How could this happen that I still don’t have a blog about London landmarks living in the capital of Great Britain and calling it home? Well, the truth has to be told: I might be a bit afraid to choose only a few spots that enter my list.
But at the end of the day it wasn’t very hard to choose 10 top landmarks (although I’d add a few more – maybe in the second part?) as they would win any vote by a landslide.
Of course, you know London well even if you haven’t visited it yet. It’s one of the most visited cities of the world (usually it’s in the top-3) and one of the largest cities of Europe (it’s surpassed only by Istanbul, Turkey, and Moscow, Russia), founded in 47AD and known as Londinium at its Roman past, the largest urban economy of Europe, with a population of 9 mln now and has 4 separate UNESCO acclaimed sites. Meet the best landmarks there!
1. Buckingham palace
Buckingham Palace is an unmissable gem of London so no wonder it comes first in my list. It’s been a royal residence since 1837 when Queen Victoria chose it as her seat, however the building itself has been a townhouse of Duke of Buckingham before it was acquired by King George III in 1761. For most of the year you can admire it only from the outside, but the State rooms are usually open for a few months.
There are many highlights to admire (unfortunately, photography is limited inside) including the art collection, the Marble Hall, the Throne room, the Music room, and the Ballroom. Apart from the state rooms, you can visit Garden Café with drinks, sandwiches and snacks, and have a walk in the garden.
Also you can explore more of the royal history inside the Royal Mews: from Windsor Greys and Cleveland Bays horses and magnificent carriages to the modern era with cars. For instance, you’ll get a chance to admire the Gold State Coach that has been used for every single coronation for over 250 years.
2. Trafalgar square
Trafalgar Square is another must-visit place in London. From the 14th century this space has been occupied by the Great Mews stabling’ courtyard of the Whitehall Palace but it was remade into the square by John Nash in the first part of the 19th century.
Step by step it acquired the look it has today: the National Gallery opened its doors, then Admiral Nelson column dedicated to the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), the fountains and mermaids, dolphins, and tritons and the huge bronzed lions were added to it. Now’s a busy and always crowded spot where many festivals take place.
3. Elizabeth tower and Houses of Parliament
If you say London, you visualise Big Ben, right? Well, the Houses of Parliament and Elizabeth Tower (former St Stephen’s Tower that was renamed in 2012 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II which is often incorrectly called the Big Ben) are unmissable symbols of London.
The old mediaeval Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire almost completely (apart from Westminster Hall, St Stephen’s Cloister and the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft) in 1834, and new Houses of Parliament were erected in 1837-1860 under the guidance of architects Barry and Pugin. I was pretty lucky to visit the parts of it which are not opened to tourists a few years ago, and the inside are quite puzzling: there are normal offices and historical halls survived the fire altogether under one roof!
Actually Big Ben is the nickname of a huge bell inside the Elizabeth Tower that weighs over 13 tons and rang for the first time in 1859. It went under a massive refurbishment in 2017 and the clock dial was repainted into its original Prussian blue colour.
4. Hyde park
Hyde park is probably the most famous of the eight royal parks of London. Once it belonged to Westminster Abbey but Henry VIII chose it as a hunting ground for himself in 1536. It was opened to the public a century later and became very popular. If you’ve heard about the Crystal Palace that was erected as part of The Great Exhibition in 1851, it took place in Hyde park too! Hyde Park also becomes a site of gatherings for any important state events, for instance, for royal weddings or funerals.
Today you can do so many things there too: have a boat ride along the Long Water lakes, eat at the Serpentine, dine at the waterside cafe, listen to a concert, admire the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, have a picnic or visit Speakers’ Corner, a spot for lively discussions. In the winter months it also hosts the Winter Wonderland.
5. Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London
Everyone who has ever learnt English as a foreign language, would probably remember that ‘If the Tower of London’ ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it’. So, what’s the Tower of London? It’s an ancient palace near Thames, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that served as a royal residence until the 17th century, prison, menagerie and now museum.
William I the Conqueror has started erecting a keep in London after his coronation, and now we know it as the White Tower (1078), the very heart of the Tower. Now it’s surrounded by other towers and fortifications, the walls and the moat that used to be filled with water from the Thames.
As you likely know, the Tower was not only the royal prison for the political criminals but also a place for the execution, and Thomas More (1535), Anne Boleyn (1536, second wife of Henry VIII) and Lady Jane Grey (aka Queen for nine days) and her husband (1554) are among those executed here.
Of course, you won’t miss the crown jewels and regalia that are on display here, the armoury and the yeoman warders, or “beefeaters”, in Tudor uniforms!
6. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is a true gem of Gothic architecture and an unmissable slice of British history in the very heart of London. It was founded in 960, but the current building mostly dates back to the mid-13th century and has been rebuilt a few times after that.
It has been a site for all the royal coronations since 1066 and has served as the royal burial site for the 30 kings and queens including Henry III, Henry V, Henry VII, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, George II, Charles II, William III and Mary II, and Queen Anne. The rest of them are buried in the St George’s chapel, Windsor Castle.
When visiting, admire the endless beauty of the Lady chapel, spot the Coronation Chair used to the coronations for 7 centuries, and pay a visit to the tombs or memorial sights of famous poets, writers, musicians, scientists, explorers, and political leaders including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, Laurence Olivier, George Frederic Handel, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, David Livingstone, and Rudyard Kipling.
7. Tower bridge
Tower Bridge is a relatively new landmark for London compared to the Tower or Westminster Abbey however it became so popular that it’s even called the London bridge by some tourists! It’s a movable bridge (so it can still be raised to let the ships through the Thames) built in Neo-Gothic style in 1886 – 1894. It’s length is about 240m, and each tower has a height of 65 metres.
Can you imagine that when it was under construction it’s even mocked by people because some thought it was ugly? It’s suitable both for car traffic and for pedestrians, and moreover you can use the upper walkways too! Pay a visit to the Tower Bridge Exhibition with the materials about the history and the people behind the Tower bridge too.
8. London eye
London eye is located on the South Bank of Thames and is a 135 metres high observation wheel which has been the highest in the world upon its construction in 1999. Initially it was called the Millennium Wheel but the London Eye quickly stuck to this ferris wheel. Now you can see it from so many points of view from the city!
There are 32 capsules aka cabins for the 25 passengers (each for each borough of the Greater Lonson), and the slow speed allows to embark and disembark without stopping the wheel. In a nice day you can observe the panorama of up to 40km – and this is the landmark I suggest as a must to my friends to visit in London because you just have the best London skyline to observe!
9. Piccadilly Circus
Once there was Portugal Street and tailor Robert Baker was the owner of Piccadilly Hall, where the piccadills, or different collars, were sold. Later the whole area became known as Piccadilly, and Piccadilly Circus was an open round space built in 1819 to connect Regent Street and Piccadilly.
Now it’s a Mecca for all tourists in central London, mainly because of the statue of Anteros (Greek god of requited love, not Eros!) as a part of Memorial Fountain to Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury who eliminated child’s labour in the country, and the illuminated advertising screens. Illumination on this spot dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, and now it’s an amazing piece of advanced technology consisting only of the 4K LED digital screens.
10. The Shard
What would Anna choose as the 10th spot? Would it be St Paul’s Cathedral or the Gherkin? Or, maybe, Kew Gardens? No, I’d go for The Shard of Glass! This is a fantastic 72-storey skyscraper designed by Renzo Piano and constructed in 2009-2012, the tallest building in the UK!
On the lower floors there are offices, and on the upper floors there are a few restaurants including Aqua Shard, Oblix, Ting and Hutong, five-star luxury hotel Shangri-La and the observational desk named simply The View from the Shard. I’d personally recommend you to plan a visit for an afternoon tea with a view (if you’re lucky to have a clear day, the views are unforgettable!)
Read more about Great Britain on my website too!
Hope you enjoyed my blog!