London is a veritable smorgasbord of architectural styles. 21st century skyscrapers dominate the skyline today, but nestled among them are Roman and medieval structures, Wren masterpieces from the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666 and a whole host of elaborate architectural gems from subsequent centuries. Get inspired for your next trip our wonderful residences as we explore 10 of the greatest buildings in the city.
The site of every coronation since 1066 and the burial place of a plethora of British royalty and intellectuals, to say that Westminster Abbey is steeped in history is rather an understatement. Originally a small 10th century Benedictine monastery, over the centuries it has been transformed by a series of monarchs including Edward the Confessor and Henry III (who rebuilt the abbey in its current Gothic style). Read more here.
Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament)
Edward the Confessor established his royal palace on this site in the 1040s, but a fire destroyed much of the original structure in 1512. Thereafter its primary function shifted to housing Parliament. The palace has since been heavily reconstructed – its iconic Gothic Revival architecture is the work of architect Charles Barry following further fire damage in 1834. Read more here.
St Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral has existed in several incarnations dating back to 604 AD, but the current Baroque building is the magnum opus of Britain’s most illustrious architect, Sir Christopher Wren. Built from the ashes of the Great Fire of London and remarkable for its survival during the London Blitz, the cathedral is a truly stalwart London icon. Read more here.
Fit for a Queen
Buckingham Palace has undergone considerable remodelling over its three-century lifespan. Following Victoria’s accession in 1837 it was enlarged and remodelled several times, acquiring its current neo-classical appearance with a redesign by Sir Aston Webb 1913. Read more here. If you’re looking to stay somewhere nearby, we would recommend our Westminster residence.
Not far from our Kensington residence, you will find Kensington Palace. It has been a royal residence since its acquisition by William and Mary in 1689, at which point it was expanded and renovated ready for royal use by Sir Christopher Wren. The palace is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Queen Victoria – it was her affection for her childhood home that ensured its survival when the palace fell into disrepair in the mid 19th century. Today, the palace is both public museum and royal residence. Read more here.
Industry and transport
Westminster Underground Station
A futuristic mesh of concrete and metal take centre stage as you descend the escalators into Westminster Underground station. The architects’ vision is poetic – they speak of weaving escalators with lateral beams and of the geological texture of the walls – but perhaps The Guardian hit the nail on the head when it vividly described the interior as ‘Blade Runneresque’. While there are a whole host of remarkable tube stations in London, this might just be the stand out. Read more here.
Battersea Power Station
This 1930s built former coal-fired power station is both a monumental symbol of London’s industry and a prominent pop cultural image thanks in large part to its appearance on Pink Floyd’s Animals album cover. Constructed in brick-cathedral style, it owes its imposing riverside presence to architects J. Theo Halliday and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The building is currently undergoing a massive redevelopment with plans promising luxury accommodation and leisure facilities.
London Aquatics Centre
Form follows function with the harmonious lines and texture of the London Aquatics Centre. Designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid in 2004, the concept was ‘inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion…[reflecting] the riverside landscapes of the Olympic Park’. As of 2014, the pools are open to the public for a small admission fee. Read more here.
The Gherkin (30 St. Mary Axe)
It took 7,429 panes of glass and 35km of steel to build 30 St. Mary Axe, designed by Sir Norman Foster in 2004. Gherkin-shaped in order to minimise wind turbulence, the towering commercial skyscraper is also very environmentally friendly with gaps in each floor creating six shafts that function as the building’s ventilation system. As well as admiring The Gherkin from afar, during special ‘Open Nights’ visitors can take in a panoramic view from Searcys restaurant and bar. Read more here.
The fourth-tallest building in Europe (and, with the top three all in Moscow, the tallest building in Western Europe) formed an elegant, gleaming addition to the London skyline when it was finished in 2013. Renzo Piano’s striking design takes inspiration from the spires of London’s churches and the masts of tall ships in Canaletto paintings. Read more here.
Architecture tours and access
When it comes to appreciating London’s architecture, the Open House Festival cannot be beaten. Taking place annually over a single weekend in September, the festival offers a rare chance to visit hundreds of London’s buildings that are not usually open to the public – all for free. In the past, these have included 10 Downing Street, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Senate House as well as The Gherkin and The Shard. The guide for 2017’s Open House will be available in mid-August. A copy can be obtained for free in participating London libraries or pre-ordered online for a charge.
There are plenty of year-round architecture touring opportunities, too. Venture forth by boat, bike or on foot with the charity behind the Open House festival, Open-City, who run around eight tours per month. Insider London also run a couple of architecture-focussed tours, including tours on the London Underground, Modern Architecture and Sustainable Architecture.