12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in London's City and Tower Districts
For centuries, the nucleus of London was focused on the north bank of the River Thames. It all began with the Romans who founded Londinium in 43 AD, building fortified walls running from the Tower northwards to Aldersgate and Ludgate down to the Thames.
Today, the City is England's financial center and boasts the headquarters of many of the world's largest banks. The western portion of the City is also home to many notable sightseeing attractions. So, don't rush yourself through this part of London - it takes time to fully explore this fascinating area.
1 The Tower of London
In the nearly 1,000 years since it's been around, the Tower of London - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - has been a prison, treasury and palace. Today, this spectacular attraction on the north bank of the River Thames is London's top tourist attraction, and for good reason: not only is it fairytale perfect, it encompasses everything about England that so fascinates world travellers, from pomp and pageantry (the Beefeaters) to fascinating moments in history that include kings and queens, princes and princes, even murder and mystery.
Built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, the iconic White Tower is home to the world's oldest visitor attraction (1652) - Line of Kings with its remarkable displays of royal armor. Then, of course, there's the Crown Jewels exhibition, as well as dark dungeons and fascinating details about famous prisoners and executions.
Hours: Tues-Sat, 9am-4.30pm; Sun-Mon, 10am-4.30pm
Admission: Adults, £21.45; Children, £10.75 (online discounts available)
2 St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of London and "parish church of the British Commonwealth". Among London's many churches, it is the largest and most famous. The present structure sits on the site of a Roman temple and was built after the original church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Sir Christopher Wren designed the masterpiece, a harmonious blend of two Baroque towers and a magnificent 365 ft dome. Your visit should include the spectacular interior of the Dome (including the 259 steps to the Whispering Gallery) and the Crypt, Wren's final resting place.
Location: The Chapter House, St Paul's Churchyard, London
3 The Tower Bridge Exhibition
Opened in 1894, Tower Bridge remains one of London's best-known landmarks. Its most noticeable features are its two huge towers rising 200 ft above the River Thames, as well as the two heavy drawbridges capable of being raised in just 90 seconds. (A fascinating museum houses the older hydraulics in case the present system fails.) Be sure to experience the glass covered walkway across the top of the bridge - the views from 142 ft above the river are wonderful. Both towers contain interesting exhibits explaining the bridge's history.
Hours: Apr-Sept, daily, 10am-6pm (last admission 5:30pm); Oct-Mar, daily, 9:30am-5:30pm (last admission 5pm)
Admission: Adults, £8; Children (5-15), £3.40; Families, £12.50
Location: Tower Bridge Exhibition, Tower Bridge Rd, London
Guildhall is the administrative headquarters of the Corporation of London and dates from 1430. It's in the huge Great Hall that the Court of Common Council meets, an occasion open to the public. It's a fascinating experience that includes the Mace and Swordbearer, the Recorder, Chamberlain and other officers in all their tradition and splendor. Anyone interested in London's history should visit the Guildhall Library with its unique collection of prints and 140,000-plus volumes, as well as the deed of purchase of a house bought by William Shakespeare. The Guildhall's Art Gallery was founded in 1670 and has works by Millais, Leighton and Constable. Also on site is the Clockmakers' Museum and Library.
Hours: Mon-Sat, 10am-4:30pm (year-round); Sun, 10am-4:30pm (May-Sept only)
Location: Gresham St, London
5 From High-finance to High-end Shopping: The Royal Exchange
Founded in 1566 and rebuilt twice since, the majestic Royal Exchange took its current classical form in 1844. For many decades it was the heart of London's traditional financial district. Times change, and this grand old building is now a luxury shopping center full of boutique shops, cafés and restaurants.
Hours: Shops, daily, 10am-6pm; Restaurants, 8am-11pm
Location: The Courtyard, Royal Exchange, London
6 The London Monument
This tall column - 202 ft high and topped by a gorgeous gilded flaming urn - was erected in 1671 to commemorate the Great Fire of London, a tragic event that occurred four years earlier. The Christopher Wren-designed Monument stands exactly 202 ft from the spot in Pudding Lane where the fire started. The view from the platform is 311 steps up, and although somewhat obscured by the surrounding buildings, is nevertheless impressive.
Hours: Apr-Sept, daily, 9:30am-6pm (last admission, 5:30pm); Oct-Mar, daily, 9:30am-5.30pm (last admission, 5pm)
Admission: Adults, £3; Children (under 16), £1.50
Location: Monument St, London
7 A City of Churches: All Hallows by the Tower
Founded in 675 AD, All Hallows is the oldest church in London. The Saxon period is represented by the remains of a 7th century arch and cross, and the old crypt houses a museum with the intact floor of a 2nd century Roman home (free guided tours are available Apr-Oct). Other churches nearby include St Mary-le-Bow with its famous bells (if a Londoner is born within earshot, they're considered a Cockney); St. Giles's Church Cripplegate, the burial place of John Milton; and St Magnus, described as one of Wren's finest works.
Location: Byward St, London
8 The Barbican Centre
This relatively modern development is named after the towered outposts on the old Roman city walls. Outdoor attractions include a lake, lawns, fountains and terraces, while indoors it's all about the arts. The Barbican Hall is the permanent home of the London Symphony Orchestra, while the Barbican Theatre is the London base of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Barbican Art Gallery is home to a sculpture court, a municipal lending library, cinemas, exhibition halls and restaurants.
Location: Barbican Centre, Silk St, London
9 London's Financial District and the Bank of England Museum
Named after moneylenders from Lombardy who had their houses here in the 13th century, Lombard Street has been London's banking and financial center since medieval times. These days, the most interesting parts of the financial district are found in Threadneedle Street, home to the Bank of England and the Bank of England Museum which tells the 300-year story of the "Old Lady of Threadneedle Street". Exhibits include a reconstruction of the former Stock Office, books, documents, prints and paintings, as well as banknotes, coins and photos. There's also a fascinating display of gold, including Roman and modern gold bars, plus the old weapons once used to defend the Bank.
Hours: Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm (last entry 4:45pm)
Location: Threadneedle St, London
10 Mansion House
The official residence of the Lord Mayor of London was built in 1739 and serves both a ceremonial as well as decorative function as it's where the Lord Mayor appears on special occasions. The main rooms on display include the Egyptian Hall, the Conference Room with its fine stucco ceiling, the Saloon with beautiful tapestries and a Waterford glass chandelier, the Drawing Rooms, and the tiny Court of Justice with its prison cells. Access is via a one-hour tour, and in September Open House London allows access to areas not usually accessible to the public.
Hours: Tours - Tues, 2pm (Lord Mayor's Diary permitting)
Admission: Adults, £7; Children, £5 (cash only)
Location: Mansion House Place, London
11 The Doctor's In: Samuel Johnson's House
Built in 1700, this small historic house once belonged to writer and critic Dr Samuel Johnson. Exhibits include a first edition dictionary, paintings, engravings, furniture and books related to the life and times of one of England's greatest thinker's.
Hours: Oct-Apr, Mon-Sat, 11am-5pm; May-Sept, Mon-Sat, 11am-5:30pm
Admission: Adults, £4.50; Children (5-17), £1.50; Families, £10
Address: 17 Gough Square, London
12 The City's Other Markets
Many of the City of London's oldest and most famous markets live on and are fun to explore. One of the best known is Petticoat Lane Market, always busy and noisy and full of interesting characters and a place where you can buy almost anything at a reasonable price. Over in lovely old Leadenhall Market - once famous as a food market - it's now all about boutique shops and cafés, as well as its lovely Victorian architecture. Quirky Brick Lane Market offers a wide variety of both new and second-hand clothes, while Columbia Road Flower Market and Shops is a trendy mix of artisan stalls and great food representing London's cultural diversity. Finally, there's fascinating Smithfield Market, the UK's largest meat market and one of the largest of its kind in Europe.