Double-decker buses, Buckingham Palace and London Bridge, London landmarks are straight of a Monopoly board. With so many landmarks in London to see, it can be exciting and overwhelming. England’s dynamic capital is jam-packed with historical and modern-day attractions, from churches and cathedrals to castles and mansions to theatres, museums, quirky streets and markets.
Although London is such a big city with so many distractions, there are enough things to do in Southbank to keep you busy for a few days at least. The south side of the Thames is a showcase of magnificent views, museums (Love museums? Here’s a great guide to visiting London’s museums), markets and vibrant street culture.
- London Landmarks
- Modern Landmarks in London
London Landmarks For Your First Visit
If you’ve never been to London, before doing anything else, here are some famous London landmarks you’ll want to tick off your list.
1- Buckingham Palace
The hub of the British Royal Empire, Buckingham Palace is a drawcard for anyone visiting the nation’s capital.
The London residence of the Queen, Buckingham Palace became the centre of court during the rule of Queen Victoria in 1837 and has been home to the Kings and Queens of England ever since.
From its grand architecture to the colourful palace guards parading through the grounds, Buckingham Palace attracts royal watchers in droves.
The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh occupy private apartments in the Palace’s north side while the staff use the south wing.
Your chance of seeing the Queen’s private quarters is next to zero but these sections of Buckingham Palace that are open to the public:
- 19 State Rooms are accessible in summer for 10 weeks and on specific dates in spring and winter.
- The Royal Mews (open between February and November) has a dazzling display of royal coaches and carriages and a working stable. It’s home to the Gold State Coach, which has been used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821.
- Queen’s Gallery to see items displayed from the Royal Collection, such as paintings, rare furniture and collections of photographs.
Buckingham Palace is at Westminster, London.
2- Westminster Abbey
Most people will recall seeing the Gothic architecture of Westminster Abbey on TV.
16 royal weddings have occurred in Westminster Abbey, most recently the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) in April 2011.
Westminster Abbey is also where coronations have been held since 1066 and here 17 monarchs are buried.
Founded by Benedictine monks in 960AD, the Abbey continues to serve as a place of worship and attending a service is an iconic thing to do.
Other things to do at Westminster Abbey include visiting the Royal Tombs where 30 kings and queens are buried starting with Edward the Confessor.
The Coronation Chair has been used during coronations since 1308 and was initially commissioned by King Edward I to enclose the Stone of Scone, which was transported from Scotland in 1296.
Westminster Abbey is at The Chapter Office, Westminster Abbey, 20 Dean’s Yard, London.
3- Big Ben
The Houses of Parliament and its famous Big Ben, the most prominent and highest clock tower in the United Kingdom, is an iconic London landmark recognised around the world.
Although the term “Big Ben” is generally used to describe the clock, tower and bell, the name was initially meant for the Great Bell.
The Great Bell sounded for the very first time on 11 July 1859 and is housed in Elizabeth Tower at the northern end of the Houses of Parliament.
The Clock Tower was constructed with materials from across the country, such as Cornish granite and Yorkshire Anston stone.
Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower are currently being refurbished and there are no tours until 2021.
According to two theories, Big Ben was either named after Sir Benjamin Hall, First Commissioner for Works, or champion heavyweight boxer Ben Caunt.
Which do you think is more likely?
Big Ben is at Westminster, London.
4- Tower of London
Take a step back into British history by visiting the Tower of London, which has been a royal palace, an arsenal and garrison, a zoo for the royal family and a jewel house.
Don’t miss the Crown Jewels exhibition of 23,578 gemstones and a Yeoman Warder tour will reveal gruesome tales of intrigue, execution and torture.
Tower traditions include the ceremonial locking and unlocking of the fortress gates known as The Ceremony of the Keys and Gun Salutes.
The Beating of the Bounds is where children and officials beat the stones around the tower with willow wands, following an ancient custom to reaffirm boundaries.
The Tower of London is at St Katharine’s & Wapping, London.
5- Royal Museums Greenwich
Visit the Royal Museums Greenwich is home to the National Maritime Museum, the Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory and the Queen’s House art gallery.
The four museums form a UNESCO World Heritage site that is a reminder of Britain’s supremacy during the prime of the British Empire.
A fun thing to do is to straddle the Prime Meridian of the World, which signifies Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
It’s the line that divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the earth.
Royal Museums Greenwich is at Blackheath Ave, Greenwich, London.
6- The Eros Statue in Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus is the entertainment district of the London and has enough giant electronic advertisements boards to rival New York’s Time Square.
This famous London tourist destination has plenty of cinemas, theatres, bars, clubs and restaurants.
The statue of a winged archer in a pose with his bow sits atop the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, which is an instantly recognisable meeting point.
The 19th-century statue commemorated the philanthropic work of Lord Shaftesbury and was designed by Sir Alfred Gilbert in the image of Anteros (Eros’ brother).
Looking for fancy and fashionable attire? Want to learn how to dress like an English gent or lady?
Harrods, the famous department store, is a showcase of seven floors with 330 departments, 32 restaurants, a bank and a world-famous food hall.
An establishment that grew from the ground up, dating back to 1873.
By 1883 Harrod’s had grown into a department store with six departments and 200 staff.
The progressive department store had the world’s first moving staircase in 1898, serving brandy to customers who reached the top.
It changed hands a few times and was purchased by Qatar Holdings in 2010 for £1.5bn.
Harrods is at 87-135 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, London.
8- Tower Bridge
The bridge in the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down” is a London landmark for photographers.
Get an eyeful of Tower Bridge with cars and red double-decker buses as they zoom along the bridge.
For a panoramic shot from a higher vantage point, there are the high-level Walkways and Glass Floor, where you can look down from 42 m above the River Thames.
Inside Tower Bridge, you’ll find an exhibition weaved amongst the historic steam engines and coal burners that once powered the bridge.
In the early years, before it switched to electricity in 1976, Tower Bridge was raised up to 30 times a day.
Tower Bridge is at Tower Bridge Rd, London and is open from 930am to 5 pm.
9- St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral, with its grand dome, is an imposing structure in London’s towering skylines.
The beautiful interior of the cathedral and its view of the Thames River is worth a visit.
Climb 528 steps to capture another panoramic picture of riverside London and when you’re satisfied with your photographs from above pay a visit to The Crypt below.
St Paul’s Cathedral is at St. Paul’s Churchyard, London.
10- Trafalgar Square
Between the 14th and the 17th centuries, the area that is now Trafalgar Square was the courtyard of the Great Mews stabling of Whitehall Palace.
Conceptualised in 1812, it was redeveloped into a public space and opened in 1830 as Trafalgar Square.
The Nelson memorial statue, two fountains and the bronze lion guarding the base of Nelson’s Column were added at different stages later.
These days, Trafalgar Square is a meeting point and a place where events are held.
Modern Landmarks in London
11- Millenium Bridge
One of the most striking bridges across the Thames, built in 2000, the Millennium Bridge was the first new bridge over the river for more than 100 years.
The steel suspension bridge has two river piers and uses lateral suspension without tall columns supporting it.
It links Bankside with the City of London for pedestrians.
Millennium Bridge is at Thames Embankment, London.
12- Wembley Stadium
Football fans won’t want to miss joining in the fun at Wembley Stadium.
Get into the spirit and buy an English beer, paint yourself in team colours and wave the team’s banner.
The stadium is Great Britain’s most significant and is where most major sporting events are held.
It has hosted the FIFA championship games, 1948 Olympic Games and the English Cup.
It has 90,000 seats and a circumference of 1km.
Wembley Stadium is at Wembley, London.
13- The Shard
The Shard is 300m (1999 ft) high, with 72 floors and London’s best view from the 68th, 69th and 72nd floors.
It towers above the London skyline from Southwark and has offices, restaurants, a hotel, spa and apartments.
A famous Italian architect designed this building, which is also the highest skyscraper in Europe.
Renzo Piano was also the creative mind behind the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
The £500m building is in the London Bridge Quarter and has 11,000 glass panels, covering 56,000 square metres (602,779 sq ft) – the size of eight football pitches.
Shangri-La Hotel occupies floors 34 to 52 of the Shard.
The Shard is at 32 London Bridge Steet, London.
14- The Gherkin
The Gherkin is a distinctive London landmark that is a bullet-shaped glass tower designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster.
The 180 m (591 foot) high futuristic skyscraper has 41 floors and can be seen from all over London.
It took two years to construct and is a gleaming landmark above London’s skyline that is particularly eye-catching after dark.
Except for IRIS Bar, which has 360-degree views of London, and HELIX Restaurant, which is open for lunch and dinner, the rest of the building is not open to the public.
The Gherkin is at 30 St Mary Axe, London and is not open to the public.
15- The Walkie Talkie
Another London skyscraper with an impressive concave design is shaped like a walkie talkie.
When it was first built before a sunshade was installed, the glare from the 37-storey mirrored building in London’s financial district was reported to have buckled cars, blistered paint, start fires on a doormat, scorched a lemon and someone even claims to have fried an egg in its rays.
The Walkie Talkie is at 20 Fenchurch Street, London.
London Landmarks in Southbank
16- Borough Market
“A major supermarket purchased our special dry-cured bacon last week” is the sign at the Sillfield Farm stall.
Although this particular market has occupied its present site for over 250 years, there has been a food market on the south bank of the river for at least 1000 years.
London’s Borough Market is a London icon and visiting the market is quite a treat.
For a tasty sample of contemporary British cuisine prepared with fresh ingredients from the market, book a table at Roast.
London Borough Market is at 8 Southwark St, London.
17- London Eye
Get a bird’s-eye view of London – as far as 40km in all directions – from a capsule on the London Eye.
Also known as the Millennium Wheel, this symbol of modern-day London stands 135m high and was once the world’s tallest observation wheel.
It has since lost its top spot to the Las Vegas High Roller, Singapore Flyer and the Star of Nanchang.
It’s still Europe’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel and is one of the most visited attractions in London.
So, make sure to book in advance to avoid standing in a queue for hours. You can jump the queue by booking here.
London Eye is at Lambeth, London.
18- Shakespeare’s Globe
If you fancy a bit of Othello, head to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre which is a replica of the 1599 open-air playhouse that performed many of Shakespeare’s plays.
It’s worth taking a guided tour of the theatre, or you can wander through the world’s largest exhibition devoted to Shakespeare.
There is a neat interactive play-reading programme that allows visitors to record their audio performance of a character in a scene alongside pre-recorded readings performed by Globe actors.
There are sword-fighting exhibits, a working printing press and colourful displays of Elizabethan clothing.
19- Southwark Cathedral
London’s first Gothic church has a long and fascinating history.
Historical highlights include heresy trials held in 1555 during the reign of Mary I, the baptism of John Harvard (founder of Harvard University) and the burial of Shakespeare’s brother, Edmund, in 1607.
In 1996, the cathedral drew the spotlight for hosting the 20th-anniversary service for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.
Inside the cathedral, there’s a large 19th-century stained glass window depicting scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and a statue of a reclining Shakespeare holding a quill.
There’s a memorial to the victims of the Marchioness (the pleasure boat that sank in the Thames river in 1989, killing 51 passengers) disaster and monuments honouring Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
20- Tate Modern
Created in 2000 from the out-of-commission Bankside Power Station, the Tate Modern is London’s national gallery of international modern art.
All the artworks displayed were created after 1900, including many works by modern British artists.
The gallery is designed around four hubs (Surrealism, Minimalism, post-war abstraction in Europe and the US) and the three linked movements of Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism.
Each hub has exhibits showing main proponents, predecessors and opponents of the respective movement.
21- Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret
Climb the narrow spiral staircase to this musty chamber of horrors. The Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret is an unsettling reminder of life before anaesthetics and antiseptic surgery.
After being lost for over a century, the operating theatre was discovered in the garret of St Thomas’s Church in 1956.
The Museum has exhibits of 19th-century medical instruments used by surgeons to amputate limbs, perform skull operations and childbirth, while the Herb Garret has displays of herbs and potions that would make a witch blush with pride.
The operating theatre was used as a student demonstration arena where underprivileged women were operated on in public.
In those days, wealthy patients were treated and operated on in their own homes.
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