It’s no secret that I love history. In particular, British history, and especially Tudor history! I’m a huge history buff and one of my favorite parts of traveling is going to places where significant events happened! With so many Tudor-related places in England, there is no shortage of sites to visit—especially in London. And trust me, I’ve been to a LOT of Tudor sites in London. So if you’re looking for Tudor places in the British capital, look no further—here are 10 Tudor places to visit in London!
1. Westminster Abbey
As the coronation site of all English monarchs, Westminster Abbey should be the first stop on any Tudor tour in London. It is also the grave site of several of England’s famous Tudor monarchs: Henry VII and his wife (Elizabeth of York), Mary I, and her half-sister Elizabeth I are all buried in Westminster Abbey. The Henry VII Lady Chapel is also one of the finest examples of fan vaulting architecture in the country! This is a spectacular place of worship and one of London’s finest attractions.
2. Tower of London
The Tower, although a royal residence, gained it’s dark and sinister reputation in part to several of its famous Tudor prisoners. Two of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, were imprisoned and executed in the Tower, as was Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days. Even Elizabeth I was imprisoned in the Tower by her half-sister Mary I when she was still a princess! Several other famous prisoners were held and executed in the Tower during the Tudor era as well. Both Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard are buried in the Tower’s chapel, St. Peter ad Vincula. You can also see Henry VIII’s armor in the White Tower! Don’t miss a visit to nearby Tower Green (located across the road from the Tower of London), which was the public execution site—those who died are memorialized in plaques.
3. Hampton Court Palace
Technically this isn’t in central London, so I’m cheating with this one. But of all the Tudor royal residences, Hampton Court Palace is one of the finest surviving to this day. Originally built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII took the palace from his favorite and made it his own. Henry VIII’s long-awaited son, the future Edward VI, was born here to Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour. While the later Jacobean and Georgian renovations are clearly visible and much of the Tudor palace has been remodeled over the centures, the stunning Great Hall (one of the best surviving hammer-beam ceilings in the country) and the Chapel Royal (with it’s beautifully decorated ceiling) date from the Tudor era. You can also visit the Tudor kitchens and see how the food would have been prepared for Henry VIII! And the Great Hall is one of the only places left in the country that has an H&A motif (for Henry and Anne Boleyn)—after her execution, Henry had all of them removed besides this one and one in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. The gardens at Hampton Court are also lovely and worth exploring.
4. Shakespeare’s Globe Theater
The playwright William Shakespeare was one of the defining figures of the Elizabethan Golden Age—and he’s still celebrated today, over 400 years since his death. Theater in London is also still celebrated today (especially the West End shows), and nowhere is it better to take a step back into time than Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Located on the South Bank of the Thames, you can tour the thatched-roof open-air circular theater, built in 1997 and inspired by the Globe Theater of Shakespeare’s time (which was demolished for good in 1644). Better yet, if you visit during the summer months try to snag tickets for a show and experience the magic yourself!
5. The Blackfriar
As the setting for my favorite moment in history, of course the spot of the former monastery at Blackfriars has to have a place on this list. On 21 June 1529, Henry VIII’s first wife Katherine of Aragon made an impassioned and moving speech during the trial for Henry’s divorce (he wanted to put Katherine aside in order to marry Anne Boleyn and have a son), and then she walked out and never returned to another divorce hearing again. While the Dominican friary has disappeared, the Blackfriar pub was built in the Art Nouveau style in 1905 and today does a good pint with monk-themed decorations around the interior. Don’t miss it! It’s located at 174 Queen Victoria Street (right near Blackfriars Tube station).
6. St. James’ Palace
Henry VIII commissioned St. James’ Palace to be built between 1531 and 1536, making it mostly Tudor in architectural style. It was designed to be smaller than Henry’s huge new palace, Whitehall, and used as a more peaceful and quiet residence for the monarch. Elizabeth I also stayed at St. James’ regularly. Unfortunately, St. James’ Palace is not open to the public—it is still a royal residence and in use by members of the royal family as their London home. It’s located off of Pall Mall near Buckingham Palace and St. James’ Park.
7. Lambeth Palace
Lambeth Palace is the historic London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s also home to the Lambeth Palace Library, which holds the records of the Church of England. Thomas More, Henry VIII’s friend and adviser (before Henry had him executed) served as a page in Lambeth Palace when he was a boy. Thomas More was later taken to the palace to be interrogated by Thomas Cramner (then Archbishop of Canterbury) before his imprisonment and execution in the Tower. While you can walk past the outside of the palace next to the Thames, inside access is only for those on a pre-booked guided tour (of which there are very few). Costs for tours are £12 and you must book online in advance.
8. Lincoln’s Inn
Lincoln’s Inn is an establishment that has accommodated law students and barristers for centuries, all in a peaceful quiet area in central London. Lincoln’s Inn is one of the most prestigious professional institutions of lawyers and judges, and it boasts an impressive list of alumni (including several British Prime Ministers). It’s connection to Tudor times is mainly through Thomas More, who was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1496 to study law. The Old Hall, which dates from around 1489, is the most authentic Tudor building in the complex. It’s free to walk around the precincts, but visitors can only access the inside buildings on guided tours (which will begin again after construction projects finish in 2018).
9. London Bridge
Back in the 1500s, there was only one bridge to cross the River Thames in central London—and it was London Bridge! The current London Bridge was built in 1973, replacing a stone arch bridge from the Victorian era. The Victorian bridge had replaced a 600-year-old medieval bridge, which had nearly 200 buildings on it during the Tudor era! The roadway was just 12 feet wide, and crossing the bridge could take up to an hour. London Bridge was also notorious as it frequently displayed the severed heads of traitors after their execution. Despite being far less aesthetic than the beautiful Tower Bridge, London Bridge is a symbol of the city and was vastly important during Tudor times.
10. National Portrait Gallery
Last but not least, the National Portrait Gallery is one of the finest collections of Tudor portraiture in the country. If you’re interested in the Tudors, you absolutely can’t miss a visit to this museum! Depending on your timing, not all of the Tudor portraits may be on display—especially if the gallery has lent them to another museum. However, you can’t miss the portrait of Henry VII, the cartoon drawing of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein, the portrait of Anne Boleyn, and the coronation portrait of Elizabeth I. The Tudor Gallery is on the third floor—the National Portrait Gallery has free admission.
For more places to visit in London, check out my post on 25 places to visit in London!
Over to you! What are your favorite Tudor places in London?