t subtle at all! The statue is a feminist dig at the number of male statues in the City of London, and the underrepresentation of women in our national history.
The dazzling blue of the rooster could also be a cheeky poke to the national colour of France, now commanding the attention of all visitors in a square dedicated to a British victory over France in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar.
…Hence Trafalgar’s Square. There we go not being subtle again.
Even less discreet is the 52 metre corinthian column erected at the front entrance to the Square, to commemorate the column’s namesake, Admiral Horatio Nelson.
One of Britain’s greatest naval admirals, and one surprisingly well liked by the men serving him at odds with the traditions of the day, Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar, but not before making sure he had led the battle to victory.
What a guy.
Whilst Nelson’s column is impressive in itself, I particularly admire the four lions that guard it’s base. Added over 20 years after the construction of the monument, some suggest they were influenced by the lions guarding the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest. If you want to compare for yourself, here’s a picture of the lion of the Chain Bridge, although I think those in Trafalgar Square are slightly better sculpted!
My favourite features however are the gorgeous water fountains, that were apparently included in the Square’s design to break up the open space that could lead to public riots… and who said the government couldn’t be smart every now and then?
London’s Bronze Nostrils
Despite showing their unconventional tact in preventing public riot space via well-placed large fountains, the British government have had their share of embarrassment and ridicule over the years.
A particular series of incidents designed to throw shade on the rise of government CCTV cameras in public places that came about in the early 2000s was the sudden appearance of a number of noses sticking out of well-known monuments in London.
In all it’s glory, here is one of the noses sculpted by artist, Rick Buckley, to show that he could glue art to famous landmarks without being detected by the government’s CCTV cameras… this set of bronze nostrils on the Admiralty Arch was done quite literally ‘under their noses’.
Oh we love a pun.
A Nazi Burial in London
Yes, you did read that correctly. Although poor dead Giro was not really a Nazi, he had the misfortune of belonging to a German Ambassador at the time that the Nazi’s were coming to power in Germany.
I say belonging, because he was a tiny little terrier, beloved so much by his owner, Leopold von Hoesch, that he was given a proper burial in the grounds of what used to be the German Embassy in London.
Von Hoesch was so well liked in English society (much of this down to the rumours that he wasn’t much a fan of the Nazi party himself) that at his own death in 1936 the Grenadier Guards and British government ministers at the time lined the streets as he was carried from the embassy building in a coffin draped in the Nazi flag. Transported to Germany for an official burial by the state, his poor little pooch still rests in London with affectionate statement “Ein treuer begleiter” (“A true companion!” emblazoned on his tiny tombstone.
If you want to find this little gem for yourself, head towards this street sign and you might spot it!
Other Sights on the Sandemans Free Walking Tour London
Of course, London is not all blue cocks, dead dogs and bronze nostrils!
The two and a half hour tour also includes sights of the Royal Buckingham Palace, the slightly more modest St James’ Palace, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, to name a few!
Tips for taking the Sandemans Free Walking Tour
- The tour runs everyday from the Apple Store in Covent Garden at 11am and 1pm.
- Booking isn’t necessary and you can sign up at the meeting point. Some days may be very busy though so I always think it’s best to book a spot in advance!
- This is a London walking tour. Take comfy shoes, warm gloves and an umbrella (or hooded coat).
- The tour runs in Spanish or in English.
- Sandemans post group tour pictures on their Facebook page so you can tag yourself if you want!
- This article is about the free walking tour, but if you want even more great information Sandemans run other paid tours such as: the Old City Tour (€15/€13 student), the Grim Reaper Tour (€15/€13 student), their famous Pub Crawl (€18), as well as a Thames Cruise & Tour of South Bank (€24/€22 student)
This was a free tour and not a gift of the company, so of course all opinions are honest and my own, as always!
Lots of love!
Lots of love,
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