London is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back thousands of years, and with a vivid history that is truly fascinating. Because of this, the capital is brimming over with iconic London landmarks and hidden treasures, and no trip to England’s capital would be complete without visiting some of its most famous tourist attractions.
As a born and bred Londoner, and not just someone who has visited for a few days or lived here for a few months, I know the city pretty well and want to share with you some favourite must-see London landmarks to visit when you are in the capital.
My recommended landmarks in London include one castle, two cathedrals, two palaces, a couple of museums and several unique historical attractions, so every visitor will find something to enjoy.
The most famous landmark in London is Buckingham Palace, the official London home to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Britain’s monarchy has lived here since 1837 and has been the London location of Royal births and deaths. Buckingham Palace was where Queen Elizabeth II gave birth to Prince Charles in 1948.
The Buckingham Palace State Rooms are not accessible to the public apart from July and October, when visitors get the chance to venture inside the Royal residence and marvel at the grandeur of the magnificent interior.
If you have ever imagined what the inside of a palace looks like, Buckingham Palace is a perfect example. Red velvet curtains and furnishings sit alongside antique furnishings and oil paintings, not forgetting the vast amount of gold leaf gracing every inch of this iconic London landmark.
Book online for entry to Buckingham Palace Staterooms
A visit to Buckingham Palace does not stop at the staterooms; it continues with a visit to the Royal Mews. Here you will see the Queen’s Royal carriage horses, used to pull the ceremonial carriages and the magnificent Gold State Coach and the Diamond Jubilee State Coach used to transport kings and queens to Royal coronations.
Book online for entry to Buckingham Palace Royal Mews
The Queen’s Gallery is another must-see Buckingham Palace attraction. Once it was the Queen’s Private Chapel but ended in ruins destroyed in the London bombings of WW2. It now features exhibitions showing some of the world’s most exquisite works of art and attracts a global audience of art lovers.
Book online for entry to the Queen’s Gallery
The Tower of London
To find a castle in the centre of a capital city is quite rare, but one of the most recognisable London landmarks and the most historical thing to see is the Tower of London. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1078AD and has had a variety of functions over the centuries. When it was a royal residence, it was home to exotic animals, including elephants and lions. It has also been a prison and fortified battlement, warding off armies entering London.
London Beefeaters are a familiar sight in their red coats and hats. The famous Yeoman Wardens still guard the Tower of London as they have done for centuries and now act as tour guides unlocking the secrets of this historic landmark.
Black raven birds are also an important sight to see at this historic attraction. Legend says they must stay at the Tower of London or a great disaster will befall the city. Who knows whether it is a fact or fiction, as the ravens have never yet left the grounds of the Tower of London!
Inside the Tower of London, the world’s most incredible collection of Crown jewels is on display. Visitors will be able to witness firsthand the beauty and clarity of the gems, including the unique Imperial State Crown worn for coronations and the State Opening of Parliament.
On the grounds, visitors can see the execution spot of two of Henry VII’s wives and immerse themselves in England’s bloody history.
Book online for skip-the-line entry to The Tower of London and the Crown Jewels accompanied by a Beefeater.
Westminster Abbey has been the London landmark where Kings and Queens have been crowned for millennia. It is also the place they have been married and where they have been laid to rest.
In recent years Prince William married Kate Middleton in this stunning abbey, and it was the venue for the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her 70-year reign. It should not be confused with Westminster Cathedral, which is a smaller Catholic church located along the main road leading from the Houses of Parliament.
The facade of this historic landmark is a work of architectural genius, and the size and detail of the interior are visually breathtaking. Famous historic tombs in Westminster Abbey include the royal Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and one of the world’s most celebrated authors, Charles Dickens.
To step inside Westminster Abbey is to walk in the path of Britain’s monarchy, and a sightseeing trip to London must include a visit to one of the capital’s most important London landmarks.
Book online for skip-the-line entry and a guided tour of Westminster Abbey
Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament is the epicentre of Britain’s democracy and is a short walk from Westminster Abbey. This iconic building dating back to the 1800s, is where The House of Lords and the House of Commons meet to pass laws and make decisions that affect the future of the United Kingdom.
Officially known as the Palace of Westminster (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey), the Houses of Parliament were once a Royal residence. Inside the building, the Royal connection is evident from the size of the interior, the architecture, and the historical art and decorative coverings. It is an important landmark in London.
Find out the secrets of the building with a guided tour inside the Houses of Parliament with a historian. Learn how the original 12th-century Palace of Westminster was burnt to the ground and replaced by the current one.
During the tour, see the ceremonial chambers where Queen Elizabeth II prepares herself for the state opening of parliament.
Book online for a fully guided tour of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey skip-the-line-combined ticket.
The River Thames is London’s bloodline, and a delightful way to travel around the capital is by boat. Hop aboard a Westminster to Tower Bridge River Thames Cruise and enjoy the London landmarks from the water.
St Paul’s Cathedral
If Westminster Abbey has whetted the appetite to discover more of London’s historic landmarks, then St Paul’s Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1711, is the next must-see sight in London.
This iconic place of worship with its domed roof is featured on just about every picture of London’s skyline. It towers over the capital from Ludgate Hill, the highest point in London.
Discover the magnificence of London’s stunning cathedral by entering St Paul’s to see the beautiful religious paintings, statues and mosaics adorning the cathedral.
Find out which dignitaries have been laid to rest here and the hidden secrets of the cathedral’s unique history with a guided tour of St Paul’s. End the visit by climbing to the top of the dome for unrivalled views across London and listening to the acoustics in the Whispering Gallery.
Book online for entry to St Paul’s Cathedral
If you are interested in London’s churches and cathedrals, you may like to join a walking tour which includes St Paul’s, Westminster Cathedral, St Martin’s in the Field and Temple Church.
From the formidable Queen Victoria to the kind-hearted Princess Diana, and currently Prince William and his family, Kensington Palace has been the family home of Royalty throughout the years. Nestled in the leafy surrounds of Kensington Gardens, visiting this Royal landmark is a must on any London travel itinerary.
Inside the palace, see the State Apartments and discover the flamboyant story of this Royal residence and what secrets it hides.
Book here for entry tickets to Kensington Palace or a Guided Tour of the delightful Kensington Palace Gardens followed by Afternoon Tea.
A fabulous, guided Royal palace walking tour to Buckingham Palace, St James’ Palace and Kensington Palace is the perfect choice for visitors to London who want to focus on Royal history. The tour finishes, as is fitting for a tour of London, with a delightful traditional English High Tea.
You won’t have entry to the palaces on this tour, but you will be able to see them and walk from one to another through the leafy Royal parks of London. A tour guide will accompany you to reveal the history of the palaces and their residents.
Natural History Museum
Adults and children will love visiting the Natural History Museum in an area known as Museum Mile London in South Kensington. The 19th-century museum was once the workplace of Charles Darwin and is one of London’s most exquisite buildings, housing over 80 million objects, including a variety of dinosaur skeletons and interactive exhibitions.
The Natural History Museum’s most famous resident is Dippy, the 26-metre-long diplodocus skeleton in the foyer. He has stood inside the museum since 1905.
The Natural History Museum is free to enter, so everyone can have the chance to explore its displays. It is, however, beneficial to book a professional historian guide who will show you the most interesting treasures in the museum and explain their history.
Book online for a Skip-the-Line Private Tour of the Natural History Museum
Take to the river on the Westminster to Greenwich River Boat Cruise and enjoy seeing London’s monuments from the water. This is an enjoyable way to discover where London’s most famous landmarks are located within the capital.
Cutty Sark Tea Clipper
The Cutty Sark tea clipper sits on the banks of the River Thames in the Borough of Greenwich. With the river as a backdrop, this beautifully restored ocean vessel has many stories to tell of its voyages on the high seas and record-breaking trips around the globe.
Step aboard the Cutty Sark and explore the nooks and crannies of the sailors’ quarters, and hear stories from the captain’s helm on how treacherous the voyages to collect tea from China could be.
Experience one of London’s unique historical attractions aboard the Cutty Sark
Royal Museums Greenwich
No visit to London would be complete without seeing the 17th-century Royal Observatory. It is near the Cutty Sark and is part of the historic Royal Museums in Greenwich. You will learn about the Meridian Prime line at this London landmark and how GMT (Greenwich meantime) is calculated.
The views across the city are fantastic from this leafy hillside setting in Greenwich Park. Enjoy the scenery before heading down the hill to the National Maritime Museum, the largest of its kind in the world, highlighting the history of seafaring throughout the centuries.
A must-visit landmark in Greenwich is one of London’s most famous historical places, the Queen’s House. Housing an unrivalled art collection, this 17th-century former Royal residence is now home to paintings by the Great Masters, including Gainsborough, Turner and Hogarth.
Book online for a combined Royal Museums Day Pass
Old Royal Naval College and Painted Hall
One of the most famous historical London landmarks is The Old Royal Naval College, a must-see on a trip to the capital. The college was once a Royal residence and the birthplace of King Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I.
Known by locals as the Sistine Chapel of London, a look inside this beautiful building at the recently renovated Painted Hall will take your breath away. Take a look in the Sackler Gallery and Nelson’s room, dedicated to the famous British naval hero, before taking a stroll through the courtyards of this impressive historical landmark.
Book online for the Old Royal Naval College Visit and Painted Hall Tour
Historical Walking Tours of London, including entry to the Churchill War Rooms
On a historical walking tour of London, you will be able to see some of the London landmarks listed in this article and many other London attractions. These include the world-famous Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson’s column, the National Gallery and the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace.
The walking tour will finish with entry into the Churchill War Rooms, which history buffs will find particularly interesting.
See the secret underground headquarters where Sir Winston Churchill ran his World War Two campaign and where he lived for a time. Learn how Europe’s future was shaped by decisions made by military and political leaders deep under the streets of London in the Churchill War Rooms.
If you want the flexibility to discover these London at your own pace, the Open-Top Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus is a good option. For a bird’s eye view of these London landmarks, The Classic Tour will allow you to hop on and off the bus whenever you fancy exploring an attraction further.
Did you even visit London if you didn’t ride on the London Eye?
Marvel at the engineering from the ground up and then take a 30-minute ride aboard one of the 32 capsules for breathtaking views of London’s famous landmarks. Queues can be horrendous so book online for a ride on the London Eye before you arrive to save you a long wait.
The area around the London Eye is a good place to watch street performers who will entertain you with their circus skills and musical offerings. It is a popular place to sit and people-watch at the heart of the Southbank next to the Thames before enjoying a meal at one of the many restaurants along the river.
Do You Want to Learn More About London’s Southbank? Please click on my article The Best Walk in London: Tower Bridge to Westminster.
The London City Pass is an economical way of experiencing over 80 of London’s most famous landmarks and can be purchased for one day up to ten days.
Please PIN for future visits to London.