The Strand stretches from Temple Bar, at the western end of Fleet Street, to Trafalgar Square.
Until the Victoria Embankment was constructed in the 1860s the Strand was just muddy riverside bridle path linking the City and Westminster.
At the southern end of the Strand is Charing Cross station, in front of which is a monument, dating from 1863, commemorating the original medieval cross erected here by Edward I in 1290.
Charing Cross was the last of the 12 commemorative crosses erected by the grieving King to mark each stopping place of the funeral cortège of his queen, Eleanor of Castile, as it made its way from Nottinghamshire to Westminster Abbey.
From the 13th century onwards the Strand was lined with the water-side mansions of the aristocracy. Among these great houses was the medieval Savoy Palace, now the site of the Savoy Hotel, and the 16th century Renaissance palace of the Dukes of Somerset, replaced in the 18th century by William Chamber’s Somerset House.
In Georgian times the Strand, like neighbouring Covent Garden, was the notorious haunt of prostitutes and pickpockets. By the mid-19th century, however, the Strand had greatly improved.
The neo-classical Somerset House, the capital’s first purpose-built office block, was erected in the 1770s and elegant King’s College, part of the University of London, was built by Robert Smirk in 1829.
The Victorian Prime Minister, Disraeli, considered the Strand it to be one of the finest streets in Europe, and the street’s reputation was enhanced by the construction of the grand Savoy Hotel in 1884.
Today the Strand is lined with shops, offices and theatres, with the occasional pub and restaurant. However, the bustling street is always busy with traffic and not a pleasant place to browse.
The recent redevelopment of Somerset House has created a new cultural life in the Strand. As well as the Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House now houses the Gilbert Collection and Hermitage Rooms and its car park has been transformed into the spectacular Fountain Court, which boasts an outdoor ice rink in the winter.