In my quest to discover some of the places in London that I have not yet got personal with (you’ll have already seen my article on Urban London based around Shoreditch and I wrote up my walk with GPSMyCity, a walking tour app, that I did for my day job at TheatreBreaks.co.uk) I’ve been getting more familiar with London’s vast wealth of architectural wonders and landmarks steeped in history and heritage.
As anyone who has looked into visiting London will be able to tell you, just deciding on which of the amazing landmarks most appeals to you can be incredibly difficult. Two of the UK’s biggest charities are charged with protecting some of these buildings: the National Trust and English Heritage and you can find which properties belong to them by visiting their dedicated websites. But perhaps more exciting is the fact that there are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites currently in the city. For a landmark to be classed as a UNESCO site it has to be considered to have particular significance in terms of heritage and history.
Although there is talk of adding further points of interest in London to the UNESCO World Heritage list, the current sites are as follows:-
Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church
Together these three buildings are representative of the history of the British Monarchy and they have been the setting for many of the country’s most significant events. Most recently, Westminster Abbey was used for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge which saw millions of people worldwide tune in to watch the ceremony. It is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable churches in the world and hoards of tourists flock here each year.
Westminster Palace is more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament although it was originally designed and used as a royal palace by the British monarchy until the early 1500s. It has since been used as the meeting place for Parliament and was also the target site for the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in which Guy Fawkes and a team of others attempted to plant gunpowder in the basement and blow the building up. Attached to the Houses of Parliament is also Big Ben; the famous clock tower which is perhaps one of the most recognised landmarks in the city.
St Margaret’s Church along with Westminster Abbey is the final resting place of some of the most significant figures in British history including Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and William Shakespeare.
If you are staying in the Hotel Park Grand London Hyde Park then you will need to cross over the River Thames to reach the wonderful maritime area of Greenwich but it will absolutely be worth the short riverboat journey. Here in Greenwich you will find the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark and Greenwich Market. The entire area is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the high concentration of buildings and landmarks which hold historic and architectural significance.
The Royal Greenwich Observatory is a museum, London’s only planetarium and the home of Greenwich Mean Time. You can stand on the Meridian Line which divides the earth’s east and west hemispheres as well as discovering the history of time throughout the ages.
The National Maritime Museum is the world’s largest museum of its kind and is home to all kinds of nautical wonders and intrigues. There are more than 10 galleries dedicated to the exploration of the seas and thousands of objects which have been carefully collected and displayed from maps to artwork. You can discover and learn the story and history of Admiral Nelson, the battle of Trafalgar and the effects of the Plague to name but just a few of the interesting stories told at this museum. There are two interactive galleries for children and the museum is completely free to enter.
Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
Covering more than 300 acres and established over 250 years ago, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew only received their UNESCO World Heritage status in 2003 in recognition of their research into the science of plants and their landscape development. Kew Gardens boasts the world’s largest collection of living plants and is a beautiful place to visit regardless of the time of year.
The glasshouses here allow visitors to get up close with flowers and plant life which wouldn’t otherwise be able to survive in the British climate; these include the Bonsai House, the Rose Garden and the Waterlily House. Alongside the thousands of specimens of plants which are cultivated here, visitors can also take to the skies in the Treetop Walkway. Located 60 feet in the air, the walkway has been created to allow a bird’s eye view of the gardens and to allow people to experience what it would be like to be in the canopy of a typical forest. Although not for the fainthearted it’s a wonderful addition to any visit to these stunning gardens.
The Tower of London
It is probably no surprise at all for anyone has previously visited the monumental structure that the Tower of London features as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the banks of the River Thames, this building has played a significant role in many of the UK’s most notable events and has, throughout its 1000 years been a palace, a prison, a zoo and is now the home of the Crown Jewels. It was the site of execution for figures such as Anne Boleyn and many more well known people throughout history were held as prisoners here before being released. Although it gained particular notoriety during the Tudor period in history it was even used as a prison during the Second World War. It is centrally located and very difficult to miss; if you travel from one of the hotels in Hyde Park you will have no difficulty in finding the entrance to this vast landmark.