London reigns supreme when it comes to historic sites. No guidebook could even begin to scratch the surface of the city’s history, and we won’t attempt to do that either. There’s just too much to see within one lifetime. Luckily, some of London’s most historic sites happen to be major landmarks. Here, we’ve included a short introduction to some of our favorite spots:
Buckingham Palace became the official London residence of the Monarchy with Queen Victoria in 1837. Currently, Queen Elizabeth II lives here. Buckingham Palace is pretty accessible to the public- visitors are able to walk right up to the front gate and watch the Guards. If you have the chance, try to catch the Changing of the Guards ceremony…it is a very impressive sight to see! During the months of August and September, you can take a tour of the State Rooms inside the palace. The two closest tube stops are St. James’s Park (Circle and District lines) and Victoria Station (Circle, District and Victoria lines).
A brief walk from Buckingham Palace is Westminster Abbey. The Abbey’s royal history is second to none. It’s where all coronations are held and has hosted many royal weddings, including Prince William and Dutchess Catherine’s in 2011. Princess Diana’s funeral was also held here, and it is the burial place of many British monarchs and historical figures, including: Elizabeth I, Henry VII, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, Geoffrey Chaucer, Oliver Cromwell, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, and Sir Lawrence Olivier. Entrance fee is 18 GBP per person, and comes with an audio guide. If you are not coming from Buckingham Palace, the nearest tube stops are Westminster (District, Circle, and Jubilee lines) and St. James’s Park (Circle and District lines).
Big Ben & Houses of Parliament
Situated directly behind Westminster Abbey is Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben has been a London landmark for over 150 years, and was recently renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. While it’s a lovely gesture, most people’s loyalties lie with the original nickname. Big Ben is attached to the Houses of Parliament, where Government decisions are made by the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Guided tours of Parliament are offered for around 17 GBP. For those interested in politics or current events, you can sit in on a debate for free, no advanced notice required. Both landmarks are part of the Palace of Westminster, which sits right along the Thames River. It is a beautiful sight to see at night. The nearest tube station to these sites is Westminster (District, Circle, and Jubilee lines)
Often mistaken for “London Bridge”, Tower Bridge competes with Big Ben for the title of most iconic London landmark. It sits across the Thames river, directly next to the Tower of London, hence the name. You can go up inside the bridge as part of an exhibition, which includes a tour of the engine rooms for 8 GBP per person. There are also magnificent views from the walkway at the top. The nearest tube station is Tower Hill (District and Circle Lines).
Tower of London
Any history buff will feel like a kid in a candy store at the Tower of London. Over the last thousand years, the Tower of London has served as a palace, a prison, a royal armory, a zoo, and a treasury. The picture above is of the White Tower, which is the original and central building. Currently, it houses a vast collection of armor and weaponry used by various Monarchs. Behind the White Tower, the Crown Jewels are housed in the Waterloo Barracks. Moving walkways take you through several rooms of crowns, tiaras, and jewelry worn by Royalty. It’s truly an awe-inspiring collection, although expect to be pushed around in here by overeager individuals! Children who visit the Tower of London will enjoy seeing the ravens that wander around the grounds. Their wings are clipped, and tradition holds that if any escape, that the Tower and the Monarchy will fall. They bear a lot of responsibility!
The Tower of London is perhaps most infamous for it’s gruesome history. It’s the place where many “traitors” of the monarchy have been held prisoner and executed. Some of its most famous victims include two of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. It’s also the location where two of Britain’s young princes mysteriously “disappeared” in the 15th century. They have never been found, but rumor has it that their uncle was somehow involved before becoming King.
The Tower of London is guarded by Yeoman Warders, also known as “Beefeaters”. At night, visitors can attend the traditional Ceremony of the Keys, when the Chief Yeoman Warder locks up the Tower. It is free, but you must apply in writing, several months in advance. The entrance fee to visit the Tower of London is around 20 GBP per person. It’s a bit pricey, but there is a lot to see. There are also plenty of meal options should you choose to spend the greater part of the day here.The nearest tube stop is Tower Hill (District and Circle Lines).