UK Travel Guide: World Heritage Sites in London

by Jules on April 28, 2014

There are a total of 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the UK; including some iconic such as Stonehenge and the city of Edinburgh. In total there are four World Heritage Sites in London, which all provide a fascinating insight into this lively and cultured city, which is brimming with rich heritage.

Tower of London, London EC3N

This incredible fortress (pictured above) has been at the very heart of London’s rich and chequered history since it was originally built by William the Conqueror in the 1880s. A stunning example of military architecture, dating from the Norman period, the tower dominates the London landscape, resplendent in white stone. The UNESCO listed royal palace was inscribed in 1988 and has been much altered over the years by former residents. For example Henry III decorated the lodgings in opulent style and constructed the first curtain wall of stone, even though he only stayed at the tower 11 times during his 56 year reign.

The Tower of London has featured in past events such as the daring attempt to steal the Crown Jewels in 1671, the execution of King Henry VIII’s wife Anne Boleyn and of course the most famous event in history; the daring Gunpowder Plot. It was here at the tower that the main perpetrator Guy Fawkes was held after the daring mission to blow up London’s Houses of Parliament on 5 November 1605.

Palace of Westminster, Parliament Square, London

Collectively the magnificent Palace of Westminster, ancient Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret’s Church have formed one World Heritage Site since 1988. The Palace of Westminster, aka the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt in 1840 on the former site which dated back to the medieval period. This vast complex which is one of the most notable tourist attractions in London amply represents the Perpendicular Gothic style.

Westminster Abbey has played an important role within royal society since the 11th century, as the site of all royal coronations, weddings and funerals. In total there have been 38 coronations at the Gothic Abbey, dating back to the very first on Christmas Day in 1066 of William the Conqueror who became King of England (1066-1087). The most recent coronation was held on 2 June 1953 for the current Queen Elizabeth II. The abbey has seen just sixteen weddings in its time, with the most recent being the wedding of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton on Friday 29 April 2011. Notable funerals include that of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 and of course that of Princess Diana on 6 September 1997.

St Margaret’s Church was founded by Benedictine monks in the 12th century as a more low-key place to worship. Since 1614 it has served as the parish church for the residents of the Palace of Westminster.

Maritime Greenwich, London

The collection of buildings within this Greenwich-based complex hark back to the maritime period within London. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, Greenwich park tells the history of the 17th and 18th centuries where English scientific efforts came to the fore. Greenwich of course also lends its name to the universal Greenwich Mean Time.

The most important building within the listing is the sprawling Old Royal Naval College complex which was designed by legendary British architect Christopher Wren. Wren of course also designed the architectural masterpiece of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1710. He is also credited with rebuilding much of London after the Great Fire, in particular some 52 churches in the city. When the building opened it served as Greenwich Hospital for British seamen before closing in 1869. Four years later it served as the Royal Naval College until its closure in 1998. Today the former college is turned over to community and business activities. It has also served as a backdrop in several high profile TV series and movies, including Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) where it posed as a café in Italy.

The Royal Greenwich Park covers 183 acres and was designed by André Le Nôtre.  It was created during the 1660s from the old hunting grounds of the neighbouring Royal Palace of Placentia. Within the park is the Old Royal Observatory which was also created by Christopher Wren in 1675. Greenwich Park climbs to Blackheath Hill where the statue of explorer James Wolfe stands, as commander of the expedition of the British to capture Quebec.

The Queen’s House was built in 1616 and was the last royal residence within Greenwich. Laid out along the River Thames the complex is hailed for its symmetry. It was designed by British architect Inigo Jones and is renowned for being the very first classical building built in Britain.

The official UNESCO YouTube video above shows the various buildings within Greenwich park and tells of the English endeavours both artistically and scientifically during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Richmond upon Thames, London

The exquisite Kew Gardens attained UNESCO status in 2003 thanks to its historic and intricately manicured landscape gardens. It amply represents such gardens from the 18th century right through to the 20th century. Kew is home to unrivalled botanic collections, spanning both living and conserved plants as well as important historical documents. First created in 1759, Kew Gardens have made an important contribution to the universal study of plants, both in terms of diversity and economic botany.

The gardens are within a connecting series of individually designed parks and estates set along the river Thames, in the royal borough of Richmond upon Thames. Several famous landscape gardeners have lent their talents to the gardens over the centuries including Lancelot “Capability” Brown, who also served as Head Gardener at the nearby Hampton Court Palace.

Today the 300 acres (121 hectare) site features more than ninety world-class attractions spanning glasshouses, historic buildings and inspirational gardens. Don’t miss the Arboretum which stretches across the majority of the Gardens, enjoy the Holly Walk which meanders along a 1,030 metre trail alongside mature holly trees and make a diary-date for spring 2014 when the iconic Waterlily House (pictured above) once again opens its doors to visitors. And Christmas is a magical time at Kew, with illuminated trails forming part of its after dark series and guided tours are held each day as an introduction to the seasonal plants and science of the plantlife.

Image credits; 3;  Pixel8CC BY-SA 3.0,  4; Diliff CC

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