They are the world’s great financial centres where the so-called masters of the universe dictate the global economy from their skyscrapers of glass and steel. International finance hasn’t enjoyed the most positive of images in recent years, thanks to the crash of 2008, but the cities in which traders and brokers wheel and deal are also superb travel destinations.
Intrepid travellers keen to sample all a world city has to offer simply have to explore the financial districts of the likes of London, New York, Frankfurt and Hong Kong. As well as some extraordinary architecture – an international bank does like to demonstrate its wealth and power in bricks and mortar – these areas are generally great for shopping, dining and general carousing. So here are some tips to visiting the financial districts of four of the world’s top cities.
Down on the Street
Like the City of London, the name of Wall Street is instantly recognisable. The hub of US finance, Wall Street has been immortalised in song, film and print and, like the rest of Manhattan, has a mesmerising effect on visitors. The Financial District is located in lower Manhattan and its most famous icon remains the site of the World Trade Centre; its memorial now a place of pilgrimage for many. Wall Street itself is home to the New York Stock Exchange – memorably the location for the movie Trading Places – and Federal Hall.
Lower Manhattan also provides outstanding views and access to the most iconic symbols of America in the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Head for the South Street Seaport for shopping and dining – and even a game of tennis if you’re so inclined. As the home of the original skyscraper, Manhattan constantly invites visitors to look up and around Wall Street; you’ll spot the Woolworth Building, known as the Cathedral of Commerce, and once the world’s tallest building.
An Intriguing Square Mile
The City of London is the undisputed world leader in international finance, its Square Mile home to some of the biggest names in banking, such as Lloyds TSB International, to the Bank of England itself – known as the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street – and to the London Stock Exchange. Located to the east of the city centre, the City’s boundaries are easy to spot – you’ll find small statues of dragons (or griffins) on its main routes.
Some of London’s top attractions are located within the City, including the Old Bailey, perhaps the most famous criminal court in the world, and two of Sir Christopher Wren’s most famous creations – St Paul’s Cathedral and Monument, a column erected where the Great Fire of London is said to have broken out in 1665. Don’t miss Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, too. And architecture buffs should head to the Square Mile in September for the annual Open House Weekend when many of the financial institutions open their hallowed doors for visitors to explore.
Full of Eastern Promise
There is probably no more intriguing Far Eastern destination than Hong Kong. Once a little piece of Britain in China, the former UK colony is both a top tourist destination and a world financial centre. Hong Kong Island was where the British first settled after claiming the territory in 1842 and it is here that the kings of capitalism have erected their finest palaces in the shape of gravity-defying skyscrapers. The skyline here is the image of Hong Kong most people are familiar with and in the heart of the Central Business District you’ll find familiar multinational names all plying their trade. Some of the most striking buildings include No.1 Peking Road and the International Finance Centre.
For the best views of Hong Kong Harbour, make like the local tycoons and take the Escalator through Soho to the Peak. This is the island’s tallest point and home to some eye-wateringly expensive homes. The view costs nothing, however, and you’ll enjoy magnificent views of the harbour and beyond to Kowloon.
Fair for Frankfurt
The centre of international finance on continental Europe, Frankfurt is also home to top trade shows such as the Frankfurt Auto Show and Frankfurt Book Fair. The seat of the European Central Bank, Frankfurt Stock Exchange and German Federal Bank, the city is hugely important to European and world finance. It’s also a historic city and though much of its architecture was damaged during the Second World War, restoration work has returned many buildings to their former glory.
The Financial District, or Bankenviertel, is located in the city centre with its most famous building being the Börse, Germany’s stock exchange. The Börse was founded in 1585 and the current building opened in the 1870s – you’ll need to book a tour at least 24 hours in advance but it’s worth it to watch the dealers at work on the trading floors below.
The area is packed with skyscrapers, the most striking of which include the Deutsche Bank Twin Towers and the Trianon. Don’t miss the Messeturm and Festhalle, two mighty structures close to the Bankenviertel – standing in front of them is the moving statue known as the Hammering Man, which offers a great photo opportunity.