My Top Historical Sites of London: The Tower, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Imperial War Museum

This post is not for the history faint-of-heart. *Nerd alert*

The Tower of London is one of the most infamous sites in London. The Tower has served variously as an armory, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of England. However, two most infamous urban legends about The Tower are about when in late 15th century the castle was the prison of the “Princes in the Tower” and the Ravens. If you haven’t heard of these two legends before, I suggest you visit The Tower’s website and learn. Particularly the story about the two princes is better than any historical fiction I’ve ever read. See, history is cool! I love the stories of The Tower so much that I bought a guidebook while I was there. My friends really loved seeing the Crown Jewels that are display here so there is something for everybody!

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My friends only came to visit for a long weekend and I stayed in London after they left to go with my friend to Paris and Bordeaux. She had to work one day during my visit so I was on my own. I actually love traveling alone. Traveling alone gives you the opportunity to set your own schedule and itinerary. I could go wherever I wanted to go, I could see whatever I wanted to see and it was a time to recharge on my own. As an introvert, I really value my alone time so being in one of the largest cities in Europe, spending an almost silent afternoon at St. Paul’s Cathedral was a perfect break for me.

St. Paul’s is a very unique site in London because this was the first Cathedral to be built after the English Reformation in the sixteenth-century, when Henry VIII removed the Church of England from the jurisdiction of the Pope and the Crown took control of the life of the church. If all that history jargon doesn’t mean anything to you, just know that this is a special place because the English Church doesn’t build cathedrals and this one is a really impressive one. Equally important, the present Cathedral, the masterpiece of Britain’s most famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, is at least the fourth to have stood on the site. It was built between 1675 and 1710, after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, and services began in 1697.

I took an extended audio tour of the cathedral and it was worth it! There are so many details in historical religious institutions that can be missed by even the most astute observer. I climbed to the top of the dome on the Cathedral that had incredible views but it was a hike!

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The last historical site I would recommend to anyone visiting London is the Imperial War Museum. I took a cab to get here and I was a bit skeptical when I pulled up. Once I got out and really observed the building, I noticed a piece of the Berlin Wall in front of the building. When you walk into the lobby, your eye is instantly drawn up to the airplanes hanging from the ceiling! The architecture of the museum is really thoughtful. The lobby is full of decommissioned military equipment including airplanes, tanks, cannons and even a rocket! I spent most of my time in the World War One exhibit. The atrocities of World War Two sometimes overshadow the historical significance and the destruction of World War One. The exhibit was truly one of the best I’ve ever been to. It was interactive but not in a playful way, in an engaging way. I’ve never seen so many children and adults totally engrossed in reading and discussing what they we’re seeing.

This museum is incredibly informative and interactive, but it is not a lighthearted stop. The World War One exhibit was heavy but then I made the mistake of visiting the Holocaust exhibit on the top floor. The exhibit is not open to children under the age of 14 and I can see why. The subject matter itself is incredibly traumatic but the honesty in the way it is presented in this exhibit was even too much for me to handle. I didn’t stay long.

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