London's best buildings

Take a tour of London's twenty best buildings, as voted for by Time Out readers

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They’re here, there and everywhere around us, but which ones do you love or loathe the most? We put together a list of 20 truly iconic buildings in London, compiled with your help, tweets and Facebook comments.

If you’re a hater, please go and vent on our worst list too, where you’ll notice some of the same nominations controversially popping up in both categories. Sacrilege? Well, if you think we’ve neglected a candidate for best building, please say so in the comments box below.

  • © Andreas Schmidt

    Battersea Power Station

    The majestic upside-down table’s legs are still standing despite years of neglect and stalled negotiations – its oil-fired chimneys last choked our skies almost 30 years ago. Far from a white elephant, Giles Glbert Scott's red-brick oddity is every inch an enduring London landmark: forget the pomp of Buckingham Palace. Its Grade-II-listed future now rests with a Malaysian property consortium, but spiritually it still belongs to us.

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  • © Heloise Bergman

    British Library

    Despite the Prince of Wales’s bleating, Sir Colin St John Wilson’s epic new-build for the venerable old library finally opened in 1998, after a 30-year battle with planners. Its airy interior, influenced by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s famous public buildings, links seamlessly with the graduating steps of the outdoor amphitheatre-style plaza outside. Its lively and undulating red brick facade, rather than being reviled as a carbuncle, should be lauded for its sympathy with its neighbour on Euston Road, the St Pancras station and hotel complex.

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  • © The Trustees of the British Museum

    The British Museum

    One of the world’s greatest and oldest museums wears its new hat well, with Sir Norman Foster’s stunning Great Court addition in 2000 having long ago firmly replaced any lingering nostalgia for the old circular Reading Room. The BM’s imposing Greek revival façade reflects the rest of the building’s function as a repository for civilisation’s many memories and stories, however controversial its wonderful contents might be, especially in the case of the Elgin Marbles.

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  • © Guy Dimond

    30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin)

    Colloquially known as the Gherkin and formerly as the Swiss Re Tower, Sir Norman Foster’s glassy and conical skyscraper, opened in 2004, surveys the square mile of the City like no other structure. Bookending, rather than blighting, the horizon line, it is now synonymous with twenty-first-century London.

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  • © Abigail Lelliott

    The Houses of Parliament

    The Palace of Westminster and its clock tower (the two should never be considered separately) was Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin’s 1870 masterpiece of gothic revival, sited on King Canute’s 900-year-old medieval seat of power. Its complex sweep of towers, crenellations and steeples is a symbol not just of English architectural ingenuity and eccentricity, but also of the very foundations of parliamentary democracy (even if some of its inhabitants don’t always do it justice).

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  • © Rob Greig

    The Barbican Centre

    Built on an ambitious scale, in an area severely damaged during World War II, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon's Barbican complex – comprising the arts centre and well-maintained surrounding housing estate with its concrete tower blocks, and water feature and fountains at its centre – is one of the few examples of idealised, high-rise living as it was intended to be. Its flats are still some of the most sought-after in the capital.

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  • Lloyd's of London

    Now more than 25 years old, Richard Rogers designed his famous ‘inside-out’ building as much more than a confrère to his stunning Pompidou Centre in Paris: it’s more like office architecture from outer space and is the antithesis of a smooth skyscraper. The externalisation of the staircases, service ducts and lift shafts was influenced by the traditions of church steeples and gothic towers, and allowed the central atrium to float up through the entire building.

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  • © Natural History Museum

    Natural History Museum

    Combining renaissance design and romanesque detailing, Alfred Waterhouse’s main Natural History Museum building, opened in 1881, was designed to be a ‘temple to nature’. With its striking, rounded arch entrance, terracotta tiling, grand central staircase and sculptures and painted and relief detailing of plants and animals, both inside and out, it more than fulfils the brief.

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  • Swaminarayan Hindu Temple, Neasden

    Opened in 1995 and featuring white marble domes, elaborate carvings and an ornate interior, the Swaminarayan Hindu Temple, constructed to traditional designs by eighth-generation Ahmedebad architect CB Sompura, is not only a striking building but a striking example of community spirit; much of the fundraising and basic building work undertaken to complete the temple was carried out by a team of more than a thousand volunteers.

    105-119 Brentfield Road, NW10 8LD

  • The Royal Courts of Justice

    This classic example of cathedral-like, late Victorian Gothic revival architecture was designed by GE Street and opened by Queen Victoria herself in 1882. It's the location of both the High Court and the Appeals Court by day, but in the evening and at weekends it’s one of the capital’s premier events venues, used for fashion shows, private parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs and Frieze Art Fair after-parties.

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  • Senate House

    This elegant ziggurat, currently the library of the University of London, was London’s second skyscraper, designed by Charles Holden in 1937. Perhaps more suited to its WWII tenants, the Ministry of Information (indeed, one employee, George Orwell, set his shadowy novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ there), its strikingly cool air of mystery could only be improved had Holden’s proposed collaboration with sculptor Jacob Epstein not been vetoed.

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  • South Bank Complex

    Built for the 1951 Festival of Britain, the Royal Festival Hall (now Grade I-listed) is an elegant example of optimistic postwar modernism. Built from re-enforced concrete, the later additions of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room (1967) and Hayward Gallery (1968) may be less pretty but, along with the separately run Royal National Theatre next door, completed in 1977, are equally important examples of classic brutalist architecture.

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  • St Pancras Station and Hotel

    In architecture, as in any other form of design, fashions can be fickle, and Sir George Gilbert Scott’s St Pancras Station and Hotel was almost demolished in the 1960s (and was later left to fall into disrepair), when the grand, gothic-style Victorian edifice with its red brick towers, and pinnacles and sweeping glass and steel station interior were definitely out of style. Thankfully it’s now been restored to its former glory, providing a suitably stately gateway to London for European rail visitors.

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  • © Abigail Lelliott

    St Paul's Cathedral

    A beautiful, hulking presence on London’s skyline since 1710, Sir Christopher Wren’s soaring dome represents not just the pinnacle of his career, but the high point of a short-lived flowering of British baroque too. Before it was spruced up and even while it was temporarily ‘Occupied’ in 2011-12, the cathedral has been and will always remain our answer to world-class classical architecture.

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  • © Tate Photography

    Tate Modern

    The fifth-most-visited museum in the world only opened just over a decade ago in 2000 after Herzog & de Meuron’s spectacular repurposing of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s second most famous art deco power station. It has retained its exterior dignity and trademark chimney, but also much of its cavernous interior too, ensuring that it continues to exert power over visitors long after it ceased generating.

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  • © John Tramper

    Shakespeare's Globe

    The original Globe Theatre, where many of William Shakespeare's plays were first staged, may have burned to the ground in 1613 but this unique, fully functional reconstruction, a labour of love initiated by American actor and director Sam Wanamaker, successfully transports an atmosphere of Elizabethan London to the present day.

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  • © Leon Chew/ Time Out

    The Hoover Building

    With its Egyptian-inspired detailing, this majestic 1933 white and green art deco masterpiece was designed by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners and originally housed vacuum cleaner company Hoover’s main manufacturing operation. After Hoover moved to new premises the future of the site looked uncertain but the building found an unlikely saviour in supermarket giant Tesco, who worked with English Heritage on its restoration, adding a supermarket at the back. Fans include Elvis Costello, who wrote the song ‘Hoover Factory’ about the building in the 1970s.

    Western Avenue, Perivale, Greenford, UB6 8DW

  • © The View from The Shard

    The Shard

    As contentious as it is tall, Renzo Piano's tripod-shaped, glass-clad building is transforming not just London Bridge but almost every panoramic view across London. At 310 metres high, it's the EU's tallest structure and an astonishing feat of cutting-edge engineering: its steel tip has to withstand wind speeds of up to 100mph. A vertical city within a city, the Shard contains offices, apartments, a hotel and, most excitingly, a four-storey observation deck on floors 68 to 72.

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  • © HRP

    The Tower of London

    Currently home to the Crown Jewels, ravens and yeoman wardens, London’s fortress tower has been the location of more dramatic scenes from English history than any other building. Its origins date back to William the Conqueror, who first built a tower on the site in 1100, since when it has not only been a royal residence but housed a branch of the Royal Mint, a menagerie, which became the basis for London Zoo, and a prison bearing witness to numerous tortures, executions and imprisonments, including those of Anne Boleyn, Guy Fawkes and Ronnie and Reggie Kray.

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  • Trellick Tower

    Completed in 1972, Ernö Goldfinger's 31-storey Trellick Tower, built as social housing in the style of Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation, is perhaps London's most famous brutalist building, and has gained iconic status among architecture fans. The Grade II-listed block is a desirable address, with the most sought-after of the 200-or-so flats in the upper storeys boasting views as far as the South Downs.

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© Andreas Schmidt

Battersea Power Station

The majestic upside-down table’s legs are still standing despite years of neglect and stalled negotiations – its oil-fired chimneys last choked our skies almost 30 years ago. Far from a white elephant, Giles Glbert Scott's red-brick oddity is every inch an enduring London landmark: forget the pomp of Buckingham Palace. Its Grade-II-listed future now rests with a Malaysian property consortium, but spiritually it still belongs to us.

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Users say

27 comments
Jonothan S
Jonothan S

My favourite London building is St. Paul's cathedral, as it glowed curvaceously amid the rigid boxy cold grey deathly rectangular office blocks when I started my first job in September 1965 in Watling Street. Climbing up to the golden ball and gazing over the city assured eternal devotion. 

rose
rose

St Pancras favorite building in the UK!!!

Wim Van Mierlo
Wim Van Mierlo

Thirtheen years ago I walked past this buidling for the first time on a visit to London. I was struck and amazed by its impact and its beauty. Less than 12 months later I got a job in Senate House. To this day I am still work in Senate House, and not a week goes back without feeling thrilled and excited about being inside this wonderful building.

Carrie Briscoe
Carrie Briscoe

So many great buildings in London. List too long to write: My number one is Tower bridge followed by the houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's and the Tower of London. Also love a few of the new modern ones.

Israel Meza Bautista
Israel Meza Bautista

I was there twice. It just an incredible building, so classic and beatiful. It reminds me the ancient england.

Niky
Niky

It's an elegant answer to high-rise. Pity about the horrible council blocks next to it. I hear there are plans to improve them with some cladding?

Lynn McD
Lynn McD

This was a difficult decision to make but the NHM is beautiful!

the clock
the clock

Some good ones here (but also some ill-thought - the Globe!!! The Temple at Neasden (one for the PC brigade, it's hardly Tanjore or Bhubaneswar). Shame no Westminister Hall or the Banqueting House or Westminister Abbey - all of which would outpoint most/all of those on the list

Amy
Amy

Architecture is indeed polarizing, and that's why a few buildings appear on both lists. So I'm amazed that the Gherkin isn't also a choice on the worst building list!

Willy Nilly
Willy Nilly

Tis a place where all dreams are made of. If only it was not so much in a gated community and so middle class... more open to the public and longer... Generally almost faultless and is is oh so human ...

Gemma McDonnell
Gemma McDonnell

You forgot Tower Bridge and the London Eye on the best of list!

Debbie James
Debbie James

What about the Isokon, that jewel of art deco architecture, that has just recently been renovated back to it's original beauty.

Marcus
Marcus

There are some interesting buildings included in your list. I'm not quite sure how Trellick Tower makes it into the top loved buildings. The thing is a monstrous piece of grimness that depresses me every time I drive past it. The Shard on the other hand, along with Fosters Canary Wharf Underground (not featured), The Gherkin, St Paul's, Battersea Power Station and Greenwich Naval College (not listed but would be my vote) never fail to impress and inspire me. Keep London interesting I say!

Tom Johnstone
Tom Johnstone

You missed The Alexandra Road Estate (Rowley Way), a fantastic bit of futurism. Just because it's not on many people's "to see" list, it's a lot more interesting and innovative than some of the other stuff you have listed.

James Pellatt
James Pellatt

I very surprised that you haven't included One New Change by Jean Nouvel in your worst building list. The idea for a 'Stealth Bomber' in the heart of the City of London was never a good idea in the first place, but it's made worse because it is so poorly executed.

Mog
Mog

Trellick Tower but no Westminster Abbey?

Clare
Clare

Perfect mix of old and new. Makes travelling a pleasure - the polar opposite to Heathrow Terminal 3.

dilekdemr
dilekdemr

It was pretty hard to choose the best one. All of them are stunning piece of architecture.

Roxanne
Roxanne

So hard to choose, but I love the history of the Tower.

Kitty M
Kitty M

Like something from a fairy tale

Rebecca
Rebecca

I wanted to vote for the BT tower but it wasn't on the list!