Updated August 15, 2020.
Ah, foggy London town! It is arguably the most well-known and iconic city in the world, and this is my first official visit! (You know, besides a fly-over and layover at Heathrow.)
It’s my personal opinion that first-time visitors everywhere have a distinct advantage over locals and frequent visitors. First-timers are not jaded by the things others take for granted. They get excited about the famed sights of a new city, and they just can’t wait to see them! When I think of London, I think about the sights and places listed below. They are in historical order. Would you add anything to this list?
1. Tower of London (1078 AD)
Castle, prison, execution site, home of the Crown Jewels–is there anything this iconic sight hasn’t experienced over the years? Built by William the Conqueror, this imposing structure along the River Thames is open for tours with the Beefeaters who still guard it today! The tower is still the official residence of six ravens. Legend has it, the Tower of London and the kingdom itself will fall if any of them leave.
More here: How to Spend 2 Days in London
2. Shakespeare’s Globe (1599 AD/1997 AD)
This one’s a little tricky! The theatre you see today is a few hundred yards from the original site, which burned in 1613 during a production of Henry VIII. It was rebuilt with a tiled roof (instead of thatch), but it was demolished in 1644 to make way for tenement housing. The Globe you see today is opened in 1997 after extensive research and archaeological findings. You can see a play here today!
More here: What to Know Before You Visit London
3. Buckingham Palace (1703)
This palace wasn’t built for the King and Queen at all–it was built for a Duke: the Duke of Buckingham. King George III and Queen Charlotte bought Buckingham House in 1761, and it was renovated as a palace in 1820. It became a proper royal residence in 1837 when Queen Victoria moved in. It’s been a royal palace ever since!
Keep reading: Top 10 Things to Do in London
4. Double Decker Buses (1829)
Yes, the famous double decker buses started circulating as far back as 1829, although back then they were pulled by horses. The iconic red buses can be seen everywhere around London, and ironically, this is one of the best ways to see the other iconic sights!
Planning to drive? Tips for Driving on the Left
5. Tea Time (1840)
One might think English tea time has been around since the founding of England itself, but it’s actually a more recent tradition. Anna, Seventh Duchess of Bedford, is the woman responsible for the 4:00 meal we now know as afternoon tea. Dinner wasn’t served until 8:00pm, so I can see why a lite meal between luncheon and dinner was an appealing idea. Now you can choose between cream tea, afternoon tea, high tea, and a variety of options for each–savory? sweet? type of tea?
More here: The Beginner’s Guide to Tea in London
6. The Tube (or the Underground, 1863)
This is the world’s oldest underground transportation systems. There are 270 stations that cover over 250 miles of London and neighboring areas. It’s the best way to get around if you want to avoid crowded and narrow streets, and it’s still going strong after over 150 years!
7. Big Ben (1859)
This is the one I think of first when I think of London! Standing tall at 315 feet, it’s either named for a boxer or London’s first commissioner of works, both known as “Big Ben” in their respected fields. No matter how the big clock got its name, it has been named the most iconic landmark in all of the United Kingdom!
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8. Tower Bridge (1894)
Commonly mistaken as the London Bridge, the Tower Bridge is the second iconic landmark that comes to mind when I think of London! It’s open to vehicles and pedestrians, and there’s even a pedestrian bridge up top! There’s a charge, but the view is stunning up there!
Keep reading: Top 10 Travel Hacks
9. Red Telephone Boxes (1920)
Who doesn’t think of the red telephone boxes when London comes up in conversation? They originally popped up in 1920, but they looked a little different (white and red). The iconic red style came around in 1928. While cell phones have eradicated the need for these by now, they are as much a part of London and England as a whole as the Tower of London! Some of the phone booths have been converted to tiny shops, so there may be new life in them yet. I hope they never go away entirely!
Keep reading: What I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Traveling
10. London Eye (2000)
At the time the London Eye opened, it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world! Its size and inability to be hidden in snapshots has earned the Eye its place in my top 10 list of Iconic London sights! Others have surpassed the London Eye in height, but I think if you asked most people to name one famous observation wheel or Ferris wheel in the world, the London Eye would be the name that comes up most!
What would you add to this list? Would you replace one of these with another? Comment below!
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