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Roman London illustration
Illustration: Elly Walton

Where to find London’s secret Roman sites

Here’s where to hunt down traces of historic Roman life in modern-day London

By Ellie Walker-Arnott
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Did you know London wasn’t always called London? It was once known as ‘Londinium’, the heart of Roman Britain. A lot has changed around here since it was founded in AD 50, but there are still Roman sites hidden around the city, if you know where to find them – and now you do, because we’ve laid them out for you below.

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Historic Roman locations in London

London Wall, Roman wall in City of London
London Wall, Roman wall in City of London
Wikimedia Commons/Mario Robero Duran Ortiz

The ruins of city walls

In 2017 London is a sprawling metropolis that expands year after year, but that wasn’t the case in Roman London. A solid stone and red tile wall, built in AD 200, enclosed the city of Londinium in its entirety, stretching for two whole miles. It was basically the Roman equivalent of the M25. You can still spy small sections of the original wall by the Museum of London and the Tower of London. London Wall. Tube: Tower Hill and Barbican.

James Newton

A mystery cult

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Bank

Sneak past suited City workers and disappear down into the London Mithraeum, an underground temple used by a men-only Roman cult, who worshipped the god Mithras. The space was discovered beneath the City in 1954 at a World War II bomb site, and the ruins have recently been reconstructed for public display. 

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Rotten Roman fish sauce

Museums History Barbican

Turmeric lattes, bubble waffles: London loves a food trend and it always has. Our Roman settlers couldn’t get enough of a French-import sauce made from rotten fish. A container, called an amphora, was found lying on the foreshore of the Thames in Southwark, with the words ‘Lucius Tettius Africanus supplies the finest fish sauce’ painted on the side. It was empty except for a few mackerel bones. We’ll stick to avo on toast, thanks. On display at the Museum of London.

Billingsgate Roman Bathouse
Billingsgate Roman Bathouse
Photo: Andrea Vail/Flickr

A fancy spa

Attractions Historic buildings and sites City of London

Early Londoners were super into bathing. They’d probably have spent all their aurei (gold coins) on Lush bathbombs given half a chance. The remains of the Billingsgate Baths on Lower Thames Street are proof. Most citizens of Londinium couldn’t afford their own private bath, so they washed their bits in public bathhouses, using iron scrapers called strigils, to get sweat and dirt off their skin. It was more ‘grubby swimming pool’ than ‘5-star day spa’.

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Incredible ancient artefacts

Museums History Barbican

For a real look at what life was like in Roman London, you can’t do much better than the Roman Gallery at the Museum of London. Among the museum’s ancient artefacts are a huge hoard of gold coins, a carved jewel retrieved from the Thames and the tombstone of a Roman soldier. Oh, and there’s a stone inscription featuring the first ever use of the term ‘Londoners’. Cool, eh? Discover Londinium on the Museum of London’s Roman London Family Walk, selected dates during Jan-April. £7 adult, £5 child.

Walbrook Wharf, Cannon Street
Walbrook Wharf, Cannon Street
Wikimedia Commons/Thecrunchynutter2

A lost river

The Thames has always been at the heart of London, its iconic squiggle dividing north and south. But the main source for the original Roman settlement was actually the River Walbrook. A once powerful stream which fed into the Thames, the Walbrook was built over and now trickles deep underneath the city. But you can still walk the route, from Curtain Road in Shoreditch through the City to the river’s edge. River Walbrook route. Tube: Old St. 

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Roman amphitheatre, Guildhall Art Gallery, London
Roman amphitheatre, Guildhall Art Gallery, London
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Dun.can

A real Roman amphitheatre

Life in Londinium wasn’t easy – weekends hadn’t been invented yet and most people lived in conditions more cramped than a Zone 2 flat-share – but city-folk have always known how to relax. To chill out after work, Londoners sat on tiered benches of an amphitheatre to watch gruesome gladiatorial games, wild animal fights and the execution of criminals. Think of it as the first-century equivalent of Netflix. You can still find its remains under the Guildhall Art Gallery today. Tube: Bank. 

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