London, the United Kingdom’s capital, is a 21st-century cosmopolitan city with a history stretching back to Roman times.
In 43 BCE, Roman armies occupied the island under Emperor Claudius. As the Romans moved into central Britain, they discovered two low hills, where they established a settlement called Londinium.
The Vikings name it Lundenwic and the Celts, Lundenburgh. In addition to its formal name, London developed the monikers The Big Smoke, The Old Smoke, or simply The Smoke referring to the dense fogs and smogs that would permeate the city from ancient times.
With roughly 2000 years of history, the city of London has a host of unique landmarks. The impressive Houses of Parliament, the iconic Big Ben clock tower, and the revered St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Across the River Thames, the London Eye observation wheel provides panoramic views of the South Bank and the entire city.
Famous Landmarks in London
1. The British Museum
The British Museum, located in London’s Bloomsbury, opened its doors in 1759, built in the Greek Revival style prevalent in the late 18th Century.
The British Museum was the first national Museum covering all fields of human knowledge — and a public museum dedicated to the course of human history.
The British Museum’s permanent collection is among the largest in the world. And its eight million items document the story of human evolution.
The most famous object and arguably one of the most important in contemporary human history sits in the primary hall of the Museum. It is known as The Rosetta Stone.
First discovered by Pierre Bouchard in 1799, The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele inscribed with three versions of a Ptolemaic decree issued in Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC.
The command is repeated in three different languages. The Rosetta Stone provided the first basis for understanding Ancient Eqyptian hieroglyphs.
2. Tower of London
The Tower of London is a fortified castle on the Thames’ North Bank. Officially referred to as His Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, it is the most secure castle in Great Britain.
The iconic Beefeater guards have protected royal possessions since the Tudor era, the late 15th Century. Currently, roughly 37 Yeoman Warders, British military men, and women live in the Tower of London. These specialized guards must have at least 22 years of active service.
The Tower of London houses several exhibits, including the Royal Crown Jewels, a highly significant part of England’s history. Also kept in the Tower of London is the Royal Crown inset with Koh-I-Noor — a 105.6 carat cut diamond.
3. Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is located in Westminster and is the center of Royal life. Since its completion in 1837, The Palace has been the primary Royal residence and the administrative headquarters of the United Kingdom’s ruling Monarch.
Expanded by King George IV, the plans involved constructing three wings around a central courtyard, all in the favored French neoclassical style.
Also Read: Landmarks in England
Although in use for official events, it is open to visitors during the summer.
Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms. The main palace building is 354 feet long across the front, 390 feet deep, and 79 feet high.
4. Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum in London houses over 80 million objects.
Construction for the Romanesque-styled Museum began in 1873, taking almost eight years to complete. And it is one of three major museums on Exhibition Road in South Kensington. The others include the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Hans Sloane’s private collection donation was the impetus for the Museum. Divided into four colored zones, it takes roughly three to four hours to wander through the 4.6 billion years of Earth’s history on display at the Natural History Museum.
The Museum’s most famous gem is the “Blasted Amethyst” or “Cursed Amethyst.” This unique stone was stolen during the Indian Mutiny in 1857 from the Temple of Indra. Since the theft, the gemstone’s mythos attributes misfortune, misery, and sorrow to anyone who dares to touch it.
5. London Eye
The London Eye opened on December 31, 1999, celebrating the New Millennium and the 21 Century, also known as the Millennium Wheel.
This iconic structure is a cantilevered observation wheel that sits on the South Bank of the River Thames. It is the world’s tallest cantilevered wheel, measuring 443 ft (135 meters) with a diameter of 394 ft (120 meters).
The London Eye sits on the western end of Jubilee Gardens between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge.
The 32 air-conditioned and sealed ovoidal passenger capsules attached to the external wheel are part of the Eye’s popularity. The capsule numbers range from 1 to 33, excluding the often ill-fated number 13.
A ride, one rotation, on the London Eye takes 30 minutes, traveling at a speed of roughly 0.6 miles per hour.
6. St. Paul’s Cathedral
London’s Saint Paul’s Cathedral is a church of the Anglican church and one of many famous landmarks in London.
It sits in central London, atop Ludgate Hill- northeast of Blackfriars.
The site was once a Roman temple dedicated to Diana, goddess of wild animals and the hunt. The plot’s first Christian Cathedral was dedicated to St. Paul in 604 AD, during the rule of King Aethelberht I.
The current incarnation of St Paul’s Cathedral is an English Baroque design by architect Christopher Wren. Construction began in 1675 to replace the previous Cathedral after the Great London fire in 1666. St. Paul’s Cathedral was completed in 1710.
St. Paul’s dome is three layered domes: an outer dome, a concealed brick cone for structural support, and an inner dome. It is topped with a 366-foot tall cross.
In addition to frescos, marble, and sculpted accents, there are some 300 monuments within the Cathedral.
Many historically significant people are buried in St. Paul’s crypt, including Lord Nelson. Cathedral designer Christopher Wren was the first to be buried under the church.
Paul’s Cathedral serves as the Anglican see in London and has been the location of many historical and cultural events. The funeral of Winston Churchill and the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer were held here.
And while St. Paul’s Cathedral is a working church, it is open to visitors except during periods of worship.
7. The National Gallery
The National Gallery sits in the City of Westminster, in Central London. It is an art museum in Trafalgar Square. Founded in 1824, it houses a 2,300 work collection. The pieces date from the mid-13th Century to the early 1900s.
Rather than nationalizing a private collection, The National Gallery was founded when the British government bought an initial 38 paintings – growing through private donations.
Famous paintings housed at The National Gallery include Vincent van Gogh: Sunflowers and Pieter Bruegel-the-Elder: Adoration of the Kings. The Museum is also home to works by noted French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters Degas, Cezanne, and Renoir.
8. Victoria and Albert Museum
Founded by Prince Albert in 1852 and was named after the Victorian-era monarchs. The Victoria and Albert Museum houses roughly 2.3 million pieces, making it the largest Museum of applied and decorative arts and design.
Many of the Museum’s collections have national status and cover almost 5000 years of human design. Photography, British watercolors, ceramics, glass and metalwork, portrait miniatures, and post-classical sculpture fill the rooms.
The oldest objects in the Museum are a Shang Dynasty jade ceremonial blade, which dates from between the thirteenth and eleventh centuries BC, and the Luck of Edenhall, a thirteenth-century Syrian glass decorated with gold and enamels and contained in a leather case.
The original building facade is a work of art. It is Italianate, a type of Italian Renaissance design with red-brick and sculptural accents, terracotta tiling, and frescos.
9. Tower Bridge
Often confused with its neighbor, the London Bridge, which is some .55 miles (900 meters) away, the Tower Bridge is a combined 801′ long bascule and suspension bridge spanning the Thames River.
This type of construction allows the middle section of the bridge to be raised, accommodating the passage of river traffic.
Designed by Horace Jones, construction began in 1886, taking eight years to build.
The Neo-Gothic architecture and central lifting sections make it one of London’s most iconic bridges. Upon completion, it was the most sophisticated bascule bridge in the world.
Initially painted a chocolate brown color, it is open to pedestrian traffic. A walk across Tower Bridge takes around five minutes. The nearest underground station is Tower Hill. It remains the only bridge over the Thames that can be raised.
10. Big Ben
Often used for the clock tower itself, Big Ben is the nickname of the Great Bell of the clock in the east wing of the Palace of Westminster.
Opening in 1859, the Clock Tower took 16 years to complete. It is a 315′, 16-story structure of Gothic Revival design.
This Houses of Parliament landmark was most likely named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who commissioned the work. Although, some believe that Big Ben was named after a famous heavyweight boxing champion at that time, Benjamin Caunt.
Big Ben sounds 118 decibels – exceeding human pain thresholds and is louder than a jet on takeoff. This iconic London Clock Tower was renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.