With a past spanning more than two millennia, London has a wealth of interesting historic sites where visitors can find out more about the evolution of this major global city. From original Roman remains and medieval fortresses to royal palaces, Victorian cemeteries and memorials to battlefield victories, you can learn the fascinating history of the UK's capital at a variety of stunning sites and tours. Read on to discover the best historic sights London has to offer!
Guide to the best historic sights in London
In this guide
- Tower of London – Iconic fortress by the river
- Palace of Westminster – World-famous seat of UK government
- Tower Bridge – Historic bridge
- The Monument – Unparalleled views from historic column
- The Magnificent Seven – Historic 19th century cemeteries
- Crystal Palace Dinosaurs – Fails from the dawn of palaentology
- St. Paul's Cathedral – Landmark cathedral
- London Mithraeum – One of the UK's most significant archaelogical sites
- Westminster Abbey – The royal church
- Buckingham Palace – The royal residence
- Kensington Palace – The home of the young royals
- London Transport Museum – Guided tours of "forgotten" tube tunnels
- Wellington Arch – London's Arc de Triomphe
- Trafalgar Square – Iconic square for public gatherings
- Leadenhall Market – One of London's oldest markets
- Guildhall Art Gallery – Londinium's Roman amphitheatre
- Battersea Power Station – Europe's largest brick building
- Guildhall – Historic event venue
- Old Royal Naval College – UNESCO World Heritage
- Hadley Highstone – Turning point in the Wars of the Roses
Iconic fortress by the river
The famous castle by the Thames has over 1,000 years’ worth of stories to tell, mostly of the bloody variety. You can walk the castle grounds, moat and ramparts, learning about how and why this iconic fortress became key to controlling the entire country. The displays include a variety of intriguing exhibits, from clothes and everyday objects to weaponry, but the undisputed highlight are the Crown Jewels.
World-famous seat of UK government
Step inside one of the world’s most famous buildings and discover its rich history and present-day significance. At the Palace of Westminster, home to the UK’s parliament and Big Ben, you can take a guided tour of the landmark, attend a committee session or parliament debate to witness how politicians shape life in Britain and more.
An iconic London landmark you can take in while crossing or from the banks of the Thames, Tower Bridge offers even more if you pay a visit inside it. You can explore the engine rooms, walkways and famous towers at your own pace or with a guided tour. For spectacular views of the river, venture out onto the glass walkway between the two towers.
Unparalleled views from historic column
The imposing Monument to the Great Fire of London is an immediately recognisable London landmark, built to commemorate the rebuilding of the City after the Great Fire of 1666. You can climb the 311 spiral steps inside the 61-metre Doric column to get to the top, take in fantastic views of the London skyline and snap a perfect photo.
Historic 19th century cemeteries
The Magnificent Seven are a series of Victorian garden-style cemeteries ringing London. They feature elaborate sepulchral monuments in landscaped settings that often double as nature reserves. The most famous one of them is Highgate Cemetery, where notable people such as Karl Marx, Douglas Adams and George Michael are buried, but the others offer equally serene respite in atmospheric surroundings, rich with heritage.
Fails from the dawn of palaentology
Built in the 19th century as some of the first supposedly accurate depictions of dinosaurs, these sculptures in Crystal Palace Park were later discovered to be completely wrong. Regardless, they still offer a fascinating glimpse into the history of palaeontology. You can tour them on foot or by pedalo.
The Grade I listed St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s most famous sights, dominating the city skyline with its instantly recognisable dome, one of the largest in the world. The majestic landmark holds regular daily services that are open to the public, and you can also visit it for sightseeing. You can take in the majestic Cathedral floor, explore the crypts where important national figures such as Admiral Nelson are buried, and learn about the church’s history. You can even climb the dome for unparalleled panoramic views of the capital.
One of the UK's most significant archaelogical sites
Hailing back to the 3rd century AD, the London Mithraeum is a temple to the mystery Roman god Mithras that was discovered during construction in 1954. It’s considered to be one of the most significant Roman discoveries in London in the past century, and it was restored to its original site in 2010. In addition to the remains of the temple itself, you can view a selection of the various Roman artefacts found there.
The royal church
Known around the globe as the place where British monarchs get crowned, married and sent off into the afterlife, Westminster Abbey is a majestic Gothic church next to the Houses of Parliament. Those major events might be a bit difficult to get into for the average citizen, but you can still tour the impressive building and learn about its history, which goes back more than a millennium. Sunday religious services are public as well.
The royal residence
One of the city’s must-see landmarks, Buckingham Palace, home to the British monarchy, dates back to the 1700s. Stopping by to take in the stately building from the outside and catch the world-famous changing of the guard is a classic London experience. This is an especially fascinating destination during the summer months, however, when you can venture into the palace itself, see the opulent State Rooms and learn more about the royal family.
The home of the young royals
The official London home of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Kensington Palace dates back to the 17th century. Over the centuries, the elegant palace was home to, among others, Queen Victoria and Diana, Princess of Wales, both of whom are commemorated with statues in the gardens. During your visit, you can view all of the public areas and gardens, including the different themed exhibitions on display.
Guided tours of "forgotten" tube tunnels
On its various Hidden London guided tours, the London Transport Museum takes visitors to see disused subway tunnels and secret areas, behind the scenes of the public transport network and around different historic stations of the Underground. Due to high demand, these tours are often sold out many weeks ahead.
London's Arc de Triomphe
The Wellington Arch is one of the best-known landmarks in London. The Grade I listed sight is located on a traffic island between Green Park and Hyde Park, and was originally built as the entrance to Buckingham Palace. Today, it’s topped with the largest bronze sculpture in Europe and commemorates the Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon. You can visit the exhibition space in the arch and take in the spectacular views of the area from the balconies.
Iconic square for public gatherings
With its central column commemorating Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victory over Napoleon’s maritime forces at the Battle of Trafalgar, Trafalgar Square is one of the best-known sights in London. You can find numerous other sculptures around the square and its fountain, including a plinth for changing contemporary art installations. The square itself is commonly used for different mass gatherings, celebrations and demonstrations.
One of London's oldest markets
Leadenhall Market dates back to 1321 and was originally a meat, poultry and game market. Today, in addition to serving as filming location for blockbusters like Tomb Raider and part of the marathon course at the 2012 Olympic Games, it's a great place to do a bit of shopping, wining and dining in ornate historic surroundings.
Londinium's Roman amphitheatre
In the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery in The City, you can view the remains of London’s ancient Roman amphitheatre, discovered during the construction of the gallery’s present-day building in 1988. Built in 70 AD, the amphitheatre was used for various public events and entertainment, including gladiator games and public executions.
Europe's largest brick building
Immortalised on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals, the decommissioned Battersea Power Station was closed for almost 40 years. Following redevelopment, it relaunched in 2022 as a retail, leisure and residential complex. The Grade II listed building encompasses numerous shopping, dining and entertainment options in its historic setting, with one of the highlights a glass elevator that takes you to the top of one of the immediately recognisable chimneys.
Historic event venue
Guildhall is a grand and historic building situated in the heart of London, with a Gothic-style architecture, built in the 15th century. Through the ages, it has served as a town hall, courthouse, and ceremonial venue for the City of London Corporation. The Great Hall is the highlight of the interior, featuring stained-glass windows, paintings, and statues that showcase the history of the city.
Turning point in the Wars of the Roses
A simple stone obelisk marks the approximate location of a battlefield where the Battle of Barnet took place. The monument might not be as impressive as some of London’s heavy-hitters, but the decisive clash in the historic Wars of the Roses that took place here turned the tides of history and was even dramatized by William Shakespeare.