This list is pretty difficult to pare down to my favorites, because so many buildings in London have historical significance. I took an Architecture in London class a few years ago, so I got to go to a lot of these places on class field trips. Since I love old things so much, these are probably my favorite places to spend an afternoon, or even a whole day.
- The Historic Royal Palaces are some of the most fun and interesting historic sites to visit in London. If you know you want to visit all 5 of them (which is more ambitious than you’d think!), you can buy a pass to all of them that will save you several pounds. The HRPs include the Tower of London, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, and Kew Palace. Hampton Court and Kew are outside of central London, but close to each other so you could visit them on the same day and not have to make two trips out of town. They’re all very different and represent unique points in British history. My personal favorite is Kensington Palace, because it is the birthplace of Queen Victoria and the current home of Prince William and Duchess Kate. Be sure to stop by the Orangery for some afternoon tea when you visit Kensington!
- Tower Bridge, mistakenly known as London Bridge by many, is one of the most beautiful bridges on the Thames. A little-known fact about it is that there’s an exhibition gallery on the second level, and it’s awesome! Go check it out…you’ll get awesome views of the river and the banks.
- The Palace of Westminster is now home to Parliament. You can take tours of it on the weekends and learn about the history of the building and its many uses. I really enjoyed learning more about the British government and stepping into the chambers of the House of Lords and Commons. British citizens can tour other parts of the building, like the towers, but the non-British tour is pretty great!
- Wren’s Monument is the namesake of Monument tube station, and was designed as a memorial to the Great Fire of London in 1666. You can climb up the inside of the monument to a viewing point that will show you a lot of the city. Beware, those 311 steps are much more difficult than you’d think. Learn from my mistake and DO NOT wear a dress. You’ll get a cool certificate at the end saying that you made it all the way to the top, so it’s worth it just to say you’ve done it!
- One area that has many historical sites is Greenwich. There’s the Observatory, Queen’s House, Maritime Museum, the Cutty Sark, and the Royal Naval College. It’s a great place to spend the day and learn about London’s maritime history. You can also stand on the Prime Meridien and be in two time zones at once…gotta check that off the bucket list. Be sure to check out the Camera Obscura and the tulip staircase at the Queen’s House too.
- The Globe Theatre is one of the most famous London landmark, for obvious reasons. It’s a reconstruction of the original theatre, which burned down. They still perform plays in the open air theatre in the spring and summer, and you can stand in the yard like people used to back in the 16th century for £5. There’s also a museum with all kinds of Shakespeare artifacts. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of the Bard, this is a must-see.
- Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral are two of my favorite places in London. I have attended many Evensong services at both churches and their choirs are truly amazing. The buildings both have so much history attached to them…it’s hard to imagine that people have worshipped in the Abbey for almost 1,000 years. You can tour the churches during the day and visit the hundreds of famous graves, and go up to the Whispering Gallery in St. Paul’s to see the beautiful dome up close. I can’t say enough great things about St. Paul’s…it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in London.
- Of course, I couldn’t finish this list without mentioning Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Both residences of the current and past monarchs, these buildings hold a ton of history and a lot of secrets. Buckingham Palace is much younger than Windsor, which was built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, but both are absolutely fascinating. Windsor is outside of London in Windsor, and just a short walk from Eton College, another historic site. You can only tour Buckingham Palace in the summer, but you can see the Changing of the Guard all year round.