London's history is revealed through visiting 10 of its most famous sites
By Emma Wallis
Every city has its own unique feel and vibe, which is determined by a number of things. The local historic sites are no doubt one of the largest contributing factors to the aura that surrounds a city. When in London, users recommend paying a visit to Tower Bridge Exhibition, in the City area to get a feel for what truly makes up the city. Once you have been there, you can take a walk on through the city, along the river Thames which has provided the life blood to this city for centuries, being the conduit to the outside world, and the bringer of new things in. Buildings tower above you and architecture through the ages abounds everywhere you look. From the oldest democracy, to the spoils of a great empire, the museums, buildings, parks, streets, houses, canals and rivers all have a story to tell. And the story is really the people who make up, and made up London through the ages, who brought in their influences, and continue to do so, who make the city the great melting pot that it has always been and still is today. There are so many historic places in London it is difficult to narrow it down, but take a tour of some of the best, and they will provide you with a little snapshot of a great world metropolis.
An important architectural and historical stop, Westminster Abbey is where kings and queens are crowned still today and where many famous figures are buried. The cathedral is immensely popular with tourists, so be prepared to wait. Highlights include the Gothic-style nave, built in the 13th century, and the ornate coronation chair. Memorials to political, literary and religious figures dot the aisles, and attractive gardens ring the area. The church is still active as a parish, and there are services every day. (No admission charged to worshippers.) This is of course where Kate and William got married, and so is a shrine for those who worship at both the feet of celebrity and royalty too. TUBE: Westminster or St. James's Park (20-7222-5152)
Sited on what was originally the location of a Roman residence, this Gothic cathedral was built in the 15th century. In fact, a church has been on the site for hundreds of years. During its long history, Southwark was attended by Chaucer, Shakespeare, James I of Scotland, and John Harvard, founder of Harvard University. In the 20th century, the church was completely restored, and it's still an active parish today. Exhibits charting the cathedral's history are available for viewing. This is also a beautiful Church for the carol service and Midnight mass when the whole Cathedral is lit with candles. Nearby, you can see lots of London's historic links to the docks and the sea, and it's great to combine it with a walk along the South Bank, and a visit for food to nearby Borough market. TUBE: London Bridge (20-7367-6734, 20-7367-6700)
London's largest, most prominent square remembers British victory over the French in a battle off the coast of Spain. Led by Lord Horatio Nelson, British forces diminished Napoleon I's military power and headed off a possible French invasion of England. Today, Nelson's statue stands atop a commemorative column in the square. Throughout the year, Trafalgar also hosts celebrations (especially New Year's Eve), protests and other public events. Fountains, easy access to the National Gallery and lots of people-watching add to the square's allure. Just don't feed the robust population of pigeons. TUBE: Charing Cross
In 1851, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, coordinated a Great Exhibition to highlight worldly innovation. Its success led him to propose a permanentcame to fruition. The inconsolable queen erected this extravagant monument in his memory. Designed by George Gilbert Scott, the Gothic-styled, medieval-inspired structure included allegorical figures representing Europe, Asia, Africa and America. Fashioned of granite and marble, the memorial also features a 14-foot statue of the prince himself. Nearby sits the Royal Albert Hall, the domed structure that he originally envisioned. Completed in 1871, it hosts both classical and contemporary concerts. TUBE: South Kensington (20-7298-2100)
Arguably London's most famous landmark, this clock tower rises above the Houses of Parliament, former site of the Palace of Westminster. Although the tower has long been called "Big Ben," that moniker actually belongs to the tower's largest bell, which weighs more than 13 tonnes. The tower itself is 320 feet high, and its four clock faces are each 23 feet across. The tower, however you choose to refer to it, is a striking focal point for the Houses of parliament, especially when the sun throws the entire structure into golden relief. The whole complex is bursting with history, from Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot to the site of the oldest democracy in the world. TUBE: Westminster
Tower Bridge Exhibition
The world's most famous bridge offers an exhibit describing its unique history and its role in London's development. The bridge, known around the world for its pale blue lines and Gothic style, first opened in 1894. The museum takes you through succeeding years with animatronics and interactive displays, which punctuate fantastic views of the Thames. If you're lucky, the bridge will open for a passing ship while you're there, showing off the advanced architecture and mechanics involved. Not only is the bridge itself interesting, but the whole history of London and its river is a brilliant start to understanding this multicultural metropolis. TUBE: Tower Hill or London Bridge (20-7403-3761)
The Brunel Museum
The Brunel museum is situated above the Thames Tunnel, Brunel's amazing feat of engineering which saw him construct the oldest tunnel under water in the oldest metro system in the world. A visit to the museum tells visitors how he built the tunnel, which took 18 long years and cost many lives, and if you book a guided tour, you can climb down in to the shaft which used to serve the tunnel, and listen to an actor guide recreate the conditions that Brunel and his workers faced more than 185 years ago when they started construction. It is a fascinating piece of history and the museum is simply but fascinatingly done. There is also a gift shop where you can buy books which tell you even more about the history and a delicious cafe serving Turkish and English food, light bites and afternoon tea. The museum also runs various special events, from pop up opera, to guided walks through Brunel's old tunnels which now house the busy East London Line underground railway. (0207 231 3840)
Churchill War Rooms and Museum
Offering a glimpse of a city under siege, these underground chambers illustrate British efforts to thwart German bombs and hostilities during WWII. They're where Prime Minister Winston Churchill led the government, coordinated communications, and held out against Nazi aggressions. The rooms are laid out much as they were when the war ended, complete with furniture, maps, and technology. Churchill lived here at times, and a portion of the museum is devoted to his life and leadership. It is a fascinating look back at one of Britain's greatest men, and a person who was admired all across Europe and the world for his stoicness, a great British trait if ever there was one. TUBE: Westminster or St. James's Park (20-7930-6961)
Located in the heart of the Marylebone neighbourhood is Baker Street. The street is perhaps most famous for its association with Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, and in this area, you can go on historical tours of some of the notable sites from Holmes' case history and the books themselves. There is a museum and shop located on the street providing lots of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia. Just around the corner is the famous waxwork's museum, Madame Tussauds, and the brilliant Planetarium. Queues often stretch around the block, so if you're not a big fan of big commercial museums, then take a walking tour instead and soak up Marylebone's rich history and elegant buildings. (0207000000)
Charles Dickens Museum
Enthusiasts of English literature find much to appreciate in this fine home, the only one of Charles Dickens' residences still remaining. "Oliver Twist" and "Nicholas Nickleby" were penned here, and visitors can examine photographs and other items left by the renowned author. Much of the house has been restored to its original appearance, which has led Simon Callow, the renowned British actor, to declare that "Dicken's presence is remarkably strong here" and he should know as he has had to channel the writer several times in his own work, when bringing his characters to life on stage or screen. TUBE: Chancery Lane (20-7405-2127)
About Emma Wallis
London gives Emma a warm fuzzy feeling every time she gets back to her home city. As a writer and broadcaster she travels extensively round Europe and the world, but is always happy to return to London town. All that travel means she knows what she looks for as a visitor to a new city: insider knowledge, tips, and the feeling that she's found something that few travellers get to experience. Emma enjoys keeping her fingers on the capital's pulse, in order to make sure that everyone enjoys her favourite city, as much as she does.
Read more about Emma Wallis here.