London's Top Historical Attractions

The city of London is peppered with numerous historical buildings making it a dream destination for those who have an interest in history and historical landmarks.

In this article, we take a look at some of London's most popular historic buildings that even today play an important role in the city's life.

Kensington Palace 

Located on the edge of Hyde Park, Kensington Palace has been a royal residence for nearly 300 years now. When it was first built in the 1600s, it was a two-storey mansion. Christopher Wren, the famed English architect who is known for his remarkable designs (The Royal Observatory, Hampton Court, Wren Library and more), was entrusted the task of the expansion of the house and he added pavilions at each of the four corners converting it into the palace that we see today.

Kensington Palace

The palace is currently the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and a few other Royals.

Certain areas of the palace are open to the public by a ticketed entry. An adult ticket at the gate costs £17 while a child's ticket is priced at £8.50. You can purchase tickets from the palace ticket office on the day, in advance or buy them online on the Historic Royal Palaces' website to get a discounted rate. The ticket allows you entry to the State Rooms, special displays and all public areas of the palace and gardens.

The key highlight of your visit to the Kensington Palace would be the King's State Apartments. The rooms are opulent and adorned with paintings, sculptures and other works of art. Some of the rooms you would visit are the Privy Chamber, the Cupola Room, the King's Drawing Room and the King's Gallery. The Queen's State Apartments are currently undergoing renovation and are closed until 31 March 2020.

You would need around a couple of hours to visit the palace. This, of course, depends on how much time you spend in each room looking at all the exhibits and paintings. Seasonal exhibitions and events are also held at the palace and some of these may require a separate ticket.

Tip | Once  you are done with your visit to the Kensington Palace, head to the nearby five-star Baglioni Hotel to experience afternoon tea with an Italian twist.

St Paul's Cathedral

By Ivan from Mind the Travel

One of London’s most iconic buildings, St. Paul’s Cathedral is an incredible blend of resilience, pride, beauty, and opulence. It is as beautiful and huge on the inside as it is on the outside. The venue dates back centuries and its towering dome provides breath-taking panoramic views across London. In fact, it’s the second biggest cathedral in Europe, and it’s a bit of an underrated church in London.

St Paul's Cathedral

If you are attending a daily service at St Paul's Cathedral, there is no charge to enter it. Otherwise, the tickets are a little on the high side. Tickets at the door cost £18 for adults, £16 for students and seniors, and £8 for children. Get special discounts when single-day tickets are purchased in advance online. Ensure you print them out in advance as a paper print of the ticket is required.

If you purchase the tickets in person they come printed on a nice paper that makes a great souvenir. Once you pass the ticketing counter and pick up your audio guide, you have the freedom to wander around pretty much anywhere that is open to the public. It really helps explain what you are exploring. Be sure to set aside at least two or three if you plan to use it. There are also some tours offered throughout the day.

St Paul's is comprised of the ground floor, the crypt, and tower levels. Consider starting on the ground floor first, then tower levels and finishing with the crypt. To access the tower and crypt levels you will need to show your ticket.

If you are able to walk the 250 steps up, explore the Whispering Gallery next. This is the only enclosed part of the dome that overlooks the whole interior of the ground floor and where you can stand at one place on the dome, whisper something quietly and hear clearly what is said in other parts of the gallery. Perfect acoustic experience!

Westminster Abbey

By Lesley from Freedom56Travel

Westminster Abbey is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London and with good reason.  Its historical significance cannot be overstated, and it is one of the most stunning churches in England.

Westminster Abbey has more than 1000 years of history behind it, having been founded by Benedictine monks in 960.  It was initially constructed in the Romanesque style and was the first church in England to be built in the shape of a cross.  The church was significantly added to in the 13th century and became more of the Gothic masterpiece we recognize today.

Westminster Abbey

Every British monarch has celebrated their coronation at Westminster Abbey since 1066 and this ancient building has celebrated 16 royal weddings. There is a lot to see at Westminster Abbey – so much that you could easily spend half a day there and still not see everything.

Westminster Abbey is the final resting place of hundreds of important historical figures in British history.  Among the most interesting are Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton, musicians such as Henry Purcell and Ralph Vaughn Williams, English Royals such as Elizabeth I, Mary I, and Mary Queen of Scots.  Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry VIII, also rests at Westminster Abbey.

One of the most famous areas of Westminster Abbey is the poet’s corner.  Geoffrey Chaucer was the first person buried in this part of the Abbey.  Also commemorated in Poet’s Corner are many other literary giants including Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling and Laurence Olivier. Another amazing thing to see at Westminster Abbey is a copy of the Magna Carta, one of only 24 surviving copies.  A more recent document of note also present in the Abbey is the marriage license for Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

Although no photographs are permitted in the Abbey, they can be taken outside of the Abbey in the Cloisters.  Don’t miss the Pyx Chamber, almost hidden behind extremely thick doors meant to safely store the valuables of the Abbey.

Buckingham Palace

A working royal palace and one of London's most visited attractions, Buckingham Palace was built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 and was originally known as Buckingham House. Additional wings were added to the building in the 19th century and it became the London residence of Queen Victoria in 1837. Since then it has been the official residence for many members of the royal family.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms including 92 offices, 52 principal bedrooms and 19 staterooms many of which are still in use today. Some of the famous rooms include the Throne Room (which has the pair of throne chairs which were used for the coronation ceremony of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh in 1953), the Picture Gallery (housing a selection of beautiful paintings from the Royal Collection), the Blue Drawing Room, the Ballroom (the largest of the State Rooms), the Marble Hall and the White Drawing Room. All the rooms feature beautiful art, fine furniture and treasures from the Royal Collection.

Every summer, the State Rooms are open to visitors for 10 weeks. Because the State Rooms in the palace are open to the public only for a short duration, the tickets often sell out very quickly. So, if you are interested in visiting, it is advisable to book in advance. Tickets can be purchased from the Royal Collection Trust (RCT) website where an adult ticket for the State Rooms is priced at £26.50 while a Royal Day Out ticket (includes admission to the State Rooms, the Royal Mews and The Queen's Gallery) costs £49.00. If you ask RCT to treat your ticket purchase as a donation, then they will stamp your ticket at the end of the tour to convert it into a 1-year pass which makes it a great deal.

Alternately, you can book your Interior Tour of Buckingham Palace with City Wonders. Their tour includes Tour of Buckingham Palace (with the State Rooms), Changing of the Guard and an Afternoon Tea in one of London's top hotels.

Chiswick House

By Faye from Delve into Europe

As you head west out of London towards the M4, more and more green spaces open up. The suburbs of west and south-west London are home to several parks and palaces, from Kew Gardens to Hampton Court. One of the most beautiful of these is Chiswick House and Park, hidden away just behind the main Great West Road.

Chiswick House

It’s worth the journey out of Central London to visit Chiswick House and Gardens as both are among the finest in 18th century England. The House was conceived, designed and built by Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, between 1726 and 1729. The House was built in a style that became known as neo-Palladian, with a Neoclassical portico reminiscent of a Roman temple.

The Veneto architect Andrea Palladio was a huge influence, as was English architect Inigo Jones, best known for building Banqueting House on Whitehall in the centre of London. Boyle even managed to acquire a stone gateway by Jones, which can be seen in the gardens close to the House.

The interior of Chiswick House is spectacular. It was built as a villa where social gatherings could be held, as opposed to a permanent private residence.  There are several seriously plush reception rooms, the most impressive of which is the opulent Blue Velvet Room.

Boyle intended the Gardens to be a re-creation of a Roman garden, but they go well beyond that. His gardener and protégé William Kent wanted a natural-looking garden, shorn of too much formality. It contains elements such as an Ionic Temple, flower gardens and a statue garden, with an avenue of trees leading to the rear of the House. This garden helped inspire the English Landscape Movement.

Together Chiswick House and Gardens are wonderfully harmonious, and they’re a very popular place for Londoners to visit.  

Somerset House

By Lucy from On the Luce

Sitting between the Strand and the River Thames, the impressively grand, Georgian Somerset House is one of London's top hubs for the arts and creative industries. It started life as a riverside palace, built for the Duke of Somerset in 1547 and home to a series of royals over the following centuries. But in 1775 it was knocked down after falling into disrepair and replaced by the current Neoclassical building, with three sides set around a central courtyard.

Somerset House

You can find out more on a free guided tour of its Historical Highlights or its days as an Old Palace. There are also free tours of the building's art studios and film locations. Somerset House is a London film location favourite, featuring on-screen as everything from a St Petersburg square in James Bond film Goldeneye to a Swiss bank in X-Men: First Class.

In real life, the buildings house creative businesses, galleries and restaurants. The Embankment Galleries are devoted to temporary exhibitions, with an eclectic mix of art, photography, design and fashion shows on throughout the year. And the Courtauld Gallery (currently under renovation until the end of 2020) has an impressive selection of paintings going back to the Middle Ages.

In summer Somerset House's courtyard is taken over for its annual Summer Series of concerts and outdoor film screenings. Or you can cool off on a hot day in the 55 dancing fountains in the courtyard. There's also a good selection of places to eat, from coffee shops to restaurants helmed by Michelin-starred chefs.

But winter is my favourite time to visit, when the courtyard is transformed into a festive wonderland, with an ice rink and the centrepiece of a 40-foot Christmas tree. There are pop up Christmas markets, steaming hot chocolate and mulled wine, and late-night skating featuring sets from international DJs.

Tower of London

Built on the banks of the River Thames by William I (the first Norman King of England) in 1078, the Tower of London is an imposing structure that is known for its grisly history. Since it was built, it has served various purposes and has been used as a royal residence, a treasury, an armoury, the Royal Mint, a prison and even a zoo!

Tower of London

In terms of architecture, the Tower is an excellent example of a medieval fortress palace and has been well-maintained thus offering a glimpse into the life of a medieval monarch. There is a lot to see at the Tower and you can easily spend half a day to take in everything. The Tower is managed by Historic Royal Palaces and you can buy your entry tickets online (saves you 10%). The ticket gives you entry to all the public areas of the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels (very popular with visitors), the popular Yeoman Warder tours (where the ‘Beefeaters’ share graphic tales of imprisonment, execution and much more) and some activity trails for the young ones. During your visit, you can also meet the famous ravens at the Tower of London. These ravens are considered the guardians of the Tower and story goes that if the resident ravens ever leave the fortress, then the Tower of London will fall!

Houses of Parliament

By Jill from Jetset Journeys

One of the most famous government buildings on earth, nobody would come to London and not see Houses of Parliament and Big Ben from the outside. But the real wonder of the place is only revealed if you take a tour of the interior.

Located at Parliament Square, where you’ll also find Westminster Abbey, St Margaret’s Church, and the Jewel Tower, the Houses of Parliament is officially called the Palace of Westminster – and Big Ben is the name for the bell that’s housed inside the Elizabeth Tower (originally called the Clock Tower), but everyone in London just calls them Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. (It’s worth noting that you can’t visit Big Ben. It’s undergoing extensive renovations, but even before they began, the only people allowed to visit were British citizens who had to arrange it through their MP.)

The neo-gothic Parliament building you see now was completed in 1870, rebuilt after a fire destroyed the previous buildings in 1834 – only the 14th century Jewel Tower survived. But the site itself was used for government purposes since the 11th century.

If you think the exterior is impressive, wait until you step inside. Every room is lavishly decorated, from the Queen’s Robing Room – where she puts on the official regalia and robes for her parliamentary duties – to the House of Lords. The exception is the House of Commons, which was destroyed by bombs in the Second World War, so was rebuilt in a simpler style in the renowned British architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1940s.

Officially knowns as the Commons Chamber, this is where most of the important government decisions are made by the Members of Parliament (MPs) who come here to debate – often quite loudly – and to vote on government policies and laws. When not debating, MPs offices are scattered throughout the Houses of Parliament, so you might see them scurrying between meetings on your tour.

Audio tour options are available in multiple languages, but if you speak English, it is well worth doing the English guided tour. The guides share all sorts of interesting insights and gossip that might not be suitable for a recorded audio version. Note that you can only visit on Saturdays normally, but when Parliament is in recess, but bear in mind these are somewhat changeable - you can also visit on weekdays, which can be quieter.

British citizens can get free tours of Parliament by writing to their MP, but all other adults – including British citizens without an MP-arranged tour - have to pay. Children under five go free, although they will be baffled by most of the tour. Each paying adult can take a child aged 5-15 for free, and teenagers who are studying any sort of government or history at school will probably find it fascinating.

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