Landmarks often become synonymous with a city. It is difficult to think of Paris without imaging the Eiffel Tower, New York without the Empire State Building – and of course the most iconic of the Landmarks of London, Big Ben.
I have lived in London for 18 years and I still feel a bit of a thrill when I see Big Ben – I almost can’t believe I am really standing where I can see it after all of those years of seeing it on television in Australia.
To celebrate 18 years of living in wonderful London it seemed appropriate to put together a list of my personal 18 London landmarks. These are my must sees that I recommend to friends who visit and now to you!
18 Landmarks of London
Table of Contents
- 1 18 Landmarks of London
- 1.1 1. Big Ben
- 1.2 2. Palace of Westminster
- 1.3 3. Westminster Abbey
- 1.4 4. Buckingham Palace
- 1.5 5. Kensington Palace – England
- 1.6 6. St Paul’s Cathedral
- 1.7 7. 10 Downing Street
- 1.8 8. Tower Bridge
- 1.9 9. Tower of London
- 1.10 10. 30 St Mary Axe or The Gherkin
- 1.11 11. Battersea Power Station
- 1.12 12. British Museum
- 1.13 13. The London Eye
- 1.14 14. Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie
- 1.15 15. The Tate Modern Column
- 1.16 16. Natural History Museum
- 1.17 17. The Shard
- 1.18 18. Nelson’s Column
- 2 Boutique Hotels in Londons
- 3 Getting to London and Getting Around
- 4 Getting around London
1. Big Ben
As the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, Big Ben is to London. Big Ben is actually a nickname that stuck. The name refers to both the clock and the clock tower that sits at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London.
The tower was completed in 1859. At that time it was the largest and most accurate clock in the world. Big Ben became a UNESCO listed site in 1987.
In August of 2017 Big Ben was silenced. This market the beginning of a four year project to fully repair and restore bot the clock and the clocktower. They also plan to install a lift which should make life much easier for those charged with keeping Big Ben in good condition ongoing.
⇒ Heading to London? Check out my posts on 13 Unusual Experiences in London, the best London Food Tours, my virtual London Travel Blog, some great Earlsfield restaurants, 14 Things to do in Notting Hill, restaurants near Clapham Junction and Victoria Station restaurants, 16 Famous Landmarks in Europe, a mad hatter afternoon tea party and a day trip to Brighton, 18 Landmarks of London from a local, 15 Places to see Sunsets in London, 9 Places to watch the Sunrise in London, 10 Bridges in London Not to Miss and Cotswolds tour from London options.
The exceptions to the silencing are New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Day. There are no public tours available during the restoration period. However, one clock face can still be seen through the scaffolding.
2. Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster is located in London, England and is where the two United Kingdom Houses of Parliament meet: the House of Lords and the House of Commons. It was named after nearby Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Palace is 900 years old. From 1087 to 1100 the Palace of Westminster was the home of the monarch and the Palace of Westminster is still owned by the Crown.
Much of the palace was destroyed in a fire in 1834. The palace was rebuilt after the fire and this is the London landmark that we now know so well.
Today the palace is known as the Houses of Parliament or often just Westminster. It is the centre of UK parliamentary life and its most well known tower is of course Big Ben, another European landmark.
There are several ways to visit the Palace of Westminster. If you are a UK resident you are able to take a free tour called the Democratic Access Tour. If you’re not a UK resident guided paid tours are held on weekdays when Parliament isn’t in session and on Saturdays.
Book a skip the line ticket to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.
3. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is perhaps best known for the weddings it has held. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip and Prince William and Kate Middleton were married at Westminster Abbey in London.
The Abbey dates back to 1050 when Benedictine monks first travelled to the site to set up a coronation church. The version of Westminster Abbey which we see today was constructed between 1245 and 1272.
Westminster Abbey is still a working church today. It is also open to the public. The Royal Tombs and the Poet’s Corner are the most popular sections. They are home to the resting places of well known names such as Mary Queen of Scots, Charles Dickens, John Keats and many others.
⇒ Westminster Abbey is usually open to visitors Mon-Sat from 930am to 330pm. Tickets for Westminster Abbey can be purchased online. The Westminster Abbey website also offers free online virtual tours.
4. Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace began life as a house. The core of today’s palace was built as a home for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703. It was acquired by King George II in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte.
The building was enlarged in the 19th century and became the London home of the monarch under Queen Victoria in 1837. Today it is still the home to the monarch Queen Elizabeth.
Buckingham Palace is still very much a working palace. It regularly plays a large role in major events in the United Kingdom with the Queen and her family appearing on the balcony for key events.
Buckingham Palace is only open to the public between July and October. Visitors can see the State Rooms and the gardens. If you are visiting at other times of the year the closest you can get is outside the gates (which still allows for some good photos), seeing the free changing of the guard, or visiting the Royal Mews.
5. Kensington Palace – England
Kensington Palace was the royal residence for Prince Charles and Princess Diana and was very much known as Diana’s home in London. It was also the birthplace of Queen Victoria.
Today it is the London home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as well as the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. As a tourism attraction, Kensington Palace re-opened in 2012 and visitors are now able to access several exhbitions.
Kensington Palace also borders onto Hyde Park, one of London’s loveliest parks to visit.
⇒ Several areas of Kensington Palace are open to the public. Visitors can walk through the King’s State Apartments, the Queen’s State Apartments, and the Gardens.
There are also fashion exhibitions that feature items from the wardrobes of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, and Princess Diana. The Palace often holds exhibitions and the Orangery does a lovely afternoon tea.
6. St Paul’s Cathedral
For over 1400 years St Paul’s Cathedral has stood at the highest point of the City of London on Ludgate Hill. Do remember the actual City of London is a very small part – more like a suburb – of what the rest of the world thinks of as London so this still holds true.
St Paul’s has dominated the London skyline for over 300 years with its famous dome. It is 111 metres high and was the highest building in London until 1963. It is still the highest dome in the world.
St Paul’s has been home to some of the most historic religious events in English history from the funeral of Winston Churchill to the wedding of Price Charles and Lady Diana.
The highlight of a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral London is climbing the 560 steps to the top of the Dome and the Whispering Gallery. This circular enclosure provides fantastic views of the inside of the Cathedral. The outdoor viewing platform offers fantastic views of London.
If you’re visiting on a weekday try to time your trip for 5pm when a choral evensong takes place. The church bell’s at St Pauls are rung on Sundays.
Book your ticket for St Paul’s Cathedral online before you go to save time spent in the queue and for a small discount.
7. 10 Downing Street
Anyone can visit near to the famous black door of 10 Downing Street, home to the Prime Minister in London. Get off the tube at Westminster or Charing Cross station and walk down Whitehall. You will then be able to look down Downing Street with the Thames at your back and hopefully snap a photo.
8. Tower Bridge
Completed in 1894, Tower Bridge is perhaps the most iconic of all of London’s bridges. Let’s start with the fact that it is often confused with London Bridge, best known from children’s nursery rhymes.
Tower Bridge is quite beautiful whereas London Bridge is a bit more of a plain Jane. So London Bridge has the brand name fame but Tower Bridge is the supermodel in real life.
The bridge was originally painted in chocolate brown but in 1977 it was repainted in blue, white, and red for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. It looked so fantastic that those colours have remained.
Tower Bridge is also famous for the fact that it is both a suspension and a drawbridge – and that it continues to lift every day. The bridge is 244 metres long and is 42 metres above the Thames. It is both a road and a footbridge and 40,000 people cross it every day.
Unsurprisingly, the bridge takes its name its neighbour the Tower of London.
Take a look behind the scenes at the famous bridge and discover areas such as the machinery room, which houses the hydraulic system that allows the bridge to rise for river traffic.
Plan Your Visit to Tower Bridge to see if you can watch the bridge lift – check the website to find out the dates and times for scheduled bridge lifts.
Entry to Tower Bridge gets you into the engine room, up to some amazing views, and best of all access to the glass floor if you don’t suffer from vertigo. I highly recommend visiting the bridge for the views and that glass floor. NB: It’s handy to combine visiting Tower Bridge with the nearby Tower of London which is coming up next in this post.
On the north side of the river, St Katherine’s Docks is a cute and quirky pier in the heart of London with shops and restaurants. On the south side of the river is Butler’s Wharf which is also bustling with shops and restaurants.
Tower Bridge is at its most beautiful on a blue sky London day and a great spot to watch sunsets in London.
9. Tower of London
The Tower of London was built 1000 years ago by William the Conqueror. At the time, England had seen nothing like it before. His intention was to create a building that would both defend and proclaim his royal power.
The stones which built the Tower of London came from Caen in France and it took 20 years to construct. Over the centuries, Kings and Queens have used the Tower to protect both themselves and their possessions.
The Tower of London also used to control the supply of money in England. All coins were made at the Tower until 1810. It has always been tradition for the valuables of the Royal Family to be kept at the Tower, which is still the case today with the Crown Jewels.
Almost as recognisable as the Tower of London are the Yeoman Warders who were originally part of the Monarch’s team of bodyguards. Henry VIII decreed that some of these bodyguards should base themselves at the Tower.
Today, the Yeomans or Beef Eaters continue to guard the Tower and carry out ceremonial duties. They also carry out some very entertaining tours of the Tower of London.
The darker side of the Tower of London is that it was a prison for over 800 years. Being “sent to the Tower” was a terrifying fate. Perhaps most famously, Anne Boelyn was held her before her death which took place on Tower Green.
The best way to visit the Tower of London is to pre-book your ticket and arrival time online. Tickets cover entry to all areas including the Crown Jewels.
10. 30 St Mary Axe or The Gherkin
The Gherkin is the nickname given to the building that is at 30 St Mary Axe in the City of London. It is a commerical skyscraper with a modern design that opened in 2004. Personally, I am a big fan of its modern style.
Elevators heading up the Gherkin move at a speed of 6 metres per second. The buiding is covered by 24,000 square metres of glass which is the equivalent of five football pitches.
The Gherkin has 41 floors. On the 40th floor is the Iris Bar and the Helix Restaurant. Friday and Saturday nights at the Iris Bar are Apertivo time. Cocktails and snacks are served with awesome sunset views.
11. Battersea Power Station
Okay I have to come clean – Battersea Power Station is my personal favourite London landmark. There is just something about this magnificent building sitting on the Thames that always gets me.
At its peak, Battersea Power Station supplied 1/5 of London’s electricity. From the 1930s to the 1980s it was a working power station. It was so important to London’s electricity that a problem at the power station in 1964 even brought the BBC to a stop.
Battersea Power Station was officially closed in 1983. In 2007 it was upgraded to be a Grade II listed site. In 2012 the site was purchased by developers with exciting plans.
As I write this post today Battersea Power Station is a good chunk of the way through a new modern incarnation as one of London’s newest, best located, new neighborhoods. There will be a considerable amount of residential property, a new tube station and restaurants and bars.
Several bars and restaurants are now open in the Circus West Village which can be easily accessed from the southern end of Chelsea Bridge. My personal favourite is the fantastic Vagabond Wine Bar.
12. British Museum
Founded in 1753, the British Museum was the first public museum in the world. The museum covers all fields of human knowledge and entry remains free of charge.
When it opened in 1759 it was intended by Parliament that it would open its doors for “all studious and curious persons”. Today, the British Museum receives over 6 million visitors a year.
The museum is located in the heart of Bloomsbury in London. It has four wings and 43 columns inspired by Greek temples. It was intended to emulate Greek architecture.
Highlights of any visit to the British Museum include visiting the Reading Room which was completed in 1857 and the considerably newer Great Court, which opened in 2000.
The Great Court is certainly my favourite area of the British Museum. It is a two acre space enclosed by a beautiful glass room and the Reading Room sits at the middle.
The magnificent glass roof is made up of 3,312 individual panels, and no two panels are the same shape. The roof is just over 26 metres above floor level at its highest point, giving a fantastic feeling of space to the area.
The museum is divided into different galleries which are organised by periods of time or locations. As you would expect, the British Museum gets very busy.
Tickets must be booked online whether they are for the general free admission or for paid exhibitions.
13. The London Eye
What better way to see a London than from the London Eye – nestled in the heart of the city. Choose from one of the 32 capsules to soar above the city, drinking in a 360-degree view of London and the ever-changing skies.
Rising before the South Bank, the iconic Ferris wheel allows its visitors to catch views of the River Thames, glimpse Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben. And on a clear day, you’ll be able to see as far as Windsor Castle in the distance.
Sunset rides on the London Eye are especially popular, so don’t forget to book your seat in advance if you want a guaranteed ride during sunset.
If you don’t get a spot on the wheel, why not take a London Eye River Cruise on the River Thames to catch the stunning sunsets.
14. Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie
Sky Garden is London’s highest public garden. Its viewing gallery sits on the 43rd floor of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building and boasts incredible 360-degree views of the city’s iconic skyline. Laden with leafy green foliage and floor-to-ceiling glass windows, it’s an incredible space to enjoy the sunset in a vibrant social setting.
Experience London from panoramic viewpoints on the open-air terrace. Nestled in a lush urban jungle with views reaching over the River Thames, it’s the perfect place to watch a London sunset.
Sky Garden is open till 6pm on weekends and 9pm on weekends. Depending on the time of year you should be able to book your entry to match sunset. However, if you are visiting in the summer do make sure to book at least two weeks ahead to get those sunset times.
15. The Tate Modern Column
The Tate Modern is one of London’s best known art galleries. Located on London’s south bank, in addition to outstanding modern artworks and exhibitions, the museum has a viewing deck on its top floor which has free entry on its 10th floor.
This London museum is part of the Tate Group which includes Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool, Tate St Ives and Tate Online. The building where it is housed was originally Bankside Power Station thus the magnificent column.
Opened in 2000, the Tate Modern is one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the world. It is the most visited art museum in Britain and the sixth most visited art museum in the world.
There is no fee for admission to the general collections at the Tate Modern. There are admission fees for the different temporary exhibitions held at the museum.
On Friday and Saturday evenings the Tate Modern often stays open until 10pm, offering the opportunity to absolutely enjoy the sunset even in the middle of summer.
16. Natural History Museum
London’s Natural History Museum is one of the three major museums in South Kensington. The other two museums are Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Natural History Museum is one of my favourite buildings in London. It has an ornate terracota facade that was intended to represent the diversity of nature in both the past and future. The current version of the museum opened fully in 1883.
There are over 80 million items in the museum representing life and earth sciences. One of the things from which the Natural History Museum is best known is its dinsoaur skeletons.
Today, the Natural History Museum is also home to a gorgeous skating rink over the Christmas period. And each year it hosts one of my favourite exhibits in the London, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
There is no fee to enter the Natural History Museum but some exhibits do charge fees.
17. The Shard
This 72 storey skyscraper was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. At just over 309 metres tall The Shard is the tallest building in the United Kingdom and the seventh tallest building in Europe.
The “Shard of Glass” opened in 2012 and the observation deck, the View from The Shard, in 2013. The open-air observation deck of The Shard is on the 72nd floor and it has jaw-dropping views over London. The View from The Shard is the highest view in the UK.
Most of the floors of The Shard are office space. However, it is also home to three excellent restaurants – Aqua Shard, Oblix and the particularly well rated Hutong.
My favourite way to experience The Shard is through the wonderful Shangri La Hotel, which takes up floors 34 to 52. Of course, the ultimate experience is to spend the night at this beautiful hotel, but there are several not as expensive ways to experience the views.
One of the best ways to experience the sunrise in London is to book the 630am slot at Ting, the Shangri La restaurant on the 35th floor. The breakfast is also outstanding. Or enjoy a classic English high tea mid afternoon at Ting.
My personal favourite way to watch the sunset in London is at Gong. Gong at the Shangri La Hotel is the highest hotel bar in Western Europe. Located on Level 52 of the Shard Building, this is perhaps the highest sunset view in London.
The Gong is also a fantastic cocktail bar. I have visited several times. It is a beautiful bar but it is also quite comfortable. There is, of course, a bar as well as little tables that have all been placed next to floor to ceiling windows to ensure full appreciation of the amazing view.
18. Nelson’s Column
Nelson’s Column is the name of the statue which sits in London’s Trafalgar Square. This London monument was built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Nelson’s Column was completed in 1843 and refurbished in 2006. This monument in London is just under 52 metres tall and is decorated with four bronze panels.
Trafalgar Square, the home of Nelson’s Column, was established in the early 19th century. The area had been one of significance since the 1200s.
Today it is the home of the National Gallery, St Martins in the Field Church, Canada House, South Africa House and its beautiful fountain.
Boutique Hotels in Londons
Artist Residence is located in Pimlico which is fabulously central. It is in a gorgeous 5 store regency building and has a cute bar.
The Portobello Hotel is located in one of London’s best known and cutest neighbourhoods Notting Hill. This is also the hotel where Kate Moss and Johnny Depp filled up the bath with champagne. The hotel is located on a quiet street but is a great location.
The Great Northern Hotel is ridiculously close to Kings Cross and St Pancras stations which is incredibly convenient. The hotel dates back to 1854 but has had a major refurb so it feels fresh and modern.
The Hoxton hotel is in the heart of East London in Shoreditch and a perfect base for exploration. The rooms aren’t huge but the location makes up for it – as does the great value for London with rooms starting at £99 a night.
Getting to London and Getting Around
Best Ways to get from the airport to London
London has several airports. It can be confusing and expensive to get from each of the airports into central London. And the last thing you need after a flight! It is much easier to organize tickets before you fly.
Heathrow is the most common airport for international flights. The fastest way to get from Heathrow into Central London is the Heathrow Express.
This train only takes 15 minutes to get from Heathrow to Paddington Station and runs 4 times an hour. The Heathrow Express is much faster than a cab or any other option.
⇒ Save £5 per standard ticket on Heathrow express tickets
The lowest cost way to get from Heathrow to central London is the tube. The tube is actually one of the fastest options as well – and will get you the closest to your final destination.
⇒ Avoid the Queue – Book Your Heathrow airport to London tube
There is also a bus or coach option which drops passengers at Victoria Station. This is a cheap option but you will have to deal with London traffic! If you are taking this option during peak hour it could take up to 2 hours each way.
⇒ Book your national express Heathrow airport coach transfer
Gatwick Airport is south of London and can be quite the distance in a car. The Gatwick Express is the fastest option into London and runs directly from Gatwick to Victoria Station.
⇒ Book Here and Save £5 per standard ticket on your Gatwick express eticket
If you don’t need the express option there is a slightly slower-moving train that has several more options in terms of stops including Clapham Junction, Kings Cross St Pancras, and London Bridge.
⇒ Planning a trip to England or Wales? Don’t miss my posts on the 40 Top English Landmarks, The Crown Filming Locations, Most Beautiful Castles in Cornwall and Boutique Hotels in Cornwall, Boutique Hotels in Kent, Where to Stay in the Cotswolds, 61 Magnificent Landmarks of the UK, Places to Visit in South Wales, Fun Things to do in Cardiff, Luxury Hotels in Yorkshire, Spa Hotels in the South West, Day trip to Brighton, Things to do in Exmouth, Cafes in Exeter, Pubs with Rooms in the New Forest, Ockenden Manor Spa and the Best Things to do in Winchester.
The third option is the national express Gatwick airport coach transfer. This is the least expensive option but it can take some time with London traffic. There is one departure an hour and the average journey time is 90 minutes.
There are a number of Brit Rail passes available. The BritRail London Plus Pass is the best option if you are planning to base yourself in London and take a few day trips. The Britrail England pass covers all of England including getting to and from the airport.
If you are planning on travelling around the south-west of England then BritRail South West Pass is the best option. Finally, if you’re planning on travelling around England and Scotland then the best option is to buy the BritRail GB Pass.
Getting around London
When in London the tube and buses are absolutely the best way to get around town quickly and cheaply. The best way to pay for this is to get a London visitor oyster card– which you can order before you leave home.
⇒ Heading to Scotland? Check out my Scotland Itinerary 10 Days, Scotland Itinerary 7 Days, Glasgow Tours, Edinburgh vaults tour, things to do in Dumfries and Galloway, things to do in Ayrshire, my guide to Climbing Ben Nevis, 11 Places to Experience the Sunset Edinburgh style, 18 Beautiful Places in Scotland and 9 great Spa Breaks Scotland.
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