Answers from Our Experts (2)
The great glory of London's architecture is its variety. While European capitals such as Paris and Vienna were transformed in the 19th century by massive citywide modernisation projects, London's architectural evolution has been a rather more organic affair. The result is a rich mish-mash of styles, with Roman walls, medieval streets, Tudor palaces and 21st-century skyscrapers all jostling for space and attention.
Architecture fans will therefore have a field day wherever they wander in the capital. The trick is to cast your gaze upwards, as many of the city's architectural delights are to be found above street level. Look up from the mundane shop fronts of Holborn, for example, and you'll find statues adorning the tiled rooftops. This type of charming surprise is available all over town.
If you want to focus on one area in particular, Spitalfields has a lot to offer. The tall townhouses lining these narrow streets were home to Huguenots fleeing persecution in France in the 17th century, while Old Spitalfields Market is an impressive example of Victorian engineering. Meanwhile, the spire of Christ Church, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in the mid-1700s, makes a thoughtful contrast to the modern skyscrapers of nearby Bishopsgate.
Although the Great Fire of 1666 is often seen as a watermark moment in London's architecture, leading to widespread construction in an English Baroque style – led by Christopher Wren and, to a lesser extent, Nicholas Hawksmoor – there are a number of significant London buildings that pre-date the fire. Notable examples include the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Banqueting House, Whitehall – not to mention the plethora of Roman, medieval and Tudor remains scattered throughout the city.
Equally, a great deal has changed since Wren was in his pomp in the 17th century, with London's skyline slowly accumulating a rather eclectic assortment of buildings. Spend a day walking around the capital and you will find the 18th century's neo-classical Bank of England and Georgian Chiswich House, the 19th century's Italianate Royal Albert Hall and neo-Gothic V&A Museum, the 20th century's neo-Baroque Old Bailey and Brutalist Barbican Centre, and the 21st century's glass-and-steel Gherkin and Shard skyscrapers.
Every district of London offers architecture spanning centuries, but if you're a real fan of architectural juxtaposition then focus your explorations in the central areas of Westminster and Tower Hamlets.