London was founded as Londinium by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago and has been one of the most important cities in the world ever since.
The city combines numerous historical buildings with modern architecture, and in this post, we’ll take a closer look at the top 12 Famous historical sites in London.
Related: Check out these famous historical sites in Rome!
12 Famous historical sites in London
1. Tower of London
The Tower of London is officially known as “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London” and was one of the first castles in England to be constructed after the Norman Conquest in 1066. The castle was named for its infamous White Tower.
The location of the Tower of London is right at the eastern edge of the City of London, the historical center of the city also referred to as “The Square Mile.” It served as a royal residence initially and has also been used as a prison from the 12th century until halfway the 20th century.
The complex consists of multiple buildings and is surrounded by two rings of defensive walls. Numerous famous people have been locked up here, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, including Elizabeth I before she became the Queen of England. Right now, the Tower of London is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.
2. Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is the official residence and administrative headquarters of the monarchy of the United Kingdom. The Palace is located in the City of Westminster, just west of the historical center of the city, the City of London, and directly east to the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea.
The original building was known as the “Buckingham House” and was built for the Duke of Westminster in 1703. It wasn’t until the year 1761 that it became Crown Property when King George III bought it for his Queen Charlotte. it as then referred to as “The Queen’s House.“
It was enlarged with 3 extra wings in the 19th century and became the official royal residence on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. The palace has a total of 775 rooms and the largest garden in London. The State Rooms are sometimes open to the public.
3. Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster is the main meeting place for the parliament of the United Kingdom. This includes both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It lies on the north bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, just to the west of the City of London, right in the center of London. The Westminster Bridge connects the City of Westminster with Southwark just near the complex.
The history of the building dates back to the 11th century when a royal palace was built in its location. It served as the primary residence for the Kings of England since then. It has served as the main meeting place of the Parliament since the 13th century.
The buildings were destroyed by a fire in 1512, were rebuilt only to be destroyed again by a much more severe fire in 1834 with only a few medieval buildings surviving. The building was completely rebuilt in the Gothic Revival style between 1840 and 1876.
4. Big Ben
Big Ben is the nickname of the big bell inside the clock tower located on the north end of the Palace of Westminster. Many people refer to the entire clock tower as “Big Ben” as well.
The clock tower is one of the most famous historical sites in London and has really become a symbol of the city. It was designed by Augustus Pugin in the neo-Gothic style that the entire Palace of Westminster was constructed in. The tower was completed in the year 1859.
It’s not really sure how the biggest of the 5 bells inside the clock tower got its name. Some suggest it was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw its installation, others claim it was named after 19th-century heavyweight boxing champion Benjamin Caunt.
5. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is yet another famous historical building in the City of Westminster. It’s located just west of the Palace of Westminster and is one of the most important religious buildings in the United Kingdom.
The existence of a church in the area goes back to the 7th century at the time of Mellitus, a Bishop of London. The construction of the current building started in the year 1245, on the orders of King Henry III. It as the coronation place for William the COnqueror in 1066 followed by all English and British monarchs that followed him.
One of the most remarkable facts about Westminster Abbey is that it only had the status of a cathedral between 1540 and 1556. After that, it has had the status of a Church of England “Royal Peculiar,” a church responsible directly to the sovereign.
6. Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is one of the most famous squares in all of London and is located in the City of Westminster as well. It has been built around an area that historically has been known as “Charing Cross” and was completed around 1840.
It was built to commemorate the important victory in the “Battle of Trafalgar,” a naval battle fought in 1805 and won by the British over the French and the Spanish during the Napoleonic Wars. It was named after Cape Trafalgar in the south-west of Spain where the battle was fought.
The square is a popular gathering place for demonstrations and other gatherings and is decorated “Nelson’s Column,” a monument dedicated to Admiral Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar. It stands 169 feet (52 meters) tall and is guarded by 4 lions.
7. Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is the most iconic bridge in London. It’s a bascule and suspension bridge and spans the River Thames, close the Tower of London from which it got its name. It connects the City of London with Southwark.
Even though it’s the most famous of all bridges in London, it’s not the oldest and not to be confused with the nearby “London Bridge,” a bridge that was originally built by the Romans who founded the city.
The bridge has two iconic bridge towers which are tied together with horizontal walkways that can be visited. The bridge was opened in the year 1894 and was built in the Gothic style to give it a similar appearance to the nearby Tower of London.
8. St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral serves as the mother church of the Diocese of London and is the cathedral of the Bishop of London. The original church on the site was founded way back in the year 604 A.D. and was dedicated to Paul the Apostle after who the church was named.
The construction of the current church started in the year 1675 and was completed in 1697. It was designed in the English Baroque style and as part of the restructuring plan of the city after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The cathedral is still operative today and has daily services and hourly prayers. It has been the site of the funerals of Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher, as well as the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
9. The Shard
The Shard is the most recent historical sites in London in our list, and it’s also the tallest skyscraper in the city, standing 1,016 feet (309.6 meters) tall. This ensures it’s a prominent landmark that can be seen from just about anywhere in the city center.
It’s located in the Southwark Borough, just south of the City of London bordering the River Thames on the other side. It was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, famously known for his work on the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and was built in the Neo-Futuristic style.
The Shard was completed in 2012 and its design was meant to resemble the spire of a cathedral rising out of the Rover Thames. This would eventually make it blend in with the historical buildings its surrounded by.
10. The Gherkin
The Gherkin is officially known as 30 St Mary Axe and is another recent building that was completed in the year 2004. It’s one of the most remarkable buildings in the city and has become one of the most iconic landmarks in London.
The building was constructed on the former sites of the Baltic Exchange and Chamber of Shipping. These structures were severely damaged by the Baltic Exchange Bombing of 1992 when the Provisional IRA set off a bomb in St Mary Axe, the street the buildings were located in.
The Gherkin has 41 floors and stands 591 feet (180 meters) tall. It was designed by world-renowned architect Norman Foster. It really creates a unique atmosphere as it’s a futuristic skyscraper that is located in a city full of historical buildings.
11. The British Museum
The British Museum is one of the biggest museums in the world and has an astounding 8 million works of art in its permanent collection. Most of this collection was amassed during the glory days of the British Empire and contains works from all corners of the world.
The museum was established in the year 1753 and started with displaying the collection of Irish physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. Over the course of the following two and a half centuries, the collection has been continuously expanded.
The British Museum was the first public museum in the world and has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the United Kingdom. It welcomes nearly 7 million visitors every year, making it one of the biggest museums in the world as well.
12. Marble Arch
Marble Arch is a famous triumphal arch that is now located on the northeast corner of Hyde Park at Cumberland Gate. We say now because it was originally located right in front of Buckingham Palace and formed the triumphal entrance of the palace’s courtyard.
It was originally commissioned by King George IV in 1827 and was completed by his successor King William IV, albeit on a much smaller scale than what King George IV originally had in mind. The arch was completed in the year 1833.
It stood majestically in front of Buckingham Palace for 14 years until it was moved to its current location following the expansion of the palace with the famous east wing. The arch finds itself isolated on a traffic island since the widening of Park Lane in the 1960s.
This concludes our list with the top 12 historical sites in London. As you can see, London is a city with a plethora of historical buildings, ranging from medieval castles, palaces, and cathedrals to modern skyscrapers!