London Drum

Top 10 Most Historic Buildings To Visit in London

The ten best historic sites and most interesting old buildings to visit in London

1 Tower of London

Tower of LondonPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
9 AM to 5.30 PM (Mon-Sun, Jun-mid Sep); 10 AM to 5.30 PM (Mon & Sun, mid Sep-Oct); 9 AM to 5.30 PM (Tue-Sat, mid Sep-Oct); Last entry 1 hour before closing
Price?
Adults £32.90; Children £16.40 (5-15); Infants free (under-5); Family ticket £90.40
Time required?
A typical visit takes 3-4 hours

The Tower of London is a World Heritage site and dates back to the reign of William the Conqueror.

He began work on the White Tower in 1078 against one corner of the old Roman wall, and the fortress was expanded by subsequent kings including Richard the Lionheart, Henry III and Edward I.

Over the centuries it has acted as a Royal palace, a prison and a mint, and played host to some of the most infamous events in British history. Henry VI was murdered here to end the War of the Roses, and Richard III is believed to have ordered the death of the Edward IV’s two little princes. Henry VIII famously sent Anne Boleyn to execution on Tower Green so he could marry Jane Seymour. Other famous prisoners included Thomas More, Guy Fawkes and Walter Raleigh.

2 Royal burials in Westminster Abbey

Westminster AbbeyPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
9.30 AM to 4.30 PM (Mon-Sat); Only open for services (Sun); Last entry 1 hour before closing
Price?
Adults £25.00; Children £11.00 (6-17); Infants free (under-6); Family ticket £25.00
Time required?
A typical visit takes 2 hours

Westminster Abbey is the second of London’s four World Heritage Sites, and the setting for the nation’s Royal coronations, burials and weddings.

The most important Royal burial is that of Edward the Confessor – the only English king ever to be made a saint. Other famous monarchs to be entombed here include Henry III, Edward I, Edward III, Richard II (Peasant’s Revolt), Henry V (Agincourt), Edward V (War of the Roses), Henry VII (the first Tudor), Mary I (Bloody Mary), Elizabeth I (Spanish Armada), James VI (Gunpowder Plot), Charles II (Restoration), William III (Glorious Revolution), Anne and George II.

It also contains the graves of many celebrated politicians, writers, scientists, musicians and artists, plus the moving Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

3 Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament

Westminster HallPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
The public can usually attend debates from Mon-Fri, and take tours on Sat and Mon-Sun during Aug/Sep
Time required?
A typical visit takes 1½-2 hours

Westminster Hall is the largest surviving room of the original Palace of Westminster, which pre-dates the current Houses of Parliament by 800 years.

This vast room was used for State ceremonies and banquets, and served as the country’s highest court until the mid 19th-century. It witnessed the State trials of William Wallace, Charles I after the English Civil War, and the treason trial of Guy Fawkes after the unsuccessful Gunpowder Plot.

If you want to have a look inside then book a ticket for one of the Saturday tours of Parliament. If you want to look inside for free then queue up to watch the MPs inside the House of Commons.

4 Roman wall and Roman amphitheatre

Roman wallPhoto: Craig Cross

London rose to prominence after the Roman occupation in 54 BC. Over the next four centuries the Romans turned it into an important trading city with a basilica and a forum, but unfortunately all traces of these big buildings have long since disappeared. All you can see above ground nowadays are parts of the original wall that once surrounded the city.

The largest parts of the wall are outside Cooper’s Row and Tower Hill station (both near the Tower of London) and down Noble Street (by the Museum of London).

The most exciting remains can be found underneath the Guildhall Art Gallery. This is where you’ll find what’s left of the Roman amphitheatre.

5 Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court PalacePhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
10 AM to 5.30 PM (Wed-Sun, Jun-late Jul & Sep); 10 AM to 5.30 PM (Mon-Sun, late Jul-Aug); Last entry 1 hour before closing
Price?
Adults £28.80; Children £14.30 (5-15); Infants free (under-5); Family ticket £78.90
Time required?
A typical visit takes 4-5 hours (including travel time to/from London)

Henry VIII was spoilt for choice when it came to palaces in London. He actually had five of them – Whitehall Palace, Greenwich Palace, Richmond Palace, St. James’s Palace and Hampton Court.

The first three no longer exist and the public aren’t allowed inside St. James’s, but you can still visit Hampton Court’s original State Rooms including the Great Hall and Chapel Royal, plus the huge Tudor kitchens where they cooked his meals.

6 Banqueting House

Banqueting HousePhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
Currently closed for refurbishment and not expected to re-open until 2025
Time required?
A typical visit takes 1 hour

Banqueting House is the largest surviving part of Whitehall Palace which burnt down to the ground in a disastrous fire in 1698. Extra effort was made to save the building because of the famous painting on the ceiling by Peter Paul Rubens.

The painting was originally commissioned by Charles I in the 1630s to glorify the reign of his dad and the Stuart kings, but it ironically turned out to be the last thing he ever saw before his execution outside.

Following his defeat in the English Civil War Charles I was tried in Westminster Hall and sentenced to death as a traitor. He was then beheaded on a scaffold directly outside Banqueting House. If you look over the road to the clock above Horse Guards then you can see a little black smudge behind the number two – tradition says that it was placed there to mark the exact moment the axe fell.

7 Monument to the Great Fire of London

The MonumentPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
During school holidays: 9.30 AM to 1 PM, and 2 PM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun) · During term-time: 9.30 AM to 1 PM, and 2 PM to 6 PM (Sat-Sun only); Last entry 12.30 PM and 5.30 PM
Price?
Adults £5.80; Children £2.90 (5-15); Infants free (under-5)
Time required?
A typical visit takes 45 mins

The Monument marks the spot where the Great Fire of London broke out in 1666. If you laid it down then the golden urn would fall on the spot of the baker’s shop in Pudding Lane where the fire began.

When Thomas Farriner went to bed on the 2nd September little did he know that three days later his burnt bread would have been responsible for the destruction of 13,200 houses, 87 churches and the medieval St Paul’s. They originally tried to pin the blame on the Catholics and The Monument had a plaque on the side to explain exactly that, but it is now believed to have been a simple accident: the fault of a careless baker who didn’t douse out the embers in his oven.

8 Temple Church

Temple ChurchPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
10 AM to 4 PM (Mon-Fri)
Price?
Adults £5.00
Time required?
A typical visit takes 45-60 mins

Temple Church has been burnt down, bombed and heavily modified many times over the centuries, but a large part of it dates all the way back to the Knights Templar. These military monks made their name (and their money) during the Crusades and built the round part to honour the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Most tourists visit the church to see the stone effigies of the medieval knights on the floor. The most famous one is Geoffrey de Mandeville from 1144, who was a leading noble during the war between Stephen and Matilda.

9 Cleopatra’s Needle

Cleopatra’s NeedlePhoto: Craig Cross
Time required?
A typical visit takes 5 mins

Cleopatra’s Needle is incredibly old – it’s even older than London itself! It was originally erected in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis for Pharaoh Thutmose III, before being moved to Cleopatra’s Caesararium in Alexandria. That’s where it got its name from. The Egyptians then gifted it to the British after Nelson helped beat back the French at the Battle of the Nile.

The Victorians then placed it on the Embankment, guarded by a couple of big bronze sphinxes. If you look today then you can see some pockmarks all over the concrete, courtesy of a German air-raid. Interestingly it wasn’t an air-raid from the World War II that caused them, but from World War I twenty years before.

10 London Stone

London StonePhoto: Craig Cross
Time required?
A typical visit takes 2 mins

London Stone is the most mysterious monument in the city. Nobody knows when it dates from, or even what it was used for. It’s possible that it started out as a road marker in the Roman city of Londinium, and possibly marked the centre of the city. People later congregated there to strike deals and make announcements, and this is how it gained its fame.

It’s been shifted about so many times that nobody knows its original position. It used to be inside St. Swithin’s church until that was bombed in the Blitz, and it’s now inside a stone vault opposite Cannon Street station.

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