Wowing the world: what to see at London’s World Heritage Sites

You may well have heard of the term ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’. It’s a lofty moniker fittingly afforded places of outstanding history and beauty like the Egyptian and Central American pyramids and the ancient treasure sites of Roman Italy, right? Well, while that’s the sort of thing we’re talking, yes; did you know that you’ll find four World Heritage Sites in the incredibly urban, magnificently modern metropolis that’s London? Read on to find out about them – and why you should pay them a visit…

 Westminster

The seat of one of the world’s oldest and leading democracies – and Britain’s modern rulers – Westminster lies on the banks of the River Thames just a short walk from Trafalgar Square and the West End, right in the heart of Central London. As a World Heritage Site, it contains:

  • Westminster Abbey – one of the nation’s greatest and most celebrated buildings, a sacred place of worship has stood on its side for more than a thousand years; the present masterpiece having done so for seven centuries, being the venue where practically every UK monarch has been crowned and featuring tombs of some of history’s most legendary figures

  • The Houses of Parliament – Augustus Pugin’s awe-inspiring, 19th Century neo-Gothic palace transcends its role (the meeting place of Britain’s upper and lower branches of government) to be recognised as one of the world’s iconic emblems of democracy; it includes, of course, the Elizabeth Tower (often mis-referred to as Big Ben, which is actually the name of the bell it contains that’s responsible for that unmistakeable chime).

The Tower of London

Originally the London-based fortress that the notorious first Norman king of England, William the Conqueror, built to secure his new capital, the Tower rightly makes it on to UNESCO’s World Heritage list thanks to the fact it’s a magnificent Medieval-era construction, both stark and beautiful in equal measure, while dripping in magnificent, regal and, at times, definitely blood-thirsty and blood-curdling history – it was here that both Anne Boleyn and, reputedly at the hand of the crooked(?) King Richard III, the two ‘Little Princes’ were executed. At different times in its existence, the Tower has been used as a palace, an armoury, a treasury, a zoo and (up until relatively recently) a prison.

Tower of London

Nowadays it’s one of the UK capital’s – nay, surely one of the world’s – greatest attractions, not least because its tours held by the live-in Yeomen Guards are the stuff of legend. Given the fact it’s located in the very heart of the capital, it’s definitely an attraction to visit and make the most of should you be enjoying one of the many hotel rewards programs on offer at a Central London hotel, such as the Metropolis London Hyde Park.

Greenwich

Today a much admired, charming area on the banks of the Thames full of traditional pubs and vibrant restaurants and cafés, Greenwich owes its World Heritage Site status thanks to its great historical resonance and manmade and landscaped beauty, specifically:

  • The Royal Observatory – home to the Meridian line (therefore enabling you to step from the Western Hemisphere to the Eastern and back again), all of time is still set from this very spot, thus the term ‘Greenwich Mean Time’; plus, here you’ll find the fascinating London Planetarium and the city’s only camera obscura open to public view

  • Greenwich Park – a hunting ground centuries ago in Tudor times, this is London’s oldest Royal park; its rolling hills blessed with magnificent views across the Thames to the City of London make it ideal for a family picnic on a fine, bright, clear day

  • Cutty Sark – the UK’s last surviving tea clipper ship and a wonderful attraction once more since its renovation following a recent, near devastating fire; special events and activities enable kids to scramble about its decks and discover its terrific history all year round

  • National Maritime Museum – one of the nation’s top museums, offering paintings, models, trophies and all manner of other maritime-related artefacts from throughout the history of global seafaring

  • Old Royal Naval College – designed by the ace architect of the Restoration era, Sir Christopher Wren’s iconic, twin-domed celebration of British maritime tradition has to be seen – and walked around in – to be believed.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Originally a royal retreat back in the days of the Georgian dynasty, Kew Gardens – as it’s known to all and sundry – is made up of 130 hectares of beautifully laid out, tranquil and inspiring greenery, with more than 30,000 different plant types to be found along the gardens’ walks and its spectacular treetop walkway, around its serene lake and water-lily pools and housed in its state-of-the-art tropical glasshouses. Offering too restaurants and cafés for refreshment and an art gallery for further artistic stimulation, Kew Gardens owes its World Heritage status as much to the fact its home to a broad and significant amount of biological flora study, enabling visitors then to discover and marvel at the fascinating science that underpins all the natural beauty on display.

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