Historic Sites in London: The Ultimate Guide

What are the best Historic Sites in London: The Ultimate Guide?

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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.

1. British Museum

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.

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2. London Mithraeum

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.

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3. Houses of Parliament

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.

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4. The Tower of London

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.

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5. Highgate Cemetery

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.

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6. Westminster Abbey

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.

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7. Imperial War Museum

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.

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8. London Roman Wall

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.

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9. Cabinet War Rooms

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.

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10. Kew Palace

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.

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Full list of Historic Sites in London

Beyond the most famous of London's cultural landmarks, monuments and museums, there are many similar places to visit, including the Imperial War Museum, London Roman Wall and the Cabinet War Rooms to name but a few. We’re constantly expanding this list of cultural attractions in London and you can view the current selection below.

10 Downing Street

10 Downing Street is the home of the Prime Minister of the UK....

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All Hallows by the Tower

One of the oldest churches in London, All Hallows by the Tower contains Roman and Saxon remains as well as other interesting elements.

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Apsley House

Apsley House was the home of one of Britain’s most heroic figures, the Duke of Wellington.

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Banqueting House

The Banqueting House in Whitehall is famous as the site of the execution of King Charles I.

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Battle of Barnet

One of the most decisive and bloody encounters of the Wars of the Roses.

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Benjamin Franklin House

Benjamin Franklin House in London is the only surviving former residence of Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

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Big Ben

Big Ben is the name often attributed to the iconic clock tower of the Houses of Parliament.

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Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace has been the royal residence of British monarchs since the reign of Queen Victoria.

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Churchill’s Secret Bunker

Churchill’s Secret Bunker was designed to be used as the nerve centre of the British government during WW2 in the event of Britain being unable to defend itself from air attack.

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Clarence House

Clarence House has been the London residence of several members of the British royal family.

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Crofton Roman Villa

Crofton Roman Villa in Orpington, London, contains the remains of an ancient house and farm complex originally built in the second century AD and occupied until around 400AD.

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Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace is a spectacular Art Deco palace built in the 1930’s alongside a 15th century medieval hall.

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Fenton House

Fenton House is a well maintained seventeenth century house in Hampstead in North London.

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Freud Museum

Based in Hampstead, London in the house Sigmund Freud and his family occupied after escaping from Austria following the Nazi annexation, the Freud Museum provides a fascinating journey through the mind and life of the founder of psychoanalysis.

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Fulham Palace

For 1,300 years Fulham Palace was owned by the Bishops of London and it was used from the 11th century until 1975. Today the medieval and Tudor palace house a museum, gallery and beautiful botanic gardens telling the story of the palace as well as its Neolithic, Iron Age and Roman origins.

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HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast is a Royal Navy light cruiser ship that played a role in both World War II and the Korean War.

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Ham House

A 17th century mansion, Ham House is an opulent melting pot of British and European Renaissance design.

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Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is a medieval palace whch has served as everything from a royal residence to a prison.

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Horniman Museum

Frederick John Horniman opened his eponymous museum in Forest Hill, south London in 1901 after inheriting his father’s business.

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Hunterian Museum

The Hunterian Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is one of, if not the world’s finest medical museums and includes items from luminaries such as Jenner, Banks and Darwin.

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Jewel Tower

The Jewel Tower is one of the last remnants of the medieval Westminster Palace.

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Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace was the childhood home of Queen Victoria and the home of Diana, Princess of Wales, until her death.

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Kenwood House

Kenwood House is a picturesque historic stately home in North London.

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Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey is a ruined Norman abbey located in South East London and now forms part of a scenic park and nature reserve.

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London Roman Amphitheatre

The London Roman Amphitheatre was built in the first century AD and is the only one of its kind in the city.

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London Roman Fort

The London Roman Fort was a second century fort which housed Roman Londinium’s soldiers.

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Museum of London

The Museum of London explores the history of the UK’s capital city.

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Nelson’s Column

Nelson’s Column is a monument dedicated to Admiral Lord Nelson in London’s Trafalgar Square.

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St Bride’s Church

Located in London’s journalistic heartland of Fleet Street, St Bride’s is a restored 17th century church, steeped in history and originally designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

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St Dunstan in the East

The majestic ruins of the ancient church of St Dunstan-in-the-East represent one of London’s best hidden gems and now form the centre point of a pretty public garden.

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St James’s Palace

St James’s Palace has been the official residence of the British Sovereign since the reign of King Henry VIII.

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St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral is an iconic historic building in central London and the seat of the Diocese of London.

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Temple Church

The Temple Church in London was established by the Knights Templar in the twelfth century.

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The Foundling Museum

The Foundling Museum tells the story of the famous orphanage which once stood on the site as well as holding an important art collection of works donated to it.

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The Geffrye Museum of the Home

The Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch is dedicated to the changing styles of homes and gardens covering four centuries of styles, tastes, furnishings and decorations from 17th century oak panelling to today’s ultra-modern decor.

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The Great Fire of London Monument

The Great Fire of London Monument commemorates the major fire of 1666.

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The London Royal Air Force Museum

The London Royal Air Force Museum offers a great overview of the history of aviation in combat as well as housing over 100 aircraft from around the world.

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Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is an iconic nineteenth century bridge over the Thames in London.

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Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum displays millions of works of art from around the world and spans 3,000 years of history.

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Winchester Palace

Winchester Palace in Southwark was a twelfth-century grand complex which was one of the most important buildings in all of medieval London.

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Our database of historic sites in London is growing all the time, but we may not cover them all. So, if you know of other London cultural monuments, landmarks and museums you can always add them to Trip Historic now by contacting us today.