7 Most Impressive Architectural Feats of London
London, with its institutional buildings, colourful pretty houses and shiny skyscrapers is a feat for anyone with an interest in architecture. Throughout history, styles have evolved and a lot has been built. However, only the best have stayed with us as the British capital is always hungry for empty space and there is no room for unsuccessful buildings.
London has an impressive architectural legacy that spans more than 1,000 years and it’s worth taking the time to visit – and admire – its most remarkable buildings. From classical buildings such as St Paul’s, to modern structures like St Pancras Station and contemporary architecture such as The Shard or the Lloyd’s Building, you’ll delight in what this city has to offer. In addition, some of London’s most impressive architectural feats are open to the public. Others are a bit trickier.
Where to start? Worry not, we’ve prepared a list of our top picks to help you get started. And we’ve included some insider tips on how to get into the more difficult locations to make your life easier.
Shall we begin?
1. Lloyd’s of London
Lloyd’s of London is a classic. Architects flock into the City just to visit this gem of a building. It was completed in the late 80’s – a turning point for Modern Architecture – and just after the Pompidou Centre was built in Paris. Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, also the architects of the Pompidou Centre, achieved great fame and success after the completion of Lloyd’s. Their career skyrocketed after it.
The main particularity of Lloyd’s building is that it was designed from the inside out, meaning that ducts, emergency stairs and lifts – typically located in the core of the structure – were placed on the outside. The result is this huge steel structure with clear interiors and packed exteriors.
Visiting Lloyd’s is not easy as from Monday to Friday is busy with insurance brokers and during the weekend it’s closed. However, on some lucky opportunities, you’ll be able to see its wonderful interiors during the Open House London, normally taking place at the end of September.
Opening Times: Exterior only
Address: Lime Street, London EC3M 7AW (GOOGLE)
2. St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral is Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. He died soon after its completion and spent a lifetime directing its construction. In fact, he began the project when he was 37 in 1669 and finished in 1710 when he turned 78.
According to legend, there has been a religious building at this location since the beginning of Chritianity in London. The Old St Paul’s, the fourth St Paul’s cathedral, was a Norman construction that began in 1087 after a fire. The present structure has a similar origin as it was commissioned to Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666.
St Paul’s Cathedral is a late Baroque construction in which the most prominent feature, the Dome, took inspiration from the classical designs of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It’s possible to climb up and enjoy London’s skyline from its top. St Paul’s is open to the public every day except on Sunday, but you can still join mass on this day for free.
Opening Times: Mon-Sat (8.30am-4.30pm), Sunday Mass (8am, 11am, 3.15pm, 4pm)
Address: St. Paul’s Churchyard, London EC4M 8AD (GOOGLE)
3. Millennium Bridge
Millennium Bridge became famous after its appearance in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (2009). In the wizarding movie, Fenrir Greyback and a small group of Death Eaters destroyed the bridge.
This wasn’t very far away from the truth as on the opening day Millennium Bridge started experiencing some serious swaying. It had to be closed and fixed. Foster + Partners, the firm who designed the bridge later discovered a phenomenon of how pedestrian loads can affect structures.
Millennium Bridge is such a special connecting point in London because it was built as the first pedestrian bridge over the Thames. You can visit it anytime – sunrise is my favourite – and enjoy not only this structure, but also the views of St Paul’s in the background.
Opening Times: 24 h
Address: Thames Embankment, London SE1 9JE (GOOGLE)
4. Tate Modern
Tate Modern was one of the many cultural projects used to revitalise the South Bank. Originally built in 1963 as a power station by Giles Gilbert Scott (also the architect of Battersea Power Station and Waterloo Bridge), it was transformed in 2000 into a vibrant gallery.
Herzog & de Meuron were the architects in charge of converting this colossus of a building into Tate Modern. In 2016 they were chosen again to build the new extension: the Switch House, containing more galleries, a restaurant and the rooftop.
Most of its exhibitions are free and it attracts a large number of visitors every day. The most popular area is the open-air rooftop where crowds flock to get that iconic photograph of London’s skyline from the south. What can we say? Sunsets at Tate Modern are special.
Opening Times: Sun-Thu (10am-6pm), Fri-Sat (10am-10pm)
Address: Bankside, London SE1 9TG (GOOGLE)
5. St Pancras
St Pancras Station and Hotel were designed in 1868 by George Gilbert Scott, the grandfather of Giles Gilbert Scott of Tate Modern, point 4 of this list.
Before this point in time, hotels didn’t exist as we know them today. It was thanks to the birth of the railway that cities started seeing more visitors. Hence, stations came with a new impressive type of building: the hotels.
St Pancras Station and the now Renaissance Hotel coexist in a strikingly beautiful terracotta building. The design resembles that of a cathedral. The interiors are similarly lavish and it features one of London’s most beautiful staircases. In fact, the Spice Girls recorded their Wannabe video clip in it.
The station is open 24 hours a day and the hotel features a good number of bars and restaurants where you can sip a cocktail while admiring the amazing architecture.
Opening Times: 24 h
Address: Euston Rd, Kings Cross, London N1C 4QP (GOOGLE)
6. The Shard
The Shard, designed by Renzo Piano in 2013, became the tallest building in the United Kingdom, and the European Union.
Of its 96 floors, 26 are occupied by offices.The Shard also has 3 restaurants within 3 storeys (Aqua Shard, Oblix and Hutong), a hotel (Shangri-La) that hold 17 floors, 13 floors of residential use and the jewel of the crown: the triple-height viewing gallery named The View from The Shard.
The View from The Shard is the UK’s highest viewing gallery and you can enjoy uninterrupted views of London from it. What’s different from other rooftops of London is perhaps the horizon views to the south. New exciting architecture is being developed on the south bank of the Thames and The Shard provides the best views of it.
Fun fact about The Shard: 95% of its construction materials are recycled.
Summer: Sun-Fri (10am-10pm), Sat (10am-9.15pm)
Winter: Sun-Wed (10am-7pm), Thu-Sat (10am-10pm)
Address: 32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG (GOOGLE)
7. Barbican Estate and Centre
Barbican Estate and Centre form an enormous building complex in the middle of the City. The area was heavily bombed during World War II (1939-1945) and after clearing the debris only the church of St Giles was left standing. This was a huge opportunity to develop the land.
Barbican was built along with a cultural centre in 1982 by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, also architects of the nearby Museum of London. At the time, there was a rage for concrete buildings and once completed, Barbican became a Brutalist icon.
Barbican, unlike other concrete estates in London, had a very luxurious approach. The forms were thoughtful (look at the end of the balconies), the façade was hand-picked (a costly aesthetic) and a new pedestrian system was created around it. Its passages, however, aren’t the easiest to walk and many people get lost.
The best way to understand and experience the Barbican is through their guided tours and shows at the on-site centre. A secret that everybody knows? Its superb conservatory, which opens only on Sundays from 12 to 4 pm.
Opening Times: Sat-Wed (10am-6pm), Thu-Fri (10am-9pm)
Address: Silk St, Barbican, London EC2Y 8DS (GOOGLE)
London is rich in architecture and this list is just the tip of the iceberg. I hope you enjoyed our 7 Most Impressive Architectural Feats of London and are ready to start exploring it. Whether you are an architect or an architecture lover, this list will bring lots of inspiration and would probably leave you hungry for more.
If this list was appealing, other contemporary buildings you might enjoy too are The Gherkin, Tower Bridge and Battersea Power Station. The latter is under construction but some parts of it can already be visited.
Though London’s landmarks are equally beautiful, sometimes the not-so-visited locations are worth our attention too. Whether you are seeking classical, modern or contemporary architecture, London has plenty to offer.
If you are new to London, however, you can start with our list of Top 10 Things to Do in London.