Charing Cross is arguably one of the most important parts of London, touching upon the Strand and Whitehall in the Borough of Westminster. The neighborhood’s name derives from the Olde English word “cherring,” referring to a bend in the River Thames, and the Elanor Cross that King Edward I erected in remembrance of his wife, Eleanor. Being close to the seat of government, it’s seen many important moments, such as the final battle of Wyatt’s Rebellion and the pulling down of the original Eleanor Cross during the English Civil War. Today, its location marks it as a central point to visit any number of interesting places in London, and we’ve outlined our top ten favorites below. Let us know your own favorite places in Charing Cross in the comments.
Sherlock Holmes Pub
Whether you begin or end your day here, the Sherlock Holmes pub just off of Trafalgar Square is a must visit for those who count themselves among the fictional detective’s fans or tourists in need of a respite. Besides serving an array of traditional British dishes and ales, the upstairs story of the pub has a replica of Holmes and Watson’s apartment at 221B Baker Street. The recreation existed before the establishment of the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, so it’s certainly worth a visit.
Benjamin Franklin House
36 Craven Street is home to a museum to one of the most famous Americans to visit London. During his time in England as a diplomat prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin lived at this address while he attempted to represent the Pennsylvania Colony’s interests to the British government. The museum is meant to look much as it did when Franklin lived there and contains several artifacts of his, including a selection of his personal writings. The home is also an educational center dedicated to Franklin’s many interests.
The Savoy is one of the most elegant hotels in London and has been since it was founded in 1889. One of the things that makes it unique amongst London hotels is that it has the only turning circle that permits cars to drive on the right side of the road in order to permit cab patrons to get out. That same turning circle sets the standard for London Cabs, which requires the turning radius to be the same as the circle. The top place to visit in the hotel is the American Bar, which acts as both a high-class drinking establishment and a museum for cocktails as many famous mixes were invented here.
Victoria Embankment Gardens
London has many green spaces hidden amongst the hustle and bustle of the city, and Victoria Embankment Gardens is one of the finest. Described by some as TARDIS-like because it seems much larger and intricate once you get inside, there is something in the gardens to please everyone. The gardens open at 7:30 in the morning most days and the closing time can vary from 16:30 to 21:30 depending on the time of year. There are statues to important figures such as Isambard Kingdom Brunell, a café, and a bandstand that features concerts in the warmer months.
London Transport Museum
If you ever wanted to learn about how people get around London, the London Transport Museum features everything from the first horse-drawn omnibuses to Crossrail. The collections include everything from actual double-decker buses to advertisements that once lined Tube trains. The museum also features a number of exhibits and tours from the upcoming “Year of Engineering” to bus tours of the city’s Christmas light displays.
Home to many ministerial offices, Whitehall is one of the most important governmental centers in the city. The area was named after the Palace of Whitehall, which was built in 1530 and then much of it destroyed by fire in 1698. All the remains of the original palace is Banqueting House, which is open to the public. While many of the government offices aren’t available to visitors, the sections of the palace that once played home to Tudor and Stewart monarchs have tours that you can go on and marvel at the work of Inigo Jones and Peter Paul Rubens.
National Portrait Gallery
Essentially what it says on the tin, the National Portrait Gallery actually houses the world’s largest collection of portraits, busts, reliefs, and other images of faces from the unknown to the world-famous. The Gallery’s rooftop restaurant offers one of the best views of London, but it’s the exhibits you’ll really want to take in, such as Victorian artistic photography to Michael Jackson’s influence on art and culture. The Gallery is open daily from 10:00 to 18:00, so be sure to spend plenty of time wandering the galleries purchase tickets to the exhibits.
Dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, this famous church was designed by James Gibbs and is one of the cornerstones of Trafalgar Square. More than a place of worship, St. Martin’s puts on concerts of baroque and classical music, has art exhibits to rival nearby museums and even has its unique Café in the Crypt. Visitors can take tours on any given day of the week, except during worship times or concerts, and can even do a brass rubbing to have something to take home with them.
One of the largest art galleries in the world, the National Gallery has over 2,000 Western European paintings and sculptures from the Medieval period to the present. Exhibits include a showcase of Van Eyck and other famous European artists, but there is so much more to do there than look at paintings. The National Gallery offers courses on topics from landscapes to subtle references in pre-Raphaelite works, talks from noted art historians such as James Hamilton, and workshops to teach you oil painting, charcoal drawing, and more.
Tying it all together is Trafalgar Square, which touches many of the locations on this list and is an ideal place to start exploring Charing Cross. A wonder in and of itself, the square offers many interesting places to visit such as Nelson’s Column, the four plinths, and the city’s smallest police station. On any given day, you may witness a protest, an art exhibit, or buskers playing some of your favorite tunes. It’s also been a filming site for several major productions in the last few years from Captain America to Wonder Woman.
While I like the list, I think of Charing Cross as a bookstore mecca. I hope that hasn’t changed! One of my best memories of my youth is going into a store, asking for a book, and watching the staff climb a ladder, move two rows, reach into the back and pull it out. It was pure London magic!
This is largely gone. There are a few bookshops left but not like it used to be. There are still some great ‘fancy’ bookshops in Cecil Court as well. You may be thinking of the the ‘old’ Foyle’s, which has been demolished (Foyle’s moved to a new location).
Denise M. Swank says
The Amba Hotel , for me was the most delightful place in Charring Cross. It is a fabulous hotel and close to everything! And the Elenor Cross is right in front of it.