|Tube: Tower Hill (Circle & District)|
This and the Tower outclass all other Royal Palaces in London (especially Buckingham Palace). Try to see them both as a priority.
Bought by Cardinal Wolsey and transformed by him into a sumptuous Palace in the 1520s, it was effectively annexed by Henry VIII as the Cardinal fell out of favour (the official story is it was given as a gift). Wolsey also didn't finish Cardinal College Oxford, which became Christchurch - there you can still see the foundations of the colonnade which would have made Tom Quad the finest in Europe.
Henry rebuilt the Hampton Court after his own tastes and entertained all six wives here, some making a brief visit, en route for the scaffold. A succession of later Kings and Queens transformed the Palace according to their tastes too, which accounts for the diverse styles. James I used Hampton Court for its excellent hunting in the park. Charles II used it for lodging his mistress(es). For more on that matter read the well-written but smutty poetry of Rochester.
After the 'Glorious Revolution' in 1689 which saw the rights of Catholics much curtailed, William III and Mary II commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild Hampton Court. Fortunately the work was not completed as they planned to demolish all of Henry VIII's bits. They did, however, build the sumptuous Kings and Queen's Apartments which are added on the back of Henry's buildings. King William Apartments are the finest and most important set of Baroque state apartments in the world - are still furnished with the original furniture and tapestries from 1700 when they were completed for the King. Thankfully Henry's Great Hall and the Chapel Royal exist in their original form, as well as the magnificent Tudor Kitchens, which are beautifully laid out as if a feast was being prepared using all the food and utensils that would have been used in the 16th century.
The Georgian era saw the final flowering of Hampton Court Palace, but effectively the annual visit of the full court to Hampton ended in 1737. The intimate Georgian Rooms are left as they were during the final visit of the royal court. The Palace was eventually handed over to the Public by Queen Victoria.
Also worth seeing: the superb collection of renaissance paintings, including Mantegna's Triumphs of Caesar, Henry VIII's Astronomical Clock the 60 acres of gardens, including the famous Maze. Open Summer 10:00-18:00, winter 10:00 -16:30. Full tickets, £10.50
|Train: from Waterloo Station. Boat: (3 1/2 hour cruise - weather dependent) from most of the central London piers.|
The State Apartments at Kensington Palace take the history began at Hampton Court on further - Queen Victoria grew up here and there's much fine portraiture from the reign of George I. The building also houses The Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, dating from the 18th century to the present day, including a stunning collection of dresses belonging to Her Majesty The Queen. Queen Anne's orangery which dates from 1704, is also worth the visit. The Queen's sister, Princess Margaret lived there, as did Princess Diana. Off Kensington High Street (good shopping), a short walk from the tube stop of the same name. Open 10:00 -1700 summer, 10:-16:00 winter, admission £8.50
|Tube: High Street Kensington (Circle)|
Kew Palace Kew Palace, in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, is now open April to October, after extensive renovations. Queen Charlotte's Cottage is open to visitors every summer weekend. The cottage was enjoyed by King George III and his wife, Queen Charlotte, as a picnic place and home to their menagerie of exotic animals. Visit it when you go to Kew Gardens.
Can easily be combined with a trip to Ham House and Marble Hill House which are nearby (vide infra).
If you don't feel like schlepping out of the centre the Chelsea Physic Garden and the Conservatory of the Barbican could furnish all your vegetal needs.
|Tube/Train: Kew Gardens (District/from Waterloo)||
Clarence House The former home of the late Queen Mother - and current residence of Prince Harry, Prince Charles and his 'consort' Camilla Parker-Bowles (aka Duchess of Cornwall). It's open to the public from 2013 (it's being used for the Olympics) between August and October (only) - visit the Royal Palaces Website for details. See also Walk One.
Built by Nash for William, Duke of Clarence in 1828 - when he became King two years later he continued to reside here as Buckingham Palace wasn't finished. It was the home of Queen Elizabeth before she became Queen too, and for a time Princess Margaret lived here too. Has a brilliant collection of paintings from the late Queen Mother's collection. The story goes that she once (probably often) rang down to the butlers after getting no response from her bellpull and said in a voice redolent of the highest camp: "I don't know what you old queens are doing down there but this old queen up here is dying for a glass of gin." The Queen Mum was much beloved by the public - especially when during the Diana years the Windsors' gilt began to tarnish. See St James' Palace, below.
Lancaster House Joined to Clarence House by a passageway, was the residence of the Duke of York (and consequently named York House) but due to his profligacy he died in debt and the plans to rebuild it fell apart. It was passed between a succession of royal and satellite owners, and is said to be much finer inside than Buckingham Palace (which wouldn't be hard) - Queen Victoria preferred it to the latter. After a spell housing the Museum of London it is now used as a State Banqueting house where the likes of Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela got dined in style. Sadly, it's not open to the public. See St James' Palace, below.
St James' Palace Another one by Henry VIII, who was great news for architects and builders across the country but bad news for his 6 wives. Of the four original courts only Colour Court remains. This was the principal in-town residence of 300 years of monarchs from 1698 after Whitehall Palace burnt down, and until 2003, Prince Charles. It itself was substantially burnt in 1809, and restored over the next five years. Royal Palaces have a habit of burning down in this country - in the past 20 years there have been significant fires at Hampton Court and Windsor castle - now thankfully both fully restored.
The Duke of Cumberland was almost murdered in St James' after making gay advances on his footman (who he discovered in bed with his wife) - another Royal tradition. The main reason for visiting, apart from passing by on the way to Buckingham Palace, is that there are busbee'd guards outside - easier to access and photograph than Buckingham Palace. You can actually pose next to them and when they've gone for their tea, you can pose in their sentry boxes. There's usually a changing of the guard here at 16:00 or thereabouts - and no crowds. The interior is not open to the public. However you can sneak in to get a peek - see our Walk Two for details. It's in the 'Palace district' at the westerly end of Pall Mall.
||Tube: Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly, Victoria)|
Buckingham Palace Effectively State reception rooms and a small Royal Apartments where the Queen lives when in London. Regularly on the top ten lists of worse places to visit by those that have, but still drawing huge numbers of those that haven't. Nice place to view from the outside, though the crowds can be horrendous. If the Royal Standard is flying over the palace then the Queen's in residence.
Built by George VI on the site of the King's House, Pimlico, the shell of which was preserved by Nash, the architect. Marble Arch once stood in front, but it was later removed to the western end of Oxford Street where the famous Tyburn Gallows once stood. When Queen Victoria moved here in 1837, just 10 years after the works had been carried out, it was barely habitable, but she grew to love the Palace, as did her son Edward VII. There are 600 rooms in the Palace, of which under twenty can be visited, as well as the Queen's Picture gallery (really the only thing worth seeing here) and the Mews.
If you're quick enough you could pop in to see the Queen - the preferred route is to scale the walls at Constitution Hill, then run like mad across the lawns. A couple of people have made it, one ended up sitting on the Queen's bed (a commoner!) until she rang down, ostensibly for some beer. He is currently detained "at Her Majesty's pleasure".
|Tube: Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly, Victoria) Victoria (Circle & District).|
The Houses of Parliament Only open to the Public when the two houses are not sitting, which generally means Saturdays and in Summer (June-September and bits of October). Now run by experienced 'Blue Badge' guides this is a sine qua non. You get to see the Commons and The Lords, as well as the Queen's private rooms. Well worth the rather steep admission fee: (£15) see HERE for details
The Inns of Court See our walks section for more details. One of the least explored areas of London. It's an oasis of calm - no traffic noise which spreads from the river near Temple tube station (Circle & District), up towards Holborn (Central Line) and beyond. The four Inns go back a long way and were founded to organise Law Students along Oxbridge lines. Lincoln's was founded in 1422, with Middle Temple (1501) Inner Temple (1505) and Gray's (1569) following. Their antecedents date from 1292 - so do some of the laws which still govern England.
Lincoln's still retains its complete 16th C gatehouse (1518), and much of the architecture can be traced back to 1489 (the Old Hall). The chapel dates back to 1619. Ben Johnson as a boy, laid the bricks along with his father a Bricklayer. Has an illustrious list of former students: William Penn, John Donne (who founded the chapel), Oliver Cromwell, Pitt the Younger, amongst others. See old buildings, old hall, chapel, garden and new square.
Middle temple - its name goes back to the Knights Templar - has buildings dating from 1320 (the Hall still extant, though rebuilt in 1573). Has many courts, visit Fountain Court, Brick Court, New Court, Pump Court, and also see the Cloisters, the gardens, the Library (modern exterior, but interior old) and the gatehouse. Most famous today for its link with the Da Vinci Code and the Temple Church - look out for the gargoyle of a man having his ear bitten off by a lizard (!). Middle Temple Lane (right)is straight out of Dickens, but was old even by his time.
Inner Temple: much of this is Victorian and Georgian, but Hare court dates back to 1567 and King's Bench Walk goes back to 1677. The beautiful gardens used to house the Royal Horticultural Society Show before it moved to Chelsea.
Some fantastic photographs of the Inns of court HERE. If you don't want to visit after seeing these I'll eat my wig.
Gray's has lost most of it's original function and apart from the gatehouse and buildings there is little of interest apart from the gardens The courts spread from the river northward to Theobald's road (where there's reputedly the best fish and chip shop in London).
||Tube: Chancery Lane (Central) Temple (Circle)|
Chelsea Hospital England's answer to Paris' Les Invalides on the Thames, south of Sloane Square. Wellington lay in state here like Napoleon still does there - but the building is primarily practical - even Napoleon's vanquisher has had to cede to the veterans. The building (Wren 1682, subsequently Adam ) looks quite French and the best view is from the Garden.
It houses Chelsea Pensioners - many of whom can be seen walking around town in their distinctive ( red in summer, blue in winter) uniforms which date from the 18th C- and which they have to wear whilst off the premises, in return for board and lodging. Has only since 2001 admitted women as pensioners.
The National Army Museum is also in the grounds as is The Physic Garden, the second oldest in the country, founded in 1676, and has the first cedar trees ever to be planted in Britain (1683). America's cotton industry was founded when seeds were sent from here to the colony in Georgia in 1732. Linneus took specimens here.
||Bus/Tube: Sloane Square (Circle & District)|
Lloyds of London A practice run for the Pompidou Center in Paris's Beaubourg, Richard Rogers' stunning building similarly has it's guts on the outside. Right next door to Leadenhall market at 1 Lime Street, London EC3. Go at about 11am and have lunch in the market (see our markets section). It's illuminated by a blue light at night and stands out on the skyline.
The Insurance market, with the famous Lutine Bell rung traditionally when an insured ship sinks (now it's rung for big market news, once for bad news, twice for good), bustles on around you as you whisk in one of the open elevators to the meeting rooms at the top of the building.
Lombard merchants introduced maritime insurance to London in the 16th century and it flourished somewhat haphazardly around Lombard Street until the establishment of Lloyd's Coffee House where insurers and merchants met to trade risks. The register of ships goes back to 1760.
|Tube: Bank/Monument (Central, Northern, Circle & District) Bus: Bishopsgate.|
Leighton House Lord Leighton was a great collector and admirer of the Arabic world, and his house at 12 Holland Park Road W14, is fitted out with much that is eastern: the house was built to Leighton's own design in 1866. Some of the artifacts were collected by Sir Richard Burton, translator of The Rubayat, and the first non-moslem to have visited Mecca (in disguise - he would have been killed if found out). It's mainly for the Arabic Hall you go, the ticket gives re-admission later in the year, but 30 mins will suffice. Jimmy Page of Led Zepplin fame lived practically next door. Richard Branson, Simon Cowell and Michael Winner are round the corner.
|Tube/Bus: Kensington High Street(Circle)|
Kenwood In splendid grounds beside Hampstead Heath, the impressive neoclassical Kenwood House contains a good collections of paintings, with works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Gainsborough and Reynolds. The House was remodeled by Robert Adam between 1764 and 1773, when he transformed the original brick house into a majestic villa for the great judge, Lord Mansfield. The original library survives intact. Later Earls of Mansfield redesigned the parkland and Kenwood remained in their family until 1922. Enter via Hampstead Lane, NW3. Free.
|Train: Hampstead Heath. Tube: Archway and Golders Green (Northern), then 210 bus, or walk from Hampstead Tube (Northern)|
Chiswick House Built by the Burlingtons, this Palladian villa was used for entertaining (Handel, Pope & Swift were among the friends of the Earl). Until 1928 it was a mental home, but was repurchased by the council and restored. The gardens are notable for their follies. On Burlington Lane, W4. Not really worth a special trip, but walkable from Hammersmith along a pleasant bit of river. Pictures
Hogarth's House is just around the corner in Hogarth Lane, and apart from the building there's a an extensive display of works by the 18th-century political cartoonist (see also the Sir John Soane Museum in our Museums section.)
|For travel details see their website|
Marble Hill House This Palladian villa set in 66 acres of parkland was built in 1724 on the banks of the Thames for Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, and mistress of King George II. The Great Room has lavish gilded decoration and architectural paintings by Panini. Contains an important collection of early Georgian furniture and paintings, and the Lazenby Bequest Chinoiserie collection. Worth about 30 - 45 mins or combine with visit to Kew Gardens and/or Ham House (see below) Entry £3.50. Closed for lunch 13:00 - 14:00.
|Train: St Margarets (20 mins on a fast service from Waterloo) Tube: Richmond (District line - slow) then walk 1 mile along the towpath.|
Ham House Pleasant house on the Thames, largely unaltered since the 17thC. It was built in 1610 by the Earl of Dysart who was, as a child, Charles I's 'whipping boy' - punished by proxy for the future King's misdemeanours. Lavish interiors and spectacular collections of fine furniture, textiles and paintings. Notable for the history of the place - largely in private hands until this century. It also has a very rare 16th C garden perfectly preserved (the rest were swept away as tides of fashion rose and fell). At Petersham on the Thames towpath from Richmond. Only open in the afternoons Sat-Wed. Entry £6. To combine with nearby Kew and Marble Hill House see our trips page.
You can also visit nearby Syon House, in Syon park (train station Syon Lane), which is a short walk from Richmond Village Green.
|Tube/Train: Richmond (District), then by foot (25 mins) , or St Margarets (from Waterloo) and foot ferry (15 mins).|
Carlyle's House Part of a terrace in a quiet backwater of old Chelsea, this Queen Anne house was the home of writer and historian Thomas Carlyle from 1834 until his death. The house, which contains original furniture and many books, portraits and relics of his day, was visited by many illustrious Victorians, including Dickens, Chopin, Tennyson and George Eliot. The restored Victorian walled garden also reflects Carlyle’s life here. 24, Cheyne Row, Chelsea.
|Tube: Sloane Square (Circle & District) then bus down King's Road|
Bevis Marks Synagogue 300 year old, working Synagogue which was built by a Quaker. Follows Spanish/Portuguese traditions. Typically British mish-mash of races, beliefs and traditions...in the city, near the Gherkin at 4 Heneage Lane, EC3.. .
|Tube: Tower Hill (Circle & District) Liverpool St (Circle, Hammersmith, Metropolitan & Central) or Aldgate East (Hammersmith & District)|
Samuel Johnson's House Well preserved, though overpriced, only one of Samuel Johnson's many residences in London. It's hidden in an alleyway in Gough Street, off Fleet Street.
We think you'd be better to pop into the nearby Cheshire Cheese Pub (see food and drink) instead. Mr Johnson frequently did himself and Dickens' place is still kept for him - (though you can sit in the chair, he hasn't turned up for over 100 years, it's the table to the right of the fireplace in the ground floor room opposite the bar) - Dr Johnson stole the chair he used to sit in the nearby Cock Tavern and it's still in his house.
Was originally a chophouse as well selling the sort of pies mentioned in Blackadder. Virtually everyone who's anyone came here: Reynolds, Gibbon, Garrick, Tennison, Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, Mark Twain, Rooseveldt, Conan-Doyle, Yeats (many of them as tourists getting a taste of Johnsonia!). The pub parrot, whose specialty was imitating champagne corks, died in 1926, and an obituary appeared in 200 newspapers.
|Tube: Holborn (Central) Temple (Circle & District)|
Dickens' House & Museum When Dickens wasn't in the Cheshire Cheese Pub or researching the alleyways of South London, he lived in Bloomsbury, in a magnificent street that sweeps up towards Mecklenburgh Square. Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and The Pickwick Papers were written here. On Doughty Street in Bloomsbury. His 'Old curiosity shop' still stands, just off the Aldwych, near Lincoln's Inn.
||Tube: Russell Square(Piccadilly)|
Keats' House The house on Keats Grove is where Keats fell in love with Fanny Brawne (she lived with her father round the corner), and where he wrote 'Ode to a Nightingale' (in the garden actually). It was built in 1815 and is a good reason to go up to the pleasant 'village' of Hampstead with its magnificent Heath. See below.
Goldfinger House Not the eponymous Goldfinger of James Bond fame, but the architect, is a model of 1950s architecture which is antidote to the older stuff - many dislike it, we're not sure. The former home of Ernö Goldfinger, designed and built by him in 1939. The central house of a terrace of three, it is one of Britain’s most important examples of Modernist architecture and is filled with furniture also designed by Goldfinger. It's rumoured Ian Fleming so hated the house the name was lent to a James Bond villan. The art collection includes works by Henry Moore and Max Ernst. Near Keats' House at 2 Willow Road, Hampstead.
Knole House Excellent country house, plenty of character, set in rolling parklands in Sevenoaks - part of London's commuter belt - about 30 mins from Charing Cross. Easy to get to by public transport, it's just a 15 min walk (or short taxi hop) through the charming country town of Sevenoaks (uphill getting there, downhill on the way back...). Great park full of friendly deer who will, despite a ban, eat any sandwiches, grapes you give them (very like the Thomas Wyatt poem) the house is excellent - full of history and artefacts, and the staff are very knowledgable - and happy to talk you through your visit. Original fabrics and art mean it's kept quite dim - you can borrow torches off the staff to look at the painting, frescoes and stuff. We re-visited this house in Autumn 2005 and were really impressed. Can easily be done in a half day - check opening/closing times in Winter. Has the original Knole Settee, the model for many a posh sofa. Also much nicer on the inside than the National Trust website would suggest.
John Wesley's House features on our city walk.
Old Bailey 'When will you pay me' asked the bells of Old Bailey, probably referring to lawyers fees - it stands on the site of the infamous Newgate Prison (William Penn and Daniel Defoe were incarcerated here). There's been a prison on the site since the 10th century. It's now London's Central Criminal Court, where you can sit in on trials of notorious criminals (Oscar Wilde shares this distinction with Dr Crippen.) The famous statue of justice sits atop the dome, it's not blindfold as money buys justice and she likes to count the notes. The present building dates from 1907, but incorporates some of the older buildings. However you can visit an old cell of Newgate preserved in the taproom of a nearby pub if you tip the bar wench. It's one of the few instances of being taken downstairs by the barmaid and shown a bad time. See our walks page for details.
||Tube: St Paul's (Central) Blackfriars (Circle)|
College of Arms Where you would come to have your family tree traced, this bastion of the class structure occupies the 17th century house of the heralds on Queen Victoria Street, opposite Blackfriars Station. It's close to St Paul's so worth passing, if you want to see inside you have to arrange a special visit, unless you want your arms researching. There's not much to see unless you're interested in hereldry, the designers of the coats of arms of recent notables (including Princess Diana and Prince William) can discuss their work. See also our City Walks.
|Tube: Blackfriars(Circle) St Paul's (Central)|
Freemason's Hall & Temple Once secretive, and long accused of corruption, especially with so many policemen members, the Masons are trying to make amends. They've opened up their temple to the public for tours. The current Grand Lodge on Great Queen St, Covent Garden, occupies the site of the Grand Temple of 1776, and was built in 1933. Many of the rooms are open - especially noteworthy is the tiled staircase - used in many film shoots. Hourly tours 1100 - 1600 Monday - Friday. Free.
|Tube: Covent Garden (Piccadilly) Holborn (Central)|
Apsley House The best address in town: No 1, London this was the London dwelling of Wellington and houses collections that focus on his life - much militaria, The building has been well preserved. Admission £6.30 - for another £2 you can climb the nearby Wellington Arch, which offers viuews over the parks.
||Tube: Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly) Green Park (Jubilee) Bus: Hyde Park Corner|
Royal Courts of Justice See our walks section. You can do a guided tour on the first (working) Monday and Tuesday of each month (only). Tour times are: 11 am and 2 pm - lasts a couple of hours. Party bookings for evening tours 5-7 pm or 6-8 pm can be arranged. Tour fee: £6 per person. Book via the RCJ Shop - (tel: 020 7947 7684).
||Tube: Chancery Lane (Central) Temple (Circle & District) Bus: Fleet Street|