21 Top Sites in London for History Lovers

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If you’re visiting London, there are endless choices of things to do in the city. You can spend a day or even two just walking around the city and getting lost in its winding streets. But if you want to get beyond the tourist traps and see some truly historic sites, then read on.

Top Tour Sites in London 

What is the most historic area of London? It’s impossible to choose! London is a city steeped in history and offers a wealth of opportunities for history buffs to explore and discover. From the ancient Roman ruins to the medieval castles and palaces, from the grand churches to the infamous prisons, London has it all.

The city's diverse architecture is a reflection of its history, from the Gothic style of Westminster Abbey to the Art Deco of the Bank of England. You can also take a glimpse into the daily life of the past by visiting historic houses like Charles Dickens Museum or the Sir John Soane's Museum.

No history lover's trip to London would be complete without visiting iconic sites such as the Tower of London and the British Museum. But with Context, you can tour so many more less-known, but equally interesting historical landmarks. With so much history to explore, London is a city that will keep history buffs coming back for more. What are the best-known historical sites? Stay tuned as we virtually guide you through the best-known historical sites in London.

1. Tour The Tower of London

We have to start with The Tower of London – it is one of the most iconic and historically rich sites in London. Visiting the Tower of London is a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience the rich history of one of the world's most famous buildings. We also can’t miss the opportunity to marvel at the Crown Jewels.

It has served as a royal palace, a prison, a treasury, a menagerie, and an armory throughout its 900-year history. It was founded by William the Conqueror in 1066 and has served as a royal residence and a prison for many important figures throughout history. Notable prisoners have included Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Kray Twins.

The White Tower, built by William the Conqueror, stands here as an enduring symbol of the Norman conquest. And this iconic landmark is home to the famous Yeoman Warders or "Beefeaters" who have been the guardians of the Tower since 1485.

With Context, you can enjoy an exclusive tour of the Tower complex before the crowds arrive, by booking our Early Morning tour. Or you can meet new friends by booking our Small Group and Private Tower of London Tours – which has been one of our bestselling tours since 2003.

2. The British Museum

For history lovers, the British Museum is a must-see.

It has been around since 1753 and is known for its vast collections of art and artifacts from all over the world —  with more than 8 million objects in its collection! Three of the most famous items in the collection include

  • The Rosetta Stone: A stone with hieroglyphic text on it that helped Egyptologists learn how to read ancient Egyptian writing (and also how to make beer).
  • An Assyrian lion statue from about 865 BC (and you thought your commute to work was bad – these folks rode lions).
  • A bust of Nefertiti made around 1345 BC, which is one of the most copied works of art in history (wish I had her hair).

Tour the British Museum with a Context Expert to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the museum's collections. Our local experts offer insights and perspectives on these remarkable exhibits -- that you might not otherwise discover on your own.

Want your kids to learn more about all the wonders in the museum? We also offer a British Museum Tour geared towards kids aged 3-13.

3. Buckingham Palace and the National Mall

Echo the pomp and circumstance of history as you march down The Mall toward the stunning Buckingham Palace.

As you approach the Palace gates, you'll come face to face with one of the most famous residences in the world, the residence of King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla. A place where centuries of monarchy and tradition are intertwined with the splendor of today, Buckingham Palace is a must-visit destination for any history lover.

This palace has been the official residence of the British monarch since 1837. The palace was originally known as Buckingham House and was built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703. It was purchased by King George III in 1761 for his wife, Queen Charlotte, as a private residence for their family. During the 19th century, it was expanded and remodeled by various monarchs, including King George IV and Queen Victoria, to create the palace we recognize today.

During World War II, the palace was used as a refuge for Londoners during air raids and also served as the headquarters for the Allied military leaders. Queen Victoria was the first British monarch to reside there permanently and since then it has become the center of the British Monarchy and the focal point for state occasions and ceremonies such as:

  • the Changing of the Guard
  • Royal Jubilee Celebrations
  • the state opening of Parliament
  • the Trooping the Colour.

It is also a major tourist attraction, and visitors can see the palace's State Rooms during the summer months by taking our tour.

The changing of the guard ceremony in London is known around the world for its precision and spectacle. Most visitors view the event from Buckingham Palace, but through this Audio Guide with Context Travel and London-based scholar and royal expert, Sean Moran, you‘ll experience it from three less common vantage points.

4. St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral, which is located at the top of Ludgate Hill in London, is the second-largest church in all of England. This famous cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and took more than 35 years to build.

It has become famous for its impressive dome and for being the site of many important events in British history. We offer a walking tour of the cathedral, which puts its remarkable legacy in Context.

The cathedral is also known as "the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul" or simply "St Paul's." It serves as a parish church for the City of London and an Anglican cathedral for both Oxfordshire (which includes Oxford) and Buckinghamshire (which includes Buckingham). The Archbishop of Canterbury—the head bishop for Anglican churches around Great Britain—is also based here at St Paul’s Cathedral.

This grand cathedral is one of the most iconic and historically significant buildings in London.

Its striking dome and impressive architecture make it a must-see for any visitor to London. The construction of the dome was not an easy task, Wren had to redesign the dome twice before the final version was accepted. The dome was finished in 1710 and then it took another 16 years to complete the entire cathedral.

Visitors can take a tour to learn about the history of the cathedral, and even climb to the top of the dome for a panoramic view of the city.

WWII Monuments to Visit in London

5. The Churchill War Rooms

The Churchill War Rooms is a museum in London, England, located below the Ministry of Defence headquarters in the Whitehall area of Westminster. The museum is housed in a subterranean complex that was constructed in 1939 to provide a safe shelter for the British Government in the event of a major enemy air attack on London.

Context offers Small-Group Tours and Private Tours of the CWR on a daily basis.

Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms were the underground headquarters used by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his government during World War II. The complex consisted of four separate parts:

  • Cabinet War Rooms: This was the British government’s main command center and included a map room, the Cabinet Room where Churchill and his ministers met, and a series of offices and sleeping quarters.
  • The Transatlantic Telephone Room: This was a secure communications center where Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt could speak directly via a dedicated telephone line.
  • The Broadcasting Studio: This is where Churchill delivered his famous speeches to the nation, it also served as a Press Information Bureau and briefing room for journalists.
  • The Annexe: This is the portion of the War Rooms that were used as living quarters for Churchill and his staff. It includes bedrooms, bathrooms, and a kitchen. The Annexe was built to be an extension of the Cabinet War Rooms and was connected by a secret underground tunnel, It was in this area of the War Rooms that Churchill lived and worked during the darkest days of the war.

6. Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum is the perfect place to learn about the history of war and conflict in Britain. It covers everything from World War II to the present day and events such as India's independence movement and the Spanish Civil War.

The museum has several permanent exhibitions, including "Our World: Art Through The Lens Of Conflict" which explores how art and photography have been used to document war over time. There are also temporary exhibitions on display throughout the year. In addition to its permanent galleries, the museum regularly hosts special exhibitions like "Women at War 1914-1918".

The museum itself is housed in a striking building designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (who also designed some of New Delhi's most famous structures). It makes for an impressive backdrop during your visit!

7. HMS Belfast

If you love history, then the HMS Belfast is a must-visit – a World War II-era naval ship that is now permanently moored in London on the River Thames. She was launched in 1938 and served as part of the Royal Navy's fleet during World War II. The ship was involved in several significant battles, including the Battle of the North Cape, the Normandy invasion, and the Korean War.

She was decommissioned from active service in 1963, and ten years later, she was saved from scrapping and permanently moored in London as a museum ship – which opened for visitors in 1971. HMS Belfast is now run by the Imperial War Museum and is open to the public.

Visitors can explore the ship and learn about its history, including the life of sailors and the ship's role in World War II and other conflicts. It serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by the Royal Navy and all those who served on HMS Belfast during the war.

8. Greenwich, just a short journey from London

During the Blitz, Greenwich, London was heavily bombed by the German forces.

Many historic buildings, including the Royal Observatory, were damaged or destroyed. The area also served as a crucial defense point, with anti-aircraft guns placed on Greenwich Hill to protect London from air raids.

Additionally, the tunnels underneath the hill were used as air-raid shelters, providing protection for the local residents. Despite the destruction, many of the important buildings and landmarks in Greenwich have since been restored and the area has become a popular tourist destination, with a rich history and cultural heritage.

Take a Context Tour of Greenwich to learn more about the remarkable legacy of this historic section of London.

9. Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament, is one of the most iconic buildings in London and has a rich and unique history. The palace was originally built in the 11th century and served as a royal residence for many centuries. It was heavily damaged by fire in 1834 and was rebuilt in the Victorian Gothic style we see today on the north bank of the River Thames.

The palace is home to the two houses of the British parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It's also famous for its impressive clock tower, known as "Big Ben," which is one of London's most recognizable landmarks. The palace has been the site of many historic events, including the signing of the Magna Carta, the execution of King Charles I, and the many debates and religious reforms of the 19th and 20th centuries.

During our Introduction to London Tour, we learn even more about the history of this remarkable palace.

10. Tower Bridge Visitor Center

History buffs are also sure to enjoy a visit to the Tower Bridge Visitor Center for an interesting look at how this iconic structure was built over 100 years ago by Edward VII.

One of the fun and unique features you’ll enjoy here is the glass floor in the walkway – it gives visitors an experience of walking above the River Thames. During the construction of the bridge, these unique walkways were used by the workers to transport materials and tools to the various parts of the bridge.

During World War II, London was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe as part of their campaign to destroy British infrastructure and morale – known as the Blitz. The Tower Bridge itself was not damaged during the Blitz, but it was an important symbol of British resilience and resistance. Many exhibits within the Visitor Center speak to this unique history.

The bridge was used to transport vital supplies and troops across the River Thames, and it was protected by anti-aircraft guns and searchlights.

Despite the constant threat of bombing, the bridge remained open throughout the war and was an important link between the different parts of the city. After the war, the bridge was repaired and restored to its original condition.

Today, Tower Bridge is one of London's most popular tourist attractions and a symbol of the city's strength and resilience during one of the darkest periods of its history.

Hidden Treasures for History Lovers

There are many lesser-known historical venues in London that offer a unique glimpse into the city's rich history. What is the most historic area of London? Read on to find out about several important venues, off the beaten path in London.

11. Leadenhall Market

This is a historic market in the City of London that dates back to the 14th century. It was originally used as a meat and produce market and was located at the heart of Roman London, known as Londinium.

It has a charming, traditional atmosphere and is known for its Victorian architecture and ornate cobbled streets. Throughout its history, it has been reconstructed and redesigned several times, most recently in the 19th century by Sir Horace Jones, and still remains a popular destination for both locals and tourists.

The market has been used for a variety of purposes, from wholesale meat and produce market to a center of insurance and shipping-related businesses, and even served as the filming location for Harry Potter's "Diagon Alley".

Today, Leadenhall Market remains one of the most iconic and historic markets in London. Our London Architecture Tour and London History Tour teach us even more about this remarkable landmark.

12. The Jewel Tower

Don’t mix these up with the crown jewels, housed further down the Thames. The Jewel Tower is a 14th-century stone building located in the Palace of Westminster, London.

It was originally built as a royal treasure tower, used to store the king's valuables, including his crown jewels. London’s Jewel Tower was also used as a treasury and as a storehouse for the royal family’s documents and archives.

The building has undergone several renovations over the centuries and was used for various purposes including housing the records of the Exchequer, the Royal Mint, and even as a workshop for the parliament. The Jewel tower is one of the few remaining parts of the palace that date back to the 14th century, it's a unique example of medieval architecture, and today it is open to the public as a museum.

The Jewel Tower is an important part of London's history and architectural heritage and offers a glimpse into the life and time of medieval England.

The Jewel Tower is located on the grounds of the Palace, specifically on the south side of the palace. It's situated near other famous London landmarks such as Westminster Bridge, and it's not far from the London Eye. The Jewel Tower is open to the public, visitors can access it via Abingdon Street, which is a short walk from Westminster Underground Station.

13. The Museum of London Docklands

This museum tells the story of London's river and port and the history of the city's trade and commerce. It is located in a restored 18th-century warehouse and features interactive exhibits, artifacts, and multimedia displays.

14.The Clink Prison Museum

This is a museum that focuses on the Medieval and Tudor history of the Clink Prison, one of the most notorious and feared prisons in London's history.

The Clink was built in the 12th century and was used to house and punish criminals until it was closed in the 17th century.

Today, visitors can explore the interactive exhibitions, see a reconstructed prison cell, and learn about the harsh punishments meted out to prisoners in Medieval London.

15. The Royal Air Force Museum London

This museum tells the story of the Royal Air Force and is located on a historic site that was once home to the world's first military airfield. The museum features a collection of aircraft, uniforms, medals, and other artifacts that relate to the history of the RAF.

16. The Monument to the Great Fire of London

Standing tall in the City of London is a Doric column built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London.

It was designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke and built on the site of the first church which was destroyed during the fire, St. Margaret, New Fish Street. It is considered to be the tallest isolated stone column in the world, standing at 200 ft (61 meters) tall.

Travelers interested in climbing to the top for a panoramic view should expect to climb 300 stairs each way or wait in line for the elevator.

Medieval Sites to Tour in London

17. The White Tower, home to the Crown Jewels

The White Tower is a striking and iconic structure located in the heart of the Tower of London complex. Commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1078, it served as a royal residence, a prison, and a treasury over its 900-year history. The White Tower is a symbol of London's rich history and is a must-see for any visitor to the city.

At over 90 feet tall, the tower is an imposing sight, constructed primarily of Kentish ragstone and featuring four turrets and a central keep. Visitors to the White Tower can explore its many levels, including the Royal Armouries, where they can see the impressive collection of medieval arms and armor, and the White Tower Chapel, a stunning example of Norman architecture.

Along with the crown jewels, White Tower also holds many significant artifacts such as the White Tower prison cells, where many high-profile prisoners such as Anne Boleyn and Rudolf Hess were held, and the White Tower Museum, which showcases the history and the role of the Tower of London throughout the ages.

Learn even more about the tower by registering for Context’s Online Seminars about British History.

18. The London Wall

The London Wall was built to protect the Roman city of Londinium from invasion, and it was the largest Roman structure in Britain.

Travelers can see the remains of the wall at several locations in the city, including the Museum of London and the Barbican Centre. The remains of the wall provide critical context clues about daily life during the medieval era.

You can learn more about hidden archaeological clues to London’s History during our Hidden London Walking Tour.

19. The Roman Mithraeum

London is also home to ancient Roman remains such as the Roman amphitheater, a well-preserved 1st century BC structure which is believed to have seated around 8,000 people and was used for Gladiator fights. And the Roman Mithraeum is another Roman ruin located in the city.

During our history tour, we visit this landmark, which was built between AD 240-250 and is the only one known from Roman London. These ancient ruins are important examples of the city's rich history and legacy of the Roman presence in London.

20. The Temple

History lovers can embark on a journey back in time to the 12th century, where deep in the heart of the City of London, a magnificent complex of buildings known as The Temple awaits.

Nestled between the hustle and bustle of Fleet Street and the serene banks of the River Thames, it stands proud as one of the four Inns of Court, alongside the esteemed Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, and the Inner Temple.

Check out our walking tour which visits these remarkable landmarks.

But The Temple wasn't always the grand complex we explore today. Once upon a time, it was nothing more than a humble inn, established by the Knights Templar in 1185, to provide a place of rest and refuge for the countless pilgrims who flocked to the then-small village of London on the banks of the Thames.

Yet as time passed, this simple inn grew and evolved, taking on new forms, new shapes, and new buildings. In its prime, The Temple was a verdant oasis, boasting extensive gardens and tranquil courtyards, replete with cloisters for the heated disputations of barristers.

21. Westminster Abbey

Imagine the hustle and bustle of the city disappearing as you enter the picturesque St James Park, home to the ancient Westminster Abbey - a symbol of the country's rich heritage. Westminster Abbey is a medieval abbey that was founded in the 10th century.

It has become a major tourist attraction; pre-pandemic, the site welcomed more than one million visitors each year. The Abbey is famous for its beautiful Gothic architecture and for being the site of coronations of English monarchs, including King Henry VII after he defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485.

The cathedral was originally a Benedictine monastery and has since served as the site of many royal coronations, weddings and burials. Visitors can explore the medieval nave, the chapels, and the Cloisters, and see the tombs of many famous figures from British history.

Queen Elizabeth II was crowned here on June 2, 1953, by Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher with her husband Prince Philip beside her. The coronation of King Charles III will take place in May 2023. Westminster Abbey also contains memorials to many British kings and queens including Edward III, Henry V, Mary I (Bloody Mary), Elizabeth I, Charles II (The Merry Monarch), and Jane Austen among others.

Take a guided tour of Westminster Abbey with Context to learn even more about this iconic landmark. 

What have we learned?

London can be an overwhelming place to visit, especially if you only have a few days to try and see it all. Therefore, it's best to plan your trip in advance, so that you have an idea of what you want to see and where. This way, you'll know how many days or weeks you need for your trip and when certain attractions will be open so that you don't miss out on any historical sites or monuments.

What is the most historic area of London?

There are many interesting historical neighborhoods to explore during your trip to London. Let’s recap the most popular areas for history-buffs:

  1. The City of London: This area is the historic core of London and is home to many of the city's most famous landmarks, including St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, and the Bank of England. It has Roman origins and throughout the centuries it was the center of trade, banking, government, and religion.
  2. Westminster: This district is home to many of the city’s most iconic attractions, including Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben. It has been the political epicenter of London since the 11th century, and is also home to Westminster Abbey, where many of England's kings and queens have been crowned and buried.
  3. The West End: This is the heart of London's entertainment and shopping district, with many famous theaters, shops, and restaurants. It's also home to many famous squares such as Leicester Square, and Trafalgar Square which are popular areas for shopping dining – but have also borne witness to many key historical events.
  4. Greenwich: This area is located on the banks of the River Thames in southeast London and is home to the Royal Observatory, Greenwich Mean Time, and the Prime Meridian. It also has a rich maritime history and was once a major shipbuilding and naval center, and home to the historic buildings of the Old Royal Navy College, the National Maritime Museum, and the Cutty Sark.
  5. The Tower Hamlets: London’s "East End" is rich in historical landmarks and is known for its cultural diversity. This neighborhood has a strong connection to the city’s complex immigration and working-class history, with notable landmarks such as Tower Bridge, St. Katherine Docks, and the Museum of London Docklands.

Each of these 5 areas has its unique history and cultural significance, and it's worth visiting them all to have a complete experience of London's history.

Bonus Facts: A few more Hidden Gems for London History Buffs

Are you interested in learning about sites even further off the beaten path? Check out our London History Walking Tour which explores landmarks such as St. Andrew Undershaft Church, the Lloyd's Building, and the controversial Gerkin; we also stop by Leadenhall Market, Guildhall, and the Roman Mithraeum.

  • St. Andrew Undershaft Church, located in the City of London, is a historic church dating back to the 16th century. It is known for its tall spire and beautiful architecture and is one of the few remaining examples of medieval churches in the city.
  • The Lloyd's Building, which is located near St. Andrew Undershaft Church, is a modernist masterpiece and a unique architectural icon of London. It was built in the 1980s and is known for its distinctive, futuristic design.
  • The controversial Gerkin, formally called 30 St Mary Axe, is a skyscraper in the City of London that features a unique, pickle-shaped curved design that makes it easily recognizable.
  • As we mentioned earlier in this post, Leadenhall Market is a historic market in the City of London that dates back to the 14th century. It is a popular tourist destination and is known for its traditional architecture and charming atmosphere.
  • The Guildhall, which is located nearby, is a historic building that has served as a town hall for the City of London for hundreds of years. It is also home to the Guildhall Art Gallery and the Guildhall Library.

Key Takeaways

The city of London offers travelers a treasure trove of historical sites, each with its unique story. From the imposing Tower of London and regal Buckingham Palace to the historic Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral, there is something for every history buff to enjoy. The Roman remains throughout the city and the old London Bridge are also must-see attractions, providing a glimpse into the city's past. And finally, Greenwich and its Royal Observatory, give a sense of London during WWII and its rich cultural heritage. No matter what period of history you're interested in, London has a wealth of historical sites that are sure to impress. If you're planning a visit to London, be sure to include some of these top historical sites on your itinerary.

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