How quickly can you visit every borough in London?
I've had a go to find out.
By 'visit' I mean 'be present within the borough boundary'. There's no requirement to stand on soil, or get out at a station, merely somehow to pass through. Buses, trains and bikes are fine, as is walking, or indeed driving (or minicabbing or whatever). For example, taking the Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris would tick off six London boroughs, even though the train doesn't stop.
Ollie O'Brien's completed the whole thing in 9 hours 25 minutes, approximately half the distance on a bike and half on trains. He made things much harder by adding a rule requiring a photo of a street sign with each borough's name on it, so 9½ hours is damned good going. But I attempted the simple version, no photos, no collateral, just a lot of dashing about.
I suspect a large proportion of Londoners have never even visited every London borough during their lifetime. Bexley's really far-flung if you live in Harrow, and Sutton's a very long way from Enfield, so why would they have done? I have of course visited every London borough countless times, but this time my aim was to visit all 33 in a day. With a bit of planning I hoped it would be possible in under eight hours... and it was.
How to visit every London borough in 7 hours, 13 minutes
Train 1:Romford → Forest Gate
I started in Romford, because Havering's one of the awkward out-of-the-way boroughs. One day Crossrail will cross a dozen boroughs on its way to the other side of town, but I had to make do with ageing TfL Rail stock on a shorter track instead. That said, I'd ticked off Barking & Dagenham and Redbridge within four minutes, and Newham shortly afterwards, so it was an excellent start. Time elapsed: 18m. Boroughs so far: 4
Train 2:Wanstead Park → Blackhorse Road
Rather than continue into town, and miss out on nearby Waltham Forest, I interchanged to the Overground via a brief walk between Forest Gate and Wanstead Park. It's all very well speeding ahead, but strategy dictates it's important to pick up outlying boroughs while in the vicinity. The morning peak had just faded, so my train wasn't too crowded. Time elapsed: 41m. Boroughs so far: 5
Train 3:Blackhorse Road → Finsbury Park
Time for the first underground section of my journey. I knew I'd be travelling through Haringey, because that's where Tottenham Hale is, but I couldn't be certain about other boroughs without checking on a decent map. I used OpenStreetMap to confirm that the Victoria line passes under Woodberry Down, which took care of Hackney, and that Finsbury Park station is marginally inside Islington. Time elapsed: 50m. Boroughs so far: 8
Train 4:Finsbury Park → Southgate
It wouldn't be a proper challenge without some kind of major disruption, and here I discovered that the Piccadilly line was operating with 'Severe delays'. Thankfully I hopped almost immediately on a northbound train, because the next one was over 20 minutes away. North of Bounds Green all the stations are in Enfield, but there is a brief section between Arnos Grove and Southgate where the Piccadilly line curves into Barnet, and that did me. Time elapsed: 1h 7m. Boroughs so far: 10
Train 5:Southgate → King's Cross St Pancras
I had a very long wait for this train, thanks to a trespasser at the other end of the line, which didn't help. Doubling back through boroughs previously visited is also never a good use of time. But just beyond the disused York Road station I entered Camden, so that was one extra. Time elapsed: 1h 46m. Boroughs so far: 11
Train 6:King's Cross St Pancras → Eastcote
Hurrah for the Metropolitan line speeding out into peripheral suburbs. I got lucky and an Uxbridge train turned up almost immediately, taking me into Westminster, then back into Camden, then on into Brent. Obviously Harrow-on-the-Hill is in Harrow, and then I had to stay on the train until Eastcote to make sure I'd been to Hillingdon - one of the harder to reach boroughs. Time elapsed: 2h 30m. Boroughs so far: 15
Train 7:Eastcote → Acton Town
Time for my third journey on the Piccadilly line, which by now was behaving itself a little better. Heading back into town the line eventually entered Ealing, just south of Alperton. If only Piccadilly line trains stopped at Turnham Green I'd have alighted there, but they don't, so I had to change at Acton Town. Time elapsed: 3h. Boroughs so far: 16
Train 8:South Acton → Kew Gardens
Somehow I'd arrived at Acton Town during a half hour gap with no District line trains, which forced me to change my plans and yomp to South Acton for the Overground instead. Thankfully I knew which way to walk, and got there just in time. But then Gunnersbury was in Hounslow and Kew Gardens was in Richmond, and I was now over halfway through my borough list. Time elapsed: 3h 31m. Boroughs so far: 18
Train 9:Kew Gardens → Earl's Court
Switching to the District line for my return journey, I picked up Hammersmith & Fulham (just after Stamford Brook) and Kensington & Chelsea (just after West Kensington). Time elapsed: 3h 55m. Boroughs so far: 20
Train 10:Earl's Court → Wimbledon
The Wimbledon branch was similarly productive, covering Wandsworth (once the Thames was crossed) and Merton (just before Wimbledon Park). Time elapsed: 4h 22m. Boroughs so far: 22
Train 11:Wimbledon→ New Malden Train 12:New Malden→ Wimbledon Kingston is the bête noire of this challenge, being a borough devoid of Underground and light rail services, and connected to central London only via rail lines through Raynes Park. To reach its innermost station I caught a train from Wimbledon to New Malden, then headed straight back again, thankfully wasting only half an hour in the process. Time elapsed: 4h 51m. Boroughs so far: 23
Train 13:Wimbledon→ West Croydon
It was time for a tram, because that's a decent way to grab awkward Sutton. The line slices the edge of the borough from Beddington Lane to Therapia Lane, and that's good enough for this challenge. My tram then obviously continued to Croydon, another outlying beastie, and suddenly there were only eight boroughs to go. Time elapsed: 5h 23m. Boroughs so far: 25
Train 14:West Croydon→ Shadwell
I had an annoyingly maximal wait at West Croydon, but the Overground north provided another profitable run. Anerley and Penge West earned me Bromley, then came five stations in Lewisham, and at Surrey Quays I entered Southwark. I then continued under the river to Shadwell, having deliberately skipped Tower Hamlets earlier because I knew it'd be easier to collect it here. Time elapsed: 6h 11m. Boroughs so far: 29
Train 15:Shadwell→ Bank
One stop on the DLR grabbed the City of London, another borough I'd skirted but skipped previously. Time elapsed: 6h 19m. Boroughs so far: 30
Train 16:Bank→ Waterloo
The last central borough I'd somehow not quite been to was Lambeth, but thankfully the Waterloo & City line existed to whisk me there. I didn't run at any point in this challenge, but if I had I could have caught a fractionally earlier W&C train, and then caught an earlier final train and finished the whole challenge in under seven hours. So it rolls. Time elapsed: 6h 31m. Boroughs so far: 31
Train 17:Waterloo East→ Abbey Wood
The last two boroughs I had to mop up were Greenwich and Bexley. This wasn't ideal because I'd been very close to Greenwich half an hour ago, indeed I'm certain I didn't find the optimal way to tackle this challenge. But a quick walk to Waterloo East offered a choice of three routes to reach both boroughs on a suburban service, and the first departure took me to Abbey Wood. I should have waited for the second, to Falconwood, because that would have been quicker. By now I'd hit the evening peak and the train was unpleasantly crowded. Interestingly the platforms at Abbey Wood are in Greenwich, and only by walking up to the ticket hall did I finally enter Bexley and stop the clock. But that was all of London's 33 boroughs visited in 7 hours 13 minutes, which I'm going to declare as a record until told otherwise. There are definitely cheaper and more interesting ways to spend a day. But go on, beat that. Time elapsed: 7h 13m. Boroughs so far: 33