The basis of London as we know it today dates back to the Roman era, giving a good 2 millennia of depth and history to the city. Whilst little is left of its early history, there are still glimpses into the city’s past through museums, castle ruins and plenty of relics. For guests staying at special offers London hotels, holidaymakers in London might find their time taken up with tourist attractions and entertainment, but allowing a moment to soak in the long history of London could really elevate your trip to the city.
For starters, an exploration of London’s most ancient buildings could provide lesser known, even hidden insight into the city, adding levels of depth that usually remain unseen to the untrained eye. Secondly, London’s colourful past will ensure that you really get a handle on what London represents and stands for as the capital of the UK.
Whilst cities like Venice and Rome advertise their ancient history as go-to tourist attractions, London has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve, meaning you might miss the quieter but equally enriching. With institutions like the Museum of London giving a more analytical and organised deep dive into the city’s history, some visitors might prefer to really “live” the past. The best way to do this is through exploring the old buildings, or what’s left of them, to really get a feel for the long-living UK capital. From the ruins of ancient structures to refurbished old buildings, here are some of the best ancient buildings you can explore during your stay in London.
The London Mithraeum was discovered under Walbrook Street in 1954. Dating back to the third century, this Roman temple is dedicated to the obscure Roman deity Mithras. Now a museum, the remains of the subterranean temple are underneath the Walbrook branch of the Bloomberg company. Tickets can be bought online and onsite and the temple itself gives a vivid insight into the development of ancient London.
Dating back to the year 960, Westminster Abbey now sits aside the Houses of Parliament and what was once Westminster Palace. The Abbey was originally dedicated to St Peter, a fisherman having had an alleged vision of the Saint at the nearby bank of the River Thames. However, in 1056, Edward the Confessor repurposed the abbey as a burial site. Nowadays, visitors can explore the many tombs and memorials of the abbey, including that of Geoffry Chaucer, Queen Elizabeth I and Stephen Hawking.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Based on Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London district was built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1697. The cathedral, dedicated to St Paul the Apostle was built on the site of Old St Paul’s after the Great Fire of London destroyed. This earlier cathedral dates back to 1087 but was not completed until the mid 13th century. With a long history of Pre Norman Cathedrals and pagan sites on the plot of land, this iconic London church offers a real insight into the history of the Anglican church.
Although not a building per se, the London Wall is one of the best examples of Roman influence on London. Dating back to the 2nd or 3rd century, the London Wall was a construct built during the Roman creation of Londinium, a fort built in 120 AD. Special offer London Hotel guests can still see several sites where the wall still stands, including one near the Barbican, the London Museum and at Tower Hill.
Pancras Old Church
Though rebuilt in the 19th century, Roman tiles had been discovered on the site of this Hampstead based Anglican church. Potentially built somewhere between the 4th and 7th century, St Pancras is one of the earliest indicators of Christian worship.
Located within Westminster Abbey, Pyx Chapel is the oldest surviving part of Westminster Abbey and dates back to 1056 when Edward the Confessor began building the Abbey. During your visit to the abbey, take a peak in Pyx Chapel to see tiles that remain from the original structure.
The White Tower
The oldest part of the Tower of London was built in the late 11th century. Whilst much of the fortress was built upon throughout the proceeding centuries, the original White Tower fortress has walls that are 90 feet high and served to house the royal family in a near unscalable safehouse.
St Bartholomews Gatehouse
Based in Smithfield, St Bartholomews Gatehouse may itself date back to the 16th century (still old!) but the stonework underneath has its roots in the 1200s’ and nearby St Bartholomews Priory. Much of this age-old building work was covered during the Georgian era but rediscovered after World War 1 bombing revealed the original walls.
Originally built in 1411 as a meeting place for city guilds, the hall was damaged by the Great Fire of London and rebuilt in 1670. With a roman amphitheatre in its basement, this site holds much history concerning the development of London, whilst the neighbouring building is the Guildhall Art Gallery, housing some of the city’s finest works of art.
The Old Curiosity Shop
Used as a location in Dickens “The Old Curiosity Shop”, this 16th-century shop was originally located a few streets away, but still retains its literary link to the past through the antique books it sells, as well as its beautiful traditional Tudor exterior.
The Old Wine shades
Another survivor of the Great Fire of London, this bar was a regular haunt of Charles Dickens himself. Nowadays, this vintage wine bar is a quaint and intimate pub setting and is especially unique in that it features a smugglers tunnel running right underneath it.
Based in Greenwich Royal Park, the Old Royal Naval College was an army hospital for seamen, and before that was the Duke of Gloucester’s home in the 15th century. After changing hands from Margaret of Anjou and then rebuilt by Henry VIII, what was then known as the Palace of Placentia was redesigned by Christopher Wren as the Centrepiece of the Royal Maritime. The grand square has been used as a location for many blockbuster movies and overlooks the banks of the River Thames.