There’s a host of top historical places to visit in London and among the very best are the British Museum, the London Mithraeum and the world-famous Houses of Parliament. Other popular sites tend to include the Tower of London, Highgate Cemetery and Westminster Abbey.
Founded by the Romans in 43AD, London initially became an important city in Roman Britain. Although little remains from this period, there are a few scattered Roman ruins, including parts of the Roman walls and the remains of a Roman theatre. After the Romans departed, the city’s influence waned until the site was refortified by Alfred the Great. The Norman conquest saw the city become increasingly important until it was established as the capital of England – a fact reflected by the many royal palaces and homes which still exist today.
We’ve put together an experts guide to London’s cultural landmarks, monuments and museums, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of historic sites in London which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in London: The Ultimate Guide?
The British Museum is one of the world’s foremost museums of history and anthropology. The museum has some of the largest and most revered collections from around the globe ranging from Babylonian stonework and Samurai armour to pottery and glass from the Roman Empire.
Three hour and children’s’ itineraries are available on the museum’s website and at the museum itself. Alternatively, free audio guides are available or visitors can book a highlights tour in advance for a fee, which take place daily. You can book this online or by calling the museum.
In September 1954 during the construction of a huge new office block for insurance firm Legal & General, builders discovered a Roman temple which sat on the banks of the long-lost River Walbrook (now a City of London street), an ancient tributary of the Thames and source of fresh water, vital to the running of the Roman city of Londinium.
The good news is that the owners of the original location of the temple, media behemoth Bloomberg have brought the temple back to life by way of ‘an innovative museum experience that will change the way we encounter archaeology.’ The resultant experience is both fascinating and superbly presented and definitely one to visit.
The Houses of Parliament or ‘Palace of Westminster’ is where both houses of the UK Parliament are located. Originally part of the great royal palace that had been home to English monarchs for over 500 years, Westminster Palace became the home of parliament in the 16th century after reign of King Henry VIII, when Henry moved the royal family out of the Palace of Westminster following a fire.
The original Westminster Palace burned down in 1834, and the building you see today is the result of the subsequent rebuilding by Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin. The iconic clock tower, housing Big Ben, is probably the most famous part of this building and the complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Tower of London, originally known as the White Tower, was commissioned by the first Norman king, William the Conqueror and work on it was underway by the 1070s. It was designed as a fortress-stronghold, a role that remained unchanged right up until the late 19th century. There is a great deal to see and do at the Tower: the beefeaters, ravens, site of the menagerie and just walking around it to soak up the history. Allow plenty of time for your visit.
Highgate Cemetery is a graveyard in London where the famous philosopher and political economist Karl Marx is buried. It is also the burial site of several other prominent people, including several novelists, artists, political activists and professionals. A list of famous internments can be found on Highgate Cemetery’s website. Guided tours of the East Cemetery, where Marx is interned, take place on the first Saturday of each month starting at 2:15pm and last around an hour.
Westminster Abbey is an iconic medieval structure and the site of many historic royal and national events, from coronations and weddings to burials and even deaths. Centrally located in London, Westminster Abbey was first constructed in the eleventh century by King Edward the Confessor, a Saxon king who dedicated this new church to St Peter.
To have an informed visit and to see the most interesting parts of the abbey, take a tour, as just wandering around can be overwhelming. Poets’ corner is one of the main attractions, it being the burial site of many prominent non-royal figures. One of the other most impressive sites is the Coronation Chair, produced in 1300-1301 under the orders of King Edward I. Its purpose was to accommodate the Stone of Scone, which the king had brought from Scotland.
Along with Westminster Palace and Saint Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Imperial War Museum is dedicated to exploring worldwide conflicts throughout history. The exhibitions in the London Imperial War Museum cover, amongst other things, different aspects of the First and Second World Wars including military history, the Holocaust, women’s roles in the conflicts, wartime artwork and the political issues of the time.
The Imperial War Museum is particularly child-friendly, with temporary exhibitions such as a reconstruction of a World War I trench.
The London Roman Wall was built between around 190 and 220 AD and stretched for about three miles from Blackfriars to Tower Hill. This defensive wall protected what was then the important Roman city of Londinium. Prior to the building of the London Roman Wall, Londinium already had a fort, parts of which were now incorporated into the new wall.
Over the centuries, most of the London Roman Wall has been obscured by medieval additions and other development. However, there are some well-preserved parts which can still be seen today. The map highlights one of the more prominent remaining sections of the London Roman Wall, that at Tower Hill.
The Cabinet War Rooms are part of the underground bunker complex in London where Winston Churchill and his government operated during World War Two. The Cabinet War Rooms were left untouched from 1945, when they were no longer needed, until the 1980s when they were restored and opened to the public. Those which are open include the cabinet war room, where Churchill’s war cabinet met, Churchill’s office and his bedroom. This underground office block even included a canteen and a hospital. Visitors should allow at least 90 minutes to savour the atmosphere of this iconic Second World War site.
Kew Palace was built around 1631 by merchant Samuel Fortrey. The 17th century palace is noted for its distinctive decorative brickwork and gables, and it is the oldest surviving building in the Kew botanical gardens. The Palace was opened to the public in 1898. The ground and first floor rooms at Kew have been restored to reflect the Georgian era, while the second floor has remained untouched.