From St Paul’s to the Shard, and Big Ben to the Barbican, there are so many famous buildings in London to see. It’s difficult to think of a city with as many famous buildings as London – can you?
They include some of the best things to do in London. We’ve compiled a huge selection of 50 of the most famous buildings London has. We’ve included some of the oldest buildings in London, side by side with a few of the newest buildings in London.
It’s impossible not to mention some of the most popular places to visit in London as well. Some famous London buildings on our list are well-known London tourist attractions. But we wanted to go further, telling you about a range of great London buildings with a variety of uses.
Some of our selection are among the best luxury hotels in London. As well as staying in these famous places in London, it’s possible to work in some, shop in some, watch a concert in some, have a drink in some. And even attempt to govern in some.
- 1 BUCKINGHAM PALACE
- 2 THE SHARD
- 3 THE GHERKIN
- 4 LLOYD’S OF LONDON
- 5 LEADENHALL MARKET BUILDING
- 6 BATTERSEA POWER STATION
- 7 TATE MODERN
- 8 THE BANK OF ENGLAND
- 9 ROYAL ALBERT HALL
- 10 SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE
- 11 THE BARBICAN
- 12 THE CHEESE GRATER
- 13 ST PANCRAS RENAISSANCE HOTEL AND STATION
- 14 THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
- 15 OLD ROYAL NAVAL COLLEGE, GREENWICH
- 16 WESTMINSTER ABBEY
- 17 ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
- 18 HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
- 19 SOMERSET HOUSE
- 20 SAVOY HOTEL
- 21 RITZ HOTEL
- 22 THE JEWEL TOWER
- 23 TOWER OF LONDON
- 24 FORTNUM AND MASON
- 25 LIBERTY DEPARTMENT STORE
- 26 THE BRITISH LIBRARY
- 27 THE ROYAL EXCHANGE
- 28 THE WALKIE TALKIE
- 29 TOWER BRIDGE
- 30 SIR JOHN SOANE’S MUSEUM
- 31 THE WILKINS BUILDING, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LONDON (UCL)
- 32 66 PORTLAND PLACE
- 33 DUBLIN CASTLE PUB, CAMDEN
- 34 GALA BINGO HALL, TOOTING
- 35 2 WILLOW ROAD
- 36 NATIONAL THEATRE SOUTHBANK
- 37 QUEENS HOUSE GREENWICH
- 38 SMITHFIELD MARKET
- 39 MUSEUM OF IMMIGRATION AND DIVERSITY, SPITALFIELDS
- 40 ST STEPHEN WALBROOK CHURCH
- 41 V & A MUSEUM
- 42 MARBLE HILL HOUSE
- 43 STRAWBERRY HILL HOUSE
- 44 THE BRITISH MUSEUM GREAT COURT AND READING ROOM
- 45 DRAPERS HALL
- 46 10 DOWNING STREET
- 47 APSLEY HOUSE
- 48 BANQUETING HOUSE
- 49 WILTON’S MUSIC HALL
- 50 THE GEORGE INN
Buckingham Palace – the official London residence of the Queen – is high on many visitors’ lists of places to go in London. It’s the focal point for state occasions including Trooping the Colour, when regiments of soldiers march in full ceremonial uniform to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.
The building stands at the end of the royal processional route, The Mall. It’s also across the road from St James’s Park and Green Park. The State Rooms are open for ten weeks each year (usually July to late September). Otherwise, the closest you can get to it is during the Changing of the Guard ceremonies which are held at 11.00 am four days a week (usually Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday). This ceremony is enormously popular, and one of the top things to do in London, especially for first-time visitors.
Renzo Piano’s super-skyscraper The Shard is by far the tallest building in London, dwarfing everything around it. It’s 1,016 feet (309 metres) high, dominating the area around London Bridge. It houses an office complex, the luxury Shangri-La Hotel and the highest viewing platform in London.
You can see the Shard from vantage points all over London, and if you manage to coincide your visit with very clear weather, the View from the Shard is one of the best London main attractions. Watch that weather forecast very closely!
Nearest Tube: London Bridge
30 St Mary Axe was one of the tallest buildings in London when completed in 2004. It quickly became one of the most recognisable icons of London, and remains one of its best-known contemporary buildings.
The 180-metre-high structure owes its nickname to its curved upper storeys, which give it the shape of a certain vegetable. It’s best seen up close, rearing up high behind the tower of St Andrew Undershaft church. Since its completion, several other taller skyscrapers have sprung up around it, reducing its impact from a distance. Nonetheless, it’s very much one of the best examples of new London architecture.
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
LLOYD’S OF LONDON
One of the finest modern buildings in London is the headquarters of the Lloyds insurance group. It opened in 1986 to great acclaim, and was accorded Grade I status in 2011. Thjs is the shortest time it has ever taken for a building to be awarded such an accolade.
If you love architecture, then Lloyd’s is one of the best things to see in London for you. It’s sometimes called the Inside Out Building, because many of the functions normally hidden internally (elevators, pipes, air ducts and so on) are on the exterior of the building instead. This allows maximum use of the space inside. It’s in the heart of the City of London financial district. Several other famous London buildings on our list are within a five-minute walk.
Nearest Tube: Monument or Liverpool Street
LEADENHALL MARKET BUILDING
One of the immediate neighbours of Lloyd’s of London is the 19th century Leadenhall Market Building. It was built in the 19th century by Sir Horace Jones, who was also responsible for the Smithfield Market. Its origins go back all the way to the 14th century, making it one of the oldest markets in London.
Nowadays, Leadenhall Market stands out from its modern surroundings. It’s a beautiful, elegant covered market with cobbled streets, and an array of cafes and traders.
Nearest Tube: Monument or Liverpool Street
BATTERSEA POWER STATION
Battersea Power Station is an industrial Art Deco masterpiece from the 1930s. It’s situated at the northern end of Battersea, close to the River Thames. It has been one of the most famous landmarks of London for decades, and it’s currently undergoing a radical transformation.
If you visit over the next year or so, Battersea will be top of the list of best building sites to see in London. At the time of writing, it’s surrounded by a forest of around twenty construction cranes. The Power Station will be the centre of residential development, and its surroundings will also be transformed. The landmark building will, however, retain its iconic and imposing appearance.
Nearest Tube: Sloane Square, Victoria or Pimlico
Tate Modern has been one of the top London attractions since its opening in 2000. It houses the Tate’s contemporary art collection in one of the outstanding exhibition spaces in the world, the former Bankside Power Station. It’s also occasionally used as a concert venue, such as when German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk performed a series of shows there. One of the top sights in London, it sits at the southern end of the Millennium Bridge, looking across the river to St Paul’s.
Nearest Tube: Southwark
THE BANK OF ENGLAND
It was described as ‘the greatest architectural crime…of the 20th century’. Most of Sir John Soane’s Bank of England was demolished to make way for a rebuilt version overseen by Herbert Baker. There are far worse architectural atrocities than this, but it’s not among the most beautiful buildings in London.
The building itself is quite austere, with a partly neoclassical façade that’s put to shame by the one across the road at the Royal Exchange. Nonetheless, the Bank of England, as well as being one of the most important buildings in London, also houses one of the best small museums in London. Here you can pick up a gold bar and learn about how banknotes are so difficult to copy. The Stock Office is set up to look like the Bank of England was 200 years ago, and you can try to balance the model ship in the room to try to keep prices stable. Should be very interesting around Brexit time!
Nearest Tube: Bank
ROYAL ALBERT HALL
The Royal Albert Hall in Kensington is one of the most popular places in London to see a concert. It’s a magnificent circular auditorium with some of the finest acoustics I’ve ever encountered. It’s best known as the venue for some of the annual Proms series of concerts, and for classical performances.
The Albert Hall is by no means restricted to the classical repertoire, however. The Hall also hosts mainstream pop concerts as well as the likes of Nitin Sawhney and an orchestra playing Joy Division songs. It’s one of the best music venues in Britain, not to be missed.
Nearest Tube: South Kensington, a 10-minute walk away
Shakespeare’s Globe is the re-creation of the Globe Theatre, which existed nearby in the late 16th and early17th centuries. William Shakespeare wrote some of his works with a view to them being performed at the Globe, and he also lived close by. It’s intrinsically linked with the world-famous playwright, and very much one of the main cultural places of interest in London.
This version of the Globe was only built in 1997 and is a very convincing reconstruction (the original was demolished in 1644). An evening performance in summer would be one of the best things to do in central London. If you can’t procure a ticket, the guided tour is compelling enough to warrant the visit.
Nearest Tube: Southwark
The Barbican isn’t a single building: it’s an entire estate. It’s in the northern part of the City of London, which was devastated by bombing during World War II. It was eventually replaced by the Barbican Estate, a series of residential towers and courts built in finest British concrete between 1965 and 1976. It’s named after a Roman watchtower that was on the site.
It’s one of many projects dating from this ‘Brutalist’ period of British architecture. I’d say it is one of the most successful. It’s a coherent, cohesive scheme, and feels far removed from the concrete dystopias some contemporary projects became. It’s also home to the Barbican Arts Centre, one of the top London attractions if you’re interested in the arts.
Nearest Tube: Barbican
THE CHEESE GRATER
The Cheese Grater, completed in 2014, follows a recent London tradition of its nickname being far more popular than its official name. The Leadenhall Building, or 122 Leadenhall Street, is at the heart of the City of London financial district, surrounded by some of the best architecture in London.
The Cheese Grater was designed with a tapering edge at the upper levels for a specific reason. It was conceived this way to preserve the view of St Paul’s Cathedral from Fleet Street. If it had been built to more conventional design, it would have spoiled this view. Its nickname came about when the City of London Corporation’s chief planner remarked to architect Richard Rogers that he could envisage his wife grating Parmesan cheese with it.
Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street
ST PANCRAS RENAISSANCE HOTEL AND STATION
St Pancras Station is the arrival and departure point for Eurostar trains to the continent. At one time, the station was deemed surplus to requirements, with King’s Cross and Euston both very close by. However, the opening of the Channel Tunnel rail link changed this, and it was eventually chosen as the London Eurostar terminus.
Some stations have become popular things to visit in London, and St Pancras is the grandest, most beautiful of them all. It was known as the ‘cathedral of the railways’, largely because of its magnificent red brick façade and spire on Euston Road. This part of the building used to house the Midland Hotel, which has since reopened as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel., one of the best 5-star hotels in London. The surrounding area, including King’s Cross and Bloomsbury, is also one of the best areas to stay in London, with options to suit all budgets and great transport connections,
Nearest Tube: King’s Cross St Pancras
THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
South Kensington has three of the best museums in London, all within a stone’s throw of each other. The Natural History Museum is stunning, a vast Victorian Romanesque building stretching along Cromwell Road. Entry to the grounds is at the corner of Exhibition Road, while entry to the building is at the centre of the Cromwell Road façade.
The museum’s collection of specimens is among the largest in the world. They are of incalculable scientific importance, and include samples and specimens collected by Charles Darwin. The Hintze Hall – the first you see of the interior – is dominated by the skeleton of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling. The whole Museum is awe-inspiring, especially the dinosaur exhibition, which absolutely enthralled our son. If you’re wondering what to see in London with kids, start right here.
Nearest Tube: South Kensington
OLD ROYAL NAVAL COLLEGE, GREENWICH
Maritime Greenwich is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in London. It’s an outstanding collection of buildings close to the Thames, which also includes the Queen’s House. Together, they are among the best tourist attractions in London. And it’s the Old Royal Naval College that takes centre stage.
Greenwich makes one of the best day trips from London, a short boat or train ride from the centre. The buildings, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, were built between 1696 and 1712, and were initially Greenwich Hospital. The Painted Hall – described as the Sistine Chapel of Britain – has recently reopened after several years’ restoration. It’s an amazing sight, a series of paintings by Sir James Thornhill, and reason alone to visit Greenwich.
Nearest Rail: Greenwich DLR
Westminster Abbey is one of the most important historical places in London. The royal abbey church dates back almost a thousand years. It is also the burial place of many of Britain’s kings and queens. Many other prominent Britons are also buried or commemorated there – it’s the nearest thing the UK has to a national Pantheon like Paris and Lisbon have.
For this reason it’s one of the best things to see in London. It’s also the venue for some royal weddings and funerals, as well as other state occasions. Then there’s the architecture, which spans the centuries (13th to 16th) when English Gothic was dominant. This ranges from the 13th century nave to the stunning fan vaults of the Lady Chapel. The latter dates from the later Perpendicular phase,and is one of the most beautiful. buildings in England.
Nearest Tube: Westminster
ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
Visiting St Paul’s is one of the top ten things to do in London, hands down. Its dome was, for centuries, the highest building in. London. This magnificent London landmark still dominates the western part of the City, although it has long since been surpassed by the likes of the Gherkin and Cheese Grater to the east.
St Paul’s was built on the site of an earlier cathedral which was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to build the replacement, and he also built many other churches around London in the late 17th century. This gorgeous Baroque creation is one of the best places to see in London, from its ornate golden interior to one of the best views in London, afforded by the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome.
Nearest Tube: St Paul’s
HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
The Houses of Parliament has seen better days. At present it’s a hotch-potch of scaffolding and sheets holding the magnificent old building together like a set of sticking-plasters. And then there’s Big Ben, the famous clock-tower shorn of all its slender grace by a mass of scaffolding.
Big Ben is perennially near the top of any London must see list, especially in the age of digital photography and Instagram. Its glories won’t be hidden away for ever – the restoration work should be finished on the tower by 2021. You can still admire parts of the building that aren’t being restored, including the fine Victoria Tower. It’s part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Westminster Abbey, across Parliament Square.
Nearest Tube: Westminster
Every winter, skating at the ice rink in Somerset House is one of the most fun things to do in London. There are several other ice rinks around London (including at the Tower of London and Natural History Museum) but it’s pretty hard to top Somerset House. The courtyard is a great place to spend time in summer too, when th fountains in the courtyard are a great place to splash and cool off.
The building itself is a Neoclassical beauty, dating from the 18th century. It occupies a prime site between The Strand and the River Thames, adjacent to Waterloo Bridge. It’s one of the great public buildings of London, and for much of its history has housed government ministries including that of Revenue & Customs for over 200 years. The Courtauld Gallery, which occupies part of the north (Strand) wing, has an excellent collection of Impressionist paintings.
Nearest Tube: Embankment
The Savoy is one of the most famous hotels in London. It’s set back slightly from The Strand, on the site of the Savoy Palace. The Savoy Hotel was the first luxury hotel in Britain, opened in 1889 by theatre impresario Richard d’Oyly Carte.
The first manager of the hotel was the Swiss hotelier Cesar Ritz, who worked there for eight years before going on to found his own chain of hotels. The Savoy underwent a massive refurbishment between 2007 and 2010, with many of its fixtures and fittings auctioned off. The Savoy remains a byword for luxury, and its Art Deco interiors are among the most striking and opulent in the world. Whether you stay there or book an afternoon tea, spending time at the Savoy is one of the best experiences in London.
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross
The Ritz Hotel in London opened in 1906 on prestigious Piccadilly. The building itself looks like it’s been plucked from the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. Indeed, it was part of the Ritz chain, the first of which opened at Place Vendome in Paris in 1899. It has been known as one of the best luxury hotels in the world ever since.
The Parisian theme continues inside, with its magnificently opulent Louis XVI décor and furnishings. As with other luxury London hotels like the Savoy and Claridge’s, visiting the Ritz is an unforgettable experience. Afternoon tea at the splendid palm Court is a wonderful introduction.
Nearest Tube: Green Park
THE JEWEL TOWER
The Jewel Tower is the only surviving remnant of the medieval Palace of Westminster. The latter was replaced by the present Houses of Parliament in the 19th century. However, the Jewel Tower dates back to the 14th century, when it was built as a repository for the treasures of King Edward III.
It may be one of the less known central London attractions, but it’s one of the most important historical buildings in London. It survived a direct hit during the Blitz in World War II, then was subsequently restored. It’s worth visiting to see some of the best architecture in London from medieval times.
Nearest Tube: Westminster
TOWER OF LONDON
The Tower of London is one of the top places to visit in London. The White Tower, the one bona fide castle in London, dates back to the late 11th century. Along with Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Place and St Paul’s, it should be essential for London first time visitors.
The Tower served as a fortress and high-profile prison, and now houses a n impressive collection of military armour. Look out for St John’s Chapel, one of the most beautiful churches in Britain. The wider complex also houses Britain’s Crown Jewels. If you’re trying to find your way around, ask one of the Yeomen Warders, or Beefeaters, who always wear their iconic uniforms.
Nearest Tube: Tower Hill
FORTNUM AND MASON
The Grocer to the Royal Family has its main store on Piccadilly, one of the most famous streets in London. Fortnum & Mason started in 1707 as rhe partnership between William Fortnum and Hugh Mason. Fortnum was a footman to the Royal Family, and started out making a profit from selling the Royal Family’s unused candle wax. 312 years later, they’re still here, offering some of the best shopping in London.
The upmarket department store on Piccadilly is still best known for its food, hampers, tea and drinks, although it has also expanded into clothing lines. The Georgian building is six storeys high, and the rooftop is home to an in-house apiary and salmon smokery. Fortnum & Mason also offer guided tours of the store.
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus
LIBERTY DEPARTMENT STORE
You could be forgiven for thinking the Liberty department store building is a lot older than it is. At first sight, the timber-framed front looks late medieval, but in fact it’s a Tudor Revival building from the early 20th century. Arthur Liberty previously owned several store sites in and around nearby Regent Street.
The Liberty building polarised opinion in its time, as did others on our list including 2 Willow Road. Liberty particularly upset the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner. This hasn’t stopped it being one of the main London points of interest for shoppers. Its proximity to the most popular shopping streets in London, including Oxford Street, Regent Street and Carnaby Street, also means it’ll remain a London icon for many.
Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus
THE BRITISH LIBRARY
Visiting the British Library is one of our favourite things to do around London. This landmark of London is next door to St Pancras station. It’s been there barely twenty years, but I can’t imagine London without it.
The Library is a modern red brick edifice designed by Colin St John Wilson. It’s one of the best new builds London has had over the last half century, a fitting home for one of the finest libraries in the world. It has an astounding collection of manuscripts, documents and prints, and often hosts excellent exhibitions.
Nearest Tube: King’s Cross St Pancras or Euston
THE ROYAL EXCHANGE
The Royal Exchange building opposite the Bank of England is the third building on the site. It’s one of the most familiar and famous sites in London because of its position at such a busy junction, on several major bus routes. The present building dates from the 1840s, and its highlight is its graceful Classical Greek portico.
The Royal Exchange dates back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century. It was founded as a commercial centre for the City of London, a function it still maintains today, albeit less prominently than in the past. The centre now contains several restaurants, cafes and upmarket boutiques, centred around the beautiful interior courtyard.
Nearest Tube: Bank
THE WALKIE TALKIE
20 Fenchurch Street is another landmark skyscraper in the City of London. Much of it is let out as office space, and the top three storeys, known as the Sky Garden, have become one of the must see places in London. It was designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly, and completed in 2014. It’s barely half the height of the Shard across the river, but it’s massive in terms of floor space. It completely overshadows the spire of St Margaret Patten church next door.
The Walkie Talkie – so named because of its unusual top-heavy shape – also had some teething problems with reflected light and heat, which melted part of a car and made the road surface hot enough to cook an egg on. That’s all long since been sorted out. The Sky Garden is one of the more popular central London attractions, and if you want to catch a sunset there, you’ll have to book months in advance, especially during summer.
Tower Bridge is one of the most beautiful bridges in London, and one of the great London icons. This twin-towered bascule and suspension bridge was built in the late 19th century, and is one of the most recognisable symbols of London all over the world.
If you visit the Tower Bridge Experience, you can climb one of the towers for an outstanding view of the city and river. If you can’t make it there, at least make sure you get to see it. It’s one of the best attractions in London, and even if you only have a day in London, be sure not to miss it.
Nearest Tube: Tower Hill
SIR JOHN SOANE’S MUSEUM
Sir John Soane’s Museum occupies his house on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, one of the prettiest squares in London. Soane was a distinguished 19th century architect. He is perhaps known for building the Bank of England, much of which was demolished in the 20th century. At least here his legacy remains untouched, the house being kept in the same condition as it was when he died in 1837.
During his career he amassed an astonishing collection of paintings, manuscripts, books and historical artefacts, including an Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus. It’s one of the best free museums in London, spread across three townhouses. Your visiting time slot needs to be booked online.
Nearest Tube: Holborn
THE WILKINS BUILDING, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LONDON (UCL)
The main building of UCL in Bloomsbury took longer than most medieval cathedrals to build. It was begun in 1827 under the architect William Wilkins, but funds ran out two years later: it wasn’t until 1985 that it was finally finished.
UCL isn’t one of the famous sights in London, which makes its discovery all the more surprising. It’s one of the most beautiful Neoclassical buildings in London, along with the Royal Exchange. Wilkins was one of the top London architects in the early 19th century. He also designed the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, one of the best art galleries in the world. Confusingly, the ‘Wilkins Building’ name only applies to the area around the dome and façade which was completed during his lifetime.
Nearest Tube: Euston Square or Warren Street
66 PORTLAND PLACE
66 Portland Place is the Marylebone headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). It dates from the 1930s, and is one of the best Art Deco buildings in London. Art Deco elements include the large window and decorative motifs. It was designed by George Grey Wornum, who won a competition against over 280 other designs.
London is famous for its incredible range of architecture, and RIBA is a great place to learn more. RIBA offer guided tours of the building, and one of the most exciting things to do in London for architecture buffs is the tour with an additional look at some of the highlights of their vast collection.
Nearest Tube: Great Portland Street or Regent’s Park
DUBLIN CASTLE PUB, CAMDEN
Camden Town and the Camden Markets are right up there with the top tourist sites in London. The Dublin Castle pub, two minutes’ walk from Camden Tube, doesn’t see anything like as many visitors as Camden High Street. But Camden owes the Dublin Castle, which has played a huge part in it becoming one of the focal points of the London music scene, and staying that way for so long.
The Dublin Castle has been hosting live bands for over 40 years. The plaque above the door states that this is where ska band Madness honed their live performance, but there’s so much more. Amy Winehouse, who lived up the road, loved to play there and would sometimes serve drinks behind the bar. It was also one of the epicentres of the Britpop explosion of the 1990s. It’s one of the most famous pubs in London, with bags of character. Not to mention characters.
Nearest Tube: Camden Town
GALA BINGO HALL, TOOTING
There can’t be too many venues in London where Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Bee Gees all performed in concert. There aren’t too many Grade I listed former cinemas in the UK either. But the Gala Bingo Hall in Tooting, south of the river near Wandsworth, can claim all of this and more.
The Granada, as it was originally known, was one of the finest Art Deco cinemas in Britain. It still has a Wurlitzer organ, which was played during intervals. It has been home to a bingo hall since the 1970s, and has since been restored to its original sumptuous state. It’s well worth delving into off the beaten path London to seek this one out. You’ll need to indulge in a game of bingo to see it all, but there are few buildings quite like this.
Nearest Tube: Tooting Broadway
2 WILLOW ROAD
Some famous London architecture is hidden away where you’d least expect it, in the suburbs. 2 Willow Road is the middle house of a terrace of Modernist houses in Hampstead. They were designed and built by Hungarian architect Erno Goldfinger, with a concrete frame and red brick frontage.
If you wonder where you’ve heard the name Goldfinger before, here’s the answer. Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, was a local resident and one of many opposed to these houses being built. It’s believed that the architect was the inspiration for the villain Auric Goldfinger. It would have been too much of a coincidence otherwise. The National Trust’s acquisition of the house also caused a bit of a stir.
Nearest Tube: Hampstead
NATIONAL THEATRE SOUTHBANK
The best places in London to explore the arts seem to be clad in Brutalist concrete. Both the Barbican and Southbank Centres hail from the 1960s. Many such buildings were derided as ‘Brutalist’ and ugly, yet they seem to have been accepted more over time. The whole Southbank complex is stunning, inside and out. The National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall are all wonderful auditoria.
Southbank’s position close to so many London tourist places (the London Eye and Houses of Parliament) means people are always discovering it. There are so many things to do in Southbank, as a thriving pop-up restaurant scene has grown over the years.
Nearest Tube: Waterloo or Embankment
QUEENS HOUSE GREENWICH
The Queen’s House is one of the main things to see in Greenwich, London. It’s located next to the National Maritime Museum, and close to the other Greenwich attractions including the Royal Observatory and Cutty Sark.
The Queen’s House is the first Classical building in Britain. It was started by King James I for his wife Anne of Denmark, who didn’t live to see it completed; indeed, nor did James. Work resumed under Charles I, who completed it for his wife, Henrietta Maria. The architect was Inigo Jones, who was also responsible for Banqueting House on Whitehall. It marked a massive break from traditional Tudor architecture, and it’s still one of the most beautiful buildings in London today.
Nearest Raul: Greenwich DLR
Smithfield Market is the oldest – and one of the best – markets in London. Meat has been bought and sold on the site for over 800 years. It’s well worth venturing to this relatively quiet area in the northern part of the City of London to see it – the market is at its busiest at 7am on weekdays.
The Smithfield Market building is magnificent. It was designed by Sir Horace Jones in the 19th century, and is a long, grand structure with domes in the centre and at either end. The Museum of London is due to relocate to the Central Market in 2024.
Nearest Tube: Barbican or Farringdon
MUSEUM OF IMMIGRATION AND DIVERSITY, SPITALFIELDS
A few doors from Brick Lane, one of the top London places to see, is an unusual museum that is only occasionally open. 19 Princelet Street is a terraced house dating back to the 18th century. It was initially home to the family of a French Huguenot silk weaver, and over the ensuing centuries Irish, Jewish and Bangladeshi immigrants.
It’s appropriate that this house should now be home to the Museum of Immigration and Diversity, which have contributed so much to making London such an amazing city. It was closed when we chanced upon it recently, but it’s on our list of the most interesting places to visit in London next time round.
ST STEPHEN WALBROOK CHURCH
Sir Christopher Wren is best known for the design and construction of St Paul’s Cathedral. He also built many other churches around London after the Great Fire. He probably did more to shape the appearance of London than any other single person, all the way through to the 19th century. One of the most beautiful churches in London is St Stephen Walbrook, which he also rebuilt in the late 17th century.
St Stephen Walbrook is surrounded by high-rise buildings now, its tower and dome dwarfed by the surrounding office blocks. Yet if you step inside, you immediately enter another world, an oasis of serenity in the busy City. The interior is glorious,light and airy. The altar, by 20th century British sculptor Henry Moore, sits beneath the central dome, which is supported by slender Corinthian columns.
Nearest Tube: Bank
V & A MUSEUM
The Victoria & Albert Museum is across the street from the Natural History and Science Museums in South Kensington. It’s one of the top museums in London, and one of the best museums in the world dedicated to the applied and decorative arts. The building housing this amazing collection is rather special too.
The main building, designed by Aston Webb, was opened by Queen Victoria in 1900, in her last official public appearance. The grand façade is over 200 metres long, running along Cromwell Road. It has some great statues, particularly of British artists such as William Morris, John Constable and Inigo Jones. The interior is full of wonderful exhibition spaces, and the courtyard and café are great places to relax over a drink. The courtyard and new glass entrance on Exhibition Road were designed by British architect Amanda Levete, and opened in 2017.
MARBLE HILL HOUSE
Marble Hill House is a beautifully proportioned Palladian villa overlooking the Thames at Twickenham. It’s in a fine location, just across the river from one of the main entrances to Richmond Park. It’s also one of the loveliest visitor attractions in London, and one of several things to see in Richmond and around.
The villa was modelled on Palladio’s Villa Cornaro, in the Veneto region north-west of Venice. It was built between 1724 and 1729 by Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk and mistress of King George II. It was also later used for secret romantic assignations by the Prince Regent (later George IV). Marble Hill House is notable because other English Palladian villas were built to a similar design, as were palntation houses in the American colonies.
Nearest Rail Station: St Margaret’s
STRAWBERRY HILL HOUSE
Strawberry Hill is one of several stately homes and houses in the suburbs of west London. It’s close to the suburb of Twickenham, and part of a large estate including gardens. It’s one of many amazing places to visit near London that relatively few people seem to know about.
Strawberry Hill was founded by Horace Walpole, the Earl of Oxford and son of the first Prime Minister of Great Britain, Robert Walpole. The house is a striking concoction, like a white Gothic palace. It’s a very influential building, the first of the Gothic Revival – indeed, it predated much of it by at least a century.
Nearest Rail station: Strawberry Hill
THE BRITISH MUSEUM GREAT COURT AND READING ROOM
The re-design of the British Museum in Bloomsbury was one of the UK’s great Millennium projects. The circular Reading room is housed underneath the central dome of the Museum, and the Great Court is the surrounding quadrangle, through which nearly all visitors pass.
Both are outstanding, but the Great Court sees by far the most use. It’s a central area with information desks, and several cafes, bookshops and souvenir shops. The glass roof around the central dome is one of the great achievements of modern British architecture, the work of Lord Foster who was also responsible for the Gherkin. The reading room remains in something of a state of limbo at the time of writing. It used to house the Museum’s Library, which.has since been moved. Most recently it has been used as a performance space. Hopefully it won’t be long before it’s in regular use and open to the public again.
Nearest Tube: Russell Square
Drapers Hall is one of the most impressive City of London buildings. It is owned by the Worshipful Company of Drapers, one of over a hundred livery companies still extant in the City of London. Livery companies are the descendants of medieval guilds, which were responsible for regulating their profession and training new members. They are also heavily involved in charity work.
The Drapers’ history goes back over 800 years, but most of what you see today dates from the 19th century. It’s one of many impressive historical sights in London, with an interior that is especially magnificent. The highlight is the splendid Banqueting Hall, which is often used for events. The Drapers’ Hall can be visited on a guided tour, lasting 1 hour 45 minutes.
Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street or Bank
10 DOWNING STREET
This is one of the most iconic buildings in London, yet very few of us ever get to see it. It’s the official residence of the British Prime Minister. So unless you’re elected – or appointed – to a prominent role in British politics, you’re invited or work in the security forces, or are a cat, that will always remain the case. This still doesn’t deter an ever-present crowd of onlookers outside the security gates on Whitehall, even if all they can see is the street sign.
Number 10 is the official headquarters of the UK Government. It’s actually threre 18th century houses amalgamated into one. The Prime Minister’s private residence is on the third floor. There have been regular changes of occupancy in the last few years. Not that the cat would mind in the slightest.
Nearest tube: Westminster
Apsley House, the former residence of the Duke of Wellington, was once one of the most important places in London. If one had to write to the ‘Iron Duke’, you could have addressed the envelope “Number 1, London” and it would have reached him.
Apsley House sits across the road from the Wellington Arch, now one of the most famous monuments in London. It’s located on Hyde Park Corner, a short walk from Buckingham Palace. It’s London’s ultimate Georgian des res, dating from the early 19th century. The house has been kept much as it was at the time of war hero Wellington, with stunning interiors and one of the finest private art collections of the era.
Nearest Tube: Hyde Park Corner
Banqueting House is the last surviving part of the Palace of Whitehall, where English monarchs lived between 1530 and 1698. It’s one of the most beautiful landmark buildings of London, just across the street from the entrance to Horse Guards Parade. The latter is one of the most popular London tourist spots, and it’s well worth breaking away for half an hour or so to see Banqueting House.
The building itself is a masterpiece, designed by Inigo Jones, and influenced by Andrea Palladio, who designed several churches in Venice. The exterior is beautiful, but the highlight is the ceiling of the Banqueting Hall. It’s one of the most famous paintings in London, a series by Peter Paul Rubens glorifying the virtues of King James I. You can marvel at the work in luxury, lying on one of several couched on the floor, gazing upwards. You can also zoom in very close on the computer displays around the room.
Nearest Tube: Westminster or Charing Cross
WILTON’S MUSIC HALL
Another of the most remarkable buildings sits just off Cable Street in the East End. Wilton’s Music Hall is almost hidden in plain sight, with terraced houses at the top of the façade. It’s only a short walk from such London landmark buildings as the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, but it remains relatively undiscovered.
Wilton’s was rescued from decay, partly as a result of being featured on the BBC Restoration TV series. It’s the only surviving saloon music hall left in London, a single space with a gallery around the side. It was used as a theatre and music hall, and also as a supper club. Since being restored it’s a thriving theatre once again.
Nearest Tube: Tower Hill or Tower Gateway DLR
THE GEORGE INN
Hidden away a stone’s throw from The Shard is one of the best historic pubs in London. A small sign on Borough High Street directs you to The George Inn, a unique survivor from the late 17th century. After the inn was destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt to resemble the original as closely as possible. It’s a galleried coaching inn, and some of these were known to be used for theatrical performances.
The George Inn is a very important part of literary London, with a certain W Shakespeare a local resident believed to frequent the pub. Charles Dickens was also a visitor, and he refers to it in his novel Little Dorrit. It’s one of the most enjoyable London historical sites, and the beer’s pretty good too.
Nearest Tube: London Bridge
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.