It’s important to prioritise when you visit a city as massive as London. It would take months to see every historical site there is, and more are being discovered all the time. Especially if this is your first visit to London, don’t waste your time with the small fry: get the oldest, most famous historical sites out of the way so you can tick them off your list. You’ll find that your itinerary fills up fast and it’s highly difficult to fit in everything you’d ideally want to see in one trip – but that just means you can come back anytime and enjoy a totally new experience of London.
Here are London’s five biggest, most famous historical attractions to start you off.
1.The Tower of London:
Huge and easy to find, this centuries-old building began life as a fortified castle built by William the Conqueror, who began his rule in 1066. Later on, it became a prison for political enemies of the monarchy. Today it attracts millions of visitors every year with its striking battlements and fascinating but grisly history. Take a tour guided by a traditional yeoman warden – also known as Beefeaters – and learn all about some of the darkest periods of English history. Some of the most famous characters include murdered princes, beheaded queens like Anne Boleyn and plenty of ghosts! Here you can also visit the vault where the Crown Jewels are kept, safe and sound behind thick glass and a state-of-the-art security system – a touch of high-tech modernity in the midst of this ancient site.
Located right next to the Tower of London, this famous and much-photographed landmark is often mistakenly called London Bridge. The real London Bridge is much less impressive to look at! Apart from crossing the bridge on foot and admiring the beauty of its engineering, you can also watch it open in the middle to admit large ships at various points during the day. If you’re feeling brave, try booking a walk on the new glass walkway high above street level for a panoramic view over London and the Thames.
This spectacular cathedral has hosted royal weddings and coronations for centuries, but it still offers regular church services every Sunday. If you’d rather just admire the architecture, audio guided tours run during the week so you can explore at your own pace, or there’s the option of a tour guided by an Abbey verger who can give you an in-depth look at the Abbey and its history. Next door is the gorgeous façade of Parliament House, glowing golden in the sunlight, where the tower of Big Ben rises to look over the Thames. Stay close to all the historical action in one of the many quality last minute hotels in Londons West End.
This 202-feet high pillar in the centre of London has no other name, it’s that famous. It’s the tallest free-standing column in the world, including Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. It was designed by legendary architect Sir Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666. Reach it by getting off the Tube at Monument station and then give your heart a workout by climbing the spiral staircase to the top of the pillar: 311 steps.
This 12th century church was founded by the Knights Templar, so you already know its history is steeped in legend. It’s a simple yet striking place built of white stone to showcase tall, intricate stained glass windows. It now hosts concerts throughout the year, and provides a peaceful retreat from the busy city streets perfect for tired tourists to rest and recharge.