There are just some buildings that are so synonymous with London and in this article, we’re going to show off 5 of the most iconic buildings London has to offer.
Having lived in London for almost 10 years, I can definitely say it is one of the world’s most historic and magnificent capitals. While it’s got what I call a schizophrenic architectural landscape due to classic buildings that were bombed during World War II being replaced by, well, any old thing, it still retains a distinct beauty that is so recognisable. In this article, I’m going to share some of London’s most recognisable buildings.
First up is the Shard, the tallest building in western Europe. While it’s relatively new to the London skyline, at over 1,000 feet tall it towers over the other buildings. Located at London Bridge, from the top you have views going 40 miles out in every direction. Started in 2009 and opened in 2012, the pyramid like structure emerges from the Thames river nearby. It was designed by architect Renzo Piano who was inspired by the railway lines nearby, the London spires depicted by the 18th century Venetian painter Canaletto and the masts of a sailing ship. His vision was to create a vertical city and today the Shard is home to many different occupiers including the Shangri La hotel, educational and medical offices, retail, restaurants and is a major tourist attraction. Restaurants and bars include Aqua Shard, Oblix, Hutong, Bar 31, Ting, and Gong. The viewing galleries are located on floors 68th, 69th and 72nd floors. You can book tickets to visit, let’s just hope it’s a clear and sunny day when you’re there. While there, enjoy afternoon tea or brunch as well.
Next, let’s talk about Big Ben. Big Ben is actually the nickname for the 4 sided clock at the north end of Westminster Palace, which is the seat of government in the UK. The official name of the clock tower was renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to mark the queen’s diamond jubilee. As one of the most famous of London’s signature buildings Big Ben is recognised the world over. The tower was designed by Augustus Pugin in a neo-gothic style and completed in 1859. It stands 315 feet tall and 39 feet on each side and the dials are 23 feet in diameter. The climb from the ground level to the belfry is 334 steps. It chimes 4 times an hour, every 15 minutes.
No one truly knows how the nickname came to be but it is one of the most prominent symbols of democracy and is often featured in films. It is a Grade I listed building and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. It has been under major restoration since 2017 with plans to re-glaze and repaint the clock dials and include a lift. With a few exceptions, the bells have been silent until completion in 2021.
Houses of Parliament (The Palace of Westminster)
Well, we can’t talk about Big Ben without talking about the Houses of Parliament or more formally the Palace at Westminster. While technically it retains its original status as a royal residence, today it functions as the meeting place for the 2 houses of parliament – the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It sits on the north bank of the Thames River.
The first royal palace constructed on the site dates back to the 11th century and it was the primary residence of the kings of England until a fire destroyed the royal apartments in 1512 (after which, the nearby Palace of Whitehall was established). The remainder of Westminster continued to serve as the home of parliament which had met there since the 13th century. In 1834 another fire, this one even bigger destroyed the rebuilt houses of parliament, and the only significant medieval structures to survive were Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St Stephen’s, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, and the Jewel Tower.
Designed by architect Charles Barry in the Gothic revival style, the new space had 1,100 rooms arranged symmetrically around two series of courtyards. Augustus Pugin who designed the Big Ben clock tower, assisted Barry with the interior of the palace. Construction began in 1840 and lasted 30 years. The façade is of a beautiful golden like stone. Originally it was the sandy coloured Anston limestone but the stone soon began to decay due to pollution and the poor quality of some of the stone selected. Much of the stone was replaced starting in 1928 to honey coloured limestone from Rutland but pollution once again took its toll and external renovations and restoration programme began in 1981 and ended in 1994. It too is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I’m not sure this list would have any legitimacy if I didn’t include Buckingham Palace. For most no first trip to London is complete without getting a picture in front of this most famous landmark.
Buckingham Palace is the London residence of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, so in essence, it’s where the queen hangs out when she’s in town. The building at the core of the palace was originally built in 1703 as a private residence and was acquired by King George II in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte, at which point it became known as The Queen’s House. During the 19th century, it was expanded by architects John Nash and Edward Blore who added 3 wings around a central courtyard. It became an official residence by Queen Victoria in 1837. The last major additions were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the East Front, which contains the well-known balcony on which the royal family traditionally congregates to greet crowds. Part of the palace was destroyed during WWII and the Queen’s Gallery was built on the site. The state rooms, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public each year for most of August and September and on some days in winter and spring.
The London Eye (Millennium Wheel)
Finally on our top 5 list of most iconic buildings in London is the London Eye. While many might know what it looks like, some might not know what it’s actually called. I kind of think of it as this futuristic-looking ferris wheel that sits along the Southbank of the Thames.
What I didn’t know is that it is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the UK with over 3 million visitors annually. Formally called the Millennium Wheel it is a slow-moving observation sphere that rises 443 feet tall and has a diameter of 394 feet. It has 32 capsules corresponding to the 32 boroughs of London and each has the capacity for 25 passengers.
Built in 1999 and until the Shard opened in 2012, it was the highest observation point available to the public. It originated as an entry submission by David Marks and Julia Barfield of Marks Barfield Architects in 1993 as part of a competition sponsored by The Sunday Times and Great Britain’s Architecture Foundation, for a new landmark to commemorate the millennium in London. Ironically no winner was declared but Marks and Barfield decided to push the development of the project themselves and found the site where the wheel now stands. Much of the funding was provided by British Airways. Construction began in 1998 and it was ceremonially “opened” by Prime Minister Tony Blair on December 31, 1999. It was originally scheduled to be dismantled after five years but has remained due to its popularity. In 2006 a decorative LED lighting system was installed in order to make the wheel more prominent at night.
Another fun fact is that the wheel moves so slowly at 2 revolutions per hour, that it doesn’t need to stop to offload or take on new passengers.
So what did you think of this list of 5 of the most iconic buildings of London? Arguably there are so many others that should be included so I’ll definitely do another article on this. Make sure to leave me a comment as to what buildings I should feature in the next episode!
© Onyx Property Team