The British Museum is home to one of the most significant collections of artifacts related to human history, art and culture, including the Rosetta Stone. The museum is home to more than 100,000 objects from the Classical world, making it one of the most comprehensive collections of antiquities from that era. It was established in 1753 and primarily based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. The museum, located in the Bloomsbury section of London, first opened on Jan. 15, 1759. More than 5.8 million people visit the museum annually, making it the most visited museum in England.
To run the government and military during World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill needed a place safe from German bombing raids. He found that place in a sprawling underground complex today known as the Churchill War Rooms. The complex was operational starting Aug. 27, 1939, a week before Great Britain declared war on Germany. The museum complex offers an incredible, one-of-a-kind look at Winston Churchill and England’s approach to World War II. The complex is home to meeting rooms, bedrooms and map rooms, where the war’s progress was plotted and monitored.
The British clipper Cutty Sark was built in Dumbarton, Scotland, in 1869 for the Jock Willis Shipping Line as one of the last tea clippers. The vessel was built at the end of a long design development period, which halted as sailing ships gave way to steam propulsion. The Cutty Sark spent just a few years on the tea trade before turning to the wool trade yo and from Australia and held the record time to Britain. In 1895, the Portuguese company Ferreira and Co. purchased the vessel and renamed it Ferreira. It worked as a cargo ship until in 1922 when retired sea captain Wilfred Dowman purchased it.
Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote the dictionary. Literally. Between 1748 and 1759, Johnson paid a £30 rent, and while living in the house compiled his seminal work, A Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755 and heralded as “one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship.” Wool merchant Richard Gough built the house during the latter half of the 17th century, and after Johnson moved out, the building was used for a number of purposes. The edifice was damaged during World War II, damage that can still be seen today.
The Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Belfast was commissioned on Aug. 5, 1939, and built by Harland and Wolff shipyard in its namesake city of Belfast. This is the same company that built another famous ship, the Titanic. The Belfast saw action during some of the most pivotal battles of World War II, including the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
The Household Cavalry Museum preserves and interprets the history of the Regiments of the Household Cavalry, which dates back more than 350 years. The museum opened in June 2007 in the historic Horse Guards building. The museum includes working stables in addition to an extensive collection of historical artifacts.
The 14th century Jewel Tower was one part of the royal Palace of Westminster. The edifice was built between 1365 and 1366 to house the personal treasure of Edward III.
The Kensington Palace royal residence has been a residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th century. It is the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and other members of the Royal Family. The State Rooms of Kensington Palace are open to the public and display paintings and objects from the Royal Collection.
The London Canal Museum, located in the King’s Cross section of London, tells the often overlooked story of London’s Canals. The museum explores canals from their earliest days as important trade routes to the more leisurely pursuits they are used for today. The museum is housed in a former ice warehouse once used by Carlo Gatti that was built sometime in the mid-19th century to house ice that was imported from Norway by ship and canal barge.
London’s extensive subway system is famous the world over. But, the modern system took decades to develop. This museum, established in 1980 and located in a former flower shop in Covent Garden, showcases the history of transport from horse-drawn carriages to today’s subway system. Its holdings include an impressive collection of vehicles and artifacts used in developing London’s extensive transit system. Among the items on display is Metropolitan Railway steam locomotive No. 23. This engine is one of two surviving steam locomotives from the Metropolitan Railway, the company that built the first passenger-carrying underground railway in the world.
The Monument to the Great Fire of London commemorates the Great Fire of London, which started on Sept. 2, 1666. The Monument, as it is colloquially known, was built between 1671 and 1677 on the site of St. Margaret’s, the first church the Great Fire destroyed, and 202 feet west of where the Great Fire started. The Monument is a fluted Doric column built of Portland stone. It is 202 feet tall and topped with a gilded urn of fire.
The National Gallery dates to 1824 when the British government bought 38 paintings from the heirs of John Julius Angerstein, a London businessman. Today, the museum, located in Trafalgar Square, is home to more than 2,300 works of art, some dating to the mid-13th century. Some critics point out the museum’s collection is smaller when compared to other European national galleries.
Old Sarum is an abandoned hill fort dating that was likely established in 400 BC. The Romans later used the site and created the town of Sorviodunum. A trio of Roman roads converged near the site, making it an essential strategic location. Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the city was expanded, but it was largely abandoned in the 13th century. The bishop of Salisbury, Osmund de Sees, completed a small cathedral at the site in 1092. Little is left of the city, as much of the original construction in Old Sarum was demolished after Henry VIII sold the rights to the castle’s remains in 1514.
The Royal Mews is the home of the stables, carriage house and garage of the British Royal Family. The Royal Mews is in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, to the south of Buckingham Palace Gardens, near Grosvenor Place. George III moved some of his day-to-day horses and carriages to the grounds of Buckingham House in the 1760s.
The Royal Observatory Greenwich is part of Royal Museums Greenwich, which also includes the Cutty Sark. The Royal Observatory Greenwich is home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian and one of the world’s most important historic scientific sites. Since its founding in 1675, Greenwich has been at the center of time and space measurement. Visitors can stand on the historic Prime Meridian line.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a replica of the original theater originally built in 1599 and rebuilt in 1614 after it was destroyed by fire a year earlier. Situated on the south bank of the River Thames, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre opened to the public in 1997 and is a great place for watching the plays of William Shakespeare as the playwright intended them to be performed.
Southwark Cathedral, formally The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie, is an Anglican Cathedral located on the south bank of the River Thames. The cathedral is the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Southwark, which was created in 1905. The current structure uses the form of a Gothic edifice built between 1220 and 1420. However, the cathedral reconstructed the nave in the late 19th-century.
St Paul’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Diocese of London, is the seat of the Bishop of London. The original church was consecrated in 1300; the current church was consecrated in 1697. The 365-foot-tall edifice was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1967, and its dome is among the highest in the world. It is the second-largest church building in area in the United Kingdom. Over the years, St Paul’s Cathedral has hosted several high-profile events, including the 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer and jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria.
Nearly a million people visit Stonehenge, a Neolithic monument, every year. The mysterious and alluring Stonehenge sits eight miles north of Salisbury and is one of England’s most recognizable symbols, even if many scholars and experts disagree on its original purpose. What makes Stonehenge so fascinating is that despite centuries of study and exploration, no one can say with 100 percent certainty the history of Stonehenge.
Tate Modern is among the world’s largest modern and contemporary art museums. The museum, which opened in the former Bankside Power Station in May 2000, is one of the most visited attractions in London. The museum houses more than 60,000 works of art that are regularly rotated. Its collection displays of the Tate Modern is open to the public for free.
Watching the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace is a tradition for visitors to London. For those wanting to learn more about the guards, a visit to The Guards Museum is a must. The museum tells the story of the five regiments of Foot Guards namely Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards. The museum, which opened in 1988 in Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk near Buckingham Palace, chronicles the five regiments’ history from the 17th century to modern times. The museum’s exhibits include examples of Guards uniforms, weapons and various artifacts that interpret the history of the regiments and what being a soldier in the Guards is all about.
Of all the landmarks in London, Tower Bridge sits near the top of the list, perhaps trailing only its namesake tower. The bridge, built between 1886 and 1894, crosses the River Thames near the Tower of London. The structure, which features a pair of towers, is unique in that it is both a bascule (draw) and suspension bridge. The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark, formally opened the bridge on June 30, 1894. The 800-foot-long crossing, often mistaken for the London Bridge, features a pair of 213-feet-tall towers and a 200-foot-long central span.
The Tower of London is perhaps the single most famous London landmark, best known for its history as a jail. Today, the tower, which dates to 1078, is one of London’s most popular tourist attractions and is home to the Crown Jewels. The tower, which sits on the north bank of the River Thames, has been besieged at various times and controlling the edifice has been critical to control of England. Its peak use as a prison was the 16th and 17th centuries. Among the many prominent people “sent to the Tower” are Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh and Elizabeth Throckmorton.
Wellington Arch in London’s Hyde Park Corner was built between 1826 and 1830 and moved to its present location in 1883-83. The Arch, initially known as the Green Park Arch and is also known as the Constitution Arch, was at one time the entrance to Buckingham Palace. It later became a victory arch for Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon. The structure initially supported a colossal equestrian statue of the 1st Duke of Wellington by Matthew Cotes Wyatt. Since 1912, a bronze “Quadriga,” an ancient four-horse chariot, by Adrian Jones has sat atop the arch.
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, better known as Westminster Abbey, was built in the 10th century. British monarchs have held their coronations at Westminster Abbey since 1066. Among the artifacts on display is King Edward’s Chair (or St Edward’s Chair), the throne on which English and British sovereigns have been seated when crowned and has been used at every coronation since 1308. The Abbey has been the site of at least 16 royal weddings since King Henry I married Matilda of Scotland on Nov. 11, 1100.
Windsor Castle, dating to the 11th century, has long been associated with the English and British royal families. Since Henry I, who ruled from 1100-1135, reigning monarchs have used the castle, making it the longest-occupied palace in Europe. The castle’s original purpose was to protect Norman dominance around London’s outskirts. It also oversaw a strategically important part of the River Thames. Royals have used Windsor Castle for refuge, including during World War II’s Luftwaffe bombing campaigns. Today it is a favorite weekend retreat for Queen Elizabeth II. The castle sits on 13 acres and is accessible from London by train.