10 Interesting And Famous Historical Buildings In London
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With over 27 million visitors each year, UK’s capital has been given the title of the most visited city in Europe. London is known for its diversity, in terms of culture, attractions, sights, famous buildings and activities. It caters to all types of people, with all types of interests. The city is iconic for many things and has been summarized by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “a city [that] perfectly combines history, heritage, arts, and culture, not to mention vast amounts of green space and major events that are the envy of the planet”.
The city aims to welcome 40 million annual visitors by 2025. Plans to invest in the city’s tourism infrastructure will hopefully encourage the ‘Big Smoke’ to increase its deeply cosmopolitan and exotic dynamism, ensuring it maintains its place as one of the world’s most international cities.
The history of London is rich, dating all the way over 2000 years and beginning with the Romans. Founded by the Romans in 43AD, London initially became a vital city in Roman Britain. Although little remains from this period in time aside from a few Roman ruins, the history that presides from Roman occupation is immense. Once the Romans had departed from the city, the site of the Romans waned until the Norman conquest of Alfred the Great. He increased the city’s importance until it was established as the Capital of England.
The city of London is rife with history, which is engrained in its famous buildings, architecture, and atmosphere. Upon visiting the city, visitors often flock to the sites that are the most famous attractions of the UK’s capital. We have compiled a mixture of the city’s best attractions, combined with some obscure but equally as important sites. Here are the most interesting and famous historical buildings in London:
The history of Westminster Abbey is rich. The first noted coronation here was that of William the Conqueror in 1066. The most recent was that of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2nd, 1953, which was also the first time a coronation was open for the public to witness.
The present church that stands was built by Henry III in 1245, and by the 16th century in Tudor times, the Abbey had become infamous for coronations, funerals, and royal marriages. It’s an iconic medieval structure, which attracts millions of visitors every year. They come here to pay homage to an influential figure or to the royal family. From Sir Isaac Newton to Jane Austen and Anne of Cleves – an endless list of famous figures buried here.
Westminster Abbey is also the place of royal weddings, as the tradition goes back hundreds of years. Most recently, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge married at the Abbey in 2011, in which nearly a billion people tuned in worldwide.
The church is open six days a week, however, on Sundays, the church conducts service for worshippers.
Tip: The Abbey is open later on a Wednesday and closes at 6 pm for visitors. If you want to avoid the chaotic hours, visiting on a Wednesday evening is a good idea. Get your tickets here.
How to Get There?
Westminster Underground Station is the closest, and all of London’s hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses have stops outside
Address: 20 Deans Yd, London, SW1P 3PA. Facing the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
The administrative hub of the monarchy, Buckingham Palace is a family home and has housed the sovereign for centuries. The Palace’s history can be traced back to the reign of James I in the early 17th century until it was given to John Sheffield in 1698. He was later known as the Duke of Buckingham and consequently gave the house its name. Upon his stay in Buckingham Palace, John Sheffield demolished the house to remodel it, costing a little of £7,000.
Until the year 1762, the house remained the property of the Dukes of Buckingham. At that year, George III acquired the site for his wife, Queen Charlotte, and their children. This is how Buckingham Palace became known as the “Queen’s House”.
In February 1845, Queen Victoria moved into the Palace, eight years after she ascended to the throne. Queen Victoria made some architectural changes to the palace, as she complained about the lack of space. In 1855, the architect James Pennethorne added the Concert and Ballroom. The present forecourt of the Palace, which is where the Changing of the Guard takes place, was formed in 1911 as part of the Victoria Memorial scheme. Queen Elizabeth II moved into the palace in 1953 after the death of her father King George VI.
Buckingham Palace is one of the most famous buildings of London. It is open to the public during the summer months. Guests can visit 19 of the 775 rooms in the Palace and also take a walk through the garden. This is where the Queen holds her annual garden parties.
Tip: Look at what time the Changing of the Guard Ceremony takes place and book your tour tickets accordingly. This way you will get a perfectly positioned view of the guard ceremony.
How to Get There?
The closest national rail station is Victoria. The closest underground stations are the Victoria Line, Green Park, and Hyde Park Corner.
Buses 11, 211, C1 and C10 all stop nearby.
Address: London SW1A 1AA
The birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria, Kensington Palace, was a popular residence of successive sovereigns until 1760.
It is located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London. Today it is the official London residence of a few royal couples. To name a few: the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent. One of the most beloved and famous residents of Kensington Palace was Diana Princess of Wales. She had an apartment in the palace from 1981-1997.
Nowadays, the building is open to the public. Visitors (get your ticket here) can step back in time to the childhood of Queen Victoria. From reading historical extracts around the home to seeing how she grew up to be the ruler of the country. More recently, is the Palace’s newest exhibition – titled Diana: Her Fashion Story. This exhibition allows the public to marvel at the best fashion moments of the Princess; From the demure, romantic, glamorous, and elegant appearances she made in the fashion world.
Tip: The Palace often hosts events on special days. If you want to see or be involved in these special exhibitions (free of charge), prepare your visit in advance.
How to Get There?
The Queensway Underground Station (Central Line) is opposite the main entrance to Kensington Gardens. It’s a 5–10-minute walk past the Princess Diana Children’s Playground to the palace itself.
Address: Kensington Gardens, London W8 4PX
Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum (IWM) is a British National Museum that has five branches, three of which are in London. Founded as the IWM in 1917, the museum dedicated its time to record the civil and military sacrifices of Britain and its Empire during World War One. Since then, the museum has devoted its time to exploring global conflicts, historical and ongoing.
The exhibition in the museum covers various historical events. From world wars to the Holocaust, and military, political, and gender issues throughout history. The collections of the museum are vast and rich, and its main aim is to educate and understand the effects and impact of war upon people’s lives.
The Imperial War Museum is home to some emotional and traumatizing exhibitions that expose the dark reality of history. The most notable one is the Holocaust exhibition which isn’t recommended for under 14s. However, the museum makes history fun for children too through their interactive, child-friendly exhibitions such as the reconstruction trenches of World War One.
Tip: Ensure you have at least 3 hours free to explore the museum in its entirety!
How to Get There?
It’s a short walk from Lambeth North (7 mins), Elephant & Castle (10 mins), and Waterloo Station (14 mins).
The 344 and 360 bus routes are also near, and the C17 cycle superhighway runs past the museum.
Address: Lambeth Rd, London SE1 6HZ
Houses of Parliament
Also known as the Palace of Westminster, The Houses of Parliament serves the purpose of meeting place to both houses of UK parliament and has had a long history of administrative control in Britain.
It was built in 1045 by Edward the Confessor at the same time as Westminster Abbey, and originally, the building was the residence of England’s monarchs. The Houses of Parliament hosted an array of important state trials, including those of Sir Thomas More, King Charles I, and William Wallace. The building was also blown up by Guy Fawkes during the Gunpowder plot of 1605.
Today, the Houses of Parliament conducts regular sessions, debates, and committee meetings, and Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) happen every Wednesday at 12 pm. Visitors are welcome and can access the building through various guided tours.
Tip: The other side of Parliament Square has a free permanent exhibition and a basement café that’s worth visiting.
How to Get There?
Underground lines to District, Circle, or Jubilee lines go to Westminster station.
Address: London SW1A 0AA
The Tower of London
Located on the north bank of the River Thames, the Tower of London has played an integral role in the role of English history.
Originally known as the White Tower, the building was produced by William the Conqueror the first Norman King, and construction was underway by the 1070s. Initially designed as a fortress-stronghold, this changed at the beginning of the late 19th century.
The Tower was also a residence for the monarchs of England but is known for its more infamous use as a prison, and was home to prisoners for over 850 years. From Ranulf Flambard (the Bishop of Durham), East London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray to Elizabeth I – the Tower held a number of infamous prisoners.
Seven people were executed at the tower, including Anne Boleyn, but today is a place to soak up a bit of history. Visitors (Get your tickets here) can see the beefeaters, ravens, and the execution site of Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey. The Tower of London is also a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most famous buildings in London.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to talk to the staff. They are full of knowledge and can provide an insight into the history of the tower.
How to Get There?
The tower is located within walking distance of London Bridge Street Station, Liverpool Street Station, and London Charring Cross Station. Close underground stations include Tower Hill Station, for the District, and Circe Lines.
Address: London EC3N 4AB
The London Mithraeum
One of the oldest buildings to ever be discovered in London, The London Mithraeum, was built around 240 CE and was discovered and excavated by renowned archeologist W.F Grimes in 1954. Grimes was the director of the Museum of London at the time.
The building is one of the few remnants left from the Roman Empire’s time in London and is now open to the public so people can relive the experience, mystery, and intrigue of the Roman cult of Mithras, who used to meet at this exact spot. At the site, artifacts like the marble statues of the Roman gods such as Minerva and Mercury, have been discovered, and this even includes over 400 wooden writing tablets, the earliest financial document from London.
Tip: As the exhibit is free, the building is extremely popular. To avoid this, it’s best to book your ticket well in advance.
How to Get There?
Overground trains to get to the Mithraeum include Southwestern Railway and using the underground line the closest stop is Circle. Bus routes include the numbers 11, 141, 15, and 207.
Address: 12 Walbrook, London EC4N 8AA
A world-famous museum, renowned for its dedication to history and culture, the British Museum is one of the world’s foremost museums of history and anthropology.
The origin of the museum begins with naturalist and physicist Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), who had an impressive collection of over 71,000 objects. Following his death, Sloane bequeathed it to King George II for £20,000, and on June 7th, 1753, the British Museum was established alongside the Cottonian and Harleian Libraries.
The British Museum has a famous Egyptian collection. In this collection, a 2nd century BC Rosetta Stone, which was key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics upon its discovery in the late 18th century. Visitors can explore the treasures of Sutton Hoo, the ‘Islamic World’ exhibition, and an extra 50 galleries. You can tour the museum by yourself (get your tickets here) or book a private tour that is led by an expert guide and designed around your interests.
Tip: You can listen to exhibition-related podcasts before you enter the museum and look around the galleries.
How to Get Here?
The four closest tube stations are Tottenham Court Road (5-minute walk), Holborn (7-minute walk), Russell Square (7-minute walk), and Goodge Street (8-minute walk). There are also bicycle racks available outside the museum.
Address: Great Russell St, London WC1B 3DG
A Grade I listed building on the National Heritage List for England, Spencer House was commissioned in 1756 by John Spencer, who later became the first Earl Spencer. Choosing John Vardy as his architect, he created the facades of the mansion that still stands today. In 1758, James “Athenian” Stuart replaced Vardy, and added authentic Greek details to the internal decoration, and was the first building of neoclassical style.
The building became the home of successive Earls and Countesses Spencer, and they occupied the mansion until 1859. To this day the house remains under the ownership of the Earls Spencer. Currently, the titleholder of the house is Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer who is the brother of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Spencer House is open to the public for tours, as the estate boasts a superb art collection, and has one of the most influential neoclassical interiors of 18th century England.
Tip: Spencer House is open to visitors, but only on a Sunday, so ensure to book in advance.
How to Get There?
The easiest way to get there is to take the tube to Green Park (0.2 miles).
Address: 27 St James’s Place, London SW1A 1NR
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Standing as one of city’s most recognizable sites, St. Paul’s Cathedral has dominated the London skyline for just over 1400 years.
The cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of London, and its original dedication to Paul the Apostle dates to the original church that was founded on the site, to AD 604. Designed by Britain’s most famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren, the cathedral was built between 1675 and 1710. The iconic dome and structure of the building means that the cathedral is frequently at the center of national events and traditions, in addition to the building being a statement structure due to its history and culture.
The most famous events to place at the Cathedral include the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer in 1891; the Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II; and the national mourning of Winston Churchill in 1965.
How to Get There?
The closest underground station to St. Paul’s Cathedral is called “St. Paul’s” on the central line (red), which is a 5-minute walk from the cathedral.
Address: St. Paul’s Churchyard, London EC4M 8AD
The history of London is rich. No matter how much you think you have stomped the historical streets, there are always new sites to spot in the vibrant city, that uncover a story and embedded history in the city.
The history of London has so much to offer. It’s a city that has stood since the earliest period of documented time and most of us are blissfully unaware of the history of each site. If you get a chance to take a tour of London, it’s definitely worth checking out some of the sites on this list!
About the Author
Bruna Pani is a content writer at We Buy Any House, who specializes in producing property-related content.
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Photo credits: “London Mithraeum” by It’s No Game is licensed under CC BY 2.0, “London British Museum” by VIc Lic is licensed under CC BY 2.0, “Spencer House, London” by orangeaurochs is licensed under CC BY 2.0
2 thoughts on “10 Interesting And Famous Historical Buildings In London”
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Good post with some very good historical info. Thanks for putting this list together!