Instead of despairing when the next Tube strike hits, Londoners should slip on their walking shoes and experience the pleasures of a long, slow look at their city
Tube strikes can be a good thing. No, really. The last time the Tube drivers decided to have a day off, I had an unavoidable appointment at our London office. Reluctantly, I boarded an earlier train, made sure I was wearing comfortable shoes and pointed myself at London. As I was convinced that a walk across the city from Paddington to Tottenham Court Road was roughly equivalent to, I don't know, doing the Three Peaks run, it was all I could do to refrain from packing some sandwiches, a water bottle and plasters for blisters. So, instead of the usual dive for the welcoming embrace of London Underground – a journey on automatic pilot where the only entertainment is provided by London's many fine copywriters – I headed for the unfamiliar territory of the streetscape.

Emerging from the cacophony of the station concourse, I bypassed a taxi queue longer than a politician's nose, where the grumblings and mutterings of upright suits led to a very un-British jostling for position, which in turn threatened to erupt into fisticuffs. Avoiding the distraction of this imminent entertainment, I discovered that the scrummage in the streets was little better. The bus stops on Praed Street were swamped by hordes of people – they reminded me of those villagers clinging to their roofs in the recent floods. The tides of people ignored niceties such as zebra crossings, forcing buses and taxis to move at a pedestrian crawl. From a satellite, it must have resembled multicoloured mud oozing through the streets.

Fighting my way to the comparative calm of the streets beyond, I headed east, my trusty A to Z clutched in one hand. Now, that part of London may not be the most distinctive, the wealthiest or indeed the most run down, but my progress through the streets south of Regent's Park was continually interrupted by architecture and diverted by unexpected sights. There was a Tudor pub leaning drunkenly against a snooty Georgian townhouse – three hundred years of architecture arm-in-arm. Then came the Victorian contribution – boy, did they believe in decoration! Brickwork facades with corbels and colour and geometric patterns; railings with curlicues and viciously spiked spears; rococo embellishments sprouting across a stone front like a fungal disease.

It was all I could do not to pack sandwiches, a water bottle and plasters for blisters

Then there are the modern interventions – sublime and otherwise. Some are restrained, elegant additions to the historic fabric, taking their cue in mass and height from 18th-century neighbours, yet remaining decidedly modern – sleek stainless steel, lightly tinted glazing and those ubiquitous venetian blinds. Some are defiantly different, with smooth glass abutting rumpled brick, and some – perhaps trying too hard to please their neighbours – are a poor pastiche of a once sought-after style.

Blue plaques – there's another fascinating distraction. One of these remembers an architect named George Street (not, rather disappointingly, on George Street itself) and I passed commemorations of Edward Lear, Simon Bolivar and Wilkie Collins. These plaques give you an insight into the social history of the city, the people who lived and worked together and perhaps met for a glass at that drunken Tudor pub. Once you start thinking about it, you never know who might have lived around the next corner … Londoners themselves are endlessly fascinating: the tramp with a collection of shopping trolleys in well-groomed park; immaculate West End ladies with their immaculate pekineses; the Italian cafe owner ferociously arguing with his supplier over a late delivery (poor bloke – the streets were choked with traffic – what was he supposed to do – airdrop the ciabattas?).