Quick links: Breaking Election Invest Bitcoin Syria North Korea Startups Scandal
Telegraph / Life - Entertain

London's 14 greatest buildings

We live in them, work in them, see them every day: buildings surround us in a city as old and densely developed as London. Their materials, style, size and decoration tell us about the world for which they were built, they can be inspiring or enraging, and their destruction can be painful.

They can also be tricky to interpret, which is where Chris Rogers’ How To Read London: A crash course in London Architecture (Ivy Press) comes in handy. It’s divided into seven time periods, with nifty diagrams, clear explanations of what you’re seeing and details of dates, architects and engineers.

As the annual Open House London event (where more than 800 buildings and places across the capital will open to the public for free) takes place this weekend, here we present Telegraph Travel’s list of top London buildings, many of which feature in the aforementioned book.

Disagree with our selection? Email us at travelviews@telegraph.co.uk. 


By Sophie Campbell

Follow Telegraph Travel

  • Follow on Facebook
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Follow on Instagram
  • Follow on Pinterest

1. Flamboyant practicality: Crossness Pumping Station

1865, Sir Joseph Bazalgette

One of two ‘cathedrals of sewage’ - that’s the polite version - that gave Victorian effluent a final push out into the Estuary. Its plain exterior hides a riot of colour and decorative jokes such as figs – then a constipation remedy - plus four beam engines with 52-ton flywheels.

Access: Open several times a month


  • The best hotels in London

2. Elegant simplicity: 30 St Mary Axe, aka ‘The Gherkin’

2003/4, Foster+Partners

This tapered cylinder has been compared to everything from an aircraft engine to a torpedo and rose elegantly from the wreckage of the 1992 bombing of the Baltic Exchange. Most Londoners regret its gradual eclipse by a taller, more muscular generation of skyscrapers.

Access: Available during Open House London


  • The best hotels in the City of London

3. Intimate space: St Stephen Walbrook

1671, Sir Christopher Wren

This was the first church Wren built after the Great Fire of London and its Greek cross form was perfect for the new ‘auditory’ style of church, where every worshipper was no more than 30 feet from the pulpit. The glorious dome pre-dates that of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Access: Lunchtime concerts Tuesdays and Fridays


  • The best boutique hotels in London

4. Unsung masterpiece: Royal Festival Hall

1951, Sir Robert Matthew, Peter Moro and Dr Leslie Martin

This post-war construction rose like a breath of fresh air from the bomb-damaged South Bank and was the focal point for the Festival of Britain. It took just 18 months to build, using radically new materials, and the concert hall is suspended at its centre like a kernel in a nut.

Access: Concerts and many free events


  • The best hotels on the South Bank

5. Fluid beauty: London Aquatics Centre

2011/2012, Zaha Hadid Architects

The late Zaha Hadid’s wonderful, light-filled building looks like a sting ray furling through its surroundings in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It houses two pools and a diving facility shared between elite athletes and the public. Its sinuous lines make you want to stroke it.

Access: Swim from £4.95 adults, £2.75 children


  • Zaha Hadid's 35 most incredible buildings
  • The best (and worst) new buildings of 2016

6. Exuberant spin: Bibendum Building

1911, François Espinasse

Nothing could express the thrill of early motoring more than the extrovert brick and tile Brompton Cross headquarters of the French company, Michelin. Look for tyre details on the roof, numerous Michelin Men and fabulous stained glass, tiling and twirly ironwork inside.

Access: The Oyster bar and Claude Bosi at Bibendum 


  • Britain's tallest structure? It's not what you think

7. Professional discretion: Royal College of Physicians

1964, Sir Denys Lasdun

The fifth building to house this venerable institution shocks and thrills to this day: a calm, concrete composition in a Nash terrace, described by Rogers as ‘audaciously Modernist’. Grade I-listed, it houses an ancient library and a 17th-century panelled room.

Access: Museum and gardens open Monday to Friday


  • Fascinating early photographs of London

8. Inside out: Lloyds Building

1986, Richard Rogers Partnership

Green-lit lifts slide silently up and down the stainless steel exterior of this building. It’s as intricate as an engine, with all its services on the outside: an apt expression of the future in the year of ‘Big Bang’, the deregulation process that changed the City of London forever.

Access: Available during Open House London


  • 30 of London's greatest lost buildings

9. Vintage Deco: Southgate Underground Station

1933, Adams, Holden and Pearson

This is one of two dozen or so Tube stations designed by Charles Holden and his firm: it looks futuristic, with its low drum and canopy topped by a aerial-like finial, but its materials are concrete and glass and light pours down into the circular ticketing hall.

Access: Piccadilly Line

  • The best budget hotels in London

10. Georgian palazzo: Spencer House

1766, John Vardy and James Stuart

Anyone strolling in the Green Park early in the reign of George III could hardly fail to notice this whopping emblem of rich Whig aristocracy. Thanks to Lord Rothschild, it has been splendidly restored, including rare Greek Revival interiors by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart.

Access: Tours on Sundays 10.30am to 4.30pm


  • The best/worst Brutalist buildings around the world

11. Streamline moderne: Daily Express Building

1932, Sir Owen Williams, Robert Atkinson, Ellis and Clarke

Vitrolite, glass, chromium strips…the former Daily Express HQ on Fleet Street is an exercise in Deco cool. Look for stylish red lettering flanking the entrance and peer through current occupier Goldman Sachs’ net curtains for a glimpse of the super-stylish entrance hall.

Access: Entrance hall may be accessible during Open House London

12. Courtly ambition: Ham House

1610 onwards, Robert Smythson, William Samwell

Set on the river Thames near Richmond, this is a courtiers’ house par excellence, first built in the reign of James I and still being altered 150 years later. Admire the tall, severe façade, cantilevered staircase, sawn-out ceiling of the Great Hall and very fine picture gallery.

Access: Open year round, including guided tours 


13. Gothic fantasy: St Pancras Renaissance London/Midland Grand Hotel

1873, Sir George Gilbert Scott

The Midlands Railway, then at its zenith, fronted its glorious Barlow Train Shed with the red brick gothic Midland Grand Hotel. Gilbert Scott, famed for his ecclesiastical work, added finials, grotesques, medallions, decorated tiling and a ‘hydraulic ascending chamber’, or lift.

Access: Historic tours most days, £24 per person


  • The best hotels near Kings Cross

14. Light touch: Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square

Late 17th century, restored Alfred Burr

One of 16 London houses occupied by Samuel ‘Dictionary’ Johnson, hidden in a labyrinth of post-war buildings. Admire the magnificent original locks on the front door, the swinging partition walls on the first floor and the light-filled attic used by his team of assistants.

Access: Daily except Sundays/bank holidays, £6 adults, £2.50 children


How To Read London: A Crash Course In London Architecture is available from Wordery at £8.49 including free delivery.