For those looking for the perfect way to while away a long weekend, the vast and fascinating history that London has to offer is hard to beat. From ancient relics in its numerous museums to crumbling Roman ruins and glamorous boutique hotels to the oldest pub you’re likely to find, the capital has it all.
Photo: vgallova / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).
Roman Temple of Mithras
When it comes to sightseeing in London it makes sense to begin chronologically, with the oldest building in the capital. Discovered in 1954 by a team of builders in the heart of the City, the Roman Temple of Mithras is a second-century AD ruin. It was originally built in honour of the Roman God Mithras and was situated on the banks of one of London’s long lost rivers, the Walbrook.
Not too long ago, this ruin was showcased on the top of a multi-storey car park! However the relocation to its original home has certainly been a great success. The ruins of the temple can now be found underneath the ultra-modern Bloomberg Building, alongside a number of notable roman artefacts. With new low level lighting, eerie mist and an atmospheric soundscape, a visit to The Mithraeum is truly like taking a step back in time.
Travel back in time at the London Mithraeum. Photo: Allan Harris / CC BY-ND 2.0.
Lunch at the Jamaica Winehouse
Just a stones-throw from the Mithraeum is The Jamaica Winehouse. Even though the name might not suggest it, this place is actually famous for being the home of the oldest coffee shop in London, which opened in 1652.
The walk here is a pleasant stroll through winding alleyways and courtyards dating from the middle ages. The façade of the Jamaican Winehouse is charming – now a characterful red sandstone building designed in the Art Nouveau style, the coffee shop has been reborn.
Although Samuel Pepys no longer makes such frequent calls, ‘The Jampot’ as known by locals, is still definitely worth making time to visit. One can now find mainly city workers in the downstairs snug, enjoying the atmosphere and incredible fine dining of Todd’s wine bar. The ground floor is home to a traditional and cosy London pub, with dark wood panelling, serving real ale and simple food.
Lates at the Natural History Museum
It may seem like an obvious choice, and in a sense it is, but have you ever visited a museum after dark? ‘Lates’ at the Natural History Museum run on the last Friday of each month from 18:00 until 22:00 and whilst free, give you the option to pay for perks such as tours of the behind the scenes collections. A fascinating and awe inspiring museum during the day, the museum becomes truly special after dark. Luckily, ‘Lates’ are just for grown-ups, so you can enjoy a tour of the Hintze Hall with a drink in hand.
If a race to the oldest is what you’re hoping for, then the Paleobotany collection at the Natural History Museum is the indisputable winner. In fact, one particular fossil takes that honour. Discovered in 1993, but dating from 3.5 billion years ago, the imprint of cyanobacteria is one of the Earth’s earliest life forms, almost three quarters of the age of the planet itself. It doesn’t get a great deal older than that!
Explore the magnificent Natural History Museum after dark. Photo: Kathryn Wright/ CC BY-ND 2.0
Opulence at Blake’s Hotel
After a first day full of culture, a good night’s sleep is essential. Many of the capital’s hotel buildings are steeped in rich history, so why not choose the most luxury option for your three days in London? Blake’s Hotel is a truly lavish place to spend the night.
Established in 1978 by Anouska Hempel, this timeless design classic was arguably the birth of the ‘couture’ hotel. Constantly updating and changing, but never leaving behind its elegance, a night spent here is luxury in the extreme. Chinoiserie and Western elegance collide in the interiors of the bedrooms – rich drapes and lacquered furniture can be found alongside canopied beds and lustrous gilt finishes. Understated is not what Blake’s aims for.
With day one completed, it’s likely that you’ll have begun to find your bearings around the centre of the city. One of the best parts of any trip is finding little places you stumble upon and there are so many around London’s winding streets it would be impossible to plan for them all. A list of notable places to spend the remainder of your visit can be found below; including plenty of iconic photo opportunities! Take time to pick and choose, part of the joy of travelling are the places we discover when we’re a little lost!
The Geffrye Museum – Meticulously Restored 18th Century Almshouses
Westminster Abbey – 700 year old Coronation Church of England
Lambeth Palace – Residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury
Dr Johnson’s House – Home of Samuel Johnson, composer of the English Dictionary
Sir John Soane’s Museum – Home of 19th Century Architect John Soane