London’s Top 10 Historic Sites

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The ten best historic sites and most interesting old buildings to visit in London

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Hours: 10 AM to 5.30 PM (Sun-Mon, Mar-Oct); 9 AM to 5.30 PM (Tue-Sat, Mar-Oct); 10 AM to 4.30 PM (Sun-Mon, Nov-Feb); 9 AM to 4.30 PM (Tue-Sat, Nov-Feb); Last entry 30 mins before closing – Cost: Adults £25.00; Children £12.00 (5-15); Infants free (under-5); Family ticket £63.00 

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Talk about the Tower of London and vote

The Tower of London is a World Heritage site and dates back to the reign of William the Conqueror. He began work on the White Tower in 1078 against one corner of the Roman wall, and the fortress was expanded by subsequent kings including Richard the Lionheart, Henry III and Edward I.

Over the centuries it has acted as a Royal palace, prison and a mint, and played host to some of the most infamous events in British history. Henry VI was murdered here to end the War of the Roses, and Richard III is believed to have ordered the death of the Edward IV’s two little princes. Henry VIII famously sent Anne Boleyn to execution on Tower Green so he could marry Jane Seymour. Famous prisoners include Thomas More, Guy Fawkes and Walter Raleigh.

If you want to witness a real piece of history then try and get tickets for the 700-year-old Ceremony of the Keys. You can also have a tour with one of the Yeoman Warders (aka Beefeaters). Read Craig’s review of the Tower of London on his blog to learn some more.

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Hours: 9.30 AM to 4.30 PM (Mon-Tue, Thu-Fri); 9.30 AM to 7 PM (Wed); 9.30 AM to 4.30 PM (Sat, May-Aug); 9.30 AM to 2.30 PM (Sat, Sep-Apr); Closed (Sun, except for worship); Last entry 1 hour before closing – Cost: Adults £20.00; Children £9.00 (6-16); Infants free (under-6); Family ticket £45.00 

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Talk about Westminster Abbey and vote

Westminster Abbey is the second of London’s four World Heritage Sites, and the setting for the nation’s coronations, burial and Royal weddings.

The most important Royal burial is that of Edward the Confessor – the only English king ever to be made a saint. Other famous monarchs to be entombed onsite include Henry III, Edward I (Hammer of the Scots), Edward III, Richard II (Peasant’s Revolt), Henry V (Agincourt), Edward V (War of the Roses), Henry VII (the first Tudor), Mary I (Bloody Mary), Elizabeth I (Spanish Armada), James VI (Gunpowder Plot), Charles II (Restoration), William III (Glorious Revolution), Anne and George II.

It also contains the graves of many celebrated politicians, writers, scientists, musicians and artists, plus the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Read Craig’s review of Westminster Abbey to discover what else you can se.

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Hours: The public can attend debates on Mon-Fri, and take tours during Aug/Sep, and most Saturdays 

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Talk about the Houses of Parliament and vote

Westminster Hall is the largest part of the original Palace of Westminster, which pre-dates the current Houses of Parliament by 800 years.

This vast room was used for State ceremonies and banquets, and served as the country’s highest court until the mid 19th-century. It witnessed the State trials of Scottish leader William Wallace, Elizabeth I’s one-time favourite the Earl of Essex, Charles I after the English Civil War, and the treason trial of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators after the unsuccessful Gunpowder Plot.

If you want to have a look inside then book a ticket for one of the Saturday tours of Parliament. If you want to look inside for free then watch the MPs inside the House of Commons. You can also read Craig’s review of Parliament to learn what it’s like.

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Hours: 10 AM to 5 PM (Mon-Sat); 12 noon to 4 PM (Sun) – Cost: Free 

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Talk about the Guildhall Art Gallery and vote

London rose to prominence after the Roman occupation in 54 BC. Over the next four centuries the Romans turned it into an important trading city with a basilica and a forum, but all traces of these big buildings have since disappeared. All you can see above ground nowadays are parts of the original wall that once surrounded the city.

The biggest parts of the wall are outside Cooper’s Row and Tower Hill station (both near the Tower of London) and down Noble Street (by the Museum of London).

The finest Roman remains are underneath the Guildhall Art Gallery. That’s where you’ll find what’s left of the Roman amphitheatre.

Read Craig’s review of the Guildhall Art Gallery to see some pictures of the remains, and try his Roman walk if you want to see what’s left of the wall.

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Hours: Palace and formal gardens: 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun, Apr-Oct); 10 AM to 4.30 PM (Mon-Sun, Nov-Mar); Last entry 1 hour before closing, but 45 mins for the maze – Informal gardens: 7 AM to 8 PM (Mon-Sun, Apr-Sep); 7 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun, Oct-Mar) – Cost: Adults £21.00; Children £10.50 (5-15); Infants free (under-5); Family ticket £51.70 

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Talk about Hampton Court Palace

Henry VIII had five big palaces in London: St. James’s Palace, Whitehall Palace, Greenwich Palace, Richmond Palace and – the only one that it’s possible to visit.

You can see his original State Rooms including the bedrooms, Great Hall and Chapel Royal, plus the huge Tudor kitchens where they cooked his meals. Other parts of the palace were decorated by subsequent kings including William III and George II.

Craig has written a review of Hampton Court on his blog, and also described one of their Ghost Tours. If you want to see the Chapel Royal for free then you can attend one of the choral Sunday services.

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Hours: Usually 10 AM to 5 PM (Mon-Sun), but it sometimes closes at 1 PM for special events – check their website to be sure; Last entry 30 mins before closing – Cost: Adults £6.60; Children free (under-16) 

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Talk about Banqueting House and vote

Banqueting House is the largest surviving part of Whitehall Palace which burnt down to the ground in a disastrous fire in 1698. Extra effect was made to save it because of the famous painting on the ceiling: a nine-panelled piece by Peter Paul Rubens. Commissioned by Charles I in the 1630s, it was intended to glorify the reign of the Stuart kings and depicts his father James I. Ironically it turned out to be the last thing he saw before his execution…

Following his defeat in the English Civil War and his subsequent State trial, Charles I was sentenced to death as a traitor and beheaded on a scaffold outside Banqueting House. If you look over the road to the clock above Horse Guards then you can see a little black smudge behind the two; that is said to mark the time when the axe fell.

Read Craig’s review of Banqueting House on his blog.

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Hours: 9.30 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun, Apr-Sep); 9.30 AM to 5.30 PM (Mon-Sun, Oct-Mar); Last entry 30 mins before closing – Cost: Adults £4.00; Children £2.00 (under-16) 

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Talk about The Monument and vote

Christopher Wren’s Monument marks the spot where the Great Fire of London broke out in 1666. If you carefully laid it down then the golden urn on top would fall on the baker’s shop in Pudding Lane when the fire began.

When Thomas Farriner went to bed on the 2nd September little did he know that three days later his buns would have destroyed 13,200 houses, 87 churches and even the medieval St Paul’s. They originally tried to put the blame on the Catholics, and The Monument had a plaque on the side that explained exactly that, but it is now believed to be a simple accident: the work of a careless baker who didn’t douse out the embers in his oven.

The Monument used to be the tallest observation platform in London, but nowadays it is surrounded by much taller office blocks. It’s still worth a climb though (if only for the exercise) – read Craig’s review for a rundown of what you can see from the top (answer: not much).

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Hours: Usually 10 AM to 4 PM, but sometimes 2 PM to 4 PM (Mon-Fri); Closed (Sat-Sun, except for services) – Cost: Adults £5.00; Children free (under-17) 

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Talk about Temple Church and vote

Temple Church has been burnt down, bombed and heavily modified over the centuries, but a large part of it dates all the way back to the days of the Knights Templar. These military monks made their name (and their money) during the Crusades and built the round part of the church to replicate the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Most tourists visit the church to see the night effigies of medieval knights that are lying on the floor of the Round Tower. The most famous one is Geoffrey de Mandeville from 1144, who was a leading noble during the war between King Stephen and Matilda. William Marshall fought on the opposite side and ended up serving Henry II.

Read Craig’s review of Temple Church to see a few photographs of what the inside looks like.

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Talk about Cleopatra’s Needle

Cleopatra’s Needle is incredibly old – it’s even older than London itself. It was originally built for Pharaoh Thutmose III in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis before being moved to Cleopatra’s Caesararium in Alexandria. That’s where it got its name from. The Egyptians then gifted it to the British government after Nelson helped beat back the French at the Battle of the Nile. Its twin was gifted to the Americans for staying out of a later war, and now stands in Central Park.

The Victorians decided to place it on the newly-built Embankment, guarded by a couple of big bronze sphinxes. If you walk over there today then you can see some disfiguring pockmarks all over the concrete, courtesy of a German air-raid. Interestingly it wasn’s an air-raid from the Second World War that caused them, but one from the Great War twenty years before.

If you want to see some close-ups of the obelisk then check out Craig’s review.

You can see more Egyptian artefacts at the British Museum, Petrie Museum and Sir John Soane’s Museum.

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London Stone is probably the most mysterious monument in the whole of London. Nobody knows where it came from, when it dates from, or even what it was used for. It’s possible that it started out as a plain old road marker in the Roman city of Londinium, and maybe marked the centre of the city. People probably congregated there to strike deals and make important announcements, and this is how it gained its fame.

By the 15th century it was so well-known that Jack Cade made a point of touching it during his rebellion against Henry II (it didn’t bring him much luck… he was eventually caught and killed!).

In recent years it has been shifted about so many times that nobody knows its original position. It used to be housed inside Christopher Wren’s St. Swithin’s church until it was bombed in the Blitz. It was then shifted into a vent outside WH Smiths, before finally finding a home at the Museum of London.

Read Craig’s review of London Stone on his blog.

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