London is a beautiful city to visit with so much on offer. England’s capital is well known for being home to quirky bars, fun foodie pop-ups, cultural spots and, of course, historic places. The last is one of the reasons why history buffs like me love visiting London. Steeped in history and brimming with architectural marvels, you will find some of the world’s most iconic historical buildings in London.
From the medieval castles to the Gothic and Victorian buildings, these London historic sites whisper stories of the city’s evolution over the centuries. The famous buildings in London give you an insight into the lives of the people who lived there or even designed them. I found myself entranced by these historical landmarks of London that are spread across the city – from the banks of the River Thames to its bustling streets. And this is why I say, London is for history lovers.
In this blog post, I will be sharing the best historical buildings in London that you should not miss. Some of these are the oldest buildings in London and have very interesting stories attached to them. You will also find the UNESCO World Heritage sites in London included in the list along with tips on visiting them. So, let us embark on this journey of historical things to do in London.
Heading to London for a visit? Check these quick links to help you with your trip
In case you are looking for some quick links to tours, places to stay and travel accessories for your London trip, you can consider using these online options.
- Check these hotels in London on Booking.com. You will find a complete range – from budget to mid-priced ones and luxury hotels.
- Here are some good Airbnb options in London that might make your stay comfortable and affordable.
- There are several tours and tickets to attractions that can be booked online through GetYourGuide. Here are five of them that are highly rated and recommended.
- Viator.com too, has a lot of options for booking entrance tickets and tours within the city. You can use this link to browse through their offers.
- For any of your travel needs or general shopping, consider using Amazon through this link.
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- 1 A brief history of London
- 2 Historic Places in London
- 2.1 Buckingham Palace – one of the most popular historical buildings in London
- 2.2 Westminster Abbey
- 2.3 Palace of Westminster aka The Houses of Parliament
- 2.4 HMS Belfast – one of the London historical sites
- 2.5 Tower Bridge
- 2.6 Big Ben – one of the most popular landmark buildings in London
- 2.7 Ham House
- 2.8 London Mithraeum – one of the oldest buildings in London
- 2.9 The British Museum
- 2.10 Eltham Palace – one of the hidden London historic sites
- 2.11 St. Bride’s church – the 2nd oldest church in London
- 2.12 The Tower of London – one of the prime UNESCO World Heritage Sites in London
- 2.13 Kensington Palace
- 2.14 St. Paul’s Cathedral
- 2.15 Highgate Cemetery
- 3 Common FAQS about the historical tours in London
A brief history of London
The earliest history of London goes back 2,000 years to the age of the Romans. Founded in 43 AD, this city was called Londinium and it prospered as a trade and commerce center under Roman rule. It was during this time that the London Wall was built as a defensive structure. This wall is one of the historical places in London that survived for almost 1600 years. In fact, even today, it is still roughly the perimeter of the city.
The Saxons and the Vikings invaded London after the fall of the Roman Empire. From them, the Normans took over and that is when the iconic buildings of London like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey were built. Many important institutions, including the guilds (which regulated trade and industry) and the Inns of Court (which trained lawyers), became popular during the Medieval period. This was the time when London grew as a center for religion, with many churches, monasteries, and other religious institutions.
It was during the Middle Ages that London was hit by several outbreaks of the plague, including the devastating Black Death in the 14th century, which killed thousands of people. The city was also the site of several uprisings, including the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. This city in fact, has several devastating incidents like the Great Fire of 1666, which destroyed much of the city, and the Blitz during World War II.
Today, London is a vibrant and diverse city that attracts millions of visitors each year. There are so many famous landmarks and UNESCO World Heritage sites. London is also known for its museums, galleries, and theaters, as well as its world-class restaurants and shopping.
Historic Places in London
I still recall the words of my guide in London – “Any new dig in London almost always unearths some historic treasure – be it Roman coins or some medieval artifact.” Now you can imagine the spread of these London historical places. Among these, I will be covering the London heritage sites that you absolutely cannot miss.
The best way to see these monuments is to embark on one of the many heritage tours of the city. These historical tours of London range from walking tours to bike tours and even the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour. I would also, recommend buying the London city card. The card does help you with discounts on transport, entrance fees, and even special shows while you are in the city.
Buckingham Palace – one of the most popular historical buildings in London
Starting off strong, of course, with one of the most iconic buildings in London – the Buckingham Palace. Thousands of tourists flock to this palace every year to see a glimpse of the royals and experience a slice of the British monarchy. Now the King’s official London residence, this stunning historic building has been the home of British monarchs since 1837!
The palace’s State Rooms, filled with master artworks including pieces by Rembrandt and Rubens, are open to the public during the summer months. And let me tell you, this place is huge! With over 700 rooms, it’s like a small city in itself. In fact, there are so many rooms that even a young boy managed to break into the palace not once, not twice, but three times! He even had the audacity to steal Queen Victoria‘s underwear. Talk about a cheeky thief!
Buckingham Palace is also still a fully working royal palace and home to hundreds of staff members who live and work here. The palace has some surprising additions that make life more convenient for everyone. Need to catch a movie? There’s a cinema right there. Feel like taking a dip? Dive into the palace’s pool. Have some mail to send? Visit the post office within the palace grounds. And if you’re feeling unwell, don’t worry, there’s even a clinic. They’ve thought of everything!
The public can pass by the palace to watch the famous Change of Guards ceremony. On most days in the summer, you can take guided tours throughout the house and gardens.
From one royal building to another, Westminster Abbey is a stunning and iconic royal church situated right in the heart of London. Many people will have seen the beautiful view of the abbey on TV for notable events and royal occasions such as William and Kate’s wedding and the state funeral of Elizabeth II. As well as its links to royalty, the church is one of those medieval buildings in London filled with stories. In fact, it’s one of many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in London.
There’s plenty to see and learn inside too, from the Benedictine monks to Britain’s oldest door! It was within the hallowed walls of this historical attraction in London that many significant events in British history took place. From coronations (39 and counting!) to the burial of notable figures like Isaac Newton and Charles Dickens, this place exudes an air of grandeur and reverence.
One of the things to see in one of the best historical attractions in London is the sanctuary floor of the abbey. This is adorned with mesmerizing Cosmati pavement. Made up of thousands of mosaic and porphyry pieces, it not only showcases its creation date but also predicts that the world will end in a whopping 19,683 years.
Westminster Abbey is one of the most popular Gothic buildings in London where you definitely need a good and knowledgeable guide. There are several guided tours that you can book online like this one to make the most of your visit to this London English heritage site.
Palace of Westminster aka The Houses of Parliament
Welcome to the Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament, where history meets democracy in a grand and iconic setting. Situated on the picturesque northern bank of the River Thames in central London, this is one of those royal buildings in London that has been a symbol of British governance for centuries. The original palace was built by Edward the Confessor in 1045 as a royal residence.
Designed by architect Charles Barry in the Gothic Revival style, this architectural masterpiece boasts over 1,100 rooms. From the enchanting Elizabeth Tower, home to the famous Big Ben, to the striking Victoria Tower, every corner of this palace exudes grandeur and history. No wonder it’s considered one of the finest buildings in London!
HMS Belfast – one of the London historical sites
Fancy stepping onboard a real-life warship in the heart of London? One of the things to do in London for history lovers is to visit this ship museum. Though technically not a building, HMS Belfast is a Town-class light cruiser that was built for the Royal Navy, now turned into a museum that moors along the River Thames.
Aboard the ship, visitors can explore nine decks and countless exhibitions to learn all about the ship’s history at sea. This floating museum is not just for adults, but also a great place for kids to explore and learn. With a rich history that includes participating in D-Day, sailing in the Arctic Circle, and serving in the Korean War, the HMS Belfast has seen it all.
You can delve into the stories of the ship’s past inhabitants, interact with engaging displays, and enjoy breathtaking views of the Thames. And the best part? There are even free activities available on weekends and during school holidays, making it an affordable option for families.
Built by Messrs Harland & Wolff in 1936, HMS Belfast has quite an impressive resume. Launched by Anne Chamberlain, wife of then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, this historical warship was commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1939. Today, it stands as the last remaining vessel of its kind and is proudly part of the Imperial War Museums collection. Definitely one of those unique historical places of London.
Did you know that the famous Tower Bridge actually has a museum inside?
Yep, inside the Tower Bridge, you’ll learn lots of history about the tower – all the way back from Victorian times – and the engine rooms. You can also head up to the tower’s walkways that connect the North and South towers, and spot the blue line beneath. This blue line connects the towers to the engine rooms and shines a light on those who worked on the Tower Bridge with 80 bronze plaques. Of course, there are those stunning views of the City that you will see when you walk the glass floors of this walkway.
Some of the interesting stories about Tower Bridge include daring stunts. In 1952, a bus driver named Albert Gunter had to jump his bus over the opening gap of the bridge when it started to open while he was crossing. Talk about a real-life action movie moment! And let’s not forget the man who parachuted off the bridge in 1917 to demonstrate the benefits of parachuting. That takes some serious courage! The Tower bridge museum is one of those hidden historical museums in London that shares very different stories of the city’s past.
Big Ben – one of the most popular landmark buildings in London
Finally restored in 2022 is Big Ben – another iconic and historic London landmark. The name Big Ben actually refers to one of the bells at the top of the tower, and not the clock tower or building overall. Now, it’s known as Elizabeth Tower, having been renamed in 2012 to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The clock tower was built between 1843-1859 and is now another one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in London. Visitors can tour the tower (all 334 steps to the top!) where they can visit the spiral staircase, the clock mechanism room, the four clock dials and the Belfry (where the bells are). The tour is actually free!
The origin of the nickname “Big Ben” is still a bit of a mystery. Some say it was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who was a rather large man and happened to be the first Director of Works. But who knows for sure? It’s like trying to solve a riddle without a clue.
Now, let’s dive into some interesting facts about Big Ben that will make your mind tickle with delight. For one, this clock’s face is made with over a hundred individual pieces of glass. And get this, the tower has been standing tall for a whopping 164 years. The bell inside Big Ben weighs a staggering 13.7 tons, which is about twice the weight of a T-Rex. I guess you could say it’s a heavyweight champion in the world of bells.
So, if you are on one of those historical tours of London, make sure that you explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site and see the epic bell.
You can step away from the hustle and bustle of London to explore the National Trust’s Ham House – a 17th-century house that overlooks the River Thames. Originally built in 1610, the house was leased from King Charles I in 1626 to William Murray, who transformed the house – followed by his daughter in later years – more or less to how it looks today. Ham House is home to a large collection of historic paintings, furniture and textiles that can be seen when visiting. You can also explore the kitchen garden and formal gardens.
One of the highlights of Ham House is the banqueting hall, which ran the length of the middle of the H shape. To bring in more natural light and create a unique architectural feature, the Duchess opened up the floor and created the Round Gallery. This addition not only brightened up the hall but also added a touch of elegance to the overall design.
The gardens at Ham House are equally impressive. Designed with straight lines for symmetry, they perfectly complement the grandeur of the house. However, it’s not just the architecture and gardens that make Ham House intriguing. There are numerous ghost stories associated with this historic mansion. Legend has it that a dog haunts the premises, believed to be the spirit of the Duchess of Lauderdale’s beloved pet.
Ham House is one of those historical houses in London that is a great blend of architecture, history and mystery. And yes, it is a little different from the other popular buildings of London.
London Mithraeum – one of the oldest buildings in London
Did you know that there’s a Roman Mithraeum right in the heart of London?
The Mithraeum – which was a temple to the god Mithras was discovered in 1954 during the construction of a building in Walbrook. It was originally built in the mid-3rd century. A museum has now been constructed around the temple, where people can also see other Roman artifacts unearthed during recent excavations.
From Roman sandals to ancient wooden writing tablets, the museum treasures offer a tangible connection to the past and serve as a reminder of the rich history that lies beneath our feet. This is definitely one of those historical sites of London that my guide might have meant when he said – “You cannot dig in London without finding a treasure.”
The British Museum
Not only is it one of the historical buildings in London but The British Museum is the world’s oldest national public museum, founded in 1753. With an impressive collection of 8 million objects spanning almost 2 million years of human history, you will find yourself short of time covering it all.
Some of the key attractions of the museum include – The Rosetta Stone, Parthenon Marbles, Sutton Hoo mask and ship burial collection, and Egyptian mummies. I was the most was the interactive activities that they have inside the museum that keep – both the adult and the child engaged. What is more – entry to the museum is free! Now I bet, you are adding this to your London itinerary.
Of course, if you do want a guided tour of the British Museum, then you can book one here.
Often considered one of London’s best-kept secrets, the stunning Eltham Palace is often missed off on the lists of historical buildings in London! But this Art Deco palace has its fair share of interesting history. This English Heritage property has been everything from a medieval palace to a Tudor royal residence before eventually being transformed into an eccentric Art Deco mansion in the 1930s. The great hall – which was built for Edward IV in the 1470s – still sits on the grounds and can be explored alongside the main house and gardens.
Thanks to English Heritage’s restoration efforts, Eltham Palace is now open to the public. And if you like eerie, then you should know that this is one of those haunted historical places to visit in London. I am told that a ghost is believed to roam the rooms and give a tour of the place when it is all empty.
While here, don’t forget to visit Greenwich – it is just 7 km from this heritage place in London.
St. Bride’s church – the 2nd oldest church in London
St. Bride’s Church is a hidden gem in the heart of London that’s definitely worth a visit. It’s like a time capsule that’s been buried for centuries, waiting for you to unearth its secrets.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the church’s steeple is said to have inspired the design of the tiered wedding cake. Inside the church, you’ll find a treasure trove of history and art. The free exhibition is a must-see, with artifacts dating back over 2,000 years.
One of the things that you can do in this historical building of London is climb the church’s tower for a stunning view of London. However, the real highlight of St. Bride’s Church is its crypt. This ancient underground chamber is like something out of a Dan Brown novel, with hidden passageways and secret chambers. The crypt houses a museum of over 2,000 years of London history, including artifacts from the Roman era and the Great Fire of London.
The church is dedicated to St. Bride, the patron saint of journalists, and has a special connection to the newspaper industry. The church’s bells were once used to signal the start of the working day for Fleet Street journalists, and the church’s crypt was used as a printing press during the 19th century. Truly one of those historical sites in London that is waiting to be discovered.
The Tower of London – one of the prime UNESCO World Heritage Sites in London
Another World Heritage Site in London is The Tower of London. Built in the 1070s, this iconic tower has been a fortress, palace, prison and even a zoo during its long history! One of the old buildings in London, The Tower of London also has a gruesome history – and is the setting of a famous ‘ghost’ photo! It is believed to be haunted by the spirits of famous figures like Arbella Stuart and Anne Boleyn.
These days, the tower is home to the Crown Jewels collection, Yeoman Warders and traditions such as The Ceremony of the Keys. The crown jewels in particular fascinated me with their collection of crowns, robes, and jewelry – the most famous exhibit being the Kohinoor diamond.
When you are visiting this historical building in London, you will hear and well (if lucky) see its resident ravens. These 6 (now seven) mystical creatures are believed to be the guardians of the Tower. Legend has it that if they were to ever fly away, the Kingdom and the Tower itself would fall. Hence, they are kept captive and taken care of by the raven master.
Besides these legendary takes, the one tradition that you can witness is the Ceremony of the Keys. It takes place every evening, and the gates are locked at exactly 9:53 pm. And there is a certain format in which this takes place. A tour of the Tower of London gives tourists the chance to explore places like the Medieval Palace, Bloody Tower and more.
This historical place in London has witnessed centuries of royalty and scandal. From Queen Victoria, who defied the constraints of the Kensington System to become a powerful monarch, to the iconic Princess Diana, who found solace within its walls during her turbulent marriage to Prince Charles, this palace has seen it all.
When you visit this palace, you will discover some of its hidden treasures like a book of drawings by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. The Kensington Palace is not only a historical landmark but also home to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. You will be able to see the exquisite garments worn by generations of royals on their most important occasions. You can grab your ticket online through this link and head straight to this epic English heritage site.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the must-visit historic sites in London. The cathedral is the largest and most famous of London’s many churches and is the seat of the Bishop of London and the parish church of the British Commonwealth. Designed and built between 1675 and 1710 under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren, the cathedral combines Neoclassical, Gothic, and Baroque elements.
This is one of the most recognized domed buildings in London. You can climb the stairs to the Whispering Gallery, located 30 meters above the cathedral floor, where they can whisper to each other and hear the sound carry across the dome. The climb to the Golden Gallery, located at the very top of the dome, is not for the faint of heart, but the stunning views of London from the top make it well worth the effort.
Other highlights of St. Paul’s Cathedral include the American Memorial Chapel, which was dedicated to the 28,000 American servicemen who died in World War II and features beautiful stained glass windows and a Roll of Honour listing the names of the fallen. Visitors can also explore the crypt, which houses the tombs of many famous figures, including Sir Christopher Wren himself. This is that historical building in London that has witnessed the funerals of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher – among others.
Last, but not least, is Highgate Cemetery. This beautiful and haunting cemetery has around 53,000 graves across both parts, with famous and notable people such as philosopher Karl Max, author Douglas Adams and artist Malcolm McLaren being buried there – plus the Highgate Vampire! As one of the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries in London, the cemetery is best known for its stunning architecture and beautiful nature.
This list features just a few of many, many wonderful historical buildings in London. From royal premises to gruesome spots – London is filled with history from all eras of life. And if that is not enough, consider one of these day trips from London for more history and heritage. In any case, do tell me which ones will you be visiting.
Common FAQS about the historical tours in London
How many historical buildings are there in London?
There are over 600 listed buildings in the City of London alone, and many more in other parts of the city. These buildings date back to a variety of periods, from Roman times to the present day.
When is the best time to visit London?
If you are looking for a less crowded experience, then late winter, early spring (February to April) is a good time to experience London. Though it is cold, the weather is pleasant enough to embark on the tour of various London attractions. Summers are great too (May to September) but you might encounter a lot of crowd at the popular places to visit. Make sure you book your hotels and tickets for these attractions well in advance to avoid disappointment.
The rest of the year gets quite cold and the days are shorter too. However, Christmas time has its own charm with the lively X’mas markets that spring up around the season. All in all, there is a charm to London throughout the year.
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This post has been contributed by my guest author – Louise from Formidable Joy. She is a UK travel blogger who focuses on budget and offbeat travel. She loves finding budget things to do around the world: in particular, anything quirky, spooky or underrated.
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