Visiting landmarks is one of the most popular things to do when travelling to somewhere new. Landmarks represent the culture and history of the place you’re visiting, they tell stories and inspire your own, plus they make for great photo ops!
A city like London is ever-changing which means many of the locations on this list of 10 London landmarks have only been an addition to the city within the last 20 years and yet it seems like they’ve been there forever. Others however have had centuries of attention and experience with tourists such as Westminster Abbey which dates back to the year 960.
What makes our capital’s landmarks that extra bit special is the rich royal association with so many of them, but if that isn’t your jam then I also include modern structures that make up our city’s famous skyline. I’ll include a little bit about the structures, where to find them and tips on where to go to get photos of them too, there’s also a map at the end to make it easier for you to navigate on your next trip to London.
1. Buckingham Palace
Located: City of Westminster
With it being the most watched title on Netflix, chances are you’ve watched The Crown. If by chance you haven’t, it’s like a fancy reality TV show that makes you feel both jealous and sorry for the most famous family in the world, it’s basically KUWTK but with less class… if you didn’t at least laugh with pity over that, you can go and read some other fabulous travel blog!
Get your royal fix with a visit to one of the most popular destinations for worldwide travellers coming to London: Buckingham Palace.
Home to the Queen of England, Buckingham Palace is located in the City of Westminster at the end of The Mall, a 0.58 m/0.93 km long red road which is featured in various celebratory ceremonies such as the Trooping of the Colour.
The palace spans over 39 acres and has 755 rooms.
The best way to get unobstructed photos of the palace is to hold your camera between the cast iron gates. If you want to be in the photo then I suggest walking over to the Queen Victoria Memorial monument located straight opposite the palace gates. From up there you will be able to get a photo with the palace as your backdrop.
Click here for information regarding visiting some of the rooms of Buckingham Palace.
2. Westminster Abbey
Located: City of Westminster
If Buckingham Palace gave you a thrill and you want another fix of Royal fancy pants-ness, then head to Westminster Abbey. This Grade I listed house of worship as we see it today took 500 years to build – let that sink it for a moment – and has hosted many world famous ceremonies since the completion of the two main towers in 1745.
Westminster Abbey is famously known for where 23 million people worldwide saw the future King of England, Prince William, marry Catherine Middleton and 200 million people heard (ahh the days of radio) Queenie pops marry Prince Phillip. Along with 16 other royal weddings that have taken place within these hallowed grounds it is also the location of every Coronation of British Monarch since 1066.
Westminster Abbey is usually free to visit but is closed for public visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is however open for individual prayer. Once it’s open again I suggest visiting as you will be able to see the world famous Coronation Chair. Since its creation in the 14th Century, 26 monarchs have been crowned in the Coronation Chair.
Stand on the pavement (sidewalk) where Victoria Street meets Storey’s Gate for the best view.
3. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
Located: City of Westminster
The Houses of Parliament is the informal name for the Palace of Westminster where the House of Commons and House of Lords meet to form the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The current palace that stands today wasn’t the original one. The original medieval palace was completed at the start of the 11th Century and its purpose was to serve as the primary residence to the monarchy in the start of the 11th Century. Parliament didn’t start gathering there until the 13th Century. Fire safety wasn’t great in London though as you’ll be able to work out from this blog post and in 1834 the palace burnt down. It was rebuilt in the 1800s and though it is no longer home to the Royal family it does still remain a property of the Crown.
Featured on one of the nation’s favourite sauce bottles (HP’s Brown Sauce) and arguably the most iconic film location in London is possibly the most famous clock in the world, Big Ben. Completed in 1859, he has witnessed six monarchs and 41 Prime Ministers since the very first chime.
Big Ben actually refers to the great bell of the clock whilst the clock tower is named Elizabeth Tower, after Queen Elizabeth II to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee. Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and, like many others on this list, is a Grade I listed building.
Unfortunately Big Ben has been undergoing a face lift since 2017 which is set to finish in 2021, which means he’s currently hidden under scaffolding and for the protection of the construction workers’ ear drums, only chimes to bring in the new year and to commemorate Remembrance Sunday until he can resume his regular chime schedule. Do not dismay, sure, it makes for pretty pants photos but it’s all to conserve the tower. Great things to take away from this is that a lift is being installed so that the tower becomes accessible to those with different abilities, The Ayrton Light (the green light above the clock face that indicated when Parliament is sitting) will be upgraded to low-energy LEDs, plus it will be restored to its original colours.
If you still want to mark the times with a photo there two of the best locations are from Westminster Bridge and the walkway under Westminster bridge, facing dead opposite Big Ben on the south bank of the River Thames.
4. Trafalgar Square
Located: City of Westminster
Trafalgar Square is a public square that was built to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar, a victory over France and Spain during the Napoleonic Wars in 1805. Despite the battle being won in 1805, the square wasn’t actually opened until 1844.
Within the square is the National Gallery, a statue of Lord Nelson (Nelson’s Column) which is surrounded by four seven ton lions, two large water fountains that feature mermaids, dolphins and tritons and four great plinths, three of which have statues whilst the fourth does not. The Fourth Plinth was left bare due to insufficient funds but since 1999 has been home to various works of contemporary art. Permanent proposals for the plinth are still being discussed but rumour has it, it’s being reserved for when Queen Elizabeth passes.
For the best photos of and with Trafalgar Square, take them from the steps out front of the National Gallery, from the edge of the water fountains with the National Gallery in the background or in front of the famous lions. Please note that you can no longer climb onto the lions as over their lifetime the bronze has been worn dangerously thin and could collapse.
5. London Eye
Located: South Bank along the River Thames
The London Eye, otherwise known as the Millennium Wheel was opened to the public in, you guessed it, 2000! as part of the city’s millennium celebrations. When it opened it was the tallest ferris wheel in the world (it’s now the fourth).
There are 32 capsules numbered from 1 to 33 but number 13 is missing from the wheel for superstitious reasons. Each one can carry up to 25 people and a full rotation lasts 30mins. The views are panoramic and on a good day you can see as far as Windsor Castle (Windsor is where Prince Harry and Megan Markle got married, if you don’t know).
PFH Fun Fact: the London Eye was only supposed to me a temporary instalment but its popularity got it an indefinite position on the bank of the River Thames. If my photo albums weren’t already packed for Canada I would share my old developed film photos of a pre-teen Gaby on the London Eye with the bushy eyebrows I wish I still had. If I ever make it to Canada, remind me to share them with you.
To find out four of the best places to take photos of and with the London Eye, take a look at my blog post, 10 most Instagrammable places in London, England.
Book tickets for a ride on the London Eye here.
6. Tower Bridge
Located: Tower Hamlets and Southwark
Up next is the often-confused-for-London-Bridge Tower Bridge. The most famous suspension bridge in London was built in the late 1800s and takes the London Inner Ring Road across the River Thames.
Any person or vehicle can access the bridge deck unless the bridge is opening for marine vessel (I’ve only had one lucky chance to see in my life thus far, it feels like a scene from inception) and if you want to explore the glass floor, the high-level walkway and Victorian engine rooms, it costs a small entrance fee. Just take note that whilst London is in tier 3 or any form of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, the high-level walkway will be closed.
It has in the last decade, like everywhere else photogenic on this planet, become a sought after Instagrammable location and as someone who put it in their own London Instagram guide I’m not knocking that but the reason I’m bringing it up is because I need you to know this: It is not safe, smart or responsible to straddle the railings whose sole purpose is to stop you from getting hit by the busy two-way traffic on the bridge. Too many people hop onto these railings and spread their legs into oncoming traffic. I’ve seen it on the gram and I’ve seen it in person and trust me, a red bus isn’t stopping for your pins, okay? Don’t do it! You can get amazing content without risking a fractured leg.
On the topic of photos, check out the blog post I mentioned above to find out two locations to get photos of and with Tower Bridge: 10 most Instagrammable places in London, England.
7. St. Paul’s Cathedral
Located: City of London
This Anglican cathedral sits atop the highest point in the city of London, Ludgate Hill. Completed in 1710 this cathedral designed by Sir Christopher Wren (who I’ve spoken about here) only took 35 years to build – compare that to Westminster Abbey’s 500 – and replaced the original Gothic St. Paul’s Cathedral which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666). It has since become a Grade I listed building.
PFH Fun Fact: St. Paul’s Cathedral is the second largest church building in England, the first is Liverpool Cathedral.
Aside from being an iconic landmark and beautiful house of worship, St. Paul’s Cathedral is famously known for some very high profile ceremonies such as the funeral of these questionable leaders: Lord Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and former Prime Ministers, Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher. It’s also where a staggering 750 million people tuned in to see next in line to the throne, Prince Charles, marry The Peoples’ Princess, Lady Diana Spencer.
Other celebrations include jubilees, services that marked the end of both World Wars (it’s worth taking a look at photos of St Paul’s Cathedral surviving the Blitz FYI) and two milestone birthdays for Queen Elizabeth II. In summary, St. Paul’s Cathedral is a pretty big deal.
There are many options for getting a snap of or with St. Paul’s Cathedral. Four of the most popular are:
From the Millenium Bridge which crosses over the River Thames.
Within One New Change shopping centre located opposite. Stand in the narrow entrance between the tall glass walls and the cathedral will be centred.
From the top of One New Change shopping centre. There’s a viewing platform that looks out over parts of the city including St Paul’s Cathedral.
The best spot is within Festival Gardens right next to a red telephone box. I’ve popped a little Google Maps screen shot below to indicate where to go.
8. Piccadilly Circus
Located: West End
Featured heavily in films such as Bridget Jones’ Diary, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Bend it Like Beckham, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Fast and Furious 6, Piccadilly Circus is a major traffic junction famous for its video and neon advertisements.
The first advertisement to go up in Piccadilly Square was for Perrier and as the years went by more and more were added and by the 70s most of the surrounding area was covered with illuminated billboards. Since then the adverts have reduced and now only one building hosts them. In 2017 the final six screens were removed and replaced by one ultra high-definition curved screen that can display numerous ads at once.
PFH Fun Fact: The term “it’s like Piccadilly Circus” is used to describe a very busy location. These days you’ll find it’s far more quiet than say Oxford Circus, but the saying is still in use.
Stand with or next to Eros fountain, located right in the centre of Piccadilly Circus to get photos of the famous neon advertisements. Check out 10 most Instagrammable places in London, England for another Instagrammable spot here.
9. The Gherkin
Located: City of London
The Gherkin or as it’s formally known, 30 St Mary Axe, is a bullet shaped glass building in London’s financial district. In stark contrast to many of the Grade I listed buildings in this blog post it is a contemporary landmark but has become one of the most widely recognised buildings in the city since it opened in 2004. You may recognise it from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
For a photo with The Gherkin, head towards St Andrew Undershaft Church and stand on the corner of St Mary Axe and Leadenhall Street.
10. The Shard
The Shard is the newest landmark to London on this list. This stretched out glass pyramid can be seen for miles as it stands out on its own, just a little to the side of the other popular skyscrapers such as the “Walkie Talkie”, the “Cheese Grater” and the aforementioned “Gherkin”.
The 72-storey Neo-futurism skyscraper opened in 2013 and is the second tallest building in London. If you’ve got a little more than spare change put away then book a stay or maybe just afternoon tea at the Shangri-La located at the top for panoramic views of the city.
Head to Lovat Lane for a photo on an old cobbled lane with The Shard in the background, it’s an architectural juxtaposition.
Travel safely, Gabriella