21 Classic Buildings in London you really have to see

Classic London Walking Tour

Palladian, Greek Revival, Egyptian Revival Archaeology and more

 

Part 1: The City

 

1. Monument

The Great Fire of London in 1665 destroyed much of medieval London. Although the City of London was rebuilt largely on the medieval street plan, buildings were modernised in the classical style. The most famous architect of this period is Sir Christopher Wren.

The monument to the Great Fire of London designed by Sir Christopher Wren is not the most obvious site to see Wren’s work, but the column of the great fire offers amazing views for £2. The relief at the bottom shows Charles II in classical style.

Walk up King William Street

 

2. Royal Exchange

 

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3. Bank of England

The Bank of England building is high security classicism. It would be hard to break into this building. There is something slightly dystopian about it. The front is classical piedmont, similar to the Pantheon in Rome, but the back is high blank walls with tasteful ornaments and corniche work.

Sir John Soane designed the Bank of England, but his buildings were demolished in the Twentieth Century.

Look behind you.

 

4. No. 1 Poultry

The quintessential postmodern building. Postmodernism combined different elements in a playful style. No 1 Poultry was designed by Sir James Stirling. Classical elements abound but it is best to take this building in toto.

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Walk along cheapside  

 

 

5. St Pauls

Wren’s masterpiece St Pauls is perhaps the finest building in the UK. It was rebuilt following the great fire of London and has become a symbol of national pride and resilience, especially during the Blitz. It was designed in the Baroque style popular at the time. The Cathedral took over 30 years to build.

A church may have existed on the site from the Anglo-Saxon period. William Camden even claimed that the location was the site of a Temple of Diana, although this is no longer credited by modern historians.

Walk up St Martins-le-Grand, to the Museum of London and Barbican, both worth a look. Then follow Little Britain, past St Bartholomew the Great Church (the oldest surviving church in the City of London).

Part 2: Midtown

6. West Smithfields Meat Market

Less famous than Leadenhall Market, the West Smithfield Meat Market was part of the Victorian operation to reorganise food distribution on an industrial scale for the growing metropolis. Many of these markets have now moved out of central London (Billingsgate Fish Market and New Covent Garden Flower Market). Designed in an Italianate style by Sir Horace Jones, the architect who also designed Leadenhall Market and Tower Bridge.

The modern building is located on the site of a medieval meat market, home to the annual Bartholomew Fair and the site of judicial tortures and executions including that of Wat Tyler, William Wallace and several protestants/catholics. Back then, all the fluids linked to butchery could be washed down the nearby River Fleet.

A useful fact is that the Market is home to a pub which is licensed from 5 AM for thirsty market porters and meat heads.

Walk down West Smithfield, turn left on Farringdon Street and climb the stairs onto the Victorian Holborn Viaduct which has statues of the muses of an Industrial age. Carry on down Holborn Viaduct onto High Holborn. On a weekday turn down Chancery Lane and look out for a day on your right. Go through it and walk through Lincoln’s Inn. The church bell in this church is the one mentioned in John Donne’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Carry on into Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

7. Soane Museum

A good place to see the work of the neo-classical architect Sir John Soane, a fan of high windows and cool and angular frontages. The ancient and the modern combine in a sympathetic style. The inside houses Soane’s extensive collection of antiques, artworks and curios.

Soane’s collections were left to the nation, because he thought his son was a good for nothing and he did not want him to get a penny.

 

From Lincoln’s Inn Field, walk down Kings Way and onto Southampton Row. Turn left on Theobald’s Road and walk through Bloomsbury Square Garden, turning right on Great Russell Street. Either go into the British Museum or turn right down Montague Street and carry on through Thornhaugh Street and on through Woburn Square. Cross the road and  carry on through Gordon Square, towards the Institute of Archaeology Building. Turn Right down Endsleigh Place and continue to the road ends.

8. BMA House

Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for the Theosophical Society at the Turn of the Century, BMA House is a pleasing amalgam of Dutch Brick and Neo-Greek in the Corinthian order.  The site was formerly home to Charles Dickens for a bit, it is now houses the British Medical Association.

Opposite the entrance, in Tavistock Square is a memorial to the 0707 attacks is a poignant reminder of the help that medical professionals from BMA House offered to the victims.

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9. St Pancras New Church

A Greek Revival church on one of London’s busiest and dirtiest roads. Designed by the Inwoods, a father and son team in the 1820s, the church drew on two classical buildings the Erectheum and the Tower of the Winds. Its most notable feature are the Cayatids, columns in the shape of women, which look back to Ancient Greek and forward to the pre-Raphelite period.

The New Church replaced the St Pancras Old Church, which is just north of Kings Cross. This church (heavily “Restored” in the Victorian era may be built on a church dating from the Roman period. During the extension of the Kings Cross Line, the church’s cemetery was dug up. One of the people working on this project was the novelist Thomas Hardy.

Cross Euston Road.

Part 3: Camden

10. Euston Tap

Although located on a busy road, the Euston Tap is a small pub that specialises in el fresco drinking. It is built in the remains of a classical arch, that was dismantled in the post war period to make room for Euston’s modernist rebuilding.

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Walk down Melton Street, turn left down Esuton Street onto North Gower Street. Speedy’s Sandwich Bar is the location of Benedickt Cumberbatch’s flat in Sherlock. Turn right on North Gower Street and carry on down Hampstead Road.

11. Carreras Cigarette Factory

This Egyptian temple in North London was designed by M. E. and O. H. Collins and A. G. Porri in the 1920s. Guarded by Bastet the Egyptian cat goddess (or close replicas of the Gayer-Anderson Cat), the Carreras building is a strange sight. It owes its style to the revival of Egyptian styles following the sensational discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

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The Carreras cigarette factory in Camden

Carry on down Camden High Street to Regents Canal, turn left and walk along it. If you prefer a less busy road, walk down Mornington Crescent and along Arlington Road and onto the canal.

12. Quinlan Terry’s Regent’s Park villas

Prince Charles’ favourite architect designed these six big houses which you can see from the banks of the Regents Canal. Each villa is designed in a different classical style. Slightly vulgar, they are a perfect antidote to the sublime perfection of Nash’s architecture that sublimely contain the park and lead the casual flaneur through the park, down Portland Place and onto Regent Street.

Leave Canal at Park Road, walk past The London Central Mosque and turn left down Hanover Gate. Walk through park to Chester Road. Walk down the English Gardens.

 

13. Central London Mosque

The first mosque in London was built in 1977 on land donated in 1944 by King George VI. Designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd, it is now a Grade II listed building. It’s Golden Dome and Minaret is handsomely set against the natural rolling greens of Regents Park. It is also a reminder of the central importance of Islamic culture for the transmission of classical knowledge in the past and now.

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14. Park Crescent

John Nash designed both Regents Park and Park Crescent with its stuccoed terrace houses in the Regency classical style. Many other buildings in the area were also designed by Nash including All Souls Church and several charming Park keeper’s huts on the edges of the park.

 

Walk down Portland Place and continue onto Regents Street.

15. Hinde Street Methodist Church

Designed by James Weir and opened in 1887, this church with its classical frontage replaced an earlier Wesleyan chapel known as the Dutch Oven for its shape.

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Part 4: The West End

16. Selfridges

The clock at the front of this bombastic building is called the Queen of Time. It resembles the Winged Victory of Samothrace, although it lacks the flow and tension of that masterpiece. A good place to go, full of lovely little bits.

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17. St George’s Church

Part of the 50 New Churches Project under Queen Anne, St Georges Hanover Square was designed by John James and built from 1721.

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18. Regent Street

One of the great shopping streets of the world, Regent Street was laid out by John Nash and James Burton (the great British neoclassical starchitects of the eighteenth century). A pleasing sense of uniformity, is emphasised by the slight differences across building. Normally you should avoid Oxford Circus, but go to the Arket and look up and see if you can spot the Egypt “King Tut wig” and Atef crown.

 

For a less busy route: Walk down Regent Street and turn right on Vigo Street.

Or for a busier but more scenic route: Follow Regent Street to the end. Turn down Piccadilly and turn right down Piccadilly and left down Vigo Street.

 

19. Back of the Royal Academy

Home of the British Enlightenment and various auxiliary establishments associated with the sciences, Burlington House was original a private Palladian mansion. It was expanded in the nineteenth century, with the bombast and earnestness of the Victorians. The front, with its facade and courtyard, gathers all the attention but the backend is also worth a poke about.

The building at the back, 6 Burlington Gardens, only became part of the Royal Academy in 2001. It was designed by Sir James Pennethorne and built in the 1870s. Statues of eminent figures (stale, pale, male) glare down at the passers by making their way between Burlington Arcade and Saville Row with their bags of Fortnum’s Pork Pies.

In 2018, Sir David Chipperfield designed an extension that joined the two buildings together.

Make your way through the Royal Academy or Burlington Arcade onto Piccadilly. Cross the road, turn to your right and turn left down St James Street, follow the road around Clarence House (the red brick building). Cross St James Park and head to Horseguards. Walk through Horseguards onto Whitehall.

 

20. Athenaeum Club

The Athenaum Club Building was designed in the Neoclassical style by Decimus Burton, an architect who excelled in both Greek revival and Romanesque revival styles. Burton has not enjoyed the reputation some feel that he might have deserved.

The Athenaeum Club is an exclusive members only club in the heart of London’s centres of power.

Nevertheless the Club house is a fine building with a doric portico on top of which stands a statue of Pallas Athena. A copy of the Parthenon frieze is depicted around the building. Inside the building an “Egyptian” style staircase carries the eye to an Apollo Belvedere.

 

21. Banqueting Hall 

The Banqueting Hall was designed by Inigo Jones in the Palladian style. Although the exterior was redesigned in the nineteenth century, the interior was not touched. It is all that remains of the Whitehall Palace in which Charles I walked through towards his execution.

The building was commissioned by his father James I (and VI of Scotland). It is the size of two cubes: mathematical proportions being a central tenet of Palladian architecture. James’ son Charles I continued work commissioning ceiling panels by Peter Paul Rubens. Charles was a tyrant, but also an aesthete with a discerning taste in art.