Of the 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the UK, three are located in London. These sites are some of the most impressive buildings in the city and offer a great insight into the history of London and its modern operation as the capital city.
From the Tower of London with its purely ceremonial role in modern city life through to the very current affairs taking place daily at the Palace of Westminster, UNESCO has chosen a number of sites that reflect the rich cultural and political history of London.
The combination of great architecture with great discovery marked out Greenwich for attention by UNESCO and led to designation of the Maritime part of Greenwich as a World Heritage Site in 1997.
With buildings designed by the great architects Sir Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones, the architecture of the buildings was sufficiently remarkable to see the site designated for that alone.
This was also strengthened by the presence of the Royal Observatory, which has seen some of the greatest advances in the understanding of naval navigation and astronomy anywhere in the world.
The Observatory and the Old Naval College are both open to visitors all year round and make for a very educational trip in stunningly beautiful surroundings.
Palace of Westminster
The impressive Gothic façade of the Palace of Westminster makes it amongst the most iconic sites in London and one that people instantly associate with the city. Widely envied around the world, the design was emulated in the creation of the Hungarian parliament in Budapest on the banks of the Danube as well as being a sought-after backdrop for countless paintings, photographs and films throughout the years.
Nominated for the length of consistent use, the location where the Palace now stands has been the centre of government administration of Britain in its evolving form since the 11th century. Including Westminster Abbey, where all Monarchs have been crowned since William the Conqueror, and St Margaret’s Church as the oldest part of the whole Palace, Westminster is brimming with tales of government, political machinations and intrigue through the ages.
The British Parliament is still housed in the Palace of Westminster in the Houses of Parliament, which occupy the majority of the Palace’s riverside buildings. British citizens can apply to visit the House of Commons and House of Lords when Parliament is not in session for organised tours or visit individually as a guest of their Member of Parliament at any other time. Those who don’t have British citizenship can only enjoy the House from the outside, which is no bad thing given its beautifully intricate gothic exterior.
Tower of London
One of the earliest examples of Norman military architecture is located in Tower Hamlets, right on the banks of the river. The Tower of London was started in 1066 by William the Conqueror right after the Norman Conquest and was later added to by Henry III and Edward I in the 13th century making it one of the most important and influential castles in England. The Tower was used as a place of strategic military importance even into the 20th century, with influential prisoners of war held there during World War II.
Today, the role of the Tower is purely ceremonial. No longer the destination for traitors to the Crown, instead it is home to the Crown Jewels and a small company of Yeoman Warders who guard the jewels and offer guided tours to the crowds of tourists who flock to the Tower.
London is fortunate to be able to number three UNESCO World Heritage Sites amongst some of its greatest attractions. Visiting these sites will give you a great feel for the history of the city and how that history is being preserved and brought forward into the current life of the city.