30 Famous London Landmarks: A Local Expert’s Guide

A Londoner born and bred, I never tire of the city’s iconic sights.

From pausing on Embankment Bridge to take in that timeless view along the river to the shimmering dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, or gazing in awe at the Victorian splendour of St. Pancras Station, London’s landmarks are always able to set my heart aflutter.

Whether you are local or a first-time visitor, there are famous landmarks in London that you have to see.

river-thames-with-city-hall-shard-and-walkie-talkie-building

Some of these are iconic London landmarks; others are less well-known tourist attractions (and one is downright quirky). Some have been around for centuries; others are new additions to London’s skyline.

But they all have one thing in common. Together, they have helped to shape the landscape and the narrative of the great city that London is today.

To help you make the most of your time in London, I’ve included a few self-guided walking tours with maps to help you visit these must-see sights with ease. And at the end of this article, I’ve further reduced this list to my top ten London landmarks.


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Did you know?

London is home to 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Tower of London, Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey & St. Margaret’s Church, Kew Gardens and Maritime Greenwich.

 

 

Famous London Landmarks That You Must Visit

London is a sprawling city and a few of these landmarks are located at its edges. To make it easier, I have broken down this list of iconic London landmarks into four broad geographic areas or themes:

  • The South Bank and the City of London
  • Canary Wharf & beyond
  • Westminster, West End and Bloomsbury 
  • London’s Open Spaces

You can visit the London landmarks in two of these four groups on a self-guided walking tour. Maps are provided.

 

Iconic London Landmarks: The South Bank & The City of London 

The first ten iconic London landmarks are located along the South Bank of the River Thames and the City.

These can be easily visited on a self-guided walking tour, which is around 6km in length. The closest Tube stations to the start of this walking tour are Tower Hill or London Bridge, and the tour finishes on the doorstep of London Bridge station.

 

walking tour map of famous london landmarks in the city and on south bank
Map of famous London landmarks in the City and on the South Bank (click on the image for interactive walking tour map with directions) Map data @ Google 2020
Some of the attractions in this article may be closed temporarily because of coronavirus. To avoid disappointment, check ahead. Only travel if it is safe to do so and follow the advice from the authorities to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Tower Bridge

tower bridge london

As the most iconic London landmark –I would go so far as to say a world-famous symbol of London – Tower Bridge graces many a postcard. But Tower Bridge is no ordinary bridge.

Straddling the River Thames near the Tower of London, this Victorian bridge, hewn from Cornish granite and Portland stone, was built to ease road traffic congestion whilst retaining access to this important stretch of the river. However, unlike the other bridges on the Thames, this is not a traditional fixed bridge at street level.

To allow access for the many cargo ships of the day, Tower Bridge was designed as a drawbridge and suspension bridge. This means that the middle section of the bridge can be raised to allow river traffic to pass through.

The central drawbridge is raised approximately twice a day approximately 1,000 times a year. Check here to see when the next Bridge lift is.

For a fun and educational visit, buy a ticket for the Tower Bridge Experience.

A lift whisks you up to the walkways, 30 meters above the street level, from where you can look down through the glass floor at the bridge below and learn about the construction of the bridge.

Closest Tube station to Tower Bridge: Tower Hill  

 

Tower of London

the tower of london exterior

At the northern end of Tower Bridge is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in this collection of famous London landmarks: The Tower of London. Few places have played such a prominent and sustained role in English history as this imposing 1000-year-old fortress.

 

Did you know?

The White Tower at the Tower of London is the oldest intact building in London

 

Built by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century to protect London, and as a symbol of his power, the Tower of London has been the setting for pivotal historical events in European history. This includes the execution of three English queens – Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey – and the imprisonment of other monarchs and princes who didn’t meet such a grisly fate.

Today’s visitors head to the Tower of London to gawp at the crown jewels, which include those worn by the monarch at the coronation and at the opening of Parliament, and to have their photograph taken next to one of the Beefeatersentrusted with guarding the Tower.

The Beefeaters have the equally important task of caring for the resident flock of ravens. Legend has it that the Tower of London— and the monarchy — will fall if the ravens ever leave the fortress.

Local’s tip! Ceremony of the Keys

This 700-year-old ritual forms part of the locking up of the Tower of London is English pomp and circumstance at its very best and takes place every evening at 21:53. Tickets are released online every six months but sell out quickly.

I attended this event a few years ago and was not only enchanted by the ages-old ritual, but there is also something special about being in the Tower of London after hours.

Closest Tube station to the Tower of London: Tower Hill  

 

St. Paul’s Cathedral

painted interior of dome of st pauls cathedral london

Perched on the highest point of the City of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral is a landmark in the truest sense of the word. The sheer beauty of St. Paul’s Cathedral, both inside and out, makes my heart skip a beat.

But it goes deeper than the cathedral’s architectural design. To me, St. Paul’s is a symbol of the resilience of London itself.

Built by the great Sir Christopher Wren after the devastation wrought by the Great Fire of London in 1666, St Paul’s is the fifth cathedral to have stood on this site since 604AD.

Its Baroque splendour has been a worthy setting for many ceremonial events, including the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. The cathedral’s crypt is the resting place of some of England’s greatest heroes, including Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, and houses monuments to conflicts fought across the globe.

Other visitor favourites when visiting the historical landmark include testing the acoustic quirks of the Whispering Gallery and climbing to the exterior Golden Gallery for spectacular views across London.

Closest Tube station to St. Paul’s Cathedral: St. Paul’s  

 

Millennium Bridge

lookinf across millennium bridge to st pauls cathedral in london

Linking St. Paul’s Cathedral with Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge connects old and new London. But this striking steel suspension footbridge has a chequered history.

Opened to great fanfare in 2000, eager visitors swarmed over its shiny new deck, resulting in an alarming sway. Although there was no chance that the bridge would tumble down, engineers felt that the problem needed to be rectified.

It was closed for remedial work, reopening in June 2002. To this day, many Londoners refer to the Millennium Bridge as the Wobbly Bridge, although the wobble has long since gone.

What makes the Millennium Bridge so extraordinary is its alignment. Stand at its southern end at Tate Modern to be treated to a wonderful view of the south façade of St. Paul’s Cathedral, framed by the bridge supports.

And for Potterheads out there, the bridge is destroyed by Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Closest Tube stations to the Millennium Bridge: St. Paul’s, Southwark, Borough or London Bridge  

 

Tate Modern

looking at the exterior of tate modern london from millennium bridge

Who would have thought that a disused power station would become one of London’s most famous landmarks?

Tate Modern is London’s temple to modern and contemporary art. Displaying artworks from across the globe, it is housed in Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s imposing former Bankside Power Station.

The building itself gives the artistic achievements it houses a good run for their money. The central 99m-high chimney has been left in situ, a two-storey glass box added to the roof and the cavernous Turbine Hall transformed into a dramatic exhibition space.

The newer five-storey Blavatnik Building – once the Switch House housing the electricity generators –  features an outdoor 10th-floor viewing terrace, offering sublime views of the River Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral.

Tate Modern’s free permanent collection, featuring artists that include Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, never fails to pull in the crowds, but the gallery also hosts excellent blockbuster temporary exhibitions (admission fee applies).

Choosing between Tate Modern and Tate Britain, its sister museum, can be tricky, so why not visit both?

When you’ve finished taking a look at Tate Modern, hop on RB2 riverboat service to visit Tate Britain at Bankside.

Closest Tube stations to Tate Modern: Southwark, Borough, London Bridge or Waterloo  

 

Shakespeare’s Globe

exterior of shakespeares globe theatre london

Adjacent to Tate Modern, Elizabethan theatre is brought vividly to life in one of London’s most famous buildings, Shakespeare’s Globe. Built on the riverside a few hundred meters from the original Globe, where many of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, this detailed reproduction of an Elizabethan theatre is justly world-renowned.

I’ve seen a few productions here and it is an unforgettable experience. In an attempt to reproduce the bawdy atmosphere of 16th Century theatre-going, “groundlings” stand in the central space in front of the stage and are encouraged to clap and jeer.

As Shakespeare’s Globe is open to the elements (although the seats have some shelter), the theatre operates a summer programme only. However, the Globe offers year-round tours of the theatre where you can find out more about Shakespeare and other Elizabethan dramatists, as well as the challenges faced by Sam Wannamaker in establishing the theatre.

Closest Tube stations to Shakespeare’s Globe: Southwark, Borough, London Bridge or Waterloo  

 

Borough Market

sign for borough market on open cast iron gate

Beloved of foodies and grazers, Borough Market is a short walk from Shakespeare’s Globe. Originally a wholesale market, this culinary London landmark sources both British and international produce.

The present building dates from the mid 19th Century, although it’s thought that there has been a market on the site for at least 800 years.

Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is a must-see London landmark, if you are in the area there is no better place to stop for lunch.

Did you know?

Borough Market is popular as a film location, and the market and the surrounding streets feature in movies including Bridget Jones’s Diary, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Closest Tube stations to Borough Market: Borough or London Bridge  

 

The Shard

view of the shard from the borth bank of river thames under a blue sky

Dominating the London skyline is a spire of splintered glass.

Although only eight years young, the Shard has quickly become one of London’s most iconic buildings. Also known as the Shard of Glass, the 72-storey building designed by the famous architect Renzo Piano is the tallest building in the UK and the sixth tallest building in Europe. 

The Shard is occupied by office space, three restaurants, three residential apartments and the UK’s loftiest viewing platform, The View from The Shard. General entry tickets to The View from The Shard are pricy, but there are often discounts to be had.

Alternatively, it is possible to get these great views of London for free. Well, sort of.

If you’re not that bothered about going all the way up to The View (levels 68, 69 and 72) you can dine at AquaShard on level 31 and still benefit from great views. It’s not the cheapest place in London to eat, but nor is it stupidly expensive. And you need to offset this cost against the cost of a ticket to The View (£30 full price in Dec 2020).

 Local’s tip!

Some of the best views of London are to be had from the windows of the toilets of AquaShard!

Closest Tube stations to the Shard: Borough or London Bridge  

 

The Gherkin

Across the river is an instantly recognisable London landmark, 30 St Mary Axe, better known as the Gherkin. Situated in the City of London on the former site of the Baltic Exchange and Chamber of Shipping, which was badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992, this commercial skyscraper is a fabulous example of neo-futuristic architecture.

Designed by the legend that is Sir Norman Foster, this glass-fronted tower built in the shape of a round vegetable and featuring a distinctive spiral design, opened in 2004. It catches the eye at any time of the day, but it’s dazzling when lit up at night.

Although the Gherkin isn’t normally open to the public, like the Shard it does have a bar and restaurant with a view: Helix restaurant and Iris bar, which are located on the top floors of the building.

Closest Tube stations to the Gherkin: Liverpool Street, Aldgate or Aldgate East

city skyline with the gherkin and walkie talkie building at sunset  

 

The Walkie Talkie building (+ Sky Garden)

Continuing with the theme of iconic London skyscrapers, our next London landmark has polarised opinion.

20 Fenchurch Street, otherwise known as the Walkie Talkie building because of its distinctive shape, towers 160 meters above street level dwarfing the Gothic spires of the City’s conservation area. Whilst some admire its striking design, others are less than thrilled of its bulk bullying its older, more restrained neighbours.

But the Walkie Talkie building is not any old building. It is also home to the Sky Garden, London’s very own Hanging Gardens of Babylon, wrapped around the building’s upper floors.

Visiting the Sky Garden is free and, for my money, offers the best panoramic views of London. However, you do need to book a time slot in advance and as it is justifiably popular, you need to quick off the mark.

The Sky Garden is also home to a handful of bars and restaurants.

Closest Tube stations to the Walkie Talkie building: Monument, Bank or Cannon Street  

 

Famous London Landmarks: Canary Wharf & Beyond

The next three London landmarks are further downriver and include the financial powerhouse of Canary Wharf and the engineering marvel of the Thames barrier.

 

map of famous london landmarks along the river thames
Map data @ Google 2020

 

Canary Wharf

two people looking at canary-wharf-london-from-greenwich-park
Canary Wharf from Greenwich Park

The financial district of Canary Wharf is clearly visible from the terrace of the Sky Garden. But there’s more to this financial district on the Isle of Dogs in East London that meets the eye.

With its planned procession of skyscrapers and elegant bridges, Canary Wharf’s architecture is markedly different from the rest of London. One Canada Square, its architectural centrepiece, is the second tallest building in the UK after The Shard, standing 236 metres high.  Sadly, it is not normally open to the public.

The rich history of Canary Wharf and other London ports is showcased in the wonderful Museum of London Docklands. And if you fancy sampling a local brew (recommended!), join a tour of the Meantime Brewery. Closest

Tube station to Canary Wharf: Canary Wharf  

 

Maritime Greenwich

path leading to front of colonnaded building in greenwich

Maritime Greenwich is our second London landmark that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Notable for being the place of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the Prime Meridian of the world, Greenwich is also home to a collection of buildings, historic landmarks that showcase English artistic and scientific endeavours in the 17th and 18th centuries. Arranged in harmonious symmetry alongside the River Thames are the following:

  • The Queen’s House – the work of Inigo Jones building, this was the first Palladian building in England.
  • The Royal Naval Hospital – originally designed by Christopher Wren but further embellished by other architects, including Nicholas Hawksmoor.
  • The Royal Park – expansive views over London and home to the Royal Observatory, Maritime Museum and Meridian line.
  • The Royal Observatory – the baseline for the world’s time zone system and for the measurement of longitude around the globe.

How to get to Maritime Greenwich: The closest stations are Cutty Sark DLR, Greenwich rail station and Maze Hill rail station  

 

The Thames Barrier

sailboat passing by the thames barrier london

Engineering buffs should head downriver from Greenwich to the Thames Barrier.

The Thames is a tidal river and London has been vulnerable to flooding by exceptionally high tides and storm surges since Roman times. Operational since 1982, the Thames barrier is a retractable barrier system that is raised at high tide to prevent such flooding. Learn all about the barrier at the Thames Barrier Information Centre (I visited some years ago and found it fascinating).

If you have time to spare, visit the Thames Barrier Park, a 17 -acre park that features a sunken garden, fountains, children’s playground and picnic areas. It’s also a prime spot from which to view the barrier.

How to get to the Thames Barrier: Your best bet for reaching the Thames Barrier is the Dockland Light Railway (DLR). The closest stations to the Thames Barrier are Pontoon Dock DLR, West Silvertown DLR and London City Airport (11-minute walk).  

 

Famous London Landmarks: Westminster, West End and Bloomsbury 

The next group of London landmarks take you from the South Bank of the River Thames to Westminster through to the West End, finishing in literary Bloomsbury.

These can be easily visited on a self-guided walking tour. This is relatively long at 10km in length, but if you are feeling weary you can cut it short at any time (Trafalgar Square is a good breaking off point).

The closest Tube station to the start of this walking tour is London Waterloo; the walking tour finishes at London Kings Cross St. Pancras station.

 

walking tour map of famous london landmarks in Westminster and south bank
Map of famous London landmarks in Westminster and on the South Bank (click on the image for interactive walking tour map with directions) Map data @ Google 2020

 

South Bank Book Market

people browsing open air book stall

Beloved of Londoners and visitors alike, this second-hand book market alongside the Thames is a firmly established fixture on London’s landscape.

Tucked under Waterloo Bridge, outside the BFI Southbank, the South Bank Book Market has been around for donkey’s years. Open daily from 10 am until 7 pm, come rain or shine, sellers display their wares, from classics & contemporary titles to maps & prints, on long tables.

It’s a great spot to while away 10 or 15 minutes (or longer!). When you’ve selected your new read, why not relax with a drink on the BFI’s terrace bar?

Closest Tube station to the South Bank Book Market: Waterloo

 

London Eye

the london eye

Formally known as the Millennium Wheel, the London Eye has been credited with sparking a resurgence of Ferris wheel construction across the globe.

This revolving observation deck on London’s South Bank was scheduled to be dismantled in 2005. However, its popularity saved it from the scrap yard and secured its place as a permanent London landmark.

It takes around 30 minutes to complete a revolution in this most popular paid attraction in the UK.

Did you know?

The London Eye’s 32 capsules represent Greater London’s 32 boroughs. 

Closest Tube station to the London Eye: Waterloo  

 

Houses of Parliament & Big Ben

houses of parliament and big ben at sunset

There are few more iconic London landmarks or beautiful buildings than the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament. As the meeting place of the British Government and the centre of political life and power in the UK, the Palace of Westminster has a rich history spanning over 900 years and has been the stage for high drama.

Sitting on the north bank of the Thames, across the river from the London Eye, the building we see today is Victorian Gothic Revival in all its pointy perfection. For this we can thank Sir Charles Barry – he was also responsible for Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed – who was ably assisted by Augustus Pugin, better known for designing churches, including St. Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle.

Book a free, guided virtual tour of the Palace of Westminster here.

I do miss the stately dongs of Big Ben, which is currently encased in scaffolding thanks to ongoing restoration work. It has been silenced until 2021.

Did you know?

The official name for Big Ben is the Elizabeth Tower? Big Ben is one of the bells enclosed within the clock tower itself.

Closest Tube station to the Houses of Parliament & Big Ben: Westminster  

 

Westminster Abbey

exterior of westminster abbey

Across Parliament Square from the Palace of Westminster is Westminster Abbey. Together with St Margaret’s Church, this has been denoted a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Founded by Benedictine monks in 960AD, this Gothic masterpiece is steeped in English history. World-famous as the final resting place of 17 English monarchs, it also houses the tombs of writers, artists, scientists, and political leaders, including Rudyard Kipling, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Neville Chamberlain and Stephen Hawking.

Monarchs from the past thousand years have been crowned sitting on the Coronation Chair, and it’s also been the stage for royal weddings, most recently that Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Closest Tube station to Westminster Abbey: Westminster  

 

Buckingham Palace

royal guard in red uniforms and fur hats outside buckingham palace
Image by Alfonso Cerezo from Pixabay

One of London’s most famous buildings, Buckingham Palace has been the official London royal residence since the time of Queen Victoria and is the administrative headquarters of the British monarch. This royal palace also serves as the backdrop to the Changing of the Guard Ceremony, which takes place at 11 am on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday and daily in the summer.

Do you want to walk in the footsteps of the Royals and Heads of State? If so, you can take a look at some of Buck House’s 775 rooms when the Queen takes her summer holiday to Balmoral Castle on a guided tour of the State Rooms.

Did you know?

If you want to know if the Queen is at home take a look at the Royal Standard flag (not the Union Flag) on top of the palace. If it is flying, Her Majesty is at home. If it’s not flying, she’s popped out for a loaf of bread. Finally, the flag at half-mast denotes a period of national mourning.

Closest Tube stations to Buckingham Palace: Victoria, St. James’s Park or Green Park  

 

Trafalgar Square

trafalgar square at night with fountain in foreground

At the opposite end of The Mall from Buckingham Palace is Trafalgar Square, the best known public square in London.

Featuring majestic fountains with centrepieces designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, and flanked by landmark buildings that include the National Gallery and St Martin-in-the-Fields, the square continues to be the setting for political demonstrations and cultural celebrations.

Local’s tip!

Whilst in the area, try to catch a free lunchtime concert in St. Martins in the Fields. The church also has a vast, and inexpensive, café in its crypt. The perfect place to stop for lunch!

Fittingly for a square that commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a monument to Admiral Nelson takes pride of place. Nelson’s Column, an iconic London landmark in its own right, is guarded by four lions sculpted by Sir Edwin Landseer.

Visit during the Holiday season to see the giant Norwegian spruce (or fir) which has been donated to the square by Oslo since 1947. Its lights are usually switched on twelve days before the 25th December and it is taken down on the twelfth night of Christmas.

Before you leave Trafalgar Square, take a look at the so-called fourth plinth in the corner of the square near the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing entrance. After being unoccupied for years, this statue plinth is now used to showcase contemporary artworks.

Closest Tube stations to Trafalgar Square: Charing Cross, Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus  

 

Piccadilly Circus

piccadilly circus at night with neon billboard and entrance to tube station

I’ll level with you. Piccadilly Circus is not my favourite place in London.

But while it is not a majestic bridge or architectural gem, it is nonetheless a famous London landmark.

This neon-lit road junction connecting the entertainment district of Leicester Square (another least favourite area of mine) with the theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue and the shops of Regent Street, is a popular meeting place. Think of it as London’s version of New York’s Times Square.

Piccadilly Circus is worth taking a look at if you are in the area and is a good place to take photographs, particularly at night.

Closest Tube stations to Piccadilly Circus: Piccadilly Circus  

 

Covent Garden Market

giant bauble hanging from iron and glass roog reflecting buildings of covent garden

Meet a garden that isn’t really a garden.

Formerly home to a fruit-and-vegetable market – and an abundance of brothels! – this market relocated to Nine Elms in 1974 and the central building was reinvented as a shopping destination in 1980.

Again, Covent Garden would not be one of my favourite places to visit in London, largely because it can be SO busy. Visitors flock to Covent Garden in their droves to eat in its restaurants, drink in its bars, splash the cash in its shops & market stalls and to be entertained by its street performers.

It is also home to St. Paul’s Church, also known as the Actors’ Church, the Royal Opera House and the London Transport Museum, all of which are well worth a visit.

Closest Tube stations to Covent Garden Market: Covent Garden. However, as this station suffers from congestion, particularly at peak times, I recommend using Leicester Square or Charing Cross which will only add an extra three or four minutes to your walking time.  

 

British Museum

people in the great court of the british museum

Visiting a museum is one of the best things to do in London as a solo traveller and the British Museum has to be towards the top of that list.

Housed within a majestic Greek Revival style building in the heart of London’s Bloomsbury area, its impressive collection of treasures including the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles (ahem!) and Egyptian mummies is world-beating. However, one of its best treasures is its stunning Great Court.

On a sunny day, light streams across the atrium, casting extraordinary shadows from its domed glass ceiling. For the best viewpoint of the Great Court, walk up to the gallery area above the main entrance

As with most London museums, entrance to the permanent collection is free, but you need to pay to visit the museum’s special exhibitions. The British Museum also hosts a programme of excellent, often free, talks and its gift shop as a reliable place to pick up presents for those back home.

Closest Tube stations to the British museum: Tottenham Court Road, Russell Square or Holborn  

 

St. Pancras Station

head of sir john betjeman statue in front of clock at st pancras station

“A railway station is a London landmark?” you might ask. But this is a very special railway station.

The Victorians sure knew how to build train stations. Thanks to its mighty iron roof, the 19th Century Pancras Station laid claim to the largest free-spanning structure in the world.

However, the jewel in the crown was the dramatic red-brick Gothic Midland Hotel at the front of the station, designed by the prolific George Gilbert Scott.

By the middle of the twentieth century, the station was forlorn and unloved until a massive restoration project, completed in 2007, restored St. Pancras Station to its former glory. Today, it’s a magnificent space inside and out.

Local’s tip!

Don’t miss two statues on the upper level of the station: the John Betjeman statue and The Lovers statue under the replica station clock.

Closest Tube station to St. Pancras Station: King’s Cross St. Pancras Station  

 

London Landmarks in Open Spaces

The final landmarks include two of the capital’s finest open spaces, London’s cathedral to natural history, cutting-edge street art and, improbably, a group of dinosaurs.

 

map of famous landmarks in west and south london
Map data @ Google 2020

 

Hyde Park

lilypond in hyde park london

Spread over 350 acres, Hyde Park is one of London’s biggest and best green spaces, and certainly the most famous.

One of London’s eight Royal Parks, this urban oasis has something for everyone.

People come to trail their fingers in the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, take a pedalo for a spin on The Serpentine, view cutting-edge contemporary art in the Serpentine Gallery or to simply walk, cycle or rollerblade along its acres of paths.

One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday is to head to Speakers Corner, on the north-eastern edge of Hyde Park, where budding orators and a few eccentrics exercise their right to free speech. Their views range from the profound to the downright wacky but are rarely dull.

Closest Tube stations to Hyde Park: Knightsbridge, Lancaster Gate, Hyde Park Corner or Marble Arch  

 

Natural History Museum

exterior ofnatural-history-museum-london

Walk beneath the skeleton of a giant blue whale and through 4.5 billion years of natural history at the Natural History Museum, a stone’s throw from the southern edge of Hyde Park. Even if you are not that bothered about natural history, swing by here for the museum’s vast, cathedral-like building which is a masterpiece in itself.

This London landmark, richly decorated with sculptures of plants and animals, opened in 1881.

Its collection is vast, numbering 80 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, palaeontology and zoology. But it is the world-famous dinosaur collection, which includes part of the first Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, that pulls the crowds.

As with most museums in London, entry to the Natural History Museum’s permanent collection is free but you will have to pay for the temporary exhibitions (I highly recommended the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition).

Closest Tube stations to the Natural History Museum: South Kensington or Gloucester Road

The Best Small Museums in London
If you are looking for a smaller, more niche museum in London, here’s my pick of the best:
  • Cinema Museum, London – a fascinating collection of cinema’s past housed in a former London workhouse
  • Horniman Museum – a family-friendly museum in south London whose star turn is a giant walrus
  • Museum of Brands – a nostalgia trip through 200 years of consumer culture
  • Pollock’s Toy Museum – a museum and small toy shop housed in two atmospheric historic buildings in Fitzrovia
  • London Postal Museum – to take a ride on the Mail Rail, London’s alternative underground railway

 

Kew Gardens

duck sitting on flower planter in front of lake in kew gardens london

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is the fourth and final UNESCO World Heritage Site in this list of London landmarks and is home to the world’s largest and most diverse collection of plants. These former royal gardens were given over to the public in 1841 and now display over 50,000 plant species.

The recently restored Temperate House and the Palm House offer a warm winter refuge for plants and visitors alike and are jewels of Victorian engineering.

Kids adore the Treetop Walkway, suspended 18 metres above ground and offering a bird’s eye view of the forest.

Kew Gardens even has its own art installation, The Hive, an immersive sight-&-sound experience triggered by bee activity.

There’s something to see in Kew Gardens all year round but springtime is an explosion of colour, and the arboretum, with its vast collection of 14,000 trees, is spectacular in autumn.

Other Places to See Autumn Colours in London
My favourite place to view autumn foliage in London is Epping Forest, perfect for gentle walks through carpets of crunchy leaves, strewn with conkers and acorns.

How to get to Kew Gardens: Take a mainline train from Waterloo to Kew Bridge or London Overground / District Line to Kew Gardens  

 

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

2 dinosaur sculptures in greenery

Head to Crystal Palace Park in south London to meet 30 dinosaurs arranged around its lakes like improbable domestic animals.

These bizarre pieces of Victoriana, sculpted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, were intended to educate the masses on the emerging theory of evolution. Instead, being in direct opposition to the prevailing biblical ‘truth’, they outraged them.

Today, the Crystal Palace dinosaurs are a much-loved London landmark. I love the fact that they are ever so slightly wrong.

These sculptures reflected scientists’ understanding of dinosaurs at the time, which was limited. As a result, many of these dinosaurs are a peculiar mish-mash of different animals, looking very different from what we now believe to be the case.

How to get to Crystal Palace Park: Take a mainline train from Victoria to Crystal Palace or Penge West

 

Street Art in London’s East End

street art of man walking past london street in the rain at night

If you want to see a different side of London, venture east to Brick Lane.

This once-neglected area is now booming with chic cafes, curry houses, vintage clothes shops, cutting-edge art galleries. And Brick Lane is also the epicentre of street art in London.

Building walls, hoardings, doors and shop shutters form the canvas for frequently-changing artworksThese creations assume many forms, from massive murals to small paintings to stickers and posters.

To discover the best street art in the area, take a free self-guided walking tour of Brick Lane.

Closest Tube station to the Brick Lane: Aldgate East  

 

London Tube Stations

people on platform at baker street tube station in london  

Whilst many of London’s Tube stations are unexciting, others are works of art.  But, as a whole, they are iconic.

London Underground, commonly referred to as the Tube, is the metro system serving Greater London and stretching out to the home counties of Buckinghamshire, Essex and Hertfordshire. Although undeniably functional, some Tube stations are so striking as to stop you in your tracks (no pun intended).

From the steel and glass of big, brash Canary Wharf Tube station to the exposed bricks and Sherlock tiles of Baker Street to the Eduardo Paolozzi mosaics of Tottenham Court Road, there are many architectural gems.

However, my favourites are the Art Deco stations of suburban London, most of which were designed by the architect Charles Holden. East Finchley on the Northern Line is a great example of this 1930s aesthetic.

Local’s tip!

Dr Who fans should head to Earl’s Court station where they will find a TARDIS.  Or at least an old police call box.

 

 

The River Thames

the shoreline of river thames looking towards the shard and london bridge

Saving the best until last, no list of London tourist destinations would be complete without including its main artery and lifeblood, the River Thames.

Rising as a small trickle in the Cotswolds, the Thames flows for over 210 miles through the heart of England into the centre of London and eventually out through the estuary into the North Sea. Over the millennia the River Thames has been an economic resource, a maritime route, a freshwater source, a source of food and, more recently, a leisure facility.

As most of London’s famous landmarks are along the river, if you are short on time and want to see as much as possible, take a walk along the lively South Bank of the Thames to take in the sights. Alternatively, hop on one of the riverboats churning through its silty waters or, for the more intrepid, rent a kayak or raise your heart rate by taking a ride in a RIB.  

 

My Top 10 London Landmarks

I hope that this round-up of London’s must-see sights will help you make the best of your time in the capital. If you have limited time in London you may need to whittle down your choice of places to visit. It’s a bit like choosing your favourite child, but if I was forced to make this call, my top ten famous London landmarks would look like this:

  • Paul’s Cathedral
  • River Thames
  • British Museum
  • Tower of London
  • Tate Modern
  • Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
  • Kew Gardens
  • Pancras Station
  • Natural History Museum
  • Maritime Greenwich

But whichever landmarks you choose to visit, enjoy my hometown!

 

2 thoughts on “30 Famous London Landmarks: A Local Expert’s Guide

  1. Stefan (BerkeleySqB) says:

    Great post. Nice to see Thames Barrier, Crystal Palace, and tube stations on here.

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