London has so much history that it is practically swimming in it. It would take weeks before you got to see everything you wanted to when visiting London, and that’s only if you limit yourself to things and place you know. Below is a list of our favorite of the famous London landmarks that are just too exciting to pass up and are certainly worth your time.
1. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Very little is known about Shakespeare in his early days in London, but most everyone knows he is famous for his near genius plays. With his famous plays like Romeo and Juliet, MacBeth and Hamlet, Shakespeare was a brilliant writer, and his work is still considered to be some of the best ever, making this one trip that most will find fascinating.
The Globe was built in 1576 by actor-manager James Burbage in Shoreditch, the first structure built specifically for plays. It wasn’t until the 1580’s that Shakespeare would join the troupe, but it was from this point on that the Globe Theatre would flourish into a powerhouse for over 20 years.
The original Globe Theatre burned to the ground, was rebuilt and then finally demolished in 1644 after it was closed in 1642 under England’s Puritan administration.
A project emerged to restore glory to the Globe in 1949 headed by Sam Wanamaker, American actor, producer and director, and was designed as close to as accurate as humanly possible to the original, based on drawings and analysis of the original site of the Globe. This is the Globe Theatre we see today in London, but it is just as magnificent as the original.
2. The Tower of London
While it is not known exactly when the Tower’s construction began, the first phase of building was underway during the 1070’s by William the Conqueror. By 1100, the Tower was completed and was the most impressive fortress ever constructed.
Around 1530, Henry VIII continued the work that was first started by Henry VII, his father, to finish royal residential buildings. It was also around this time that the Tower would become famous for its royal prison.
A few other minor projects were also commissioned, but the Tower remained relatively untouched and that is how the Tower looks today. Although there was damage to the massive fortress turned prison during the World Wars, tourists will still be able to view to Tower in near original condition.
3. Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is located just south of the Tower of London, and crosses the Thames. In my mind, it’s what I always think of when I hear “London Bridge”, but that moniker is actually for a different and less beautiful bridge.
Both vehicles and pedestrians use the bridge itself to cross from one side of the Thames to the other. The two towers – arguably the most recognizable part of Tower Bridge – contain an exhibit that teaches how and why the bridge was built, as well as other parts of its fascinating history. You can even visit the steam engines that originally powered the “bascules” – the parts of the bridge that can be raised to allow taller river traffic to pass below. The best part of visiting the exhibition is the spectacular views it affords of the city of London.
If you’re brave enough, you may enjoy the glass floor, where you can walk between the towers and look straight down into the Thames! Not for the faint of heart. Tickets to the exhibition are reasonably affordable at £10.60 for an adult.
4. Big Ben and Parliament
I bet most people know exactly what Big Ben is – the tall clock in the middle of London. Did you know that it’s part of the Palace of Westminster, where Parliament meets? I didn’t realize that before I visited; I thought it was just freestanding. In truth, I’d never given it much though. The clock itself sits in Elizabeth Tower, which was renamed from Clock Tower in 2012 to honor Queen Elizabeth II.
Big Ben in 316 feet tall and its construction was completed in 1859.
Unfortunately, Big Ben and Elizabeth Tower have been undergoing significant restoration work. When I was there in 2019, it was completely hidden by scaffolding. Work is scheduled to be completed in 2022 when its bells will hopefully begin ringing again.
As mentioned above, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which together make up Parliament, meet at the Palace of Westminster, which Big Ben is a part of.
5. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is a neighbor to Westminster Palace, so these are easy to see at the same time. However, make sure to plan ahead because, even before the COVID pandemic, the visiting hours for Westminster Abbey were fewer than most attractions. Some days it’s closed altogether, and other days the hours are short.
Westminster Abbey is where the kings and queens of England are coronated, and has been since the days of William the Conqueror in 1066. The Coronation Chair is probably the biggest draw to this London landmark. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee galleries, which are housed in a medieval part of the building that was previously unopen to the public, are also popular. They require a special timed ticket in addition to a general admission ticket. You may also wish to see Poet’s Corner, in which are buried (or simply honored) such poets as Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, and C.S. Lewis.
You can attend regular church services at Westminster Abbey, however. Find out more on their website if you are interested in attending a service.
6. Abbey Road
If you’re more into pop culture than history, then Abbey Road is for you! Most people go there to walk the crosswalk that was made famous by the Beatles when they walked across it for the photo on their album of the same name. But there’s more than just the crosswalk. Nearby is also Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles recorded a lot of their music.
The gift shop has lots of Beatles merchandise for sale, such a variety that hardcode fans and casual travelers will both enjoy.
Abbey Road is reached by an easy, short walk from the St John’s Wood Underground station. (Read more about using the Underground and Oyster cards for London transportation.)
7. National Gallery
Art enthusiasts visiting London will enjoy a trip to the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. It’s famous for housing more than 2300 paintings from across England and continental Europe. The collection includes pieces by da Vinci, Botticelli, Vermeer, Michelangelo, and more. Entry into the National Gallery is technically free, and you can book a no-cost ticket online. However, a donation is suggested. You must book a ticket in order to enter.
In addition to the exhibits – some which are permanent and others that come and go – you can find dining and shopping at the National Gallery. The shop contains books, prints, and art-related gifts that also make wonderful souvenirs.
8. Hampton Court Palace
In 1236, the manor of Hampton was acquired by the Knights Hospitallers of St John Jerusalem and was used as a farming area. Not much is known about how it was built, but it was once a small complex and then later a palace. It wasn’t until around 1520 that Hampton Court would become a place that royalty would use as a vacation outlet.
In the 1530’s, Henry VIII spent more than 62,000 Pounds (18 million Euros in today’s market) rebuilding and extending Hampton Court.
While a number of other kings took residence here, none of them put as much money and effort into making Hampton Court Palace what it is seen as today.
In addition to visiting the Palace and walking through the labyrinth of rooms, you can expect to spend much of your time in the gardens as well. With the beautifully decorated grounds, fountains, mazes and flowers, the surrounding areas of Hampton Court Palace are just as spectacular as the interior.
This post just touches on some of the famous London landmarks that you may want to visit. Whether you’ve been to London many times, or are making your first trip to this amazing city, make sure to plan out your time accordingly. There is truly so much to see and do that you’d have to live a lifetime there to take it all in!