Things to do in London

21 Buildings that Highlight London Architecture

London's architecture is an eclectic fusion of opulent tradition, vibrant street art, and cutting-edge modernity, with buildings as daring and diverse as Londoners themselves.

Welcome to London, where you can journey from Romanesque gems to Baroque chef d'oeuvres as you seek out your next adventure. From the iconic Big Ben to the modern Shard, London offers a unique juxtaposition of old and new, providing a myriad of things to do in London for every kind of traveler.

1. Lloyd’s Building

Richard Rogers' Lloyd's Building is home of insurance giant, Lloyds of London. It’s the essence of industrial chic, dubbed "inside-out" because of its exposed structural elements.

Upon its completion in 1986, the glass, concrete, and glinting stainless steel cladding shocked the public. But there was a functional motive for its aesthetic beyond Rogers' desire to "play a game with light and shadow."

The spaceship-like external conduits and ductwork are low maintenance, long-lasting, and help insulate the interior. And by keeping its services on the outside, there's more space inside. These days, Londoners love the Lloyd's Building, and it was granted Grade 1 listed status in 2011. 

2. The Shard

Any hopeless romantics out there looking for an unforgettable proposal backdrop? London's Shard makes pretty much every top 10 list in the world. We can see why people would take their significant other "up the shard" to pop the question.

It's the tallest building in the UK and has breathtaking 40-mile panoramic views on a clear day. You can catch views of Tower Bridge and London Bridge. With luxurious fine-dining restaurants and elegant champagne bars, it was made for special occasions and day-to-day decadence—a treasure among the city’s high-rise buildings. 

Designed by Renzo Piano in the image of Canaletto's 18th century paintings of London's dramatic church spires and blustering ship masts, The Shard is a contemporary celebration of British heritage.

Photographer: William Perugini

3. Barbican Estate and Barbican Centre

If you didn't think brutalist beauty was a thing, you haven't seen London's labyrinthine Barbican. It was conceived by British architects Chamberlin, Powell, and Bon. Standing on the site of an Ancient Roman fort, the chunky concrete estate and venue is a masterpiece. 

Its unforgiving exterior stands in stark contrast to the whimsy you'll find within. The Barbican is home to an art center, cultural venue, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. You'll even stumble upon an abundant conservatory. It features lush tropical plants so you can slow down, warm up, and recharge after a long day exploring the city. 

4. 30 St. Mary Axe Tower

Affectionately referred to as "The Gherkin" because of its uncanny resemblance to a giant pickle, 30 St. Mary Axe Tower stands proud as a modernist Fabergé egg among London's most iconic section of skyline. Completed in 2003, it's nestled between Heron Tower, The Shard, Barbican Estate, and One Blackfriars. 

Touted as the benchmark of sustainable tall office architecture, designer Normal Foster says, “Nature takes care of the temperature of the building.” And it's no small feat. An open, circular floor plan creates a spiral shape. It encourages air to circulate, while shaded glass allows the perfect amount of light to penetrate at any given time of day.

5. The Olympic Velodrome

Officially titled Lee Valley VeloPark, the Olympic velodrome has a delightfully unusual shape. It’s often compared to a Pringles potato chip. Hopkins Architects worked with civil engineers and velodrome expert Ron Webb to design the "most efficient and fast track in the world."   

Are you a cycling stalwart? Lee Valley is open to the public, so you can spin majestically around the track where gold medalist Chris Hoy won his 2012 accolade. No bike, no problem — they're available to rent, so you can bike until your heart's content! 

Photographer: Kit Suman

6. Drapers’ Hall

A testimony to time-honored craftsmanship, Drapers' Hall dates back to 1361. It’s a quintessential example of neoclassical London architecture. Like a phoenix emerging from embers, it's been reborn several times, with its most recent major alteration taking place in 1898-1899.

It was originally a religious guild. Now, the resident Worshipful Company of Drapers is a mysterious humanitarian organization. It focuses on senior care, prisoner rehabilitation, and education. 

The Livery Hall's exquisite decor embodies the spirit of bygone eras. It features artistic retellings of Shakespeare's plays, laden with gold leaf. Grand pillars, ornate ceilings, and majestic chandeliers make it a popular location for upscale events and movie sets. The King's Speech, The Saint, and GoldenEye all feature scenes set in Drapers' Hall. 

7. V&A Museum

The V&A Museum was developed by Henry Cole in 1852, like many of London's favorite buildings. It reflects the entanglement of artistic visions spanning countless generations. 

To the north, the V&A's lecture theater and painting galleries are exquisite displays of northern Italian Renaissance style, evidenced by brick, terracotta, and mosaic elements. In 1909, architect Sir Aston Webb set about transforming the museum. It went from a hub of manufacture into an embodiment of the interwoven nature of art, craft, and engineering.

He employed famous artists to add sculptures and decorative ornaments. He had a vision of making the V&A Museum's architecture reflect Victorian Britain's ambitions. 

To delve deeper into the city’s rich artistic heritage, explore more London museums and their unique collections.

8. The Royal Exchange

Developed by the father of English banking, Sir Thomas Gresham, The Royal Exchange is the oldest financial trading center in the world. It was established in 1566. 

As a Grade 1 listed building, meaning it has the highest architectural or historic interest, the Exchange is a grand embodiment of London's historical dominance of the financial sector and offers a glimpse of architectural history in the financial district.

Inspired by Rome's Pantheon, Sir William Tite added the imposing eight-column facade in 1844. It retains its neoclassical splendor to this day.  

The Royal Exchange remained a European center for finance until World War II. Now, you can stroll through it at your leisure for some luxury shopping and fine-dining.

9. The Jewel Tower

The Jewel Tower is a haunting medieval relic that survived the Great Fire of London, 1834's fire, and World War II. Built around 1365 to stash Edward III's royal treasure, the Perpendicular Gothic Style is embodied in every brick, nook, and cranny. Although records are scratchy, people cite Henry de Yevele as the mastermind behind this ancient monument. 

10. City Hall

A futuristic headquarters for the Mayor of London, its slanting design was completed in 2002. Architect Norman Foster spectacularly realized his vision of a building that represents the transparency of the democratic process, and sets a shining example as a sustainable, non-polluting structure.

However, the new city hall is actually in Victoria Docks. The Crystal has an equally stunning architectural design.

Referred to by various people as "Darth Vader's helmet" and an "onion," the structure retains a playfulness despite the gravity of its purpose. If you find yourself ambling through Southwark, pop into its outdoor terrace to see glorious views over the rest of London's skyline and appreciate its modern architecture. 

Photographer: Manuel Weber

11. Tate Modern Switch House

The Blavatnik Building is an ultra-modern extension of the Tate Modern art gallery. It has a subtly surreal design that defies nature. Its unique perforated brick lattice facade is a functional feast for the eyes. The modernist architecture design adds visual intrigue and manipulates natural light, so it doesn't interfere with the gallery's displays. 

Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron are responsible for its unfathomable exterior and fascinating geometric-inspired interior. Exposed brick, industrial minimalism, and neotenic curves pay homage to the building's heritage as a power station and beloved art gallery. 

12. Trellick Tower

Raw concrete, aggressively straight lines, and utility are the cornerstones of brutalism. It’s an architectural movement that divides Londoners to this day.

Some adore brutalist buildings like Trellick Tower. They see them as manifestations of British pragmatism, flying in the face of convention and tradition. Others see them as a harrowing visual reminder of inequality, despite the social optimism of the visionaries who fashioned them.

Ernö Goldfinger's dreams were modernist inspired. He intended to break away from the wasteful art-for-art's-sake ethos of the 1800s. He meticulously designed every element to make people's lives more comfortable and easy. Many Londoners couldn't see beyond the harsh, gray/brown concrete exterior.

It’s split into two towers — the residences and a service tower. Only recently have the public come around to understand the awe-inspiring intentions behind the build. 

13. Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace is a truly iconic example of London architecture. But it's only been the monarch's personal palace since Queen Victoria used it as her official residence in 1845. Completed around 1705, its regal white stone facade sings with neoclassical influences. It also has further additions added by John Nash and Edward Blore over time.

The Center Room, for lunching, brims with Chinese regency furnishings and decor. The Yellow Room, a space to entertain guests, is adorned with yellow silk drapes. In the Yellow Dining room, achingly beautiful 200-year-old wallpaper depicting delicate flowers and shrubs hangs on the walls.

Step into a royal fantasy at given times of year when Buckingham Palace opens its doors to visitors and hosts guided tours. Every other day, you can observe the changing of the guards ceremony. During the ceremony, the Old Guard and New Guard perform a cute dance and pageant to celebrate the changeover.

Photographer: Hulki Okan Tabak

14. London Aquatics Centre

Brought to life by Zaza Hadid, the London Aquatics Centre's design is an ode to fluidity and grace. The building looks like a wave frozen in time or a manta ray gliding through the water. It also provides natural ventilation and rainwater harvesting courtesy of Mother Nature.

The diving boards and stairwells are futuristic and complement the building's aesthetic. They make it feel more like a spaceship than a swimming pool. Whether you're a competitive swimmer or just love splashing around in the water, you can escape to one of the three pools and enjoy the feeling of being weightless

15. St. Pancras Hotel and Train Station

St. Pancras Hotel and Train Station is an enchanting testimony to the dreamy grandeur of Victorian Gothic Revival style architecture in London. Since 1873, Londoners and tourists have used the clock tower as a starting-point for adventures with loved ones.

The station connects London to numerous cities around the country. The extravagant building is regarded as architect Gilbert Scott's magnum opus, and it's easy to see why. 

Renovated to its current glory in 2011, St. Pancras station was taken from ultra-functional transport hub to majestic shopping and dining destination. Sauntering through its cavernous red-brick interior feels special. Gazing upon its exterior, adorned with soaring spires and intricate lattices of wrought iron takes you back in time.  

16. Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station is a much-loved landmark and testimony to London's ability to reinvent itself. Partly designed by Gilbert Scott, its four chimney breasts and red-brick art deco columns and halls are famous around the world. That’s thanks to a starring role on Pink Floyd's Animals album cover. 

If a prog-rock pilgrimage isn't your thing, fear not. The roaring turbines and grinding condensers have been replaced by art installations, cultural venues, high-end eateries, and shopping destinations.

As you explore its depths, you can feel the synergy of old and new, and the spirit of preserving beauty. The dynamic interior features exposed brickwork, steel beams, and huge windows that light pours through. 

17. Leadenhall Building

The towering Leadenhall Building is a prime example of high-tech architecture. It boasts an intricate steel exoskeleton that earned it the nickname, "Cheesegrater." Designed by Richard Rogers, its interior is bathed in natural sunlight thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows.

You probably wouldn't guess Leadenhall was born from the same mind as The Lloyd's Building, but it is — and he's rightfully proud of their contrast! 

Speaking of the joy he derives from hearing the public discourse around the building, he once more compares his vision to Christopher Wren's. He said, "To me that’s what architecture is all about. It’s not about fitting in, it’s setting up these dialogues.

The enjoyment of St Paul's was that it was seen against a very low and rather poor medieval background. That was a flourish. It's exactly the same with any form of architecture. It’s a dialogue, it’s a beauty that comes from contrast."

18. Houses of Parliament/Big Ben

One of London's most famous landmarks and a global icon of neo-Gothic design, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben have been perched defiantly on the Thames River bank since the mid 11th century.

However, it was the controversially credited 1835 renovation that saw these structures become the picture you see upon closing your eyes and picturing the London skyline. Designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin in a tragic tale that saw the former perish 10 years before Big Ben's completion in 1860 and the latter sent to a mental hospital and passed 8 years prior.

Inside the building is equally breathtaking. That’s thanks to elaborate stained-glass windows, mosaic floors, and handsome wooden beams. 

Big Ben's real name, unbeknownst to many (including London folks), is Elizabeth Tower. It's the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world. The clock is an emblem of modern time-keeping and a stunning blend of art and engineering.

Photographer: Marcin Nowak

19. Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey has stood since the 11th century and is one of London’s spindly Gothic masterpieces. Its current iteration dates back to 1245.

Erected as a shrine to St. Edward the Confessor, the king favored ribbed vaults, pointed arches, flying buttresses, and rose windows. Stained-glass windows and impressive sculptures add intrigue to the exterior and showcase the sensibilities of the time it was built. Literary legends Charles Dickens and Geoffrey Chaucer are buried at the abbey.

20. St. Paul’s Cathedral

The renovation of St. Paul's Cathedral, founded in the year 604, is legendary English architect Christopher Wren's crowning glory. Designed and rebuilt following the Great Fire of London in 1666, its copper dome was inspired by Michelangelo's St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Its design nods to many of the most architectural styles in London throughout history. It incorporates Gothic, baroque, and neoclassical elements.

A climb to the top gives way to mind-blowing views over London. You'll find stunning marble sculptures and impressively-preserved artwork.

21. Kensington Palace

Make your way through the magisterial Kensington Gardens until you reach its neat Jacobean central point, Kensington Palace. Part of the royal portfolio since 1689, Queen Victoria started the trend of using it as a residence for Britain's young royals in 1837. Ornamental ceilings, gilded furniture, and pristine decor offer a glimpse into their lives.

Oh, and legend has it, the palace's nursery is haunted by a ghost called "Peter the Wild Boy."

Explore Mesmerizing Architecture in London Today!

In London, architecture is a celebration of heritage, culture, and innovation. Walking among these landmarks is like stepping into an immersive picture book of the city's rich history. Each building tells a story.

Ignite your imagination with an awe-inspiring spectacle in the heart of London. Book your tickets for Cirque du Soleil shows in London today, and feel the thrill of the extraordinary. And for more thrilling experiences, discover all the major events in the UK that capture the spirit of excitement and innovation.

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