Best National Heritage Spots in London
London is, of course, teaming with a host of superb heritage sites, and in autumn each year, Heritage Open Days welcome droves to its festival of culture to celebrate the UK’s impressive history. It’s also a chance to see those hidden heritage spots and try out new experiences (many of which are free to explore.)
But if you were to signpost visiting friends and family to London’s best national heritage spots – which ones would you suggest? Buckingham Palace? St Margaret’s Church? Kensington Palace? St Paul’s Cathedral?
Actually, there are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in London that are considered our finest heritage sites. They are defined as: The Tower of London, The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church and Maritime Greenwich.
1. The Tower of London
This impressive medieval castle that we all know and love is located on the banks of the River Thames. It was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. It’s main purpose was to provide protection to London and as a way for the King to stamp his authority and demonstrate his power. UNESCO consider it to be the best example of Norman military architecture and the best preserved palace fortress in the whole of Europe.
The Tower of London has seen some things over the years. Not only has it served as a palace and as a prison for aristocrats and royalty, but it’s also been home to royal zoo animals at one stage. Plus in the 16th century there were four English Queens who were held in the Tower – three of them were eventually executed on Tower Green. Luckily, the fourth, Elizabeth I, managed to avoid such an end.
2. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
Established back in 1759, The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew always provides a scenic backdrop throughout all seasons. But did you know that the importance of this particular site is due to its historical landscape garden, which illustrates the art of gardens from the 18th until the 20th century. There are many famous plant collectors and botanists like as Joseph Banks who have associations with Kew.
Plus the architecture of the Great Pagoda which was designed by William Chambers as well as the Temperate and Palm Glasshouses are world-famous. And here’s a fast fact for you – Kew’s collection of 8.5 million different species of plants and mushrooms is the best on the planet.
3. The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey & St Margaret’s Church
These three come as a package. After its rebuild in 1834 following a fire, the Palace of Westminster is on the site of medieval remains and a sterling a example of neo-Gothic architecture. The location holds enormous importance in British history and it now houses the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Its two towers at either ends include Elizabeth Tower, which we fondly know as Big Ben. The other, the Victoria Tower stores more than 3 million documents – a colossal archive containing all of the Acts of Parliament issued since 1947.
Nearby is the Church of Saint Margaret and Westminster Abbey. St Margaret’s church is the parish church of the House of Commons and a revered example of classic gothic architecture – it’s also where Winston Churchill got wed. Westminster Abbey is where all the Kinds of England were crowned, which dates back to 1066, and where 12 medieval monarchs are buried, which signifies its historic and prestigious claim to fame.
4. Maritime Greenwich
At Maritime Greenwich, you can find The Queen’s House and the Royal Naval College, the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory (plus, a great park to walk around). This site earns its name on the UNESCO World Heritage list because of the impact the area has had on the scientific and artistic endeavour of the UK in the 17th and 18th century.
Many architecture-lovers are keen to visit The Queen’s House because it is the first classical or Palladian-style building in England from 17th century. The National Maritime Museum is also a popular spot for those keen to discover more about Britain’s long naval history.
Plus, the Royal Observatory is very important for its astronomical work and navigation. It was here that accurate measurements of the earth’s movement contributed to the development of global navigation! The Observatory is the base-line for the world’s time zone system which earns the name Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) – the prime longitude line.