At the heart of the sprawling metropolis that is Greater London is the City of London, a section of London about a square mile in size. While settlements existed here since before recorded time, it was the Romans who established the first permanent community. Today, its centralized status means many of London’s most important landmarks and historical centers can be found here. Our top ten list is a veritable cream of the crop of the city’s best spots, so it was a little hard to pick only ten and rank them at that. Let us know some of your own favorite City of London places in the comments.
Finished in 2000, this suspension bridge initially wobbled more than its builders intended, meaning it needed a little more work before it became a major pedestrian crossing point in 2002. Since then, its futuristic design has made it a top film location for everything from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to Guardians of the Galaxy. You may even feel its resonance yourself as you walk from the City of London into Southwark.
Dr. Johnson’s House
London is populated with writer’s house museums, but this one notable as the home to Dr. Samuel Johnson, author of one of the most authoritative dictionaries in the world and perhaps the one person most responsible for the modern English language. Today the 300-year-old townhouse stands not only a monument to his life and works, but also serves as a research library and home to a reading circle.
The city’s leading marketplace, Leadenhall Market dates back to the 14th Century, but the current market’s architecture is decidedly Victorian. Of course, today there are plenty of shops that cater to the modern consumer from clothing company Barbour to Leon’s organic fast food. Film buffs will want to seek it out as one of its stores played the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron in the Harry Potter films.
St. Dunstan in the East
One of the many churches rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London, then had to be torn down and rebuilt in the 19th Century due to structural defects. The church was ultimately abandoned as a place of worship after it fell victim to the Blitz during World War II. Rather than rebuild, its walls remained as a shell around a public greenspace which opened in 1971. The garden is available to visit seven days a week from 8 AM to dusk.
Perhaps the city’s first multi-use district, the Barbican Complex contains the Barbican Estate of tower flats, financial institutions, and the Barbican Centre, a major arts hub in the City of London. The Barbican Theatre is home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Barbican Hall is the main venue for the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Barbican Film has three cinemas showing everything from new indy films to big studio tentpoles.
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower Bridge is one of the most recognizable landmarks in London. Finished in 1894, the upper walkway had to be closed due to crime concerns in 1910, but reopened in 1982 and was renovated from 2008 to 2012. The Tower Bridge Exhibition offers a unique way to experience the bridge from its history to a look down through its glass floor to the River Thames below. Additionally, there’s always something going on, so be sure to check the schedule of events.
Museum of London
Of course, if you want to know about the city’s history, the Museum of London is the best place to do it. The museum documents the history of London from prehistoric times to the present day, chronicling events such as the Roman Occupation, the Great Fire, and the Blitz, among others. Exhibitions run the gambit from London’s suffragette movement to the fatberg that once clogged Whitechapel’s sewers (we’ll let you look that up on your own).
Home to the City of London Council, the Guildhall has served as London’s town hall for several hundred years. Its architecture is a stunning representation of the Gothic style and is practically a work of art, which shouldn’t be surprising for a Grade I listed structure. The Guildhall Art Gallery is one of the world’s first examples of publicly displayed art when it was established in 1886 and remains open today from 10 AM to 5 PM.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Perhaps the best example of Sir Christopher Wren’s work following the Great Fire of London, the church is as much a place of worship as it is a museum to London’s ecclesiastical history. There’s a slight sightseeing charge, but paying it will give you access to either a guided tour or a self-guided tour with an interactive touchscreen. Beyond the history and art of the cathedral, many people enjoy climbing the stairs to experience the view of London or play in the Whispering Gallery, which has acoustics that will let you hear clear across to the other side.
The Tower of London
Arguably the City of London’s first landmark, the White Keep of the Tower was built by King William I in 1066 to help maintain his control of the city after he ascended the throne. The Jewel Tower is home to the 23,578 gemstones that make up the Crown Jewels. You can tour the Tower’s dungeons and learn about some of its most famous prisoners, visit the Royal Beasts exhibition to learn the animals that once called the Tower home, or see more of Britain’s military history with dedicated museums to the Beefeaters and the Fusiliers. Those who really want to see something special will stay a bit later for the Ceremony of the Keys, the daily rite that officially closes the Tower for the evening.