Exploring historical and culturally significant sites of interest is something I absolutely love to do. I’m a bit of a secret history geek to be honest. The UK is an ideal place for heritage hounds like myself, especially travellers from afar seeking British history and culture. As for where to go in the UK, there are so many historical London tourist attractions clustered into this one incredible city you simply have to start here.
A Walk Around 7 Historical London Tourist Attractions
I thought it would be fun to take a walk around seven particularly significant historical London tourist attractions that are all within a short walking distance of each other. The route I’ve devised is roughly circular, around a beautiful stretch of the River Thames. I’ve included a marked up Google Map with all the locations on so you can easily plot your own route if you want to start at any one particular attraction, and I’ve included my own photos and a bit of history about each stop.
My recommended route starts at St Paul’s Cathedral (point A) and ends at The Palace of Westminster & Big Ben. That should take around 2 1/2 hours (I’ve made sure there’s a nice historical pub to stop at half way for refreshments) but you could make the whole route much shorter by missing off Westminster & Big Ben at the end and going straight from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (Point F) back over the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s (completing the circular route) simply because six of the stops are all so close to each other. Happy touring!
Sitting on Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London (the central, and most original part of London), is this Grade I listed building. St Paul’s Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of London and acts as the centre of worship for the Anglican Church. The present church dates from the 17th century and was designed, and built, in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren as part of a major rebuilding programme after The Great Fire of London.
St Paul’s is certainly an iconic building in London and as far as historical London tourist attractions go, it is undoubtedly one of London’s most recognisable landmarks. The dome of St Paul’s remains one of the tallest in the world today.
The cathedral holds a significant position in the UK’s religious operations even now and highly significant services, such as state burials for example, are held here. It’s a great place to start your walking historical tour, but before you do, fans of the movie ‘Mary Poppins’ may want to sit on the steps and sing ‘Feed the birds…’ It’s got to be worth an Instagram video clip or two surely?
B. Tower of London
A short walk East, along the north bank of the River Thames, will lead you to another iconic historical London tourist attraction of great significance in UK history, The Tower of London.
The history of the Tower of London is macabre but fascinating. It originates from 1066 when the Normans conquered England. It was originally resented as a symbol of oppression and domination, when William the Conqueror built the White Tower, which gives the whole castle its name. The main tower was indeed originally white and would have glowed in the sun, appearing extremely dominant and powerful on the landscape to those attempting to enter the City of London via the River Thames. These days it has lost its white colour but, nonetheless, it’s still an incredibly well preserved castle and fortress.
For more than 8 centuries since 1100, the castle was used as a prison, in fact right up until late in 1952. Even the infamous Kray twins were incarcerated there. This was not, however, its primary role. The tower served as a grand palace and residence for the royal family early in its history. After the first and the second world war, the castle was renovated and opened to the public.
The Tower of London is actually a group of buildings surrounded by walls and turrets which have enabled it to resist several attacks over the course of history. Although known as The Tower of London, officially it’s Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London. It has served several functions over recent years, included the home of the Royal Mint and a public record office, but now its primary purpose is to house the crown jewels, which are well worth a visit if you have the time, and act as a major tourist attraction offering numerous tours, photo opportunities with the Beefeaters, and providing a fascinating insight into English history.
C. Tower Bridge
Immediately opposite the Tower of London is another historical London tourist attraction which is hugely recognisable as a major British landmark, Tower Bridge. In fact it is arguably one of London’s most iconic symbols. Foreign visitors often mistake this bridge, thinking it’s London Bridge. However, London Bridge is actually the next bridge along the river and is far less interesting. in fact it’s completely boring since the original interesting one burned down in the Great Fire of London (cue the song!). Tower Bridge, however, is quite possibly the most stunning bridge in the world, in my humble opinion.
Tower Bridge is a combined bascule and suspension bridge built in 1886-1894. It crosses the River Thames connecting Tower Hamlets, by The Tower of London, on the north side, and Southwark on the south bank of the Thames. Despite its iconic significance, this is a fully working bridge, so you can walk straight over it. It’s fully accessible and in regular use to both pedestrians and motorists. In fact, about 4000 people use the bridge daily. If you’re lucky you might see it raise to allow a large ship to pass up the Thames though this doesn’t happen often. You can however, visit the twin towers, the high-level walkways and the Victorian engine rooms as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition if you have time. Otherwise, cross the bridge and then head west towards the next stop on the walking tour.
D. Southwark Cathedral
Southwark Cathedral has been a site of Christian worship for over 1000 years. The exact year the church was built is unclear but tradition has it that at around the 7th century, before the attack by the Normans, nuns lived on this site.
It’s believed that the Bishop of Winchester then converted it into a college of priests in the 9th century. In 1212, there was a great fire that damaged the original church beyond recognition but it was rebuilt and a new chapel was dedicated to Mary Magdalene. These days Southwark Cathedral, the second oldest cathedral in London, second only to St Paul’s, is far more than just a tourist attraction, it’s a working church and you’ll be welcomed to attend services if you wish to. I regularly go to the beautiful carol and evensong services around Christmas time as they really are something special.
What makes Southwark Cathedral even more special are its links with English playwright William Shakespeare who reportedly attended services here. Most likely because The Globe Theatre where he staged his plays is literally just down the road. His brother is actually buried on the grounds here, and there is a beautiful memorial in stone dedicated to Shakespeare with a stunning stained glass window above commemorating his many plays.
As you head to the next stop on the walking tour of historical London tourist attractions, look out for some beautiful street art that recently appeared (I hope it’s still there by the time you read this). It’s an amazing portrait of Shakespeare himself standing about 10-11 feet high just near the site of the Clink Prison.
E. The Anchor Pub
You should be about ready for some serious refreshments by now so why not make a stop at one of London’s oldest and most famous pubs, The Anchor.
Just a short walking distance from Southwark Cathedral, you’ll find this tavern which has existed in it’s present form for over 800 years. Records show that it was renovated in 1676 after it was destroyed by the fire of London in 1666.
Continuing the theme of Shakespeare, theatrical performances mostly took place in this area on the Southbank of London Bridge, as it was just outside the City of London where such shenanigans were considered improper and not legally permitted. Therefore, it is widely believed that The Anchor Pub was in fact William Shakespeare’s local and he would likely have spent many an hour here drinking ale and dreaming up his next productions to take place at the nearby Globe Theatre.
After its renovation, and later in history, the pub became a centre for pirates and smugglers in the 19th century. Removal of a beam made of oak revealed their secret hiding places where they stored their stolen goods. Today, The Anchor Pub remains a fashionable and popular place to get a drink or have a bite to eat. I can personally recommend having a Sunday roast here or Fish & Ships. In fact, for vegetarians, they serve a particularly nice deep fried halloumi alternative to fish that is to die for!
F. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Once you’ve enjoyed something nice to eat and drink in The Anchor (or at least taken a loo break there) you can wander along the Southbank of the River Thames to the stunning reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and continue your literary education.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a reconstruction of what it would have been like in Shakespeare’s day. If you’re lucky enough to go and see something staged in the theatre you get a real feel for Elizabethan theatre with the large open roof letting in light, the circular structure and the standing room for the ‘peasants’ in the stalls. In fact, if you’re happy to stand for a performance you can get tickets for as little £5. It’s a great atmosphere and really not as uncomfortable as it sounds. There really is nothing quite like watching a Shakespearean play being performed at The Globe for an authentic experience.
If you’re a real fan of Shakespeare, you may want to take a very slight detour and, before leaving The Anchor Pub, nip behind onto Park Street. If you walk this way to the theatre, instead of along the river front, you’ll actually go past the original site of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre as it is in fact a few metres away from where the reconstruction currently stands. At 123 Park Street you’ll find Old Theatre Court which is now gated off for residents in the apartments there. However, there is a beautiful plaque on the wall outside commemorating the original site since the footings of the original theatre were found there under the car park, which are now marked out on the ground with paving.
There are also some great tourist information boards which show what it would have looked like maps dating back from the 17th century. Either way, whether you take the back street for that extra bit of Shakespearean history, or whether you wander along the river side, visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a real taste of London’s history.
If you are exhausted by this point your can end your tour and either go back to the pub or continue up the riverside to Millennium Bridge, walk over to St Paul’s and complete your loop. Stop on the bridge half way and you get some of the best views in London so have your camera ready. However, if you have more energy then as far as historical London tourist attractions go, you can’t beat a visit to Westminster and Big Ben.
G. The Palace of Westminster and Big Ben
The Palace of Westminster is famously the heart of British government and politics since it’s where the two houses of parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords meet. I’ve been fascinated by the place since I was a teenager and I thought I might become an MP. I studied Government and Politics at A Level thinking that I might one day have what it took to run the country…ahem… you know what teenagers can be like! The palace is owned by the monarch and for ceremonial purposes retains its original status as a royal residence though in reality is used and managed by committees appointed by both houses which report to the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker. In a nutshell, a lot of very important stuff goes on here!
The main tower at the northern end of the Palace, arguably one of Britain’s most recognisable landmarks, was renamed Elizabeth tower in 2012 to celebrate the reign of queen Elizabeth II and houses Big Ben which is actually the name of the bell behind the clock face. Big Ben has become an symbolic emblem of parliamentary democracy and everything that Britain stands for so it’s a fitting place to end your walking tour of historical London tourist attractions.
I hope you’ve enjoyed it, if not, feel free to start a protest in parliamentary square, it’s your democratic right after all!
Have you visited any of these historical London tourist attractions? Or are you planning to? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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A Media Psychologist & Life Coach by profession, Honey loves to help people create a life & career that they love. She has always been passionate about travel and the incredible life enrichment it brings.
Honey is a highly experienced Brand Ambassador and Spokesperson. In her thirteen year career she has worked with some of the world's best known brands such as Virgin, Google, Disney, American Express, Jet2 Holidays, Eurostar, British Airways and many more.
Honey is founder and editor-in-chief of The Wanderlust Post. She started the mag in order to provide bloggers with an opportunity to share their travel tales, recommendations, reviews and adventures with each other and the world at large.
A self confessed 'Stamp Tramp' Honey is always happiest with her passport in one hand, and a Baileys on ice in the other.