As an Englander myself, (and a history freak) one of my favourite things to do when I’m not running around abroad somewhere, is to be a tourist in my own country. Best of all, are the historical buildings of intriguing heritage, some of which have been standing for hundreds and hundreds of years and have fascinating stories to tell. Here is a list of 15 English historical sites you should visit!
Big Ben, Westminster, London
Guys, this is a no-brainer when it comes to English historical sites since it’s arguably the first thing that pops up into anyone’s head when they think of London. Towering over the Houses of Parliament, the 320 feet high landmark was first opened to the public on the 31st of May, 1859 and was designed by architect geniuses Augustus Pugin and Charles Barry. Contrary to popular belief, the nickname Big Ben was in fact first given to the Great Bell which chimed on the 11th July for the first time, of that same year. The quarter bells we hear today would first strike 2 months later, on 7th September.
Poor old Big Ben is currently under renovation works and is set to be open to the public once again, on 2021!
Westminster Abbey, London
Not only is this an architectural must-see, it is also the mother of a huge chunk of the most significant historical events that ever took place in English history – the crowning of the Monarchs. It continues to be the place for crowning ceremonies and Royal weddings (of course it is where Prince William and Kate Middleton got married). Westminster Abbey is also the resting place to many famous figures including Isaac Newton and Charles Dickens. It holds religious services everyday and if you’re coming to worship, there aren’t any admissions charged.
A little back story? Well, the site the Abbey stands on was originally grounds to a considerably vast church built by St. Edward the Confessor and consecrated on December 28th, 1065. It wasn’t until two centuries later in 1245 that Henry III had it demolished and in its place, built the present abbey church. The only thing left of Edward the Confessor’s church was the nave, which stands till this day! This is definitely one of the most interesting English historical sites!
The Tower of London, City
Creepily enough, this is probably one of my favourites and is notorious for being the place that witnessed Anne Boleyn’s execution by beheading. Of course, she wasn’t the first or the last to have faced her gruesome fate here; since the Middle Ages, countless imprisonments and horrendous executions have taken place at the tower, with a recorded total of 11 executions during the 20th century (the last one was carried out in 1941).
The Tower of London was founded in 1066 at the time of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower is actually what the whole castle is named after, and it was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. Even back then, it was seen as a symbol of tyranny and persecution served out to London by the new rulers.
Not that this is believable or anything, but the Yeomen Guards and the Beefeaters at this place often claim to see Anne Boleyn’s headless ghost wandering around the Tower at nightfall…spooky.
Tower Bridge, City of London
Built between 1886 and 1894, the Tower Bridge was needed at a time when London was becoming a thriving and heavily populated city. The east end was a very busy port and the older London Bridge was indeed, falling down! In addition to it becoming an iconic symbol of London, it is within very close proximity to the Tower of London (hence its name) and crosses the River Thames – so you definitely can’t miss it!
A lot of events take place here, as well as family-friendly fun. The one that stands out it me the most though, is the Tower Bridge Exhibition which lets you explore all there is to explore inside the bridge including its famous structure, breathtaking views and Victorian Engine Rooms – just to name a few! This is one of the best English historical sites to visit!
Charles Dickens Museum, Bloomsbury, London
If you’re a literature enthusiast (like me) then you’ll be like a kid in a candy store upon entering this museum. Some of your favourite Charles Dickens stories, like Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, will come to life here – as it is in this exact spot they were born!
This house is the only one of Charles Dickens’ homes still remaining, and much of it has been restored to look exactly as it did when the prominent author was residing here. A lot of his items and photographs remain intact for visitors to look at, which of course adds to that exciting, tangible experience.
Albert Memorial, Kensington, London
This awe-inspiring Gothic Revival Style memorial was commissioned by the grieving Queen Victoria for her late husband Prince Albert, after his death from typhoid fever in 1861. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and took over 10 years to complete. The monument is beautifully constructed from marble and granite and features a statue of Prince Albert himself, seated at 14 feet tall. What makes it even more special and sentimental is that it was built right next to the Royal Albert Hall, which was a structure the prince himself had visualised. It was completed in 1871 and today hosts both classical and contemporary concerts.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, City of London
If you’re a fanatic of Disney’s Mary Poppins then you certainly can’t miss St. Paul’s Cathedral…and there is no old lady sitting on the steps outside, eyeing your tuppence to help her feed the birds – so, you won’t have to spend a dime (Ha-ha).
No, really. There is so much to do around St. Paul’s Cathedral and when it’s warm and sunny, a lot of the tourists like to just sit outside on the steps with a mini picnic or some ice cream. If you want to buy tickets to explore the interior, then be prepared for a spectacular experience!
Southwark Cathedral, London
This 15th century Gothic Cathedral was built on the site of what was originally the spot of a Roman house. It was built as a church and remained that way for many centuries, until it was fully restored in the 20th century. During its many centuries standing as a church, it was attended by many notable figures in history, including William Shakespeare, John Harvard, (founder of Harvard University) and King James I of Scotland.
Today, it is still used as a parish but if you want to pay a visit to this beautiful Cathedral purely for touristic purposes, then you’ll find it also holds a comprehensive exhibit displaying its long and intriguing history.
Hampton Court Palace, Richmond Upon Thames, London
I might just have a special love for the Renaissance period in history, but this is another one of my favourite English historical sites here on this list. Originally started by Cardinal Wolsey in the 16th century, Hampton Court Palace quickly became the abode of King Henry VIII, his six wives and the whole of the Tudor dynasty. During the 17th and 18th centuries, William III and Mary II commissioned sir Christopher Wren to build a splendid new baroque palace right next to it, which later became home to Georgian kings and princes. It was then occupied by impoverished aristocrats subsequent to the royals leaving in 1737.
Hampton Court Palace was opened to the public by Queen Victoria in 1838, and remains a busy site of attraction till this day. If you visit, you won’t get enough of the gorgeous gardens, the grand, 16th century interiors, the haunting portraits hanging on the walls and best of all – THE MAZE! Just don’t get lost in it. Please.
Shakespeare’s Family Homes, Stratford-upon-Avon
Another one for lovers of literature! Explore the five different homes in and around Stratford-upon-Avon which include Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place, Hall’s Croft, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm. The houses not only provide you with an amazing first-hand experience of the life and intrigues of the celebrated English playwright, but they also give you a remarkable insight into the 16th and 17th century lifestyle.
Here, you’ll also find picnic tables, cafes, beautiful gardens, live performances, exhibitions, book shops, gift shops – it’s seriously a literature enthusiast’s paradise!
The image shown here is of Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
Hatfield House, Hertfordshire
This splendid 16th – 17th century stately house was built by the first Earl of Salisbury Robert Cecil whose father Lord Burghley was the chief minister of Elizabeth I. Completed in 1611, the Jacobian estate is adjoined with the medieval Old Palace (built in 1485) which became the childhood home to King Henry VIII’s children, and it was here in 1558 that Queen Elizabeth I learned of her accession to the throne. Hatfield House was occupied by the Cecil family for 400 years and today, it is the home of the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury.
As well as the magnificent gardens here, you’ll discover amazing treasures including fine tapestries, luxurious furniture and beautiful paintings. The eery stained glass window in the private chapel is absolutely breathtaking and across the house, the gorgeous displays of valuable souvenirs collected by the Cecils over the long centuries are hard to miss.
Hatfield House is currently closed for the winter and will reopen on March 31st.
The Stonehenge, Wiltshire
This one is a little different and it goes back thousands of years ago. The Stonehenge is the most famous prehistoric monument in Europe and with that alone, it is certainly deserving of the fact that is considered one of the wonders of the world. Walking around the acres of greenery, you’ll explore the ancient land of its Neolithic ancestors, and upon entering the Neolithic homes you will be taken aback as you discover the everyday tools and objects they used! The exhibition and visitor centre displays over 200 ancient objects and reconstructions of people including a 5,500 year-old Neolithic man!
Barnet Museum, Chipping Barnet
Originally a three-floor Georgian residence located in the historic market town of Chipping Barnet, this small but comprehensive museum is the product of many centuries of the town’s historic importance. It displays a vast array of war memorabilia and household objects dating back from the Roman period up until modern times! Although you will notice that most of the items and room displays revolve around the Georgian era, World War II and some of the last stages of the medieval period, particularly at the time of the Battle of Barnet.
There is so much heritage to see here at the Barnet Museum and if you’re into English Historical sites and fascinating artefacts, then you definitely cannot miss out on this one.
Verulamium Museum, St. Albans
Located in, and named after the largest city of Roman Britain, this museum sits at the heart of Verulamium Town in St. Albans. A visit to this place will deliver the ultimate Roman experience as you explore the recreations of Roman rooms, the finest Roman mosaics and even an impressive collective display of Roman coins called the Sandridge Hoard. Additionally, you’ll enjoy an informative video about the fascinating excavations and if you’d like to return home with a souvenir from your Roman adventure, then you’ll be pleased to know that the museum also offers an inclusive gift shop that will leave you lost in options!
RAF Museum, Hendon
An English Historical Sites list would not be complete without the Royal Air Force Museum. This fantastic collection of World War II memorabilia offers a spectacular display of authentic Aircrafts from the war times and even interactive animated wax figures of notable British figures from the time such as Winston Churchill. The information boards are an abundance of lights, sound effects and war and aircraft footage from that era – perfect for young learners. There is also a newly introduced 4 Dimensional Theatre which gives visitors a real and exhilarating experience of powered flight. To me however, one of the most remarkable things about this museum is definitely the extraordinary exhibition of aircrafts and the amazing Spitfire MK16 which allows you to experience what it was like being Spitfire pilot!
Of course like all other museums and sites of tourist attraction, the RAF Museum comes complete with a gift shop, café and restaurant.
Well, there is obviously a lot more to see for English historical sites than just London and Buckingham Palace. 😉 If you’re planning to visit, make sure you check out these 15 English historical sites at least once in your lifetime. If you happen to live here and you haven’t already, then what are you even waiting for?!
Do you plan on visiting any of these English historical sites? Let us know in the comment section below!
Featured Image Source: http://www.torquay.com/listings/english-heritage-devon/
British-Algerian writer & poet, aspiring journalist, history lover, art enthusiast & unicorn.