The World Heritage Sites of London

One of the most distinguished titles a historic site can have is that of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most countries or cities would be lucky to have one of their local destinations honored as a world heritage site by UNESCO. The UK has just under 30 natural, cultural and mixed heritage centers, and London is home to four of them. This honor is only given to select sites that meet a rigid set of criteria. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of London meet the criteria of  representing a masterpiece of human creative genius and being an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stages in human history.

The UNESCO World Heritage Sites in London are truly fascinating marvels of creative genius and they hold such historic importance to both the entire country and the world. For those that haven’t been to this one-of-a-kind city or have yet to explore the history of the city, here is a brief description of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in London.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London is located in the heart of London on the banks of the River Thames. A palace fortress that best represents the iconic Norman castle design, The Tower of London is a stronghold that dates back to the 11th century, and doubled as a defensive base and a royal residence. William the Conqueror built the original Tower of London in 1066 and his design was expanded upon by Richard the Lionhearted, Henry III and Edward I during the 12th and 13th centuries. This site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew

London is famous for its nature parks and green spaces, but the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew have done much more than add to the city’s lush greenery. Along with being a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003, the Kew Gardens are also known as the world’s largest collection of living plants. Since 1759, the gardens have made significant contributions to the disciplines of economic botany and plant diversity studies. There are over 30,000 different types of plants that are studied by scientists and enjoyed by flower enthusiasts. Visitors can view the gardens from the treetop walkway, wander the grounds on a guided tour, ride the grounds on a tourist train or wander the grounds to view the lovely grounds along with a variety of plant houses and ornamental buildings.

The Palace of Westminster

Housing all of the biggest attractions of the city, including the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, St. Margaret’s Westminster and Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster represents the successive stages of English Gothic art. First erected in the 11th century and then rebuilt after fires destroyed it in 1512 and 1834, this historic monument has been an icon of British history throughout the ages. The exterior is composed of a sand-colored magnesian limestone called Anston which was quarried in the villages of Anston, South Yorkshire, and Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire, while the 4-story interior boasts 1,100 rooms, 100 staircases and 3 miles of passageways. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Maritime Greenwich

Courtesy of Flickr

The last to be added to the list is Maritime Greenwich. In 1997, it became a protected area because of its concentration and preservation of Georgian and Victorian architecture, which symbolize the English scientific and artistic endeavor in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Maritime Greenwich site houses the Old Royal Naval College, National Maritime Museum, Old Royal Observatory, and Cutty Sark.


  • Vicky and Buddy

    I’ve been to Westminster Abbey and to the Tower of London twice. They are both incredible. I love history as well and really enjoy visiting places I’ve always read about since I was a kid.

  • elenasonnino

    It has been too long since I’ve been to London! I definitely need to get back and I’d love to explore Maritime Greenwich.

  • Megan Claire (@mappingmegan)

    So much history in London – my favorite was actually the botanic gardens in Kew. We eneded up spending a full day there and there really weren’t that many tourists as we found at the other more well known sites like the Tower. Loved the giant lilly pads at Kew!

  • Kim-Ling

    This was such a great idea for a post about some of London’s iconic sites. I am intrigued by Maritime Greenwich – I had never heard about this place before today but it looks spectacular!

  • Mark Wyld

    We love UNESCO sites and actively seek them out when we are in Europe. Tower of London is an amazing site so much history throughout the last 1000 years happened there. British history has shaped our world

  • Noel Morata

    Looks wonderful I’ve visited everything but Kew and have always wanted to see the gardens there, hopefully 2016 will be the right year for a visit.

  • Melanie

    Great post! I love historical places, buildings, the history behind all those kings and queens. I have only been to London for a very short stay to work. Can’t wait to see the city one day and go sightseeing. Thanks for the great overview!

  • Heather

    I’ve always loved reading your blog. I learn such interesting things each time I visit. Thanks for writing such quality posts.

  • Jenny

    Fantastic post! I love UNESCO sites. They’re always so fascinating. I like how you’ve given little tidbits about each one. Westminster is my favorite. It’s gorgeous!

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