As one of the biggest cities in Europe, London also boasts one of the most fascinating and expansive life stories. With over 2,000 years of history buried within, it’s one of the best places to visit if you’re a passionate history buff, from the well-known artefacts and sights to the more hidden parts of the city.
Read on to find out more about some of the fascinating and surprising historical gems to discover in London, and start planning the perfect history adventure in the capital.
Shall we start at the beginning?
London’s Roman remains
The history of what is now known as London goes back over 2,000 years and beyond, where a busy and bustling trading settlement called Londinium started to grow around the important port of the River Thames.
While much of it has been worn away or replaced over the centuries, you can still catch a glimpse of London’s Roman past, with a handful of remains dotted around the city.
As the original Roman city was first founded within a fortified area that roughly aligns with the present Square Mile of the City of London, this is one of the best places to find London’s Roman side. By Tower Hill, you’ll be able to see one of the few remaining sections of the original boundary wall. Walk down towards Cooper’s Row, where you will be able to take a closer look at the structure, as well as learn a little more about it.
Beyond the wall, you’ll also get to see some remnants of Roman life in the city, with the remains of an original amphitheatre in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery. You can even find an old Roman bathhouse and villa tucked away behind Lower Thames Street.
A (literal) hidden gem.
The Tower of London
Fast forward through to the medieval era, with a visit to the Tower of London. Originally constructed as a castle by William the Conqueror in 1078, the imposing-looking Tower has served as a prison, fortress, palace and even the home of the Royal Mint, over the centuries. But one of its most famous roles in English history was as a prison for disgraced but important figures, including the two young sons of King Edward IV, who were imprisoned in the late 15th century, as well as the sight for numerous tortures and executions.
Since the 17th century, however, the Tower took on a less morbid role in London life, as the home of the Crown Jewels, displays of armour, and other royal artefacts. While it’s worth visiting the fascinating Jewels, history should not miss out on the chance to explore the complex and intriguing architecture around the Tower too.
The tall and strikingly modern-looking Southwark Needle is easy to ignore at first glance as you make your way around London, but history buffs will want to stop and take in the story behind this distinctive feature in the city.
A sixteen metre stone structure, long and tapering off to a point, the Southwark Needle marks a spot that stood there for over 400 years and has a somewhat grisly history behind it. In its place, this is where Londoners through the ages would have once seen the off-putting sight of traitors’ heads, left on display on wooden spears after being executed, in clear view of anyone who came into the city.
Founded by Benedictine Monks in 960 AD, Westminster Abbey has been an important place of worship and ceremony in London for over a millennium, as the setting for every Royal coronation since William the Conqueror, as well as many Royal weddings and funerals throughout the centuries.
A visit to the Abbey always offers up plenty of gems to see and discover, from the many Royal tombs to the Poets’ Corner, where over 100 important writers have been laid to rest, including William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. As well as admiring the magnificent architecture around the Abbey, it’s worth taking a closer look at the many historic features around it, including the 700-year-old Coronation Chair.
All of London’s Royal Parks are packed with intriguing insights into London’s rich history, and Hyde Park has to be one of the richest places to visit, especially for fans of the city’s past.
Filled with numerous monuments and memorials, the Park is a great place to visit if you’re staying in hotels near Oxford Street and is the perfect place for a leisurely or insightful walk.
Just a stone’s throw from The Marble Arch London you’ll find monuments dedicated to important historical moments and figures from across history, from the 18th-century memorial dedicated to Queen Caroline, who created the Serpentine lake in the Park, to various sculptures and memorials honouring the soldiers and animals who played an invaluable role throughout Britain’s military conflicts.
Another key highlight of Hyde Park is Speaker’s Corner, a testament to the importance of free speech in London. The area of the park became known for public speeches and protests from the 19th century onwards, attracting important figures including Karl Marx, George Orwell and the activist-artist, William Morris. It has since inspired numerous copycat locations around the world, but the energy and freedom of the area remains unique to the original.
Speaker’s Corner can be found towards the corner of Hyde Park, towards Marble Arch. If you’re staying in a Marble Arch London hotel, it’s a great place to visit for a short historical outing.
The British Museum
While London is filled with countless historic sights, its many museums are also a rich source of fascinating historical treasures and a must-see for anyone keen to learn more about human history. The most popular of them all is the British Museum, near Holborn, which is home to over 8 million artefacts from cultures and civilisations from all over the world.
The most famous of them all have to be the Rosetta Stone and Parthenon Marbles – two key objects that unlocked our understanding of classical Greek and Egyptian civilisations and gave us an unparalleled insight into human history.
What historic London sights are you most excited for?