London is a city with a rich and varied history, and its cultural attractions are among the most visited in the world. From ancient Roman ruins to royal palaces, museums, and art galleries, there is no shortage of things to explore in the capital. Founded by the Romans in 43 AD, London was initially an important city in Roman Britain. Although little remains of this period, some ruins still exist, including parts of the Roman walls and the remains of a Roman theater.
After the Romans left, the city's influence diminished until Alfred the Great refortified the site. The Norman conquest made London increasingly important until it was established as the capital of England, a fact that is reflected in the many palaces and royal houses that still stand today. The British Museum is one of the world's leading museums of history and anthropology, boasting some of the largest and most revered collections in the world. These range from Babylonian stone works and samurai armor to ceramics and glass from the Roman Empire.
In September 1954, during the construction of a huge new office building for the insurance firm Legal & General, builders discovered a Roman temple that was located on the banks of the Walbrook River (now a street in London), an old tributary of the Thames and a source of fresh water vital to the functioning of Londinium. The Houses of Parliament or “Palace of Westminster” is where both houses of the United Kingdom's Parliament are located. Originally part of a grand royal palace that had been home to English monarchs for more than 500 years, it became the seat of parliament in the 16th century after King Henry VIII moved his family out following a fire. The iconic clock tower housing Big Ben is probably its most famous feature, and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To get an informed visit and see its most interesting parts, take a tour as walking around can be overwhelming. The Poets' Corner is one of its main attractions, as it is where many prominent non-real figures are buried. Another impressive site is the Coronation Chair, produced in 1300-1301 by order of King Edward I to house the Scone Stone brought from Scotland. Kew Palace was built around 1631 by merchant Samuel Fortrey and stands out for its distinctive decorative bricks and pediments. It is also the oldest surviving building in Kew Botanical Gardens.
The HMS Belfast is a light cruiser of the Royal Navy that played a role in both World War II and the Korean War. It is now open to visitors under the command of Imperial War Museum. Launched in March 1938, it was commissioned by Royal Navy shortly before World War II began. The Jewel Tower was part of medieval Palace of Westminster and built in 1365 to store Edward III's wealth, earning it the name “King's Private Closet”. After a fire in 1834, only this tower and Westminster Hall survived.
Since then, 10 Downing Street has been where prime ministers have governed from and entertained heads of state from around the world. Over time it has undergone renovations and modernizations to bring it into 21st century but unfortunately it cannot be visited except by invitation. Whitehall Palace was home to revolutionary statesman Oliver Cromwell from 1654 to 1658 before being restored to King Charles II in 1660. In 1698, however, a huge fire burned Whitehall Palace to ground and Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to convert Banquet House into chapel to replace one destroyed by fire. Buckingham Palace has been official residence of British monarchs since 1837 at beginning of Queen Victoria's reign. With 775 rooms it was originally built for Dukes of Buckingham in early 18th century. Hampton Court Palace is a medieval palace that was once Henry VIII's favorite and has served as everything from royal residence to prison.
In 1514 Thomas Wolsey leased it for 99 years before large-scale reconstruction began turning it into luxurious palace. Originally built for Earl of Nottingham, Kensington Palace was purchased by King William III in 1689 after he and his wife Mary II had taken throne from his father James II. Christopher Wren was employed to rebuild and improve it. Eltham Palace is a spectacular Art Deco palace built in 1930s next to medieval hall from 15th century. Great Hall still exists and was originally built for Yorkist King Edward IV in 1470s with his grandson Henry VIII spending much his childhood there. However “new building” dates back to 1930s when Stephen and Virginia Courtauld created masterpiece twentieth-century design. Tower Bridge was inaugurated in 1894 by then Prince Wales (later King Edward VII) as symbol London's growing importance.